I have been reading a number of biographies of Marx, to get acquainted with the context of his works. What struck me as un-anarchist in Marx’s elaboration of theory was obviously the subservience of everyone to his needs. Marx’s great quest to develop theory justified endless sacrifices from his wife, family and friends. Marxist political economy was not a collaborative work, but a highly specialised task, in which Marx did not have all the power (in particular, he was dependent on people taking care of him and funding him) but had all the intellectual and ‘moral’ power (his task was his alone and somehow invaluable to all workers). The “shoulders of giants” he stood on were not only the economists that had come before him, but the friends and family he was crushing much less figuratively. At the same time, I was wondering about anarchism’s relative failure to have theoretical output of quality, and how the refusal of such ways of getting things done could explain part of it (you know, the gentle way you kick out the “comrades” who periodically decide that what they are writing or doing is of greater importance to the cause than what you might ever accomplish, and that therefore they are entitled to living on your sofa, getting fed by you and generally using your energy and resources). Thinking about this, I stumbled (dialectically, one could say) on a larger issue: a fraction dividing anarchism today, which I think hinders its development and needs to be addressed.
Anarchist thought can be seen as a spectrum going from two extreme positions that are mainly strawmen that almost no-one actually defends: from the grossest workerism and devotion to class struggle politics to the most liberal identity politics. Along this spectrum, anarchists balance a vision of capitalism as it exists, largely based on Marx, and an understanding of systems of oppression. Although, in their theoretical intellectual framework both of these coincide quite happily, when you get to the material level and see how individual anarchists spend their time and energy, something starts to appear: people are specialised. Even though they read Marx and are very much interested in explaining capitalism as a system, women tend to spend most of their intellectual energy (discussions, debates, reading, writing) being concerned with feminism as well as intersectional politics. Discussions about Marx and explanations of the economic crisis are overall led and directed by men. With the notable exception of Rosa Luxemburg (and yes, there have been more recent examples), developers of Marxist and revolutionary political economic theory are men. Marxist feminism has long been the diversion for female Marxist scholars, the input of which is not negligible, just as intersectional politics today are an essential component of anarchism.
On the one hand, we have “heavyweight” “theory” which is commonly seen as dusty, old-fashioned, intellectually legitimate but too complicated for most people, useless, solely axed on class politics. On the other hand “liberal” “identity politics” which is new, fun, inclusive, post-modern, intellectually illegitimate, class-collaborationist. A lot of pointless conflict goes to show that one of these two caricature is good, and the other one evil and a lot of affect and emotion is invested in these supposed “sides” by anarchist, despite the fact that it is obvious that neither sides are anything close to anarchism. Our own gender construction pushes anarchist women to spend their intellectual energy on intersectional issues. Our comrades’ reinforcement also edges us that way: positive feedback on anarchafeminist articles, little or no feedback on contributions to discussions on capital. There is a perverse way in which men feel they are not “legitimate” to spend energy on feminism. That is, that they end up feeling more legitimate (than women), spending more energy on discussing capital. Also, as much as it is nice to feel that your input on a discussion on feminism is being valued, the contrast when you start talking about the economy is all the more striking and feels all the more violent.
In the privacy of my own intellectual musings, I am much more confident discussing Marx than discussing feminism. I completely share what men describe as their own fears about feminism and intersectional politics (fear of saying something stupid, not being legitimate, being oppressive without meaning to). Ironically, these are the fears that made me want to address those issues, to become a much better person, and although I was starting pretty low, I think it did a bit of good. But getting so much pressure to stick to this, and contrasting how people accept any unsubstantiated claim I make about something to do with women or minorities to the usual terribly oppressive “who are you to even dare speak of Marx” attitude I was brought up with, and accustomed to, makes me dizzy.
There is no doubt that Marx’s love of polemics, ad hominems and vicious fighting has been tolerated among Marxists for way too long. There is no doubt that organising talks like “in room A: a man will explain to you current theories on the economic crisis, while in room B: a woman will talk to you about intersectionality” has nothing feminist about it. We need to challenged the oppression of women has it materially takes place, every time a woman is cut short, humiliated or not given credit in our discussions of capital. Not by giving in in exchange for some spaces of peace and quiet where we can be listened to and valued, but never trespass on “real” politics. Anarchism has made some tremendous efforts in its inclusion of women, but the economy (as a system, not as it impacts on people’s everyday lives), capital and Marx are the last bastion of the dominant male discourse. Only by going against the flow and our own internalised misogyny, our judgement that some things are ‘too complicated’ or ‘too theoretical’ for us can we challenge that. As for men: many have learned to shut up and listen when oppressed people talk about their oppression. This socialisation as shy, unconfident, etc. is even worse when a woman talks about Great Things. But men’s effort to listen and shut up is much lesser (because of the discussion not being about the oppression of women, therefore men not having any feeling of lack of legitimacy). A lot of men, even great comrades that I value immensely, have two debating styles with me: on the issue of feminism, despite sometimes the weakness of my arguments, they are polite and engaging, on the issue of capital, despite sometimes (okay, rarely) the strength of my argument, they are dismissive and condescending. This will not do.
[This was written before I checked the 2013 Anarchist Bookfair programme, so no ill-intent was meant by “There is no doubt that organising talks like “in room A: a man will explain to you current theories on the economic crisis, while in room B: a woman will talk to you about intersectionality” has nothing feminist about it.” However, yes, there is a problem when you systematically “balance” one Marx meeting with an anarchafem meeting, namely: “class struggle and class consciousness” vs. “anarchafem conference”; “anarchism and marxism” vs. “stuff your sexist comrade”; “Marx and Harvey” vs. another “Anarchafeminism”]