Monday, December 31, 2012

Comments, Clarifications, and Expansion on My Piece in Queering Anarchism

One of the peculiarities of our current world is the drastic time differential between methods of publicizing our ideas - we can propagate the written word via the internet nearly instantaneously, and we can often get pretty wide audiences for it, whereas the printed word, through a publisher, takes a lot longer from the time of writing to the time when the reader sees it (as I write this, the book is printed, and has been available at a couple of book release parties, but I don't have my author copy yet, so I may go back and edit page numbers into this). This often leads to curious contradictions in the works of people who have written extensively and whose ideas have developed through struggle in the time between when a piece was written and when it is published. Another caveat is that I was, at the time the last few revisions of the piece were done, in an organization that will remain graciously unnamed, as a token queer who, in the view of some people in the organization, was meant to be seen and not heard. I have since left that organization, and there are things I would have said differently in my piece in the book had I not been forced to mince words and hide my actual thoughts on a few things.

The piece was also written at a transitional point in my life (it took its final form in late summer of 2010, with a major revision in early 2011, and was finalized (other than copy editing) prior to Occupy kicking off). Today, it is even more odd for me to be in an anarchist anthology as I have increasingly distanced myself from anarchism. The purposes of the piece I stand behind: to clarify between various things radicalized queers are doing to help them take themselves a step further into a revolutionary praxis; and to defend the autonomy of queer struggles from the patriarchal "revolutionary organizations" of the radical milieu.

I'm also writing this for anyone who reads my essay and says, "Gayge, I'm convinced. I think our struggles as working class queers are important, I think we should have our own autonomous organizations, I want to link up with other struggles, I think revolutionaries working together is important...but what are some things you think I can do?" On to the self-indulgent task of criticizing my own work!


  1. When I speak of "struggling against multiple systems of oppression[,]" I, of course, mean multiple aspects of the capitalist totality. Capitalist social relations have sublated all prior systems - it's correct to speak of patriarchy as a system, but also to talk about how the patriarchal system has become a part of capitalist social relations - in other words, there's no outside of capitalism, and all oppressive systems serve the purposes of capital.
  2. "Unlike Leninists, we neither want to seize the state nor even to replace it with a “proletarian” state; we know that if classes remain after the revolution, and there is the need for a hegemonic governing body separate from the people to maintain social relations, then the revolution has failed." This is of course a critique and rejection of orthodox Marxist-Leninist parties, the ideology of "socialism in one country", and the states they create (Trotskyism neither sees classes remaining after the completion of the revolution, nor a hegemonic governing body separate from the people to maintain social relations, for instance, and orthodox Marxist-Leninist parties are pretty far from Lenin's ideas late in his life), rather than being it read as a reflexive dismissal of any sort of critical examination or nuanced understanding of historical movements and thinkers. Toward a nuanced understanding of Lenin that recognizes both the positive, mixed, and negative currents that draw on elements of his work, rather than a knee jerk "Lenin is bad, Trotsky is bad!"
  3. A point that cannot be highlighted enough in the section "On 'Classism'" is the breaking down the separation between intellectual and other forms of labor, and the division between thinking and doing. Assisting in the negation of this division is one of the most critical tasks of the revolutionary, and is also at the core of our opposition to all vanguardist revolutionary organizations, whether they label themselves as Marxist or anarchist (more on this point later).
  4.  When I speak of the need to defend our organizations and struggles from bourgeois queers, I don't want to deny that bourgeois queers are punished for their queerness (not as severely as working class queers, particularly working class queers of color) - punishments that we rightly speak out against; rather, I want to point out the activity that has the potential to defend and liberate all queers must come from a working class perspective and be under working class control. The ultimate end to punishments meted out by capitalism to non-working class members of oppressed groups is working class self-emancipation (which of course includes working class queer liberation struggles, the struggle against white supremacy, the struggle against patriarchy, and so forth, but led by the strata of the working class directly affected). Struggles and organizations run by and for bourgeois queers will generally result in an improvement in their condition, and, at best, table scraps for working class queers. Equality with straights only makes sense if you think straight people are already liberated.
  5. The phrase "form both specific political organizations with a great deal of unity, and to advocate for our revolutionary ideas in mass organizations[,]" while incredibly non-specific, has unfortunate baggage. Of course, as I mention early in my section on the dead-end of anti-assimilation, the everyday struggle of working class queers already has revolutionary content. Our job is to clarify that content and teach the tools to analyze and think about those actions in new ways. This is another point I'll talk about later. The phrasing here is perhaps where my prior organizational affiliation causes the essay to suffer - I needed to make some very anti-platformist points (that working class self-activity already has revolutionary content, that autonomous organizations should be supported, not co-opted) palatable to platformists (who were obviously not the intended audience for the piece in the first place).  

Further Thoughts

  I promised that I would clarify things, and then give some actual concrete suggestions for budding queer revolutionaries. A position paper I wrote last summer, on this blog and also available on libcom here, gives some ideas, but leaves some open questions, and also is much more internal to a few sub-milieus. I think, very often, the people we meet and become close to in the process of participating in struggles and larger organizations are our "revolutionary organizations". We need to quit trying to solve the problems of Russia in 1917 or Spain in 1936, and recognize just how much the working class and the world has changed. Part of that change is that it is a great deal easier to communicate and connect with people in informal ways. Given both the course of history and technology, it is hard to see what point there is to creating large, over-arching formal organizations - just by networking, informally or semi-formally, the collectives we already work in (grouped by location and/or narrow interest), to allow for some communication, we can share information and ideas in productive ways.

The point of revolutionary organizations are most emphatically NOT to lead, or to see themselves as the most advanced elements of a struggle, but rather to propagate their analysis of the struggles they are clarifying to others, and give those others the tools they need to come to intellectual understandings of their own. To quote No Condescending Saviorsan old pamphlet still well-worth reading, "Workers do very revolutionary things, but they think of them in old ways[.]" Our task, as revolutionaries, is not to get people to do very revolutionary things (capitalism brings those circumstances into being where people who do not yet think about things in a revolutionary way do revolutionary things), or to tell them what to think about them, but, by recognizing and recording their revolutionary activity, clarifying the things we see, and helping them to develop the tools to think about things in their own new way, help along the process of revolutionary actions leading to a working class consciousness overcoming a bourgeois consciousness.

No Condescending Saviors goes on to eloquently state "So long as the only models of social action articulated to the workers are either continued subordination to the bourgeoisie — the line of social democracy — or reliance on the all-knowing vanguard party to lead them to socialism in its own good time, they will be unable to arrive at the new consciousness of themselves as a potential ruling class, and thus all their movements will inevitably be contained within the framework of capitalism." The first part is the obvious critique of organizations that channel the power away from the working class, the second part is a critique of all revolutionary organizations that see themselves as vanguards - whether they are Marxist or anarchist. When an organization sees itself as the "leadership of ideas" and sees itself as bringing anarchism (or socialism, or what have you) to masses that are incapable of being revolutionary on their own, that organization is an active obstacle to true social revolution when it does manage to be relevant.

