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Radical or Proletarian Feminism

As expected, my recent post on the problems with "sex positivist" feminism caused some controversy.  And though most of this controversy was anticipated, and the complaints about my position most often generated the predictable poverty of thinking (and intentional misunderstanding), there were some criticisms that were more interesting and salient.  To be fair, I think that the post in question was not especially good: it was unfocused, it lacked a clear structure, and was generally a rant derived from a few related frustrations that just happened, at the time the post was written, to coincide.  Even still, at least one of the complaints that made it unto my comments string (keep in mind I am ignoring all of the bullshit complaints and "critiques" that were levelled on other sites where it was reposted) was interesting enough, regardless of how it was phrased, to inspire this specific post.  The comment in question was arguing that all of my articles and discussions on proletarian feminism were little more than a reiteration of radical feminism but "for proles."

In this post, then, I want to discuss in a slightly more structured manner what I mean by proletarian feminism and why, when I speak of this ideology still in development, I am not speaking of a radical feminism branded with the name proletariat.  Moreover, since my understanding of proletarian feminism is not dependent on my own theoretical work (that is, I am not the one who invented the term nor am I dressing up this emergent communist-feminist ideology with my own concerns), even if it could be dismissed as "radical feminism for proles" then such a dismissal is actually dependent on the foundational theoretical work of this feminism that was produced by Anuradha Ghandy, Hisila Yami, and proletarian feminist mass organizations connected to revolutionary parties.  Indeed, much of the previous post was inspired by an article written by the Montreal branch of the Proletarian Feminist Front regarding the recent Bedford ruling in Canada.  With this in mind, I want to take this article to make a distinction between proletarian feminism and radical feminism, as well as the way I have come to see feminism due to the influence of this emergent feminist theoretical terrain.  Hopefully this will explain how a proletarian feminist examination of an issue that is also of interest to radical feminism is approached from a different epistemic framework, as well as explaining some of the conceptual language I have taken from the particular manifestation of proletarian feminism in my social context (i.e. the PCR-RCP's programme misunderstood chapter on proletarian feminism, the continuous theoretical labour produced by its Proletarian Feminist Front, etc.) that may not be entirely clear.

1. on the legacy of radical feminism

It's no secret that a significant part of my feminist politicization was due to my encounter with radical feminism.  I have never hidden this fact on this blog and have defended the radical feminist legacy at various points.  And yet I have always been clear that, despite my respect for this political tendency and believing that some of the insights its militants have made remain relevant, that I am not a radical feminist.  Indeed, in my aforelinked examination of the PCR-RCP chapter about proletarian feminism I clearly delineated this feminism from what I saw as a reassertion of radical feminism on the part of the otherwise excellent Signalfire blog/website.  Furthermore, in Capitalism is Still Women's Enemy, I explained the general contours of proletarian feminism (again according to its principle theorists and organizations involved in theoretical struggle) in contradistinction to other feminist trends, including radical feminism.

Before going any further, I think it is important to note my actual personal feelings about radical feminism lest I be accused, by way of an epistemic fallacy, of secretly clinging to this tendency and using proletarian feminism as a means to veil radical feminism in the trappings of communism.  I hadn't yet encountered the work of Anuradha Ghandy and Hisila Yami when I first began to distance myself from radical feminism as a whole; my investment and support of proletarian feminism was due to its ability to explain much of the same phenomena in a way that I felt was less problematic and more scientific.  Particularly, I was opposed to the fact that radical feminism located the primary social contradiction as one between men and women and in a way that could not always overcome the problem of biological determinism despite its important work on the social construction of gender.  And thus, despite still believing that there were important things to learn from, say, Dworkin's analysis of pornography and intercourse that possessed the germ of a thorough materialist analysis, I was also uncomfortable with the context in which this analysis developed.

