SWP & women’s liberation: more front than Brighton and Blackpool put together….

Lately, I have been rummaging through my book collection and I came across this old gem, a pamphlet by the SWP on “The Struggle for Women’s Liberation”… the ending has the usual mantra, “There can be no women’s liberation without socialism’… Not sure how old the pamphlet was except to say it cost me 50 pence! But majority of the pages have my scrawl. There’s a couple of pages that distorts feminism and the 70s women’s liberation movement, mixed in with the usual workerism too. But what disturbed me somewhat was this was the explanation of domestic violence in working class homes:

“The disappointment and alienation is more likely to turn inward – to violence – in the poorest families”…

It’s a statement that let’s violent men off the hook, no mention of individual responsibility nor indeed an understanding that people make political choices. It’s also a highly insulting statement too. It’s a reductionist argument…. blame it on capitalism. Also, this pamphlet denies any kind of commonality between middle and working class women. Domestic violence has a tendency to transcend class.

I suppose flipping through this pamphlet made me even more acutely aware of the crisis gripping the SWP. From their leaflet handed out to Unison Women’s Conference (“Challenge Those Who Trivalise Rape”) to various meetings on International Women’s Day. To be honest, I can’t get my head around this mindset, this level of total denial, exposing sheer contempt and arrogance to their own members who question and also show disgust at the way the woman comrade who made the allegation of rape was treated. This doesn’t reflect solidarity or comradeship or basic support it exposes disdain and an absolute disrespect for their own members and for the left overall. It also shows a real disdain for justice, something which this woman didn’t get.

That leads me onto whether the “loyalists” actually give a damn for this young woman. The trauma and distress she may be going through, and has possibly been through. There are no words to describe the act of rape. I can only imagine it was compounded by the fact that comrade Delta was older, was in a more powerful position and had authority. The revolutionary Left reflects the unequal power relationships between men and women, which exist in society overall. The Left is not hermetically sealed from oppression.

And as we see unfortunately, when confronted with oppression in its own organisation, the SWP wants to sweep it under the carpet, move on, condemn the critics, expel them and stick their collective fingers in their ears chanting, “La-la-la… I am not hearing you”..behaviour can and does exist in a revolutionary organisation. Again, nobody wants to admit that vile behaviour can and does exist in a revolutionary organisation. Well, it does and the SWP needs to stop condemning the “filthy” “darkside” of the internet and confront its own massive failings. One being, not standing shoulder to shoulder with this young woman comrade. Rather than this closed off blinkered intellectual system, along with uncritical support for leadership that is coming across like a cult… a kinda religion but without a God. It’s a mindset that I certainly cannot understand or relate to, it’s eerie and creepy. No good can come from it other than destruction and further implosion.

It does stick in the crawl and make my hackles rise when I see leaflets that say “challenge those that trvialise rape”… Does include your own leadership, a confederacy of dunces who ran roughshod over justice? And now there’s meetings organised around International Women’s Day.…which has also appalled me.

One is titled, “How do we win liberation”….?

Here’s a suggestion… Stand shoulder to shoulder with your women comrades who make allegations of rape while confronting the abuse and oppression in your own organisation….

SWP….Heal thyself….

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13 thoughts on “SWP & women’s liberation: more front than Brighton and Blackpool put together….

  1. “The disappointment and alienation is more likely to turn inward – to violence – in the poorest families”…

    I can just hear them: “But blaming violence on the men who perpetrate the violence is bourgeois morality, comrade! One solution: revolution. And until then, STFU.”

    Excellent piece, Harpy.

  2. Cheers Anna :)

    Years ago when I made a contribution at a SWP meeting on women’s liberation (I sneaked in as I was curious to hear the workerism and condemnation of feminism…) I was shouted at by the speaker (can’t remember who it was was…) to, “SHUT-UP”…. a number of times. My crime? I mentioned feminism and patriarchy… She refused to listen and just kept saying, “Shut-up, shut-up, shut-up, shut-up”……. It was funny, strange, but funny and I started to giggle. But what concerned me at the time was do they treat their own rank and file like this? I wasn’t a member (was in another trot group) and their behaviour didn’t concern me on a personal level as I found it hilarious but it still made me wonder what they’re like to members who may deviate from the given line…..

    • That sounds like one of those situations that in retrospect is quite funny, but if it caught me at the wrong time would probably leave me incredibly shaken. I once saw a young SWP member get publicly bollocked by Martin Smith and a local full-timer for having disagreed with whatever their predetermined line was in a public meeting, it was truly horrible. I don’t if it’s that politics attracts those who like to push people about, or the nature of political activity turns them into that. Either way, WTF.

      Interesting about the “domestic violence” leaflet. Not the first time I’ve heard that either, it’s depressing to say. Begging the question, even if it was completely true, who cares? We’re not automatons; we don’t HAVE to respond to stimuli. So you’re frustrated and take it out on someone. How about you don’t, you maniac? Seems to dovetail with the people who umm and aww over racist attitudes because they’ve identified neoliberal precarization and insecurity as the fundamental cause. As though moral agency is completely negated by external factors. Erm, no…?

    • Better than them actually getting real power, I suppose! (Touch wood.)

      They can have the Confederacy of Dunces (Marxist-Leninist) for all I care, so long as they promise to stay away from any occupation or position therein with a shred of authority…

      The first complainant (W) seems to develop and then lose her voice according solely to the needs of the leadership faction. When it comes to the transcript published online, apparently she wouldn’t want that; when it came to letting her speak at their conference, no such deference appeared.

