01 July 2010

Feminism and Anarchy

My name is Ryan, and I'm guest blogging for Courtney. I'm an anarchist with a keen interest in women activists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, I'm talking about a few connections between feminism and anarchy.
Following the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Stalin marginalized and eliminated the amazing women and anarchists that had made their liberation possible. If those figures - Vera Figner, Vera Zasulich, Maria Spiridonova, Katerina Breshkovskaya, Sofia Perovskaya, and all the other Narodniki women - had won out over the Bolsheviks in the eleventh hour, the world would have seen its first truly collectivist anarchy. If the CNT and Mujeres Libres had persisted en forma through the 1930s, Spain could have gone the same way. ML, the amazing 30,000 woman strong group that splintered from the anarchist CNT, sought to build its new world using methods it hoped would reflect the image of their desired society: a gentle, nonviolent community that was as accepting and empowering of women as it was of the poor. In both cases, these were women disillusioned with certain aspects of the revolutionary fight, if not with the entire fight itself.

They understood that a revolution that seeks to truly disseminate power, yet still treats women as anything but equal human beings, is doomed. If it seeks to liberate the poor, it is because it understands what power structures create poverty. If it seeks to liberate the religiously oppressed, it is because it understands the lies and promises that are built on the idea of Eternity. If it seeks to liberate women, it is because it understands the fundamental nature of force and conquest. The latter is, for anarchist men, the hardest to understand and the most difficult to grasp.

To understand that, we must see anarchy as the world does. The general view of anarchy is black bloc, riots, smashed windows, and fantastic terrorism. The media eats up sensation, so these images are the only ones broadcast. This is how the world gets a violent and masculine view of revolution. It's how anarchists get a violent and forceful view of themselves. It's all guns and bombs because that's what's entertaining. What's less entertaining is the women cooking for the squatters, cleaning and scrubbing pots and pans and ski masks, and the same molotov-hurling machisimos sitting at a bar hours later trying to pick up some ladies with their tales of smashing up a Wells Fargo. It's much less entertaining to envision anarchy as a simple blog post or something as banal as not having to ask someone every time you want to go to the bathroom. It's not forceful or heroic to say that we're all anarchists - like saying that we're all winners. But if you are reading this without asking permission, out of your own curiosity and interest, without coercion or the promise of a dollar, you are engaging in anarchy. Your time spent reading this is not productive. Nor should it be. That would defeat the point. We aren't producing here. This isn't a factory. This is where we gently destroy. If anarchy and feminism mix to create the sublime anarcha-feminist, I would imagine her as a woman that picks apart the building until it crumbles, piece-by-piece, methodically, pleasurably, and voluntarily.

The difference between the anarcha-feminist and the manarchist would be that, once she has all these friends and this pile of resources, she doesn't build a throne, doesn't usurp the state and make her own, doesn't become Queen, doesn't take with the promise of giving and then simply proceed on another road of taking.

At this point, there would be contention amongst certain figures. Voltairine de Cleyre, the quintessential American anarchist, was a strong proponent of property. Though a feminist, freedom for her meant the freedom to have. Emma Goldman, who is famous for her statement, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution," counterpointed de Cleyre aptly: "The only demand that property recognizes is its own gluttonous appetite for greater wealth because wealth means power; the power to subdue, to crush, to exploit, the power to enslave, to outrage, to degrade." That is where anarchy and feminism not only buddy up, but show themselves to be logically inseparable. Power makes property out of its object, and, in our society, women are still claimed every day without irony. As much as the poor are demonized and brushed aside, women are just as keenly judged, sought out, or pushed aside as either necessary, desirable, or neither. The laborer seeks out an equal contract with an employer with just as much disillusionment as a woman that seeks out an equal understanding with a potential partner. Regardless of each entity's mien, once behind closed doors, gentle social manipulation turns into emotional and physical coercion. Companies and employers are no more gentle with their workers than are men and women that have "won their prize" and then seek to use it for their lifelong benefit without equal consideration.

In short, we are all to be made willing tools of those that would use us as their property. Both anarchist and feminists walk hand-in-hand against that particular outrage. It is outrageous to think that any person in this day and age can be owned, but, in this society, hundreds of millions of us are. Or we are brushed aside because we refuse to be.

Thanks for reading.


Meg said...

Really enjoyed this, thanks for posting! Emma Goldman was such a badass.