(Another significant reason that made it difficult for me to accept radical feminism as a whole was the problem of transphobia: while it would be a mistake to claim that all radical feminists are transphobic, and forget that there were moments even in Dworkin that were largely trans-positive, it is still a fact that transphobia hampers this ideology as a whole.  One only needs to look through the sum-total of radical feminist theoretical labour on this issue to be struck immediately by the fact that this problem has severely hampered radical feminist ideology to the point that it cannot simply be an unfortunate ideological deviation––despite honourable exceptions, it is far too normative.  Dworkin herself capitulated to transphobia due to the influence of Janice Raymond.  Moreover, radical feminist online venues––some that even claim they are not transphobic––continue to promote Raymond's analysis of this-or-that, thus giving this chauvinist a platform, as well as other known transphobic feminisms, such as the theoretical work of feminists in Derrick Jensen's Deep Green Resistance movement.  At one point I even had to purge radical feminist websites from my blogroll that were celebrating anti-trans hate crimes.)

And yet it would be a mistake to claim that, simply because proletarian feminism is distinct from radical feminism that the former is not, and ought not be, influenced by the latter.  In Anuradha Ghandy's masterful Philosophical Trends In The Feminist Movement, one of the seminal proletarian feminist texts, we find an assessment of every feminist current from a revolutionary communist perspective and, in this assessment, the germinal assemblage of a feminism that, while criticizing all of these currents, still declares what is useful for communists to adopt from these trends.  Thus, in this piece, we can see how some of the key concerns of radical feminism were treated as significant by Ghandy (i.e. its critique of prostitution, discussed in my controversial post) while others were critiqued.  Obviously Ghandy treats aspects of some other feminist traditions as also significant (i.e. aspects of Italian marxist-feminism), but simply because she highlights this or that theoretical understanding as important does not mean that she is arguing for a feminism that is just another version of x feminism BUT FOR PROLES.  The larger epistemic framework she is proposing, based on a revolutionary communist understanding of class struggle, is what guides this assessment––we will investigate this in later sections.

If it is enough for parallel concerns, influence, and theoretical intersection to make one theoretical tendency identical to another than we would have no such thing as theoretical difference––Marx's philosophy would be the same as Hegel's, Hegel's would be the same as Kant's… all the way back to Plato and Aristotle.  Besides, this would make radical feminism itself incoherent as a particular theoretical terrain since it would lead to the homogenization of all feminisms, which emerged by being influenced and declaring their difference to each other, which is patently ludicrous.

Furthermore, since radical feminism originated in a feminist movement that was influenced by China's Cultural Revolution (i.e. Cell 16, the Red Stockings), then by a torturous logic we could go so far as to argue that radical feminism itself was initially some quasi proletarian feminism and so it is ahistorical to claim that it has influenced proletarian feminism when the opposite was the case.  Although even this claim is a problem, since I do believe that radical feminism would quickly become something significantly different from a communist feminism, it should at least tell us something interesting about this feminist tendency and why it often intersects with proletarian feminism––it did, after all, grow from the same foundations.  Even still, the fact that two ideological tendencies share the same root does not make them identical: Trotskyism and Maoism grew out of Marxism-Leninism and are completely different, and we do not (and should not) think they are identical simply because their concerns tend to intersect from time to time.

2.  on "patriarchal vestiges"

While it might seem odd for me to move directly from the previous section to a discussion of theoretical jargon that has caused some misunderstanding in the past, I am doing so in order to make a clear distinction, through an explanation of this conceptual problematic, between proletarian feminism and radical feminism.  For this term, if properly understood, signifies the key demarcation between these two approaches to feminism.  That is, if we ended the previous section by claiming that intersecting and relating ideologies are not identical, then it is worth examining particular conceptual mechanisms by which they are distinguished.

The use of this terminology has led to bad faith rejections premised on the concept's very definition.  The same commenter who complained that my usage of proletarian feminism was simply a prole-costuming of radical feminism, for example, also mocked the concept of vestigial patriarchy by claiming that "patriarchy remains within the mode of production as a contradictory part of the property system."  But this is precisely the point of the concept: patriarchy remains within the mode of production––it is the remnant of a previous mode of production that is obstructing the current mode of production––and is more immanent than simply a "contradictory part of the property system."

