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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Articulating a Contemporary Anarcha-Feminism (2009)


from: http://anarchism.umwblogs.org/2009/04/17/articulating-a-contemporary-anarcha-feminism/

by Deric Shannon


“…even a lot of folks in the Black Liberation struggle or the Anarchist People of Color folks who I work with…When we begin to interact with other movements, we begin to learn, as we always hope that people will learn from ours.” –Ashanti Alston (Compassionate Living Project 2007)

In this excerpt from a presentation given at the United Poultry Concerns 7th annual conference, former Black Panther and anarchist, Ashanti Alston, highlights the need for building bridges between radical egalitarian movements to not only form alliances, but to learn from one another as well. Indeed, throughout the history of feminism, it has benefited from its engagement with other theoretical traditions (e.g. Marxism, post-structuralism, radical environmentalism, critical race theory, post-colonial theory, queer theory etc.) and those traditions have likewise benefited from their engagement with feminism. Further, these engagements have provided a basis for alliance politics between disparate groups of radicals, often times working towards similar ends.
While feminists have engaged broadly with the aforementioned perspectives, often times, particularly in academic feminist writing, anarchism is left out of the discourse altogether (for some notable exceptions, see Ackelsberg 2005, Kornegger 1979, Ehrlich 1979 and 1981, Leeder 1996). Articles articulating or utilizing a distinctly anarcha-feminist perspective are rarely found in academic journals. This is understandable, as Marxism has generally been the theoretical perspective embraced by radicals in the streets. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union and the increasingly dismantled “socialism” of China, Cuba, and a host of other Marxist attempts at moving beyond capitalism, there has been a concomitant rise in interest in anarchism as a theoretical perspective and a revitalization of the anarchist milieu in general.
Anarchist scholar, David Graeber (2002: 61-62), for example, writes “that most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism”. Indeed, scholars such as Ferrell (2001), Day (2005), Best and Nocella (2006), Graeber (2008), and Gordon (2008) have noted anarchist practice in a variety of social movement contexts over several years. Decentralized networks functioning on anarchist principles such as Food Not Bombs, IndyMedia, Reclaim the Streets, and Critical Mass are global in scope. Likewise, anarchists took organizational and confrontational roles in the Battle of Seattle and continue to do so at G8 Summits, political meetings for “free trade” zones, and the gatherings of our banking, corporate, and political masters such as the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Clearly, feminism could benefit in theory and practice from an engagement with anarchism, as it is a dynamic center in contemporary radical praxis.
This article, then, attempts a re-engagement between anarchism and feminism by beginning to articulate a contemporary anarcha-feminism. In the following pages, I argue that anarcha-feminism, alongside general developments in theory, but more specifically developments related to feminist and anarchist theory, is beginning to advance into a new and contemporary theoretical framework beyond its origins in anarcha-feminisms of times past. To construct this argument, I begin with a look at anarcha-feminism historically, noting its beginnings as a part of the socialist movement generally, and the anarchist movement more specifically. Secondly, I highlight some critical developments related to feminism and anarchism that have contributed to this new articulation of anarcha-feminism. Thirdly, I make some tentative suggestions about how those theories could help develop a newly articulated anarcha-feminism. Finally, I look at some of the possible pitfalls of this new theoretical construction.

