Tony Greenstein | 12 March 2013 | Post Views:

The SWP and the Personal is Political

I received, out of the blue, an article (see below) from Camilla Power, a socialist Darwinian anthropologist in her words and a feminist.

The trigger for the article was the decision by the Socialist Workers Party Central Committee to protect the reputation of one of their own, former National Secretary Martin Smith.  An allegation by a woman member that she had been repeatedly raped by him was referred to a Disputes Committee, 5 of whose 7 members, were or had been members of the same CC.  Even the worst examples of bourgeois democracy accept that a jury of one’s peers does not mean one’s mates.  Apparently a second allegation of rape against a senior party member has been made according to the article below.  In addition a woman alleging sexual harassment against Smith (‘Comrade Delta’) had her allegations dismissed by the same Disputes Committee with just one member, the Chair Pat Stack voting that the allegation was in his view proven.  Pat has since come under a lot of personal attack for his decision.

Even more outrageously the woman alleging sexual harassment has been suspended from work in the SWP office.  If a capitalist employer did this they would be facing claims of sexual harassment and victimisation.  However different values operate for the SWP.

For a more in depth coverage see SWP Crisis Over Cover-up of Rape & Sexual Harassment Allegations against former National Secretary Martin Smith  Gilad Atzmon Rides to the ‘Rescue’ of Martin Smith and the SWP leadership.

But recalling Chris Knight’s summation of Camilla Power’s argument, that the clash between men and women is itself a form of class struggle made me take issue with the article submitted.  We have since conducted an e-mail dialogue, which has been friendly and comradely but unless Camilla agrees to it, will remain private.  But some of the things I said during the course of that debate including my first response are, I believe very relevant.  I wrote:

Chris Knight – founder of the Radical Anthropology Group


I will post your article, with an introduction from me, but I do disagree with a number of fundamentals of your article.

It seems to posit the relationship between men and women as between different classes, which is certainly how Chris Knight used to articulate it within Labour Briefing when I first came across your name.  I see it somewhat differently.  Women are the most oppressed section of the working class.  Equally ruling class women or White women in South Africa or Israeli women see the ‘feminist’ fight.

A good example of this is the maiden speech of Merav Michaeli, a newly-elected member of the Israeli Labour Party.  She is an explicit feminist but her feminism is to demand equality in the right to oppress others.

I don’t know any socialists who would articulate that rape isn’t a political issue.  Clearly it is a product of power relations between men and women, the same kind of power relations which led the white trailer trash of the US South to see Blacks as their enemies rather than the Planters.

Everyone carries something from a kill site back to camp. For Kapala, it’s the kudu’s head atop his own. His group, composed of extended family and friends, will feast until all the meat is gone.

The issue in the SWP isn’t primarily about the question of women, that is its surface manifestation.  It relates to a self-elected oligarchy, male as one would expect in this society, who are determined to maintain their power, such as it is.  The fundamental problem is one of democracy and it is no accident that some of the most ardent supporters of Martin Smith are SWP women.  Therefore I think Tom Walker is wrong and in his reactions to the behaviour of the SWP CC has reacted by seeing its anti-feminism as the root cause.

Nor can I agree that the single greatest failure of the Marxist tradition has been its inability to develop Marx and Engels’ analysis of sex and class.  I suspect it is the failure to overthrow capitalism!
You also say that ‘Marxist feminists most often have aligned themselves with a tradition which effectively ignored Marx’s own discussion of sex, treating Engels’ ‘Origin of the Family’ as embarrassing and indefensible. They tow the line that the class struggle was primary, while the ‘politics of the personal’ was an irrelevant side-issue.’

Well people are of course entitled to change their political positions but when I was effectively expelled from Labour Briefing some 20+ years ago, apart from the question of Zionist Feminism which the feminists around Chris Knight were sympathetic to, they were also uniformly hostile to Engel’s ‘Origin of the Family and one in particular, a particular conceited academic Stevie Jackson, insisted that there had never been any such thing as matrilineal relations. 

I point the above out not to score points but to emphasise the real contradictions in the political positions you are arguing for.  The personal is not always political, on the contrary they can be resolute opposites.  I oppose private medicine but if I have a choice of buying an operation that will save my life I will choose the latter.  There are many other concessions we make to existing society despite our principles precisely because we live under capitalism.  Moral purity isn’t always an option.  In matters of sexual relations the personal is not always political.  I’m surprised that you repeat this fatuous slogan so uncritically.  I often find myself arguing against Men Against Sexism groups who equate the domestic violence women experience with that which men experience.  I argued, again in Briefing, that the self-organisation of men was the self-organisation of the oppressor but who was most in favour of such an idea?  Chris Knight!  He may have done some sterling work but his political positions have been little short of disastrous.

