by Jocelyn Cohn and Eve Mitchell
This is the second part of a four part series that attempts to understand patriarchy in our current society. The first part, “No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light” explored the relationship between gender, patriarchy, and sexism broadly in capitalist society. This section will explore the expressions of patriarchy specifically in the “left” subculture. Parts three and four will look more specifically at recent attempts to deal with patriarchy on the left, some critiques and potential solutions.
Patriarchy is a total social relation that takes particular forms of expression in a society dominated by the capitalist mode of production. There are no “safehouses” or “patriarchy-free zones,” because patriarchy is defined in its deeply personal and bodily expressions. We carry its effects with us everywhere. However, as also discussed in the last section, patriarchy finds different forms of expression in different areas of life. Individual expressions of gendered and patriarchal relations within the working class can be known as “sexism.” In this section we will explore the ways that we have seen and understood sexism in “left” organizing spaces and subcultures specifically. This is meant as a broad sketch of what we find most prevalent. Not all people will have the same experiences, and we are not able to discuss every person’s individual conditions, but we do hope others will find resonance here.
Who is The Left?
By “the left” we mean radical/activist/progressive/socialist/anarchist/communist political and social milieus. While we recognize that all people have political experiences and the ability to comprehend and articulate extremely complicated aspects of capital, there is a material difference between those who make up the organized and subcultural left and those who make up the broader working class. When we discuss “sexism on the left,” we are talking about a relatively small group of people who see themselves consciously as activists, leftists, theoreticians or revolutionaries and who, in this moment, are objectively isolated from the working class itself. This is despite the fact that most individuals on the left are proletarians, in that they do not own the means of production and therefore must sell their labor power to survive under capitalism. This is the result of historical and objective factors such as the murder, incarceration, and institutionalization of revolutionaries; neoliberalism; the capitalist subsumption of much activism; the absence of a generalized movement that blurs the line between activists and proletarians; etc. There are also revolutionaries’ subjective failures such as an inability or refusal to develop lasting roots in organizing projects that build contacts and trust among working class communities.