Anarcha-feminisms of Times Past

Commenting on AK Press’s recent publication of a collection of anarcha-feminist works (Dark Star Collective 2002), one reviewer noted that “(w)hether anarcha-feminism is really Radical Feminism, or Situationism with a feminist bent, or a post-Leftist post-feminism, one never seems to know” (Sonja 2003). Indeed, combing through anarcha-feminist work, one would be hard-pressed to fit it within a single theoretical mold. The same, however, could certainly be argued about anarchism in general, as it is typically seen as a diverse milieu rather than a unified movement. Anarcha-feminism, then, like both anarchism and feminism, has borrowed from a multitude of perspectives. Nevertheless, one can follow this tradition historically and note some general tendencies.
Dunbar-Ortiz (2002: 9) writes that “(o)ur task as anarcha-feminists can be nothing less than changing the world and to do that we need to consult our heroic predecessors”. It is no surprise, then, that anarcha-feminists typically locate their beginning in the work of women such as Emma Goldman, Lucy Parsons, and Voltairine de Cleyre, all active women and theorists in the turn-of-the-19th-century anarchist movement. Many early anarchists, however, refused to refer to themselves as “feminists”, as they viewed feminism as a bourgeois women’s movement unconcerned with the class struggle (for an interesting discussion of this in the context of early 1900s Spanish anarcho-syndicalism, see Ackelsberg 2005: 118-119 and 123-124). Nevertheless, as feminism developed to include the concerns of working class women, contemporary anarcha-feminists argue that despite their ambivalence about the term “feminism”, these early anarchist women were actually more consistent feminists than many of those that actively took up the label in that time period.
This locates the beginnings of anarcha-feminism narrowly within the anarchist movement, but more broadly within the socialist movement. Anarchism, far from being an ideology based on chaos, anti-organizationalism, or violence (as its detractors would have us believe), actually sprang up as part and parcel of the socialist movement. Chomsky (2005), for example, argues that anarchism can be placed under the label “libertarian socialism” along with various left-wing Marxisms. These radical theories focus on a consistency of means and ends, a resistance to vanguardist (Leninist) models for bringing about a revolutionary society, and a commitment to abolishing, rather than capturing, the state–arguing for the state’s replacement with horizontally organized trade unions, collectives, neighborhood associations, etc.
However, early on within the anarchist movement, anarcha-feminists argued against the class reductionism within the greater milieu. That is, while anarchists were rhetorically opposed to all forms of hierarchy (including men’s systematic domination of women), many saw the women’s struggle as a peripheral issue, much like early Marxist formulations. Early anarcha-feminists, then, began writing about issues such as prostitution and sex traficking (Goldman 2001), forced sterilizations (Kropotkin 2001), and marriage (de Cleyre 2004 and 2001) to widen the anarchist critique of hierarchy to give critical concern to women’s issues as well, in their own right. It is important to note, however, that, as mentioned before, many of these advocates for women’s emancipation would not have taken on the label of feminist because they saw their “feminist” contemporaries as being in alliance “with all the forces that have been the most determined enemies of the working people, of the poor and disinherited”–that is, they saw the early feminist movement as a bourgeois women’s movement (Parker 2001: 125).
Perhaps the most-cited and obvious example of classical anarchism in action was during the Spanish Civil War, and this example gives us a glimpse into some of the struggles of early anarcha-feminists as well as how they formulated their ideas on “the woman question” in relation to the class-struggle. During this time period, “approximately a million people were members of the Anarchosyndicalist CNT (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo, or National Confederation of Labor)–an immense following if one bears in mind that the Spanish population numbered only twenty-four million” (Bookchin 1977: 1). As well, anarchist women “mobilized over 20,000 women and developed an extensive network of activities designed to empower individual women while building a sense of community” (Ackelsberg 2005: 21). This focus on revolutionary Spain is not to diminish the contributions of anarchists in other revolutionary contexts (anarchists, for example, had a strong presence in the Russian Revolution, particularly the Makhnovists in the Ukraine). However, the Spanish Civil War had a revolutionary contingent that was primarily anarchist in character and that context provides a good glimpse of what classical anarcha-feminism might have looked like.
Ackelsberg (2005) does an excellent job of cataloguing some of the tensions experienced by anarchist women in the Spanish Civil War, as well as drawing out lessons from their experiences for contemporary feminists. She notes that the separate organization of Spanish anarchist women, the Mujeres Libres (Free Women), was “dedicated to the liberation of women from their ‘triple enslavement to ignorance, as women, and as producers’” (Ackelsberg 2005: 21). She also writes that the Mujeres Libres largely adopted a theory of anarchism that “insisted that power has its own logic and will not be abolished through attention to economic relations alone” (Ackelsberg 2005: 37). Although anarchist theory was rhetorically opposed to all forms of domination, again, it is important to note that in that time period (and, unfortunately, though certainly to a lesser degree, contemporarily as well–hence the need for a distinctly feminist anarchism) “many anarchists treated the issue of women’s subordination as, at best, secondary to the emancipation of workers, a problem that would be resolved ‘on the morrow of the revolution’” (Ackelsberg 2005: 38).
