Red Feminism in the Age of Neoliberalism – Part 4: Rejecting Anarchism

by Emily Eisner

continued from Part 3: Why Feminism Must Be Anti-Capitalist

followed by Part 5: On Anarcho-Primitivism

Rejecting Anarchism

A revolution is not a dinner party. . .

Mao Zedong, “Classes and Class Struggle”[47]

Anarchism is notorious for spawning dozens of anarcho- and anarcha- branches and variations within the umbrella of opposition to the state. Due to the dire global situation that capitalism and market-based economies have brought us to, as well as my above assertion of the importance of anticapitalism for feminism, my analysis of anarchism will only regard those that could be classified as economically or politically “leftist,” that is, that are in opposition to the state and capitalism. These various anarchist ideologies’ criticisms of the state and capital vary among them, which I will analyze in their own respective section. Although anarchists can and do spend hours arguing about the distinctions between their dozens of splinter ideologies, I divide contemporary anti-capitalist anarchist activity into three distinct ideological categories: liberal anarchism [my term], insurrectionary anarchism, and anarcho-primitivism.

Liberal Anarchism

A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is.

Friedrich Engels, “On Authority”[48]

I include within this category of left-wing anarchism: anarcho-syndicalism, anarcho-communism, organizational anarchism, and plain old “anarchism.” Left-wing anarchists who support communistic economic arrangements today often call themselves “libertarian socialists.” This means that they hold socialist economic views while denouncing the perceived authoritarianism or lack of personal freedom produced in actual socialist countries in the world. By extension, they also reject said countries’ Marxist, Leninist, Maoist, etc “vanguard-ist” socialist ideologies and strategies in general. Libertarian socialists ostensibly value liberty (or personal freedom, or democracy) equally or more than the abolition of capitalism. This is what prevents them from adhering to an “authoritarian” Marxist-Leninist ideology, which is also socialist.

As Noam Chomsky, the celebrity libertarian-socialist anarchist intellectual, argued, by quoting anarcho-syndicalist pioneer Rudolf Rocker, “anarchism is necessarily anticapitalist in that it ‘opposes the exploitation of man by man.’ But anarchism also opposes ‘the domination of man over man.’ It insists that ‘socialism will be free or it will not be at all.’” [49]

Anarchists such as these, like most anarchists, stand firmly against any sort of “hierarchy,” including social hierarchies produced in socialist countries with a state. A popular young anarchist who makes educational Youtube videos under the name “Libertarian Socialist Rants” summarized the widespread foundational principle: “Anarchists believe that social hierarchies, including but not limited to capitalism and the state, should be dismantled if they cannot be proven to be just or necessary.” [50] He continued: “The state is a centralized institution with a monopoly on the use of violence. . . Large concentrations of power tend to attract a specific kind of people. . . those who desire the exercise of power.” [51] By monopoly on the use of violence, Libertarian Socialist Rants refers to the police force, prison industrial complex, military industrial complex, and legal system, all of which socialist revolutions and later countries employ to protect and enforce their political system. Chomsky explains that anarcho-syndicalism “reflects the intuitive understanding that democracy is severely limited when the industrial system [of production] is controlled by any form of autocratic elite, whether of owners, managers and technocrats, a “vanguard” party, or a state bureaucracy.” [52] Anarcho-syndicalists argue for essentially the same world we have now, except without nation states and capitalist ruling classes, but instead a bottom-up structure based on syndicates or trade-unions in workplaces, which would be run by the workers, managed by democratically elected representatives, and federated in a representative structure. The difference is that the people on the bottom, the workers, would be the ones electing their representatives and making decisions about their workplaces, government, and lives. It has no inherent critique of work or of industrialism and its ecological consequences.

Other anarchists in the more radical tradition are not as thrilled with the concept of representation held so dearly by anarcho-syndicalist theory. Peter Gelderloos wrote:

Democratic organizations with any form of representation can quickly become bureaucratic and authoritarian. […] Organizations should be temporary, tied to the need they were formed to address, and they should be overlapping and pluralistic. Otherwise, they develop interests of their own survival and growth that can easily conflict with the needs of people. [53]

The assumed fact of organizational self-preservation is central to anarchists’ critique of “authoritarian socialism” and its uses of a socialist state and a “red bureaucracy.” Anarchists disagree with Marx’s theory that the state needs to wither away over time as the society transitions toward communism. They believe that the state, being an organization of “people who like power” will never allow itself to wither away. [54]

Marxists hold that a socialist state is necessary to enforce socialist policy that will change the material conditions of people’s lives that currently give rise to the need for a state.

The state is, therefore, by no means a power forced on society from without. . . Rather, it is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. [55]

The state is formed to prevent this fractured, antagonistic society from continuously struggling for a just distribution of resources. As the material antagonisms intensify with human technological and productive development, the state alienates itself more and more from the mass society that it controls.

