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(en) Australia, Feminism & Class Struggle - A Document is Distributed.

From Rebel Worker <rebel_worker@yahoo.com.au>
Date Sat, 24 Jul 2004 10:00:06 +0200 (CEST)


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An Attempt to begin a Critical Discussion on Feminism and its Relationship to Class Struggle.
A document was distributed within the Jura milieu some time
ago, dated April 17 [2004], and entitled, The meeting was a
‘joint’ meeting of Anarchist Resources Incorporated
members and those of the Jura Books Collective, with visitors. It
comprised the minutes of a meeting and contained, amongst
other things, the following agenda item:
7. General discussion of Jura’s position re Feminism.
Mark left the meeting at this point.
1. Motion: "That Jura acknowledges that over the past several
years, Jura has not taken up feminist issues. Further, that Jura
reaffirms that we believe

o that women’s oppression exists, and,

o that it forms a major obstacle to working class revolution
and therefore, Jura is dedicated to engage in debate and struggle
against women’s oppression."

Moved: Annette, Seconded: Nick – Carried.

1. Motion: "That if any member is opposed to Jura’s
position on

women’s oppression, that he/she raise this at a Jura
meeting where we can revisit the issue. This way, Jura forums
can proceed without obstruction by having to revisit this
question."

Moved: Annette, Seconded: Sid – Carried.

2. Motion: "That Jura membership be contingent on
willingness to

engage in comradely debate. That issues be raised in a timely and

appropriate manner, and discussed calmly and respectfully."

Moved: Annette, Seconded: Sid – Carried.

The contents of this agenda item have given me some cause for
concern:

o Assertions are presented as facts;

o Feminism is assumed to be the ‘remedy’ for
"women’s oppression" not socialism;

o So-called women’s oppression is assumed to be an
obstacle to "working class revolution";

o The prescriptions in sub-item (ii) are authoritarian in
content, their intention seemingly being to stifle critical
argument;

o The ‘advice’ given in sub-item (iii) is pure
hypocrisy in the light of my previous experience at an attempt to
engage in serious critical public debate on an important political
matter with the Love-and-Rage sub-group that’s now a part
of Jura. On that occasion Love-and-Rage demonstrated not only
a reluctance to avoid "comradely debate", but to avoid any debate
at all, instead, deputing one particularly garrulous individual from
the outer limits of the Love-and-Rage milieu to try to do a
hatchet job on my arguments – with no success, it must be
said, because the individual concerned had little command of his
subject. And while this person was making a fool of himself
demonstrating his ignorance, the rest of the Love-and-Rage
sub-group stood by, mute. Did they not wish to test the validity of
their ideas in argument?

Anarcho-Stalinism??

Perhaps of greatest concern in item 7 above, particularly evident
in sub-item (i) (and reminiscent of Stalinist political practice at its
worst), is the effort to transform politically expedient notions into
a ‘hard facts’ by simple administrative means, that is, by
declaring these notions to be facts merely through group
agreement, rather than by doing the necessary intellectual work
in order to prove that they are indeed facts. (Might I point out at
this stage that in working class theory [historical materialism]
once a notion is established as a ‘fact’ it does not
necessarily remain a fact forever. It must be reproved and
reproved indefinitely, as its social context develops and changes,
and as more facts come to light with the march of time. Such is
the nature of scientific development.) But the Love-and-Rage
milieu, in attempting to stifle criticism of their crypto-sacred
notions, is precluding the possibility for their ideas to develop
in a positive direction vis-a-vis the class struggle as a result of
any valid criticism they might attract. This is an inward-looking
and authoritarian attitude to be adopting that can only result in
the development of a Love-and-Rage orthodoxy that will be of
little use for anything other than maintaining a group identity for
Love-and-Rage initiates.

Stalin and Lysenko deceived themselves and the entire Marxist-Leninist
world with their particular shibboleth, a bizarre sort of ‘social
Lamarkism’, and did so in comfortable defiance of all known evidence of
the day. Their shibboleth remained impervious to criticism because it
didn’t get any. Lysenkoism was declared by the Party to be
scientifically valid despite the fact that experimentally it was
demonstrated to be pure nonsense. The Love-and-Rage sub-group, by
seeking to enshrine Feminism as a crypto-sacred practice in a Jura
‘constitution’, and by wanting to avoid all criticism and scrutiny of
it, is doing a very similar thing.

Truth Must Prevail.

