Carol: I thought that anarchism had more to offer

Women activists in the UK discuss anarchism, feminism and the relationship between the personal and the political in extracts from interviews carried out by myself and Lynn Alderson in 1977. The whereabouts of the original tapes, or longer transcripts,  is unknown, though we still have hopes of recovering them. For now, these partial transcripts are all there is. See  Anarchism and  Feminism:  Voices from the Seventies for the other interviews and further information.

Note on Text: In line with the original intention that  the interviewees would remain anonymous,  I  have given them pseudonyms, and made one or two minor alterations. Editorial amendments are indicated with square brackets [1977 edits] or square brackets and italics [2014 edits]. Ellipses appear in the original transcriptions, indicating cuts.  In a couple of instances I have made additional small cuts, indicated with […], to remove repetition or obscurity.

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Key Words: anarchism, anarchafeminism, feminism, gender, politics, women’s liberation, 1970s

I thought that anarchism had more to offer

There was a point when I started  teaching [in primary school] when I found myself in a very isolated position in many ways, as someone who associated with the left and as someone who had feminist ideas … I began to think there was something wrong with me…

In some ways [the Women’s Liberation Movement] made my life more difficult, because I was going through all sorts of things personally, emotionally. It made me have to face up to them more … It made me clarify my life, work things out more. …

It was so nice to realise you’re not a freak… It was really good, though I found it very very difficult in the [local consciousness raising] group to talk. I suppose I thought my ideas weren’t very valid, and everybody else’s were better than mine. But it really helped … It gave me a framework to my own ill-formed ideas, to hear what other women were thinking, and to come in contact with literature. …

[Before that] I tended to take for granted that [my socialist friends] were right, because they were on the Left and involved in changing things, and I didn’t really question the way they wanted to change things. … [Marxism] was the only thing that I came in contact with and I just assumed, once I’d become politically aware, that that was the right way to a revolutionary change in society … The more involved I became in the women’s group, the more deeply I became committed to feminist ideas. … The more I questioned the ideology of the revolutionary socialist groups, what were the alternatives they were presenting, the more scared I became of their ideas. I don’t think I’d like to live in their society, a society they controlled, had brought about. I began to look at alternatives.

I found them very authoritarian; telling people what to think, [how] to be organised … I thought that anarchism had more to offer. …

[Working with men] In theory it’s a good idea and I’m not against it. I think we’re all part of society and need to work together. In practice it’s much more difficult. I feel easier working with women than in a mixed group … I feel at the moment I’d rather go on working with women and getting used to us organising ourselves … I think theoretically at some point in an overall political outlook you have to take account of the fact that men are there and you can’t have a revolution that doesn’t include them in some way. But what that means in terms of actually working with them … I’m not sure, because often it’s not worth the effort even on those issues that have to do with men and women — things at work and so on.

I’m totally pessimistic about revolution. Well, not totally — one can always hope. But I’d do more if I thought the revolution was nearer.

[Attraction to anarchism] One of the first things was the fact that people as individuals mattered, whereas in the socialist group you mention individual and get ‘ individualism ‘ shouted at you, and feel that the needs of people don’t really matter. And going out from there, the idea of smaller communities and smaller organisations instead of state control of things … the idea of getting rid of state machinery and all the things that oppress us … once you’ve got all that machinery it starts to become autonomous and starts to control us, to be used by people …

Judy: Did anarchist ideas specifically connect with feminist ideas in your mind?

Carol: No, they didn’t, until early last year the two ideas were linked at the [Women’s Liberation] National Conference.

Judy: Though I think feminism is the most important thing for women to fight [for], I think it needs to be in a total political context … I’d like to see more connections being made.

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