It would be easy to represent the difference—and the continuity—between 1930s and 1970s political writing by women in terms of personal politics as the inevitable return of the repressed. We have seen that a concern with gender oppression was constructed as individualistically indulgent in Communist cultural thought in the 1930s, and that political fiction was taboo for the writers of the Harlem Renaissance; neither cultural movement could see gender as a political issue in its own right. Uncovering a feminist agenda in the work of women writers of the 1930s is a matter of reading against the grain of the social movements of their time.
How convenient it would be, then, if we could regard Women’s Liberation fiction as an articulation of that previously repressed agenda, as a fiction which finally makes explicit the real conditions of women’s exist-ence—patriarchal gender relations—which were masked in 1930s women’s writing by the then more legitimate categories of race and class. But neat as it is, the psychoanalytic analogy of a return of the repressed posits too simple a model for the relation between 1970s feminists writing the personal as political and 1930s women writers’ treatment of gendered existence. An exchange in Feminist Studies between two women who discuss the respective merits of the Old and the New Left in relation to gender and personal life, illustrates the problematic nature of such a model. In ‘Women in the Old and New Left’, Ellen Kay Trimberger argues that the New Left of the early 1960s consciously rejected the ideological strictures of 1930s Communism along with its authoritarianism. But her assumption that a previously silenced political unconscious of personal life could only find its full articulation in the New Left and—especially—in the personal politics of Women’s Liberation, was resolutely refused by Old Left activist Peggy Dennis and dismissed as ahistorical. Dennis counters that the cultures of the Old and the New Left can only be understood in the contexts of their time, in
the socio-economic realities and the problems for solution those realities placed on history’s agenda…the content of Communist