Women, feminism and socialism

May 2021 Forums General discussion Women, feminism and socialism

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  • #189099

    Hi comrades

    Anyone prepared to move the feminism debate onto the forum, would like to join in, was not able to stay on sp-open because I’m no longer a member. I can view all your posts on there, it’s a shame I can’t reply.


    Matthew Culbert

    This is what our A-Z of Marxism has under F.

    Feminism. Feminist theories of womens’ oppression and inequality have been developed largely within the liberal tradition of political philosophy. Demands have usually been formulated on the basis of moral arguments relating to legal rights and justice, and ignoring the economic conditions that render such claims meaningless within the context of capitalism. ‘Socialist’ feminists, while recognising the importance of class, have become bogged down in reformism; in effect their demand is to be wage slaves equally with men. ‘Radical’ feminists attack patriarchy, not class, as the source of women’s oppression.

    While it is undeniable that most women experience certain forms of oppression and discrimination as a result of their gender, to suffer from sexism at all it is usually necessary to be a member of the working class; it is not normally a problem for female members of the capitalist class. The socialist movement, being based on a class analysis of capitalism, provides a motivation for women’s liberation since socialism can only be achieved with the majority support of women and of men. (See also REFORMISM; SEXISM.)


    Vincent, A., Modern Political Ideologies, 1992

    The Feminist eZine: http://www.feministezine.com/feminist/index.html

    Matthew Culbert

    This thoughtful piece  mainly on taboos does make some further comment of interest to the subject of feminism thus,

    There exists, of course, a counter current to the use of taboos for control and that is exemplified in the struggle for personal and therefore sexual liberation. The politicisation of sexuality (spearheaded by feminism) can be understood as the reflection or antithesis of the sexualisation of politics (implicit within authoritarianism in terms of dominant and submissive psychology). Socialists have always supported the liberation from any kind of political and/or personal oppression. Our belief in the potential of our species to create a better world implies both a political and moral historical progression. Unfortunately this demand for liberation is at the moment mainly articulated in terms of individual, gender or racial identities rather than that of class and thus of humanity itself. In some ways this sort of ‘identity politics’ is a kind of consumerism with the perceived right to ownership of the self at its heart – rather than a recognition that the ultimate liberation of the self depends on the liberation of all. (My emphasis)

    Matthew Culbert

    Another article from  a comrade Nicky Snell in 1993,

    The Problem of Sexism

    Before I was a socialist, I was a feminist. As for many women, the discrimination in favour of men was the most obvious and immediate. I gradually came to realize that this fitted into a far larger picture of racism, class oppression, ecological destruction. “third world” poverty, torture, starvation, colonialism, etc… More here >


    Interesting article from Nicky Snell, Matt (what became of her BTW Is she still a member?) This bit I find a bit iffy, though


    I became disenchanted with the feminism which holds patriarchy to be the world’s primary problem, because I did not like the logical conclusion to which this kind of thinking would lead. If men are simply women’s worst enemies, what should we women do? Shoot men down in the street? Or simply withdraw’?


    Is she saying feminism logically leads to misandry? If so,  I think most feminists would disagree strongly and would themselves oppose misandry.  Depicting feminists as a misandrists is a complete caricature which in a sense assists those who stand to gain from  a state of affairs in which women are discriminated against.  See for example this article https://www.itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/12/reasons-people-believe-feminism-hates-men/


    At its 2019 Annual Conference the Party membership  voted by a large majority  in favour of the resolution that “This Conference is of the view that a person can be a socialist as well as a feminist.” With that in mind I do rather question the view that being a feminist necessarily  means holding patriarchy to be the “world’s primary problem”.  I think all socialists would agree that that problem is capitalism



    Matthew Culbert

    I put those up for Ruby so she didn’t feel left out, rather than cross posting  from the other place as cross posting is not allowed.

