Sheila Rowbotham, Women’s Liberation and the International Socialists

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Through the 1960s a determined reader might have had access to much of the best of today’s social history. C. L. R. James and Eric Williams had shown the contested history of slavery, from its creation in Europe to the opposition to the trade from the people of Africa and the Caribbean. The British Marxist historians, including Rodney Hilton, Christopher Hill, Eric Hobsbawm and Edward Thompson, had pioneered the concept of ‘history from below’, the idea that the past should be witnessed from the perspective not of the rulers but of the masses. In France and Germany, the major forms of social history had been defined as ‘histoire totale‘ or ‘Gesellschaftsgeschichte‘. Through studying the total set of human behaviour, including protests of subaltern groups, social history could provide a total account of human history. The most important institution behind this trend was the French journal Annales, while the British journal Past and Present and the German Geschicte und Gesellschaft showed a similar ambition.

Yet for all the undoubted qualities of the new social history, it also suffered from certain, major weaknesses. In 1970 Eric Hobsbawm was invited to present a paper to a conference in Rome on ‘Historical Studies Today’. Hobsbawm was then at the left edge of the discipline and the most prominent intellectual within the Communist Party of Great Britain. Twenty-five years later, Hobsbawm was invited to include this same paper, ‘From Social History to the History of Society’, in a collection of his articles. The paper duly appeared, but it had to be published with an awkward preface, ‘The author cannot but note with embarrassed astonishment that it contained no reference at all to women’s history. Admittedly, this field had scarcely begun to develop before the end of the 1960s, but neither I nor any of the other contributors to this volume, among the most distinguished in the profession – all males – appear to have been aware of the gap.’

Had Hobsbawm taken a closer interest, in 1970, he might have noticed that the first signs of a growing women’s consciousness were already about. While the Communist Party showed little interest in the new politics, there were other traditions that were less resistant to it. The American women’s movement, which had been strong in the 1880 and the 1920s, had been reborn in the early 1960s. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique asked why so many of her friends felt ‘a sense of dissatisfaction’. They were articulate, well-educated women who played by the rules, so why were their lives incomplete? In 1963, Friedan launched the National Organisation for Women (NOW). Two years before Hobsbawm’s paper, American women had protested against the Miss America contest. There was a women’s liberation movement in the US and in Britain. Women’s history followed it.

One key figure was Sheila Rowbotham. Born in 1943 to a Methodist family in Leeds, Rowbotham’s mother was an office clerk and her father an engineering salesman. Even as a schoolgirl, she claimed that the story of kings and queens ‘left her cold’. Educated at St. Hilda’s, an all-women college at Oxford University, Rowbotham gravitated towards left-wing politics. In the mid-1960s she sided with the left inside the Labour’s Young Socialists. ‘I spent a long time watching how people reacted to each other and I became slowly versed in the intense if narrow rigours of Trotskyism, between the collapse of CND and the rise of the student movement.’

She briefly joined one particular group, the International Socialists or “IS”. According to Rowbotham, ‘In the sixties they seemed to be able to assimilate and learn from new movements while retaining an understanding of exploitation. This was important both for the student movement and locally for me in the Vietnam Solidarity Committee in Hackney. But before these, IS had supported various kinds of community action, a campaign about racialism in Islington and the organization of private tenants in Hackney which contributed to their involvement in the council tenants’ movement in the late sixties.’ For Rowbotham, the group’s combination of coherent theory and tactical flexibility continued at least until the end of sixties.

Another important influence was Rowbotham’s friendship with Edward (“E.P.”) and Dorothy Thompson, two socialist historians of the previous generation. Through their support, Rowbotham became an active participant at the annual History Workshop conferences. ‘I wanted to understand how people formed their ideas through action, collective action, and again, History Workshop, as well as its interest in subjective experience, personal experience, of education and things like that, was always more interested in a wider concept of collective struggle than existed within Marxist ways of thinking, because in Marxism there had always been this emphasis on production.’

It is hard to separate the history and political activism of this generation. At the 1969 History Workshop conference, there was a long discussion of women’s work. Men in the audience responded critically, with at least one insisting that women did not want to work. Afterwards Sheila Rowbotham, Anna Davin, Barbara Winslow and Sally Alexander met together and decided to hold a women’s liberation conference in Ruskin. This became the first such conference in Britain. Five hundred people took part, including some forty men, who justified their presence by running the crèche, and around 50 members of IS. Not just women’s history, but the modern British movement for women’s liberation begins with the History Workshop movement.

