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Towards a Revolutionary Women’s Culture: CWLU Rock Band

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 While the Graphics Collective engaged largely in praxis, with only some theorizing about the revolutionary potential of art to transform culture, members of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union Rock Band authored a widely disseminated position paper advocating for  a revolutionary women’s culture.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Naomi Weisstein, founder of the CWLU rock band, recalled members started with the strategy that the dominant culture might be harnessed for the movement:

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 “why we didn’t try to turn to our own advantage the techniques used by the wider culture to keep us in our place. Why not see what would happen if we created visionary, feminist rock?”

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Weisstein handily demolished the superstructure argument against her band from the CWLU leadership, who she recalled “held in low esteem … The idea of direct cultural intervention in order to change consciousness.” As a self-described “red diaper baby and the daughter of a musician” Weisstein

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “thought that constructing a new kind of political art — if you could pull off both the art and the politics– was a most worthy project.”

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 This use of art diverged considerably from that articulated by Estelle Carol of the Graphics Collective who viewed it solely as propaganda.  In this regard art and politics could work together for the revolution.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 By this point, Weisstein, a long time participant in New Left,  had begun to diverge from the classic Marxist interpretation that culture represented mere superstructure, while material conditions determined the base.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 “Structure is the tip of the patriarchal iceberg. Subjugation and submission gets inside our heads, and it takes direct confrontation with culture to extirpate them.”

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 In January of 1972, the CWLU mailed out a version of a position paper by the band, eventually published  as “Developing A Revolutionary Women’s Culture,” in Women A Journal of Liberation.[3]

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 The members of the rock band differentiated between “first culture, and later Culture.”  Culture with a little ” c” is “the way we do what we do,” an anthropological understanding of culture.    Capital C  “Culture” is the “leviathan” “the light show, the big fat day-glow technical work … that world is magic.” Both types have the potential to work for the revolution.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Rejecting the Marxist view that “culture change[s] when ‘objective conditions,’ the material basis of our existence, changes,” the authors note that “the example of Socialist countries, such as the Soviet Union” proves that “all that has changed is ‘the means of production,’ and expresses reluctance to “wait around” for “a just and generous society.”  Instead, they argue that Culture is the “queen pin in the achievement of social change” because Culture has the power to go beyond “explain(ing) why things are as they are” to offer “An explicit visionary Culture … in the realm of ‘what if’ a sort of early “celebration” to inspire “hope.”

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Beyond consciousness-raising or serving as propaganda for women’s liberation, Culture might provide a glimpse of a world where women’s liberation had occurred. In this sense, Culture had a distinctly utopian function.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The CWLU band members asked themselves

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 “could we build that revolutionary, socialist feminist, humanist culture? Could we build it with rock?”

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 and answered in the affirmative because it was popular and could reach the masses and it challenged male-dominated rock scene.  Through lyrics, music could raise consciousness.   By taking on the role of rock musician who plays instruments, rather than the usual role of female singer,  by taking on the technical roles associate with bands, moving the equipment, and setting up, the band would break down sex roles.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 RockWall Photo65

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 But even more, Culture might shift power relations, but only if the utopian visions were not confused with reality.

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0  “we need more culture, we need more power … a visionary culture will move us toward taking power, but we do want to examine the potential traps of a visionary culture: namely if our vision becomes to compelling, it may appear that we have in fact won.”

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 In other words, Capital C culture, the art, literature, music, anything that reaches towards the sublime, could be used as a strategy for the movement, as opposed to what would become criticized in activists women’s culture “culture, escapism, celebration and our need for power” which led to counter-revolutionary directions by distracting women from revolution.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 A cautionary tale emphasized this risk.   At a women’s music concert, women in the audience forcibly ejected men who were heckling the band.  Rather than celebrate, this worried CWLU members.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 “the women thought that was all they needed. They didn’t realize that their power did not extend beyond the doors of our small woman-created environment”

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Therefore, while viewing women’s culture as potentially revolutaionary, the CWLU rock band insisted that this women’s culture must be rooted in the movement itself, or risk existing  “in a vacuum.”  The authors clarify that they are not arguing for what would come to be described as a separatists women’s culture, but rather “are simply interpreting, explaining, the relations of power, showing how they could be changed, providing a glimpse of changed power” so that women will be inspired “to go back out in that society and fight to change them.”  “Culture” will not, in itself, be able to carry on the campaigns or skirmishes in that battle, or win it”

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0  


24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 [1] From CWLU by Rothstein and Weisstein 1972

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 [3] Although Peg Strobel dates this to Jan 1973, the original copy I have is clearly postmarked January 9, 1972.  W: JL stopped dating its issues, and while the copy right on vol 3 (no 2) still read 1972, several pieces within the journal are copyrighted 1973. This idea had been tried out on the Left.  The Nov-Dec 1968 issue of Radical America, on Radicalism and Culture, included an article “Toward a Theory of Revolutionary Culture,” which is quite similar to the position sketched out by the members of the CWLU rock band

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Source: http://politicsofwomensculture.michellemoravec.com/about-2/book-pre-fall-2016/consciousness/step-2-oppression/chicago-womens-liberation-union-rock-band-2/