'Jist ae wee woman' : Dundee, the Communist Party and the feminisation of socialism in the life and works of Mary Brooksbank
This thesis considers the socialist political activity of Dundee’s Mary Brooksbank in the 1920s and 30s and the subsequent representation of socialism in the 1950s and 60s. Expelled from the Communist Part in 1933, Brooksbank sought to re-define socialist activity and theory through the reappropriation of the mother figure and family structures. Far from being a feminist critic of the family as a site of patriarchal oppression, Mary promoted the family – and the role of women within it – as the basis from which socialism should be built. Presenting the concept of the (imagined) socialist state being but a larger family structure enacting selflessness, love and co-operation, Brooksbank attempted to re-define socialist – and arguably feminist – ideology. Working within the Dundee Working Women’s Guild in the years of the Depression, for instance, Brooksbank’s political activity helped transform the industrial male structures upon which the Communist Party (and socialism more generally) defined itself and moved towards a domestic politics, using the forms and structures of family and community customs, as evidenced in the guild’s anti-Means Test activities. In her poetry and autobiography, Mary developed this by destabilising the mythology and propaganda of an (inherently masculine) socialist literature and culture, and promoting women and the family as the new mythological socialist ‘saviour’. A highly romanticised presentation of socialism, but nevertheless in doing this, Mary Brooksbank attempted to re-define the terms and negotiation of socialist ideology as female, and represents a significant, yet under-represented, movement of socialist women’s organisations throughout the inter-war period. The Women’s Co-operative Guild is one example which attempted to negotiate a feminisation of socialism. In doing this, Brooksbank highlighted a political movement which existed on the margins of mainstream socialist politics, and provided an important insight into women’s socialism of the inter-war period.