In the ten years from 1969, Rowbotham produced an extraordinary series of books. Her first pamphlet, Women’s Liberation and the New Politics (published in 1969) was an early statement of the case for women’s liberation. Next came Women, Resistance and Revolution (1972), a history of women’s struggles to achieve equality. Hidden from History (1973) provided a short guide to women’s history from the seventeenth century onwards, covering not just the feminist movement itself but now such diverse topics as religion, birth control, rescue work, sexuality, motherhood and anti-feminism. Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World (1973) was more of a personal memoir, mapping the path of her own development towards revolutionary feminism, and indeed of her generation. Another book, A New World for Women (1977) rescued the life of an early Communist and champion of birth control. Written with Jean McCrindle, Dutiful Daughters (1977) was an oral history of fourteen working-class and lower-middle-class women. Some were activists, others just chose to talk about their own private lives. It is useful to see this book as an expression of the Thompsonian belief that human stories are always valuable. Another co-publication, Socialism and the New Life (1977) told the story of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis, two pioneers of sexual reform. The second author was Jeffrey Weeks, one of the first British writers to publish lesbian or gay history. This creative period culminated in Rowbotham’s contribution to Beyond the Fragments, this was not an attempt to tell the story of the movement, but a challenge to remake it, arguing that socialist organisation should build on the democratic power-relationships of women’s liberation at its best. These books constitute an early zenith of women’s history, to the left of the 1970s what the British Marxist historians had been a decade earlier.

Rowbotham’s writing was influenced by politics of socialism and human liberation – the politics which also caused Rowbotham to join IS. At points she acknowledged this directly. Like all writers, Rowbotham was influenced by the friends she made, and by her milieu of colleagues and comrades. The preface to her book Hidden from History thanks socialist activists including Joan Smith, Richard Kuper and David Widgery (all from IS); comrades from the women’s movement, namely Anna Davin and Barbara Winslow; social historians from an earlier generation, Edward and Dorothy Thompson, Keith Thomas, Christopher Hill and Bill Fishman. Finally, it mentions women in struggle, whose activism ‘directed many of the questions I was asking about the past’. They included ‘the Fakenham women who occupied their factory, the London cleaners who went on strike, and the women in the claimants union who in campaigning against the cohabitation clause are confronting patriarchy and the state.’ For Rowbotham, it would have been laughable to think that feminism was essentially a ‘bourgeois’ or ‘middle-class movement’, her heroes were revolutionaries and working class women. Now, it has to be admitted that the length of her acknowledgments indicates that this was not a “party line” book; the politics of International Socialism was among her influences and (this is important) it was not the only one. But it was there, a part of the whole.

Rowbotham’s biographies of Edward Carpenter and Stella Browne were both published by Pluto Press, then the in-house publisher of the IS, as was Hidden from History itself. In another book, Threads Through Time, she names women from IS in Coventry as among the constituents of the first Women’s Liberation Conference. In a further book, The Past is Before Us, Rowbotham quotes approvingly from a speech by Anna Paczuska of IS to the second, 1971 Women’s liberation conference: “For us in women’s liberation, the right of women to work is an important demand. We do not necessarily think that working women are liberation but we understand that the right to work brings many women immense social gain…”

Women’s Consciousness, Man’s World contains some of Rowbotham’s first published passages of autobiography. She described being on the left in the mid-1960s in Hackney and encountering types of left-ism which left her cold, “Like the man form Militant who solemnly told everyone that drugs, drink and women were a capitalist plot to seduce the workers from Marxism.”

Here she describes being in an IS-dominated branch of the Young Socialists: ‘I made some friends; the implications of my class background were drummed into me; my political perceptions grew out of a working-class-based local organization which was integrally bound to Marxism. Most important I encountered a Marxism in practice in which there was no single orthodoxy but much disputation.’ This was the style of the group which Tony Cliff had nurtured, young, argumentative and hopeful.

Rowbotham continues: ‘I learned from older Marxist friends that alternative Marxisms existed beyond and behind my world of the YS. They talked to me about the Communist Party, about Hungary, Algeria, about the Social Democratic Federation in Leeds. They connected politics to the way you lived.’ There was no idea then that the politics of the group might be separated from the moral failings of its leadership; this was a Marxism which had an argument for everything.

