Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Emma Goldman, Feminism, and Anarchism

In Kristin's comment to my post of Oct. 19, Different Drummers? But see, Sousa's just noise to some of us, she asks

What is it that has alienated anarchism and feminism, when there are so many commonalities? The anarchist Emma Goldman springs to mind - we have her to thank for the availability of birth control, which has been central to our ability to do critical work, but I don't think most feminists know about her. And then there's Lucy Parsons, an anarchist and woman of color who is even less well known.

Ariel, in her comment, replies to Kristin
I am not sure what has alienated feminism and anarchism because I see both as deeply interconnected struggles against hierarchy, patriarchy, and state violence. I've certainly encountered male anarchists who are dismissive of feminism as divisive and a special interest, in the style of the "it's all about class struggle" old left style and until I met some really awesome anarchists of all races and genders, I thought anarchism was a young white boy's club--and it can be at times. Fortunately, though, I feel like those of us dedicated to collective liberation are finding one another and doing organizing together.
I'd like to offer a somewhat roundabout reply to the question. Back in the days of Second Wave US feminism, feminisms were widely classified as coming in three flavors: socialist, liberal, and cultural-- which could probably be roughly translated respectively as radical, conservative (back then, though the politics of 1970s "liberal feminism" would now be characterized as "moderate"), and essentialist). (Of course this left out a lot of differences among feminists that didn't fit comfortably into these classifications: it took white feminists a long time to grok intersectionality.) One of the chief preoccupations of socialist-- also known as "materialist"-- feminists was the "unhappy marriage of feminism and Marxism." The reason for this was that the political left back in the '60s and '70s considered race and gender issues to be mere artifacts of the capitalist system and thus not worthy of special attention. If we'd just subordinate our concerns for these to overthrowing capitalism, was the left's attitude, all these issues would simply melt away. In other words, Second Wave feminists felt burned by the left. (Many Second Wave feminists started out in leftist activism, particular civil rights and anti-war activism and became feminists because they got fed up with their second-class status.) The academic journal Feminist Studies (especially its earliest issues, dating from the '70s), founded by socialist feminists, was exemplary of feminists working hard to analyze and salvage that "marriage."

A few titles on socialist/materialist feminism I can suggest off the top of my head: Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, ed. Lydia Sargent (1981); Feminism and Materialism: Women and Modes of Production, ed. Annette Kuhn and AnnMarie Wolpe (1978); Capitalist Patriarchy and the Case for Socialist Feminism, ed. Zilla R. Eisenstein (1979).

Oh, and Joanna Russ, who in the Second Wave was classified as a socialist feminist, has a chapter on many feminists' hostility to Marxism in What Are We Fighting For?

Needless to say, because I wrote Alanya to Alanya in 1984, when feminist issues were still considered special pleading (like all so-called "identity issues") in many mixed activist groups, some of this friction cropped up in the book (via Martha's relationship with Walt). A friend who read the ms in Dec 1984 (and later become one of the Marq'ssan Cycle's greatest fans) chided me for that depiction as unnecessarily disloyal (airing dirty laundry in public). But you know, I was still coping with those attitudes even as late as 1987 when I and another woman and a man organized an art workers collective for producing a four-day mixed-media event in Seattle focused on El Salvador. There was a huge amount of "shit work" to be performed, and the guys in the group actually attempted to relegate all the many details and tasks to the women in the group-- while reserving for themselves all the big decisions. But we women were old hands at mixed group politics; to the guys' shock, we flatly stated that decisions would be made by consensus of the people who were actually doing the work. A couple of years later I wrote up an analysis of this experience for a special issue of a San Diego activist group's newsletter aimed at raising the consciousness of the men in the group. I think the gender politics of mixed-sex activist groups started changing in the late 80s & that this had to do not only with the long-term effects of Second Wave feminism but also with the character of Latin American solidarity work (but this is my personal take and could be mistaken).

A related issue might be why there has traditionally been hostility between Marxists and anarchists. Staughton Lynd talks about this in Wobblies & Zapatistas, which I bought after our panel, at PM Press's table, and am now reading. Lynd himself advocates the "Haymarket Synthesis":
What is Marxism? It is an effort to understand the structure of the society in which we live so as to make informed predictions and to act with greater effect. What is anarchism? It is the attempt to imagine a better society and insofar as possible to "prefigure," to anticipate that society by beginning to live it out, on the ground, here and now.

Isn't it perfectly obvious that these two orientations are both needed, that they are like having two hands to accomplish the needed task of transformation?

At any rate it is clear that during the past century and a half neither Marxism or anarchism has been able to carry out the transformative task alone. Marxism has produced a series of fearsome dictatorships. Anarchism has offered a number of glorious anticipations, all of them short-lived and many of them drowned in blood.

Before turning to North America [from Europe], with its quite different experience, I wish to note that in their best moments Marxists have acknowledged their comradeship with anarchists. Marx spent a great deal of energy denouncing efforts to imagine the future, but when his anarchist opponents in Paris created the Paris Commune he defended them and even declared that they had discovered the form of the future Communist state. Lenin, hiding out in Finland on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution, described in State and Revolution a state that "every cook" would be capable of governing, anticipated in the Russian soviets.

