I’ll mention two or three ‘tools’ that I learnt through my feminism, and why I talk about a feminist socialism. I think feminist socialism hasn’t been realised, and yet I also think that it’s so obvious!
I’m repeatedly shocked by the fact that the relevance of feminism for the rethinking of socialism hasn’t been taken on board, and that the left has trudged on as usual, making its usual mistakes, pretty much as if feminism had never really done more than ‘put women on the agenda’. The left adopted policies towards women, but has not carried out a fundamental rethink of socialism, which is what I felt feminism was enabling us to do.
The first tool is about power, the second about knowledge, and the third about the relationship between the individual and the social. What I learnt about the transformative nature of power was that we had power in a daily sense. We were implicitly – Betty Freidan talks about this – reproducing our oppression as sexual partners, as mothers, and as workers – in all sorts of ways: in our passivity, in our representations of ourselves. We faced a choice between reproducing or refusing; and refusing is only a small step from seeking to transform.
So there was that sense of a power that lay within ourselves and in our own capacity to transform social relations through our own action, in daily life. This helped me become clear about why I rejected the so-called Leninist relations of state power and party power, and the Fabian understandings of power whereby the state delivered concessions and policies, rather than power coming from within ourselves.
That led me to draw on the work people have done distinguishing different forms of power – for example, in very different ways, John Holloway, Steven Lukes and Roy Bhaskar. There’s power as domination, which could effectively be what we think about when we think about government – taking power to then use the levers of government to deliver policies. Sometimes that’s referred to as ‘power over’.
Then there’s power as transformative capacity: the power to change things, to do things. Sometimes referred to ‘power to’. That was the kind of power the women’s movement was illustrating, transformative power and capacity, and I think that’s a very useful concept now. Much of what Occupy and the Indignados were about is power as transformative capacity. They have been in the squares, they have been creating a different kind of society, illustrating a different kind of society in their daily practice.
I was also influenced by the shop steward/trade union movement at its most radical and alternative: when they weren’t simply refusing redundancies and closures by occupying factories, but saying ‘we have skills, practical skills that can be the basis of different kinds of production’. Socially useful products rather than missiles, for example, or working towards the conversion of industry to a low-carbon economy.
This recognition of a transformative capacity that lies amongst the mass of people completely changes the nature of socialism, which has most often been based exclusively on the idea of power over – when you capture the means of power over production, over resources, and deliver it in this paternalistic way, without any recognition of the kind of power people actually have in their own capacity to refuse, and to change. Without any recognition of the dependence of existing power structures on actual people as knowledgeable and creative human beings.
Secondly, knowledge. What I learnt from consciousness-raising groups and from shop stewards – who were mainly men, but interesting anyway – was the importance of different forms of knowledge. Most traditional socialist parties, be they Leninist or Fabian, believe in intellectual leadership. (Beatrice Webb made the classic Fabian statement that, “whilst the average man could describe the problem, he couldn’t provide the solution; for that professional experts were needed”.)
Knowledge was traditionally understood in a very narrowly scientific way, involving laws understood as the correlation of cause and effect, that could be codified, centralised and then, through a central apparatus, provide the basis of a scientific form of planning.
But the women’s movement, with its consciousness-raising groups, often began with gossip – with forms of knowledge that were not acknowledged, knowledge carried in emotion and daily experience, but which ended up producing policies: well-women clinics, a large range of educational projects, rape crisis centres – all kinds of women’s centres.
© and read the rest: opendemocracy (posted using inoreader/ ifttt).