International Women’s Day Reading List

From feminist theory, to history and contemporary politics, these are some of Pluto’s best books, old and new, that celebrate radical women.

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Revolutionary Learning: Marxism, Feminism and Knowledge by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab Carpenter T03129

Revolutionary Learning by Sara Carpenter and Shahrzad Mojab explores the Marxist and feminist theorisation of knowledge production and learning. From an explicitly feminist perspective, the authors reconsider the contributions of Marx, Gramsci and Freire to educational theory, expanding Marxist analyses of education by considering it in relation to patriarchal and imperialist capitalism.  The reproductive nature of institutions is revealed through an ethnography of schools and pushed further by the authors who go on to examine how education and consciousness connects with the broader environment of public policy, civil society, the market, and other instruments of ‘public pedagogy.’

The book’s use of work by feminist, anti-racist and anti-colonial scholars means it will have significant implications for critical education scholarship, but its use value extends beyond educational praxis; providing the tools dissect, theorize, resist and transform capitalist social relations.

 

Captive Revolution: Palestinian Women’s Anti-Colonial Struggle within the Israeli Prison System by Nahla AbdoAbdo T02851

Throughout the world, women have played a part in struggles against colonialism, imperialism and other forms of oppression, but their vital contributions to revolutions, national liberation and anti-colonial resistance are rarely chronicled.

Nahla Abdo’s Captive Revolution seeks to break the silence on Palestinian women political detainees. Based on stories of the women themselves, as well as her own experiences as a former political prisoner, Abdo draws on a wealth of oral history and primary research in order to analyse their anti-colonial struggle, their agency and their appalling treatment as political detainees. Through crucial comparisons between the experiences of female political detainees in other conflict; a history of female activism emerges.

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Leila Khaled: The Poster Girl of Palestinian Militancy’ International Woman’s Day

We’re celebrating International Woman’s Day with ‘the poster girl of Palestinian militancy’ and subject of Sarah Irving’s biography: Leila Khaled. Leila Khaled: Icon of Palestinian Liberation tells the story of Khaled’s remarkable life as a female activist in a man’s movement. From hijacking planes, to her involvement in radical sects, Leila Khaled’s activism made her as era-defining as Che Guevara.

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When Leila Khaled hijacked her first plane, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was a left-wing organization with international links and the declared intention of winning the return of the Palestinian people to the lands they had left only 20 years before. This was the era of Che Guevara, killed in Bolivia just two years earlier, and of liberation struggles in South East Asia. The right of oppressed peoples to resist by armed means was discussed worldwide, and the heroes of these movements decorated the walls of student bedrooms and left-wing homes. The second wave of feminism was also breaking, adding another aspect to the environment in which news of this young female hijacker would be received.

In Leila’s Middle East home, Israel had just defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in the Six Day War, humiliating the Arab world militarily and capturing the remaining Palestinian territories west of the River Jordan and north of the Sinai. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including thousands of refugees from the initial establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, had been living under Jordanian and Egyptian rule, but were now subject to Israeli military occupation. Despite this, the world’s attention to the Palestinians themselves was minimal. They were seen by the West as a small, dispossessed refugee people, caught up in the hostility between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East, and of little importance except as an excuse for aggression by Arab powers. Amongst the Palestinians of the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, discontent had been brewing. A resistance movement, which had been growing since the mid 1960s, had been further radicalized and popularized by the Six Day War and by Palestinians’ increasing suspicion of the hollow support voiced by Arab regimes. As Rosemary Sayigh, who lived in Lebanon throughout the 1970s, puts it:

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‘Feminism is for Everybody’ bell hooks for International Woman’s Day

bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody is the antidote to every ‘when’s international men’s day?!’ tweet. Designed to be read by all genders, this short, accessible introduction to feminist theory, by one of its liveliest and most influential practitioners, seeks to rescue feminism from esoterism and academic jargon; simplifying, arguing and convincing.

 

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Everywhere I go I proudly tell folks who want to know who I am and what I do that I am a writer, a feminist theorist, a cultural critic. I tell them I write about movies and popular culture, analysing the message in the medium. Most people find this exciting and want to know more. Everyone goes to movies, watches television, glances through magazines, and everyone has thoughts about the messages they receive, about the images they look at. It is easy for the diverse public I encounter to understand what I do as a cultural critic, to understand my passion for writing (lots of folks want to write, and do). But feminist theory — that’s the place where the questions stop. In- stead I tend to hear all about the evil of feminism and the bad feminists: how “they” hate men; how “they” want to go against nature — and god; how “they” are all lesbians; how “they” are taking all the jobs and making the world hard for white men, who do not stand a chance. When I ask these same folks about the feminist books or magazines they read, when I ask them about the feminist talks they have heard, about the feminist activists they know, they respond by let- ting me know that everything they know about feminism has come into their lives thirdhand, that they really have not come close enough to feminist movement to know what really happens, what it’s really about. Mostly they think feminism is a bunch of angry women who want to be like men. They do not even think about feminism as being about rights — about women gaining equal rights. When I talk about the feminism I know — up close and personal — they willingly listen, although when our conversations end, they are quick to tell me I am different, not like the “real” feminists who hate men, who are angry. I assure them I am as a real and as radical a feminist as one can be, and if they dare to come closer to feminism they will see it is not how they have imagined it.

