Karina Knight is the latest woman to write this inspiring “How I became a socialist” column in Workers’ Liberty’s newspaper Solidarity. We’re re-posting women’s stories of becoming socialists and feminists on this blog.
I was born in 1974 and grew up in the north east of England in the 70s and 80s.
Part of a properly matriarchal family, my mother was one of six sisters, their deceased father and their mother had been solid Labour supporters. I was told stories by Lesley (my mother) of them stitching rosettes for the party when they were young “until their fingers bled” — there may have been some exaggeration, maybe not!
There were also socialist feminist politics about — my auntie Anna had been involved in Scarlet Women, a socialist feminist zine, copies were knocking about the house. We had posters of Victor Jara and the FSLN [The Nicaragua Sandinista National Liberation Front] courtesy of a couple of my uncles.
As I became politically aware in the early 80s, my earliest influences were anti-nuclear activity. Lesley was involved in Coast CND (Whitley Bay) — we did flag days, street theatre (which involved lots of dying) and I got taken down to Greenham Common twice. I remember being scared shitless a lot of the time.
Although socialist politics were present in the background and were a fundamental influence on my concepts of right and wrong, we weren’t generally labour movement activists. The miners’ strike went by on the telly. That’s not to say that members of my extended family weren’t involved, but if they were that knowledge didn’t filter through to 10 year old me.
My early teenage years were taken up with vegetarianism and animal rights. I knew the world was deeply unfair and had a strong sense of morality, but it hadn’t found political direction and was fundamentally individualistic.
I flirted briefly with radical feminist ideas in my mid-teens, but these were only attractive in that they gave political cover and justification in my mind to my lesbian sexuality — a psychological defence against internalised homophobia, if I’m brutally honest.
I met the AWL in 1991. I learnt then about socialist ideas, about solidarity, about class unity. I came to understand that capitalism exploits the whole planet as well as the working class, that women’s structural oppression developed in tandem with private property; that lots that we hold dear and important was won through class struggle; that class society must end before we can become free, physically, economically and psychologically; and that the working class has the power within it to radically transform the world.
I stayed in the group until 1995. It wasn’t political differences that made me fall out of activity. In 1995 I was in a minibus crash with our Lancaster comrades that ultimately claimed the lives of three of our young comrades, one of whom was my partner, Jo Walker. Guilt, grief and depression took me out of functioning life for a few years.
In some ways, it was easier during the period of the Labour government to not think too hard. Yes, they extended privatisation of the NHS and other public services but the investment was there, you could get an NHS appointment within target time, I had a well enough paying job to insulate myself.
Then the Tories came back, fighting for their class with all their might, to destroy our limited gains and send our class back to penury.
When they were elected I felt like we had a stark choice: either roll over and die, or fight back. No escaping the bitter fact of class war now, it was right on our doorstep. It was time to re-engage with socialist politics seriously, and to become organised again. It’s taken a couple of years to get back to where I was — some long-term mental health issues needed sorting, but here I am.
Even when we lose a battle there are some things to be gained: knowledge, confidence, the forging of links and solidarity between sections of our class; the personal and collective dignity of every victory, and in every defeat, the knowledge that we could not, and absolutely did not, go down without a fight.