From Hungary in '56 and France in '68 to the Arab Spring, the working class has done very revolutionary things without or against vanguard parties - and when vanguard parties do get involved, they either put a lid on the struggle or co-opt it for one capitalist faction or another.

My Advice to Young Queer Revolutionaries

Never join an organization just because they say they're where the real revolutionaries are. In fact, an organization that says or implies the real revolutionaries are in it and not elsewhere is a warning sign. Find the revolutionary content in the day-to-day struggles you're involved in, and work with the other revolutionaries forged by that struggle. Be patient, and learn as much as you teach (this is my advice to older revolutionaries, queer and straight, too). Remember that your ideas are important, but no matter how good they are, they're not the singular set of revolutionary ideas - revolution comes not out of the intellects of a few, but the practical and intellectual activity of the many. Make abolishing the distinctions between your activity and the activity of the people in struggle around you a primary goal.

Value the self-organization of working class women, queers, people of color, and so forth - whether that self-organization is of larger groupings in that locale or just of the already radicalized or even solely of revolutionaries. Recognizing that the time of the vanguard party has long past also means that starting from a group of people in a subcultural milieu with the "right ideas" and then trying to recruit to get it to look like the class is approaching the problem backwards. We don't start solely from "right ideas". Theory arises out of struggle and theory shapes struggle - ideas coming from entirely outside a struggle will inevitably be drastically reshaped when they engage in a dialogue with struggle.

You should strongly consider organizing your workplace into independent workplace committees that have the potential to include all non-managerial workers. You should also strongly consider organizing outside your workplace, against repression, into communities of solidarity and care, doing the things you and your community think are relevant. Neither fall into a crass shop-floorism nor think that the point of production has somehow become irrelevant. Approach the issues relevant to you and the people you care about and live, work, and play with from the perspective of "how do we take control of the means of production and reproduction and create a new commons for all?" Always raise the question of "how can we, in this struggle, challenge major contradictions within the working class - those created by white supremacy and patriarchy?"

Above all, don't let anyone tell you how or what to fight for from an argument from authority, particularly a bunch of self-important straight white men. And don't give up on your views, but be intransigent in arguing for them, until (and only if!) you yourself are logically convinced you are incorrect. And even then, readjust your analysis based on the new information, don't accept someone else's ideas. To quote Raya Dunayevskaya, "[t]he first act of liberation is to demand back our own heads." Far too often, the history of the participation of women and queers in struggle that includes men and straight people has been a history of silencing and subordination. Let's change that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Negative and Positive Visions, Full Communism, and Boats

I was struck by a thought of "wow, there's more to this running joke we've got going then I or anyone else originally intended" while reading a bit of Harry Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically last evening.  I've been making an in-depth study of it, as, like every other Marxist under the sun, in between reading other things, I'm re-reading Capital, Vol 1. So, the relevant quote (on p. 130-1 of the book, or findable at here) is:

In effect "zerowork" means the conversion of "useful labor" into one element of what Marx calls "the full development of activity itself." Capitalist development, he wrote, has created the material elements to permit, after the revolution, "the development of the rich individuality which is all sided in its production as in its consumption, and whose labour also therefore appears no longer as labour, but as the full development of activity itself."(7) What does "activity itself" mean? In what kind of a situation is work not work? Marx had little to say on this subject, largely out of principle.(8) He rejected the utopian socialist project of outlining in advance the nature of postcapitalist society. He clearly felt that it would be invented in the process of revolution by the mass of workers on the basis of their possibilities and desires and not on the basis of some intellectual's fancy. When he did speak of the general nature of postcapitalist society, his most frequently reiterated comments evoked "the artistic, scientific, etc. development of the individuals in the time set free" by the reduction of necessary labor to a minimum.(9) Thus Marx saw the revolutionary process as both negative -- freedom from capital and the end of a class defined by work -- and positive -- freedom for the development of a new stage in the evolution of humankind. His refusal to give more than the briefest comments on that new stage is the clearest evidence of his commitment to its openendedness. What comments he did make came mainly from periods of revolution in which he would look to the actions of the workers themselves for indications of the direction of their struggle (e.g., during the Commune).(10) Thus, although he rejected utopian speculation, we can surmise that within the revolutionary process Marx would have warmly embraced the slogan "All Power to the Imagination."
I think, in general, we get to be pretty good about talking about the negative aspects of the revolutionary process: what we're against in the here and now, and things we don't see the revolutionary society as including. A lot of us are really good at articulating what we're against in the here and now, whether it's a concrete thing (being against a speed-up at work), or something more general (going all the way to the overarching "we're anti-capitalists"). It's on the positive aspects of the revolutionary process that we tend to fall all over ourselves.

There are two ways to fall all over ourselves: not acknowledge any positive aspects at all; or going into the mode of utopian socialism where we are handed a complete vision of a future society in accordance with some intellectual's fancy, or even in accordance with years of rigorous effort by a bunch of intellectuals. Outside struggle actually achieving future society, society is a bit too complex to have any sort of exacting model of the future. There's not as much need to get into the "not acknowledging any positive aspects", that seems to be something that people who've stuck around a bit tend to move past, and I think the utopian project is a bigger danger.

Ultimately, we can be really limiting when we try to make exacting plans of what communism looks like, sometimes in dangerous ways. I think the whole history of Soviet economic planning, going all the way back to Lenin in 1918 is not only an instance of, as Cleaver points out shortly before the quoted bit, assuming that we simply eliminate just the bad stuff and don't have to change anything we (the "intellectuals", the "revolutionaries") see as positive (the context here being that Lenin saw Taylorism as being "advanced" and "scientific", and that the fact that it's a highly developed form of capitalist exploitation would just vanish, Cleaver's discussion of this is on p. 129), but also of how the obsession with planning led to just more efficient, highly developed forms of capitalism. In general, we can extend the critique, here, from saying that just as a "worker's state" managing production (state capitalism) doesn't get us any closer to communism, neither do co-ops or councils managing production - we can't just limit our critique to the immediate surface negative aspects. Communism isn't capitalism with a bunch of easily identifiable as negative traits excised, and more sharing and collective decision making added in.

It's easy to imagine "democratic control of a workplace", it's far more difficult to imagine a fundamentally different, unalienated way of people achieving their needs and desires. Part of what is to be learned from Marx limiting his positive vision to pointing out that we'll have a new stage in our evolution as people, is that he's being smart enough here to realize that he's not smart enough to know what that looks like, even if we can say what that won't look like. Now, I don't want to participate in putting Marx on a pedestal beyond saying "Marx was a really smart and insightful dude who wrote a lot and was heavily involved in discussions with other revolutionaries and such", but I also  want to acknowledge that Marx not being smart enough to know what communism looks like (in a rigorously descriptive sense of "food will be obtained through this process and trips to Spain by this process") isn't my pointing out a deficiency in Marx's intellect. None of us, as intellectuals or groups of intellectuals, is smart enough to provide a rigorous description of how the future communist society will function. However, what does it mean to "look to the actions of the workers themselves"? It means that we can and must recognize the liberatory potential in the actions everyday working class people already take to help themselves and their communities. And at high points of struggle, we see the beginnings of the future society. I know, for many of us, these high points of struggle may not be particularly high, and that makes this seem like a difficult and frustrating non-answer. However, we need to reach back to those struggles and the struggles of everyday life, and look at what we find truly liberating (and I can venture to guess, that, if you're like me, people just starting a clinic, gathering up supplies, and helping people out is more infused with potential than debates on how we're going to debate and make decisions).

