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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Socialist feminism versus anarchism (2011)

From Freedom Socialist What follows are excerpts from two recent talks given by Freedom Socialist Managing Editor Andrea Bauer, based in part on an earlier speech by Guerry Hoddersen, International Secretary for the U.S. Freedom Socialist Party.
Readers can send feedback to the author at FSnews@mindspring.com.
This is a time of furious rebellion — finally! And it is a time of furious thinking about rebellion — what we want and how we get there.
Anarchists and socialists both want to see the blood-soaked system we live under go to a well-deserved grave. Where we differ is in our conceptions about how to bring it about — a question that is urgent once again.

The evolution of two trends.
Socialists believe that the system we live under now, capitalism, is one of social production by workers for the private profit of a tiny minority. This makes capitalism the enemy of working people, and it means that the fundamental fight is one to replace the profit system with a system of shared wealth. It also means that workers make up the class that has the power, the knowledge, and the stake in aligning with other oppressed groups to lead that fight.
Anarchists typically believe that the state is the primary enemy of the working majority, and that the fundamental fight is against oppressive authority. They disagree about whether or not capitalism is also the enemy of working people and about which groups have the power to initiate revolutionary change.
Both socialism and anarchism originated around the early 1800s in response to the terrible conditions of workers, small craftspeople, and peasants with the rise of capitalism, which threw people off the land and forced them into the cities to work brutal hours in health-destroying factories. In the second half of the 1800s, socialist and anarchist ideas began to take more definite shape and to diverge from one another.
In this period, Frederick Engels developed an analysis of how the state came into being. As the exchange of goods for profit grew slowly over time, Engels explained, it was necessary to protect private wealth by force.
But Michael Bakunin, often considered the founder of anarchism, saw the exact opposite relationship. He believed that the state actually created capital, making the state the main evil.
The Paris Commune of 1871 threw these differences into sharp relief. The 10-week Commune was the first time in history that workers set up their own government. It expropriated the clergy, abolished the police, armed the people, made public offices elective, and limited the salaries of public officials to workers’ wages.
Working-class champions of the time supported the Commune passionately and tried to draw lessons from its tragic and bloody defeat. The Communards thought they could make Paris an island of working-class emancipation within the country. Marxists and anarchists both thought that the Communards must try to spread their insurrection throughout France. But Karl Marx and Engels argued as well that the Commune needed to develop a strong workers’ state for the purpose of self-defense, while Bakunin rejected this.
Marx and Engels did believe, however, just as Marxists do today, that the end goal is a society that is stateless as well as classless. They saw a workers’ state as a temporary measure on this road.
A few years after the Commune was defeated, Engels wrote this:
“The anarchists put the thing upside down. They declare that the proletarian revolution must begin by doing away with the political organisation of the state. But … to destroy it at such a moment would be to destroy the only organism by means of which the victorious proletariat can assert its newly-conquered power, hold down its capitalist adversaries and carry out [the necessary] economic revolution of society.”
Socialists see a mass party as key to carrying through the revolution and organizing the defense of the workers’ state it produces. Anarchists, on the other hand, argue that revolution led by a party must inevitably come to a bad end, pointing to the monstrous counterrevolutionary rise of Stalinism as evidence. Socialists, though, especially Trotskyists, have analyzed Stalinism as the result of particular circumstances after the revolution in Russia, which was poor, devastated by war, and isolated.
A party is a leadership body. And leadership is nothing more or less than conscious thinking about history, about theory and program, about class forces, about what next, and about how to develop the leadership of others. Transparent, collaborative, and accountable leadership doesn’t squash democracy, it is essential to making democracy flourish.
It’s a class thing. Whose interest is leadership serving? When you organize with others and take a resolution to your union meeting to support another union’s strike, that’s leadership. When you raise the issues of sexism, racism, national oppression, or heterosexism or transphobia at an Occupy Wall Street assembly, that’s leadership.
A party does these types of things on a collective basis, with elected leadership. Its program and organization brings together all the groups of people within the working class who are pitted against each other now, and this working-class unity in action ultimately makes it possible to seize state power.
Rocking the revolution with feminism.
One of the biggest things needed to strengthen the radical movement, besides a clear working-class perspective, is feminism.
Socialist feminism is dialectical. It recognizes that women’s liberation can only be achieved under a completely different type of system than the profit system, because capitalism depends on the unpaid labor of women in the home — still! — and the unequally underpaid labor of women on the job. It also depends on the divisions within the working class brought about by sexism, heterosexism, racism, and nationalism.
At the same time, socialist feminism recognizes that the movement to overturn capitalism needs women’s leadership to succeed.
Women, like people of color, queers and trans people, immigrants, young people, and the disabled, are those who have the most to gain and the least to lose in the overthrow of this crisis-ridden system, which is working creakily to support the preposterous wealth of the 1 percent at the expense of the 99 percent. Women’s instincts are militant, our grievances profound, and our commitment unmatched — as is seen in current upsurges in the labor movement.
This is not to disrespect the role of male workers and activists and feminists who are also moving forward. But it is to point out that those who are specially oppressed play a special role in bringing about working-class unity. Fighting racism and sexism does not divide our movements; racism and sexism do! Combating these “isms” gives the working class a fighting chance.
Socialists and anarchists have a lot of history of solidarity despite our differences. In these times full of peril and opportunity, with our class rising and the agents of the state coming after anti-war and socialist activists and demonstrators of all types, we need to work together.
Trotskyists believe the ideal vehicle for this cooperation is the united front, in which we all keep our own political identities and voices but act jointly for the benefit of our class. Let’s set an example for everyone else trying to make change!

Further reading from a different perspective:  Socialism, Anarchism And Feminism (1977)

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