    I don’t know if Nicky is still a member.  I don’t think she is necessarily saying so, but speaking of a particular feminist current, the accent on the feminism which holds patriarchy to be the world’s primary problem (my emphasis).

    It seems born of her experience at particular time and place. 1993 seems recent to me but it is 26 years ago.

    My own experience is of seeing strong women in working class environments, having to assert and control events, which had gone pearshaped due to the brutalising effect of capitalism on their spouses and also where older men had quit this mortal coil earlier than should have, and women often having to take on loads of extra responsibility.

    Visiting my mum before her demise was a mind blowing experience as she still had school chums alive coming in to see her of 90 years of age and there were very few men over 60 around. At her funeral one woman I didn’t recognise at first,came up to me outside and said ,”some birthday for you”.  When she said her name I remembered her from 60 years previously when she was 20, but only one of her four brothers was still alive.

    Although some of them might have uttered a few misandrist remarks, from time to time, before and after they took control, I don’t think they would necessarily have adopted a political label of feminism.

    I think Wez’s piece above it has some resonance with me personally, as I saw what he called the ‘consumerism of identity politics’ in the case of homosexuality.

    The rubbish served up by the ‘Gay experience’ is at variance with my own personal criminalised early lifestyle experience etc.

    It is almost enough to make me a homophobic homosexual. (Joke).

    It was never an issue with the party members in my branches, great comrades all.

    I do appreciate they are all different and separate experiences for women and homosexuals and people from minority backgrounds.

    I don’t think reasserting the majority of the one third membership who could be bothered to vote  in 2019 necessarily negates what she has written in 1996 of her own experiences.

    E.P Thomsons , ‘condescension of posterity’ springs to mind here.

    Conference decisions must be respected while always of course, still subject to subsequent change.




    The first five paragraphs of this article by of all people Tony Cliff set out rather well the different approaches to women’s liberation of Marxism and of Feminism:


    There’s some interesting stuff in the rest, e.g. about there not being a common category in history of “women” (women have always been divided into classes, and still are) but of course, as a Trotskyist, he goes off the rails about the supposed need for a vanguard party, the Russian revolution and the so-called middle class. But, as I said, the first five paragraphs are good.


    Although a one time collaborator with William Morris, Belfort Bax very much expressed the anti-feminist case.

    His writings has been accused of misogyny.

    An example here



    People might get the impression that you are saying  socialists endorse it when at the time nobody else who called themselves a socialist did. He put “a” case against feminism but not “the” case.  It reflected his personal prejudice and had more in common with the “anti-feminism” of Jordan Peterson and the “new Right” than with the socialist position.


    Sorry, that is not the impression I sought.

    It is that as a regular scourer of the Marxist Internet Archive, I frequently come cross his anti-women articles.

    I simply wished to draw attention anti-feminism intellectualism masquerading as socialism.


    “Interesting article from Nicky Snell, Matt (what became of her BTW Is she still a member?)”

    She left the Party in 1994 after a little over two years of membership.  In her letter of resignation she cited three main reasons for leaving.

    1. Women’s issues:   She disagreed with the Party’s position as stated in our pamphlet “Women and Socialism”, that “women do not need to organise separately”.  She described the Party as “a mysogynistic organisation” in the sense that it is a) it is “heavily male-dominated”, b) “has opposed the two main women’s movements” during the 20th century, and c) “meets more often than not in places which are difficult for unaccompanied women and at times unsuitable for those with childcare responsibilities” 

      2. Alliances with other organisations:  Her preference was to “take a supportive stance” towards those organisations the Party rejects as reformist.  She saw herself “as part of a much larger ‘tribe’ of people concerned with the health of the planet and the people on it”.