To see to the specific needs of women, the Mujeres Libres focused on what they called capacitación, a word whose meaning combines “consciousness-raising and empowerment (in the sense of developing and feeling confident in one’s own abilities)” (Ackelsberg 2005:147). They did this through the establishment of “schools, institutes, conferences, special courses, etc., designed to empower women and emancipate them” (Ackelsberg 2005:147). As well, through the creation of the Mujeres Libres, anarchist women in Spain saw the need for, and organized, a separate women’s organization for revolutionary activity, as, according to anarchist principles, the emancipation of women would be the task of women, just as the emancipation of workers must be the role of the working class and not a vanguard party or state.
Thus, in its classical phase, anarcha-feminism argued for a view of domination and revolution that avoided class reductionism. They saw a need for a separate revolutionary organization for women to see to their specific needs. They used education as methods of consciousness-raising and empowerment towards this end. From the socialist movement, they argued for a future egalitarian society and from anarchism, they argued for a consistency of means and ends, recognizing that one cannot create a non-hierarchical society through inherently hierarchical structures.
After the close of the Spanish Civil War, anarchism as a political milieu was largely dormant until the birth of the New Left and the rise of a multitude of social movements centered around cultural concerns, identity, and movement organizations that targeted civil society as well as the state (in short, what European scholars have called “New Social Movements”). This led to a re-formulation of anarchist politics in general and to a newly articulated theoretical perspective within feminism called anarcha-feminism. Following the conventions of feminist histories, this period might be called anarcha-feminism’s “Second Wave”.
Most anarcha-feminists argued that this perspective was largely influenced by radical feminism, although distinct from it as “some radical feminists who are not anarchists…believe that power in the hands of women could possibly lead to a non-coercive society” (Ehrlich 1979: 264). Rather, at the root of anarcha-feminism was an opposition to power itself, rather than those who wield it (more on this later). This was a rather comfortable fit, as radical feminists also tended towards decentralized networks of small collectives while socialist feminists were often seen by anarcha-feminists as arguing for “a mass movement with a leadership elite” (Ehrlich 1979: 264). This led early anarcha-feminists to note that “(t)he radical feminist perspective is almost pure anarchism” (Kornegger 1979: 240).
Since the New Left was heavily influenced by the various student movements of the 1960s and this wave of anarcha-feminism arose in tandem with the New Left, the May student and worker uprisings in Paris 1968 was a significant factor in its theoretical development, particularly the work of the French Situationist International (see especially Ehrlich 1979). The Situationists argued that capitalism had made commodity relations of all social relations. Thus, not only are workers alienated from their labor, but this state of affairs has “inevitably alienated people from their lives, not just from their labor; to consume social relationships makes one a passive spectator in one’s life” (Ehrlich 1979: 271). Accordingly, “the stage is set, the action unfolds, we applaud when we think we are happy, we yawn when we think we are bored, but we cannot leave the show, because there is no world outside of the theater for us to go” (Ehrlich 1979: 271).
The Situationists called this relationship between people and their social worlds the spectacle (Debord 1977). Society, to the Situationists was a spectacle and radicals needed to create situations outside of this spectacle “in which each of us directly participates as subject, not as object” (Ehrlich 1979: 271). Thus, anarcha-feminists of this time period called for what the Situationists termed “the reinvention of daily life”. That is, they recognized that “doing politics” was not only organizing a movement, but also living lives that recreate culture–and move it away from the spectacle to something entirely new. The way one lived one’s life was political. Indeed, the personal is political.
The anarcha-feminists of this time period, then, were heavily influenced by radical feminism and Situationism. They argued, like their forebears, for decentralized and non-hierarchical methods to bring about a non-hierarchical future. They refused, like their predecessors, to believe that women’s emancipation was secondary to the liberation of the working class. They argued for a consistency of means and ends. Further, under the influence of the Situationist International, they called for a revolution of everyday life, changing not only the structures that we live under, but also the culture that stifles direct experience. However, in order to articulate a contemporary anarcha-feminism, excavations of tendencies within contemporary anarchism and feminism must be undertaken in order to see where anarcha-feminism is now situated.

