The feminism and socialism conference held in Melbourne, October 5th-6th this year, marked the clear need among women both in the traditional left wing groups and in the womens' movement to come together to discuss wider political issues than those which feminism has in the last 10 years become synonymous with: - ie: free abortion on demand, equal pay, free adequate child care facilities etc.- The object of the conference, and to a certain extent it succeeded, was to go beyond these issues to analysis of women within capitalism, and feminism as a revolutionary force. Because no such conference had been held before, it was obvious to all that although there would be consensus on those above basic issues, there was likely to be a wide diversity of political analysis above and beyond them.
This proved to be the case. There was much discussion over the class question, whether the traditional Marxian analysis can be applied to women, or whether women merely assume the class of their husband, both parties were disappointingly intransigent on this issue; the traditional Trot-ML groups refused to admit all women share any common oppression, or any that goes beyond the economic factors that oppress both working men and women, and many militant feminists refused to condemn bourgeois women for their willing participation in the exploitation of workers.
It is obvious that women are oppressed in different ways, and to override economic oppression and say all women are sexually oppressed is insufficient as it overlooks the plight of working-class women, and to look at the issue of women in class terms is overlooking the crucial nature of feminism in its challenge to sex roles. To say that a bourgeois woman is not economically oppressed by hard working conditions, two jobs, too many children, etc., does not eliminate the fact that she may and probably is limited by society because she is a woman, and one must look at how she uses her position in the capitalist class before feminists can open their arms to her as their 'sister'.
A distressing feature of the conference was that although there were large numbers of women who were active militants, in the larger political sense, they have been forced in a way to move towards Trotskyist groups in order to find a venue for their political activity. Thus they have fallen victim to both a narrow analysis of the role of feminism in revolution, and an authoritarian analysis of society and revolution as a whole. It is paradoxical that feminism, a real challenge to authoritarian role conditioning and power relations, should be seen, to a lot of women, in a revolutionary situation as an auxiliary wing of the Leninist political party.
This is due to the limitations of the feminist movement as it is presently organized. The introverted realizations of the impact of one's own role conditioning in the way one relates to other people is crucial to feminism, in fact a lot more people should attempt it, but it is not all. Feminism as a revolutionary movement needs to extend beyond this introspective approach and couple it with an outgoing analysis of capitalism, because although women have been oppressed for thousands of years it is through capitalism that we are oppressed today.
The fact that the majority of feminist groups have not extended beyond consciousness-raising between its own members to wider political activity is the reason why many women have been forced to move towards Leninist groups. The other alternative and unfortunately the most common among feminists is political apathy. Due to the immaturity of feminism as an ideology (I say maturity in a historical sense) the reconciliation of immediate and long term aims has never been sufficiently achieved for the movement as a whole, consequently women have floated to find their own means of reconciling the two and the result, unfortunately, is frequently not consistent with the fundamental premise of feminism: ie a questioning of role conditioning, patriarchy and authoritarianism.
A libertarian ideology is the only one capable of embracing a feminist world view, in that, for the anarchist there can never be any arbitrarily imposed priority for economic/political causes as against social issues that touch the individual, all is one. Anarchism is incompatible with personal tyranny, which it correctly sees as the most fundamental and insidious form of tyranny.
Consequently anarchy must utilize its lack of restricting dogma to embrace the 'low-key' political activities: ie feminism, role conditioning, anti-psychiatry, Reich, environment, it goes on. But primarily I don't mean anarchism should embrace these fields on an issue basis, that must never be the level of our politics; what I feel we must do is freely approach these areas to develop our own consciousness as anarchists. No-one would deny that they are encased in a capitalist repressive environment and the effects of that on the individual must be fruitfully explored. Before the individual can attempt to change society each must perceive first the limitations society has already imposed upon them, and act upon that as they act upon society.
Read to the Victorian Pre-Conference, Dec 1974.
Distributed at National Conference, January 1975.
Distributed at National Conference, January 1975.