There are more ways than one in which the women’s movement can be co-opted and be cut off from the possibilities of becoming an autonomous and revolutionary political movement. One is that we will assist capitalism to introduce and integrate women into new facets of its exploitative relations. The FINANCIAL TIMES of March 9, 1971, has made clear to those backward capitalists who have not realised it yet, how useful we can be•
Many of these girls are clearly of high ability, and they constitute a pool from which skilled middle management could be drawn. They would be as hard working and conscientious as only a grateful outsider could be. and it is conceivable that, in spite of the equal pay legislation, they might not cost as much as male equivalents, at least in the first instance. We will use such women, in increasing numbers, when we realise that they exist and feel able to recognise their qualities. Until then. a good deal of talent that is costing a lot of money to train in our universities will continue to be wasted, and British industry will have failed to see a source of renewed energy and vitality that is before its very eyes.
This use of rebellion, to co-opt the most articulate minority for the purpose of developing capital, with “renewed energy and vitality”, is not new and not confined to women. It is the overriding principle of capitalist development. The ex-colonial world whom the British “educated” to selfgovernment, for example, is ruled by “grateful outsiders”. We need to examine how we are to be “used” closely and carefully if we are to prevent ourselves from organising only to assist capitalism to be less backward and in the process further enslaving ourselves, rather than organising to destroy it which is the only possible process of liberation.
Another, but connected, way of co-option has in some measure already taken place, and its agent has been left organisations. They have effectively convinced many of us that if we wish to move to working class women it must be either through them or, more pervasively, through their definitions of the class, their orientations and their kind of actions. It is as though they have stood blocking an open door. They challenge the validity of an autonomous women’s movement either directly or (by treating women, a specially exploited section of the class, as marginal) indirectly. For them the “real” working class is white, male and over thirty. Here racism, male supremacy and age supremacy have a common lineage. They effectively want to make us auxiliary to the “general”-struggle -as if they represented the generalisation of the struggle; as if there could be a generalised struggle without women, without men joining with women for women’s demands.
We are told that we must bring women to what is called a “trade union consciousness”. This phrase is Lenin’s and it comes from a pamphlet called “What is to be done.In many ways it is a brilliant pamphlet, but it was written in the early days of the Russian movement, in 1902. Lenin learnt from the workers and peasants of Russia in 1905 and 1917 and repudiated a good deal of what he wrote before these two revolutions. Left people do not speak of Lenin’s labor conclusions, and in my view much of what passes for left theory (and practice) today is pre-1902. In 1972 this is a serious charge, and I think it can be proved. They can read Lenin and quote him. But unlike Lenin, they are not able to learn from the actions that workers take.