Why the use of the term "vestiges"?  Simply to make the academic point, which may seem useless, that what we call "patriarchy" now is not at all patriarchy-qua-patriarchy and is being driven, in the last instance, by capitalist logic while, at the same time, obstructing this logic in an abstract sense.  That is, capitalism in the abstract does not require patriarchy in order to function as capitalism; the patrilineal order (the "property system" if you will) originated in another mode of production but persists in this one.  As Gandhy argues in Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement: patriarchy is not "a separate system with its own laws of motion."  It affects the class structure of capitalism but it has also, because of capitalism, mutated: the bourgeois order has demystified the justification of patrilineal hierarchy without doing away with its ideological conventions.

In some ways this terminology may be academic hair-splitting, an attempt to explain the way in which a contradiction that precedes capitalism is preserved in the super-structure so as to affect, (dis)articulate, and at times obstruct the base.  The terminology thus exists so as to speak of patriarchy in a manner that connects it to the general logic of capitalism without mistaking it for the primary structural contradiction of capitalism but still recognizing how it affects this structure.  After all, the concept of patriarchy is not at all similar to concepts such as "kyriarchy" which really do have nothing to do with the material structure of capitalism; the hair-splitting, if it is hair-splitting, is simply an attempt to square patriarchal ideology delinked from pre-capitalist modes of production––an ideology in the strong sense, where it becomes a material force––with the fact that capitalism, and not patriarchy, is the enemy of women and the enemy of people in general.  And if it appears that those of us who tend to use this language are, when describing what it means, saying something similar to those who define their account of patriarchy according to the same terms, then perhaps the charge of hair-splitting is well-warranted.

3. on the principal contradiction

The question, then, is whether or not this academic distinction is useful, especially since it seems to cause needless confusion.  I would argue that it is useful insofar as it is intended to make a scientific point that teaches us something about revolutionary organizing.  If we do not understand patriarchy according to this conception of ideological vestiges, then we are talking of a hierarchy based on patrilineal relations.  Capitalism, however, is not a mode of production that is based, in the last instance, on hierarchical patrilineal relations; if this was the case, its structural logic would be different.

Here is where we return to the radical feminist problematic: radical feminism, at its core, is premised on a conception of patriarchy-qua-patriarchy that, by beginning with the claim that patriarchy is the primary structural problem of society (akin to a mode of production, or at least conflated with capitalism) and thus necessarily treats the contradiction between men and women as a primary contradiction.  Unlike some marxist-feminists who aren't interested in thinking through what it means to simply speak of patriarchy remaining as patriarchy-proper, radical feminists are theoretically consistent: when they speak of patriarchy they are indeed speaking of a social context where, due to a particular gendered hierarchy, the principal contradiction is between men and women.

But if the principal contradiction is between men and women (however we are to understand these categories), then what is the resultant movement?  A movement that cannot really speak to the phenomenon of social class, no matter how far we go in explaining the social construction of gender, and thus cannot really challenge the structure upon which capitalism exists and reproduces itself.  Although Shulamith Firestone's claim that sex-class precedes social class is interesting, and sometimes parallels claims made by Engels, it fails to grasp what is meant by class as a historical phenomenon: while it is correct that a society's economic structure may at one have been determined by sex division (i.e. a complete patriarchy), sex is not some essential dividing line of humanity but simply a moment that was the dividing line of social classification.  Nor is this sexual division a transhistorical phenomenon; if it was then there would have to be something essentially different between men and women in a platonic sense preserved in each and every mode of production.  Indeed, prior exploitative and/or oppressive divisions are preserved but they also mutate.  Unless we were to argue, as Firestone seems to at many points, that the essential division is morphological (and thus fall into that troubling bio-determinism), and thus a division between cis men and cis women, it makes no sense to conflate sex and class.  Best to recognize that this sex division was most probably an instance of social classification that was the social class division of a given mode of production than to trans-historicize the phenomenon.

(One strategy of escaping Firestone's conflation of sex and class is simply to transform the latter into an identitarian concept rather than a material category, but this would also prevent any serious discussion of patriarchy since, now that sex and class are on par with every other potential site of oppression, we might as well just talk about the unscientific notion called "kyriarchy" that can tell us nothing about the world in which we live except that "there are a bunch of different types of people oppressed in different types of ways." Such an insight is true only on the level of appearance; on the level of substance it explains nothing about the way in which things work… This is why we speak of social class and class struggle as fundamental categories of being––because they actually explain the phenomena they are used to explain.)