In the interests of truth, out of which comes workable and valid
political practice, feminist ideology (indeed, all ideology) must be
subjected to close and critical scrutiny. Who knows? One may find that
feminism is not a necessary precondition to working class revolution, as
Love-and-Rage believes. One may even find that it is not capable of
‘liberating’ women in any socialist sense whatsoever. It may be
discovered that feminism is nothing more than one of the ideological
forms that capitalist society adopts at a particular stage in its
development. Indeed, the demands of full employment in the 1960s
required an expansion of the market in labour power that was met by
women. Unprecedentedly large numbers of women were going through the
universities. The times were propitious for ideologies of ‘women’s
liberation’ to begin cropping up. Feminism thus walked hand-in-hand with
capitalism’s need to draw women more deeply into capitalist relations of
production. If there’s something positive in all this it’s that working
class women became proletarianised. Middle class women just became their
bosses.

Feminism and Socialism are Two Different Things.

Feminism began its development by sections of the liberal bourgeoisie in
response to some of capitalism’s more obvious economic and social
contradictions at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of
the twentieth, and received a particularly big boost in its development
in the 1960s and ‘70s. But there never was anything in feminism that
challenged capitalist economic exploitation in any substantive way; it
was only ever concerned with the position of women within capitalist
society. Most feminist theories have left criticism of capitalism
untouched or have blamed men and male behaviour for capitalism’s
oppressive features. Feminism’s logical underpinnings – understanding
men and supposedly innate male behaviour as being central to the
creation of social problems – create a competing paradigm for class
struggle theory and therefore have the potential to confuse people and
divert their activity into reformist or reactionary ‘gender struggles’,
when the sensible thing is to help fight the bosses and capitalism.
Workers may become confused and disillusioned and drop out of struggle
altogether.

Only Socialism Will Liberate Women … and Men.

If one chooses to fight the class struggle, that is, to fight for
socialism, it doesn’t mean that one gives up on any sex inequality that
might exist. The struggle for socialism, being a struggle by the working
class for control over the means of production from the existing rulers
necessarily involves the struggle against all forms of exploitation and
oppression that arise out of capitalist production relations. It cannot
be otherwise. Advanced elements of the socialist movement historically
have always supported the economic independence of working class women
through their incorporation in capitalist labour markets as a step
towards increasing the ranks of the organised workers. When working
class women engage in work for a boss and for wages they become socially
empowered and proletarianised, and develop the potential to take part in
the struggle against capitalism as active, conscious members of the
organised working class.

An eventual consequence of the struggle for socialism is the complete
disappearance of social classes and all social distinctions. But this
can be achieved only if the struggle becomes a unitary struggle, that
is, provided that the working class learns to unite itself
organisationally and develops methods in the process of fighting the
bourgeoisie that successfully bring about workers’ control and
self-emancipation of the whole class. The various ideologies of Identity
Politics, however, of which feminism is but one, exhibit a definite
tendency to disunite the working class, to denigrate class struggle, and
to send people up all sorts of ideological blind alleys.

"Women’s oppression is an obstacle to Working Class Revolution", say
Love-and-Rage in unison. "Nonsense", is the retort of the Syndicalists.

A most curious claim is made in sub-item (i) above that asserts that
"women’s oppression" [undefined] "forms a major obstacle to working
class revolution [undefined] and therefore, Jura [should be] dedicated
to engage in debate and struggle against women’s oppression." In other
words, Love-and-Rage believes that before socialist revolution is
possible, women’s oppression must be ‘eliminated’. To extrapolate, the
primary struggle should be against "women’s oppression" not the bosses.
If Love-and-Rage members seriously believe this – the motion was carried
so at least a majority must have voted for it – then Love-and-Rage
doesn’t understand much about socialist revolution or capitalism.
Capitalism is a system of uneven development – uneven economic
development, uneven social development, uneven ideological development –
and it is inherently so because its economic dynamics drive it in this
way. All manner of social inequality is a permanent feature of
capitalism. To assume that somehow "women’s oppression" can be
eliminated within capitalism and then we can all go on to fight the
class struggle is naïve nonsense. It’s not possible to get rid of social
inequality within capitalism because the system is based on social
inequality, thrives on social inequality.

I Boldly Venture a Definition of What Constitutes Revolutionary Activity
in the Current Australian Context.

If one wishes to eliminate social inequality and the system that
produces it, one must take part in socialist struggles, revolutionary
socialist struggles. To clarify this, I’ll venture a definition of
‘revolutionary’, a definition that arguably is consistent with the
libertarian syndicalist outlook of the ASN / Rebel Worker milieu: A
revolutionary action is one in which organised workers, win some degree
of social power away from the bourgeoisie, and do so consciously knowing
they have done this. This may occur to greater or lesser degrees, that
is, it may occur piecemeal, workplace-by-workplace, region-by-region
over a protracted period of time (years, decades), or it may occur
quickly (in a few months or a few years). One vital element, however,
must be present in order to give an act the quality of being a
revolutionary socialist act – its participants must be conscious of the
fact that they are actively taking social power away from the
bourgeoisie and appropriating it for the working class as a whole, and
that the historical outcome of the aggregate of all these acts at all
places where the bourgeoisie holds power is socialism, classless society.

