|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Issue 192 October 2015
Socialists rising: but are women left behind?
Kshama Sawant, Seattleís Socialist Alternative city council member, was asked by The Guardianís US website how to overcome structural discrimination and under-representation of women on the left in the light of Jeremy Corbynís victory in the Labour Party, and Bernie Sandersí success compared to Hillary Clinton. The only elected female socialist in the US answers.
The welcome victory of Jeremy Corbyn to become leader of the British Labour Party has caught the imagination of anti-austerity, anti-war and socialist activists around the world. At the same time Bernie Sandersí insurgent campaign against the billionaire class and political establishment has caught fire, giving expression to a growing mood of resistance across the US.
This has led to a debate about whether feminists should support Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. Jeremy Corbyn has also come under criticism for not appointing women to the top positions in his shadow cabinet. How can we overcome the structural and social barriers to women, particularly women of colour, to political leadership?
Deep structural sexism and racism, along with pervasive, yet subtle anti-women attitudes, create real obstacles to more women fully participating in politics and social movements. This has an impact on all women, though in different ways, whether in establishment or left-wing politics.
This must be consciously countered. Socialists must make special efforts to ensure that women and all those discriminated against are at the forefront of movements to change society.
Should the left support Hillary Clinton to lift up women?
While the election of Hillary Clinton as the first female US president would undoubtedly give encouragement to women initially, we should not ignore her pro-establishment, anti-worker policies which are contrary to the struggle for social justice, especially for women.
For women and all those oppressed by capitalist society, the decisive issue must be the politics of the various candidates.
That is why socialists do not support Hillary Clinton. Instead, we support much of Bernie Sandersí political programme and his challenge to the billionaire class. However, we disagree with his decision to run as a Democrat and his pledge to support whichever Wall Street-approved politician wins the Democratic Party primary contest.
Clintonís years on the board of directors of Walmart certainly did not advance the interests of the low-paid women who make up the majority of Walmartís employees. Likewise the women of the Middle East were the greatest victims of the criminal Iraq and Afghanistan wars which were supported by Hillary. And Clintonís record as a Senator clearly demonstrates her commitment to corporate profits ahead of womenís needs.
Unlike Clinton, Bernie Sanders does not take money from the financial aristocracy which rules US politics, and is campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage and single-payer universal healthcare.
Corbyn reflecting the anger of the 99%
The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader provides an enormous opportunity to build a force that can win real gains for working people and women and have the possibility to radically change society.
At the same time the election of a socialist to lead the British Labour Party has shocked and frightened ruling classes around the world. They purged the Labour Party of socialists in the 1980s and 1990s to make it safe for capitalism, to turn it into a British version of the Democratic Party, a pro-business party that tries to appear Ďprogressiveí.
However Corbynís surprise candidature became a rallying point for the deep anger at the political establishment. This of course is not simply a British phenomenon. It was also the basis for my 2013 election in Seattle and explains why Sanders is currently attracting huge crowds to his rallies.
After overcoming their shock, the British ruling class have rapidly launched an offensive against Corbyn. One strand of this offensive has been the charge that Corbyn, and by implication socialists as a whole, are anti-women. This began during the leadership campaign, with two of Corbynís pro-establishment rivals arguing for votes simply on the basis of their gender.
I was elected as the first socialist to the Seattle City Council in one hundred years largely because I was seen as a fighter rather than a careerist, someone who stood for working people against the 1%. My being a woman and a person of colour was not unimportant, but my emphasis was then and is now, as one of the only elected US socialists, on the political ideas I advocate for in the interests of working people and all the oppressed.
In a society fundamentally rooted in sexism, racism, and exploitation it is not surprising that this is reflected in lack of women and people of colour in influential positions, including on the left. The way to overcome this is to support women and people of colour who truly stand up for the oppressed and marginalised and to build a joint struggle of all those taking on the structures of discrimination and capitalism. Letís push Sanders not to endorse Clinton and build a real force fighting against all forms of discrimination.
Letís push Corbyn to fully overcome the imprisonment he faces by the Blairites dominating his party on all levels. And letís encourage many more women and people of colour to take them on and challenge their bankrupt and reactionary ideas. Out of movements, new leaders arise. Women and people of colour will be at the forefront.