Book Review from the May 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
'A Rebel’s Guide to Eleanor Marx', by Siobhan Brown. Bookmarks. 2015
Although marred by the littering of ‘fightbacks’ and ‘downturns’ characteristic of SWP publications, this is not fundamentally a bad booklet. The contribution of Eleanor Marx to the class struggle is satisfactorily documented, both intellectually through her work on women – identifying socialism as the way to ‘woman’s emancipation’ solution – and practically through her role as a firebrand activist in the New Unionism of the 1880s. Eleanor was not just the daughter of her father but a player in her own right – indeed her union interventions put his own ineffective fumblings in the First International to shame. The boring intricacies of her personal life are, in the main, sensibly avoided.
Little potted biographies of this nature have a valuable educative function regardless of the dubious politics of the issuing organisation. It is a little jarring, however, to be lectured on the undoubted usefulness of trade union organisation, the inefficacy of reformism and the patronising leadership attitude (of Hyndman) by a party characterised by non-industrial, primarily student, recruitment, hugely reformist sensibilities and a thoroughly authoritarian constitution. In the wake of the Comrade Delta scandal, perhaps the most notable thing about the ‘Rebel’s Guide’ series is the attention paid to ‘The Woman Question’. Four of the six in the range have female authors and half are about famous women or women’s issues. Whether there really was any truth behind the allegations or no, there is nothing like putting up a smoke screen.