I might add, that my clashes and effective expulsion from Labour Briefing came over the back page ‘Street Life Politics’ of ‘feminists such as Sara Roeloff (a racist according to the Black women who worked with her) and one Jane Stockton.  Apart from their Zionist sympathies they printed an article in one issue which equated being Black with Rape, one of the worst racist calumnies (Scotsborough Boys) of imperialism – the sexual power of the Black/Jewish etc. men.

I realise that you are in no way responsible for Chris Knight’s positions politically though you are clearly close to him politically and academically and given your thesis below I thought I should make my own criticisms clear as I will in the introduction.

Having corresponded with Camilla I don’t think our positions are in fact that different but maybe my major bone of contention is the slogan that ‘the personal is political’ which was the radical feminist masthead (and not only them).

Of course how you treat people, how men treat women or children, should reflect the kind of society you want to see.  Someone who talks of liberation and beats their children or beats their partner up is no socialist.  Just as someone who uses the ‘n’ word or who justifies Apartheid (Israeli or South African) is no socialist though there have been many people who defended both and did exactly that.  But there are also contradictions as well.

For example I support the right of all people to a roof over their head but that doesn’t mean I’m prepared to share my house with Brighton’s homeless!  I give the example above of the fact that I’m opposed to private medicine but if it was a choice of paying for an operation or dying then I’d choose the former.  I’m opposed to private education but two of my children went to one of Britain’s most famous public schools (albeit on a 100% scholarship!).  In other words the personal can also be in direct contradiction to the political.

Another example makes it even clearer. In this society are women oppressed by men, albeit differentially?  The answer is of course yes.  The average wage of a woman is less than that of a man for the same work.  The most common form of discrimination in my view, as someone experienced in representing claimants in employment tribunals, is pregnancy discrimination.  If I have time one day I will write up some of my cases such as the woman who was refused a chair to sit on when she was pregnant.  When she went off sick and went away for a few days the boss rang up her (ex) boyfriend who told him she wasn’t returning.  She was then summarily dismissed without so much as a letter.  Unfortunately (for the boss that is) he thought it best to prove he had dismissed her fairly by forging a letter of dismissal which was just the kind of evidence I was looking for!

But is it therefore true all men oppress all women in relationships.  Can one extrapolate so?  Is the woman who uses domestic violence against her partner oppressed by him?  Is the guy who is sacked by his female boss, the real oppressor.  Or as the above Sarah Roeloffs once remarked in a Briefing meeting, violence is male and therefore the violence of the miners was male violence!  Is the female Israeli settler who helps burn an olive grove and fires a tear gas canister at a Palestinian man nonetheless oppressed by him?  Clearly not.

During the late ‘80’s and 90s, much of ‘socialist’ feminism jack-knifed into New Labour.  Yet this was not such a great leap as the commitment to socialism had always been far less important than the mantras of feminism.  Mantras such as the radical feminist slogan that rape is the theory, porn is the practice.  A nonsensical mantra because rape existed long before pornography.  It was one of the trophies of war carried out by males.  It was an expression of power not fantasy or lust.

I myself had personal experiences of two incidents, one of which I mentioned in a letter to Weekly Worker, which was a false allegation of rape.  It was in the early 1980’s when I was still a student and, as students do, had a one night stand with Tracy Logan, a member of the Socialist Students Alliance, an organisation co-founded by the International Marxist Group.  There is no reason why the names of those who make false accusations should be kept private.  I later found out that she had justified our brief encounter by saying she had been raped.  The fact that she had removed her tampon to have intercourse and had threatened to leave if I wanted to go to the Polytechnic’s Basement Club, was presumably immaterial.  Yet she said nothing in public until elections for the Sussex NUS Chairperson were held.  I backed the former President and independent member of the Polytechnic, Martin Jeremiah and I canvassed all day at Sussex University.  Come the night of the election, Martin won and Tracey lost even at Sussex.  She then accused me of rape to which I responded that she had had 3 days of canvassing in which to make that accusation and she had only done it out of disappointment at having lost.  From then on I heard nothing but the memory of it has stuck because it told me that some of those who were active and vocal feminists also had another agenda.

