The first issue of the new International Socialist Review journal format is off to the printer! Featuring:
Black feminism and intersectionality by Sharon Smith
Explaining gender violence in the neoliberal era by Tithi Bhattacharya
Race and class in the US foster care system by Don Lash
Is there anything to defend in Political Marxism? by Neil Davidson
Building a revolutionary Left in Chile - an interview with Victor Toro
Plus new book reviews by Ian Birchall, Paul D’Amato, Brooke Horvath, Lily Hughes, Paul Le Blanc, Marlene Martin, Bill Roberts, Lee Wengraf, and Jason Netek.
The first issue of the new International Socialist Review journal format is off to the printer! Featuring:
The NYC media are most interested in the new mayor’s wife Chirlane MCCray because she once identified as a lesbian, but I find the most fascinating thing about her is that she was a member of the Black Marxist feminist group the Combahee River Collective that put out this phenomenal statement. She is now at the heights of power in the financial empire of this country and without a sustained struggle from labor and a broad left here, the pressures to adhere to a mostly corporate agenda will be insurmountable.
… What is perhaps most remarkable though is the way that Brand was immediately attacked by factions of the left, which decided that rather than piggyback off of the sudden popular interest in revolutionary ideas that Brand’s comments provided, they would rather denounce him as an inauthentic revolutionary who fails to pay due attention to favored leftist causes such as fighting patriarchy, LGBTQ liberation and immigrant rights.
That’s right – the left is briefly given a window of opportunity in which much of the country is openly discussing revolutionary ideas, and instead of welcoming and leveraging that opportunity, the leftist instinct is to attack the messenger and effectively shut the window by bringing up divisive issues related to identity politics and the culture wars.
Yeah, um, no. Anti-sexism is not merely a matter of ‘identity politics’, ‘culture wars,’ or a ‘favored cause’ of leftism. It IS leftism. It is NOT about demanding that all who espouse socialist ideals be 100% perfect. But a left-wing movement that doesn’t actively address social oppression (racial, gender, etc) is simply not a left-wing movement. Populist? Certainly. Progressive? Debatable. Socialist? Certainly not.
Soooooo good. Not that it is necessarily an either-or, but I am going to make it one anyway: Give me Laurie Penny over Russell Brand any day!!!!
On Russell Brand, iconoclasm, and a woman’s place in the revolution: a dialogue with Richard Seymour on the question of how to reconcile the fact that people need stirring up with the fact that the people doing the stirring so often fall down when it comes to treating women and girls like human beings.
… I know, I know that asking that female people be treated as fully human and equally deserving of liberation makes me an iron-knickered feminist killjoy and probably a closet liberal, but in that case there are rather a lot of us, and we’re angrier than you can possibly imagine at being told our job in the revolution is to look beautiful and encourage the men to do great works. Brand is hardly the only leftist man to boast a track record of objectification and of playing cheap misogyny for laughs. He gets away with it, according to most sources, because he’s a charming scoundrel, but when he speaks in that disarming, self-depracating way about his history of slutshaming his former conquests on live radio, we are invited to love and forgive him for it because that’s just what a rockstar does. Naysayers who insist on bringing up those uncomfortable incidents are stooges, spoiling the struggle. Acolytes who cannot tell the difference between a revolution that seduces - as any good revolution should - and a revolution that treats one half of its presumed members as chattel attack in hordes online. My friend and colleague Musa Okwonga came under fire last week merely for pointing out that “if you’re advocating a revolution of the way that things are being done, then it’s best not to risk alienating your feminist allies with a piece of flippant objectification in your opening sentence. It’s just not a good look.”
I don’t believe that just because Brand is clearly a casual and occasionally vicious sexist, nobody should listen to anything he has to say. But I do agree with Natasha Lennard, who wrote that “this is no time to forgo feminism in the celebration of that which we truly don’t need - another god, or another master.” The question, then, is this: how do we reconcile the fact that people need stirring up with the fact that the people doing the stirring so often fall down when it comes to treating women and girls like human beings?
It’s not a small question. Its goes way beyond Brand. Speaking personally, it has dogged years of my political work and thought. As a radical who is also female and feminist I don’t get to ignore this stuff until I’m confronted with it. It happens constantly. It’s everywhere. It’s Julian Assange and George Galloway. It’s years and years of rape apologism on the left, of somehow ending up in the kitchen organising the cleaning rota while the men write those all-important communiques.