      I wonder if the complainants will be at the special conference? Given the likely atmosphere, I wouldn’t want anyone to go through that.

  3. “Better than them actually getting real power, I suppose! (Touch wood.)”

    Yes, if they did get real power we would be erm screwed!

    If I was advising the complainants I would tell them not to turn up as they don’t know what vile behaviour they will encounter, pressure put under and how damaging it will be and also if there ever was a police investigation it would be better to steer clear of the “special” conference. Also for their own sanity.

  4. One occasion when I actually threw a copy of SW across the room was when it included the quaint notion that rape would increase due to lack of street lighting. No; that would be due to rapists.

  5. umm I should out myself, that would have been my pamphlet I think? Written in a weekend… and not seen for many years. I would write it much longer, less crudely and clearer now, over 25 years later. But, that said, I am sticking by the argument that women’s oppression is rooted in class society. It just is. A mass of antropolical studies trace back very different relations in hunter gather societies.

    At my advanced age, I have a much clearer grasp of the invidual misery of any woman who suffers gendered violence and opression, and would be sure to write about why it is a good thing that the glass ceilings are smashed before making the point that there just is nothing in that for working class women (the vast majority of women–who belong to that class who have no means of life except to sell their labour power and/or reproduce labour power in a household living only be selling it). All violence against women is horrific to me and I have been the victim of it. The point I was badly making, is not that it hurts less for rich women. The point is that class society is the breeding ground of women’s oppression and we can’t begin to dismantle women’s oppression and its violence without dismantling class society.

    This is the argument that split both first and second wave feminism. When i was young, there was a hard debate going on in the women’s movement that would seem alien and weird to many young women all these years later (All men are potential rapists… hetrosexual sex is self oppression…) and some of the crude formulations of my little phamplet are written with those in mind, and it isn’t fair to take them out of context. It is especially unfair to try and slide the totality of the argument about class and oppression into the current horror of the SWP leaderships’ position on the allegations against a CC member. They do not equate to eachother. I left the SWP over that case two years ago, but stick by the arguments about class and especially that there is no women’s liberation without socialism (and vice versa by the way is the full slogan)

    I am sticking by the argument that there is no commonality of all women. If you can find something other than basic biology in common with Thatcher, best of luck to you but she was never my sister, no matter she was the first woman PM or how many sexist comments were made about her (and which every SWP member i ever met challenged as sexist). Thatcher turned the clock backwards on working class women. She was a hardened class warrior whose only contribution to the progress of women was to viciously attack mining communities in such a way that a generation of women in pit villages were forced into a fight for life that before it was defeated, gave a glimpse of the kind of liberation that mass struggle makes possible. It is true that women of all classes are oppressed and we should fight for every reform–abortion rights for example benefit us all. Although you had a better chance of surviving illegal abortion in a private clinic than you did in a backstreet bedroom. calss will always out. The main thing is not that little improvment that money buys, but that in board rooms when they have smashed the glass ceiling ruling class women make peace with the men of thier class and wage war on us. When they have to chose between a society with oppression for women and giving up the provillege of thier class, it is a rare invidiual who choses us.

    There is no freedom for women in a society in which our bodies are bought and sold and poverty means you can’t even buy the little ameliorations open to women with a stake in the system. So by all means, attack my badly written pamphlet but don’t chuck the baby out with the bathwater…

  6. Elane, nowhere in your pamphlet do you meantion patriarchy, is there not a relationship between patriarchy and class society including capitalism. There is a commonality between all women, what about domestic violence and rape (Erin Pizzey’s ground breaking bk, “Scream Quietly Or the Neighbours Will Hear”… about the first refuge). Again, I believe the pamphlet is heavily workerist and unfortunately you still caricature feminism… radical feminism and socialist feminism. Your pamphlet expresses a certain viewpoint prevalent within the SWP (and not just the SWP who take a workerist line)

    There is whole lot of strands about what is happening around the SWP i.e. workerism and the downplaying of sexual politics. There needs to be a thorough critique of workerism and how weak the argument is.

    • Blimy, it was never going to mention all of that in a few little pages!! Just making the point that being as how I am the author of the pamphlet and stand by it’s politics, you cannot reduce the revolutionary Marxist psoition on class and women’s liberation to the disgraceful case of comrades W and X. That is unfair and sectarian and negates the politics of those two women. That’s all

      • But the whole tenor of the pamphlet is reduced to workerism, i.e. broadly speaking, the fault of capitalism. Why is it sectarian to argue that? What is argued in the pamphlet is the whole political trajectory of the SWP. Workerism downplays sexual politics and is overall… reductionist. Sorry Elane, but reading your pamphlet made me think about the current crisis in the SWP.It shows there’s a political link between workerism and the SWP by downplaying women’s oppression precisely to workerism. There’s no individual responsibility i.e. issue on domestic violence.

      • I am not saying that it is sectarian to argue about workerism, debate is good. My argument was just that it is sectarian to jumble up the current madness of the CC position on W and X cases, with the general argument on class and oppression. My argument that the alienation of class society (currently capitalism) underlies and frames violence against women does not at any point excuse individual men who wallow in all the filth of class society and harass/violate women. My political argument, the SWP’s political position on women’s liberation,cannot be reduced to the disgraceful W&X episodes. I was simply addressing the structures of women’s oppression in the pamphlet, by all means let’s debate that. But it is sectarian to, as you did at the beginning of this thread, try to say the class argument reduces to the cases of W & X or letting rapists off the hook. No it doesn’t. It just tries to address how to rid society of oppression and violence.

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