Excavating Contemporary Engagements: Feminism and Anarchism

In this next section, I mine through feminism’s engagement with other (potentially) liberatory perspectives in order to excavate for ideas that have fueled both feminist and anarchist theory. This is NOT intended as a general literature review, nor is it an excavation of all (or even most) of the contributions these perspectives have made to the feminist or anarchist projects. Such an excavation, while certainly beneficial, is beyond the scope of a single paper, let alone a section of one such paper. Thus, what follows is a brief mining of what I have found that these theoretical perspectives have had to offer feminism and anarchism respectively before taking on the task of constructing and articulating what a contemporary anarcha-feminism might look like.
In the last few decades, feminism has continued to benefit from its engagement with other theoretical perspectives. Indeed, as a result of critical feminist assessments of post-structuralism, post-colonial theory, critical race theory, and queer theory, feminism has grown in theoretical scope, as well as political practice. Below I briefly outline some particularly fruitful challenges by some of these perspectives that relate directly to the creation of a contemporary anarcha-feminism.
Post-structuralists have added their piece to the radical project (though, not without its detractors) especially in their criticisms of classical formulations of power and their critiques of essentialism (more on this when I discuss queer theory). Post-structuralists have challenged the assumption that power is located in particular institutions (such as the state and capitalism), arguing, rather, that power is diffuse and dispersed throughout social life (see especially, Foucault 1980). This has led to a general reformulation of the radical project to note that “power isn’t localized in the State apparatus and that nothing in society will be changed if the mechanisms of power that function outside, below and alongside the State apparatuses, on a much more minute and everyday level, are not also changed” (Foucault 1980: 60). Further, these developments in theory also demonstrated the importance of discourse and the recognition of its materiality (e.g. Hennessy 1993). Any revolutionary attempt, then, that aims to topple structures such as the state and capitalism will be for nothing unless our everyday lives are also changed (note the similarity between this argument and that of the Situationist International).
Post-colonial theory has challenged the basis of western, Eurocentric biases, arguing for a decentering of the “West” in our analyses, theory, and practice. Indeed, even formulations such as the “West” and “East” (or “Occident” and “Orient”) have come to be identified as essentialist discourses that give hierarchical value to western epistemologies, notions of “progress”, and what constitutes political structures like “the state” (see especially Said 1979). This makes problematic the process of western observers analyzing developments in the “East” unless it is being done from the standpoint (Harding 2004; Collins 2000; Naples 2003) of those under scrutiny. As Said (1979) argued, the position of western observers textures their ideas about “the Orient” in often paternalistic and dominating ways.
Critical race theory added to these powerful critiques the recognition that “white” supremacy was also an institution with its own logics that must be opposed if we are to build a consistent radicalism. Thus, theorists such as hooks (1981; 2000), Davis (1983), and Collins (2005) argued for an intersectional approach to studying social inequality and this call was met by many feminists. This problematized the formulation of “Dual Systems Theory”, which postulated theorizing patriarchy and capitalism as the two dominant, intersecting systems that we live under. In order to have a complete analysis, it came to be recognized that the inequality of people of color also had to be accounted for–and not subordinated to the emancipation of the working class or women.
Utilizing the post-structuralist critique of essentialism, queer theory asked feminists to begin thinking about what really constitutes “womanhood”, “manhood”, and “sexuality” (see, for some examples, Jagose 1996; Sullivan 2003; Butler 1999). That is, if there is no essential “woman”, then why were the experiences of trans women left out of much of feminist discourse? If we recognize the fluidity of identity, how can we assume that categories like “gay”, “lesbian”, or “bisexual” are stable or, in some cases, even useful? Queer theory forced us to re-evaluate our assumptions about gender and sexuality, however socially constructed, and made us realize that the world is often ambiguous rather than binary. This opened up feminism to queer-identified people and those that transgress our normative performances of gender.