It comes up whenever women and girls and their allies are asked to swallow our discomfort and fear for the sake of a brighter tomorrow that somehow never comes, putting our own concerns aside to make things easier for everyone else like good girls are supposed to. It comes up whenever a passionate political group falls apart because of inability to deal properly with male violence against women. Whenever some idiot commentator bawls you out for writing about feminism and therefore ‘retreating’ into ‘identity politics’ and thereby distracting attention from ‘the real struggle’.
But what is this ‘real struggle’, if it requires women and girls to suffer structural oppression in silence? What is this ‘real struggle’ that hands the mic over and over again to powerful, charismatic white men? Can we actually have a revolution that relegates women to the back of the room, that turns vicious when the discussion turns to sexual violence and social equality? What kind of fucking freedom are we fighting for? And whither that elusive, sporadically useful figure, the brocialist?
Sharing some important observations from a friend (below). Personally, I am ecstatic that Brand called for socialist revolution on the BBC last nite. I hope he does this a lot more. But this does not mean that his sexism should be ignored or not criticized. In fact, it is absolutely necessary for us to do so. We can both support Brand’s jeremiad against capitalist inequality, while also supporting the numerous women who have been alienated by him over the years because of his misogyny, and want to see it put to a stop.
Dear Left, go watch one of Russell Brand’s stand up routines. Doesn’t matter which, just pick at random.
While it’s good that a celebrity is fed up with the political system, it’s beyond difficult to champion a guy who only has a stage from which to speak because of his sexism. He’s famous for prank calling rape crisis centers, leaving messages about having sex with a guy’s young granddaughter, and bragging about convincing vulnerable women to sleep with him. That’s how he has the stage, so to see people I intellectually respect taking time out to defend this guy is more than a ltitle disappointing (Sharing the interview? Sure, I did. Defending him as someone you want on your side? Fuck no.)
Dude was repeating Occupy-type rhetoric, which is cool, but being unable to restrain himself from objectifying women in the same breath shows he’s got a ton more studying to do. So, until then, find some other mouthpieces and/or reconcile yourself to the fact that celebrities will not magically repair the left, and in fact, it’s regular people like us that have to do all that grunt work.
I’m embarrassed that I even need to make the point that Russell Brand shouldn’t be taken seriously, and that feminists don’t want to see their fellow activists actively defending one of the most famous misogynists in Western media/questioning the idea that he actually hates women (spoiler alert: he does), but apparently a lot of people still don’t get it.
Also, I feel I should add this excellent supplementary comment made as a follow-up by the same individual who initially posted the original commentary I pasted above:
Make whatever use of his vocalizing radical ideas on a mass platform as you can to ensure that you don’t need his voice to normalize those ideas in the future (i.e. if people are interested in left politics because of that interview, great, get those people involved in organizing and discussions) However, be aware that those who know anything about him and aren’t guys who hate women may be put off from the source it’s coming from, and at the least accept that as valid (which I saw many people blatantly not doing). Finally, recognize that he didn’t say much beyond slightly-more-coherent-Occupy-rhetoric, and thus, isn’t the most radical or refined voice out there, so use the other voices to engage people and amplify those.
… I keep intending to find some of the literature she wrote as an adult on socialism and whatever else. I haven’t gotten to it yet, but I suspect I would like it.
Radical theater artist Madeline Burrows has worked on her one-woman project, MOM BABY GOD, for the better part of two years. In the show, Burrows plays several characters from the U.S. anti-choice movement, which she created based on extensive research and undercover work. The show is touring, with stops in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Burrows spoke with about the project in an interview for Red Wedge.
MOST RADICALS dream of infiltrating the bigots to get the scoop on what makes them tick, but what propelled you toward this project and investigation?
BACK IN 2011, when there was the threat to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood, I became fascinated by the rhetoric and tactics of the anti-abortion movement. At the time, NARAL was conducting undercover investigations of crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), and I was involved with a local campaign to expose a CPC in Western Massachusetts.