In any case, I'll close this with something I promised in the title, a discussion that includes Full Communism and Boats. We'll start with an image:

The story of this image: in arguments over "after the rev" with an advocate of Parecon, said advocate would always point out how he would like a boat, but other people wouldn't, and on how we needed a system to match up availability with varying desires, etc. And generally he would be met with a critique by communists of the flaws of his proposed system, how it failed to abolish various aspects of capitalism, such as the patriarchal division between reproductive and productive labor, and so on. Of course, the frustrating aspect for someone who is presenting a vision that is utopian (even if ultimately only a reorganization of capital), is that the positive responses were statements in the same category as Marx's. In general, the arguments are only useful in the first place to debunk utopian visions (in the sense of "utopian socialism" of the 19th century).

Since FULL COMMUNISM had already become a meme, beyond the "what's the logic of restricting ability to take a boat out on 'how long and hard have you worked, comrade'?", making some flippant claim about boats and communism, especially with the continued popularity of Lonely Island, seemed like the best idea to lay to rest the idea that this was a useful argument. As running jokes tend to do, this has taken off, and provided an illustration of the more serious points made earlier. When we start trying to dictate the exact structure of the future society, we tend to end up with a vision, that in its limited scope, is profoundly disappointing and flawed, or, we start to sound like we're describing the Land of Cockaigne. Ultimately, rather than just providing a joke out of a shared experience of frustrating arguments, or even just a pop culture reference that led to a light-hearted running joke, we could expand it. Claims such as "in Full Communism, we'll all spend all our time partying on boats, drinking strawberry margaritas and eating fruit from the food forests on deck" become a way of pointing out the ridiculousness of making detailed descriptions of exactly how various things will function "after the revolution".  These detailed descriptions are about as useful as putting forward a vision where nothing can go wrong and every single want and desire is instantly fulfilled in an over the top fashion. On a boat.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Dialectic of Exploitation and Repression, Forms of Self-Organization, and the Avoidance of Vulgar Workerism.


This piece seeks to provide a set of opinions on what strategies we, as revolutionaries, might take in the near-term future (the next couple of years), critique some tendencies in our organizations, and hopefully ground all this in a realistic assessment of the current class composition. This piece is in no way intended to be the final word on these matters, but rather a discussion and debate starter. It is not "what is to be done?" but rather "where are we at? What are things that make sense to try at this juncture?"

While much of the assessment of the current composition of the class, and the current composition and capacity of revolutionary organizations focuses on the US context, some of this may be applicable to other contexts, and I welcome dialogue with comrades internationally. We find ourselves having made it through a year (2011) where the class started to show a long awaited tendency toward recomposition, and struggle grew more coordinated and began to be slightly less atomized. What started in the US with  a "militant reformist" struggle in Wisconsin broke out later in the year in the Occupy movement, which saw its high water mark on the West Coast, particularly in Oakland on November 2nd with the attempted General Strike, which I have written about previously. I stand by my commentary, even if I was "high on communism" and thus overly hopeful when I wrote it, four days after the events of November 2nd. While a move-in day was attempted in January in Oakland, and was impressive in the number of people that were willing to confront certain massive police violence, it is clear that in the US context, the public expropriation of large buildings will require full-blown insurrection. My prior writing reflects the fact that a rupture was opened, and while it was likely not nearly of the magnitude that could lead to even a localized insurrection, it still required coordinated effort by the trade unions, non-profits, progressive/"former radical" politicians, and opportunist mistakes by revolutionaries to promptly close it.

Even though 2011 was an exciting year, with more visible, widespread, and massively self-organized struggle than we have seen in the US in a while, and even with the recession of the Occupy wave we saw a more vigorous May Day than we have in the last few years, we must be careful to not deceive ourselves: the class struggle is still carried out in a very atomized manner and there are many tasks to accomplish in the process of class recomposition. Similarly, conscious revolutionaries are few, in general lacking in praxis, and atomized. The vast majority of the Left is in disarray. Parties, factions, and so forth that would claim the legacy of Lenin continue to deteriorate; similarly, the vast majority of anarchists only get roused out of lifestylism to tail after mass struggles. Simultaneously the most interesting milieu in the US is the one consisting, in the main, of the (somewhat sectarianingly named) "Class Struggle Anarchist Conference" organizations, the groups sometimes referred to as the Jamesian organizations (small, generally local organizations that draw major inspiration from C.L.R. James, autonomism, and so forth), strong, active currents in the IWW, and various fellow travelers. This milieu serves as a loose hodgepodge of anarchists, revolutionary syndicalists, and the Marxists who are still far more committed to revolution than writing polemics between irrelevant sects. Much of this milieu is overwhelmingly white and male, which is both a serious distortion of the class and reflects the flaws in the practical activity of much (but not all) of the milieu.

The disarray of much of the Left is an opportunity to develop new praxis. Detritus and disorganization is what stands in the way of the class building the self-organization that serves its current and future situation, not an entrenched Left that has somehow "lost its way". We have several roles in this task as revolutionaries: to recognize and record the struggles of the class; to effectively put forward our analysis to provide guidance to the rest of the class in struggle; to realize the potentials in struggles that may not be apparent to the other participants; to participate in struggles in ways that furthers the process of class recomposition; and to find ways to organize ourselves as revolutionaries that reflects the class and enables us to better accomplish our other tasks. As Nate points out, we need to avoid "double-edged swords"; we should avoid rebuilding the old Left (or even the New Left), and we should avoid building up organizations that will put decision-making into the hands of "representatives" of the class. Our current situation is full of both opportunity and danger, for while the strength of the class is starting an upswing, there is little momentum to counter any mistakes we may  make. We should be ever wary of falling for a tendency of "don't think, organize!". It is better to think too much and not intervene than to intervene so badly we make things worse.


Here, we can draw a strong parallel with the idea of there being a dialectic between political and economic struggles; we can also draw a strong parallel to the fact that all economic struggles are in some way political, and vice versa. It is also tempting to view these as completely synonymous, and in many ways "struggles focused on exploitation" are generally primarily economic struggles, but, the differing sets of terms reflects the priorities of much of the milieu, particularly the CSAC submilieu (the IWW is more comfortable framing things as political and economic, the ease which Wobblies sometimes see these as two entirely separate spheres is perhaps one of the flaws of revolutionary syndicalism as opposed to the anarchist syndicalism of the CNT or the Marxist Unionen of the historical AAUD or KAUD), and reflects the larger milieu that many revolutionary anarchist communists and their fellow travelers come out of.

