A rather jaundiced letter to a comrade commenting on Lindsey German’s Sex, Class and Socialism (Bookmarks, 1989). The arguments touched on here should be taken together with the rather more considered arguments in my article “Ideology, Racism and the Party” at http://grimanddim.org/political-writings/1988-ideology-racism-and-the-party/
At a first cursory glance it looks like a phenomenally shoddy and dishonest piece of work. For example:
46 Has Lindsey seen an advertisement any time in the last ten years?
68 She clearly doesn’t know what ‘overdetermines’ means; I’m sure Alex would have explained it to her if she had asked him nicely.
137-8 The first three lines, at least of the IPM statement are a simple mathematical fact, and laws of mathematics will not be repealed even at the behest of Chairwoman German.
160 So women got the vote because of ‘fear of revolutionary struggle’. Why didn’t they get it in France – there was a mass Communist Party there; shouldn’t the ruling class have been more frightened?
167 Who does Lindsey imagine lived in ghettos? Only the ‘economically marginal’? Did black car-workers get homes in white areas? This formulation verges on racism. – And the idea that Tom Hayden lived the ‘same ghetto lifestyle as the most oppressed urban blacks’ is quite simply grotesque.
171 Lindsey perpetuates the notion that the SCUM Manifesto was actually a manifesto rather than what it is, a rather effective literary text. And she can’t even spell Solanas.
The whole book operates with an incredibly slippery, if not openly dishonest, notion of ‘middle class’. Thus the US student left are said to have (165) ‘grown up in the middle-class prosperity of the boom’. But didn’t the boom also mean (relative) prosperity for at least a substantial proportion of the working class? If not, where does that leave the whole thesis of the shifting locus of reformism? And were there not (absolutely, if not relatively, more students from working-class backgrounds in the sixties? And the quote from Celestine Ware looks to me like a ‘marginal’ describing the respectable working class as ‘middle class’.
In short, the book rather reminds me of JV Stalin on Linguistics (cf Solzhenitsyn’s reconstruction of how it was written in The First Circle). It’s the bureaucrat establishing hegemony by taking on a theoretical task s/he clearly is not capable of handling. But the really shocking thing is Chapter Ten. This seems dedicated to proving Lindsey’s belief that there is no sexism in the party and never has been!
215 The Sara Evans quote refers specifically to the US, but is slipped in dishonestly as though it covers Britain as well. (Since the US left was always more isolated from the working class, it had a stronger counter-cultural character and was less contaminated by working-class patterns of life). Thus Lindsey whitewashes the British CP (the percentage of women delegates at CP Congresses fell from 23% in 1944 to 15% in 1963).
217 I am at a loss to understand the claim that in the late sixties there were ‘no large numbers of women… estranged from organised left politics.’ The overwhelming majority of women – and men – were estranged; otherwise we would have had a mass movement. And more specifically, why, for example, was there not a single woman on the first National Committee elected by IS in 1968? (I was present when Roger Protz proposed that Joyce Rosser should be nominated, so there would be at least one woman – and Pete Gold enquired: ‘What are you going to do – fuck her after the meetings?’) And your hypothesis – that it was all the fault of the despicable Abakumov-Higgins – won’t do either.)
220 To argue that the Lotta Continua debacle is mainly to be blamed on feminism is like blaming the Massacre of the Innocents on the children.
222n17 (250) The claim that the present leadership were always right, and that they were held back by those now purged is not just dishonest, it is sinister.
223 Why dismiss toxic tampons with an exclamation mark. If capitalist manufacturers are poisoning their customers in order to increase profits, it is surely an issue no socialist can ignore.
In general, while Lindsey is right to say the women’s movement was born from workers’ struggles, she is catastrophically wrong to claim the Party was not substantially affected by events and movements outside. It is certainly true that before 1969 no-one in the Party (including the few women capable of connected thought) had devoted ten minutes’ consideration to women’s oppression. Certainly I never attended a single Branch meeting on the topic. (Jim Higgins used to do a talk on ‘Sex and Socialism’, but he stopped doing it because branches treated it as a joke. And in 1965 Higgins told me to ask Selma James to write for Labour Worker on ‘the woman question’ – clearly because there was nobody in the organisation able to do so.)
This is more serious than a question of falsifying the record. Anyone who writes history like this cannot actually believe the party has more to learn from the class than the class from the party – whatever glib cliches they may use on occasion. And if the Party cannot understand how it changed in the past, then it will be incapable of learning to change in the future. A grim prospect.