The term "Haymarket Synthesis" pays tribute to the Chicago socialists of the 1870s (among whom numbered Lucy Parsons, whom Kristin mentioned in her comment), who were militant socialists who began calling themselves anarchists.

In the section immediately before his discussion of "the Haymarket Synthesis," Lynd talks about how the Zapatistas started out as traditional Marxist guerrillas advocating violent revolution-- only to embrace the political philosophy of the Indians of Chiapas (which is both anarchist and feminist).

As far as feminists and Emma Goldman goes, some of that may have to do with Goldman's essay "The Tragedy of Women's Emancipation," which, as Alice Wexler notes,
criticized the American feminist movement for focusing too narrowly on the "external tyrants" while neglecting the power of the "internal tyrannies" which "seem to get along as beautifully in the hands and hearts of the most active exponents of women's emancipation, as in the heads and hearts of our grandmothers." Goldman wrote that the narrowness of the modern ideal of emancipation induced women "to make a dignified, proper appearance, while the inner life is growing empty and dead." It had made of her "a compulsory vestal," fearful of love and sexual intimacy. "The tragedy of the self-supporting or economically free woman does not lie in too many, but in too few experiences." Only by "emancipating herself from emancipation," that is, by beginning with her 'inner regeneration," and cutting loose "from the weight of prejudices, traditions and customs" that stifled her sexual and emotional life, would she really liberate herself from the chains of the past.

This quote comes from Wexler's afterword to the text of Goldman's "On Mary Wollstonecraft." ("Emma Goldman on Mary Wollstonecraft," Feminist Studies 7,1 Spring 1981.) Goldman took Wollstonecraft as one of her personal heroes (much as I've taken Goldman as one of mine); Wexler characterizes Goldman's view of Wollstonecraft as romantic, which I think is fair. My sense is that Goldman had trouble with the feminists of her day for the same reason that First Wave feminists had trouble with Wollstonecraft: both Goldman and Wollstonecraft refused middle-class notions of morality, both engaged in "free love" (though Wollstonecraft changed her attitudes about this not long before her untimely death). Both were passionate, even charismatic personalities.As Wexler says,
If Goldman had romanticized Wollstonecraft, she nevertheless grasped the radicalism of Wollstonecraft's project, both in life and in thought....Reacting against the conservatism of the middle-class American suffrage movement in the years before World War I, Goldman saw Wollstonecraft as a great historical heroine whose vision was far more radical than that of the suffragists....Goldman's feminism was one aspect of a total ideology of anarchist revolution. The liberation of women involved the transformation of all aspects of society.
Interestingly, this sort of turns the Old Left's view of feminism on its head.

It was only in the '70s that (at least some feminists) rediscovered Emma Goldman as one of their own. (Surely her most famous bon mot these days must be "If I can't dance, I don't want your revolution." Though I'm not sure that knowledge of Goldman goes much farther than that.) Anyway, I think that if more current-day feminists were actually to sit down and read some of Goldman's writings they'd find them both congenial and inspiring.


Ide Cyan said...

Another title: Christine Delphy's _Close to Home: A Materialist Analysis of Women's Oppression_ (& also her more recently published _L'Ennemi Principal_ in two volumes and _Classer, dominer: qui sont les autres?_).

Josh said...

Odd that the subject of the previous entry didn't arise in this one: whenever I've seen people talking about anarchist novelists, she's come up.

Timmi Duchamp said...

Well, it did. But the title of the panel was "Beyond Le Guin's Dispossessed-- I assume because that's the sf novel depicting an anarchist society that most sf readers know and talk about when the subject comes up.

robert wood said...

I would recommend Federici's Caliban and the Witch highly (although I do have some issues with her readings of Foucault and Marx.)
As to changing attitudes, one of the things that really strikes me is the difference in the attitude of the people involved with the Weather Underground. I've read essays and seen interviews with Rudd and Ayers and they strike me as thoughtful, interesting people who I would enjoy working with politically, while the organization's negotiation with the politics of gender and sexuality were fairly awful at the time of the height of the organization.

Unknown said...

Wow, thank you for such a thorough answer to my question. My experience with feminism has been partial and disconnected, though I believe I'm not alone in that. I took my first feminist theory course in the early 1990s, in what I suppose is the "third wave." My second course came in the mid-1990s and focused a lot on women's experiences internationally. Other than that, my experience of feminism comes from the novels, short stories, and poems that I have read. And from Ariel Gore, onetime welfare mom, author of Hip Mama Survival Guide, and onetime editor of Hip Mama magazine. And the Moms Rising movement. And from people who are talking about trans folks and trans feminism. Out of all these bits and pieces, I've been trying to put together a coherent understanding of "the feminist movement," and the project seems to me like going to Babylon and asking how to speak the language.

As for the marxism/anarchism question, I had to spend an hour asking G. questions about marxism before I could get my head around that. I'll offer as my opinion an analogy taken from my day-to-day lived experience of G. and me giving the kids peanut-butter-and-jelly hugs. (We are usually the bread and they are usually the PB&J).

Imagine marxism as the peanut butter, vanguardism as the trans fats, and anarchism as the jelly. I don't know what the bread would be. So, you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and it will be tasty and filling. But if you don't do something about those trans fats, you're going to have a heart attack down the road. And meanwhile, the jelly is oozing out and making a big mess. (And I can only hope that the jelly is not made with high fructose corn syrup and pesticides.)