Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright: Beyond the Fragments (1979)


Subtitled “Feminism and the Making of Socialism”, this collective set of essays was a sustained argument for applying the lessons of the experience of the women’s movement to the more traditional approach of the male-dominated British labour movement and political organisations. Originating in a pamphlet published by the Tyneside Socialist Centre and the Islington Community Press, an expanded version was published by Merlin Press. Adopting a pluralist libertarian socialist approach, the essays draw on a wide range of local experience both within the women’s movement and within other issue-based community struggles, as well as within the more sectarian revolutionary left. In her introduction, Wainwright pointed out that “our concern in writing this book is with the forms of organisation necessary to develop socialist consciousness out of this grass-roots industrial and social strength. The book was a collaborative product and although there were only three essayists, the pamphlet and the book drew on the experience of a wide range of feminists and libertarian socialists.

“The way alliances come about will vary with local conditions. Sometimes under the pressure of the onslaught from the Tories and the hopelessness of official campaigns, the local branches of the strongest left-wing organisations  or left Constituency Labour party may set up  an alliance in motion. It might break with the normal customs, and make its discussions the forum for socialists in other smaller organisations or unaligned.

“In other areas the experience of successfully working together over some nationally initiated campaign might lead people to establish ways of establishing that unity on a more permanent, wider political basis.  Or there might already be some form of unity, a local socialist newspaper, a shared resource centre, a bookshop, socialist club or centre, which can be built on to create a  more active political alliance. Whatever the process, the signs are that conditions for such alliances – ad hoc and loose though they may be – are especially favourable at a local level…

“Because of the endless postponement of decisive conflicts in the Labour Party; because of the poverty of political debate within most constituency and ward Labour Parties; because of the absence of a mass circulation  socialist paper, the left in Britain  has not been through a common process of debate on strategy and programme – even of the kind which precedes major splits from socialist and communist parties on the Continent. As a result, there is lack of agreement or even discussion of strategy and programme between any strong groupings at a national level to determine nationally the framework for unity at a local level. At a local and regional level however, there are plenty of opportunities, first, for unity around the major political problems of the day; also around socialist projects like bookshops, socialist trade union information and research centres, resource centres, alternative newspapers. Their success, though, is vital to the creation of a popular socialist party.”

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