Revolutionary feminism? The SWP & #RadFem2013

femlobby 2012 003They are not always the most popular amongst the left but I have personally got a lot of time for the SWP. The activists I know are amongst the most dedicated, organised and supportive. They live their politics more than practically any other political group I know – every political protest is an opening to agitate, and no social injustice is knowingly allowed to pass without a demonstration of support.

The SWP view of feminism is that they work alongside feminists, and share common short term goals. Ultimately international revolutionary socialism is the goal, and should be viewed as the solution for female oppression (amongst all other forms of oppression) – international revolutionary socialism, and not feminism. This is not to say that large numbers of members do not act with the same values as (marxist) feminists, and members may identify as feminist individuals. If this was all theoretical, then this could technically be a matter of semantics – broadly, any movement aiming to end female oppression could be classed as sympathetic to feminism or even feminist. However, recent events show that the reality is that there is a line in the sand.

Following the Comrade Delta crisis, it looks as though the party line is that it is time to move forward. Party unity is seen as the ultimate key to revolutionary progress, and affirmation of the decisions made by the CC is seen as the way to continue in a unified way. There are issues surrounding how this has been dealt with which must be troubling for feminists within the party – the questions over how the complainant was examined specifically, as issues surrounding freedom of members to discuss and organise outside of the party structure, which don’t appeal to me but presumably are democratically agreed and known by members as party rules, are in a way separate. Whether this will mean an exodus of feminist members or lead to the intended level of closure remains to be seen. Can you be a feminist within a party that has the stated hierarchical goal of revolutionary international socialism above feminism, and will organise where necessary to reinforce this goal? I don’t know.

Meanwhile, the radical Fems are organising again. After last year’s backlash it seems they are not specifically barring trans women in their entry requirements this year, though the internet is already kicking off within days of the conference being announced with the rad Fems in one corner and pretty much everyone else in the other. I think in general I probably share many more values with the SWP than I do with rad Fems. I don’t believe in biological essentialism, and I struggle with a feminist movement that excludes any women. I reject an analysis of sex-work which denies sex-workers agency, although I recognise the harm sex-work does to many women. I think it is far too simplistic to see gender as something which always privileges and enables male domination. I view the hierarchical structure of society as the source of patriarchy, not individual males. That doesn’t mean all issues they raise are automatically dubious – apparently they will be discussing how to organise mothers for recognition of labour, for example.

Like the SWP, Rad Fems are revolutionaries who live their politics with a passion. Like the SWP they tend to reduce revolution to a specific class – in the case of Rad Fems, (cis) women are the slave class – which excludes intersectional nuance. For Rad Fems – or at least those who are particularly vocal in relation to this on the internet, who may or may not represent their sisters – frustration at the patriarchal system is crystallised into rage. Rage is good at motivating and driving, but it simplifies, and when it is directed at vulnerable others who are also restricted by the cultural power assigned to biological sex as a signifier of identity, it could be argued to be working against the overall goal of revolutionary feminism, because it stays within the (non-radical) boundaries.

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