Some would say socialist feminism is an artifact of the 1970s. It flowered with the women’s liberation movement, as a theoretical response to what many in the movement saw as the inadequacies of Marxism, liberalism, and radical feminism, but since then it has been defunct, both theoretically and politically. I think this view is mistaken
In this space we have had occasion to provide some, we trust, interesting and important documents from the revolutionary forces in Nepal. The most recent was the letter we received on September 5th, 2002 from Dr. Baburam Bhattarai (http://monthlyreview.org/0902bhattarai.htm). In the intervening four months events have moved at a fast pace
There is no longer an organized feminist movement in the United States that influences the lives and actions of millions of women and engages their political support. There are many organizations, ranging from the National Organization for Women to women’s caucuses in labor unions and professional groups, which fight for women’s rights, and there are many more organizations, many of them including men as well as women, whose priorities include women’s issues. But the mass women’s movement of the late sixties, seventies, and early eighties no longer exists. Few, among the many women who regard themselves as feminists, have anything to do with feminist organizations other than reading about them in the newspapers. Young women who are drawn to political activism do not, for the most part, join women’s groups. They are much more likely to join anticorporate, antiglobalization, or social justice groups. These young women are likely to regard themselves as feminists, and in the groups that they join a feminist perspective is likely to affect the way in which issues are defined and addressed. But this is not the same thing as a mass movement of women for gender equality. A similar dynamic has taken place in other circles as well. There are now very large numbers of women who identify with feminism, or, if they are reluctant to adopt that label, nevertheless expect to be treated as the equals of men. And there are large numbers of men who support this view
The story of how Helen Keller (1880-1967), struck blind and deaf while a toddler, overcame her disabilities with the help of her teacher Anne Sullivan, is a familiar one. William Gibson’s drama, The Miracle Worker, made into a movie, popularized that part of her story. She is remembered for accomplishments such as graduating cum laude from Radcliffe College; as an internationally famous advocate for the deaf and blind; and as a celebrity, writing books, appearing in films and on the vaudeville stage. Her friend Mark Twain described her, along with Napoleon, as one of the “two most interesting characters of the nineteenth century.” What is usually forgotten, however, is that she was also a prominent, articulate, and passionate voice for socialism. From a condition of profound isolation she grew into an inspired communicator, fully engaged with the world around her. She joined the Socialist Party in 1909 (later she’d join the Industrial Workers of the World, too) and championed her socialist vision while lecturing and writing on the issues of her day-in support of worker’s struggles, the Russian Revolution, and women’s suffrage, and against the First World War. There was no separation in her mind between her struggle on behalf of the disabled and her struggle for socialism. She attributed the greater portion of the ills experienced by the disabled, and the cause of these disabilities in many cases, to capitalism and industrialism. After 1921, she focused her energies on raising funds for the American Foundation for the Blind but she remained a supporter of radical causes for the rest of her life. This essay appeared in the New York Call, a daily newspaper of the Socialist Party, on November 3, 1912.
One evening, shortly after September 11, I was conducting a college English class when one of my students asked a question about the accumulating body of information on women and Islam. It was one of many questions about the Middle East asked of me in the days after the tragedies; this one was about the veil, and why women in the Middle East “had to wear it.” I explained that not all women in the Middle East were Muslim (I myself am a Palestinian Christian), but that even many Muslim women did not veil. However, many did, and for myriad reasons: mostly for personal and religious reasons and, for some, upon compulsion
Barbara Epstein’s answer to What Happened to the Women’s Movement? (Monthly Review, May 2001) explains much of the decline of the intense, exciting, radical and socialist feminist organizing of the 1960s and 1970s, with its visions of societal transformation and women’s emancipation. However, I think that she underemphasizes, or even ignores, some important parts of a comprehensive answer. These have to do with the daunting reality facing revolutionary visions, the strength of opposition to women’s equality with men, and changes in economic and political relations that now seem to require new visions and ways of organizing
I take it as given that in publishing this piece Barbara Epstein sought to stir up controversy. I take it also that her effort seeks to revive feminism, rather than to bury it. And I agree with her notion that the situation of the women’s movement should be a subject for critical analysis. But I am surprised that such an acute observer of social movements should paint a picture so isolated from the larger political and economic context. In this response I will try to add some pieces of the broader picture.
I’m very pleased that Joan Acker and Hester Eisenstein have responded to my article. Since the questions that they raise overlap, I will address their responses together. I think that the questions they have raised are important for a discussion not only of the current state of the women’s movement, but more broadly, of the current state of progressive politics in the United States. I want to thank them for having taken the discussion that I started further
Many among today’s young radical activists, especially those at the center of the anti-globalization and anti-corporate movements, call themselves anarchists. But the intellectual/philosophical perspective that holds sway in these circles might be better described as an anarchist sensibility than as anarchism per se. Unlike the Marxist radicals of the sixties, who devoured the writings of Lenin and Mao, today’s anarchist activists are unlikely to pore over the works of Bakunin. For contemporary young radical activists, anarchism means a decentralized organizational structure, based on affinity groups that work together on an ad hoc basis, and decision-making by consensus. It also means egalitarianism; opposition to all hierarchies; suspicion of authority, especially that of the state; and commitment to living according to one’s values. Young radical activists, who regard themselves as anarchists, are likely to be hostile not only to corporations but to capitalism
From the late 1960s into the 1980s there was a vibrant women’s movement in the United States. Culturally influential and politically powerful, on its liberal side this movement included national organizations and campaigns for reproductive rights, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and other reforms. On its radical side it included women’s liberation and consciousness raising groups, as well as cultural and grassroots projects. The women’s movement was also made up of innumerable caucuses and organizing projects in the professions, unions, government bureaucracies, and other institutions. The movement brought about major changes in the lives of many women, and also in everyday life in the United States. It opened to women professions and blue-collar jobs that previously had been reserved for men. It transformed the portrayal of women by the media. It introduced the demand for women’s equality into politics, organized religion, sports, and innumerable other arenas and institutions, and as a result the gender balance of participation and leadership began to change. By framing inequality and oppression in family and personal relations as a political question, the women’s movement opened up public discussion of issues previously seen as private, and therefore beyond public scrutiny. The women’s movement changed the way we talk, and the way we think. As a result, arguably most young women now believe that their options are or at least should be as open as men’s
The relationship between gender and class, central to understanding the history of the labor movement, raises important issues for Marxist analysis in general. Grappling with the complexities of this relationship forces us to confront a wide range of theoretical and practical questions. What is the connection between “material conditions” and “identity”? What role do culture, discourses, sexuality, and emotions play in shaping people’s responses to their material conditions? How are the varieties of consciousness of class related to other identities and affiliations? These questions challenge us theoretically and politically, as we seek to develop a working-class politics that incorporates struggles against all forms of oppression
Why do racial, religious, ethnic and national identities have such purchase on the lives of so many people, and why are they still at the center of so many major conflicts at the beginning of the twenty-first century? What form is racism taking amidst the inequalities, refugees and mass migrations of today’s global capitalism? How does the American state—as both the manager of the world capitalist order and as the embodiment of an all-too-often chauvinist national identity—fit into the picture of ‘Fighting Identities’?