Norman Lockhart of Tweeddale/Borders SSP looks at how the left can best take up the cause of oppressed groups in society
More or less conscious of the connection for many years socialists have seen a close identity with the struggles of the oppressed and those trying to transform the exploitation of the unfair economy that is the basis for capitalism. So we try to build alliances that can unite the various forces in joint action. However it is worth going beyond the mechanical economic links and also looking at some practical measures that socialists can take to advance this process.
There are also people like Sharon Smith in USA who are developing a wider Marxist appreciation of the oppressed. Generally organisations since the ‘60s have been restricted to seeing that special measures are appropriate in the case of for example Youth, LGBT, Black and ethnic minorities as well as Disabled. However the oppression of the majority gender, Women, is central to addressing the whole issue of oppressed groups for socialists. The consequences of getting it a bit wrong are widespread and severe. This applies in general to working class practice so many unions e.g. RMT, UNISON, UNITE now have some form of internal groupings for women, youth, blacks & gays etc
There has been a big change in trade unions and campaign organisations so that it is common to find recognition of women gay black organisations inside unions that are more or less self organising to ensure their needs are addressed.
It is socialist organisations that have failed to meet our own standards especially in Britain this century.
Some of the most obvious examples have been where individuals have been the highlight of weaknesses in our parties as we have not been able to address them. One of the reasons for this has often been the attitude to internal democracy and the political culture that dominates as a result.
The SSP brought together much of the different positive and negative experiences of comrades originally from different organisations. A few notable examples without attaching details would be the WRP and Healy, Respect and Galloway and of course the SSP and Sheridan all have left a bitter trail of damaged personalities and parties. Now this damage is being repeated in the SWP where the limits on internal democracy have had disasterous consequences for the left’s reputation.
Highs and Lows
Clearly it is not enough to combat the impact of bourgeois ideology and culture to only make technical guarantees of representation both internally and publicly but also take steps to encourage their practical implementation. The SSP executive for the last year has had virtually zero representation of the women only places besides the other posts are overwhelmingly male. The recent conference of the party has not made any significant differences. This in contrast to the time when it had 4 women out of 6 MSPs. A high point that illustrates what is possible and on which more can be built.
Socialist politics often still confines itself to making a mechanical economic connection between class struggle and the obvious allies of the oppressed in capitalist society. Recent history of the left parties in Britain suggests this might be a step forward in consciousness and cadre education.
Forces such as trade unions as well as businesses and parties in society did change in appearance. More genuine attempts meant this was often in structure as well so that gender balance in committees and educational caucus groups became considered a norm of campaigns and organisations.
However during the last 25 plus years we have seen this being reversed or absorbed by capitalism or even become integrated as a part of niche marketing.
Turning it Around
It is worth noting that societies that have started to transform and have paid attention to gender balance have only been successful where it has been a permanently recurring feature of political life.
A small starting measure for consciously trying to transform campaign organisations, parties etc would be to actively encourage the formation of different minority and oppressed caucus for all the groups but particularly to address the set back to women’s liberation since the marked successful changes in late 60s early 70s.
This is only to start a cross gender debate about how to reactivate consciousness raising that also recognises that while it might appear harder in this defensive time it is also when we need to be an attractive option for those about to start fighting back.
A gentle introduction to feminist issues for socialist might be debates stimulated after watching a DVD of the film Dagenham since that dispute was so instrumental in getting Equal Pay on the agenda while the film Vera Drake could stimulate a wider debate about class nature of abortion.