One young communist who makes educational videos under the name “The Finnish Bolshevik” argued against anarchism thusly: “It is a naive and childish idea to believe that a bunch of evil men just got together and invented the state to oppress everyone. The state arises naturally because there are certain material realities, material conditions that create it. . . It arises naturally because of class contradiction” created in a class society, where only one class, now the capitalist class, is in power. [56] “The state cannot be abolished, it can only wither away, once the material conditions that give rise to the state have been eliminated.”[57] He continued:

Marxism never claimed to reach statelessness immediately, unlike Anarchism. Marxism has a rational theoretical explanation for why Socialist states and Anarchist societies didn’t achieve statelessness, but Anarchist ideology is clueless about it, instead opting for denial. This makes Anarchism a purely faith-based ideology. [58]

It is this Anarchist belief in the transformational power of ideas or “idealism” — that once a society decides to be anarchist immediately, it can, without need for government, the state, police, or prisons — that substantiates the charge of liberalism from Marxists.

Catherine MacKinnon, a post-Marxist and feminist lawyer and scholar, explains that “liberal theory exhibits five interrelated dimensions that contrast with radical feminist theory… These are: individualism, naturalism, voluntarism, idealism, and moralism.” [59]

The charge of liberalism is made against the centrality of the individual and individual freedom in anarchist doctrine. “Individualism involves one of liberalism’s deepest yet also superficially most apparent notions: what it is to be a person is to be a unique individual, which defines itself against, as distinct from, as not reducible to, any group.” [60] David Harvey, the Marxist geographer, criticizes the centrality of individual freedom in anarchist ideologies by explaining its historical roots within liberalism. “The concept of the free individual bears the mark of liberal legal institutions (even of private property in the body and the self) spiced with a hefty dose of that personalized protestant religion which Weber associated with the rise of capitalism.” [61] A radical praxis based on the liberation of oppressed groups from exploitation by other groups does not and cannot leave room to accommodate every individual’s personal desires.

Capitalists use their freedoms to exploit workers. Men use their freedoms to exploit and abuse women. A complete restructuring of society to mandate the equal distribution of resources, the elimination of exploitation and hierarchical division among citizens necessitates authority, force, and time. [62] The crystallizations of the bourgeois state’s monopoly on violence (the police, military, prisons, etc), that are used “for the suppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, of millions of working people by handfuls of the rich, must be replaced by a ‘special coercive force’ for the suppression of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat (the dictatorship of the proletariat).” [63] Those in positions of power will not willingly renounce them, and the collective endeavor of the exploited to force this abdication of power will necessarily be authoritarian. “The exploited classes need political rule in order to completely abolish all exploitation.” [64] The state is the tool of one class to suppress another class, and the capitalists, the rapists, the white supremacists, etc must be suppressed to eradicate their material and cultural grounding. [65]

Anarchists want revolution, they want to restructure society to be egalitarian, but they do not believe in using any means to achieve it that would impinge on liberty or be authoritarian. Engels provides a damning criticism of anti-authoritarians and anarchists in 1873 that could not ring more true today:

Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is an act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon, all of which are highly authoritarian means. And the victorious party must maintain its rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionaries. Would the Paris Commune have lasted more than a day if it had not used the authority of the armed people against the bourgeoisie? Cannot we, on the contrary, blame it for having made too little use of that authority? Therefore, one of two things: either that anti-authoritarians don’t know what they are talking about, in which case they are creating nothing but confusion. Or they do know, and in that case they are betraying the cause of the proletariat. In either case they serve only reaction. [66]

Engels’ closing assertion touches upon the significance of anarchist, and hence liberal, currents of thought for radical movements. They must be combated.

Anarchism’s liberal “roots” show through its dominant “feminist” currents. In preaching its own softened, depoliticized, individualistic version of radical politics, it most often takes up rhetorical or physical arms against truly radical theories and practices that upset its worldview. It is apparent in the vitriol spewed towards radical feminists by anarchists who prescribe to a postmodern liberal feminism. “TERFs” [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] and “SWERFs” [“sex work” exclusionary radical feminists] are blatantly banned from online anarchist spaces. [67] To paraphrase Engels, if liberal-postmodern feminists actually do understand radical, Marxist analyses that are materially required for female liberation, and they still fight against them, they are betraying women and the revolution. Contemporary liberal anarchism’s pro-pornogrpahy, pro-legalized-prostitution, uncritically sex-positive outlook shows itself openly to anyone who browses popular anarchist websites.

The average anarchist Reddit user, with the deepest of radical feminist analyses of the violent patriarchal power relations propagandized by pornography and with unwavering commitment to the women and children enslaved, raped, murdered, and traumatized by the porn and prostitution industries, receives sixteen “up-votes” for the following: “the porn industry is very disgusting and needs to be unionized or something heavily, but (consensual obviously) porn as a concept is pretty great.” [68] Here the “voluntarism” tenet of anarchism’s liberal ideology reveals itself. One recalls the words of V.I. Lenin: “The spontaneous working-class movement is by itself able to create (and inevitably does create) only trade-unionism, and working-class trade-unionist politics is precisely working-class bourgeois politics,” and in this case, patriarchal politics. [69] Even among supposedly radical anarchists, feminist consciousness cannot be raised beyond the thought of unionizing the most brutal and oppressive of misogynistic industries. It takes a properly revolutionary politics to see that full abolition of the sexual exploitation of women, however “authoritarian” it may seem to the pimps and pornographers, is fundamental to female liberation.