As part of the campaign, I went undercover to see what kind of false medical information they were giving out. It was a totally jarring and eerie experience—there were baby clothes pinned to the walls and medically-inaccurate fetal development kits—and even though I wasn’t actually a teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy, I experienced firsthand the kind of intense emotional manipulation that takes place in CPCs.
That experience left me convinced that in order to fully understand and represent the movement, and understand how it shapes the way we think and feel about abortion, I needed to experience it from the inside.
DID YOU have an endgame in mind when you set out? Was it always performance or theater?
MY GOAL was always to create a solo performance based on the material, but what that has looked like has changed a lot. Originally, I wanted to do a more documentary theater-style piece that included both pro-choice and anti-abortion perspectives. So in the early phase, I did a really broad range of research and interviews, including a number of interviews with older women who were abortion rights activists in the ’80s and ’90s, as well as women who had had abortions. Their stories were incredible, and it was really hard to say goodbye to them.
But I felt like if left-wing audiences came to the show and saw their own views represented, it would let them off the hook in a way. I didn’t want this to be a comfortable piece of theater. I wanted audiences to leave with the same kind of urgency that I felt after immersing myself in the anti-abortion movement—a feeling that this is happening right now, and we need to figure out how we’re going to respond to it.
WHY THE vehicle of theater? Or what do you think theater can accomplish?
THEATER HAS the unique ability to give audiences an opportunity to step into another world. And unlike a movie which you can pause at any time, theater forces you to engage immediately. It is also an art form that creates a space for people to experience something collectively as an audience, which I think can be a powerful thing.
DO YOU think a project like this will resonate with a certain audience, or more broadly? What has the response been so far?
THE SHOW follows a teenage girl who is dealing with her emerging sexual desires inside of this completely sexually repressive and sexist context. I think any woman, or really anyone, who has grown up in the era of abstinence-only sex ed, will relate to experiencing the contradictory sexual atmosphere that exists, where girls and women are encouraged to “be sexy,” but “don’t have sex.”
We’ve had some audience members who grew up involved in right-wing youth activism and have since broken from it, but you definitely don’t have to be a full-on right-wing youth activist to be affected by the political climate that attacks women and reproductive rights.
The audiences so far have been largely pro-choice and left-wing audiences. But we’ve had some surprises, too. At one performance, during the post-show discussion, two women got into a heated debate. One of the women described herself as being “middle ground” on the issue, and the other was a staunch abortion rights supporter who had had an illegal abortion as a teenager pre-Roe v. Wade. A third person, who I later learned was a crisis pregnancy center director and abstinence educator, stormed out in the middle of the performance.
HAS THERE been any backlash to speak of? Or are our opponents oblivious? Tell me about the whole Students for Life American wanting to be on the mailing list—ha!
YES, THE executive director of Students for Life just asked to join our e-mail list, and another higher-up in the group “likes” us on Facebook. Other than that, we’ve received a few pieces of right-wing hate mail, but not a ton.
We’re very up-front with what our political position is, so I think they’re keeping an eye on us for now. If they want to come to the show and protest it, they can go right ahead. But I imagine they’re pretty perplexed with how to respond, because everything in the show is based on real events I attended. This is their rhetoric. I’ve seen no need to exaggerate it. So if they protest, they will be protesting themselves—not a very strong tactical choice, right?
WHAT HAVE you learned about yourself—personally and politically—from this project?
THAT CREATIVE ideas don’t just happen out of nowhere. We grow up learning so much about the “great man” theory of history, where brilliant ideas supposedly just sprout effortlessly out of the heads of individuals—who, incidentally, always happen to be rich white men—but that’s not how ideas come to be.
Being an artist requires a creative practice that means a lot of work and a lot of trying and failing. And it’s never a solo pursuit. It means collaborating with other creative people who you can bounce ideas off of and who bring other skill-sets to the table.
I think there’s an idea, particularly in the U.S. where there is such a low level of federal funding for the arts, that artists should be doing what we do for free, as a hobby on top of everything else, or that it is selfish to want to be able to live comfortably as an artist—and by that, I mean be able to afford food, rent, health care and vacation. So one thing is that I’ve become more convinced that there needs to be arts funding to pay artists so they aren’t having panic attacks every month because they’re working full-time jobs on top of unpaid creative work.