In any case, to claim that the principal contradiction is between men and women is to also claim that the revolutionary resolution of this contradiction––where the former group overthrows the latter––is what we necessarily must pursue.  If this is the case, however, then we need to ask what world would result in such a revolution and if it would even be a logically possible world.  Here I am not trying to argue that people such as Valerie Solanas were heinous for writing manifestoes defending such a revolution, for I am not at all morally appalled by what they described and demanded.  What I am arguing, however, is that the solidarity necessary for such a revolution is not possible.  Why?  Because we are not dealing with a society structured according to this contradiction.  If we were to assume a world where women acted according to their interests solely as women (that is, if they did not defend laws against abortion, how God placed them in a subordinate position to men, and other examples of so-called "false" consciousness), bourgeois women, women married to bourgeois men, and petty-bourgeois women would by-and-large act like the male equivalents of these classes and refuse to unite with other women except in those areas that had to do with their rights as women.  Going further: if we were to assume a situation in which formal and informal equality between men and women was accomplished, we could still have capitalism.

What proletarian feminism argues, however, is that while the contradiction between men and women persists to some degree it is not the principal contradiction.  It is a significant contradiction insofar as it partially determines class composition, insofar as it negatively affects solidarity movements, insofar as it affects the daily lives of people, but in the last instance it is also determined by the principal contradiction of bourgeois-proletariat upon which capitalism is built.  None of this is to say we must adopt the most simplistic understanding of what constitutes the "bourgeois" and the "proletariat" (and thus ignore, for example, that there are more white men inhabiting the former category), only that we need to notice that proletarian women have more to gain in uniting with proletarian men than bourgeois women.

Moreover, to assert that the contradiction between men and women is a secondary contradiction is not to conjure it into oblivion behind the necessity of the principal contradiction.  One of the significant insights of proletarian feminism was Hisila Yami's claim that a revolution will eventually reach a point where it will stand or fall based on the participation of revolutionary women.  That is, if women in a revolutionary movement are doubly exploited than they have more to gain if the revolutionary succeeds and more to lose if it takes the revisionist path where men might easily do well embracing opportunism.  Her solution was an increase in women leadership and autonomy within a revolutionary movement and it is only a point of great irony that, perhaps ignoring her warning, she ended up on the wrong side of the two-line struggle that split the People's War in Nepal.

4. on the peripheral origin of proletarian feminism

At this point it is worth noting that all this talk of patriarchal vestiges is intended to speak to the patriarchal social relations that are preserved within capitalist modes of production––and since these modes of production form the centres of world capitalism (i.e. the imperialist nations), the concept does not necessarily apply to the global peripheries.  In the peripheral nations, which have been blocked by imperialism from developing into capitalist modes of production (as Amin has noted, they are capitalist social formations, with a comprador class and the disarticulated but preserved remnants of those modes of production that were conquered and underdeveloped from modern colonialism to contemporary neo-colonialism), the "vestiges" of patriarchy are far more structural in the strong sense of the world.  In many of these instances we can speak of patriarchy in the literal sense of the world: a social order where male power is enshrined legally in a manner that is categorically different from the way in which it is protected at the centres of capitalism.  And yet, the most radical social movements have historically emerged at these weakest links––where exploitation is sharper, the contradictions of capitalism more apparent––which is why it is unsurprising that militant womens' movements connected to people's wars would be responsible for producing the foundational theory of proletarian feminism.

Of course, due to the strictures of this small essay, I am necessarily simplifying and truncating a complex phenomenon.  Even at the centres of capitalism male power is not simply informally codified; it still persists, at many points, within the formal legal apparatus.  More importantly, we don't have to go very far back in the history of modern capitalism to locate capitalist states wherein the inherited patriarchal legal apparatus still commanded a significant amount of formal power: the feminist movement emerged to challenge this power beginning with suffrage and developing, by the sixth decade of the 20th century, into a movement aimed at challenging all laws that explicitly excluded women.  The general point I want to make here, though, is that these laws were challenged, overthrown, and reformed (an obvious example is that rape is no longer legally protected, even within the property relations of a marriage) at the centres of capitalism without, for all that, doing away with this lingering phenomenon in particular and the larger problem of capitalism in general.

