Jane Wills is right to identify Beyond the Fragments as ‘a historic document’, which ‘reflects the state of the English left at the time’. But the importance of the book goes beyond the contribution its description and analysis of the British left in the 1970s makes to our understanding of the past.
When I first came across the book a few years ago, two of its main themes resonated strongly, and continue to do so. Firstly, as someone active over the past few years primarily in the anti-capitalist feminist collective Feminist Fightback, but having also been involved in a local housing group, a discussion group for radical teachers and my union branch, the question referenced in the book’s title of how to move ‘beyond the fragments’ raises important questions about the form and function of revolutionary organisation.
Beyond the Fragments does not advocate broad-based community organising which sidelines political differences and leaves capitalism and patriarchy unchallenged. As Hilary Wainwright writes in the original introduction, what we must grapple with is how we go about ‘gathering together all the different sources of strength, uniting the social power of the community with the industrial power of those in production, and pitching this popular power against the existing state’.
Secondly, the critique of the male-dominated Leninist left, developed particularly in Sheila Rowbotham’s piece, is not a relic of the past but a reality of the present. Recent events in the SWP are a stark example of this, and her essay is well worth revisiting in this context.
Though the women’s movement challenged the accepted orthodoxy of how revolutionary socialists should organise – critiquing the idealisation of the ‘professional revolutionary’, challenging hierarchy, seeing personal relationships as political issues, putting experience at the heart of politics, foregrounding questions of social reproduction – this struggle remains one which we are engaged in as feminists today. Beyond the Fragments remains essential reading for those interested in forging a different approach to revolutionary politics, one in which our forms of organisation prefigure in some way the imagined world beyond capitalism.
Red Pepper is volunteer-led and we rely on your support to be here. We strive to counter right-wing myths, to provide a space for debate across and to put forward alternative ideas for a more just society. Please support independent media at this crucial time while we face environmental crises and the destruction of the welfare state, become a Friend of Red Pepper today.
In return, you’ll receive a subscription to the magazine plus invitations to events. To claim your free book email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange delivery.
#228 Climate Revolutions ● Transitioning beyond climate and Covid-19 crises ● Conservation without colonialism ● Prisons, profits and punishment ● Surveillance capitalism in India ● The uses of comedy ●Simon Hedges ● Book reviews ● And much more!
And you choose how much to pay for your subscription...
Far too often, we think of police brutality in the US as exceptional. Families on both sides of the Atlantic tell stories that prove otherwise. Black Britain must be heard, writes Wail Qasim
The speedy switch in from producing airplane wings to ventilator parts at a north Wales factory holds out an example for a transition to a low-carbon economy, writes Hilary Wainwright
The response to the pandemic has allowed us to imagine a world without immigration detention centres, writes Rachel Harger
Keval Bharadia argues for a super-tax on financial markets to curb extreme inequality in the wake of Covid-19
Affordable healthcare means breaking the stranglehold that Big Pharma has on our medicines system, writes Dana Brown
The BBC hit drama shows the complexities of class mobility, but can’t avoid class and gender stereotypes, says Frances Hatherley