Tag Archives: austerity

After “Beyond the Fragments”?

This post was contributed by Ceren Yalcin, an intern at the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research.

A book that brings together over three hundred people on a Friday evening, 34 years after it was first published has truly passed the test of time. Either because its authors have written an extraordinary piece of work, or that our times yearn for alternative forms of political organisation. In the case of Beyond the Fragments, I’d say, it is both.

The publication of a new edition of Beyond the Fragments was hosted by Birkbeck Institute for Social Research. The book’s authors Sheila Rowbotham, Lynne Segal and Hilary Wainwright came together to speak about the ‘after’ and the ‘beyond’ of four-decades of feminist scholarship and political activism. Chaired by Melissa Benn, the authors addressed the fraught question of how to consolidate diverse upsurges of rebellion into effective, open, democratic Left coalitions.

As Professor Sheila Rowbotham explained: “When we wrote Beyond the Fragments we were preoccupied with the process of organising for change. We took a whole of things for granted then that we can no longer take for granted now.” Surely, times have changed since the ’70s – both for the better and the worse. Today, we encounter deepening recession, environmental pollution, growing inequality between women, falling real wages, rising unemployment, continuing sell-off of the NHS, and savage welfare cuts. And, as Lynne Segal pointed out, the politics of austerity are also reflected on an individual level. Living under corporate capitalism gives rise to all sorts of fears and hostilities: fear of economic decline, fear of foreigners, hostility towards those on benefits, fear of weakness and dependency and a sense that we have to be stronger and more competitive if we want to succeed. However, the protests of the last couple of years have shown that there is opposition to the politics of austerity.

And feminism, according to Professor Segal, is on the rise again as austerity hits women first. If the Left wants to succeed, Dr Wainwright emphasized, activism needs to saturate all spheres of political life from grassroots movement to state politics (as recently demonstrated by Syriza in Greece who take legislation and government as a resource to bring about social change).

There was certainly no room for pessimism last Friday evening. On the contrary, the speaker and the participants agreed that new forms of resistance are possible to build stronger bonds of solidarity across class, race, gender and sexuality. Pragna Patel from the Southall Black Sisters (SBS), an organisation struggling for women’s human rights and against gender related violence, stressed that her activism within the SBS was always driven by a desire to be part of a wider left, democratic, emancipatory project. Rosie Rogers’ lively response set the mood for the rest of the evening. She reminded us all of the new exciting ways of engaging in protest, such as UK-wide Stop the Cuts Coalition movement, that require people to work together and to “put their barriers away and stop tribalism”. At the end of the evening, the answer to the question of what is to be done, seemed less complicated than one might have supposed in the first place. All agreed: Come together, mobilize resistance and enjoy the protest.