This post is WPUK’s latest contribution to a developing debate with The Socialist Party. We welcome the willingness of The Socialist to engage with WPUK and look forward to finding other opportunities for further debate.
This latest exchange followed the publication of an article by Michael Johnson by The Socialist in December 2021 which you can read here.
We published our reply here.
At the time of posting, we were unaware that the Socialist Party had published our letter. We have since received an email from them alerting us to its publication (and a response from the author of the original article).
We have now sent them the following reply.
We think that Michael Johnson’s reply to Woman’s Place UK (United struggle for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights is integral to the wider struggle to change society) clarifies two fundamental, and perhaps irreconcilable, differences in approach between us and the Socialist Party.
Every major advance in women’s rights – from suffrage, access to abortion and a legal entitlement to equal pay – has been won not because women waited “for the maximum unity of the working class in struggle”. They happened because women identified the problem, organised and struggled without waiting for male union bureaucrats or politicians to decide that the time was right and maximum unity (whatever that might mean) had been achieved. These things were often done despite opposition from some working-class men.
There are direct comparisons to be made with lesbians, gay men and black people. These minorities often faced immense hostility from bigots and racists inside the working class and if they’d waited for “maximum unity” they’d still be waiting. They organised and fought, changing both laws and social attitudes through their struggles.
That’s an essential difference between our way of doing politics and what Michael Johnson is advocating. Women are an oppressed sex and we need to organise as a sex, rather than waiting for small vanguard parties, MPs, union leaders or “maximum unity”. If it’s divisive to challenge people who want to erode women’s rights then we are divisive. We think of it as enabling women to confront political parties like Labour which can’t even say what a woman actually is.
It is now clear that our other fundamental disagreement is over the definition of “woman”.
We think that women and girls are female people. In sexist societies, all women and girls are oppressed, from birth, on the basis of our sex. Gender has a variety of current definitions but in materialist thinking has referred to the social norms overlaid on sex, which restrict everyone and particularly disadvantage women. In any case, sex and gender are clearly different things.
At the same time we maintain that everyone should be free to present in whatever socially constructed gender role they choose. All our activists have rebelled against society’s expectation of what it is to be a girl or woman. If biological males want to behave in a way which actively rejects typical ideas of masculinity, then we fully support them. We just don’t think that makes them women, despite what Starmer or the Socialist Party say.
As a group which prides itself on its close links to the working class, we’d like to think that the Socialist Party also contains many members who have no problem defining “woman” and we encourage them to raise the issue in their discussion. Most working-class people don’t find it a complicated thing to explain.
We won’t rise to the absurd claim that we think “some cuts have to be made”. Our core activists work every day in jobs where they see the effects of austerity on working class girls and women.
That might be a third difference between our approaches. We don’t deal in caricatures of our opponents’ positions.
You can read the full exchange with The Socialist here
Other related reading
We believe that it is important to share a range of viewpoints on women’s rights and advancement from different perspectives. WPUK does not necessarily agree or endorse all the views that we share.