In Athens, Greece, on the graffiti-covered walls of the semi-autonomous anarchist neighborhood of Exarchia, itself a heartland and beacon of hope for anarchists around the world, one can read such rebellious and feminist slogans as “sex, drugs, and anarchy.” [70] Contemporary anarchism’s unquestioning embrace of postmodern gender identity politics betrays its liberalism. Radical feminist Robert Jensen offers this radical eco-feminist critique of transfeminism:

Such medical practices [as hormone replacement therapy and non-essential cosmetic surgery] are part of a deeper problem in the industrial era of our failing to understand ourselves as organisms, shaped by an evolutionary history, and part of ecosystems that impose limits on all organisms. . . Transgenderism is a liberal, individualist, medicalized response to the problem of patriarchy’s rigid, repressive, and reactionary gender norms. Radical feminism is a radical, structural, politicized response. [71]

Such is the materialist perspective.

On the other hand, transfeminist anarchist manifestos are busy outlining inaccurate histories of the second-wave feminist movement,[72] lamenting the female liberation movement’s lack of focus on trans-women aka males, and claiming that transfeminism emerged from black feminism–as if there are no black radical feminists who critique trans ideology, or that trans-critical feminism is inherently white. In the most liberal fashion possible, “the Transfeminist Manifesto states: ‘Transfeminism believes that we construct our own gender identities based on what feels genuine, comfortable and sincere to us.’”[73] Later in the piece, transfeminist anarchism takes issue that feminism’s “definition of woman is generally reliant on what is between a person’s legs.”[74] It follows that females must have always, invariably been, throughout written history to the present, oppressed by males, simply because of their feminine personalities. It follows that women are enslaved, beaten, raped, and murdered by men not because women are female, with female anatomy, female reproductive organs, and female sex organs, but because most women feel like and identify with an abstract “femininity” and value-neutral womanhood, just like some men. Anarchism’s unilateral support of this plainly anti-radical feminist ideology does not bode well for those seeking liberation from both male supremacy and capitalism. A feminism focused on the end of male supremacy must be materialist, that is, focused on the concrete material origins of gender and patriarchy in the exploitation of the female body–not on idealist notions of innate gender identity and free-floating, value-neutral femininity.

Insurrectionary Anarchism

I consider that today society is like a train on a track headed for total dehumanization. We are the motor that powers the train, its engine, its passengers, and its wheels. The driver has the cruel face of capitalism and the copilot is the lazy, faceless State. The tracks are not made of rose petals, they are made of blood and corpses, bodies solitary or piled in mounds, of people who wanted to resist or change that frenetic course.

Yiannis Dimitrakis, “Letter from Korydallos Prison”[75]

The second main cluster of anarchist thought I categorize as insurrectionary anarchism. Insurrectionary theory is as old as modern anarchism, taking its roots in individualist and egoist theory and illegalist practice of the 19th century. Responding to the fact that the state holds the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence, it encourages individual and small “affinity group” acts of rebellion, violence, property destruction, and even assassination aimed at the state and capital to inspire others to the anarchist cause. This praxis is known as “propaganda of the deed,” and is widely accepted in many anarchist currents, although often criticized by Marxists and revolution-minded communists. Insurrectionary praxis has been in place for over 150 years, although late-modern (contemporary) instances display some uniquenesses in regards to their alignment with anti-alienation and anti-symbolic primitivist theory.

Writing about the beloved-in-hindsight but doomed-to-fail anarchist revolution of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War in 1936, David Harvey critiques insurrectionary theory:

The radical affinity groups pursued insurrectionary tactics that produced a “growing disquiet” about their “elitism” and the undemocratic ways in which they would launch continuous insurrectionary actions. They depicted their actions as “catalytic” rather than “vanguardist”, but most people recognized this was anarchist vanguardism under another name. The insurrectionists expected and appealed for mass support (which rarely materialized) for actions decided upon by no more than at most a hundred but in many instances just a dozen or so members of a particular affinity group. . . What is the point of insurrectionary action, [the anarcho-syndicalists] said, if there is no idea let alone concrete plan to re-organize the world the day after?. . . If, as seems to be the case, the world cannot be changed without taking power then what is the point of a movement that refuses to build and take that power? [76]

Marxists assert that theory glorifying insurrection over organized revolution smacks of individualism, counter-productivity, impulsivity, and hypocrisy, but that does not dispute the fact that rebellion and insurrection do occur by will of the masses during certain political moments.