But perhaps the incident which most troubled me, in terms of the sincerity of many of thos who claimed to be feminists, was that of a Brighton IMG member, Jane Connor.  Jane lived in the same Labour Party ward as I did and so too did a number of other Briefing members.  These were the days of the ascendancy of the Left in the Labour Party and in Brighton the Left was in the ascendancy for longer than most other areas.  In 1992 the Party was suspended after the Leader of the Council Steve (now Lord) Bassam (with whom I’d squatted when I came to Brighton!) pleaded with the National Executive to close the party down as it was instructing him and fellow councillors to do things like not impose a poll tax!  Bassam at the time I was expelled was still a Briefing member!

On a few occasions, Jane, despite being an out lesbian, had made physical advances to me which I had brushed off with some embarrassment.  I hadn’t raised it with her because I felt it was embarrassing and she was about 8 years younger than me. This was despite the fact that a young woman at Sussex University who was a lesbian had left Briefing because of much more overt and explicit sexual harassment.  At the end of a Queens Park Ward meeting 4 of us in Briefing, 3 men and Jane, went back to my place for a drink and smoke.  One of the men left, the other one crashed out downstairs and Jane stayed on in my room till I said I was too tired to seduce her (I can still remember the exact words!).

The next thing I knew was when, at a National Labour Briefing meeting, the two feminists with whom I had had political conflicts over the Street Life-Personal Politics age of Briefing, raised in a discussion, out of the blue, without any warning, that I had sexually harassed a young woman comrade whom they named.

Naturally I was pretty pissed off at the way senior and more experienced feminists had used a conversation with Jane, in order to win a political point that they could not otherwise achieve.  In fact, even in the guilt-loaded Briefing, their behaviour was deemed outrageous.  I had had no warning of the accusation, the permission of Jane had not been sought apparently and in any event the alleged incident(s) had simply not occurred.  I also made the point that most if not all left men were at some stage guilty of sexual harassment if only for the simple reason that we don’t live in a society of telepathy of equal sexual relations.

To an extent this has changed to some extent with a more vibrant younger generation of women who are less afraid to talk about sex as opposed to sexuality and who are more upfront.  Having a young daughter I can testify to this but the lesson I concluded out of this is that the slogan ‘the personal is political’ is a double-edged sword.

Having said this I hope you enjoy Camilla’s interesting and though provoking essay.

Tony Greenstein

‘Feminism is a Dirty Word’. What would Marx and Engels think today?

by Camilla Power (Radical Anthropology Group)

This article takes ‘dinosaur marxists’ to task for refusing to treat rape as a deeply political issue. The author looks at events in the SWP, RMT and across the British left in the light of what Marx and Engels – so often invoked by these ‘dinosaurs’ – wrote about sex and its connection with class.

Bursting like a bombshell over this article as first drafted have been accusations of domestic violence by one RMT comrade against another. The accused man is a prominent class-fighting activist. The woman victim, who took the case to the police, accuses the RMT of failing to support her, and a specific Union officer of ‘victim-blaming’ by proposing that she ‘beat herself up’. On International Women’s Day 2013, she published photographs of her bruised face, while, ironically, the RMT published a model Domestic Violence Policy for the workplace.

This case confronts every revolutionary activist and will be a stern test for the RMT union as to how it implements its own policy. Unlike the SWP, the RMT have some apparatus of women’s conferences, women’s sections and advisory committees. Will they prove equal to the task of resisting the patriarchal institutional bias of disbelieving the woman who dares to come forward? Their document pays all the right lip service. Will the RMT demonstrate zero tolerance of this behaviour? No person can be a class fighter and commit such violent outrages. The very actions are politically divisive and undermine revolutionary class struggle itself.

Feminism has long been a dirty word in the SWP. In his brave account, former ‘Socialist Worker’ journalist Tom Walker describes how the male-dominated Central Committee closed ranks with Comrade Delta when a young female comrade was pressured into dropping a rape allegation. When asked what is at the centre of the crisis, what’s the hidden agenda, Walker responds: ‘There isn’t one….It really is about rape, the crisis in the SWP. Specifically the appalling treatment of a young woman who made an allegation of rape against the party’s de facto leader’.(1)

The Guardian online (Mar 9) reports a second alleged rape and cover-up by the SWP, detailing systemic abuse of young women members.(2) The victim claims she was told the alleged rapist was going to be suspended and encouraged to read up on women’s liberation. ‘They said, if you go around calling him a rapist, you’ll be in trouble. If you tell anyone, you’ll be in trouble … They didn’t elaborate. They’re not the kind of people to get on the wrong side of.’

