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New Left Review I/148, November-December 1984

Angela Weir and Elizabeth Wilson

The British Women’s Movement

A complete overview of British feminism would require a book rather than an essay. Within the context of a brief history of the movement we therefore aim in this article at an assessment of the developments within one section of the movement, socialist feminism, since the second half of the 1970s. [1] This article is a development of themes which appear in Ben Fine, Laurence Harris, Marge Mayo, Angela Weir and Elizabeth Wilson, Class Politics, London 1984. Our thanks to co-authors for all their help and for the stimulus of the many discussions we have had. It will become clear that we are critical of much that now attracts the admittedly vague label of ‘socialist feminism’. We wish to shift the ground of the debate, and hope to reinfuse socialist feminism with some of the political sharpness it had in its early days, but which has now, we feel, been lost. Ours is undoubtedly a minority view within the broad spectrum of the left intelligentsia and of feminism, but since the women’s liberation movement in contemporary Britain is and always has been a loosely connected movement of groupings of women activists with a variety of political priorities and theoretical positions, any assessment of the movement by individual feminists must necessarily be partial. We hope that readers will share our view that this partiality does not invalidate our critique. Our criticisms are not intended as a destructive exercise, but arise precisely because we share with many socialist feminists a sense of the urgency of the problems facing women today. The present time is one of intensified class struggle nationally, and of great danger internationally. In this threatening political climate it becomes more, not less important to locate women’s continuing subordination as central. Only strategies that start from this assumption can achieve real or lasting change for the vast majority, women and men, black and white, either in the developing world or in the ‘imperial heartland’.

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