A fantastic contemporary example of insurrectionary anarchism in practice can be found in Greece. The precise social and political history of modern Greece has contributed to the relative widespread popularity of anarchist ideas in the country.[77] Since the beginning of the left-wing student-based uprising against the military junta on November 17th of 1973, Greek university campuses have been designated a legal and physical safe haven for left-wing and insurrectionary activity. The fall of the junta is also when the contemporary anarchist movement began, filling the vacancy left by the defeated Communist Party. The popular embrace of anarchist ideas, combined with a recent history of an inflated social-democracy welfare-state which collapsed into a proper neoliberal austerity hellscape following the Greek debt crisis of 2010, has fostered an environment in which insurrectionist praxis is mainstream among mass anarchist politics. Though anarchist activity can be found in almost every major city in the country, the semi-autonomous neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens embodies the Greek anarchist ethos most.

There is no greater example of Greek insurrectionary praxis than the events of December 2008. “It didn’t begin on December 6th,” wrote one participating anarchist. “The insurrection was always here. In every individual or every group of people that reacted against the state and authority.” Nonetheless, in Exarchia, a neighborhood already “in a way liberated from the police,” on December 6, 2008, two cops shot and killed an unarmed, 15 year old Greek teenager named Alexis Grigoropoulos.[78] Within hours, the local university campus–site of the 1973 uprising and anarchist political center ever since–was occupied by activists, and police in Exarchia were attacked. The people’s response spread throughout the city and rest of the country within hours. Soon gatherings and attacks against police developed into widespread insurrection–planned and spontaneous destruction, attacks against capital and authority, occupations of strategic locations, looting, burning, propagandizing, and smashing of symbols of wealth and alienation.

The next morning [the streets] were a surrealistic place. . . The whole street covered with stones, pieces of metal, anything that could be thrown. Burnt cars. Cars flipped over. Smoke. It was like a moonscape. Very quiet. . . But you didn’t see anyone going to work. . . it was like time stopped. [79]

But it wasn’t just young, angsty, Greek-born anarchists rioting. Two participants describe “immigrants from any race or country, blacks, Eastern Europeans . . . high school students, lumpen proletariat–people who live on the streets . . . all ages from the first night.” It was an uprising of the discontented against the bourgeois status quo.

The insurrection is a physical event–real property is smashed, giant city Christmas trees are set on fire, a real boy was shot–but it remains an ideologically charged abstraction, at once “a social explosion” entirely belonging to the populace, but not available for all to politically embrace–namely, as we will see, for Marxists who criticize insurrection as ultimately inferior to revolutionary action. The anarchists simultaneously claim it and do not claim it as theirs: “We don’t understand the insurrection as an expression of the process of our ideas or a clear manifestation of anarchist organizations in society, but as a social explosion, as the expression of the needs of people who are oppressed, exploited, tortured.”[80] Not every purportedly anti-capitalist group was on board with the violence. A Greek expat in London remarked at the irony of seeing British Marxist-Leninists–whom she calls Stalinists–demonstrating against the Greek embassy, seeing how “the day before, the chief secretary of the Communist Party in Greece renounced the uprising and the violence. So I went up to them and told them to piss off.”[81]

The communist / anarchist division is very present in Greece, with anarchists regarding the Communist Party as compliant with the state, and the communists having “internalized [the] defeat” of the brutal civil war after the end of World War II.[82] “The first anarchist uses of violence in demonstrations was a way to let everyone know that the anarchists were different. . . they didn’t compromise with the state like other leftists did.”[83] Leninists are mistrusted because of their vanguardist ideology, which anarchists see as an insult to the revolutionary masses and a hierarchy in itself. However anarchists “don’t wait for the police to attack [them], [they] attack first,” regardless of the wishes of the masses in the peaceful demonstrations.[84] It is, in the words of Harvey, “anarchist vanguardism under another name.”[85] When Marxist-Leninists decide to support the masses’ insurrection, with the ultimate ideological goal of elevating rebellion to politically informed revolution, it is appropriation. However, when anarchists hit the streets to provide politically charged albeit important “counterdiscourse” about sex trafficking, racist attacks, and state violence to the rioting masses hungry for political education, it is anarchism.[86]

Here we see a hypocrisy within anarchist theory that is also present in their historical reverence of revolutionary Barcelona during the late 1930s, during which revolutionary anarchists of the CNT used, amongst such “anarchic” devices as a legislature and militia, labor camps. Reads a revolutionary Spanish Anarchist–not Stalinist–newspaper: “The weeds must be torn out by their roots. There cannot be and must not be pity for the enemies of the people, but . . . their rehabilitation through work and that is precisely what the new ministerial order creating “work camps” seeks.”[87] In addition to imprisoning and “rehabilitating” right-wingers, defending their revolution and defeating capitalism meant the anarchists needed to engage in war–a decidedly un-anarchist activity since they are against authority and discipline. The same publication also declared: “To accept discipline means that the decisions made by comrades assigned to any particular task … should be executed without any obstruction in the name of liberty, a liberty that in many cases, degenerates into wantonness.”[88] Here, anarchists discover that liberal individualism, held so dearly, reveals itself to be bourgeois and counter-revolutionary in practice. “Consistent anarchist line: It’s okay when we do it,” remarked the Finnish Bolshevik, “It’s not okay when the Bolsheviks do it.”[89]

In one of his final writings before his death, libertarian municipalist Murray Bookchin conceded:

Anarchists may call for the abolition of the state, but coercion of some kind will be necessary to prevent the bourgeois state from returning in full force with unbridled terror. For a libertarian organization to eschew, out of misplaced fear of creating a “state”, taking power when it can do so with the support of the revolutionary masses is confusion at best and a total failure of nerve at worst. (Bookchin, The Next Revolution. 2014. 183)[90]

Coming from a man known around the world for a lifetime of anarchist writings, this liberal self-criticism is damning.

