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Why every feminist should be a socialist and why every socialist needs to be a feminist

The building of a broad-based women’s movement and a strengthened labour movement must go hand in hand, argues MARY DAVIS

THE unrelenting ideological onslaught on women’s sex-based rights has escalated to the point at which the very definition of “women” as a biological sex is now subject to sustained attack. 

This has resulted in the collective rights of women threatened and undermined. The overused term “cancel culture” is wrong and inadequate to describe the current and unparalleled ideological onslaught on women as a biological sex. We are facing erasure in the face of gender identity policy capture. 

This “erasure” of women is of special concern at present. The effect of the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, both globally and domestically. 

Fuelled by pervasive misogyny, bolstered by dangerous incel activity, violence against women in the home and in society at large has increased exponentially. 

Femicide is rampant worldwide. The need for a women’s movement has never been greater. 

This weekend’s FiLiA conference, I hope, along with other gender critical women’s organisations will play an important part in creating a regenerated women’s movement.

The building of a broad-based women’s movement and a strengthened labour movement, which rejects capitalist ideology and understands the vital importance of protecting and extending women’s sex-based rights, must go hand in hand. 

However, without a robust renewal of Marxist-feminist theory, which challenges the dominant ideology of identity politics, such a project will remain a distant vision. 

The oppression of women is rooted in class exploitation. The super-exploitation of women as workers and their oppression as women is a fundamental prerequisite for the operation of capitalism — economically, politically and ideologically. Hence, the eradication of class exploitation is the essential precondition for the liberation of women. 

Socialism provides the only means by which the most complete form of class exploitation (ie that represented by the capitalist system), can be ended. 

Whether conscious of its mission or not, the labour movement exists for this purpose. But its socialist mission can only be fulfilled if it expunges capitalist ideology — and that includes any ideological practice which impedes the protection and extension of the rights of women. 

The history of the labour movement in this country and elsewhere has shown that the level of class consciousness at any given moment is a crucial factor in determining the extent to which women’s oppression is challenged. 

But while this is a crucial factor, it is not the only determinant. Equally important is a powerful movement among women themselves as a focus for articulating our oppression. 

Both these two movements — a strong and class-conscious feminist-inspired labour movement and a broad-based women’s movement — are essential together as the twin pillars of the challenge to women’s oppression and super-exploitation. 

However, we still have a long way to go in ensuring that the labour movement truly represents the interests of 51 per cent of British population, let alone the majority of its members — women! 

Recent events have shown that gender identity ideology has permeated the labour movement, with the result that defending women’s rights has taken a back seat. 

Currently, a campaign against alleged transphobia has taken precedence over the threat to Professor Kathleen Stock’s employment at Sussex University. She has received no support from the University and College Union. 

This, and many other examples, are indicative of the effect of dominant and divisive ideologies that serve to subvert the very principles on which the trade union movement was founded: solidarity and defence of workers’ rights — surely that includes the female 71.8 per cent of the labour force! “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

However, this cannot mean that we, who now constitute the majority of trade union members, should abandon the labour movement to its fate. 

We have to fight, as women have done throughout our history, to claim our space and our agenda. We must not be confined to the role of an audience in the drama of working life and the struggle to end workers’ exploitation. 

For the basis of oppression is class exploitation and the progress of women’s liberation is inextricably linked to the progress of the class struggle itself. 

Thus socialists, and especially socialist feminists, must not write off the labour movement as an unchangeable male-dominated, ideologically myopic edifice. 

For socialists, the goal has to be the forging of working-class unity based on a recognition of its historic divisions; divisions founded principally on race and sex. 

Black people and women are not the optional extras to be pulled off the subs’ bench when the game needs a boost. They are part of the very fabric of the working class itself, and hence must be an integral part of the workers’ movement if it is to get anywhere at all; that is why if white males call themselves socialists it is axiomatic that they must be feminists and anti-racists.

This entails an understanding that the denial of women’s rights has been justified by patriarchal ideologies throughout recorded history and a recognition that in capitalist society all workers are exploited, but women are super-exploited thus increasing surplus value (profit).     

Capitalism can only be maintained by dividing workers on most easily identifiably basis — biological sex and skin colour. The oppressive ideologies of racism and sexism perpetuate class division. 

Class, in Marxist terms, is defined in relation to the means of production. Those who have to sell their labour power for a wage are workers. 

While women and black people do not constitute a class in Marxist terms, they nevertheless do not exist outside class relations and clearly, the overwhelming majority are workers.

Women have been oppressed and super-exploited in all forms of class society due to the conflict between our role in the private domain of reproduction and the public sphere of social production. 

Or, to put it simply, the problematic navigation between the competing spheres of work and home faced by women throughout our working lives — the result of which is unequal pay, job segregation and part-time work. 

Our trade unions fail us if they relegate the fight against these injustices to the dismal AOB spot on the bottom of their agendas.

So although we assert that the eradication of class exploitation is the essential precondition for the liberation of women and that women’s liberation can only be achieved in socialist system of society, there is a mighty struggle to be waged on three fronts here and now. 

The first is the ideological battle which has to be shifted away from the “gender” issue per se and on to our terrain of the fight for women’s rights and the understanding of women’s oppression. 

Second, the (at present non-existent) “respectful debate” can only be achieved when we women are a mighty assembled unignorable force so that our analysis and our policies lead the debate. 

This requires a powerful women’s movement. Thirdly, even at the risk of vilification, our argument must be taken into the labour movement in order to challenge and expose an ideology which erases women and tramples our rights. We are many, they are few.

Dare to struggle, dare to win!


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