Anarchism, likewise, has benefited from its engagement with these theoretical perspectives. Anarchists have began constructing a post-structuralist anarchism (May 1994; Day 2005) or, as some have called it, “post-anarchism” (Newman 2001). Noting the globalizing and monolithic tendencies in Gramscian notions of “hegemony”, for example, Day (2005) argues that we should use the anarchist concept of affinity to avoid the totalizing grand discourses associated with hegemony. May (1994) argues that post-structuralism has had anarchist impulses from the beginning and argues for modifying classical anarchist theory, tempering it with insights gained from post-structuralist theory. These projects have explained the logic of the anarchist affinity group (small, decentralized groups that organize around specific projects) and given us tools for radical movement in a post-structuralist world.
Recognizing the western bias of much classical anarchist work, recent anarchist work, utilizing post-colonial critiques, have focused on anti-authoritarian politics in non-western contexts. For example, Bowen Raddeker (2001) focuses on Japanese anarcha-feminism in prewar Japan. Gordon (2008: 139-162) notes anarchist solidarity with the plight of Palestinian people, critically assessing homegrown anti-authoritarian tendencies in that context as well as the successes and failures of anarchist solidarity activists from other geographical regions. Anarchists have noted anti-authoritarianism in Daoist philosophy (Kemerrer forthcoming) and have noted anarchists such as the Indian anarchist, Har Dayal, who have combined elements of Buddhism with anti-authoritarian politics.
Likewise, anarchists who have been influenced by critical race theory (especially “Race Traitor” politics) have begun the task of re-engaging anarchism from a distinctly anti-racist perspective. Groups such as Anti-Racist Action and Antifa are international in scope and work directly to stop openly “white” supremacist and fascist groups from organizing, ranging in tactics from counter-demonstrations to pitched battles in the streets with contemporary fascists and neo-nazis (for an interesting and informal overview of the British anti-fascist movement, see Bullstreet 2001). Anarchist collectives like Bring the Ruckus (see http://www.bringtheruckus.org/?q=about for more information) have instituted cop watch programs and began developing networks for anarchist anti-racists. In the midst of this rise in anti-racist practice, some anarchists have begun distinctly anarchist engagements with critical race theory (see e.g. RACE 2008). Likewise, APOC (Anarchist people of Color) collectives have begun developing networks, challenging the assumption of the “white”-ness of the anarchist milieu.
Anarchist engagements with queer theory are, in many cases, still being formulated. But workshops on anarchism and queer theory are staples of anti-authoritarian gatherings (for example, the National Conference of Organized Resistance in Washington, D.C. in 2008 featured seven panels of critical concern for queer politics). Further, many anarchist networks and collectives are beginning to form a distinctly queer anarchism. In practice, this has meant multi-issue approaches to political activism, such as described by Gordon (2008: 145-146). Anarchists have been organizational spines as well for festivals like Queeruption, a free, do-it-yourself radical queer gathering that has been hosted in as diverse places as Rome, Tel-Aviv, and New York City.
Finally, anarchists have engaged broadly with the radical earth and animal liberation movements (for two excellent collections, see Best and Nocella 2004 and 2006). This has led to an equally fruitful engagement with various eco-feminisms and opened up what domination means in the context of the suffering of non-human animals and the planet we all share together. Radical environmental and animal liberation groups such as the ELF (Earth Liberation Front) and the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) have frequently taken up the mantle of anarchism, arguing that domination cannot be reduced to human suffering and calling into question the humanist assumptions of the radical political project.
Indeed, these theoretical engagements have changed the face of both anarchism and feminism in a variety of ways. Feminists have met this engagement with new articulations of feminism that take them into account. For example, materialist feminists have argued for the recognition of the materiality of discourse (e.g. Hennessy 1993). Post-colonial feminists have argued for a new articulation of feminism that is not steeped in western epistemologies and essentialist understandings of the “East” (e.g. Minh-ha 1989; Narayan 1997). Likewise, feminists of color and queer feminists have argued for an engagement with feminist theory that takes into critical account pervasive racism, heteronormativity, and essentialist understandings of race, gender, and sexuality (e.g. hooks 1981; Davis 1983; Collins 2000; Weed and Schor 1997; Merck, Segal, and Wright 1998). A contemporary anarcha-feminism engaging these developments in theory, however, is yet to be articulated (as can be seen by the pieces gathered for the Quiet Rumors anthology AK Press assembled). In the next section, I attempt to articulate what a contemporary anarcha-feminism might look like following these general developments in theory.

