Why socialist feminism?

Submitted by AWL on 6 April, 2016 - 1:27 Author: Kate Harris

Workers Liberty Women's new pamphlet, Why Socialist Feminism?, is a short but dense whistle-stop tour through contemporary Marxist-feminist theory.

Rachael Clark's chapter on capitalism and women's oppression (which draws heavily on the work of Lise Vogel) offers a deft analysis of women's work and work for women under capitalism; as well as the ways in which socialist-feminists can understand capitalism as both a cause of women's oppression and exploitation and an opportunity for us to make gains and agitate for socialism. Clark's article on sex positive feminism very concisely tackles the problems and solutions of the sexual exploitation of women and the different approaches, including ours.

Ellen Trent's chapter on intersectionality goes a long way towards opening up the dialogue between Marxist-feminists and intersectional feminists; insightfully balancing the benefits and drawbacks of intersectional approaches and relating them to our tradition. In a later article she also raises the issue of socialist-feminist approaches to reproductive rights as reproductive rights are not only about legality but also accessibility and affordability.

Carrie Bright writes about how we can understand women's oppression by looking at the collision of capitalism and patriarchy and thus both the material conditions and cultural ideas that reinforce our positions in society. This raises a lot of questions, too, for socialist-feminists, in terms of whether we consider patriarchy to be a structure in itself.

Why Socialist Feminism? approaches feminism from a socialist perspective, as well as approaching working class politics from a feminist perspective, as in Joan Trevor's chapter on women workers of the world and globalisation and Charlotte Zalens' short piece on the welfare state. These expose the real power of socialist-feminism. When our class is united, we are powerful; and since women are the majority of both the world's population and the working class, we desperately need working-class women's strength to overcome both the old system of male domination and the newer system of capitalist exploitation.

Elizabeth Butterworth's chapter on religion questions whether religion is inherently oppressive, or more oppressive than the rest of society, and asks if it's possible to be religious and a feminist.

Jessica Bradwell offers a detailed and fascinating analysis of the German Social Democratic women's movement and the lessons we can learn from it and apply to our work today. She also provides a scathing critique of would-be Marxist theories that downplay the importance of women in the socialist movement and of our revolutionary potential.

Jayne Evans writes eloquently about the history and theory of feminism and women in the Russian Revolution and, like Bradwell, writes about the lessons we can learn and apply from this period of working class history.

Overall, Why Socialist Feminism? is full of nuggets of wisdom, interesting ideas, perceptions and critiques. It is far from a complete guide to socialist-feminism and could do with development and fleshing out. Workers Liberty's 1989 publication The Case for Socialist Feminism has some sharp critiques of identity politics and Stalinism that could be updated and included in future editions. It would be good, too, to add to the examples of working class women's struggles that have been included, and to further develop analyses of sexuality, patriarchy and gender identity: the issue of trans* rights is a notable gap in the book.

But there is plenty to engage with and there are plenty of ideas to wrestle with in this short and accessible book. Buy the book online

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