Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 20 September 2017

Non-fiction: Bitch Doctrine

Refreshing, anticapitalist - but little pointing way forward

Following the election of Donald Trump millions of women marched around the world in protest, photo Paul Mattsson

Following the election of Donald Trump millions of women marched around the world in protest, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

Becci Heagney, Salford Socialist Party

Many people, particularly young women, will see their experiences reflected in the pages of Laurie Penny's latest book. 'Bitch Doctrine' features the struggle for abortion rights, the battle against gender stereotypes and the frustration at the little that capitalism has to offer to us.

Penny is clearly anticapitalist, which makes a refreshing change to many writers in the mainstream press who essentially say 'there is no alternative.'

In one of the articles on abortion rights, for example, she argues it is a right for women to have autonomy over their bodies, but also an economic issue: "If there were real choice, real equality, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood would not come with enormous socioeconomic penalties for all but the richest women."

However, her writing does not focus on what capitalism is and where oppression comes from. Instead it mainly looks at relationships between individuals and language.

Offensive language and behaviour should always be challenged. But to restrict our fight for change to this renders it ineffective.

The book's blurb promises that "these revelatory, revolutionary essays will give readers hope and tools for change." Unfortunately, it disappoints on giving either. In fact it's easy to feel quite depressed after reading Bitch Doctrine.

The first page contains the passage: "As I write, it feels like the world is falling apart. A craven billionaire real-estate mogul and reality television shyster has just been elected to the presidency of the United States, swept to power by a wave of racist rage and violent populism.

"The British government is collapsing after the worst political crisis in living memory, the centre-left opposition is eating itself, bigots are getting brave in the streets and the stock markets are tumbling."

For many people, the crisis of the Tory government after the EU referendum, including the resignation of David Cameron as prime minister, was welcome! The following general election pushed the Tories further into crisis as Jeremy Corbyn's anti-austerity manifesto got massive support in the polls.

Certainly it's depressing that Trump won the US election and that racist attacks are increasing. But is it accurate to say that Trump won because of a "wave of racist rage"?

Penny describes Trump's election as being "about white resentment, which is now among the greatest threats to global society." Racist and neofascist individuals and groups do support Trump.

But he was able to win some working class votes by posing as anti-establishment and promising to bring jobs back to the deindustrialised 'Rust Belt'.

And it wasn't just some white working class people who thought Trump might represent something different - 29% of Hispanic and Asian voters did too.

Trump was able to get away with this argument because his opponent was the neoliberal establishment figure Hillary Clinton.

Penny reflects the defeatism of much of the left in Britain and the US today. "Personally, I spent three days after the [US] election weeping, writing and trying to force food down myself."

Meanwhile, Socialist Alternative (the Socialist Party's co-thinkers in the US) helped mobilise tens of thousands in protests across the country after Trump's victory was announced.

There is very little in Bitch Doctrine that points a way forward for people who are angry and want change.

Instead, Penny puts the blame, several times, on "years and years of rape apologism on the left" or the "inability to deal properly with male violence against women" and a bizarre accusation that "the usual suspects are at pains to point out that geopolitical disaster could have been avoided if we had all been less precious about gay rights and women's rights and black lives and concentrated on the issues that matter to real people."

It's true that some left organisations have unhealthy internal regimes and poor positions on fighting for liberation. But it is wrong to put the whole of 'the left' in this pigeonhole.

The Socialist Party, for example, has always taken seriously any accusation of violence against women within our own ranks.

We reject the idea that "issues of race, gender and sexuality are at best a distraction from class politics and at worst a bourgeois tendency that will be destroyed after the revolution."

On the contrary. We are at the forefront of campaigning not only against austerity - which disproportionately impacts oppressed groups - but also against all bigotry and oppression.

We want to help build a vibrant movement that involves all sections of the working class to tackle racism, sexism, homophobia and all kinds of discrimination - and the capitalist system which perpetuates them.

But it seems that for Penny, power and class do not originate in the structure of capitalist society, but from an individual's position relative to another individual within that structure.

