Papers related to Women and Socialism Conferences

Scope and Content

Printed papers including some by the International Feminist Collective and Gay Liberation (1973).

Administrative / Biographical History

The second wave of the feminist movement, or the Women's Liberation Movement, began in the 1960s. It moved beyond the action for social and economic equality with men that earlier liberal activists had focused on to undertake the theoretical study of social relationships and ways in which they created the oppression of women. Its emergence occurred at the same time as that of anti-imperialist, left-leaning political movements in the United States and Great Britain and was influenced by them. Large numbers of those involved in the women s liberation movement began to make a connection between working class oppression and women's oppression, resulting in the formation of socialist or Marxist feminism that aimed at a general social transformation which would also encompass a radical change in women's status.

The first Women's Liberation conference was held in 1970, at Ruskin College, Oxford and from it emerged four demands: equal pay, equal education and job opportunities, free contraception and abortion on demand and free 24hr nurseries. They did not, however, emphasis the end of capitalism as a means of achieving their objectives. Soon, however, socialist feminists began to predominate in the British Women's Liberation Movement, influenced by a strong British socialist tradition and recent events such as the strike at the Ford car factory in Dagenham by female workers campaigning for equality with male colleagues. Their analysis of women's situation as a combination of male domination and class exploitation came to dominate the movement in the early part of the decade and led many to call for the end of the conventional family as a key step towards women's liberation within communism.

Activists in both the feminist and the socialist movements shared aspects of their working methods . Both sought to develop strategy through both local groups and national conferences and carried out their analysis of the family and women's role in those contexts. In 1969 the Women's Liberation Workshop begun in London, publishing the SHREW newsletter. This was followed the next year by the first National Women's Liberation Conference in Oxford. In 1972 National Women's Liberation Conferences were held in London and Manchester, with one in Bristol the following year. It was largely from these events that future agendas for discussion of women and their roles evolved. Subsequently, the Conference on the Family took place at the Leeds Polytechnical University on the 12th and 13th May 1973. It included sessions on the History of the Family including work on the family in the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century, the Family under Capitalism and the Family in the Post-Capitalist Society. Papers were read which also examined the socialist position on abortion and homosexuality in a capitalist society from a Marxist perspective. Another, more feminist-centred event took place in London that same year. The second conference on Women's Liberation and Socialism was held at the Conway Hall on the 22nd-23rd September. It was intended as a follow-up to the first conference that had been held in Birmingham at the request of a local political study group holding on-going discussions of the issue. Both were intended for feminists of a Marxist orientation within the movement and consisted of three workshops dealing with different subject areas raised at the Birmingham event. Areas treated were the history and development of the Women's Liberation Movement and its future organisational development. A follow up workshop to deal with the issues raised was held the following November.

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The collection is open for consultation. Intending readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

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