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Looking Back at the Berkeley-Oakland Women's Union Circa 1974

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"Socialism and feminism have a long, and at times fraught, relationship," writes Nicole Aschoff in her essay collected in The ABC's of Socialism (Verso/ Jacobin 2016).

Socialist feminist women's organizations flourished in several cities in the early to mid-1970s. Some of the members of these groups belonged to other socialist organizations that included men, but the organizations operated autonomously and brought new perspectives to both the socialist and feminist movements. I was living in Berkeley, California during the heyday of the Berkeley-Oakland Women's Union and knew many women who participated in the creative effort to merge socialist and feminist politics. Recently, women in Democratic Socialists of America have been using the term "socialist-feminist" to describe themselves politically.

Inspired by this echo of the past, I dug up the Principles of Unity document generated by BOWU in the 1970s. Some of the analysis is perhaps dated. The 44-year-old PoU does not discuss gender in terms that are common today, nor does it have anything to say about the impending global climate emergency, the relationship between domination of women and domination of Earth, or others of capitalism's more recent discontents. But it is very fresh compared to a lot of the (mostly male-drafted) political manifestoes of that era. The need for socialism to embrace feminism is as pressing now as it was back in the 1970s.

One bit of good fortune is that as ecosocialist feminism takes shape in the second decade of the 21st century, many of the women who explored this political terrain in the 1970s are still around and available for dialogue with younger activists who are interested in taking socialist-feminism further. As Aschoff concludes, "Ultimately the goals of radical feminism and socialism are the same -- justice and equality for all people, not simply equal opportunity for women or equal participation by women in an unjust system."

Ted
 

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