300 people attended Gender, Race and Class a feminist activist conference on Saturday 14 February.
The conference was the product of many months of careful planning, with the main initiators (Feminist Fightback) and the broader organising group contacting, discussing with and inviting different organisations and individuals who we thought would share many political ideas in common: left, socialist, anarchist and anti-capitalist. This was no easy task but the positive outcome was very much evident on the day – 15 lively workshops, the majority resolving to take forward collaborative political activity on reproductive rights, on campaigning against benefit cuts, on relating to the recent wave of construction strikes; writing up a workshop about how to make unions fight for women workers, direct action against the further criminalisation of sex workers, producing an “alternative budget” for women, making solidarity with Bangladeshi textile workers.
The decision to build collaborative political activity across a relatively broad political feminist spectrum was deliberate and there are two positive reasons for doing this apart from the most obvious - that this makes for more, lively campaigning.
First while there is a general interest in gender, class and race issues among anti-capitalist activists, there is a need to discuss through these ideas and how they inter-connect in an open and democratic way. Socialists cannot meet and talk to anarchists and vice versa if we stay in our separate campaigns and organisations cursing each other for “sectarianism”. The political differences we have can only be debated and discussed if we are… debating and discussing.
Equally feminists who have no ideological commitment want to hear others with clear convictions and are bored of attending feminist events chock full of fluffy apolitical nonsense.
Second there is a need to create and develop a strong feminist political stream that stands apart from the current feminist mainstream. From the Guardian women’s page, to “activist” groups like the London Feminist Network mainstream feminism today is a noxious blend of liberal and radical feminism.
For instance many of these kinds of feminists support the government’s proposals on sex work because they see sex workers as “victims” rather than human beings who can and do self-organise. The government meanwhile tries to play a feminist card, repressing the sex industry (or rather driving it underground); they want to increase their own coercive power and they think it makes good politics.
That a new stream of anti-capitalist and socialist feminism is developing, basing itself on a political critique of liberal-radical feminism is a very good thing. It has the potential to grow alongside the growing interest in fighting sexism and oppression. Marxist socialists need to get properly and sympathetically involved. To help us we have a rich Marxist tradition. We also the best critiques from the socialist feminism of the 70s and 80s, which attempted (not always successfully) to found an integrated revolutionary theory and strategy for fighting women’s oppression.
40 copies of Solidarity were sold, there was a lot of interest in the socialist feminist discussion meeting on Syliva Pankhurst, and 15 people signed up to find out more about the AWL.