Black Insurrection

. . .the race line [has become] itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of “artificial” impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.

Adolph Reed, “The limits of anti-racism”[91]

In his essay “Insurrectionary vs. Organization,” mainly about and inspired by contemporary anarchism in Greece and published one year before the 2008 riots, anarchist writer Peter Gelderloos finished his commentary with a blunt and quite accurate criticism of anarchism’s “largest problem”: whiteness. “Those of us who were raised with white privilege were trained to be very bad listeners,” he wrote, ignoring the role masculinity plays in social domination.[92] Instead of leaving it at vague accusations of privilege, gives specific examples: “preserving a movement narrative that tells the stories and contains the values of white people, and refusing to recognize the importance of white supremacy as a system of oppression every bit as important as the state, capitalism, or patriarchy.”[93] The importance of the last system, I would argue, anarchists do not always recognize either. He criticizes “the insistence that white supremacy is nothing but a tool and invention of capitalism, perfectly explainable in economic terms.” On the other hand, Adolph Reed argued against the classification of racism as a separate issue to economics.

The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” [and identity politics overall] is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. [94]

These inequalities, which are based on perceived “difference” between people, are “always difference in relation to the system of exploitation” of global capitalism. “Social differences, in short, are material effects of the changing contradictions in the divisions of labor.”[95] This focus on the materialist origins of oppression is often lost on anarchist analysis. The rejection of the basis of social inequalities on historical materialism is not an unfortunate oversight, but fundamental to the foundation of anarchist ideology.

Although the anarchist writing about December 2008 mentions black immigrants participating, insurrectionary praxis is complicated by anti-blackness. Immigrants, especially visibly non-Greek and non-white immigrants, are at high risk in Greece of attacks by fascists, right-wingers, and police. Black immigrants declared their solidarity in the December 2008 insurrection, but wrote about their inability both live freely in Greek society (“freedom stops at my apartment’s door”) and to confront police officers, writing “[the cop] will take my residential card, he will take away my personal belongings, he will hit me whenever he wants. . .” [96] A Sudanese refugee in Athens wrote, “They could find a dead body after all the riots . . . turns out to be an immigrant and it doesn’t matter… They can kill us much easier than they can kill Greek people.”[97]

African immigrants in Greece are not alone in feeling paralyzed before police. Here, at a conference on the University of Texas at Austin campus about antiblack police violence, liberal activists and students expressed frustration at white “manarchists” who feel safe enough to attack police at demonstrations but leave the black people attending with the greatest risk of being arrested. Black insurrection in the US can make amazing progress in a short period of time, but the crackdown is most intense. In the 1960s, J. Edgar Hoover made it one of the FBI’s top priorities to completely shut down any black power, black nationalist, or civil rights group, epitomized by the super-secret and profoundly illegal COINTELPRO program and the 100-bullet assassination of Black Panther protégé Fred Hampton in his home in Chicago. [98] The murders of countless black civilians have been on the public radar in the US in the past 5 years, with notable examples such as Korryn Gaines, who stood her ground armed in her own home against a police invasion. It is difficult to imagine how black people are supposed to rebel en masse, when the risk of murder by police, or of extreme sentences for rioting, exemplified by Josh Williams, a 20-year old black man with no prior arrests, who has been sentenced for 8 years for attempting to set a store on fire during the Ferguson rebellion. [99] If insurrection is the only valid way to end oppression, and avoid the hierarchies and authority produced inevitably by organizational tactics, how can insurrection be made not for-whites-only? When insurrection is entirely black, the state crackdown is severe. If it is mixed, then the black participants will be killed or imprisoned first. How can insurrection be made viable for black people, if it is the only path to human liberation, which necessarily includes black liberation? and women’s liberation?


Female Insurrection

The subordination of bodies to violence and to the symbols of the ruling class can not be reversed with hidden hierarchies. Aside from the cop…

Also kill the sexist in your head!