HOW DO your other art-making endeavors inform your performance?
I’M A musician, in a feminist punk band called Tomboy. I’ve definitely been inspired by the fearlessness I’ve felt in the punk scene to just get up and perform and make mistakes and take your work on the road, and I’ve wanted to bring that into theater.
WHAT ARE you trying to move your audience toward? A position? Awareness? Action?
I WANT audiences to feel a sense of urgency. The right wing has a lot of momentum and they’ve gained a lot of ground in the past 40 years, particularly in rolling back reproductive rights. And I would say that they’ve won so much ground because they’ve been building a grassroots, in-your-face, unapologetic movement.
That’s what we need to build, and I think activists are starting to grapple with how to do that and learn from movements of the past. So I hope this show taps into that conversation which is already happening.
Every show will be followed by a short post-show discussion, and I hope those can be a place for people to digest the right-wing rhetoric in the show and talk about what we’re going to do to challenge it.
First published at Red Wedge.
"We women have often been told that the home contains all the interests and duties in which we are concerned," says Miss Helen Keller in the current number of "The Metropolitan Magazine." "Our province is limited by the walls of a house, and to emerge from this honorable circumscription, to share in any broad enterprise, would be not only unladylike, but unwomanly.
"I could not help thinking of this the other day when i was asked to go to a far state and take part in some work that is being done for the blind. If i accepted the invitation, should i not be leaving my proper sphere, which is my home? I have thought of it many times sine i learned that there are in America over six million women wage earners. Every morning they leave their homes to tend machines, to scrub office buildings, to sell goods in department stores. Society not only permits them to leave their proper sphere; it forces them to this unwomanly desertion of the hearth, in order that they may not starve.
"Woman’s sphere is the home, and there, too, is the sphere of man. The home embraces everything we strive for in this world. To get and maintain a decent home is the object of all our best endeavors. But where is the home? What are its boundaries? What does it contain? What must we do to secure and protect it?"
Later she defines the home as “where those things are made without which no home can be comfortable.”
"Once the housewife made her own butter and baked her own bread," says Miss Keller. "She even sowed, reaped, thrashed and ground the wheat. Now her churn has been removed to great cheese and butter factories. The village mill, where she used to take her corn, is today in Minneapolis; her sickle is in Dakota. Every morning the express company delivers her loaves to the local grocer from a bakery that employs a thousand hands. The men who inspect her winter preserves are chemists in Washington. Her icebox is in Chicago. The men in control of her pantry are bankers in New York. The leavening of bread is somehow dependent upon the culinary science of Congressmen, and the washing of milk cans is a complicated art which legislative bodies, composed of lawyers, are trying to teach the voting population on the farms.
"It would take a modern woman a lifetime to walk across her kitchen floor; and to keep it clean is an Augean labor. No wonder that she sometimes shrinks from the tasks and joins the company of timid, lazy women who do not want to vote. But she must manager her home; for, no matter how grievously incompetent she may be, there is no one else authorized or able to manage it for her. She must secure for her children clean food at honest prices. Through all the changes of industry and government she remains the baker of bread, the minister of the universal sacrament of life.
"When she demands to be mistress of the national granary, the national kitchen, the national dairy, the national sewing-room, whoever tells her to confine herself to her house is asking her to move forward and backward at the same time. This is a feat which even her inconsistency cannot achieve.
"The inconsistencies reside not in woman and her relation to her plain duties, but in her circumstances and in some of her critics. She can put a basket on her arm and bargain intelligently with a corner grocer; but she cannot understand the problem of nationalizing the railroads which have brought the food to the grocer’s shop. She is clever at selecting a cut of meat; but the central meat-market must not be opened to her investigation; a Congressional committee, which she did not choose, is doing its whole duty as father of the house when it tries to find out who owns the packinghouses in Chicago, how much money the owners make out of her dinner, and why thousands of tons of meat are shipped out of the country while her family is hungry.
"She opens a can of food which is adulterated with worthless dangerous stuff. In a distant city a man is building himself a palace with the profits of many such cans. If a petty thief should break into her pantry, and she should fight him toot and nail, she would be applauded for her spirit and bravery; but when a millionaire manufacturer a thousand miles away robs her by the peaceful methods of commerce, she has nothing to say, because she does not understand business, and politics is not for her to meddle in.