As Harry Cleaver describes in Reading Capital Politically (specifically, pg. 109-110), struggles by workers over solely quantitative matters (hours worked, wages, etc) were seen as economism, and labelled as being entirely within capital, whereas the only political struggles are ones that directly threaten the existence of capital by attempting to seize power by a revolutionary overthrow of the state. However, as Cleaver explains, the quantitative struggles, beneath the surface, have a qualitative element as sufficient quantitative gains by workers threaten the survival of capital by jeopardizing the realization of surplus value. Furthermore, the purpose of work in capitalism is social control, thus, work is a tool of political repression of the proletariat. The exception are the deals, that were especially common in the Fordist era, where increased wages were traded for increased productivity (which can end up strengthening capital). Cleaver concludes with pointing out that political struggles for workers' control that increase productivity or develop capital are also counter-productive. However, in general, the economic struggle has a political element and the political struggle obviously aims to change economic conditions.

It is easy to see how if we, instead of adopting the economic/political frame, adopt the very similar exploitation/repression frame, we must realize that there is no exploitation without repression. Without a repressive apparatus, the irreconcilable class antagonisms would very quickly end, as Marx puts it, "the expropriators are expropriated" (Capital Vol I, pg. 929). And without any exploitation, the repressive apparatus would have no point; all class systems are exploitative, and the state (as the primary repressive apparatus used against the exploited) arises because class antagonism is irreconcilable. In a more immediate sense, we see that heightened repression is a necessary part of the "accumulation of misery" that creates a reserve army of labor, giving both a higher general rate of exploitation and creating instances of hyperexploitation among sections of the class (pg. 799). When we focus on exploitation, and we struggle with the most exploited sections of the class, we will be forced to confront the repression that is the direct cause of that hyperexploitation. And when we enter into protracted struggles against repression (rather than just showing up for spectacular protests), we will be forced to deal with how the hyperexploitation that repression facilitates structures the potential responses to that repression.

There is no irreconcilable contradiction between economic/quantitative and political/qualitative struggles, or struggles against exploitation and struggles against repression. We can see that when we see, for instance, the political element in an "economic struggle" or the exploitative element in an "anti-repression struggle", we can then explicate how, when we dig through the surface form of the struggles, we see that the content of all them are social struggles. Part of the task of revolutionaries in the current period is to unveil the core content of struggles and propagate that analysis beyond their limited circles.


Two forms of vulgar workerism are particularly rampant in our organizations. The first is the tendency, particularly in the CSAC submilieu and the IWW, to focus solely on economic/exploitative struggles and to ignore political/anti-repression struggles. There is a tendency, though not universal or insurmountable, to be apolitical, rather than antipolitical. We must always remember that the communist movement is antipolitical - its goal is the utter destruction of class society, and thus the end of bourgeois politics. In the IWW, the challenges in confronting this is in how direct unionism - our workplace committees - and solidarity networks confront repression in the work we do. We will discuss this more when we talk about these forms of organization. The IWW form, as a revolutionary syndicalist organization, and its particular history provide a narrowness that can be both an advantage and disadvantage. Advantageous as it provides focus; disadvantageous as its history can encourage people who join up just as activist stamp collecting (at best maybe getting involved productively; at worst, trying to use the organization as a venue for their pet projects). This, combined with the IWW's focus, can lead to blindspots about anyone other than the stereotypical straight white male worker and their experiences of work. Both direct unionism and participation in solidarity networks can overcome those blindspots, and by overcoming those blindspots, shopfloor organizing and solidarity network actions relevant to a greater and greater cross-section of the class can occur.

In the CSAC submilieu, there is not the same narrowness. This particular submilieu often suffers from a lack of focus, with little common work or coordinated activity. This lack of emphasis on common work and common strategic orientations leads to frequent displays of sectarianism from people on all sides of a variety of issues. The submilieu has a loose structure of "what we don't do", mainly being a way to differentiate itself from all the self-proclaimed anarchists outside the submilieu. Oftentimes, given the prevalence of lifestylism and a "militant" version of non-profit style activism that goes on in the general anarchist milieu, rejecting many of the actions taken by people in the milieu is wise. However, as anarchists outside the CSAC orbit tend to heavily focus on anti-repression struggles, this need for differentiation, combined with a vulgar workerism that sees class as an identity (substituting a "true prole" identity, complete with scally caps, peacoats, and a general softness on patriarchal behavior, for the more prevalent drop-out identity in the milieu) rather than a social relation and reduces the class struggle to the workplace and narrowly economic struggles over things such as rents, causes the CSAC orbit to downplay struggles that initially focus on repression. A further critique of the CSAC milieu and political organization as it is is given in a fragmentary form by Juan Conatz. This beginning of a serious critique is well-worth reading, and I agree with all his points.

The second form of vulgar workerism is to fetishize mass organizations that are perceived to have grown out (of certain segments) of the class; particularly the fetishization of the bureaucratic enemy of the working class, trade union bureaucracy. This also ties into the trend of seeing mass organizations as inherently non-revolutionary, rather than non-revolutionary right now. While one who is in a trade union because of their job should of course organize with the rest of the rank and file, a pipeline from our organizations to union salting to union bureaucrat is contradictory to our revolutionary aims. The trade unions do win short and moderate term benefits for those they represent; but in the long-term, they divide the class and are another tool of capital to impose the discipline of work when it is in crisis. Furthermore, Selma James does an excellent job of tying this point in with the vulgar workerism of narrowly focusing on primarily exploitative struggles in centralized waged workplaces. As she says in "Women, the Unions and Work, Or…What Is Not To Be Done":

Until recently the capitalist class with the help of un­ions had convinced men that if they got a rise in pay they got a rise in standard of living. That’s not true, and women always knew it. They give men a pay packet on Friday and take it back from us on Saturday at the shops. We have to organise the struggle for the other side of wages -against inflation -and that can only be done outside the unions, first because they only deal with the money we get and not with what we have immediately to give back; and second because they limit their fight -such as it is -only to that workplace where you get wages for being there, and not where your work involves giving the money back.
It is not simply that they don’t organise the shoppers; it is that the union prevents such organisation, by frag­menting the class into those who have wages and those who don’t. The unemployed, the old, the ill, children and house­wives are wageless. So the unions ignore us and thereby separate us from each other and from the waged. That is, they structurally make a generalised struggle impossible. This is not because they are bureaucratised; this is 
. Their functions are to mediate the struggle in industry and keep it separate from struggles elsewhere. Because the most concentrated potential power of the class is at the point of direct production, the unions have convinced the wageless that only at that point can a struggle be waged at all. This is not so, and the most striking example has been the organisation of the Black community. Blacks, like women, cannot limit themselves to a struggle in direct pro­duction. And Blacks, like women, see the function of unions within the class writ large in their attitudes to them. For racism and sexism are not aberrations of an otherwise powerful working class weapon.  
You will see by now that I believe in order to have our own politics we must make our own analysis of women and therefore our own analysis of the whole working class struggle. We have been taking so much for granted that happens to be around, and restricting, segregating ourselves to speaking and writing about women, that it looks like we are only supposed to analyse and understand women after others (men) have analysed the class in general–ex­cluding us. This is to be male-dominated in the profoundest sense. Because there is no class in general-which doesn’t include us and all the wageless.
While Selma James primarily focuses on the history of the trade unions in the UK, there is a long history of racism and sexism in US trade unions as well. A well-known part of IWW history was the fact that we were one of the only organizations willing to not only organize women and people of color, but to also let them join and participate as full members of the organization. As to her points on an analysis of the whole working class struggle, I will return to them later.