An Athens feminist group, “Communiqué”[100]

If ritualized, organized violence is a cornerstone of patriarchy, how shall women embrace it in their struggle? [101] An Athens feminist group wrote a communiqué, in a fit of rage, declaring their frustration with the insurrection. They criticize capitalist exploitation of female bodies, the state and economy corralling women into domestic reproduction, the omnipresent sexual harassment, the liberal feminism assurances that “equality” is coming. But then, they criticize their supposed comrades in the street, who call cops “cunts” and “pussies,” then after hearing the women protest those words, threaten to “make you shut up” “if you do not know how.” “The word ‘ cunt’ (and the body part itself) is already denigrated in the social hierarchy of gender. This relationship is reproduced everywhere. Now also in the street!” Women see the dual monster where white men only see one. They battle against the external system of social organization, but they also need to scream at their comrades to “kill the sexist in your head!” who otherwise would never think to.[102]

Sexism from male comrades is an omnipresent, seemingly permanent problem for women who organized on the left. Much of the women’s liberation movement of the 60’s and 70’s was born directly from women’s disillusionment or disgust at their treatment in their respective movements, whether with the Panthers, the Civil Rights movement, the New Left, the anti-war movement, or the Chicano movement. Robin Morgan wrote in her iconic essay, “Goodbye To All That,” forty years before the Greek feminists of the December insurrection: “that’s what I wanted to write about–the friends, brothers, lovers in the counterfeit male-dominated Left. The good guys who think they know what Women’s Lib, as they so chummily call it, is all about–who then proceed to degrade and destroy women by almost everything they say and do.” [103] Today’s men raised on hardcore pornography, a reification of gender from the transgender movement, and a few liberal feminist slut-walks, do not give much hope for women radicals looking for an relief from the patriarchal pseudo-comrades of the past 10,000+ years.

Beyond this, to hit the streets during a nighttime chaos of rioting men and to have physical confrontations with male cops requires a lot of macho confidence and male privilege. Speaking of the Watts Riots of 1965 in Los Angeles, a community activist said, “This was a male revolt directed at the white power structure […] During the riot, the women were out on the streets, cheering the men on.” [104] Amidst endless propagandizing declarations of the righteousness and awesomeness of insurrection in Greece, many of which were admittedly beautifully written, I was shocked to find the open letter of Pola Roupa, a member of the anarcho-communist, anti-imperialist, designated-terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle. A notable exception of Greek female anarchist militancy, she describes her failed attempt to hijack a helicopter to liberate her comrade-cum-husband from prison, the statement’s goal being to raise public awareness of her identity, so the next hypothetical helicopter pilot would not resist. This time, the pilot of the chartered helicopter had refused to cooperate and crashed the helicopter, but Roupa escaped, and is still at large. Painting a vibrant picture of the helicopter hijacking, she insists that the pilot himself had been armed, that it was not an unequal fight. “The second mag was from his own gun, which he dropped from his hands during our scuffle during flight. And as for me, of course I had a second mag. Would I go to such an operation with only one mag?” She also refers to her bank “expropriation” the previous summer, which funded her life in “clandestiny.”[105]

A notable warrior indeed, however her context and politics differ from the individualist insurrectionists on the street in December 2008. She is a part of a tight knit terrorist group that has carried out incendiary attacks against banks and the US Embassy in Athens. They do not advocate for generalized smashing and destruction of the leviathan, mere rioting, but instead “[invite] all other guerillas to create a joint anti-capitalist movement in armed struggle and “social revolution.” [106] Roupa herself wrote: “These are links in a chain of revolutionary planning aimed to create more favourable political and social conditions, for broadening and strengthening revolutionary struggle.” [107] Very distinct from the anti-organizational, anti-social insurrection of the individualists. Roupa herself is evidence that women in a tight-knit group of trusted comrades can engage tooth and nail in armed revolutionary struggle. It seems as though individualism, unsurprisingly, leaves individuals to their own liberty–their own wantonness, their own white or native-born privilege, their own anti-cunt and anti-pussy prejudices. Remarked Catharine MacKinnon on the necessary conclusions of anti-state ideology, “women are left to civil society, which for women has more closely resembled a state of nature,” both of male domination, and of white supremacy, imperialism, and colonization. [108] Historically though, when women are organized, in women-only or feminist-minded groups, they participate in militancy and violence as much as men. [109]

Adding to the liberalism in its ideological foundations, I have yet to encounter a solid, materialist answer from anarchism of how it will succeed in making its egalitarian revolution happen. I did stumble upon a “Radical Feminist Anarchists” Facebook page, which intrigued me, given the apparent problem of how to enforce the destruction of patriarchy without being caught looking authoritarian. On their uploaded photo of graffiti which read, “burn all prisons to the ground,” (a typical anarchist sentiment) I asked them where, then, they would put all the rapists and child molesters, to which they replied, “They would be killed.” When another feminist communist asked them who would kill the rapists in a victim-blaming patriarchy, i.e. our current sex-hierarchy that stretches back the past 5,000 years, the anarchist replied, “An anarchist society wouldn’t be a victim-blaming patriarchy. Anarchism is explicitly egalitarian.” [110] Patriarchy simply would not exist after anarchism. Who can believe it has been this easy all along?