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Trump’s Electoral Victory Signals Dangerous Turn in Capitalism by Peter Hudis

The freedom movements in the U.S., and indeed around the world, have been dealt a serious blow with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. This is one moment when “staring the negative in the face” without succumbing to either despair or superficial explanations of the reason for his election becomes especially important.trump-1

It is worth keeping in mind that Trump’s victory,
serious as it is, hardly constitutes a
mandate, given that Clinton obtained almost two million more popular votes than Trump. And this was despite widespread voter suppression in many states, where tens of thousands—especially African Americans and poor whites—were denied their right to vote (we can hardly consider it a “democracy” when some need to travel 50 miles to find a voting booth—which only seems to happen in areas that don’t vote Republican). Nevertheless, Trump will continue to proceed as though he has a mandate, and that is very serious business. One reason he can get away with this is that the Republican establishment that earlier denounced him over fear that he would wreck the party are now embracing him for delivering every branch of government into their hands.

Nothing would be more shortsighted than to think that Trump will prove to be the Syriza of the Right—that is, that he will disappoint his followers by accommodating to the neoliberal status quo and carrying out business as usual. He means what he says, and his cabinet appointees—which place outright neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the most powerful institutions in the land—provide ample proof of that. Given the magnitude of the events, it is worthwhile to underline the following…

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Video: William Pelz, ‘A People’s History of Modern Europe’

Last week we caught up with William A. Pelz, author of A People’s History of Modern Europe, to discuss the themes in his book.

In this short video, filmed at the Marx Memorial Library, Pelz expands on the importance of approaching history through the prism of the views and actions of ordinary people (‘people’s history’). He illustrates this with a brief discussion of German women’s and workers’ resistance during World War II.

William A. Pelz is Director of the Institute of Working Class History in Chicago and a Professor of History at Elgin Community College. His recent works include Wilhelm Liebknecht and German Social Democracy (Greenwood Press, 2015), The Eugene V. Debs Reader (The Merlin Press Ltd, 2014), Against Capitalism: The European Left on the March (Peter Lang Publishing, 2007), and A People’s History of Modern Europe (Pluto, 2016).

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A People’s History of Modern Europe is available to buy from Pluto Press, here.

The Trump Emergency by Bill V. Mullen

 

W.E.B. DuBois was quoted as saying ‘either the United States will destroy ignorance or ignorance will destroy the United States’. Trump’s bid to ‘Make America Great Again’ was vitalised by this potentially destructive ignorance; racism, misogyny, ableism and homophobia were omnipresent during his campaign and his appointments stoke a similar fire. 

Bill V. Mullen, author of W.E.B. Du Bois: Revolutionary Across the Colour Line’, deconstructs the recent election; making predictions and prescribing the measures necessary to fight this destructive ignorance. 

Three things must be said at the start about the role of racism, xenophobia and nativism in Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.

Firstly, Trump scapegoated immigrants from Mexico and Muslims in what has become a kkk_trumpright-nationalist move globally to split the working-class.  As a result, we have seen an upturn in hate crimes and racist attacks in the U.S., especially against Muslims, in the seven days since the election. African Americans and Latinos, many poor or working-class, overwhelmingly rejected him by margins of 8 and 9 to one. Black women voted against Trump by 93 percent, the highest of any single group in the electorate. Trump’s solid majority of votes was won among whites without a college degree. Though Trump voters did list immigration as one of their main reasons for supporting him, the deeper, longer-term effect of that scapegoating is not easy to determine, it is important to note that Trump’s actual margin of victory among whites was almost exactly the same as Mitt Romney’s over Obama in 2012 (20 percent – 21 percent).  See Mike Davis:

The great surprise of the election was not a huge white working-class shift to Trump but rather his success in retaining the loyalty of Romney voters, and indeed even slightly improving on the latter’s performance amongst evangelicals for whom the election was viewed as a last stand. Thus economic populism and nativism potently combined with, but did not displace, the traditional social conservative agenda[1]

Secondly, voter suppression, especially of minority votes, massively effected the outcome. Hillary Clinton earned 10 million fewer votes than Barack Obama in 2008 and a smaller percentage of the African-American vote than did Obama in 2012: 88 versus 93 percent.  In some states like Wisconsin, Arizona, Texas, and Louisiana, the combination of new “voter I.D.” laws and reduction in polling places likely repressed minority turnout.

Third, the fact that 60 million people in the U.S. voted for an openly racist, nativist, misogynist candidate has devastated and enraged the political morale of many, especially racial minorities. Trump’s formal endorsement by the Ku Klux Klan, his appointment of an anti-semitic white nationalist, Stephen Bannon, to a key advising post, his campaign’s open outreach to white supremacists, is a toxic reminder of the U.S.’s history as a capitalist, slaveholding empire of war, genocide, imperialism and ruin. ‘Whitelash’ is one current popular expression for this development.