The larger problem is in the focus on the numbers involved in the struggle, rather than the character or quality of the struggle. There is a constant tailing of the "class" (read: those portions of the class most able to fit the mold of the waged laborer) and a need to participate in whatever will attract the greatest numbers, no matter the content of the organizations involved.  Instead, a focus on assisting in the building of quality self-organization rather than quantity at all costs is needed.

If we look at the current composition of groups in the CSAC submilieu and the IWW, there is a significant dominance by white males, particularly in the CSAC submilieu. This is not primarily because of recruitment strategies (though those play a part in that the core of these organizations are very often social circles), but rather the content of the work done. People join the organizations that are relevant to their lives and that they can stand, and while people often put forward proposals to make organizations more welcoming, people don't join and stay in organizations that feel "welcoming" that aren't relevant to them. While perhaps tautological, people in strata of the class heavily targeted for repression tend to have a more immediate and personal concern with anti-repression organizing. In addition, the fetishization of waged labor does not speak to the specific concerns of women, nor the "surplus army of labor", which is overwhelmingly made up of POC. The IWW's organizing strategies will push it in a direction of dealing with these issues as they naturally include anti-repression struggles. The CSAC submilieu, lacking any common work or common strategy, leaves this unresolved.


It is easy, when there is a wave of struggle (such as Occupy Oakland at its height, or before that, the Oscar Grant struggle, to take two examples from Oakland) to know where we should be, and our need to participate in the spontaneous self-organization of the class in a principled manner, deepening and connecting struggles, hopefully pushing them to their limits, and guarding against the recuperation of the trade unions, non-profits, and progressive politicians. What we should do is a more difficult question when there is not a wave of struggle to participate in, and the daily struggles of the class (for struggle is always everywhere) are atomized. I can personally identify three types of projects that seem particularly useful with the current composition of the class, and have potential to further our goals. These three forms are Solidarity Networks, Direct Unionism, and small organizations formed on political affinity by members of particularly repressed and exploited sections of the class. Solidarity Networks and Direct Unionism have been discussed at length by many others, and I shall primarily direct people to their writing, while providing some commentary of my own.

Good information on the "why" of solnets can be found in the aptly named Why You Should Start a Solidarity Network and advice on starting one can be found in the Building a solidarity network guide. Striking back at bosses: solidarity networks and sexual assault raises important questions on how solidarity networks should deal with organizing against repression, as frequently, the cases solidarity networks take up often feature instances of repression and not just pure exploitation (of withheld wages or security deposits, for instance). Solidarity networks have a very intuitive recruitment model - the people who come to the solidarity network for assistance in their struggles are empowered by taking a leading role in their own struggle, and hopefully stick around, becoming a permanent part of the network. By being open to struggling against repression in the cases taken, and by doing so effectively, solidarity networks will gradually become more and more reflective of the class as a whole. Key to being able to start this process is early on in the formation of the solidarity network having members who have experience being effective organizers in struggles with a strong anti-repression character. There are several possible starting points for building a solidarity network. SeaSol was started by Wobblies in Seattle, in other cities, solidarity networks have been started by collectives or locals of larger organizations. Solidarity networks can even be started by informal affinity groups; the key is to start with enough capacity to take on a fight, because nothing builds like doing and winning.

The debate on direct unionism can give us a good idea what it means; direct (or, sometimes, solidarity) unionism has been extensively discussed and debated within the IWW. This practice of direct rank-and-file struggle rather than struggle to attain contracts and representation has much to recommend it, as one will gather by reading through the debate. Much like solidarity networks, direct unionism forces us to confront repression when it occurs on the shop floor, as it forces us to smash the lines such as race and gender to stand directly with our fellow workers rather than with the bosses. Anyone interested in direct unionism as a form of struggle should join the IWW, whether they work in a shop that is controlled by a trade union or not. If there is not an active IWW GMB where they live, they can build one.

Perhaps less clear is what I mean by "small organizations formed on political affinity by members of particularly repressed and exploited sections of the class". What precisely are the form of these? What content are they intended to convey? How can they be useful in struggle? As usual, I think form is something best worked out by the people involved, arising out of what they're trying to accomplish. People should form groups with people that are in similar locations or strata in the class as they are, and address immediate issues that they can organize around, in ways that bring in other members of the class to struggle directly. Thinking of what sections of the class we are in, and organizing around immediate needs makes our organizing relevant to people who also face those immediate needs.

Depended on the intended goals, greater or less degrees of theoretical unity are needed. For instance, TransFix NorCal started with the intent to encourage stronger community and the formation and strengthening of networks of mutual aid in the trans community in the SF Bay Area. The theoretical unity necessary to work toward this goal did not require we all read Capital and have an identical interpretation - it involved recognizing how nonprofits can be disempowering and a commitment to accountability to each other and to a community. We also made a tactical move to challenge how other stratifications in the working class affect the trans community. Many well-educated, primarily (but by no means exclusively) white trans people move to the urban centers of the Bay Area (particularly San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley), and have little connection to hyperexploited and intensely repressed  Black and Latin@ trans and queer communities in the Bay. I have since moved back East, but, my friends in TransFix are trying to overcome that barrier in a constructive way by reaching out to the organizations in those communities and providing the support asked for, in an attempt to build relationships and break down barriers.

Other useful possibilities based on location or strata in the class would be clinic defense work - defense of access to reproductive health care and abortion is most definitely class struggle, as it is resistance to capital's control of women's bodies as a site of production for labor power. Grassroots organizations that help women to leave abusive relationships can also be seen as class struggle, as women do the majority of reproductive labor (in the sense of reproducing labor power (not just biological reproduction)) in the class, and being forced to caregive one's abuser is a double insult. In all these instances, white supremacy must be directly confronted in how capital mediates patriarchy with race. In terms of location, anti-foreclosure and home occupation work directly in heavily affected communities, by the people who live in those communities has a ton of potential to expand throughout the class. And of course, the classic organizing strategy of Copwatch forces us to face the fact that groups such as people of color, trans women, the homeless, the mentally ill, sex workers (and we must recognize that both historically and currently, the forcing of women into prostitution is directly linked to housewifization) are the sections of the class most intensely targeted by the police.

