“The process of constructing ‘Western feminism’ (i.e. liberal, gender-only feminism) as real and advanced feminism took on a particular form during the Cold War, when Western feminism and Western women’s organizations had to complete with socialist feminism...which, exactly because of its broader, ‘multi-issue feminist’ or intersectional approach, appealed to many millions of women worldwide.”
– Francisca de Haan, “Eugénie Cotton, Pak Chong-ae, and Claudia Jones:
Rethinking Transnational Feminism and International Politics”
Women around the world have felt the social and economic effects of U.S. empire and have allied around labor justice, and social and economic forms of citizenship. In the 1930s, a global Popular Front brought together numerous feminist networks around the world to fight fascism, empire, and racism and to promote women’s labor rights and emancipation. In trade unions, on the ground, women organized for their rights and the rights of their communities. During the Cold War, government surveillance of internationalist leftist women, hindered these movements, but anti-capitalist feminist networks persisted. In the U.S., many of these women connected women’s equality and “rights” with an end to the deportation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans and an end to anti-racism and anti-imperialism. Notions of social and economic citizenship are also central to long movements for reparations for descendents of enslaved people, and women have been at the center of these movements as well. This module foregrounds these collective efforts for social and economic justice and citizenship as vital, though often overlooked, parts of feminist history. These efforts directly challenged U.S.-government-led Cold War politics that, as Francisca de Haan explains in her essay, promoted a “Western” definition of global feminism exclusively aligned with capitalism and liberal, individual rights.
Ruiz traces a new history of feminisms in the Americas through two socialist feminists, both named Luisa, whose lives traversed the late 19th to late 20th centuries—Puerto-Rican-born Luisa Capetillo (1879–1922) and Guatemalan-born Luisa Moreno (1907–1992). Capetillo fused demands for free love, vegetarianism, anarchism, workers' rights, and suffrage. She defied traditional gender conventions and was arrested in Cuban for wearing men’s clothing. Moreno organized garment workers in Spanish Harlem; cigar workers in Florida; and cannery workers in California. She helped organize the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America, which was dedicated to rank-and-file leadership and fought against racist hiring practices and for maternity leave for working women. In 1939, Moreno organized El Congreso de Pueblos que Hablan Español in Los Angeles, the first national civil rights assembly for Latinos in the U.S. After the mass deportation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, the Congress lobbied for Latino, immigrant, and women’s rights.
These chapters explore Popular Front Pan-American feminism—a brand of anti-fascist feminism that was allied with growing socialist and communist movements. Latin America and the Caribbean saw a mushrooming of anti-fascist feminist organizations emerge that intersected with a range of grassroots movements and promoted women’s political, civil, social, and economic rights. Popular Front Pan-American feminisms embraced a series of hemispheric anti-imperialist and anti-fascist goals and connected their analyses of women’s labor and immiseration of families in Latin America to the effects of U.S. empire and economic control over natural resources throughout the Americas. The anti-racist demands of this movement that were spearheaded in many cases by domestic workers and the labor demands that Popular Front feminists made for international human rights to address maternity legislation, pay, and social security for domestic and rural workers resonated with the demands of domestic worker activists in the Popular Pront years in Ashley Farmer’s book.
Boyce Davies argues that Trinidad-born Claudia Jones and her intellectual productions offer the clearest critique of the intersections of class, racial, and gender oppression, as she articulated the ideological position of Black women through the lens of decolonization and Marxism-Leninism. By attending to gender and race and foregrounding them into her communist critique, Jones thus went ideologically further left than Marx (and her grave is actually to the left of his in Highgate Cemetery in London). Jones was the only Black female communist to be tried, imprisoned, and deported by the U.S. government. Davis shows that Jones’s transnational mobility—even her forced removal from the U.S. in 1955—allowed her to develop a kind of activism that saw local issues as imbricated within the oppressive imperatives of capitalism, colonialism, and racism. In addition to her theorization of Black women’s oppression as “superexploitation” and her work as a journalist and writer, Boyce Davies highlights her critical cultural work organizing the West Indian Notting Hill Carnival in London, as a response to violence against the Caribbean community.
The Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) founded in 1945 became the largest transnational feminist group in the world, and was connected to decolonization movements that women led in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. De Haan argues that the Cold War has distorted historical accounts of feminism, prioritizing a “gender-only” feminism and eclipsing that of the WIDF formed by European anti-fascist women after World War II. This group, long been dismissed as a tool of the Comintern, with which it was affiliated, was the largest global feminist organization of its time and actively promoted women’s rights, social justice, and anti-colonialism around the world. From the 1940s through the 1960s, WIDF chapters emerged in Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Nigeria, Angola, Tunisia, Cameroon, Algeria, Iraq, China, Japan, India, Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere. The U.S. government blacklisted the U.S. group, although some women like Claudia Jones still deeply engaged with it, collaborating with North Korean Pak Chong-ae and French Eugénie Cotton. Later, the WIDF propelled what became the 1975 United Nations Conference on Women in Mexico City.
Throughout this sweeping, transnational history of demands for material and financial reparations for the Atlantic slave trade and slavery from the 18th century on in the Americas, Europe, and Africa, Araujo demonstrates the central role that women have played in the movement. She traces the pivotal work of twentieth-century figures like Audley Moore (who we meet in Keisha Blain’s and in Ashley Farmer’s books), who in 1962 created the Reparations Committee for the Descendants of American Slaves (RCDAS), filed legal claims for reparations, and authored works underscoring that the years of unpaid work enslaved people did enabled the United States to become “the richest country in the world.” Later, in the 1980s, Dorothy Benton Lewis, a cofounder of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations (N’COBRA), the “only organization of its time whose mission is exclusively dedicated to fight for reparations for slavery” from governments and corporations, followed in Moore’s footsteps and was awarded the title of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewaa Ohema, “whose name paid homage to the homonymous queen of the Ashanti empire who fought British colonization.” (159)
In 1975, the International Women’s Year Conference in Mexico City, sponsored by the United Nations, featured an official inter-governmental conference alongside a non-governmental Tribune, the latter of which drew over 4,000 women from around the world to Mexico City. This event was transformative for global feminisms. Highlighting the conflicts that emerged at the NGO Tribune, Olcott demonstrates how this conference intersected in numerous ways with U.S. global power during the Cold War, while also helping elevate anti-imperialist demands of feminists from the Global South who routinely emphasized social and economic justice for women who suffered the effects of that empire. Because of the conference’s location in Mexico, Latin American feminists significantly influenced events. The Coalition of Latin American Women, for instance, stood up to a group led by U.S. feminist Betty Friedan, and sought a broad agenda that focused on women’s reproductive labor and on the global political economy. Their demands foregrounded “socialization of domestic tasks through construction of infrastructure for child care, community kitchens, and production and consumption cooperatives,” immigrant rights, unionization for rural workers, and “sovereign control over national wealth.” (171, 193) Olcott argues that these debates would be critical to future transnational feminists engagements that rethought international development and social and economic justice.
This is the most famous of Jones’s writings. In it, she offers a trailblazing historical and intersectional theory of the oppression of Black women. Throughout she focuses on Black women as workers and emphasizes the “superexploitation” of Black women. See also Denise Lynn’s analysis of the document in "Claudia Jones and Ending the Neglect of Black Women," Black Perspectives, March 26, 2018.
In 1970, Angela Davis was charged with murder, conspiracy, and kidnapping for her alleged role in a failed prison escape in August 1970. In the following months, her case became an international cause célèbre. An international campaign for her defense grew in part out of leftist and Pan-Africanist feminisms—it became a movement against state repression and political imprisonment that brought together the Communist Party and Black Power movements, at a time when both groups were persecuted, and women’s groups in many parts of the world, including many WIDF-affiliated groups. Activists in the U.S. and across the world connected Davis’s case to broader demands for social justice, Black liberation, women’s rights, free speech, peace, and Third World liberation.