‘It seemed I was just part of a great ebbing and flowing mass of people, who fell in love, suffered, activated, died, but who all took conscious if tortured decisions which had a small but not insignificant effect. Most important, some of these people were women. The socialism I discovered from them was one which was explicitly committed to human dignity and which assumed that women should be as proud and as responsible as men.’

Why did IS attract a young activist like Rowbotham? Part of the group’s success was that it navigated successfully between two false approaches to Marxism; one, in which the problems of politics had been solved by the early passages of the Communist Manifesto, and in which all human suffering was reducible to the problems of class, and a second in which exploitation was relegated altogether and became just another one of several, undifferentiated sufferings.

The point which Marx himself had grasped (not in his 20s, it must be acknowledged, but somewhere between the Manifesto and Capital) is that the workers are not the most downtrodden, dispossessed group in society. Their claim to primacy rests not from their greater suffering but from their better implantation at the heart of capitalism and their greater capacity to take over the workplaces and production.

IS did not consider itself ‘the party’; and would have laughed at the pretensions to ‘leadership’ of the modern-day self-declared ‘working-class vanguard’ in which educators outnumber fire-fighters by 150 to 1. It was modest; its members were not afraid to laugh at themselves. But what they understood best, and more creatively than their rivals on the left, was that any socialism worthy of the name must somehow join up the struggles of the oppressed and the exploited. More than this, IS grasped that ‘joining up’ does not mean ‘dissolving one into the other’. A perspective for women’s liberation, if you wanted to have one, should grasp both the specific suffering of women in society, and recognise and analyse its specific forms (equal pay, domestic violence, unequal resposibilities for childcare, etc) while at the same time championing a world run by the workers.

Like socialism, IS always had two souls. Rowbotham’s eventual reckoning with the group came at the start of the 1980s in her autobiographical contribution to Beyond the Fragments. In effect, she blamed Cliff’s Leninist turn for her departure:

‘I joined for about eighteen months, following a drive to recruit people who agreed very generally with their aims after Powell’s racist speech in 1968. A debate about organization was just coming to an end. I puzzled over various position papers in bewilderment. In a sense I’m still reeling, for ideas take years to sink in and grow out of me. Anyway in retrospect this argument seems to me to have been crucial. It involved discussion about the degree of autonomy local branches should have. The case for a centralized structure was eventually accepted. This debate came to be referred to as a closed issue – as if it had been settled. But its implications were critical for the course which IS was to take as an organization. Closing up on these issues was a mistake. It was implied there was no time for further discussion.’

IS, she argued, had not sustained in its initial interest in the politics of Women’s Liberation – despite the fact that several of the WL groups outside London had been established by IS members. There were other examples of sectarianism, she complained, including the group’s long hostility to gay liberation: ‘Why should a group which had rejected dogma hold its ideas as moralistic defences?’ she asked. ‘Ostensibly committed to learning from workers’ struggles, the initiator of rank and file groups, opposed to bureaucracy in the labour movement, IS baulked at extending these ideas into the wider issues of everyday life or at applying them within their own organization. Even the commitment to workers’ rank and file struggles and experience came to be narrowly defined in terms of recruitment.’

‘In its early days IS really did try and break with sectarian traditions and with the windbag rhetorical rituals on the left. But this hardened into a refusal to talk about the politics of what they were doing within the left.’

All this was written, of course, before the closure of the SWP’s women’s magazine Women’s Voice, a yet further crime which could have been added to Rowbotham’s indictment

We can see this hardening in our own time, as well as its potential antidote: a left which can grasp the politics of the intimate and the everyday; a left which is serious about democracy within; a left which is comfortable in the world of the present (rather than being chained to the repetition of ideas which have not been reconsidered in 30 years).

Wouldn’t this be a better place to begin?

11 responses »

  1. You make some valid and useful points here. But you rely far too heavily on Rowbotham’s book, which is often inaccurate on detailed points.
    It is quite simply false to claim that “the modern British movement for women’s liberation begins with the History Workshop movement.” Surely after the movie everyone knows it began with the Ford women’s strike. And perhaps you should say a bit more about the IS activity around the nightcleaners – this was central to what was best in the IS tradition.
    And it is bizarre to call the closure of Women’s Voice a “crime” – you can’t even get the magazine’s name right, which doesn’t suggest a close acquaintance with the facts. Maybve talk to some of the people who were active at the time. One problem is that there was a rendency to ghettoise women emmbers into WV work, while all other areas of the party’s work were left mainly to men. The closing of WV actually drew far more women into the mainstream activity of the party.