Extensive mention was made of reproductive labor; in general, the milieu has failed to learn the lessons of autonomist feminism, and I think this has led to the milieu being less relevant than it could be to women and queers, and has substantially narrowed the scope of organizing that is done. As Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa noted in their historic pamphlet, not only is reproductive labor ("women's work") fundamental to capitalism, but also that there is often the necessity for sections of the class (such as women, queers, or POC) to organize autonomously. Revolutionary feminist organizing has been at a long, unfortunate lull for several decades; however, it is work that we as women must take the lead in. Male-dominated organizations should find a way to support it without attempting to lead it. The glorification of wage labor and the dismissal of housework is unsurprising in a male-dominated milieu (of course, there are now very high rates of wage labor in working class women - everyone is expected to work for a wage. Women just have to raise the kids, clean the house, and cook the meals as well), but ends up being toxic to women in organizations (particularly those with significant unwaged caregiving responsibilities), but also leads to a cultural rift when trying to organize with women. As Federici points out in an essay well worth reading, this housework is qualitatively different in that it has been naturalized into an inherent trait of a gender, allowing it to be viewed as "not real work". We need to understand it is real work, grasp its centrality to capitalism, and then incorporate this analysis into our organizing.


I have not spoken much of the Jamesian organizations, as I am less familiar with them, though I hope the members of those organizations will find my general analysis useful and contribute to the discussion. It should be clear that while the IWW does in places need to work on internal culture, be intentional about recruitment and campaigns, that the best solution is for the direct unionism tendency to stay the course and continue to expand, and learn to confront struggles that present primarily in the form of repression as they present themselves. To repeat myself, anyone who personally wants to be involved in direct unionism should join the IWW. Places where an IWW General Membership Branch is the main grouping of people with the capacity to get a solidarity network off the ground may well see the people who get a solidarity network going meet through the IWW (there are of course legal issues with the IWW officially having solidarity networks as part of the IWW).

The "political organizations" of the CSAC submilieu have a lot of work to do. In areas where they have strong locals, those locals are the perfect springboard for solidarity networks. The CSAC organizations tend to put the cart before the horse, expanding before there is common work and strategy. Local organizations and locals of larger organizations should find work that builds the self-organization of the class and also allows for the development of common work, and, as my commentary has hinted at, a common strategy of targeting patriarchy and white supremacy as key components of class composition.

We should also look around us and find the people in similar situations to us, that can form the core of groups to address those situations. We should not be afraid to start new projects and to put those forward in ways that broaden the struggle. One possible use of these smaller, less focused organizations is bringing up the level of general theoretical education. Unfortunately, sometimes, some of these organizations have been the most hostile to having a coherent theoretical framework as a weapon of the proletarian movement. I, personally, feel that that coherent theoretical weapon of the class is to be found in several strains within Marxism; the key is to extract the useful Marxism from the corruption of Marxism that been used at times to control the class. More generally, people getting educated through informal mentoring often means that occurs solely through social circles, and often has problematic racial and gender dynamics. More structured educational methods can be purposefully setup to address those issues.

Finally, we need to spend more time asking ourselves "why?" and "what will this accomplish? how does this fit into a larger strategy?" before we do things. We also need to learn that belonging to an organization on paper is not the same thing as doing common work with people with whom we share a common strategy. We need to identify what work we want to do, who we want to do that with, and what our overall near and moderate-term strategy is. Then we organize ourselves around that, rather than organizing everyone we are somewhat politically close to, and then trying to figure out what we do. In other words, we are a milieu that has many theories and takes many actions, but we have not synthesized those into a coherent whole. We are in search of effective praxis, and we will be far more relevant once we have it and consistently use it.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Commentary on "Toward a Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy"

Some comrades have had some questions on Toward a Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy, and I wrote pretty extensively in response, so, I thought I would compile my responses into another post to explain what I was getting at.

The first question was more in terms of a clarification, on whether I meant sexual orientation as something that is socially constructed and imposed, or rather preferences for certain body sets/expressions of gender/or what have you (as in, would the destruction of sexual orientation mean that people would be attracted to everyone equally?). This is a pretty simple question to answer, as I mean the end of sexual orientation as a socially constructed/imposed identity. I think it's likely that some people will always have some preferences, but it would be the end of those preferences being fit into a finite number of coherent categories, or constituting an identity. ‎I'm not for replacing compulsory heterosexuality with "compulsory pansexuality", but rather a society where partner choice ceases to be meaningful or being assumed to be consistent over time. People will certainly have their trends, but consistent choice of one set of gender expressions over others will be about as meaningful as consistently dating pianists.

Another question that arose was to my reference to Capital's destruction of the proletariat, and that there's no longer a need to maximize the size of future generations (if we look at capitalism's birth, there was both harsh discipline to enforce waged work and a willingness to starve workers to death, with the contradiction of strict controls on sexuality and gender to enforce high rates of reproduction; now there is much less of a push toward high rates of reproduction).

The not needing to maximize further generations of labor power bit is tied into the history of when capital arose, and how the patriarchy of capitalism was structured (with intense regulation of reproduction and sexuality). Europe's population took quite a while to recover from the Black Death, and one source of the peasantry's power as a class was the drastically reduced population. Part of crushing that power was a lot of regulation of reproduction and sexuality to basically force people to have more kids (this is a pretty central part of Federici's work). In the developed world, the only countries that have population growth right now are those with substantial immigration; the means of production are developed to the extent that they're not hurting for a labor pool (in fact, a lot of stuff here functions around excluding groups in the working class from a lot of labor to varying extents).

As to Capital tending toward the destruction of the proletariat - well, the proletariat has to sell labor power to live; labor power is also the only thing that can generate surplus value so capital can valorise itself (create new value). However, every individual capitalist/enterprise has a motivation to reduce the amount of labor time to create a product, as, if they innovate this first, they can realize a super profit until everyone else catches on. Prices, of course are determined by socially necessary labor time.The model is that the price of the entire lot of products as a whole is set by the amount of constant capital (raw materials, wear and tear on machinery), the amount that it costs for the labor power used to reproduce itself, and amount of surplus value (unpaid labor). Wages tend toward bare survival in the absence of complicating factors such as struggle over wages, government supports, excess labor pool letting capital work people to death, the labor being highly skilled and thus in a shortage/needing to realize prior investment on education/training, etc. One way to increase that surplus value is to cut the amount of labor needed to make the product - prices can stay at the current rate until everyone else does so, and prices go down. This is one of the central contradictions of capitalism - the need to constantly innovate production to exclude the proletariat from the production process, but the need to employ workers to realize value.

Of course, this process results in less and less labor being required to make the necessities of survival, generally involve increasing the amount of constant capital involved, increasing the ratio of constant capital to variable capital (variable capital = wages) which leads to the declining rate of profit (the amount of profit made per capital expended), the cyclic nature of crises in capitalism, and ultimately the fact that there's only so much crap that can be put on market, so while capital could expand throughout the entirety of social relations for a while, eventually there's less and less labor to do. Proletarians without anyone to sell their labor power to have no means of survival (and we can see the cutting of social welfare programs as both an attempt for capital to get out of crisis (by accumulating a new source of capital) and accelerating the detoriation in proletarian conditions).

There were questions about what the refusal of work entails, and what that looks like as an organizing strategy. Autonomism is a huge influence on me, and a lot of the theoretical explication of the refusal of work comes out of autonomism, but arises first in its predecessor, operaismo. So I'm going to cite operaismo and autonomism and such a bit here.