In a March 3 podcast (3) offered by a leading male comrade of the Communist Party of Great Britain, feminism is again identified as the problem. Jack Conrad laments that the issue splitting the SWP appears so ‘trivial’ (listen from around 20 mins in) and the arguments apolitical. He hastily corrects himself that of course ‘rape is not a trivial issue’, but in his view it’s still not a political issue, so hardly worth splitting over.

It would seem that feminism is a dangerous contagion threatening to infect all these Marxist sects with their privileged knowledge of the sacred scripts. Feminists of all hues, bourgeois and revolutionary, will insist that violence and sexual abuse in all circumstances be brought to account. It is the State’s dream to have key organisers of the RMT or even the SWP brought to answer sex charges before a bourgeois court. But the whole of the socialist left currently has no apparatus that remotely provides any means of independent investigation into such serious crimes against the person. It is a matter of revolutionary culture and consciousness to begin to develop alternative systems of justice. Have we got any chance of doing so if rape itself is not considered by marxists a political issue?

As a direct-action, anarcho-marxist, feminist and Darwinian anthropologist – which makes me a somewhat untypical leftist – I am writing on International Women’s Day, 96th anniversary of the start of Russia’s February revolution. And I’m holding my head in my hands. Do these marxist sectlets seriously imagine they are going to improve their 85 to 15 per cent male/female gender ratio by putting out this message like a broken record?  ‘Women comrades, forget you’re female, join your struggle with the workers… Yes, you may be doubly oppressed as mothers and houseworkers – but just put your faith in the revolution, dears, and patriarchy will come out in the wash!’

Isn’t it time these comrades of both sexes stuck their heads out of their caves, scented the air and smelt the decreptitude of late capitalist patriarchy? Haven’t they noticed all these catholic priests, cardinals, BBC apologists for paedophile rings, Lib Dem chief executives, RMT and SWP key organisers accused of violence and sex crimes – exposed because victims increasingly will not shut up to maintain alpha-male offenders in positions to which they have become accustomed? The victims have been women, men and children. But in all these cases, ancient Neolithic hierarchies of gender are being deeply challenged, and not just in Europe but across the world.

But even beyond the headline-grabbing collapse in respect for patriarchy, isn’t it time that marxists apprehended the real crisis in concrete conditions underlying the banker bailout austerity programme? This is undeniably a gendered crisis of working women, who can’t manage any more to pay the rent, find childcare and go to work; while mothers are being pressed onto the job market, under threat of loss of benefits, and deportation wholesale with children to poorer accommodation hundreds of miles from their homes and schools. The crisis in housing itself compels more women to put up with abusive partners as they simply have nowhere else to go.

Even ‘The Guardian’s’ Seumas Milne writes of the ‘historic shift of women moving left of men’,(4) as women pay disproportionately for the banker’s crisis. The lower-paid, part-time and casual workforce of precarious labour is female-dominated; as these working women suffer most from the cuts, so of course do the men and children in their lives. In terms of public sector job losses, women in their fifties are identified as major victims – a generation who are highly experienced and also politicised.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s Paul Mason, in his famous 20 Reasons Why It’s Kicking Off, specifically identified factors of youth and gender as contributory: the typical activist is the graduate with no future, linked up on social media. Women, he says, are the backbone of these new movements: the archetypal protest leader, organizer, facilitator and spokesperson is ‘an educated young woman’.
The more that women come out onto the streets to occupy and organise, the more there will be specifically female experience of protest, including both intense cooperation and revolutionary solidarity, but also, harassment and rape threat, as has been seen to such horrendous effect in Tahrir Square at the cutting edge of the Egyptian revolution. This expresses all the contradictions of a struggle involving Islamic patriarchs camped alongside conscious revolutionaries.

Rape not political? Try telling that to a woman in Tahrir Square who faces shaming harassment and threat of rape by thugs bribed by the latest patriarchal hierarchy installed into government. The vanguard of the revolution includes precisely those men who realise the political importance of protecting and helping women comrades to be out there on the street. In other words, the vanguard includes men who understand rape for the political issue it is, and prioritise women’s presence as vital for the consciousness of the revolution.