Articulating a Contemporary Anarcha-Feminism

In this next section, I outline what these developments in theory might mean for a contemporary anarcha-feminist theory. It should be noted, however, that the anarchist and feminist milieus are still diverse as ever. Therefore, I want to stress that this is one construction of contemporary anarcha-feminism–a process of feeling forward in the dark. This is not, therefore, intended as a proscribed set of attributes of what contemporary anarcha-feminism MUST look like. Nor is it intended as an articulation of THE contemporary anarcha-feminism. Rather, this is one such possible construction. Due to limitations in space, time, and interest, the narratives I’ve constructed in the above sections leave a lot out for fruitful theoretical engagement. It is my hope that this paper will be a beginning in the articulation of many contemporary anarcha-feminisms, reflecting the diversity of thought within both the feminist and anarchist milieus.
First and foremost, we can draw from anarcha-feminisms of the past for crucial pieces of what would constitute a contemporary anarcha-feminism. Because it is a distinctly anarchist feminism, anarcha-feminism would continue to argue for a world in which resources are distributed in a cooperative and egalitarian manner, rather than under our current system of capitalist tyranny (i.e. we would argue for socialism). Too often, contemporary anarchist politics have lost any clear commitment to working class struggles, and a contemporary anarcha-feminism would actively argue and fight for working class liberation from capitalism. However, like anarcha-feminisms of the past, a contemporary anarcha-feminism would argue against the crass economic reductionism in past (and, unfortunately some, current) anarchist projects. As well, a contemporary anarcha-feminism would still recognize the need for oppressed groups to have separate organizations alongside larger coalitions to see to their specific grievances. It would also argue, like anarchists have argued for over a century now, that there must be a consistency of means and ends. That is, we must recognize that one cannot create a non-hierarchical future through structures and processes that are inherently hierarchical–whether that means the rejection of vanguard parties, a special place for educated elites, or the state as a final vehicle for libertarian transformation. A contemporary anarcha-feminism would continue to borrow from radical feminism in its critiques of patriarchy (and the patriarchal nature of the state) and male-defined sexuality. It would also recognize that the personal and collective process of reinventing every day life, as articulated by the Situationist International, is every bit as “political” as organizing to change the structures of society.
However, as stated earlier, anarcha-feminists in the past articulated an opposition to power as such. Foucauldian insights into the nature of power, its diffuse character, and its possible positive uses have made problematic such simplistic formulations. Gordon (2008: 49-55) has given us a good starting point for theorizing power, arguing that power can be broken down into three types: 1. Power-over as domination, 2. Power-to as capacity, and 3. Power-with as non-coercive influence. Anarcha-feminists, then, would articulate their project as an opposition to domination and indeed such an articulation is widely in use within the anarchist milieu.
This opposition to domination, then, can be fine-tuned with engagements with post-colonial, critical race, queer, and radical environmental and animal liberation theories. Indeed, discussions of THE root of domination or which fight should be prioritized are becoming passé within radicalism in general and anarchism in particular. A contemporary anarcha-feminism would avoid this prioritizing of struggles and recognize the deep connections between all forms of domination. Thus, political work would not be denounced for not focusing on the “right” issues (provided, of course, that they targeted domination in its many forms), and attempts would be made to include an intersectional approach to our activist praxis.
Although a contemporary anarcha-feminism would engage with radical feminist theory, it would be recognized that the essentialism in many radical feminist works is problematic. Anarcha-feminists would take on queer theory’s calls to constantly question what it means to be a “man” or a “woman”–indeed, the very idea of gender would be challenged. As well, anarcha-feminists would question the logic of categories like “sexuality”, recognizing the fluidity of gender and sexual preference. Further, recognizing this, it is incumbent upon us to create new identities and ambiguities that challenge the dominant constructions of gender and sexuality.
A contemporary anarcha-feminism would also take from the earth liberation movement a commitment to a sustainable ecological future, as well as a commitment to making attempts in the here and now in creating a culture that does not systematically devalue and dominate the earth. This means recognizing value in the earth outside of humanity’s domination and exploitation of it. Humanity is one of many species that share our planet and should not take a privileged space despoiling it for each other or for the many inhabitants we share it with. This would create a move beyond liberal environmentalism, going deep within our ruling practices to uncover the variety of ways that we have separated ourselves discursively from nature, rather than recognizing that we are one (small) part of a whole.
A contemporary anarcha-feminism, as well, would take from the animal liberation movement a recognition of the social construction of “personhood”. We would value life and argue against the needless destruction and torture of countless non-human animals to meet our (manufactured) fashion and dietary needs. We would move beyond liberal “welfare” discourses and argue instead for the liberation of non-human animals from human hands. Our opposition to domination would not be divorced from humanity’s domination of non-human animals and we would recognize that the ways that we systematically dominate non-humans are likewise related to the larger ruling practices by which we routinely dominate, coerce, and exploit one another.
Finally, a contemporary anarcha-feminism would also recognize that our fight is not just one against structures, or even structures and dominating cultural forms. Rather, we would learn from contemporary feminism that we also fight a conceptual revolution (see especially, Smith 1990). Thus, in the process of reinventing our lives and culture, we would give critical attention to the production of knowledge and how it is often implicated in our ruling practices. We would actively forge new epistemologies that disrupt domination rather than reinforce it. This is especially difficult for academics, as part of our job is to produce knowledge that is often unreadable to those without a Master’s Degree. Thus, we would encourage and participate in new forums for constructing and distributing knowledge that are not steeped in our ruling practices, as is the Academy.

