The SWP’s Hatred of Feminism (Part 2.)

I concluded in Part 1 that the SWP view feminism as a bourgeois deviation from the class struggle. It might be argued that Marxist feminism exists and the question can be asked as to whether such an ideology is supported by the  SWP. In response to that question, one can say that the term “Marxist feminism” is a con: it is really just Marxist. The view of Marxist feminists to the question of women’s oppression is that same as that as Marxists. They view women’s oppression as Engels did as a function of class as opposed to gender.  Someone does not need to say that they are a Marxist feminist, they could just say that they were a Marxist and their position should be known.

What can be said about Marxist feminists is that the focus is on the area of Marxism that deals with women. As well as the view that women’s oppression is a function of a class based society, Marxist feminists, as Marxists, are of the view that women are domestic slaves within the nuclear family. The argument being that women stay at home and do the house work and raise children for no pay. This is all in the interests of capitalism because capitalist bosses exploit men’s labour. This exploitation is made easier because the man does not need money to pay his wife to cook his dinner. The capitalist bosses therefore receive the women’s labour for free.  The “bourgeois” women can be dismissed in this analysis because the servants do the cooking, cleaning and looking after the children at home while the bourgeois wives are lounging around at the tennis club. The solution to this is, as Trotskyists see it, in simple terms: “Smash the family!”

In order for this to occur, using the repetitive reductionist politics common to Trotskyists, there must be a revolution.  And in order for there to be a revolution, there must be a vanguard party to lead it. As the SWP sees itself as a vanguard party, it has to grow to lead the revolution. In order to grow it needs to recruit. In order to recruit it believes it needs to sell newspapers. Hence standing outside Sainsbury’s  for two hours on a Saturday afternoon selling Socialist Worker is a necessary precondition in the fight against women’s oppression. This is what members of the Socialist Workers Party are told to believe.

The SWP look for other opportunities to recruit members. These are called, not surprisingly, opportunistic strategies. They look for areas or campaigns that might be fashionable, or they can try and make fashionable, set up front groups or become involved in groups that they can ideally dominate, and recruit in that method. An example was the anti-Nazi League to fight racism. Behind the ANL was the same SWP reductionist politics: racism is in the interests of the capitalists. If white workers are fighting black workers, it distracts them from fighting the real enemy: the capitalist bosses. Hence they can sloganise: “Black and White, Unite and Fight!”  If it had rhymed, you could be willing to bet that when it comes to women’s oppression an SWP slogan would have been “Men and Women, Unite and Fight!” They are completely predictable.

A relevant example of an opportunistic strategy was the setting up of Women’s Voice. This was during the 1970s when there was a rise of interest in women’s liberation in the wider society. The party set up a magazine called Women’s Voice and then groups with the same name. The idea was that working women interested in feminism could be drawn away from the Spare Rib crowd and other feminist groups into the arms of the SWP, the party that knew that the way to end women’s oppression was not via bourgeois feminism, something which would not work, but by a socialist revolution. The wider women’s movement could be denounced as Lindsey German did in the pages of the SWP’s journal International Socialism in 1981:

[T]he pages of Spare Rib are not where you will find out about the latest strikes involving women, but rather where you can reflect on whether celibacy is your personal answer to the problem of sleeping with men….  An occupation by 200 women at Lee Jeans has been largely ignored by the women’s movement.

A problem developed with this turn to the women’s movement: Women’s Voice became not just a vehicle for taking the SWP’s Trotskyist ideas into the women’s liberation movement, but women in it saw it as a vehicle for bringing feminist ideas into the SWP. The Party could not tolerate this and moved to shut down the magazine and the groups. I have it via a reliable authority that when it came to the vote, a number of women who voted for the closure of Women’s Voice were sleeping with members of the party’s Central Committee. Women’s Voice was shut down and with its closure was the end of the SWP’s foray into the women’s movement.


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