Here, the origin point of proletarian feminism is significant.  Having analyzed and charted the course of the feminist movement at the centres of capitalism, the revolutionaries at the peripheries are not at all interested in pursuing the same kind of feminist revolution just as they are not at all interested in pursuing a bourgeois revolution: whereas the path of the latter is blocked by imperialism, the path of the former was seen as a limited revolutionary course that, by approaching its once revolutionary aims, could only be a reformist project if it became central to a revolutionary movement. As Ghandy writes: "these solutions have at best benefited a section of middle class women but left the vast mass of oppressed and exploited women far from liberation."

Following this analysis, proletarian feminism at the centres of capitalism begins by recognizing that feminist struggle must be part of a communist movement aimed at overthrowing capitalism and, because of this participation, is not primarily focused on reforming bourgeois laws.  This is not to say that such a movement will not and should not intervene, when possible, in reformist struggles, but only that its prime goal is in pursuing a feminism within a broader proletarian movement that seeks to overthrow and replace capitalist society.

5.  conclusion

The intent of this small essay has simply been to discuss the framework in which proletarian feminism functions and, in this discussion, demonstrate that while its interests occasionally overlap with other types of feminism this overlapping is driven by its own logic.  To simply dismiss it as "radical feminism for proletarians" misses the mark because it is also inspired by other feminist trends and is critical of the foundational commitments of radical feminism.  To simply treat it as a strategic use, by communists, of the word "feminism" because it is fashionable is to miss the fact that those communist trends developing this theory are doing so in a way to draw lines of demarcation within their own movement and, in this drawing, to develop mass organizations driven by a class-struggle feminism.

Marxism has a history of rejecting feminism as a "petty-bourgeois ideology" and pretending that, because of its revolutionary history of actually enabling women's liberation, that it has nothing to learn from feminist theory.  This strange contradiction has led to innumerable treatises and poorly written polemics about the errors of feminism as a whole and how classical marxist theory already provides all of the properly materialist answers to this problem.  We can see the effects of this contradiction in the actual behaviour of marxist organizations where, despite what they say about women's liberation, their disdain for feminism and feminists results in the most abhorrent defenses of misogynist behaviour––the SWP, for example, attempted to cast all criticisms of its member-on-member sexual harassment as a feminist plot.  And yet those former members of the SWP who decided that feminism was important cannot explain what they mean by feminism within the context of communism and, like so many other socialists, want to just have a vague feminism along with their [sometimes also vague] communism.

What makes proletarian feminism interesting (at least to me) is in its courage to chart another course.  Rather than rejecting the whole of feminist theory, it has attempted to learn from various feminisms and discover what aspects of these feminisms can teach us about revolutionary praxis while, at the same time, examining these feminisms in light of world historical revolutions.  In this way it has learned from radical feminism just as it has learned from various socialist feminisms, such as the Italian marxist-feminists, without simply reproducing these ideologies or adding them together in an incoherent jumble.  Hence, it is not lost in some incoherent borrowing of feminism, or simply calling itself "feminist" because it is fashionable, but is invested in developing a systematic theory in line with Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and in the service of revolution.

The fact that I cannot explain anything more significant than its general outlines is due, in part, to the fact that proletarian feminism is a terrain of feminist theory that is still in emergence.  As such, I am only intervening philosophically to clarify the meaning of this terrain; further theoretical elaboration will be provided by those proletarian feminist organizations that are developing their analysis and conceptual tools even now.  For example, the Proletarian Feminist Front initiated by the PCR-RCP will soon be presenting a manifesto that will provide more clarification than I can give here and, when it is made public, I look forward to discussing its contents.  Until then, I think it is important to leave this explanation here, where the distinction between proletarian and radical feminism is hopefully clear.