Mario Tronti raises it in The Strategy of Refusal:

It is wrong to define present day society as "industrial civilisation". The "industry" of that definition is, in fact, merely a means.' The truth of modern society is that it is the civilisation of labour. Furthermore, a capitalist society can never be anything but this. And, in the course of its historical development, it can even take on the form of "socialism". So.... not industrial society (that is, the society of capital) but the society of industrial labour, and thus the society of workers' labour. It is capitalist society seen from this point of view that we must find the courage to fight. What are workers doing when they struggle against their employers? Are they not they, above all else, saying "No" to the transformation of labour power into labour? Are they not, more than anything, refusing to receive work from the capitalist?

Couldn't we say, in fact, that stopping work does not signify a refusal to give capital the use of one's labour power, since it has already been given to capital once the contract for this particular commodity has been signed. Nor is it a refusal to allow capital the product of labour, since this is legally already capital's property, and, in any case, the worker does not know what to do with it. Rather, stopping work - the strike, as the classic form of workers' struggle - implies a refusal of the command of capital as the organiser of production: it is a way of saying "No" at a particular point in the process and a refusal of the concrete labour which is being' offered; it is a momentary.' blockage of the work-process and it appears as a recurring threat which derives its content from the process of value creation.

Negri ran with this, adding a positive project to it, self-valorisation (which is the working class valorising itself - the way our labor valorises capital). Harry Cleaver wrote a wonderful introduction to the English translation of Negri's Marx Beyond Marx :

In the language of traditional Marxism, revolution and the emergence of a new society has always been addressed as the question of the "transition": of the passage through socialism to communism. Negri argues forcibly that this is totally inconsistent with Marx's analysis in the Grundrisse. The only "transition" in that work is the reversal and overthrow of all of capital's determinations by the revolutionary subject. Because capital's central means of social domination is the imposition of work and surplus work, the subordination of necessary labor to surplus labor, Negri sees that one of the two most fundamental aspects of working class struggle is the struggle against work. Where profit is the measure of capitalist development and control, Negri argues that the refusal of work measures the transition out of capital. The refusal of work appears as a constituting praxis that produces a new mode of production, in which the capitalist relation is reversed and surplus labor is totally subordinated to working-class need.

The second, positive side to revolutionary struggle is the elaboration of the self-determined multiple projects of the working class in the time set free from work and in the transformation of work itself. This self-determined project Negri calls self-valorization. Communism is thus constituted both by the refusal of work that destroys capital's imposed unity and by the self-valorization that builds diversity and "rich, independent multilaterality."

Later, Cleaver explains Negri's argument as:

To sum up Negri's exposition of Marx's line of argument in the Grundrisse: capitalism is a social system with two subjectivities, in which one subject (capital) controls the other subject (working class) through the imposition of work and surplus work. The logic of this control is the dialectic which constrains human development within the limits of capitalist valorization. Therefore, the central struggle of the working class as independent subject is to break capitalist control through the refusal of work. The logic of this refusal is the logic of antagonistic separation and its realization undermines and destroys capital's dialectic. In the space gained by this destruction the revolutionary class builds its own independent projects - its own self-valorization. Revolution then is the simultaneous overthrow of capital and the constitution of a new society: Communism. The refusal of work becomes the planned abolition of work as the basis of the constitution of a new mode of producing a new multidimensional society.

To get more into self-valorisation and refusal of work, and deeper into Negri's arguments, Marx Beyond Marx and Books For Burning, I think, show Negri's theoretical development (especially where Books For Burning is a chronology of stuff from the 70s).

Refusal of work is basically organizing around withholding our work, and reducing the domination capital has on our lives. Of course strikes are a part of it, but instead of demanding "fair wages", we go for less time at work, or we do organized auto-reduction (fare strikes, expropriations on a mass scale) so that we have to work less as a group; we resist the attempts at Capital to incorporate more of life into the labor process. This puts us in direct conflict with union bureaucracies, who are always promising a supply of labor as long as the compensation is right.

Another venue for refusal of work, that Silvia Federici hints at in an interview is the struggle of a mass refusal of debt. A lot of the interview, before she gets into how "women" is a political category, and organizing as women, is about the occupations in the UC system, and goes into how student loans and debt in general are a means of control, by forcing work, and I think a mass refusal to pay student loans, or credit card debt, could be a means of refusal of work - in a way, when things are got on debt, we're promising future work for it.

As to how we approach reproductive labor, social division that is based on gender, and so on, there is obviously a lot of useful history in Caliban and the Witch by Federici. Also, Mariarosa Dalla Costa has a lot of useful commentary on capitalism and reproduction in, conveniently enough, Capitalism and Reproduction. I think this is particularly salient:

Reproduction is crushed by the general intensification of labour, by the overextension of the working day, amidst cuts in resources whereby the lack of waged work becomes a stress-laden work of looking for legal and/or illegal employment, added to the laborious work of reproduction. I cannot here give a more extensive description of the complex phenomena that have led to the drastic reduction in the birth rate in the advanced countries, particularly in Italy (fertility rate 1.26, population growth zero). It should also be remembered that women’s refusal to function as machines for reproducing labour-power - demanding instead to reproduce themselves and others as social individuals - has represented a major moment of women’s resistance and struggle.21 The contradiction in women’s condition – whereby women are forced to seek financial autonomy through waged work outside the home, yet on disadvantageous terms in comparison to men, while they also remain primarily responsible for labour-power’s production and reproduction – has exploded in all its unsustainability. Women in the advanced countries have fewer and fewer children. In general, humanity in the advanced countries is less and less desirous of reproducing itself.

Women’s great refusal in countries like Italy also demands an answer to the overall question we are discussing. It demands a new type of development in which human reproduction is not built on an unsustainable sacrifice by women, as part of a conception and structure of life which is nothing but labour time within an intolerable sexual hierarchy.

We can see both the decline in birthrates, the struggles to gain or maintain access to birth control and abortion, as struggles over reproductive labor. We can also see those struggles in the places that caring becomes waged work: nursing, day care, etc...and beyond a struggle over wages there, we can also see struggle to resist or destroy alienation of that caring labor from the community.

We obviously can't say, "no one eats, no one is taken care of when they're sick, we have no children at all, the ones we do have fend for themselves"...that would destroy us. But we can organize those things, take them seriously, such that the burden of them doesn't fall almost entirely on women, and not just in individual households or by care being purchased as a commodity.

