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100 years after the Russian Revolution. What’s Left?

Beatrix Campbell is an English writer and activist who has written for a number of publications since the early 1970s. Her books include Wigan Pier Revisited (1984), Goliath: Britain’s Dangerous Places (1993) and Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy (1998). She has also made films, including Listen to the Children (1990), a documentary about child abuse.

Beatrix Barnes took the name Beatrix Campbell on her marriage to Bobby Campbell, a former Glasgow shipyard fitter and fiddle player, who was part of the renaissance of radical politics and music in Scotland in the early 1960s.

Campbell was fourteen when, in 1961, she took part in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s march from Aldermaston to London in protest against nuclear weapons, and was still a teenager when she joined the Communist Party. At that time the party was deeply divided over its relationship with the Soviet Union. She belonged to the party’s anti-Stalinist wing that opposed the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

From the early 1970s Campbell’s engagement with the Communist Party was increasingly as that of a feminist: from this perspective she challenged the tenets of the Communist Party, both its political approach to organising among women and its overall strategy.

Geoff Andrews wrote of her opinions in his book End Games and New Times: The Final Years of British Communism 1964–1991, feminism now “became a priority, not subordinate to some higher goal. It was a crucial part of redefining socialism”.

With Nell Myers, she set up a women’s liberation movement group in Stratford, East London and in 1972 was in the group of women Communist Party members that founded Red Rag. It immediately opened itself up to women in the wider women’s movement, describing itself not only as a Marxist but as a “feminist journal”, and defining feminism as “the political movement which emerges as women’s response to their own oppression”. When the Communist Party banned Red Rag, the editorial collective’s response was “it’s not yours to ban”, and the journal continued to flourish for ten years.

When the Communist Party banned Red Rag, the editorial collective’s response was “it’s not yours to ban”, and the journal continued to flourish for ten years.

In the 1980s, Campbell’s writing focused on the transformation of Britain by Thatcherism. She set off on a six-month journey around England and wrote a polemical critique of George Orwell’s book The Road to Wigan Pier (1937) and what she saw as the myopia of sexist socialism. She investigated the Conservative Party’s appeal to women. She also became associated politically and professionally with the emergence of radical municipalism, particularly in London, under the leadership of Labour’s Ken Livingstone.

Campbell has received several academic honours including honorary doctorates conferred by Salford University, Oxford Brookes University and The Open University. Her work has gained her several awards, including the Cheltenham Literature Festival Prize in 1984 for the book Wigan Pier Revisited, the Fawcett Society Prize in 1987 for the book The Iron Ladies and the First Time Producers’ Award in 1990 for her Dispatches documentary film Listen to the Children.

In June 2009 Campbell was offered and accepted an OBE for ‘services to equal opportunities’. Writing in The Guardian, she self-defined herself as a “republican with politics rooted in Marxism and feminism”.

Selected publications

  • Sweet Freedom: Struggle for Women’s Liberation, by Anna Coote, Beatrix Campbell & Christine Roche (1982), Picador Books
  • Wigan Pier Revisited: Poverty and politics in the Eighties, Beatrix Campbell (1984), Virago Press
  • The Iron Ladies: Why Do Women Vote Tory? by Beatrix Campbell (1987), Virago Press
  • Unofficial Secrets: Child Abuse – The Cleveland Case, by Beatrix Campbell (1988), Virago Press
  • Goliath: Britain’s Dangerous Places, Beatrix Campbell (1993), Methuen Books
  • Diana, Princess of Wales: How Sexual Politics Shook the Monarchy, by Beatrix Campbell (1998), Women’s Press
  • And All the Children Cried, by Beatrix Campbell and Judith Jones (2005), Oberon Books
  • Agreement: The State, Conflict and Change in Northern Ireland, by Beatrix Campbell (2008), Lawrence & Wishart
  • End of Equality by Beatrix Campbell (2014), Seagull.
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