An Alternative to 'Safe Spaces'

Macnair, Mike
Date Written:  2014-06-03
Publisher:  Left Unity
Year Published:  2014
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX16453

Mike Macnair argues that 'safe spaces' aren't liberating -- and proposes an alternative.



advocates of ‘safe spaces’ are all too often themselves inclined to troll-like interventions using threatening, abusive or insulting words. They tend to legitimise their own anger and delegitimise anyone else’s. This is the other side of the coin: the policy is, as I have said, not merely illusory, but also poisonous, because it leads to witch-hunting. There are plenty of examples from 1970s-80s US Maoism and from the 1980s movements influenced by US Maoism.

Further, this approach legitimates witch-hunting by the right wing of the broader workers’ movement. For example, see the Unison bureaucracy’s attack on Socialist Party supporters, alleging that their use of the old three monkeys, ‘Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil’ graphic was ‘racist’.7 Equally, Islamists argue that segregation and the hijab create ‘safe spaces’ for women, though it is clear that their real aim iscontrolling women.

For all these reasons the ‘safe spaces’ idea should be rejected


We also recognise, however, that there are serious limits on the extent to which the life of the party can overcome the inequalities of capitalist society or ‘prefigure’ the future, and the complete and disastrous failure of previous attempts to create party ‘liberated zones’ or ‘prefigurative politics’. In addition, a number of forms of discrimination and inequality, particularly around caring responsibilities and disabilities, immediately engage the questions of material resources and time; and the recent evolution of capitalism has been toreduce the resources in both space and time available to workers generally and to workers’ organisations. For instance, we may and should aim to meet in accessible rooms, but such rooms may simply be unavailable or not available at a price which small LU branches can afford.

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