"Woman’s old ‘domestic sphere’ has become not only an empty shell with much of the contents removed, but a fragile shell in which she is not safe. Beside her own hearth she may be poisoned, starved and robbed. When shall we have done with the tyranny which applies worn-out formulas to modern conditions? When shall we learn that domestic economy is political economy? The noblest task of woman is to get bread for her children. Whatever touches her children’s bread is her business.
"What is there so cold, sordid, inhuman in economics," asks Miss Keller, "that we women should shrink from the subject, disclaim all part in it when we touch it daily in our domestic lives?
[Source: “”WOMAN’S SPHERE IS HOME,” BUT WHERE IS HOME?” New York Tribune (1911-1922): 7. Dec 12 1912. ProQuest. Web. 7 Oct. 2013.]
I don’t often see the “oh gosh we need to save these poor ladies by banning head-coverings" sentiment but when I do I get absolutely disgusted. Because that’s not feminism, that’s just a really misguided white-savior complex pushing your cultural standards onto other women. And I’m pretty sure that trying to control how women dress is the exact opposite of what feminism is.
Helen Keller (11 June 1916)
Source: Keller, Helen. “Woman Suffrage: An After-Dinner Speech made by Helen Keller in Chicago, June eleventh, 1916, to the delegates of the new Woman’s Party.” Chicago, 11 June 1916. Speech. Helen Keller Archives. Box 212. American Foundation for the Blind, New York.
I highly and enthusiastically recommend this piece. A great primer on everything that is wrong and harmful about the way that Helen Keller’s life and legacy are discussed (and have been actively shaped) by the media, academia, biographers, politicians, and other ‘mainstream’ institutions. Her revolutionary politics are silenced, her individual autonomy suppressed, and the fact of her disability is used to define her in a constraining, insulting, and one-dimensional way.
In particular, this piece explores the foregoing as it is found in three of the most recently-published popular biographies on Keller, by Joseph Lash, Dorothy Hermann, and Kim Nielsen.
Helen Keller is represented in American cultural iconography as the perpetual child, blind and deaf, who overcame unfortunate physical limitations to emerge as the personification of perseverance and an inspiration to all. Biographers, filmmakers, and historians have persisted in portraying Keller in such problematic and simplistic terms. Both scholarship and popular representations have served to reinforce an uncomplicated and abbreviated characterization of an influential historical player who was not a perpetual child but a significant intellectual contributor, active public figure, and passionately political individual. In examining Keller’s own radical voice, primarily within speeches she authored and addressed during her participation in the movement for woman suffrage, contradictions arise between her words and those biographers have used to characterize her.
[TW: Rape, Misogyny]
every 3 minutes a woman is beaten
every five minutes a
woman is raped/every ten minutes
a lil girl is molested
yet i rode the subway today
i sat next to an old man who
may have beaten his old wife
3 minutes ago or 3 days/30 years ago
he might have sodomized his
daughter but i sat there
cuz the young men on the train
might beat some young women
later in the day or tomorrow
i might not shut my door fast
every 3 minutes it happens
some woman’s innocence
rushes to her cheeks/pours from her mouth
like the betsy wetsy dolls have been torn
menses red & split/every
three minutes a shoulder
is jammed through plaster and the oven door/
chairs push thru the rib cage/hot water or
boiling sperm decorate her body
i rode the subway today
& bought a paper from a
man who might
have held his old lady onto
a hot pressing iron/i don’t know
maybe he catches lil girls in the
park & rips open their behinds
with steel rods/i can’t decide
what he might have done i only
know every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes every 10 minutes/so
i bought the paper
looking for the announcement
the discovery/of the dismembered
victims have not all been
identified/today they are
naked and dead/refuse to
testify/one girl out of 10’s not
coherent/i took the coffee
& spit it up/i found an
announcement/not the woman’s
bloated body in the river/floating
not the child bleeding in the
59th street corridor/not the baby
broken on the floor/
there is some concern
that alleged battered women
might start to murder their
husbands & lovers with no
i spit up i vomit i am screaming
we all have immediate cause
every 3 minutes
every 5 minutes
every 10 minutes
women’s bodies are found
in alleys & bedrooms/at the top of the stairs
before i ride the subway/buy a paper/drink
coffee/i must know/
have you hurt a woman today
did you beat a woman today
throw a child across a room
are the lil girl’s panties
in yr pocket
did you hurt a woman today
i have to ask these obscene questions
the authorities require me to
every three minutes
every five minutes
every ten minutes
So i totally just discovered the awesomeness that was the magazine “Radical America” which ran from 1967-99. There are some real gems in many of its older issues, a lot of which are totally GRIL.