  1. Good stuff. Small correction: I think you mean *principal* contradiction, not *principle*.

    1. Thanks! Yet another embarrassing mistake that shall be fixed.

  2. the first sentence of the second paragraph under 1. on the legacy of radical feminism, the word is "lest", not "less". feel free to delete this comment.

    1. Yet more proof that I should: a) copy edit before posting; b) not write these things in the wee hours. First the confusion with "principle" and "principal" and then this common mistake! I am sure, though, there are probably innumerable other typos and missing words...

  3. This is great discussion. Here's one more but quite crucial: Is the Proletarian Feminist Front preventing or presenting that manfesto? Btw, we remember encountering a Communist Party of the Philippines paper published sometime in the 90s criticizing bourgeois feminist currents, including what it called socialist feminism, and their negative effects (NGOization, cooptation, et al) on the women's movement in the country. That might interest you.

    1. Oh wow: this piece is filled with so many typos! You're the third person to point out something wrong, and this one actually changes the entire meaning of the sentence!

      In any case I do recall reading the CPP paper, which came out around the same time as the Avanti piece and had a lot of intersection in its critique, but I just couldn't find it anywhere when I wrote this. Do you have a link?

  4. Great discussion. A CPP document in the 90s also criticized bourgeos feminisms, socialist feminism, and the negative effects on NGOization and cooptation on the women's movement. That might interest you. More power to you!

    Btw, is that presenting or preventing the manifesto? Might get misinterpreted.

  5. Is it possible that the nineteenth century revolutionary labor movements had relevant experiences in their relations to otherr popular reform movements? Vegetarianism and other proposed diet/hygiene health regimes were not theorized but arose, apparently spontaneously, within segments of the left. And today movements against GMOs and for midwifery have, with apparently equal spontaneity, have arisen to share an equally mysterious relation to the Left. In both cases, these attitudes, despite having no visible pedigree in movement intellectuals, yet somehow are widely perceived to be "Left." And other movements, especially temperance, have equally posed sharp questions about what's left and what's right.

    Maybe this seems irrelevant and trivial, but it seems to me that recontextualizing this way highlights two basic premises as both relevant and important. First, the tasks of every era present themselves to a particular generation of individuals. People will not wait for a political leadership to issue a manifesto identifying a problem and its solution. They identify the problems themselves and search for the answers themselves. If people in the nineteenth century and the twentieth century worried about food and experimented with diets, I think the proper conclusion to draw is, there is a need which a sane society would consciously address. A revolutionary movement is about trying to meet people's needs, not the people meeting the party's needs. In this example, now, when capitalist forces of production are ripe for socialization, the need not just for enough food, but healthy food, is on the agenda. The search for the solution begins before the revolution. The seeds of a new order are not purchased from a catalogue sold by political parties. They are bred in hothouses.

    Second, there is the need for knowledge, a science that goes beyond mere appearances. In this context, it is easy to accept that homeopathy was not a successful struggle against early capitalist deformations of medicine. Needs are equal but solutions are not. Ignorance is not revolutionary, no matter how much it wishes it were. Worse, problems cannot be diagnosed by a vulgar analysis that fails to penetrate appearances. Contemporary concerns about industrial foods cannot be accepted at face value, no matter our sympathy for individuals. These issues about the reproduction of labor power have to be considered in light of the state of the forces of production and how these are fettered by the relations of production. And we have to evaluate all this is terms of the laws of motion of capitalism.

    Perhaps this all seems trivia pursued by laborious analogy. But I hope it makes it seem a little clearer if I comment now that much of the discussion of feminism in the advanced imperialist world and feminism in the colonized world doesn't seem to be aware of a basic difference: It is much more costly to raise children and simultaneously keep a normal standard of living in the first world. It seems to me that there is a huge amount of theoretical work to be done. But the kind of theorizing offered is too nonempirical, too abstract, too moralistic. Some of it appears to be wholly unaware that society must be understood as material phenomena.

