Speech notes on Socialist Feminism

Notes from the introduction to a workshop on ‘What do we mean by socialist feminism?’ at Workers’ Liberty Women’s ‘All The Rage’ event on 28 February 2015.


1. Key ideas:

  • Gender roles, sexism, oppression are not biological or inevitable, but are socially constructed and rooted in the structures of society.
  • Class and sex/gender oppression are intertwined and interconnected; women’s oppression is part of capitalism – how?
  • Women’s liberation can only be achieved through the abolition of classes ie. through socialism.
  • We can achieve that by building a movement fit for the job, by:
    • transforming the labour movement
    • building a mass working-class women’s movement.


2. History:

  • Socialist interest in women’s liberation / feminism since the early days eg. Owenites, French socialists, identifying:
    • that personal relationship/marriages poisoned by financial/economic/legal ties
    • that women could not be liberated without ending private property
  • changes in women’ lives through capitalist development.
  • singificant books:
    • Engels: Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
    • Bebel: Women and Socialism
  • Experience of women in the German SPD.
  • Founding of International Working Women’s Day.
  • 1960s/70s ‘second wave’ feminism’:
    • upsurge in demands for women’s rights
    • socialist feminists wanted women’s movement to become more mass, working-class-based; and more relevant to working-class women; they were critical both of left/labour movement for being rubbish on women’s liberation and of other strands of feminism eg. radical feminists


3. Future:

  • Socialism and liberation will not just appear – has to be won by working-class struggle.
  • But if we look at the workers’ movement now, it doesn’t look in great shape to achieve that.
  • We use words to draw attention to what our movements and ideas need in order to get into shape. Socialism needs to be more feminist. Feminism needs to seek women’s liberation through socialism.
  • “Saying you’re a socialist-feminist makes a statement about the kind of socialism you want and about the kind of feminism you want.”

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