Rape not political? Try telling Marx. The various Marxist sects, anxious to guard their sacred doctrines for the day they lead the revolution, may not consider women, reproduction and sexuality as important, political topics. But is that true of Marx and Engels originally? Let us take a look at what they say on this.

In 1844 Marx wrote: ‘The immediate, natural and necessary relation of human being to human being is found in the relation of man to woman.’ He continues:

    ‘From this relationship man’s whole level of development can be assessed. It follows from the character of this relationship how far man has become, and has understood himself as, a species-being, a human being. …It also shows how far man’s needs have become human needs, and consequently how far this other person, as a person, has become one of his needs, and to what extent he is in his individual existence at the same time a social being.’(5)

Species-life’(6) in its natural form was sexual life, with all that implied in terms of reciprocity, exchange and productiveness. In its distinctively human cultural form, species-life was economically-productive life, i.e. labour – again, with all that implied in terms of exchange and reciprocity. From the beginning, human production was a dual process of species-life: ‘The production of life, both of one’s own in labour and of fresh life in procreation, now appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a natural, on the other as a social relationship.’(7) Yet, the natural relationship – sex, – was itself social, and the social relationship, labour, was a relationship with nature.

In Marx and Engels’ understanding, the original human situation involved no conflict between the two forms of species-life – between sex and labour, family and industry, woman and man. Both production and procreation were carried on through the clan (the gens, governed by the principle of ‘mother-right’, with females of one clan ‘married’ as a whole group to males of another), and were under the reciprocal and communal control of women and men. Men’s and women’s lives consisted of acts of exchange between individuals as consciously social beings, sexual exchange being as widely socialised as possible and integral to the system of labour exchange:

    ‘Exchange, both of human activity within production itself and also of human products with each other, is equivalent to species-activity and species-enjoyment whose real, conscious and true being is social activity and social enjoyment. Since human nature is the true communal nature of man, men create and produce their communal nature by their natural action, they produce their social being which is no abstract, universal power over against single individuals, but the nature of each individual, his own activity, his own life, his own enjoyment, his own.’(8)

The motive of exchange was not private gain but the pleasure of giving, reciprocity, since, as in sexual relations, one’s partner’s enjoyment was equally one’s own: ‘In so far as man is human and thus in so far as his feelings and so on are human, the affirmation of the object by another person is equally his own enjoyment.’(9)

Women’s loss of their original equality, clearly associated by Marx and Engels with the rise of agriculture, occurred when, instead of the earlier relations of sexual and economic reciprocity, there arose ‘Property: the nucleus, the first form, of which lies in the family’ (my italics). A man as husband was now able to privatise and exploit a woman’s sexuality, her reproductive power, and her and her children’s economic labour power. Species-life has now been subordinated to its very opposite – the lust for purely private gain. The family has become an institution demarcated from and counterposed to the wider community, society being separated into families ‘opposed to one another’. This is the foundation of the whole consequent structure of class society. Engels quotes Marx:

    ‘The modern family contains in germ not only slavery (servitus) but also serfdom, since from the beginning it is related to agricultural services. It contains in miniature all the contradictions which later extend throughout society and the state.’(10)

Engels goes on to describe how, to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore of the paternity of the children, ‘she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her he is only exercising his rights.’ As private property, the wife has yielded control over her sexuality and the products of her sexuality, her children, merely to maintain her own existence. Species-life has become a ‘means of individual life’. Both wife and labourer perform compulsory forms of labour in which ‘life activity, productive life, now appears to man only as means for the satisfaction of a need, the need to maintain physical existence.’(11)

The contradiction is now complete: the very activity in which women and men go beyond themselves and express their human essence – producing for others rather than merely for themselves – has been subordinated to selfish, animal greed. Social production and reproduction, both forms of human species-life, now appear as separate, alien powers opposed to the individuals whose activities have created them. Marx writes of the worker under capital:

    ‘To say that man alienates himself is the same as to say that the society of this alienated man is a caricature of his real human nature, his true species-life, that therefore his activity appears to him as a suffering, his own creation appears as an alien power, his wealth as poverty, the natural tie that binds him to other men appears as an unnatural tie and the separation from other men as his true being; his life appears as a sacrifice of life, the realization of his essence as a loss of the reality of his life, his production as a production of his own nothingness, his power over the object as the power of the object over him, and he himself, the master of his creation, appears as its slave.