For Marxists, it is more complex than this. Class is key not only because it explains where oppression comes from, but because it unlocks the door to creating a better society.

Being working class is not just about being poor. It's about our collective role within society and the power that gives us to change it.

Imagine the difference we can make if we go beyond just correcting the language used by others to mass strikes and political struggle that could start to build a new, democratic and equal society: a socialist world.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.

In The Socialist 20 September 2017:

Socialist Students

Fight tuition fees

Why do young people need socialism?

Socialist readers' comments and reviews

Refreshing, anticapitalist - but little pointing a way forward

Interview: the "socialist John Le Carré"

The Socialist Inbox

What we think

Labour conference: Corbyn's support must be used to defeat Blairites

International socialist news and analysis

Brutal repression of Rohingya people sparks massive humanitarian crisis

Socialist Party news and analysis

Grenfell inquiry begins: not sufficient, not trusted

Strike to save our NHS!

Fight expansion of disastrous 'Universal Credit' welfare system

Defuse the consumer debt time bomb: nationalise the banks!

Workplace news and analysis

Deal concludes Barts health strike - "We have raised our heads high"

Bin workers vote to continue action following rally

CWU strike ballot - why I'm voting Yes

Fight university's 'sackers' charter'

McStrike solidarity event

London Buses safety campaign

Socialist Party reports and campaigns

Protest to pressure Labour to scrap Haringey redevelopment plans

Fight for an alternative to the misery of capitalism

Tragic death highlights Chatsworth ward closure risk

East London summit fails to address housing crisis

Interest at Nottingham Green festival


Home   |   The Socialist 20 September 2017   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleDerby public meeting: Women's Lives Matter

triangleContinuing the fighting tradition of working class women

triangleInternational Women's Day

triangleWhat we saw

triangleSpain: millions on streets against sexism and capitalist oppression


triangleSocialist Party congress 2018

triangleCardiff West Socialist Party: Is Trump up a new trade war?

triangleSyria: No ceasefire for 'hell on earth' eastern Goutha

triangleTrump v NHS


triangleWest Virginia teachers' strike victory

triangleUS school shootings: student walkouts challenge establishment

triangle15 years since the invasion of Iraq: what we said

Working class:

triangleRefugees march against racism and to demand rights

triangleProfits up Wages down


triangleLike rats from a sinking Ukip


triangleThe Socialist inbox: International Women's Day

Violence against women:

triangleNottingham 'Reclaim the Night' march highlights cuts


triangleJapan - toxic legacy of the Fukushima disaster


triangleCapitalism oppresses women - fight for socialism!


trianglePassing the council cuts test

United States:

triangleWaltham Forest Socialist Party: Trump and the resistance


triangleLambeth & Southwest London Socialist Party: Fighting sexism, fighting for socialism


triangleFighting sexism: Positive discrimination - yea or neigh?


triangleWhy I joined: 'The Socialist Party is at the forefront of defending Corbyn's anti-austerity leadership'

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments



The Socialist inbox



Revolutionary physicist and champion of social causes



Gripping spy thriller exposes hypocrisy of Falklands/Malvinas war


The Socialist

International Women's Day


Sexual harassment

Fighting sexual harassment in entertainment



The Socialist inbox



The Socialist inbox: International Women's Day



Socialist anti-war exhibition opens in Kingston



The Socialist inbox



What's behind the surge in eating disorders?



The Socialist inbox



In Windsor none of us want to see homeless people on the street



I'm now a 'manager' and I can barely manage!



The Socialist inbox



Darkest Hour: Not the usual flattery of brutal Tory Churchill

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 0798 202 1969

East Mids: 0773 797 8057

London: 020 8988 8786

North East: 0191 421 6230

North West 07769 611 320

South East: 020 8988 8777

South West: 07759 796 478

Southern: 07833 681910

Wales: 07935 391 947

West Mids: 02476 555 620

Yorkshire: 0114 264 6551



Alphabetical listing

March 2018

February 2018

January 2018