"Black Feminism in Boston" - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-1306-black-feminism-boston
"The fight for community control in Black and Latino Boston" - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-2005-race-community-control-politics
"Listening to the Voices of Black Feminism" - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-1802-3-voices-black-feminism
"Feminism and Leninism" - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-1305-feminism-leninism
"Historical roots of Black liberation" with CLR James, et al - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-vol-ii-no-4-historical-roots-black-liberation-0
"The Mel King campaign and coalition politics in the eighties" - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-1706-mel-king-campaign-coalition-politics-eighties-double-issue
"Queen of the Bolsheviks" - http://libcom.org/library/radical-america-1705-queen-bolsheviks [Interesting piece about Dr. Marie Equi, a “physician for working class women and children, a lesbian, and a dynamic and flamboyant political activist,” who Elizabeth Gurley Flynn called the “stormy petrol of the Northwest.”]
|—||Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body|
Women are primarily responsible for labor in the sphere of reproduction—creating and sustaining the working class—at almost no cost to the system.
There is a tremendous underdeveloped insight at the heart of Marx’s analysis of capitalism. In Capital Volume 1, Marx identifies “labor power” or our capacity to labor, as the ‘special commodity’ that the capitalist needs to set the system in motion and keep it running. Our labor power, Marx tells us, has the “peculiar property of being a source of value” because with that labor power, we create commodities and value for capitalism. The appropriation of our surplus labor by capitalists is the source of their dominance. Without our labor power, then, the system would collapse.
But Marx is frustratingly silent on the rest of the story. If labor power produces value, how is labor power itself produced? Surely workers do not spring from the ground to arrive at the marketplace, fresh and ready to sell their labor power to the capitalist.
This is where later Marxist scholars such as Lise Vogel, Martha Gimenez, Johanna Brenner and, more recently, Susan Ferguson and David McNally have seized upon Marx’s transformative but incomplete insight, and developed it further. It is perhaps important for us to remember in this context, the potential and creativity inherent in the Marxist tradition, rightly referred to as a living tradition, which has allowed new generations of Marxists to examine it critically and expand upon it.Looking closely at Marx’s Capital, these scholars argue that the key to the system, our labor power, is actually itself produced and reproduced outside of capitalist production, in a “kin-based” site called the family.
The most important insight of social reproduction theory is that capitalism is a unitary system that can successfully, if unevenly, integrate the sphere of reproduction and the sphere of production. Changes in one sphere thus create ripples in another. Low wages and neoliberal cost-cutting at work can produce foreclosures and domestic violence at home.
Why is this the most important insight? Because it gives real historical substance to understanding: (a) who a “worker” is, and (b) in what ways the worker can fight against the system. Most importantly, this theory helps us understand that any gains for gender rights that we make in either the formal economy or outside of it can only be temporary because the material basis of women’s oppression is tied to the system as a whole. Any conversation about the end of oppression and liberation thus needs to draw on a simultaneous conversation about the end of the system itself.
… [Revolutionary Marxists] can be the link between the sphere of reproduction, the community where the school is being closed, the home where the woman is subjected to violence; and the sphere of production, where we fight for benefits and for higher wages.
We do it in two ways. We (a) provide the analytical linkage between the “two spheres” of the single system, through Marxist theory; and (b) act as a tribune of the oppressed, particularly when the fight has not generalized to the workplace. For it is not true that the working class cannot fight in the sphere of reproduction. It is, however, true that it can only win against the system in the sphere of production.
Some of the major fights in working class history began outside the sphere of production. The two most significant revolutions of the modern world, the French and the Russian, began as bread riots, led by women.
An understanding of capitalism as an integrated system, where production is scaffolded by social reproduction, can help fighters understand the significance of political struggles in either sphere and the necessity of uniting them.