    Steven Johnson

    1. I'm generally in agreement with your intervention, but since I was necessarily keeping this piece focused on the distinction between proletarian feminism and radical feminism, a book-sized (or at least booklet sized) examination of the larger context would have been impossible. Moreover, I think there is good historical materialist feminist work that, despite some problems, has already explored many of these issues (i.e. Sylvia Federici's *Caliban and the Witch* comes to mind).

      Also I think your last comment is key and one of the bases behind which the claim of the principal contradiction can be made. Proletarian women have more in common than proletarian men due to this material circumstances. In any case, I am still confused as to why you think that my analyses in these areas are "too moralistic" or "too nonempirical" (keeping in mind also that positivist empiricism is metaphysial materialism), or "too abstract." You are making what seems to be an argument from perfection that bars the ability to talk about certain material and ideological phenomena unless an entire book is written.

    2. [cont.]
      This is tantamount to claiming (if this is what you are claiming and, based on some of your past comments it seems that this is the case) that a physicist who examines a small problem in the Einsteinian paradigm is not being a proper scientist unless he goes into great depth rearticulating the entire paradigm from the position of his problematic. If this was the case, then not much would count as "materialist" in the world of science.

    3. Please forgive me for being slow. I'm afraid that most of my final comments were about the transfeminist essay linked to in your Sex Positivism as a fairly representative sample.. So far as I can tell, that is. I''m not really as familiar as I would like but my current position in life keeps me from being up to date. (I read Firestone on publication but the copy was lost in moving house decades ago.)

      If you could bear a seeming digression? Consider vegetarianism. As the harsh necessities imposed by nature are meliorated by the development of the forces of production, social life creates or expresses a fraternity. People become more empathetic. As this happens, some see a kind of contradiction: Animals have senses and can suffer from cruelty and fear it. Eating meat, previously simply human "nature" is no longer quite so natural but a choice. And we get an ideology of "animal rights." (Peter Singer, no?) Vegetarianism then is a progressive struggle.

    4. Oh, okay––that makes sense. I apologize for reading them wrongly. Yes, I agree that the essay I linked to was unmoored from a materialist analysis. And you're right, aside from originating from a somewhat unique radfem perspective, it was representative of that position. Still, as I indicated in this essay, there are always things to be learned from these kinds of feminist critiques even if their foundational way of seeing the world is flawed. Similarly, there is also something to be gleaned from post-modernism without having to accept all of its philosophical commitments.

      Good example with the vegetarianism, although aside from the fact that historical/social circumstances produce new ethical understandings, I would say it is categorically different from feminism. While there was a good material reason for eating meat, historically, there was never a good material reason for treating women as subhuman creatures, though we can understand why it happened materially/historically. Even Plato, the arch-idealist (but still a dialectician), understood that women were only seen as inhuman due to the denial of education and social chauvinism… whereas Aristotle, who was a materialist (but of the metaphysical, anti-dialectical sort), was incapable of seeing through the ideology of his time. Unlike animals women possess the agency of the human animal and we can see innumerable historical examples, some from way way back, where they weren't second-class citizens, where they struggled against oppression, and etc.

  6. How does proletarian feminism overcome the transphobia and transmisogyny that's at the very core of radical feminism without devolving into liberal feminism?

    1. This seems to be a trollish comment because it is a rhetorical question that begins by poisoning the well. You begin with a binary of "radical feminism versus liberal feminism", as if there cannot be one or the either, and the question implies, by its logical structure, that a feminism that is not transphobic is immediately liberal. The PFF has a general program that, though still evolving, is opposed to liberal feminism while also not being transphobic.

    2. I didn't mean for it to come off as trollish. I'm a trans woman and a marxist, and I'm genuinely interested in how a non-transphobic communist feminism that incorporates many important aspects of radical feminist analysis might be constructed. I didn't mean to imply that "feminism that is not transphobic is immediately liberal", just that most feminisms that aren't transphobic are liberal, and most feminisms that aren't liberal are transphobic. I've yet to see a real coherent articulation of a feminism that doesn't fall into either trap.

      I'm really not sure of how to conceive of gender. Liberal and radical feminists have their answers, but myself and all the non-transphobic marxist feminists I've talked to can't seem to come up with much more than "it's complicated".


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