Edward Carpenter – Love and the Labour Movement – 1880s and 1890s
A talk by Sheila Rowbotham
Sunday 17th February 2008 at 2.00 pm.
Working Class Movement Library, 51 Crescent SALFORD M5 4WX http://www.wcml.org.uk. Tel 0161-736-3601.
Sheila Rowbotham is a British socialist feminist theorist and writer.
Her political activism began with her involvement in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the British Labour Party’s youth wing, the Young Socialists. Disenchanted with the direction of party politics she immersed herself in a variety of left-wing campaigns, including writing for the radical political newspaper Black Dwarf.
Towards the end of the 1960s she had become involved in the growing Women’s Liberation Movement (also known as Second-wave feminism) and, in 1969, published her influential pamphlet ‘Women’s Liberation and the New Politics’ which argued that Socialist theory needed to consider the oppression of women in cultural as well as economic terms. She was heavily involved in the conference and book called Beyond the Fragments, which attempted to draw together democratic socialist and socialist feminist currents in the UK.
Since then, Sheila has produced numerous books and articles expanding upon her theory, which argues that as women’s oppression is a result of both economic and cultural forces then a dualist perspective (socialist feminism), which examines both the public and private sphere, is required to work towards liberation.
In 2004 Sheila was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She is currently Professor of Gender and Labour History, Sociology at the University of Manchester, England.
Edward Carpenter (29 August 1844 – 28 June 1929) was an English socialist poet, anthologist, early gay activist, and socialist philosopher.
A leading figure in late 19th- and early 20th-century Britain, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Fabian Society and the Labour Party. A poet and writer, he was a close friend of Walt Whitman and Rabindranath Tagore, corresponding with many famous figures such as Annie Besant, Isadora Duncan, Havelock Ellis, Roger Fry, Mahatma Gandhi, James Keir Hardie, J K Kinney, Jack London, George Merrill, E D Morel, William Morris, E R Pease, John Ruskin, and Olive Schreiner. .
As a philosopher he is particularly known for his publication of Civilisation, its Cause and Cure in which he proposes that civilisation is a form of disease that human societies pass through. Civilisations, he says, rarely last more than a thousand years before collapsing, and no society has ever passed through civilisation successfully. His ‘cure’ is a closer association with the land and greater development of our inner nature. Although derived from his experience of Hindu mysticism, and referred to as ‘mystical socialism’, his thoughts parallel those of several writers in the field of psychology and sociology at the start of the twentieth century, such as Boris Sidis, Sigmund Freud, and Wilfred Trotter who all recognised that society puts ever increasing pressure on the individual that can result in mental and physical illnesses such as neurosis, and the particular nervousness which was then described as neurasthenia.
A strong advocate of sexual freedom, living in a gay community near Sheffield, he had a profound influence on both D H Lawrence and E M Forster.