Peter Gelderloos has some suggestions for us again. Outlined in the chapter of his book “How Nonviolence Protects the State” devoted to patriarchy, his main plan of action for anarchist feminism is to build a healthy, healing feminist culture. “Most of the work needed to overcome patriarchy will probably be peaceful, focused on healing and building alternatives” “complemented by militantly opposing institutions that propagate exploitive and violent relationships.” [111] He emphasized the importance of encouraging women to defend themselves against violence now. He added, true to the nature of the book,

Killing a cop who rapes homeless transgender people and prostitutes, burning down the office of a magazine that consciously markets a beauty standard that leads to anorexia and bulimia, kidnapping the president of a company that conducts women-trafficking—none of these actions prevent the building of a healthy culture. [112]

I wonder why he did not simply write “kill all rapists, and men who buy sex,” like the Radical Feminist Anarchists, and instead opted for a more symbolic approach. Perhaps it was his maleness speaking.

This all sounds, however violent, somewhat like standard radical feminist praxis. What cannot be used here, though, is law. No matter how global, how systematic, how massive the structures exploiting women are, it rests on individuals and affinity groups to enact single attacks. This is where his reasoning gets murky. “The Western concept of justice, based on law and punishment, is patriarchal through and through. Early legal codes defined women as property, and laws were written for male property owners, who had been socialized not to deal with emotions; ‘wrongs’ were addressed through punishment rather than reconciliation.” [113] Law is wrong because it has been male supremacist so far, which is bad because they are emotionless, and because law comes from liberalism. He implies transgressions should be amended through feminist reconciliation, not unproductive punishment, immediately after he advocates killing rapists and blowing up CEOs. My stance is not to reject the killing of rapists, but to demand clarity, consistency, and a plan from anarchist theory, which it cannot and historically has not provided.

We see time and again the presence of, or at least the objection to, misogyny and racism within anarchist movements. If the means must reflect the ends–which is why anarchism exists as an ideology of immediate communism, opposed to the Marxist withering away of the state–and thus the future ends can be taken to reflect the current means, how will anarchism achieve egalitarianism if it cannot spread radical feminism among its members now? What tactics will it use beyond influencing ideas and purging its problematic members, which would further reduce the relative number of anarchist radicals who plan on reshaping the entire political system in their image? We must not forget Engels’ statement that a revolution is the most authoritarian thing there is.

It is only through gaining control of the state that the workers will acquire the resources and apparatuses of power to enable them to control the means of production. The nation-state in late capitalism continues to be a necessary site in the international struggle to end the exploitation of people’s labor and wrest the ownership of the means of production away from a transnational bourgeoisie. [114]

An elimination of exploitation requires a seizure by force (organized violence) of the means of production and a removal of enemies of the people, who refuse to cease their exploitative activities. These acts require “the proletariat organized as a ruling class.” [115] The doctrine of Lenin, which reminds us that “the supersession of the bourgeois state by the proletarian state is impossible without a violent revolution,” has historically achieved victories over the exploitative bourgeoisie, and consequently made incredible gains for women under the Marxist feminist policy that existed. [116]

Contrary to anarchist belief, “the abolition of the proletarian state, i.e., of the state in general, is impossible except through the process of ‘withering away’.” [117] The bourgeois state is a social relation whose aim is to suppress the majority of workers for the minority of capitalists. The proletarian state is the only tactic to protect revolutionary gains and mandate radical changes to society. The proletarian state is the means that the working people have to transition to a classless society where women and third-world people will be free of exploitation. A simple smashing or abolition of the bourgeois state alone will guarantee nothing for the exploited and oppressed.


next chapter


Endnotes for this section: [47-117]

47.  Mao, Zedong. “Classes and Class Struggle,” Quotations from Mao-Tse-tung. Peking: Foreign Languages Press, 1967.

48. Engels, Friedrich. “On Authority,” Marx-Engels Reader, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2nd ed, 1978. 730-733.

49. Chomsky, Noam, and Barry Pateman. Chomsky on Anarchism. Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2005. 123.

50. Libertarian Socialist Rants, “Arguments Against Anarchism,” video hosted by Youtube. 8 November 2013. Web. Accessed 20 November 2016. 0:15.

51. Ibid.

52. Chomsky, Noam, and Barry Pateman. Chomsky on Anarchism. 127.

53. Gelderloos, Peter. “Insurrection vs. Organization.” The Anarchist Library. June 2009. Web. Accessed 20 November 2016.

54. Libertarian Socialist Rants, “Arguments Against Anarchism.” 1:50.

55.  Engels, Friedrich. The Origins of Family, Private Property, and the State. As quoted in Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. State and Revolution. Marxists Internet Archive, 1999 (1918). 6.

56. The Finnish Bolshevik. “Response to Libertarian Socialist Rants & the ‘Red Bureaucracy,’” video uploaded by TheFinnishBolshevik to Youtube. 18 July 2016. 11:50.

57. The Finnish Bolshevik. “Actually Existing Anarchism Pt. 2 (CNT-FAI Catalonia),’” video uploaded by TheFinnishBolshevik to Youtube. 1 July 2016. 0:30.

58. The Finnish Bolshevik. “Response to Libertarian Socialist Rants & the ‘Red Bureaucracy,’” Video description.

59. MacKinnon, Catharine A. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. 45.

60. Ibid.

61. Harvey, David. “Listen, Anarchist!” June 10, 2015. Accessed November 20, 2016.

62. Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. State and Revolution. Marxists Internet Archive, 1999 (1918). 14.

