Three essays on revolutionary organisation by participants in the women's liberation movement of the 1970s. The essays criticise the organisational theory and practice of revolutionaries, particularly those of the various Trotskyist organisations which were then in their ascendancy.
Beyond the Fragments: Feminism and the Making of Socialism
They were originally published as a pamphlet by the Tyneside Socialist Centre and Islington Community Press in 1979 and reprinted in book form in 1980.
Foreword and Acknowledgements
Since it first appeared as a pamphlet, published by the Tyneside Socialist Centre and the Islington Community Press, Beyond the Fragments has sparked a wide ranging discussion of issues that have been lurking sometimes on but generally beneath the surface on the left: the relationship of the women's movement to the male-dominated left; the ways in which we organize for socialism and what we mean by socialism; how we encompass and make sense of the breadth of experience and struggles that have been part of the anti-capitalist movement in the last ten years; the contemporary validity of Leninist politics, etc.
This resonance itself has shown how fragmented the various movements have been and how important the issues at stake are in the making of socialism, particularly at a time when so many of the small gains that have been made are now under attack from all quarters.
This new edition is, partly due to that wide-ranging discussion and interest, an almost quite different book. While Sheila Rowbotham has only made minor changes to her piece, both Hilary Wainwright and Lynne Segal have considerably rewritten and reworked their contributions. Hilary outlines some of the wider problems that face all sections of the left. Drawing on the experience of militants from all parts of Britain she points out how the demands and insights of the women's movement are vital to any present or future socialist movement. As well, she argues that the loosely organized, but strongly supportive structures of the women's movement will be important in creating the kind of mass socialist consciousness that is an essential part of any socialist movement. Lynne, on the other hand, has expanded her piece in a way that has enabled her to draw out in more detail some of the ideas and feelings that emerged from her experience as a feminist active in a local area over the last eight years or so.
Taken together, the three parts of this book are now much more than one long article, an introduction and an 'appendix'. They are now three distinct, but complementary parts, reflecting slightly different concerns and preoccupations. As Hilary wrote in her introduction to the original pamphlet:
[blockquote]We have all travelled differing political journeys and it will be clear we do not come at the question of how we can think about organising from the same place . . . We have worked together on this because we feel the need to air actual political experiences, reassessing our politics by sharing these, not because we think we have the 'answer'. We feel that any genuine, new form of socialist organisation will have to grow from such a collective process.[/blockquote]
The contents of this book were written individually but became very much a collective project not in the sense of a shared complete agreement about all the ideas but in suggestions for clarification and development. We have also all needed one another's reassurance amidst doubts, exhaustion and despair. We are indebted to Jean McCrindle for being continuously part of this process.
Thanks also to Sally Alexander, Paul Atkinson, Kenny Bell, Huw Beynon, Bea Campbell, Luise Eichenbaum, Ralph Edney, Julian Harber, Jane Hawksley, Marsha Rowe, Vic Seidler, Sue Sharpe, Barbara Taylor, Chris Whitbread, Stephen Yeo, Roy Bhaskar and Karen Margolis for comments, criticism, ideas and sustenance. For help with particular points thanks to Juliet Ash, Bob Cant, Chris Goodey, Jeff Weeks.
Sheila's section originated in a talk for the Socialist Unity Symposium in Autumn 1978, which was later repeated at the Newcastle Socialist Centre and, with Lynne's account of her experience locally, at the Islington Socialist Centre.