Replace the word ‘man’ in the above passage with ‘woman’ and it might exactly describe the situation of the woman in a patriarchal family who has lost conscious control over her sexuality, and has been alienated from the products of her sexuality. In her introduction to Engels,(13) marxist-feminist anthropologist Eleanor Leacock writes: ‘In some ways it is the ultimate alienation in our society that the ability to give birth has been transformed into a liability. The reason is not simply that, since women bear children, they are more limited in their movements and activities… this was not a handicap even under the limited technology of hunter-gathering life; it certainly has no relevance today.’ Marx and Engels clearly rooted their model of the alienation of power inherent in class oppression in the ‘ultimate alienation’ of women from their own reproductive powers.

In these early writings, Marx saw a systematic parallel between, on the one hand, woman (opposed to man) as the materially productive sex, and on the other, labour (opposed to capital) as the materially productive class. The class relation duplicated on a social level the sexual relation: it included that relation and stemmed from it. The system of sexual dominance under which women were treated as mere instruments of production ended up treating men as mere instruments of production, too. Everything followed from and took its model from that initial sexual domination.

Capitalist economic principles themselves amount to prostitution, insists Marx. No capitalist could object ‘if I earn money by the sale of my body, by prostituting it to another person’s lust’. Prostitution is only the logical extrapolation of the system: ‘Even the species-relation itself, the relation between man and woman, becomes an object of commerce.’(14) Or again: ‘Prostitution is only a specific expression of the universal prostitution of the worker.’(15)

The evidence is that Marx and Engels took sexuality very seriously indeed. Marx and Engels’ dialectical vision of the proletarian future was of a return on a higher level to the ancient freedoms of the gentes or clan society, as depicted and argued by anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan in ‘Ancient Society’. And that meant, centrally, women’s sexual emancipation through restoration of the old equalities. If the root relationship of oppression was the private oppression of female by male, this private oppressive relation was the first and foremost target for revolutionary political attack. The single greatest failure of the marxist tradition has been its inability to develop Marx and Engels’ analysis of sex and class. Yet development of Marx and Engels’ basic thesis on sex could only be undertaken in an era informed by feminist consciousness and practice.

Marxist feminists most often have aligned themselves with a tradition which effectively ignored Marx’s own discussion of sex, treating Engels’ ‘Origin of the Family’ as embarrassing and indefensible. They tow the line that the class struggle was primary, while the ‘politics of the personal’ was an irrelevant side-issue – and we observe them doing so yet again as those loyal to the SWP leadership pontificate. Women had only to wait for the victory of the workers’ revolution, when their personal difficulties and suffering of sexual oppression would ‘wither away’ as surely as the alienating powers of the capitalist system were dissolved. Women could fight – but only as workers, that is brought into men’s world; women who remained housewives or childcarers – women who maintained and reproduced labour under Capital – had little contribution to make. The struggle for women’s rights encompassed their equality in the workplace rather than their position in the home.
Where marxists assert that the working class becomes revolutionary through collective control of its own labour power, feminists have fallen short of asserting that women become a revolutionary force to the extent they exert collective control over their own sexuality. The notion of collectivity – sisterhood – as fundamental to women’s power has certainly been central to feminist thought, as has the demand for women’s right to control our own bodies. But an explicit linkage of the two ideas, into a concept of women as a collective body, a class exerting class-control over their collective power expressed in sexuality, has not yet emerged. But it is present in Marx and Engels’ concepts of earliest human society.

Today, Darwinian anthropology is validating the essentials of Marx, Engels and Morgan’s position on the communistic, collective and matrilocal nature of our human origins, and the idea that we are product of a Human Revolution.(16) The revolution which made us human was mobilised through a crisis in childcare; to ensure adequate support for their large-brained and very costly offspring, women (with their sons and brothers) used collective ‘strike action’ to organise men’s labour.  In this account, the first word was women’s NO! Today, late patriarchal capitalism rapidly arrives at a point of such crisis of childcare and alienation from our humanity. We need once more a great, collective NO!, creative refusal to accept the destruction of health, welfare, education, childcare and housing. That NO! will be spoken loudest by women of the working class.

So, yes the class struggle is primary, but the class itself is gendered. Too often we still hear marxist dinosaurs discussing the ‘woman question’. That is to assume we’re all men. As an anthropologist I have done fieldwork with the Hadza people, a hunting-gathering group in Tanzania. Their collective noun for all the people is female and plural, including within it all women, children – and men. Their assumption is people are all women! It expresses how central women are to camp life, as producers and reproducers, but it includes everybody. For the Hadza, society is unimaginable without women at the core. And women depend entirely on their collectivity, drawing on that to resist any male attempt to exploit or coerce them.

