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Left Archive: The Women’s Movement at the Crossroads, An Reabhloid Pamphlet, Peoples Democracy, c. 1987/1988 November 14, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Irish Left Online Document Archive, People's Democracy.
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To download the above document please click on following link: PD WM

This document, published as an An Reabhloid pamphlet, by Peoples Democracy concentrates on the issues facing the Women’s Movement in the latter part of the 1980s [and many thanks to Jim Monaghan for donating it to the Archive]. It notes that the situation is ‘enormously different to that of the early 60s and 70s. Then the women’s movement, along with the socialist, trade union and anti-imperialist movements, were very confident. Today all three are under attack, with a general shift ot the right in the political climate. Women have suffered the most attacks, a situation made easier by the demobilisation of the women’s movement North and South.

And it continues:

The fundamental questions of strategy which faced women in the early eighties are still burning questions today and… must be resolved through a period of discussion and debate involving the broad feminist movement and the anti-imperialist current.

The article itself is particularly interesting in detailing the ‘small but significant layer of socialists feminists in the early movement who, on paper, had a strong anti-imperialism, anti-partition stance’. And it attempts to emphasise the importance of linking those two elements with feminism. Here it pays particular attention to the Armagh Women Political Prisoners campaign ‘built by the Belfast Women Against Imperialism Group (WAI) in the late 1970s’.

Beyond the critique of other strands within feminism during this period what is also useful is the overview of a range of defeats and setbacks during that period, from the dismissal of teacher Eileen Flynn, the Joanne Hayes tribunal, ‘the rightwing campaign in the media against ‘unmarried mothers’ and drawing the net more widely ‘the anti-gay hysteria being orchestrated against persons with AIDs’. It also notes the ‘defeat of the divorce referendum and the SPUC campaign to shut down the abortion referral services of the women’s clinics’.

The document also has articles on ‘Fighting against the closedown of women’s clinics’ in the wake of the Justice Liam Hamilton High Court verdict which shut down pregnancy counselling services by Open Line and Well Women Centre. It also considers ‘Lessons from the Divorce Defeat’. And it argues that ‘this illustrates the power of the Catholic Church and the inability of bourgeois and reformist parties to tackle it. Far from confirming the appropriateness of partition the result reinforces the need to smash it’.

It also looks at ‘Development’s in the European Women’s Movement’. And it makes the interesting point that ‘the criminal failure of the labour movement to support women adequately produces much frustration among feminists about a ‘privileged men’s movement’ in the trade unions.

Here it also critiques ‘Right-wing governments and union leaders [who] are cynically exploiting this feminist resentment of the male-dominated world of work, arguing for a freeze on the wages of ‘high-paid’ workers. This strategy supported in Britain by the TUC and Eurocommunist influenced radical feminist, disastrously takes pressure off the capitalists and deepens divisions in the workers movement.

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1. Mark P - November 14, 2011

This is a very interesting pamphlet, albeit one that shows its age. I’m not really used to seeing interesting material from the PD/SD stable, rather than turgid moaning. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a date on it, but it seems reasonably clear that this comes from the late 1980s.

The oddest part of it is the emphasis on the need for the feminist movement to link up with the “anti-imperialist movement”. Firstly because there is little in the way of an explicit case made for this alliance. Secondly, because the “anti-imperialist movement” is left undefined – who exactly are they talking about in the late 1980s? It strikes me as strange that something they evidently thought was so central is so little explained and so vaguely argued.

The tactical arguments dealing with the defend the clinics campaign and the divorce referendum seem a little at odds with each other. In the first case, the pamphlet argues for a lowest common denominator campaign, as wide as possible and avoiding taking up broader issues. In the latter case, the failure of the campaign to take up a broader and sharper political perspective is criticised. I tend to suspect that the distinction drawn probably stems from sectarian squabbling of some sort – certainly the arguments about the clinics campaign have the distinct flavour of a semi-disguised polemic against some other group.

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WorldbyStorm - November 14, 2011

It would be good to get a perspective on this leaflet. I agree entirely, it’s one of the more interesting to come from them.

I’d also love a definitive date. I put in 87/88 because of the references in the text but it’s hard to be precise.

What’s also perhaps of interest is that a cadre had left PD I think just before this came out to SF. It would be useful to know the impact that that had.

And also completely agree, who is the polemic directed against?

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Mark P - November 14, 2011

At a guess I’d say the SWM.

It’s hard to be sure, but I can easily imagine PD being in the leadership of the campaign, or at least forming part of the leadership, wanting to keep things as broad as possible and the SWM making, from the PD perspective, a nuisance of themselves by trying to portray themselves as left critics of the leadership. Nowadays, of course, the roles would be reversed. I’m guessing that it’s the SWM because I think there’d be other elements to the polemic if it was the Workers Party or Militant or some other group that they were trying to slap down.

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WorldbyStorm - November 14, 2011

That makes sense.

Any PD or other alumni out there who can shed light on this?

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2. Mark P - November 14, 2011

On another note, the comments about the process of cooption of much of the feminist movement by the state in the latter part are well made but could have done with more detail.

In many countries, after the heroic period of the women’s liberation movement faded, what was left behind tended to be a series of quangos, state-funded semi-quangos, and perhaps a women’s studies department or two rather than an actual movement. In Ireland this was on a smaller scale than in Britain, in the absence of the patronage of left leaning local councils, but the women’s movement was on a smaller scale to begin with.

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3. Jim Monaghan - November 14, 2011

The womens studies dept can/could be two sided. One good person in ULA is from that background. he main womens movement person left PD and joined SF after leading a defence of PD against an earlier group.I will apss on the link to a comrade still in D now Sd who was in this part of its work.

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Mark P - November 14, 2011

I’m not saying that having women’s studies departments is a bad thing Jim, still less that people who work in those departments have no contribution to make!

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WorldbyStorm - November 14, 2011

Yeah, isn’t your point that it wasn’t a lot as an outcome given the centrality of the feminist movement… in a way though would it be perhaps fairer to say the cooption by parts of civil society than the state itself, though I agree that was part of the process too.

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Mark P - November 15, 2011

The distinction between civil society and the state is a blurry one, particularly when huge chunks of civil society are funded by the state.

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2011

All too true. But I’m not necessarily using the term ‘civil society’ in a positive way in this context. All too often ‘civil society’ seems to me to be the politer side of a supposedly anti-establishment attitude closely nestled in to the establishment.

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Mark P - November 15, 2011

Fair point. I think I’m just used to people using the term “civil society” as if automatically connoted something good, as opposed to being a polite term for bodies funded by the state, or alternatively by the super-rich and their foundations.

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WorldbyStorm - November 15, 2011

That’s it precisely. I think that’s why I’m so suspicious, not that it has to be bad, but that it’s taken as read by too many that it’s always good.

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4. Vier alte Broschüren « Entdinglichung - November 16, 2011

[...] Peoples Democracy: The Women’s Movement at the Crossroads, An Reabhloid Pamphlet (1987/1988) auf Cedar Lounge [...]

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5. Left Archive Index now updated to October 2012 to March 2012 – and some items of particular interest « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - April 9, 2012

[...] Peoples’ Democracy collection saw the addition of The Women’s Movement at the Crossroads, An Reabhloid Pamphlet, from [...]

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