SPGB 2019 conference agenda has several motions on patriarchy and feminism so divisive I think it could lead to a split.
This Conference rejects the definition of capitalism as “male-dominated class society” and the view that “capitalism and patriarchy are aspects of the same thing”. Capitalism is based on the subordination of the working class to the capitalist class, which is not the same thing as the subordination of women to men. Conference further notes that the more advanced capitalism is the less the discrimination against women.
Supporting statement A:
At last year's Autumn Delegate Meeting Lancaster Branch asked “What is the Party's view of patriarchy?” It goes without saying that we are against it and for the full social equality of women and men. However, Lancaster suggested that patriarchy could be linked to capitalism; the passages in our motion are taken from their supporting statement. Our motion is intended to make it clear that the Party does not accept that approach.
There is still considerable discrimination today against women, especially in the economically backward parts of the world, but the fact that this is gradually lessening in the more advanced capitalist parts shows that it is not a built-in feature of capitalism. Modern feminists realise this too and seek to speed up this trend, which the spread of socialist ideas will speed up too.
‘This Conference affirms that capitalism is not only a class-divided society but is also patriarchal.’
Supporting statement D:
After long discussion online and at ADM this subject deserves to be resolved by formal resolution. To echo what we said at ADM, if Engels was correct that the rise of property society coincided with and very likely caused ‘the world historic defeat of the female sex’, then male domination or patriarchy was the first and longest-lived oppression visited on the human race. Since class and gender oppression exist and have always existed in parallel, to treat them as mutually exclusive concepts is simply to stick one’s head in the sand and perform theoretical contortions. Not only is it possible to see the world as both class-divided and also patriarchal, it is essential. If we don’t, we are effectively telling at least half of the world’s population that socialism is not for them.
‘This Conference reaffirms that the abolition of class oppression must of necessity entail the abolition of gender oppression.’
Supporting statement E.
For members this is a no-brainer, yet our position may not be at all clear to people outside the Party, especially given that the clause relating to women in the DoP is just two words long, consisting of ‘or sex’. The fear that gender oppression could survive and prosper into socialism itself is a very real one for many people, and we haven’t done enough to allay that fear. This resolution spells out to the working class in plain terms that the ending of gender oppression is intrinsic to socialist revolution, and not some tacked-on afterthought.
‘This Conference repudiates the view that capitalism will itself abolish the oppression of women.’
Supporting statement F.
At ADM the argument was put that it is in the economic interest of capitalism to eradicate the oppression of women, and that it is currently in the process of doing so. We’ve heard this claim before, and it’s been used as a reason to dismiss feminism as irrelevant. But if the argument is right, then after 300 or so years capitalism should have done it by now. Capitalism is nothing if not adaptive, and well able to reinvent itself where it sees the need. But what do we see instead? No country has ever managed to achieve equal pay or equal work opportunities in any sector of their economy, nor shows any sign of doing so. No country has eradicated sexual harassment, rape or domestic violence. While some legislative and cultural efforts have been made in some western countries, a superficial liberalism still masks a
deeply misogynistic undercurrent.
In 2017 in the UK 139 women were killed by male violence, leading a Guardian op-ed to describe a ‘war on women’ that is a ‘global pandemic’ (18 December, 2018). (See note 1). Indeed, globally gender oppression remains as severely and murderously entrenched as it ever was. Why hasn’t capitalism done better than this? The Guardian article offers a clue: ‘Even with the best police and criminal justice responses possible, if men continue to see women and children as their property, and believe that women exist to satisfy them sexually, then the rape and murder of women will never end’. The inference to draw from this is that capitalism is able to co-exist comfortably with the oppression of women because that oppression is really a form of property relationship, and thus if anything complementary to capitalist ideology. In consequence, the likelihood of capitalism eradicating gender oppression is so small that it should be repudiated as a socialist argument.
‘This Conference considers that issues affecting women are such a prominent part of life for 50% of the population that they warrant a dedicated column in the Socialist Standard, if writers can be found for it.’
Supporting statement G:
We were asked at ADM to come up with concrete suggestions to encourage more female participation in the Party, so this is one suggestion. We don’t want to ‘instruct’ the Standard to do something it might not be able to do, but we don’t see any harm in making a general recommendation that might have a positive effect on female engagement.
‘This Conference is of the view that a person can be a socialist as well as a feminist.’
Supporting statement H.
We think most if not all members would say they support feminist principles to a large degree, and some members already regard themselves as bona fide feminists. At the same time, many feminists will also be broadly sympathetic with our case, and some will say they are feminist-socialists. There’s nothing wrong with this formulation in principle. The only thing we would disagree with is where some feminists pursue wholly reformist objectives, but in that case we would oppose them as reformists, not as feminists.
‘This Conference instructs the EC to establish an ad-hoc committee to look into ways of encouraging more female membership, to report to Conference 2020.’
Supporting statement I.
This is another concrete suggestion born of the ADM discussion, and while some people will not be enthusiastic about yet another ad-hoc committee, the subject does need serious attention if we’re ever going to make progress towards balancing the membership ratio. We would expect such a committee to undertake wide consultation both inside and outside the Party which is why we propose a fairly long time-frame.