Beth Redmond is running a “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.
Beth Redmond – “I was angry at something, I just didn’t know what”.
I refused to engage with what I thought was “politics”, but what I now know to be “Parliament” until I was about 18 years old. My parents had brought me up to know that Labour are good and Tories are bad, but, like a lot of the young people around me, I didn’t think that politics affected me.
The all-girl grammar school I went to didn’t encourage free thought. It was run by an authoritarian woman who idolised Margaret Thatcher and referred to all the students as her little girls, and even when I was at school it was clear she was trying to suppress individuality in order for her to churn out as many Oxbridge candidates as possible. But even then I didn’t see this as politics. It was just something we had to live with until we turned 18.
The first time I came face-to-face with mainstream politics was in the build up to the 2010 general election, when our school put on a mock vote. Somehow, and what seemed to be the trend across the UK at the time, a large proportion of us were convinced that the Lib Dems were the best thing in the world; in my case not because of their policies, but probably just because my parents didn’t like them.
I remember my best friends at the time being really into communism, and me thinking I was too stupid to ever understand such big theories about the world.
I was taken to various Workers’ Liberty meetings. I found them really interesting, but could never quite understand everything in as much depth as I would have liked. I agreed with the general themes, and as when I first read Capital a couple of years later, everything seemed like common sense. I assumed that the majority of people thought that way, and still didn’t realise what it was to call myself left-wing.
I then got to that point where it was assumed I would go to university, and because of the nature of my secondary education I didn’t realise there was any other option. I didn’t study very hard for my A Levels and ended up going through UCAS clearing to a college in Essex.
I think it was here, in a bout of depression, that I started having “radical thoughts”. I didn’t understand what I was doing in Essex, I was angry at something, I just didn’t know at the time that it was the government and my school and capitalism in general. I started questioning things in a way I hadn’t before.
On my 19th birthday I had to have an abortion. I was told by my doctor in Essex that I would have to travel to London for it, that I wasn’t allowed to go by myself and that I had “been a bit silly” in getting to this point in the first place.
I was furious. I didn’t have any friends, I had no one to ask to go with me unless it meant them travelling from the other end of the country, and at the end of it all I wasn’t offered any counselling or after-care, just a pile of painkillers and a patronising “don’t do this again” look.
The following summer I attended a Workers’ Liberty day-school in London. Much as with the other meetings I had been to, I felt I couldn’t follow what people were talking about as well as everyone else. Until I went to a meeting on sexism.
I can pinpoint the moment a lightbulb switched on in my head, and I realised that all the times I had been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed were not a fault of mine or something I had done, but part of a systemic culture which leads people to thinking it is perfectly fine to sexually abuse, and then for me to think it is somehow my fault.
I wanted to find out more, I wanted to tell everyone about socialist feminism, like it was me who had just come up with it! I wanted to tell everyone that they were allowed, and should be encouraged, to question the way everything is structured, like I hadn’t realised I could for the first 18 years of my life.
Since that day, I’ve committed a massive amount of my time to convincing others of socialism whilst simultaneously exploring literature and learning about other ideologies and theories of the world. I am still very angry, but it feels better to understand what I’m angry at alongside a group of people who are also trying to change the world.