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The story behind ‘Suffragette’

For International Women’s Day, Jaqueline Mulhallen writes on the inadequacies of the film Suffragette

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The film Suffragette comes out on DVD this week, in part to coincide with International Women’s Day. While the film has been praised for portraying the suffering, determination and sacrifice of women who were trying to get the vote, it tells only part of the story.

Set in the last couple of years of a campaign which the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) had launched nine years earlier, the film focuses on the more violent and desperate phase of the campaign. It includes the hunger strikes and the force-feeding which many suffered, as well as the death of Emily Wilding Davison at the Derby while she was attempting to attach the WSPU colours to the King’s horse, as well as documenting the women’s protests through window-breaking and arson. However, it ignores the origins of the organisation, which started amongst a number of women from the Labour movement in Manchester and the North West.

The Northern cotton mills employed by far the largest group of women workers in the country, and the trade union organisers Esther Roper and Eva Gore-Booth were encouraging the mill workers to demand the vote. At the large protest in Downing Street in 1905, these women from the cotton mills in their grey shawls and clogs formed a significant part of the crowd. Other early protests included women from East London waving red flags. Although the film shows a working class woman from East London, her experience is at odds with the real story of women in the East End which is much more exciting and dramatic than the story of the film.

Over time, the WSPU became increasingly by Unknown photographer, bromide print, mid 1900sundemocratic. One of the original figures of the movement Christabel Pankhurst (who does not feature in the film) wanted her ideas to prevail, and splits occurred. The first was in 1907 when a number of women left the organisation to form the Women’s Freedom League. Christabel was more attracted to wealthy women, who gave generously to the WSPU, and her politics became more and more orientated towards the Conservative Party of the time. She began to see working class women as irrelevant to the fight for the vote. The failing of this re-orientation was proven when she and her mother, Emmeline Pankhurst met Herbert Henry Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister in 1912. In typical fashion, he stood firmly against their demands for votes for women.

While the suffragettes’ initial window breaking protest was a response to violence suffered by women from the police was a success, the arson attacks which began in 1912 started to lose support among the general public. Soon, a warrant was issued for Christabel’s arrest, and she fled to Paris. She never suffered through a hunger strike and spent only a brief time in prison, and after her release was able to direct the WSPU campaign from abroad. Then came the second split with her supporters Frederick and Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, which occurred due to their disagreements over the violent turn of the campaign.

It was then that Christabel’s younger sister, Sylvia, decided to give up her career as an artist SylviaP-001and become a leader of the WSPU. Sylvia Pankhurst believed that the vote could only be won by building a mass organisation of working-class women together with men. Sylvia had been a loyal member of the WSPU, selling the paper, writing for it, organising and speaking at meetings and going on hunger strike, but she had never openly criticised its policies, despite the fact she was a friend of Keir Hardie, and never gave up her commitment to socialist politics.

In 1912 Sylvia opened branch of the WSPU in Bow, London. This East London Federation of Suffragettes grew into a large organisation which included men. At the huge demonstrations and meetings held by the ELFS the police were rarely able to arrest Sylvia, who was protected by both men and women. This was the time of the Great Unrest, and many of the men in Bow worked in the docks, an area which was vulnerable to strikes.

Unlike Christabel, Sylvia had been so successful in her aim of building a strong organisation of working women, that in 1914 she was able to organise a deputation of six of these women to see the Prime Minister by threatening him with a hunger strike outside the House of Commons. The huge procession which accompanied this frail dying woman there consisted of both men and women whose presence so near Parliament must have alarmed the government who prevented the demonstration proceeding any further. However, Sylvia gave the police the slip and arrived in a taxi. The six women who saw Asquith finally convinced him of the justice of giving votes for women with their moving life stories.

Looking again at the film Suffragette, it is difficult to see how any working man or woman in 1912 could have been unaware of the East London Federation of Suffragettes, or find it necessary to go anywhere else in London to carry out activity, when there were so many meetings and demonstrations right there at home. Given the support men gave to the East London Federation it is also strange to see the men in the film so antagonistic towards the women. While Sylvia’s initial speeches had been greeted with rotten vegetables and fish heads, this phase did not last long and Sylvia herself was very popular. The husband in the film Suffragette separates from his wife because of her activity and gives their child up for adoption. This doesn’t accord with anything I have read about working-class communities at that time, nor does it ring true with my experience of living in East London for the last 20 years of the 20th century.

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Jacqueline Mulhallen wrote and performed in the plays ‘Sylvia’ and ‘Rebels and Friends’. Her ground-breaking book The Theatre of Shelley (Open Book Publishers, 2010) has been internationally acclaimed. She contributed a chapter on Shelley to The Oxford Handbook to Georgian Theatre (OUP, 2014) shortlisted for the Theatre Book Prize 2015.

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Percy Bysshe Shelley: Poet and Revolutionary is available to buy from Pluto Press here.