The crisis in the Socialist Workers Party has brought an issue for Trotskyists to the forefront: that of feminism. Richard Seymour has commented “students, are yelled at in [SWP] meetings, denounced for ‘creeping feminism.'” Feminism has become a dirty word, a pejorative with which to denounce the non-ideologically sound. That is the position of the SWP, what about leftists who do not identify as a Trotskyist? Here is Laurie Penny, La Pasionaria of the radical left : “Socialism without feminism, after all, is no socialism worth having.” It does not take a genius to work out that the position of Penny and the position of the SWP are incompatible.
A problem for the SWP is that many of the people, especially students, whom it wishes to attract into its party read and admire what Laurie Penny has to say. This is recognised by the SWP. For as one SWP Central Committee Central Committee member told Richard Seymour as the crisis in the party unfolded: “The nightmare scenario is an attack piece by Laurie Penny.”
Ignoring all the other issues in the SWP regarding their handling of a rape allegation against a senior party member, some commentators are making observations on this ideological difference. A line on feminism is becoming a litmus test. Blogger Harpy Marx puts it, “let’s be clear this isn’t an internal matter for the SWP this has impacted on the whole of the Left.” Andrew Coates, for example, has cheered on Laurie Penny: “Three cheers for comrade Penny.” But others would and have come down on the side of the SWP, the one that views feminism as a dirty word.
In response to Soviet Goon Boy who posed the following question: “The most pressing issue facing the SWP is simply this – is it a safe place?” and answered it that “on the face of things” it wasn’t, Paul Demarty of the Communist Party of Great Britain had an apoplexy: “the notion that the SWP is ‘unsafe’ for women is almost entirely balderdash.” (I do like the use of “almost entirely”; perhaps Demarty concedes the SWP is a little unsafe for women.) Those who want safe places for women are “idiotic feminists.” At any rate “safe places” are “profoundly useless politically.” Feminists suffer from “a myopic obsession with ‘violence against women.'” He is proud to admit that feminism and Marxism are “utterly incompatible.” He therefore comes down to the inevitable conclusion: “Feminism is a threat.. because it is wrong, and Marxists should be rigorously critical of it.” And as for the SWP: “Far from being insufficiently feminist, the SWP has been too soft on feminism.” One wonders if Paul Demarty is just waiting for the revolution so he can kill all feminists.
Marxists do not tend to develop very much. What they say now is what they said a hundred years ago. To understand the SWP and CPGB hatred of feminism one has to have an idea of what Frederick Engels said in 1884 when he wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. For Engels, the oppression of women began with the emergence of a class based society. The SWP’s solution is therefore simple: get rid of a class based society and you get rid of women’s oppression. And as the SWP are Leninists, they are of the opinion that this can only occur through a violent revolution. (They are very reductionist, their solution to everything is a violent revolution.)
Feminists differ from this approach: they see the oppression of women as a gender based question and not a class based one. If a Trotskyist party focuses on matters that do lot lead directly to revolution, they are deviating from the class struggle. Because feminism which is not class based can appeal to “bourgeois” women as well as working class women, it becomes, in Trotskyist language, a bourgeois deviation from the class struggle. It is for this reason that Paul Demarty and the SWP hate feminism.
(Part 2, which is the final part, will appear tomorrow.)