      3. Stressful membership:  “Being in the minority gender group and a feminist to boot may have (had) something to do with this”.  She joined “unaware of the heavy male domination of the Party” or the “74 anti-women’s lib vote”. (‘That this Conference holds that membership of Women’s Liberation Organisations is incompatible with membership of the Party’) – rescinded in 1994!It appears that she also had an issue with her branch (Lancaster) over her wish to resign.  She said it appeared “they didn’t want to be bothered with the resignation procedure”, so she ended up returning the Form ‘F’ to Head Office, incomplete, herself.

      Great shame that the present members of Lancaster Branch do not visit this forum to give their side of events, if they can remember, that is.


    Here is the Conference Report on the rescindment in 1994 of that 1974 resolution. Notice who moved it.

    Islington and Lancaster branches moved:

    “That the 1974 Conference resolution ‘that membership of Women’s Liberation organisations is incompatible with membership of the Party’ be rescinded.”

    R. Headicar (Islington): The issue was not about whether women members should or should not join “women’s liberation” (whatever that was) but why should one section of the membership (women) be the subject of a specific proscription over and above the Rulebook? This was discriminatory and should go.

    N. Snell (Lancaster): Socialists had always said that marriage was a property relationship in which the woman was subordinated to the man. In the words of the 50 Years Ago column in the January Socialist Standard we wanted to end this “economic bondage”. This was part of what we aimed at, so we wanted women’s liberation. If anybody wasn’t for this then they weren’t a socialist.

    R. Cook (Birmingham): Socialists had indeed always used the phrase, in relation to married women, that they were “slaves of a slave”.

    S. Coleman (EC member): Members don’t – and shouldn’t – have to ask permission to join neighbourhood associations, tenants’ associations – or women’s groups. We shouldn’t have a list of proscribed organizations, but should trust members to behave as Socialists.

    G. Woods (Central): Women’s Lib divided the workers, while Socialists wanted to unite them. Equal pay didn’t end exploitation and sometimes resulted in male workers being sacked.

    V. Vanni (Glasgow): Some Glasgow members were against the blanket nature of the 1974 resolution but had worries about rescinding it without putting something in its place, specifying which types of women’s organizations were permissible and which weren’t.

    C. McEwan (Glasgow): Clause 1 of our Declaration of Principles says there’s only one property relationship in society, so if women were the property of men then we would need to amend this Clause. He was against feminist propaganda that claimed that all women were good and all men were bad.

    B. Montague (EC member): Clearly class exploitation and oppression were primary, but this didn’t mean that there weren’t other secondary ones too. Why were some members afraid of discussing the relationship between the sexes?

    A. Atkinson (Central): The Lancaster circular was wrong to describe the man-woman relationship in marriage as one of employer-to-employee and so liken women’s organizations to trades unions. They couldn’t be equated with unions but were reformist.

    T. Lawlor (SW London): The Party was becoming polarized into those who stood by Marx’s economic analysis and those who were interested in these other issues. The latter were becoming a faction that seemed to have to be accommodated at all costs. Why weren’t women members interested in economics instead of feminism?

    K. Mohideen (Islington): If she had known about this resolution at the time she would probably never have joined. There was nothing wrong with Marxian economics but to concentrate only on this was to fail to take into account the women’s movement and its contribution to social change.

    P. Lawrence (SW London): One reason for rescinding this resolution was that it was unenforceable – who in the Party would vote for the expulsion of a women member who associated with a women’s refuge group? Nobody. That’s why the resolution had long been a dead letter.

    H. Vallar (Chair) said that there was no time to read a letter from M. Judd (SE London) opposing rescindment

    N. Snell (Lancaster), winding up, agreed that it was a bit misleading to have referred in the Branch’s circular to the man-woman relationship in marriage as an employer-employee one, but this didn’t alter the substance of the argument: that the Party recognized that women were oppressed in ways that men weren’t and that we were for ending this, i.e. for women’s liberation.

    The Resolution (Vote 7) was carried 80-43.

    Matthew Culbert

    I just saw this mentioned on ‘Countdown’.


    ‘Suffrajitsu’: How the suffragettes fought back using martial arts. This from the BBC.

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