But in order that workers get to this advanced state of revolutionary
class consciousness, they must go through a learning process. They must
pass from being atomised unorganised workers who are completely
subordinated to the needs of the boss and who generally have a
consciousness that’s subservient to the needs of capitalism, to becoming
organised trade unionists who possess a sectional, corporatist
consciousness, to becoming organised syndicalists with an ever-present
consciousness of their revolutionary potential and utilising that
potential to win more and more power away from the bosses whenever they
can and defending all their previous victories.

Participation in active class struggle and the drawing of theoretical
lessons from this participation is the learning process workers must go
through in order to develop a successful revolutionary practice. I agree
entirely with Karl Marx when he said in 1869 to a group of metal workers
that "trade unions are the schools of socialism" because "in trade
unions … workers educate themselves and become socialists, because under
their very eyes and every day the struggle with capital is taking place."

The ASN / Rebel Worker / Sparks / Fast Lane milieu is engaging in work
that is objectively revolutionary. We are patiently and consistently
doing the ‘unglamorous’ and ‘unspectacular’ work of assisting workers to
develop self-activity in their trade union activism and an advanced
trade union consciousness. The contradictions inherent in traditional
trade union practice and consciousness will be recognised by these
workers as they engage in more and more struggle and develop a higher
class consciousness. The possibility of developing a syndicalist
consciousness, and then moving through to a revolutionary syndicalist
and socialist consciousness and practice will then be possible.

Feminism is Bourgeois Ideology.

Feminism does not fit into a revolutionary socialist schema at all.
Participation in feminist ‘struggles’ confines one to the bourgeois
arena of struggle. Feminism represents merely one aspect of the mad
scramble for the distribution and redistribution of power, privilege and
resources within the capitalist system by all manner of sectional
bourgeois interests. At best it is a reformist activity that broadens
economic and civic participation for bourgeois females.

For those Love-and-Ragers who entertain the theory that feminism is a
prerequisite to socialism I’d like to ask a few questions. How does one
know when one’s feminist struggles are completed and one is ready to
proceed onto socialist struggles? Does it mean that for every Mr Kerry
Packer there must also be a Ms Kerrie Packer? Does it mean that for all
male homeless persons there must be an equivalent number of female
homeless persons? An equal number of heroin-addicted female and male
prostitutes? An equal number of male and female riggers on the Harbour
Bridge? How does the feminist know when his or her work is done so that
he or she may get on with the class struggle?

Socialism is Working Class Science.

I cannot finish without pointing out that, since socialism is a science,
socialists should be concerned to use correct terminology when analysing
social phenomena so that they achieve a precision of expression and
thereby avoid confusing people. Over the decades bourgeois mass culture
has appropriated terms such as ‘racism’, ‘sexism’, ‘feminism’,
‘genocide’, and others, deprived them of their original scientific
meanings, and created much confusion as to what these terms actually
mean. In the vernacular of today’s mass bourgeois society ‘feminism’ has
come to mean anything from ‘equal rights’ and ‘equal access’ for women,
to a philosophy of female essentialism posed against male essentialism,
to the actual struggles for women’s ‘equality’ within bourgeois society.
Socialists who declare themselves to be opposed to feminism are often
thought to be somehow anti-woman by those whose minds have been confused
by bourgeois mass culture.

Socialism, however, has nothing to do with being anti-woman. While it is
opposed to doctrines of female and male essentialism, it is supportive
of struggles for female political, social and economic independence. The
latter struggles, however, when they occur outside of the context of
struggle for workers’ control, for socialism, are just another form of
reformist activity within bourgeois society, no matter how radical they
may appear, and play no direct part in the transition to socialism.
Socialism, by definition, necessarily incorporates the struggle for
working class women’s political, economic and social liberation as an
integral part of the overall struggle for workers’ control and
socialism. The ‘woman question’ in the socialist context is bound up
with the struggle for workers’ control and socialism in which male and
female workers are equally involved; it is not separate from the
struggle for socialism.

But enough of my analysing and theorising for the latter are, according
to feminist theory, thoroughly male discourses and deserving only of
contempt.

Comradely regards,

Peter Siegl.


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