63. Ibid. 13.

64. Ibid. 17.

65. Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. State and Revolution. 14.

66. Engels, Friedrich. “On Authority,” Marx-Engels Reader, New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 2nd ed, 1978. 730-733.

67. “Anarcho-Communism” page, Facebook. 25 September 2016. Web. Accessed 20 November 2016. “ATTENTION: This page is now under new collective administration. TERF/SWERF/Tankie/non-anarchist admins have been ejected.”

68. HamburgerDude, comment on “Are you anti-porn?” r/Anarchism, April 2016. Web. Accessed 20 November 2016.

69. Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. “Chapter III, section F: Once More “Slanderers”, Once More “Mystifiers”,” What Is to Be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement. Marxists Internet Archive, 1999 (1902).

70. First-hand experience, June 2016.

71. Jensen, Robert. “Some basic propositions about sex, gender, and patriarchy.” Dissident Voice, 13 June 2014.

72. Rogue, J. “De-essentializing anarchist feminism: lessons from the transfeminist movement.” The Anarchist Library. 2012. Web.

73. Ibid.

74. Ibid.

75. Dimitrakis, Yiannis. “Letter from Korydallos Prison,” We Are an Image from the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2010. 39.

76. Harvey, David. “Listen, Anarchist!”

77. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008. Edinburgh: AK Press, 2010. 5-7.

78. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future.117.

79. Ibid. 121.

80. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future. 120.

81. Ibid. 185.

82. Ibid. 15.

83. Ibid.

84. Ibid.

85. Harvey, David. “Listen, Anarchist!”

86. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future. 170.

87. Seidman, Michael. Workers Against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts. University of California Press. 1991. 69.

88. Bolloten, Burnett. The Spanish Civil War: Revolution and Counterrevolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991. 236.

89. The Finnish Bolshevik. “Actually Existing Anarchism Pt. 2 (CNT-FAI Catalonia),’” video uploaded by TheFinnishBolshevik to Youtube. 1 July 2016. 8:20.

90. Bookchin, Murray, as quoted in Harvey, David. “Listen, Anarchist!” June 10, 2015. Accessed November 20, 2016.

91. Reed, Adolph Jr. “The limits of anti-racism,” Left Business Observer, No 121. September 2009. Web.

92. Gelderloos, Peter. “Insurrection vs. Organization.” The Anarchist Library. June 2009. Web. Accessed 20 November 2016.

93. Ibid.

94. Reed, Adolph Jr. “The limits of anti-racism,” Left Business Observer, No 121. September 2009.

95. Ebert, Teresa L. “Feminism and resistance postmodernism,” Ludic Feminism and After: Postmodernism, Desire, and Labor in Late Capitalism. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996. 134. Emphasis original.

96. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future. 151.

97. Ibid. 187.

98. Taylor, Flint G. “The FBI COINTELPRO Program and the Fred Hampton Assassination,” The Huffington Post. Web. 3 December 2013.

99. Stewart, Mariah. “This 20-Year-Old Is Serving The Longest Sentence From The Ferguson Protests.” The Huffington Post. Web. 11 May 2016.

100. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future. 247.

101. Zerzan, John. “Patriarchy, civilization, and the origins of gender,” Twilight of the Machines. Los Angeles, CA: Feral House, 2008.

102. Schwarz, A. G., and Tasos Sagris. We Are an Image from the Future. 247.

103. Morgan, Robin. “Goodbye to all that.” Fair Use Blog. 2007 (1970) accessed 20 November 2016.

104. Horne, Gerald. Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995. 39.

105. Roupa, Pola. “[Greece] Open Letter of Pola Roupa about the Attempt to Break Nikos Maziotis out of Koridallos Prison.” Contra Info. March 13, 2016. Accessed November 21, 2016.

106. Kalmouki, Nikoleta. “‘Revolutionary Struggle’ Claims April 10 Bank of Greece Bomb.” Greece Greek Reporter. April 25, 2014. Accessed November 21, 2016.

107. Roupa, Pola. “[Greece] Open Letter of Pola Roupa.”

108. MacKinnon, Catharine A. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. 160.

109. Gelderloos, Peter. “Nonviolence is Patriarchal,” How Nonviolence Protects the State. The Anarchist Library. Web. Second Edition. 2007.

110. “Radical Feminist Anarchists” page, Facebook. Photo shared 5 September 2016. Web. Accessed 20 November 2016. Photo of graffiti on wall, reads “Burn prisons hug cats.”

111. Gelderloos, Peter. “Nonviolence is Patriarchal,” How Nonviolence Protects the State.

112. Gelderloos, Peter. “Nonviolence is Patriarchal,” How Nonviolence Protects the State. The Anarchist Library. Web. Second Edition. 2007. My emphasis.

113. Ibid.

114. Ebert, Teresa. “Toward a Red Feminism.”

115. Marx, Karl, The Communist Manifesto, as quoted by Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. State and Revolution. 13

116. Lenin, Vladimir Ilʹich. State and Revolution. 15.

117. Ibid.