Feminist Review 23 (1):13-30 (1986)

In December 1984 Angela Weir and Elizabeth Wilson, two founding members of Feminist Review, published an article assessing contemporary British feminism and its relationship to the left and to class struggle. They suggested that the women's movement in general, and socialist-feminism in particular, had lost its former political sharpness. The academic focus of socialist-feminism has proved more interested in theorizing the ideological basis of sexual difference than the economic contradictions of capitalism. Meanwhile the conditions of working-class and black women have been deteriorating. In this situation, they argue, feminists can only serve the general interests of women through alliance with working-class movements and class struggle. Weir and Wilson represent a minority position within the British Communist Party, which argues that ‘feminism’ is now being used by sections of the left, in particular the dominant ‘Eurocommunist’ left in the CP, to justify their moves to the right, with an accompanying attack on traditional forms of trade union militancy. Beatrix Campbell, who is aligned to the dominant position within the CP, has been one target of Weir and Wilson's criticisms. In several articles from 1978 onwards, and in her book Wigan Pier Revisited, Beatrix Campbell has presented a very different analysis of women and the labour movement. She has criticized the trade union movement as a ‘men's movement’, in the sense that it has always represented the interests of men at the expense of women. And she has described the current split within the CP as one extending throughout the left between the politics of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’: traditional labour movement politics as against the politics of those who have rethought their socialism to take into account the analysis and importance of popular social movements – in particular feminism, the peace and anti-racist movements. In reply to this debate, Anne Phillips has argued that while women's position today must be analysed in the context of the capitalist crisis, it is not reducible to the dichotomy ‘class politics’ versus ‘popular alliance’. Michèle Barrett, in another reply to Weir and Wilson, has argued that they have presented a reductionist and economistic approach to women's oppression, which caricatures rather than clarifies much of the work in which socialist-feminists have been engaged. To air these differences between socialist-feminists over the question of feminism and class politics, and to see their implications for the women's movement and the left, Feminist Review has decided to bring together the main protagonists of this debate for a fuller, more open discussion. For this discussion Feminist Review drew up a number of questions which were put to the participants by Clara Connolly and Lynne Segal. They cover the recent background to socialist-feminist politics, the relationship of feminism to Marxism, the role of feminists in le ft political parties and the labour movement, the issue of racism and the prospects for the immediate future. The discussion was lengthy and what follows is an edited version of the transcript.
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DOI 10.1057/fr.1986.18
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