I would be remiss here if I didn't recommend Selma James' Sex, Race, and Class, and Dalla Costa and James' The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community. Dalla Costa has an excellent history of feminism and operaismo, The Door to The Garden, and I think these two paragraphs are especially salient to this topic:

Because I have to say that any reproduction worth this name has its own secret. We expanded the concept of class to include women as producers and reproducers of labour force. We fundamentally looked at proletarian and working class women. Behind the closed doors of the home, women provided a labour that had no retribution nor labour time nor holidays, whilst actually almost occupying the entire time of their lives. This labour consisted of material and immaterial tasks and conditioned all their choices. We defined the family as the place of production in so far as it daily produced and reproduced the labour-force; until then the others had claimed and still claimed that the family was a place of mere consumption or production of use values or mere realm of reserve labour force. We said that external labour neither eliminated nor substantially modified domestic labour, it rather added a second master to the first represented by the very work of the husband. Therefore, emancipation through external work was never our objective. Nor was it equality with men. To whom should we have been equal, when we were burdened by a labour that man would not do? Moreover, at a time when the discourse on refusal of work was so strong, why should we try and fight for something men were attempting to refute?

In the postfordist society of those years, we had revealed that production roughly revolved around two poles: the factory and the house; and that woman, in so far as she produced, through her labour, the necessary commodity for capitalism, i.e. labour force itself, she had in her hands a fundamental lever of social power: she could refuse to produce. In this sense, she constitutes the central figure of ‘social subversion’ as we used to call it at the time, i.e. of a struggle that could lead to a radical transformation of society. I have to say that despite the deep transformations that later occurred in the mode of production, this cornerstone of feminine responsibility in the mode of production and the importance of the labour of reproduction remain unresolved problems, thus reproducing the persistency of a fundamental binarism.

Speaking of history, of course refusal of work is not just something in operaismo and autonomism, and Dauve has a good history of it in various struggles, starting in the 19th century, called To Work or Not To Work.

And finally, to my criticism of Third Wave feminism, and the idea that there as a whole has been a major advance in feminist discourse, and that maybe I'm talking about just academia, the Third Wave really revolves around, in my eyes, a rejection of both the essentialism of cultural feminism and the historical materialist view of gender as a conflict of radical feminists like Firestone, Millet, and Dworkin. Now, it's right to reject the essentialism and mysticism of the likes of Daly, but, a lot of Third Wave feminism revolves around "choice", in that everything is feminist if it is done by someone who proclaims themself a feminist. This has led to glorification of sex work rather than struggle against it; a breaking of any sort of solidarity; individualism; and so on. Obviously there was a generation that was coming to feminist consciousness in a time of backlash, and stuff like riotgrrl comes out of that, but there is a whole edifice - blogosphere, academia, hip "feminist" activities, petit bourgeois women dabbling in sex work for cred - that is founded on channeling the struggle of working class women toward entirely individual fulfillment of desires.

As to transphobia and racism in Second Wave feminism, that has supposedly been addressed by the Third Wave, the Third Wave is a) better at covering itself up, and b) universalizing the Second Wave that way is super problematic - a lot of important feminist women of color were part of the Second Wave (such as Audre Lorde) and there are very much anti-transphobic strains in the Second Wave. Obviously, a wholesale characterization of the Third Wave as all one thing is problematic, but it's been a recuperative project in that it's been intended to be a renunciation of the Second Wave, rather than a continuance over the many radical elements of the Second Wave.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Toward a Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy

One idea I have been focused on recently is "what would our praxis look like if we took the form of patriarchy prevalent under capitalism seriously: the division of labor and devaluation/invisibilization of reproductive labor; the excess of repression, domination, and exclusion targeted at women, queers, trans, and gender non-conforming people; and the division of labor into a productive and reproductive sphere. What would it look like if we made this a focus of our attack on Capital?" Without a doubt, the organizations of the pro-revolutionary milieu are male-dominated and ignore pro-revolutionary feminist struggle in favor of handwaving about anti-sexism, which does not bear out in organizational practice. It is past due that we develop a strategy that engages in an uncompromising attack on the oldest class division: gender.

We should not be lured into thinking that gender is the weak link for capital, even if it is a crucial weak link. Gender is absolutely required for capital to function, and not primarily, any longer, for the exclusion of one gender from waged labor. It is necessary to exclude portions of the population from waged work to suppress wages and this is also increasingly necessary due to the fundamental contradictions of capitalism, which has less and less need for labor. However, race serves this purpose, and we in no way wish to encourage anyone to work; any expansion of work is surely reactionary, given that it is one of the primary methods of discipline.

More importantly, however, capital requires labor power to be expended reproducing labor power; without this reproductive labor, there is no labor power to buy. Without labor power to buy, there is no surplus value, and capital cannot valorise itself. Far too much has focused on getting into the factory, rather than denying the factory the only commodity that creates surplus value. Since its beginnings, capital has relied on the preexisting class division based around gender to force women, the sex class, the reproductive labor class, to reproduce labor power. Through repeated processes of decomposition and recomposition of the proletariat, capital, and gender, we now see several ways in which struggle has changed:

1) More and more, the proletariat as a whole is being excluded from wage labor; if ever it was a revolutionary project to try to gain access to waged labor, now is not the time, as the purpose of work is increasingly solely a method of discipline, as capital accelerates its project of the destruction of the proletariat.

2) Similarly, while struggles for wage equality may be seen as a useful reform, there is no revolutionary potential, and power must be built on the social terrain, as workplaces are increasingly fragmented and hold an ever decreasing portion of the proletariat. Workplace organizing is not pointless, but it is increasingly insufficient. The old syndicalist project of an army of productive labor formerly could only lead to a change in management; now it cannot do even that.

3) In the social factory, the refusal to work is the prime revolutionary strategy of productive labor, and it must become the prime revolutionary strategy of reproductive labor, and we must organize to do so.

4) Pro-revolutionary organizations that structure their response to patriarchy as internal "anti-sexism" or simply casual support of liberal feminist struggles do not truly have a legitimate pro-revolutionary perspective. The desired destruction of gender (as in the division of labor and social roles) and the end of the separation of the factory and the home are, like the abolition of the white race, a litmus test for a pro-revolutionary standpoint. Any discussion of self-managed factories or equalizing the position of women vis-à-vis waged labor is inherently a non-revolutionary position. The goal is to not get into the factory and take it over, but to destroy the factory.

5) We must return to a historical materialist standpoint for our understanding of gender; the work of Firestone, Millet, and Dworkin, while by no means an endpoint, are a starting point. We must understand the Third Wave as recuperative project that, in its faux inclusion, has tried to destroy the revolutionary character of feminist movement. We must understand gender as the first class division, and understand that there can be no peace as long as gender exists.

6) What we know as homo and transphobia, now that it is no longer necessary for capital to maximize the number of the next generation of the proletariat, are a policing mechanism to insure the maintenance of the gendered division. Queerness, no matter how conventional or radical it looks, is both the contradictions of gender writ large and a reaction to it. To reference Silvia Federici, "homosexuality is workers' control of production, not the end of work"*. The end goal must be to destroy gender and sexual orientation, even if our queerness can provide ground to struggle from.

7) If we cannot get existing pro-revolutionary organizations to adopt an actual pro-revolutionary issue on the gender question, we should leave them. If we cannot organize in a truly pro-revolutionary manner in the so-called pro-revolutionary milieu, we should leave it. Organizations are means, not ends, and it is very likely that their current form is generated by their patriarchal content. And milieus are glorified scenes. Neither are indispensable for struggle, as new, useful forms will be generated through struggle.