    • Ian, I’ll be posting quite a large number of Women’s Voice articles over the next few weeks, as well as articles on Cliff’s and Lindsey’s books, a long piece about WV itself, and some longer, more theoretical articles on the politics of rape and sexual harassment.

      As part of writing them, in the last week alone, I have read through about 40 issues of WV. I think your defence of the decision is more nuanced than it first appears. Would there necessarily be a contradiction between the following two sentences: A) (as you say) “The closing of WV actually drew far more women into the mainstream activity of the party” and B) “On the closing of WV, the majority of the contributors to the magazine left the SWP. Fewer than a quarter ever wrote for an SWP publication again”.

      Re the IS and the nightcleaners: I would love there to be an article about this – as short as need be – on this blog or elsewhere. Do you know of one? If not, who could write it?

  2. There is an interesting debate between Sheila Rowbotham and Lindsey German from a Marxism in the 1980s which is online here, in which Lindsey German makes the point that ”It’s a Leninist revolutionary organisation, rooted in the working class, which holds the key to women’s liberation.”

    I suspect Lindsey German still believes that in an abstract sense – however, it is not at all clear whether Dave Renton still does or not. Some clarification here might be useful.

    Also Dave, you write that back in the good old IS days before the formation of the SWP,

    ”IS did not consider itself ‘the party’; and would have laughed at the pretensions to ‘leadership’ of the modern-day self-declared ‘working-class vanguard’ in which educators outnumber fire-fighters by 150 to 1. It was modest; its members were not afraid to laugh at themselves.”

    I was just wondering what evidence you had for the SWP today declaring itself ”the leadership” and the ”working-class vanguard” – I have not read that in any SWP publications personally…

    • Christian, in answer to your first question, I haven’t believed in more than a decade that a working class party, no matter how successful, can be “the key” (singular) to women’s liberation. Successful working class politics can be a key. But women’s liberation equally requires campaigning by large numbers of men and women about practical issues of oppression, and this part of the total picture has not happened only through working class parties. I’ll post a piece in about three weeks or so about how campaigning has shaped the modern law of rape; eg by causing the criminalisation of marital rape. With all the best will in the world, I don’t think anyone could seriously argue that what acheived this victory was simply a socialist party (the “one key” argument). It was far more down to women’s campaigning about rape in the totality of which some work but relatively little was done by socialists, in part because socialists tended to focus on different aspects of women’s oppression.

      On the vanguard point, I direct you o the final section of Alex Callinicos’ talk at Marxism (his summing up), the one in which he accused “the faction” (as if there was only one in the present SWP) of wishing to set aside the vanguard of the working class, which he narrowly defined as SWP members working in schools or the civil service, in favour of a not yet existent vanguard of new layers of the working class who had not yet come into struggle. If you can’t track down the talk on Youtube, let me know and I’ll find it for you

      • Dave – firstly, of course reforms improving the lives of women have been won by the wider movement and various campaigns – and organised revolutionary socialists have only played a very minor, marginal role within those campaigns – and not at all been ”the key” here. However, what Lindsey German was pointing to in her argument was not this – rather that of course individual reforms can be won – but these can then be lost, or threatened, or undermined – as the Tory propaganda on abortion rights is threatening providing we continue to live under class society, capitalist society. Real meaningful permanent liberation can only come with the end of capitalism and with socialism – and here not just any form of ”working class party” (the Labour Party perhaps?) but ”a Leninist revolutionary organisation, rooted in the working class” does indeed ”holds the key to women’s liberation”. If you have abandoned this belief over the last decade or so, then really the question about what you are still doing in the SWP does arise…

        Secondly, listening again to Alex’s summing up in the Marxism meeting, it is very clear indeed that by ”vanguard” he is referring to public sector workers, civil servants and teachers as a whole – ie the workers who took part in the mass coordinated 2 million strong strikes of 2011 (he contrasts them to earlier vanguards of the British working class like dockers, carworkers, miners in the 1970s and 1980s). By vanguard, he is not talking about SWP members, though he notes that it is a good thing that we have members who can try and shape such struggles in the public sector in a way that our SWP members who were dockers, carworkers, miners etc could not do in earlier struggles (because of the relative strength of the Communist Party still). Trying to misconstrue what Alex said to attack the SWP in the way you did in the post is therefore a little dishonest.

  3. Christian
    I will put the point as gently as I can; but at some stage in the future there *will* come a moment when you question your membership of the SWP and think that the leadership has called a decision wrong. I know this, you know this, it is a consequence of any actual involvement in the outside world. No party can get 500 consecutive decisions right and not one wrong. If you personally – Christian Hogsbjerg – argue for positions outside the SWP then at least once you will see the party err. If you knew the biographies of the leading cadres of the present pro-leadership faction, many of them (Paul Holborow, Sue Caldwell…) have been in that position in the last five years, and one day it will be you.

    At that moment, I hope other things persuade you to remain – either in the SWP or whatever has succeeded it by that date. At that time, you will encounter heresiacs in search of heresies. And at that point I hope you treat them with considerably more contempt than I will treat you.

    The notion of the role of the party you are now proposing – as the only thing that could hold lastingly *any* reform back from a tide of capitalist reversal – was not argued by Harris or Kidron or Hallas. You are inverting the relationship in classic Marxism between party and class, making the former the master of the latter. It was Lukacs’ position at the beginning of his descent into Stalinism, it was the treasured, final card played on their victims by the co-ordinators of the Stalinist show trials. It is the myth against which Serge and Sedgwick and Widgery – and Cliff – all fought so hard and so long.

    Like all heresey-hunters, you are trying to make a badge of loyalty out of a position which has dawned on you only recently. And I say, in loyalty to the friend I have known, and the careful, reflective, and honest Marxist I hope you will always be – do not accuse me of heresy. One day, it will be you on the other end of the hersiacs. And you will treasure their approach as little as I like yours here.

    • Well, every revolutionary party denies it thinks it’s THE revolutionary party. What that means in practice is another thing. How many times have we all referred to the SWP as “the party”? But, even so, how about this for Links or it Isn’t True. This is the SWP’s section About Us: http://www.swp.org.uk/about-us. The section headed “Revolutionary Party”:

      “Those who rule our society are powerful because they are organised – they control the wealth, media, courts and the military. They use their power to limit and contain opposition. To combat that power, working people have to be organised as well. The Socialist Workers Party aims to bring together activists from the movement and working class. A revolutionary party is necessary to strengthen the movement, organise people within it and aid them in developing the ideas and strategies that can overthrow capitalism entirely.”

      Any other revolutionary groups worth mentioning?

  4. I hate to break into a private quarrel, but can I come back to your reply to me. You assert “On the closing of WV, the majority of the contributors to the magazine left the SWP. Fewer than a quarter ever wrote for an SWP publication again”. Now if that is a serious statistical claim, it means you have read through about 800 issues of Socialist Worker for the eighties looking for names of WV contributors. I suspect you haven’t, but if you have, well done. But it doesn’t prove your point. To people like you and myself, writiing is a major form of activity. But for most people it isn’t. It is perfectly possible that WV contributors remained in the party doing all sorts of valuable activity but not writing for the party press. While we certainly lost some good comrades over the WV closure, I very much doubt if it was 3/4 of those involved in WV. I think to prove the point you would need to do a lot more than read 40 issues of WV.
    Whether we can separate the losses caused by WV from those produced by the more general demoralisation of the downturn, collapse of rank and file groups, etc. is a real problem, and would require careful investigation. My recollection is that membership stayed fairly steady in the 80s, perhaps even growing a little. I did a lot of speaking all over the country in the eighties and it is not my impression that there were fewer women in meetings after the closure of WV.
    And I think there are reasons why our losses in that period (over both WV and the closure of the R&F groups), while regrettable, were not as substantial as they might have been. Cliiff and the rest of the leadership, though they fought hard, did not try to force a premature closure on the question; they wanted to win the argument, not simply the vote. Cliff in particular spent many hours discussing and arguing with individuals; While vigorous in argument he was not impatient and bad-tempered about it.
    We can argue about the tactics and timing, but to call it a “crime” is nonsense.

    • Ian, I chose the issue of people who wrote for WV carefully, as it is a particular kind of activity (and of course yes, by no means the highest). Let’s say you’re right and *all* that happened was that a few dozen people who had seriously identified with a party publication lost it and went back into the rank and file, and even if they never wrote for party publications again, they did at least attend branch meetings, etc… don’t you think that would be a loss? There was something there, something real, which was an important part of their lives which they never got back.

      Yes I can well believe that Sue Caldwell (god help us) was a WV supporter who turned. But you can’t trump the disappearance of an entire generation of comrades who had kept the SWP’s women’s organisation going for a decade, with the point that out of the Women’s Voice row Cliff identified the cadre for a women’s perspective in the 1980s. Ok, new people came in, but a generation was lost – and that method has not done the SWP any favours, then or now.