Some Problematics

First and foremost, it should be recognized that the “contemporariness” of this new articulation could be brought into question. Indeed, some of the issues have become redundant in much of the anarchist milieu (especially discussions of reductionism, conceptualizing “power”, etc.). However, current treatments of anarcha-feminism have, more often than not, failed to articulate how these developments in social theory have affected the formation of anarcha-feminism in a contemporary context. Further, with the release of the Dark Star (2002) collection by AK Press, it is rather obvious that we need to update ourselves theoretically and begin articulating a more recent anarcha-feminism. Not that volumes such as that, that are reprints of older works, are not of value. I’ve perused its pages many times now and learned a great deal piecing through the book. However, it’s important that we provide more contemporary alternatives in order to grow with general developments in theory. It is with that in mind that I wrote this piece.
Secondly, anarchists are yet to form a comprehensive theory of the state (for some interesting beginnings, see Harrison 1983 or Price 2007). Current anarchist treatments of the state see it as an instrument of domination or, in some cases, a contradictory institution that must eventually be abolished if we are to achieve an egalitarian future. We refuse to use the state to bring about that future, as in the Marxist project of seizing the state apparatus or, perhaps, destroying the current one and creating a (so-called) worker’s state.
Our positions, however, on voting, struggles to nationalize resources1, and other engagements with the state, tend to vary (despite rather constant anarchist proclamations of THE anarchist position on electoral politics, etc.). Some have argued that in the process of struggle, forcing the state to see to the grievances of dominated groups, people learn valuable tools for self-organizing and management that lay the foundations for a stateless future. Others have suggested that these tactics amount to begging the master for more pieces of crumbs while the state continues to rule our lives.
Regardless of those arguments, anarchists agree that the state is a hierarchical institution and, as such, incompatible with an egalitarian future. But, what is the state? In some ways, this is a question of semantics, but it’s an important one to keep in mind. Anarchist theory is largely based on western understandings of the state. Groups arguing for a decentralized commonwealth, in which communities make decisions that affect them and in which representatives are accountable, rotating, and recallable often couch those arguments as “state-building”. While similar in vision to the anarchist idea of a stateless society, we would describe this new social arrangement as “stateless” and the process by which to achieve it as “state-smashing”. It is important, then, for anarchists to note that these differences exist and can result in talking past one another rather than with each other.
Further, western anarchists critiquing state-centered strategies are likely to come under criticism from non-western social movements who view the state as “simultaneously the target, sponsor, and antagonist for social movements” (Desai 2002: 67). It is important to note that in these contexts, the political work of social movements might not fit easily under a western lens. Anarchists, then, need to meet such social movement organizations on their own discursive terrain, recognizing differing needs, cultural backgrounds, and social locations. Thus, anarcha-feminists, being opposed to all forms of domination, must resist the “western gaze” and recognize that not all struggles fit nicely into a western lens–in fact, that lens must be shattered if we are to create cross-border solidarity between marginalized peoples from colonial and post-colonial states. My own suggestion would be to work on these campaigns with indigenous anarchists and approaching tactical criticisms with a heavy dose of self-reflexivity and humility.

In Sum

This paper has taken on the rather daunting task of constructing a contemporary anarcha-feminism. I have outlined developments in theory as they relate to anarchist and feminist theory. Due to constraints in interest, time, and space, I have gathered a rather limited amount of possible connections between this large soup of theoretical perspectives. I want to repeat, however, that this is not intended as THE anarcha-feminism, but rather one current articulation. It is my hope that this can be a beginning in formulating many new anarcha-feminisms, informed by insights from other traditions. If we are to radically alter the shape of our world, this requires theoretical flexibility and a learning process as we engage with ideas outside of our own. This paper has been one such attempt, with any hope, setting the stage for multiple constructions from within and outside the anarchist milieu. After all, feminism has a lot to offer anarchism and vice versa.


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