We need to understand our class struggle in that way. How are we to collectivise and socialise modes of production and reproduction? Our humanity was realised through cooperative childcare and labour. Only so can it be restored. From this viewpoint, it is not a matter of which is the more political issue: the abusive behaviour of men in the movement or questions of revolutionary organisation. We can have no revolutionary consciousness without organising as women and men against any such abuses of power.

As Marxist anthropologist Chris Knight argues at the end of Blood Relations:

    ‘We have been here – at this point on the spiral – before. The revolution’s outcome is not simply in ‘the future’ conceived as something abstracted from the past. As we fight to become free, it is as if we were becoming human for the first time in our lives. But in this sense, because it concerns becoming human, the birth process we have got to win – our survival as a species depends on it – has in the deepest sense been won already. None of us would be here if it had not been. To understand this may be to understand, and thereby make ourselves the instruments of, the real strength of our cause and the inevitability of our emancipation as women, as workers and as a species. The working class is the first materially productive class in the history of the class society to have acquired the power of the strike. It is the first such class to have acquired the power to say ‘no’. When it understands the identity between this ‘no’ and the ‘no’ which women have been trying to say for the past several thousand years – a fusion of forces will take place to generate a power which no force on earth will be able to stop.’17

And what the left must take on board is that the first rule, without which there can be no human culture, is the rule against rape.

It should be noted that the Weekly Worker has done a great job in hosting Tom Walker’s article on why he left the SWP, as well as numerous articles on Women in human evolution, the Human revolution and Women and revolution. These comrades have provided space for open debate.
5. Marx, K. 1963 [1844] Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, in T B Bottomore (ed.) Karl Marx: Early Writings. (London: Watts), p.154.
6. Plenty of younger postmodern feminists will be abrasive about this heterosexism dated 1844. For the purpose of this discussion on the analogies of sex and class in Marx, I am using his language, as quoted. In this day and age of Judith Butler’s gender performativity, sex as just culture anyway and aspirations to ‘abolish’ gender, of course such terminology needs reworking. But from a Darwinian evolutionary perspective on human culture, it is hard to avoid some degree of heterosexism in ‘species-life’. An old marxist’s reponse to bourgeois postmodern ideology is to say, well if women’s sections are good enough for the RMT (and evidently very much required in that context) how do young feminists think they will work for the abolition of gender on their terms without being able to organise separately as women?
7. Marx, K  and F Engels 1947 [1846] The German Ideology. Parts I & III. (New York: International Publishers), p.18.
8. Marx K 1971 [1844] The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, in D. McLellan (ed.) Karl Marx: Early Texts. (Oxford: Blackwell), pp.193-194.
9. ibid. p.178.
10. Engels, F. 1972 [1884] The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.  (London: Lawrence & Wishart), p.121-122.
11. Marx, K. 1963 [1844] Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, in T B Bottomore (ed.) Karl Marx: Early Writings. (London: Watts, p.127“0.
12. Marx K 1971 [1844] The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, in D McLellan (ed.) Karl Marx: Early Texts. (Oxford: Blackwell), p.194.
13. Engels, F. 1972 [1884] The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.  (London: Lawrence & Wishart), p.40.
14. Marx, K. 1963 [1844] Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, in T B Bottomore (ed.) Karl Marx: Early Writings. (London: Watts), p.37.
15. ibid., p. 156n.
16. See S. B. Hrdy, 2009 Mothers and others. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press), on cooperative childcare in human evolution; see C. Knight 1991 Blood Relations, Menstruation and the origins of culture. (Yale UP) for the Human Revolution. Also see J. O’Connell, K Hawkes and N G Blurton-Jones 1999 Grandmothering and the evolution of Homo erectus. Journal of Human Evolution 36: 461-485, for the Grandmother hypothesis; F. Marlowe 2004, Marital residence among foragers. Current Anthropology 45: 277-284 on evolution of matrilocal tendencies; and Beckerman, S. and P. Valentine, 2002. Cultures of Multiple Fathers. Introduction. (Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press), for modern updates on ‘group marriage’.
17. Knight, C D 1991    Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture. (New Haven and London: Yale University Press), pp. 533-534.

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