Editorial


Editorial

The struggle for women's liberation in Australian and elsewhere takes place in relation to and in the context of many factors. Central among these are a particular economic system within which work (paid and unpaid) is organised; a dominant ideology that reproduces oppression and exploitation, discrimination, prejudice and stereotype; and various institutions through and in which power is exercised -- including in particular on the bodies of women. Resistance engages individually and collectively with all these in various ways, and on various levels.

Key to fighting and organising for women's liberation in Australia have been socialists and feminists, but though many narratives of this history have been produced since the late 1960s -- notably by the socialist and radical wings of feminism, and by women from the far left and the Communist Parties -- they are still partial. In the stories of these struggles, the activities (as individuals or groups) of organising for revolutionary change around left politics, and organising around `women's issues,' have often been separated, even counterposed. On the one hand, full recognition of the militant and intellectual role played, despite everything, by women in far left politics has been long in coming; on the other, many `feminists' have been of other than socialist persuasion and seen reforms as satisfactory ends in themselves rather than as part of an overall struggle for change for everybody. Some have been constrained by fears of looking disreputable, or have simply had limited imaginations in relation to what could be possible.

Discussed in detail elsewhere (Hecate, XVII.i, 1991) is how, from the 1960s, the terminology used to designate visible and organised resistance by women shifts. The women's liberation movement becomes the women's movement and then feminism, and this also reflects a shift in dominant politics -- in a nutshell, a diminishing association with the politics of class. Post-feminism often suggests that the battles have been won, were not worth fighting, or were fought in the wrong way (as in some versions of `backlash' mythology).

The bigger pictures have been influenced and inflected by these and other developments both within feminism and within the left and Communist Parties -- as well as by the collapse of `Communism' in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and the Berlin Wall in 1989, which British socialist feminism showed itself at rather a loss to analyse (see, for example, Feminist Review, 39, entitled `Shifting Territories: Feminism and Europe'). Texts such as Australian Feminism: A Companion (Oxford UP, 1999) sometimes do, and sometimes don't attempt to grapple with these issues.

If we wanted to take another look at what advances towards real freedom for women have been made in Australia, where would we start? While women (and men) in union and Labor Party politics have helped produce specific gains they often stopped at a single issue. A group with larger ambitions was those involved in political organisations which had as their aim the achievement of socialism through the overthrow of the capitalist state. In the earlier part of this century, Marxist and left-anarchist groupings like the Victorian Socialist Party, the Industrial Workers of the World and the Communist Party had militant women's liberationists among their members and were -- programatically at least -- committed to women's freedom. They drew inspiration from the strand of women's liberation thinking in the experience of the Bolsheviks who, after the Revolution in 1917, managed to achieve more for women in relation to developing a basis for their access to knowledge and power than has ever happened before or since (though these advances were turned back with the rise of Stalinism). The militant revolutionary stances of those days had their attractions in Australia too. During the General Strike in Brisbane in 1912 (discussed by Pam Young in Hecate XIV. …

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