  5. In support of my previous contribution, two paragraphs from my bigraphy of Cliff (chapter 10):

    Cliff was determined to wind down Women’s Voice eventually, but was nervous of having a fight about it; he was terrified of losing some of the women activists who supported Women’s Voice. So he wanted to let the debate go on as long as necessary. [This was common practice with Cliff. He would often ask “Have you got a side?”, and insist that until you were sure your side had 75%, you should not move against the opposition. ] He depended on a number of allies, in particular Lindsey German, who became a key member of the leadership at this time.
    Sue Caldwell was a relatively new recruit when she attended a caucus for trade unionists in the civil service at which Cliff was present. At the end of the meeting Cliff approached her and asked her view on Women’s Voice. When she expressed disagreement with the CC line, he argued with her. She was not immediately convinced, and went to the 1981 conference as an opponent of the CC line, where she was convinced by the arguments in the course of the conference. She was impressed by the way Cliff seemed to know everyone in every district and encouraged an argument because he knew the question had to be won politically in the branches.

  6. Dave – am sorry if I touched a nerve here, as I clearly did. I think political arguments like this are always better conducted face to face in person rather than on blogs, and hopefully we will have the opportunity to do this at somepoint. However, that said, and with respect, there is surely nothing wrong per se with argument between comrades – I wasn’t trying to ‘heresy hunt’ for the sake of it.

    I sadly can’t find the exact quote now – perhaps Ian can remember – but when I think Sedgwick or perhaps Widgery began to move away from the party, comrades argued fiercely with them to stay and to try and convince them they were mistaken in their positions before they left. It actually is a sign of respect that if a comrade comes out with a position that you as a comrade think is mistaken, or not particularly Marxist or Leninist, that you try and patiently explain why they are wrong on this.

    You talk about the SWP leadership not being infallible (about which you are right – it is not infallible, and neither does it claim to be infallible) – but it is equally true that no individual comrade however ‘brilliant’ or ‘talented’ or whatever is infallible and always right either. In fact – and isn’t this after all the whole point of an organisation like the SWP surely – that as individuals we are all subject to the pressures of bourgeois society, careerism – as well as alienation, the ruling class ideas of society etc etc – and in fact the point of being part of a collective organisation is to challenge us whenever we begin to give in to some of these pressures and move away from revolutionary politics?

    I am not saying you are necessarily moving away from revolutionary politics per se here, by the way – and I should add that (and this may be a minority position in the party, I don’t know) that personally I do hope you stay in the SWP and do not leave and go and help set up yet another ”Cliffite-lite” splinter group (on the lines of Counterfire, ISG, ISN)- which is surely the last thing the British Left needs.

    However, that said, I genuinely don’t think what I am saying about Leninism / the party is anything different from what I have always thought about Leninism / the party since joining. I didn’t say that the party was ”the only thing that could hold lastingly *any* reform back from a tide of capitalist reversal” – that would be patently absurd – again that would be the task of the wider labour movement / campaign. For example, in terms of trying to stop NHS privatisation or the privatisation of Royal Mail today – I am not arguing that only the SWP can stop this happening – indeed, that is why I am involved with for example supporting the TUC backed health union demonstration at the Tory conference in Manchester and other initiatives eg local Peoples Assembly / groups like Keep Our NHS public and supporting the upcoming CWU strikes. That is why the SWP is for example is not just saying ‘build the party’ but instead building the TUC demo and the Unite the Resistance conference – to hopefully help encourage the kind of mass co-ordinated strike action between teachers, civil servants, firefighters, postworkers, etc we need to stop the Tories in their tracks.

    What I actually said is that ”Real meaningful permanent [women's] liberation can only come with the end of capitalism and with socialism” – and that this needed a revolutionary party to built in the working class. Not a particularly controversial idea within the IS tradition I would have thought – and one that is reinforced by a cursory examination of, for example, some of the reviews some of Sheila Rowbotham’s work got in SWP publications – eg for reviews of some of her work by Julie Waterson see here and here. If you think Julie Waterson was wrong about Sheila Rowbotham, then that is fine – you are entitled to your opinion – but all I would suggest is that it is not myself who is proposing some new understanding of the relationship of party and class that runs so counter to the IS tradition but your good self. And if you argue for a new position – as is of course your right within the party – then don’t be so utterly surprised if some of your friends and comrades decide to challenge you about this and try and persuade you to change your mind.

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