by Eve Mitchell
This is the third in a four-part series on Patriarchy on the Left. This series is organized from the universal to the particular; it looks at large questions like “what is patriarchy?” in the first part and ends by discussing micro-level questions: How do we deal with particular instances of patriarchy in our everyday organizing and political milieus? What tools do we have to combat patriarchy on the left? The first two pieces, looking at the totality of patriarchy, and the particular expressions of sexism within left communities, were co-written with Jocelyn Cohn, another member of Unity and Struggle. This piece and the fourth installment of this project (written by Jocelyn Cohn individually) will look at specific methods for dealing with patriarchy on the left with some critiques and comments.
Links to associated articles:
No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light: Patriarchy on the Left Part 1
No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2
Image Credit: Lita Box
Continue reading The Hammer in our Hamlets: Patriarchy on the Left Part 3 of 4
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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.
Image Credit: Minhee Bae
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.
Continue reading No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2 of 4
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by Jocelyn Cohn and Eve Mitchell
Many months ago, the two of us began writing a piece on dealing with patriarchy on the left. In the process of writing we began to realize that we did not have 100% agreement on the question. To us, this is very telling: no one has the answer and perhaps there is no one answer. We have thus decided to go forward in writing separate pieces on patriarchy on the left. This project was inspired by the combination of difficulties we have faced in our organizing, accountability processes we have been part of, as well as the attempts we have witnessed to address patriarchy on the left. We agree that the primary challenge facing many people in dealing with conflicts—especially those about gender—in left organizations and milieus is the confusion of the particular situation of individuals with the general conditions, creating situations where one person’s situation is taken to characterize all of society, thus leading to a solution which attempts to abolish a total social relation through a particular case. Similarly, we agree that none of us are able to deal with patriarchy as individuals, or as small groups of people operating outside of the transformation of total society.
Although there are certainly a wide variety of attempts to address patriarchy, this conflation of the particular and the universal is the most consistent thread that we have identified in both practical and theoretical traditions in the United States in the last decade. While we will discuss this further in all four parts of this project, we see our first task as clarifying the relationship between patriarchy as a total social relation. Following this part, we will co-publish a piece describing the individual forms of sexism in our political formations. Finally, having clarified the categories and objective material conditions, we will examine how we can reasonably expect to respond. Our third and fourth installments will be separate pieces delving deeper into dealing with patriarchy on the left.
Continue reading No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light: Patriarchy on the Left Part 1 of 4
After a recent discussion and debate with the NYC local, we asked Noel Ignatiev (formerly of Sojourner Truth Organization and the journal Race Traitor) to clarify some of his theses on the status of race in the US on the eve of the Ferguson grand jury decision. We hope Noel’s position can serve as a prompt for a reinvigorated and principled discussion, grounded in US history and our understanding of Marx.
While the present moment is unique, we hope to understand the activities of the class today as part of an unfolding of the broader history of struggles against white supremacy and capitalism. If you are interested in responding to this piece at length please get in touch with us.
Noel’s piece is also one in a series of posts dealing with the wave of protest sweeping the United States following the police murder of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. Other posts in this series include: 5 Way To Build a Movement after Ferguson, Burn Down the Prison: Race, Property, and the Ferguson Rebellion, Turn Up Htown: Reflections on Nov 25 Day of Action, and The Old Mole Breaks Concrete: The Ongoing Rupture in New York City, .
Noel Ignatiev: Capital is race-blind; the capitalist mode of production (cmp) tends to reduce all human beings to abstract, undifferentiated, homogenous labor power. However, the pure cmp exists nowhere; all existing societies, including those in which the cmp prevails, contain elements left over from the past as well as elements that are the product of the political intervention of various groups.
Racial oppression is not universal to capital. Four places developed historically on the basis of racial oppression: the U.S., South Africa, Ireland, and Palestine.
Continue reading Points for Discussion on Race in the United States from Noel Ignatiev
Marx at the Margins is an important summary of Marx’s thought concerning the relationship between the capitalist and non-capitalist world, colonialism and social development, as well as nationalism and internationalism. The book provides a general overview of Marx’s thinking about these issues, especially as Anderson draws together and gives some narrative form to an extremely wide-ranging number of Marx’s writings. However, Anderson doesn’t always step back to consider this material from a more conceptual standpoint. Therefore these notes try and synthesize Anderson’s reading in order to lay the groundwork for a more schematic understanding of the issues raised in the book.
The overall argument of Marx at the Margins is that Marx develops from a position relatively uncritical of colonialism to one that is far more complex and oppositional. Specifically, Anderson shows how Marx’s early work on the non-western world and the peasantry tended to be undialectical, reflecting a unilinear conception of history. Marx was inclined, Anderson argues, to conceive of historical development in non-western societies as inevitably mirroring that of Western Europe. Furthermore, the peasantry was to gradually wither away into the proletariat. The problem with such thinking is that it lends itself to a stagist understanding of the historical process, one that has had profound political consequences. Anderson contends that it was not until the Grundrisse that Marx began to arrive at an alternative view, one that was more dialectical and global perspective. Anderson characterizes Marx’s developing theory of history as multilinear, rather than unilinear. These ideas are outlined in chapters one, five and six in the book. Chapters 2-4 focus on Marx’s understanding of nationalism and capitalist development. Those issues are not covered here.
A “never changing natural destiny”
Anderson notes that Marx’s early writing on non-western societies was “clearly influenced by Hegel.” For instance, examining his “harsh critique” of Indian society, Anderson quotes Hegel’s racist disregard of “India as a society that ‘has remained stationary and fixed’.” Therefore, “as a society where no real change or development had occurred, India had no real history,” Anderson concludes. Hegel accepted “colonialism as the product of historical necessity”; that is, the inevitable outcome of the absence of historical dynamism. India, like most of the non-Western world, was for Hegel characterized by a fundamental inertia, a lack of antagonism which “undergirded internal despotism.” Nevertheless, citing anthropologist Lawrence Krader, Anderson holds that, all things considered, Hegel could be distinguished from his contemporaries by his “concrete and historical” approach—something Marx was to later develop in more liberating directions (14).
Continue reading Thoughts on Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins