We support you fully”, the Marxist revolutionaries assure the women. “The oppression of woman is very real, indeed one of the worst of all oppressions. But nevertheless, it is just one part of a larger reality. Women must join the revolutionary proletarian movement!We support the revolutionaries”, the Women’s Liberation Movement affirms. “Proletarian oppression is very real, and indeed one of the worst. But it is only one part of a greater reality. The women must recognise their difference and organize separately.
In this debate everyone is right – providing the presuppositions go unquestioned. None of the protagonists ask themselves what their initial positions really amounted to: what is this “Proletariat” they’re talking about, and this “Woman”? Is there also a “Man”? There’s something in it for everyone. But much harder than criticizing the adversary’s ideas would be to explain its social function – because if either side did that, they would also be forced to question their own. The “revolutionary” organizations’ version of “Marxism” is theoretical communism turned ideology. Their “proletariat” is not the collective movement to negate commodity society, but the movement for workers’ democracy, represented, as you would expect, by the self-proclaimed workers’ organizations. This “Marxism” (already rejected by Marx) is now an integral part of dominant ideology, and this dominant ideology cuts radical thought into pieces, retains Marx’s purely descriptive part – the analysis of contradictions – and discards the other: the vision of the movement towards human community, i.e. the only thing that gives the whole any meaning. It is no coincidence that “revolutionaries” identify with this kind of Marxism. I’m not talking about the official communist parties – no far-left activist even gives them the time of day. But do the activists ever try to understand the counter-revolutionary role of the “revolutionary organisations”, and that the revolution will have to destroy them? Generally they are seen as mere deviations. But “revolutionary” organizations (large or small, bureaucratic or informal) are the same thing as the Communist Party, just a lot or a little further to the left. They help block aspirations for a new world, and constrain their movements into limited measures.

For example, the workers at LIP10 were not revolutionary (cf. Le Fléau, n° 4). They employed radical means only to defend their place within capital. In certain cases precisely this kind of action could break capital, if it had no place left to grant them… Leftist activism is on hand to explain to these workers why the real solution to their problem is not the abolition of wage-labour, but protecting their jobs.

Ignoring Communism is Bliss

It is striking how partial the women’s liberation movement’s (WLM) critique of so-called revolutionary organisations is – it criticises them for not doing anything about women. That is to say it rejects leftism because it has not yet found its place within it. But quick as it is to denounce anti-woman tendencies in “Marxist” positions, in the end take it takes this same Marxism at face value, unable to differentiate it from true theoretical communism. The WLM renounces the traditional revolutionary movement, but cannot see any other. It criticizes Marxism without seeing that Marxism’s decline as revolutionary theory was counteracted by authentically subversive positions, like the communist left after 1917 (including among others Bordiga, Pannekoek, Gorter, and Sylvia Pankhurst, who came to communism from feminism, and is also victim to the WLM’s silence and falsifications along with other “Marxists”).

The WLM needs to not see the communist social movement that has appeared, and reappears, throughout history. The WLM is to women what “revolutionary” politics is to the proletariat: an organization (i.e. an array of organizations) that only takes charge of certain demands to channel struggles in order to limit them. Initially rejected by political groups (including those of the far left), the WLM formed externally to them. But, just the same as the left, its logic is to amass supporters and become a power within this society.

The modernist strand of the bourgeoisie seeks to release the forces of desire (Deleuze-Guattari) and creativity (the end of Taylorism); to harness the tendency towards community, as Nazism did, but now in a more flexible and diversified way, against an old bourgeoisie growing anxious about its weakened repressive apparatus and the Pandora’s box it seems to have opened. Repression and “permissive” society go hand in hand; they mutually reinforce one another. We sink into the dictatorship of repressive tolerance. Most of those who demand change on some issue that concerns their interests can find a relative satisfaction (albeit a mystified one) at least as long as capital is not in serious economic crisis. After all, they don’t want to be left out in the cold any more. Capital stopped treating workers as mere savages after 1871, and in the realm of everyday life it continues in this “humane” way today. All categories are integrated, their differences admitted. The WLM is therefore coherent with the capitalist perspective.

Since the minimal demands on which it is based have long (or always) been neglected by traditional politics, it takes the form of a pressure group (still in the form of various organizations). But if it were just another reformism, we would have no particular problem with it. The revolutionary position, as opposed to “infantile” radicalism, is to support any struggle that aims to improve the conditions of existence. But there’s more to it than that; the neo-trade unionism or lobbyism of the WLM, like the old ones, plays a perfectly conservative role, helping to improve certain living conditions only at the price of reinforcing material and ideological integration. As the article on sexuality in this issue11 illustrates, sexual “emancipation” coexists with total alienation. Emancipation is achieved within a field strictly segregated from the others and that therefore has no direction or universality. In the USA the exchange of women (“wife swapping”) creates a limited sexual pseudo-community where “woman becomes an item of common, and communal property” (Marx, 1844 Manuscripts).

Reformism will always say that “we wanted to do more”, that “we should demand something else”, that “we need to go further next time”, etc, etc. But insofar as it fails to pose, and even obscures, real emancipation, these can only be viewed as so many excuses. Promising the world (free lunch for all… tomorrow) lets them out of clarifying the fundamental questions and preparing to solve them. Like all other organized reformisms, the WLM is a part of the old world. And like them, it will have no choice but to oppose the revolution.

Society of Ghettos

Under the pretext of placing the female problem within the whole social structure, the “revolutionary” movement flattens it onto the level of politics – the hunt for power. The question of women is reduced to that of waged women, so they can fit it into the category “wage labourers”, who, once united, will put an end to their oppression in a democratic self-managed society. According to what used to be the Communist League12, socialism is “automation + workers councils”. This way of liquidating the problem and absorbing anything subversive about it is applied not only to the female problem, but to all other problems as well, although this seems to escape the WLM’s notice. The workers’ movements, whether trade-unionist, social-democratic or far-left, take up each individual’s issue and claim to pose it in general terms. But these generalisations are political, not human (cf. Marx’s article The King of Prussia and Social Reform). They pose a society abstracted from all real relations, one which could be “overthrown” by no more than a new organization of power. The totality becomes an abstraction which it is claimed could be changed by a different form of management. Wage-labourers, women, etc. find themselves in the same isolation as before. By constantly insisting on women’s specificity, the WLM unknowingly perpetuates the same segregation that the traditional workers’ movements used to maintain, which was also founded on the illusion of the “general”. Staking everything on their particularity, the WLM can only stay trapped within it.

This is the society of ghettos: worker, intellectual, mad, young, underground, revolutionary, man, woman, homosexual, cultural, high-school, etc, all tend towards being recognised by capital as distinct categories. Capital accepts different behaviours and value systems within it as long as they stay within safe limits. To assert one’s difference is to want to be what one is and to remain it, to remain in a ghetto, and to choose a restricted community over the human community. Capital grants you your difference on condition that you stay inside it. As capital has colonized everything, a new type of reformism becomes possible, and new reformisms spring up everywhere: not just “worker”, but now concerning different aspects of “daily life”.

The trade unions brought the workers together to improve their conditions by dividing them; first into trades and then into industries, which meant into individual enterprises, reflecting capital’s own structure. In the same way the current movements gather women, blacks, homosexuals, etc., together by segregating them from the others. One finds a community by cutting oneself off further from the potential human community. This goes together with the transformation of the human community into ideology. We do not judge the WLM on their universalist declarations of faith, any more than we judge the pre-1914 socialists on their official internationalist resolutions.


A radical upheaval of life is not “liberation”. Liberation is more than being released from a constraint that weighs on you: a prisoner can be liberated without destroying the prison system. A profound revolution does much more than release us from our chains – it does not just remove these chains, it breaks them. Revolution changes everything, including ourselves. Even the concepts of “national” or “women’s” liberation aim to do away with one constrictive aspect of society, while leaving intact all the rest – which finally fall back down with all their weight upon the “liberated”.

It’s a man’s world, so we are told. But what is a “man”, and have you ever met one? “Man” exists no more than does human nature. The man-woman relation is a double, non-univocal relation, like the labour-capital relation, but on a different plane. Clarissa Harlowe, Richardson’s heroine, already described it in the 18th century: “one half of mankind tormenting the other, and being tormented themselves in tormenting!” So did Déjacque in 1857: “Is it that humanity is singular and not plural, masculine and not feminine ! Is it that the difference in the sexes is a difference in the nature of humanity. (..) To avoid quibbling and equivocation we must demand the emancipation of the human being. In such terms the question is complete. (..) the man and the woman will advance with the same step (..) toward their natural destiny, the community of anarchy. But man and woman enter thus arm in arm, the face of one shedding its radiance on the face of the other, until they reach the garden of Social Harmony. (..) woman is the mover of man, as man is the mover of woman.”13 Germaine Greer explains how family oppression of women also oppresses men.

To believe that everything is the fault of “male society” is a kind of magical thinking, no more illuminating than the left’s endless denunciations of “capitalists” or even “capitalism”. The question is this: is a society based on its relations of domination, or on how it produces the conditions of life? Everything shows that domination and forms of domination derive from how society is materially reproduced. There is not enough space here to go back to the historical emergence of patriarchy and private property, which mark the beginning of the enslavement of women, but Morgan and Malinowski’s studies, and Engels’ and Reich’s commentaries (among others) show the link between female enslavement and the emergence of commodity society.

It is not men who oppress women – ultimately, it is capital. Men are merely the means. Parents do not “oppress” their children – they are a relay in the capitalist structure. Couldn’t we say that women oppress their children? If it worked like that, we would have to imagine a juxtaposition of many varied “liberation” movements, each for some different group of people. But locking each person into their own particular status is exactly what this society wants (cf. the “status seekers” studied by Vance Packard). What about deprived old people, whose condition is often as dreadful as that of women? In Great Britain it is estimated that 500,000 elderly people each year suffer from insufficient body temperature, which is the main cause of death of 50,000, because they don’t have adequate heating. If we follow the logic of “domination”, everybody oppresses somebody else. I oppress unemployed people by taking their jobs. The revolutionary perspective is to show these as the effects of competition and isolation imposed by wage-labour and commodity exchange, not to stand up for one group against the others. Granted, one cannot be revolutionary by accepting and interiorizing the roles imposed by capital : this is quite true, but truth turns to absurdity if we demand that each individual liberates himself or herself first, in the hope that afterwards (or perhaps at the same time) the “whole of society will be transformed.” This is the apology of segregation.

Nostalgia for the Family

The bourgeois revolution liberated labour. Liberating women as such would mean only their commodification. What is “non-modern” from a capitalist point of view is that the female does not yet fully appear as an “immense accumulation of commodities”, although she becomes more so each day. Fourier described bourgeois love as mercantile exchange (cf. passages quoted in the Holy Family, VIII, 6). Now sexuality in general, and women in particular, are also treated as commodities. When capital dominated society but had not yet totally submitted it, the petty bourgeois family remained one of its essential ideological supports, which, as Reich demonstrates, it diffused amongst the workers, or at least a privileged section of them (in the 19th century many lived on the margins of marriage without a proper family life.) So the total domination of society by capital, through the generalization of commodity consumption, is also the collapse of the petty bourgeoisie and the replacement of the extended family that still exists in some of the “backwards” zones of Europe (cf. Germaine Greer on Italy), by the nuclear family (father + mother + children). This modern type of family is saturated by exchange from within. When someone pays their child for some household chore, the family takes it as a little game. But it is clear to everyone that this is how the child learns that everything has a price. The demand, put forward by a section of the WLM, that housework be waged, aims at getting housework recognised as a type of production, which should be paid like any other. Contrary to what people say, the current “crisis” of the family is not because it has become more oppressive, or is experienced as such, but because it is disintegrating as a protective community. This is also one of the reasons that a WLM exists – purely economic and political demands cannot fully explain its emergence. The nuclear family, an organisation of life that modern exchange and wage-labour are destabilizing, no longer offers enough refuge or adequate compensation for social atomisation. The same goes for the couple.

In anti-family discourse we can detect a nostalgia for the “real” family. People struggle to find substitute families in the various ghettos mentioned above, for example in “youth” milieus that unite different social strata through shared commodity consumption habits. Women, just as constrained by the need for relations with other people, are drawn to the community of women. We seek new communities because the old ones are going bankrupt – all those except the ones tolerated (i.e. organized) by capital.

Marx’s idea that capitalism itself destroys the family, and therefore bourgeois morality, could only be fulfilled in so far as capital really did “produce society in its own image” (Capital Vol. I, XV). In The German Ideology, Marx also shows how the family persists under capitalism (I, § III, H), while disappearing as the “internal bond” at its centre. Reich’s failure was to never really understand the movement of capital (and therefore of the proletariat). He thought the family was essential to capital because he was unaware where capital’s real power resides. Capital does need repressive structures, but more importantly it defends itself by its own dynamism, by the commodification of all social life. Its flexibility permits it a relative accommodation to the family. It is not capital’s development that prevents the total liquidation of the family (however unimaginable this may seem now) but the insufficiency of this development. Capital integrated the revolutionary movement after 1917 through institutions, but also through the development of mass production that allowed the commodity to permeate all aspects of life.

No movement, no matter how horrible the oppression it struggles against, can be revolutionary as long as it thinks and acts from the perspective of a limited community. Jews cannot be emancipated as Jews, even if they claim their movement is part of a larger general movement. And even less if they claim to be the driving force of the general movement. Communism is not messianism.

The first step in the search for an identity is contact with those who resemble oneself. But if one stops at this stage one finds only oneself, one’s own reflection. It is no accident that the practice of women-only discussions has taken on a disproportionate importance for the WLM. What was a means of going beyond oneself and breaking down the mechanisms of self-repression becomes a way of treading water. Each individual mirrors the other, sending them back to their own problem, without ever getting to the root: the social movement is not just intersubjectivity. But it is not only women who fall back on communication; it is even more common amongst the underground, disintegrated, or revolutionary milieus. When you’re isolated, all you can do is talk. The WLM does many other things besides, but “consciousness raising” still weighs heavily on its practice. “Expressing yourself”, “body discourse” etc. These formulas, which express a part of reality, and a process necessary to the revolution, also express their own imprisonment in language. Representation takes the place of transformation.

This generation cares so much about language because it has such difficulty doing what it says. Identity is only possible in the human community. For example, the oppression of certain regions and nationalities is real, and communism is not “universal” in the sense of “uniformity”, but these oppressions can only be put to an end by a movement that surpasses regionality and nationality, not by the coexistence of autonomous “liberated” areas. We cannot place end-to-end a series of movements that together will make up “the revolution”. The communist movement is something altogether different.

Revolutionaries do indeed demonstrate their “male chauvinism” when they criticise women for self-organising and holding non-mixed meetings. Because of the contempt in which women are held, women’s desire to be between themselves is necessary, and a precondition for action, as a first step. Given how some subjects are repressed within the “revolutionary” groups themselves, it is obvious that women may initially wish to get organized separately, and the same for blacks. The problem is whether this separation is organizational, and thus provisional, or if it is a principle, envisaging a women’s solution to the woman question. In the second case, women’s isolation, organized by capital, and duplicated by the WLM, will only be perpetuated.

Proletarian and Woman

Communist theory is not the theory of alienation or of workers’ exploitation, but of the movement which will do away with alienation and exploitation. The positive possibility of human emancipation is the formation of a class that “embodies the total loss of humanity and that can therefore redeem itself only through the total re-winning of humanity.” (Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Marx insisted on the “workers” (today we have to widen this concept to the new productive sectors) because only associated, collective labour – the creation of capital – give us the means to liberate ourselves from it. Communism cannot be a matter of industrialization, though it requires a certain threshold to be reached after which labour is “common” enough for the “separated economy” (Marx) to be eliminated. The revolution is only a “workers’ ” problem (we employ the word with the above reservations) because the workers occupy a functional position that makes them the central means of accomplishing it, not because the workers as such are “more alienated”, or represent some kind of ideal social figure.

The worker is no more “alienated” than (for instance) the mother of a family. If the worker’s activity estranges them from him/herself, so does the mother’s. The concept of labour, in capitalist, commodity terms, means any activity through which one transforms one’s environment and oneself. Having a child is, in this sense, “labour”. In communism, love, children, cooking, etc, will be some of the most important “labours”. Currently, having and raising a child is a commercial operation: calculating what the outgoings and returns will be if I stay home or if I go to work. Commercial concerns enter into childrearing and one chooses the most profitable options. Parents raise their children with a view to their own social advancement. They create a labour-power in the hope that it will sell for a good price, and that the parents will profit from the image of this successful speculation. Like the worker, the mother does not work for her own activity, but for something else. And in turn her son will do the same. Doing something for something else; this is alienation. You can see what the “rights” acquired under capitalism amount to. Birth control makes it possible to have children when you want. But what is “wanting”? Mostly being free to choose between capitalist alternatives, under the yoke of the market in one form or other.

All we have acquired is the freedom to adapt better to commodity life, which has itself grown more flexible, hence with a stronger hold on us.

People used to invest in children so as to have someone to care for them in their old age. Now they invest in the hope that their children will conform to a certain image of social success. Theoretical communism does not make women and workers somehow equivalent, or claim that women should support worker’s struggles. It just believes that the workers are the centre of gravity of both women’s and workers’ emancipation. Not because they are workers, but simply because their function gives them access to an essential weapon that women, as women, do not have.

The power of theoretical communism is not in describing the horror of the world, which is clear to everyone (even Francis of Assisi), but in showing the mechanism of emancipation. The emancipation of women will be the task of the proletariat; which is both more and less than the famous “workers”. More, because the proletarians are not defined sociologically, but dynamically; because they are nothing, they are condemned to overthrow everything to exist. In this sense, proletarians are not just “the workers”. But only male and female productive proletarians have access to the decisive tools of struggle. And less, because some workers will oppose the revolution. The problem can only be posed in this way, not by looking around for who is “the most oppressed”. It is true that all women are oppressed. Also all children, all non-whites, etc. Capital produces inequality. But bourgeois women will not escape this oppression by struggling against women’s oppression in particular; only by a communist revolution which will resolve their situation as bourgeois women by liquidating the bourgeoisie. This liquidation will not automatically make the oppression of bourgeois women as women disappear. Only vulgar Marxism thinks that changing “the economy” will fix the rest. In fact the economy must be destroyed precisely as economy. The liquidation of the commodity and wage relation is the essential precondition without which the rest cannot follow. In any case, very few bourgeois women are, or will be, revolutionaries. As for the “proletariat”, it is not only a question of understanding what proletarian women suffer, but how they suffer it, and the preconditions of the struggle to do away with it.


If you claim that “the domination of woman is the most complex and the most fundamental link” of the chains of slavery (Sheila Rowbotham, The Body Politic), you are giving in to a kind of emotional blackmail. Whose condition is the most horrible? Feminist demagoguery has become as sickening as all the rest (except workerist demagoguery, which still beats all records). Making some new excuses, feminist leftism goes to join up with regular leftism. Rowbotham’s text, which is little known but provides a theoretical basis for parts of the WLM that consider themselves radical, says that “movements develop through communication” and that “forms of communication thus considerably define movements’ forms and directions”. But she should have first asked what the relation is between the nature of the movement and its form of expression. To go back to the beginning: what is this society we live in?

The question of expression becomes paramount precisely when the movement is weak or in decline, whether after 1871 when the revolutionary movement was absorbed, or in today’s confused and confusing movements of “all the people”. Language becomes a problem just when communication has stopped because individuals are isolated. The problem will not be solved by finding a better means of communication, but by removing the root of this isolation. Those who prioritize the question of expression fall into the trap this society sets for them as it seeks to substitute expression for real transformation. On the contrary, the communist movement is that which abolishes the conditions of existence, and in the present moment attacks them.

To make expression the number one problem was the goal of the Second International. Taking after Kautsky, Lenin wanted to replace bourgeois ideology with socialist workers’ ideology. This is how they justified an organization external to the proletariat. Paradoxically, leftists supposedly liberated from Leninism but who still think in terms of “consciousness” end up doing the same thing the socialist bureaucrats did. And so does feminist leftism, when it supports a separate WLM for the sake of a specific consciousness-raising and liberation of expression. For traditional Leninists, the external organization supplies the consciousness. For the new kinds, it does not interfere with the proletariat (or in this case women), it leaves them their space and autonomy and lets them have their say. Speak for them or let them speak – two sides of the same thing. But whether speech is delivered top-down or bottom-up, one thing goes unchallenged; the supposedly essential character of words and expression. Whether the intellectuals (“collective” i.e. Party intellectual, or “independent” individual intellectual) impose themselves, or refrain from acting as “mediators”, they justify their own role, an essential role of course: for them, words are what any social movement is about. The movement is thus reduced to a movement of consciousness, whether it imports consciousness from outside or whether its reason for existing is simply to express its consciousness.

Discovering what was “hidden from history” (the title of a book by Rowbotham) is only relevant if that knowledge is more than just knowledge, if it contributes to action. Ignorance is no more oppressive than when knowledge is debased to ideology; educationism is as reactionary as obscurantism. We are submitted to the “dictatorship of enlightenment”. Saying that everything has to first pass through “knowledge”, or that decision-making is the most important moment (i.e. the democratic position), both make the same mistake – those for whom education or self-education is fundamental always speak in terms of taking power.

The intellectual is back to make himself useful again; he used to serve the working class, now he serves the women. Leninism is reinvented, albeit democratized. Everybody expresses themselves – the majority speak as equals, and the conscious minority run the movement’s journals and write the books. The real social relation is turned on its head. In the end it is no longer the class (or the women) who expresses themselves through these mediators, but the mediators who make them express themselves. It is a teacher’s vision. And when the theorists of expression do “express” something, they never say what is essential. When the radicals within the English women’s movement speak about left communism in England (for instance about Sylvia Pankhurst), they have but little to say about it (cf. Rowbotham, Women, Resistance and Revolution). Wanting to be the voice of the silenced, they have nothing to say. There is indeed a “Feminist School of Falsification”…

Rights and Duties

Nothing could be more wrong than to think the women’s or the workers’ movement as such could be agents of human emancipation. In England in 1917-1924 one of the best expressions of the English communist movement, Sylvia Pankhurst, came from feminism. But out of feminism’s other wing, also former Suffragists, came a powerful anti-revolutionary force, which in 1914 enlisted the workers into nationalism and denounced the revolutionaries. Suffragism was a platform for the democratic ideology which we are now starting to realize was the grave-digger of revolutionary aspirations after 1917 (and especially at their centre in Germany). To call the WLM an essentially radical movement is completely anti-historical. It can only become radical when it comes out of its own ghetto, out of itself.

Fighting for women’s “rights” is not subversive in itself. The very concept of rights and duties presupposes a society which goes unquestioned. The acquisition of rights is no more revolutionary than imposing “duties” on the bourgeoisie, as the old labour movement tried to do before 1914. Indeed if those duties apply to the bourgeoisie, they must surely apply to the workers too, and if society is supportive and treats the workers better, the workers had better support society. The same goes for rights. Equality between men and women, like solidarity between bourgeoisie and workers, implies reciprocal rights and duties within an unchanged society. The state imposes sacrifices on both bourgeoisie and workers, on men and women, and thereby maintains an even deeper oppression.

When capital dominates everything, demanding women’s liberation from (i.e. social management of) domestic work looks much like settling for a shorter working day. Capital has conquered all areas of life; work and leisure, “free” and “non-free” time. With the prolongation of life and the reduction of the number of children, women devote less than 10% of their lives to child-birth and rearing, instead of 1/3 previously. That is why people demand the “liberation” of their newly available time. But time is not “liberated” in the world of capital. The human being will only be emancipated from the dictatorship of fragmented and quantified time by emancipating themselves from capital.

Reformism and Tragedy

The emotionality, and pathetic, even tragic tone (tragic in the sense of a contradiction with no resolution, i.e. no immediately possible resolution) of the WLM’s journals betray a certain lucidity about these realities, as does their repeated assertion that we need more than words, that we must act. Without trying to predict the future, when the WLM’s evolution will be determined by other factors than itself, one cannot help but think of women like Sylvia Pankhurst, or others further back in time, at moments when all revolution was precluded, but who blazed with a passion that burnt itself up, was unable to reach its object, devoured its subject, and finally pushed these women out to the fringe of politics. The WLM organizations (the French Mouvement de Libération des Femmes for example) get out of this predicament by gradually moderating and ideologising themselves. They end up with the same mystified and mystifying relationship to “revolution” as the far left, which they were initially born in opposition to. Sometimes they become kinds of traditional reformism (NOW in the USA and Choisir in France, for example), sometimes they integrate into leftism (MLF). The organised and informal WLM react aggressively, but their aggression is just a front, a trick to reassure themselves and avoid having to change, to deepen, and to change themselves.

Conflicts, no matter how violent, that do not attack capital’s foundations only reinforce it. They show which contradictions have to be smoothed out, and win over to the side of capital some people who are granted privileges (which was even the case for most of the pre-1914 “militant” labour movement). The Suffragettes are proof that one can be violent without being revolutionary. The energy of their actions testifies to something more than their stated objectives; a profound dissatisfaction, an aspiration to something else. But the social function of their activism and militancy was to use this energy up, to expend it without threatening the established order.

The Reorganization of Capital

Capital has not entered into decomposition, but massive reorganization. And it holds considerable assets to help it come out victorious once again.

Revolutionary movements might flare up next week, but the best way of preparing is by not counting on it happening that soon. A fundamental critique of the WLM is as necessary as the fight against the latent contempt for women that exists even within the subversive movement. Like any social movement, the WLM starts out from legitimate specific demands. Nobody comes out fighting for the universal. But it has already got to the stage where the WLM organizations are transformed into pressure groups preoccupied with their own problems, acting as competitors against one another. It still has some vitality, and perhaps it will for a long time. But though its activities are more positive than those of the far left in general, it plays no less of a pacifying role. The radical and active elements within it do not prove its revolutionary nature any more than Rosa Luxemburg’s presence in the SPD14 before 1914 was enough to make that party revolutionary. What counts is the function of the whole.

In the absence of a revolutionary impetus in society at large, it was inevitable that the great majority of the WLM would move in this direction. Those people who refuse reformism cannot do so unless they quit the official WLM organizations, and then try to achieve what they can in the here and now. For the WLM, the specific is opposed to the whole. For the revolutionary movement, the whole is not opposed to the specific. We cannot fight “capitalism” in general; communism is not an extremism. It makes no profession of radicality. But if their only enemy is “capital” in general, these women will fall into false generality through abstraction, whether political or theoretical. All “life” around us and all institutions are determined by capitalism. It is only as experience that the fight for reforms has any revolutionary significance, not for the ephemeral concessions it claws back.

After two world wars, a multitude of others and totalitarianism on the rise, we know that revolution is the only realism. Throwing ourselves into the quest for reforms increasingly planned by capital, we only reinforce the state and its structures (trade unions, parties, etc). We can gauge the efficacy of reformist “realism” by comparing the programs of the Women’s Liberation Workshop in 1970 and Women’s Emancipation Union in… 1892. After 80 years of reformism, we are still waiting for basic demands to be satisfied. Capital can permit anything – i.e. anything that reinforces its control over society.

And what about immediate needs? There are oppressed women struggling everywhere; what do we do together with them, and for them? We cannot postpone everything until “the day after the revolution”, to quote the subtitle of a 1902 book by Kautsky. But the gap between real emancipation (including personal emancipation) and what one is able to do today is not a question only for women, but for all of us. A new militantism (where women fight for the true cause, for the revolution – but the right one this time), that dissociates action from our immediate problems, would be as reactionary as the old. Activity now requires a break with specialized activism as much as with the complaisant passivity that hides real distress under a facade of aggressiveness and/or theory.

To those who might say, “That is all very nice, but what do you propose to do?”, all we can say is that their reaction shows that for them the WLM was a refuge, as other movements have been for other people, a new family from which they expected everything. The question of “revolutionary” activity is quite simple if you approach it adequately. How could one expect everything from a collective movement without being oneself an active, transforming element of it? In the absence of revolution, there is no solution to social contradictions, including the existence of those strange creatures called “revolutionaries”. The solution is the revolution itself. There is no high road. Those who need confirmation of success here and now can forget it. In any case, if the proletariat failed to fight against the “encroachments of capital” (Marx) here and now, we might be skeptical about its capacity to carry out a revolution.

It is not a question of women abandoning themselves as women and giving up their problems and requirements to take part in the revolutionary movement. And anyway, why should they be afraid of being “tricked”? Simone de Beauvoir was only “tricked” (as she wrote in her memoirs) because she got into politics, and sometimes of the most contemptible kind. Being obsessed with the movement’s “recuperation” is also a proof of weakness. Woman were not betrayed by previous movements any more than “men” lost out by being integrated into capital. Having begun with the struggle against their own conditions of existence, proletarians have come merely to try and alleviate those conditions, which has finally led to support the state and capital.

The male revolutionary movement didn’t absorb the female movement – capitalist society absorbed them both. Previous movements did not fail because they neglected women. They neglected women, and all the rest, because they failed. It wasn’t just women who were “misled”. They were mobilized for something other than their own emancipation, as was the proletariat as a whole. This is what will happen again if proletarians do not attack the foundations of society in the next movements. By helping to obscure the perspective of communism the WLM does women a grave disservice.

Masculine and Feminine

The fact that the woman question was undervalued played a part in preceding failures, but it was not the cause of the defeats. Let’s put things back in perspective. Instead of distinguishing (like Proudhon trying to separate the capitalist wheat from the chaff) the “good” and “bad” aspects of the female condition in contemporary China, it would be better to understand what China is: a capitalist country like many others, albeit in a special way, like others.

Certain constraints on women are lesser in China than elsewhere, others are well worse. It is interesting, but not surprising, to see that the feminist far-left finds positive aspects in the Chinese female way of life, a way of life that pro-Maoist feminists would denounce as “fascistic” if a politician dared to advocate it in the West.

It was almost inevitable that Feminism fall into every leftist trap. It falls into raptures about model day-care centres, direct democracy, and workers’ assemblies in the “workers’ states”, but what is worse is that in the end the far-leftist WLM does not even support these so-called “socialist” countries. If it did, at least it could be attacked for that. Instead it accepts them, no more. It accepts them as experiments; just like other people accept other things.

This movement that set out to clarify how things really stand, at least on the question of women, makes no decisive judgments. It settles for “making things better”. It accepts “the revolution”, and “socialism”, and even goes along with them (without bothering much about what these mean), on condition that it be left to struggle alongside, in parallel with the “proletariat”. Of course we know where parallels converge… “Everybody struggle for themselves, unity will follow.” As if the revolutionary movement were the sum of a series of different struggles that sit end-to-end, without interlinking or supporting each other.

Wallowing in the female condition or wallowing in the workers’ condition; each is as reactionary as the other. Neither equality nor regulation over our present lives are revolutionary: they too are conditions to be overthrown.

We are seeing a whole host of emerging one-issue perspectives and groups: homosexual, female, youth, third-worldist, etc. Similarly, after 1871 the socialist movement reinterpreted history from the perspective of the worker, who had up until that point been looked down upon by bourgeois society. The socialist movement was not aiming to get to the bottom of things and to clear the way for total emancipation, and neither is the WLM. They are trying to give workers, women, colonial subjects, etc. a bigger portion than they were and are allotted, within the same society, the same world. In doing so, workers, women, colonial subjects, etc. are only chained to this world all the more tightly.

Theoretical communism focuses on those with access to the means of production, not because in themselves they have a special right or virtue, nor because communism is generalized labour. We cannot succumb to the emotional blackmail of the desperate condition of workers, females, homosexuals, the Third World, or anybody else. We do not need a lesson in suffering from anybody. Misery is not a quantifiable datum to measure, determining who is the most oppressed and therefore the most potentially revolutionary. We are not the sociologists of misery. If we need to make distinctions, it is only to show the “how” of the future revolution. Those who give in to the demagogues’ emotional blackmail-by-maximum–exploitation only demonstrate their need for excuses and reassurances. How feeble their need for revolution must be… Glorifying the worker as worker, the woman as woman, or the homosexual as homosexual are just more ways of breaking the desire for the human community.

Constancy Chatterley

Article originally published in Le Fléau social, n° 5-6, 1974

10 In 1973 the workers at the LIP watch-making factory in Besançon, France, kidnapped their bosses, appropriated large numbers of watches from the factory and started an experiment in self-managing the factory in defense against planned job cuts. One slogan was “we produce, we sell, we get paid”. Mediatisation, police repression, mass protests and further experiments in self-management and workers cooperatives followed until the company dissolved in 1980. See Radical America vol.7 no.6 1973, and LIP and the self-managed counter-revolution, Négation, 1973.

11 Abel Bonard, “La danse de mort du sexe autour des couteaux glacés de l’ennui” [“Death Dance of Sex Around the Cold Knives of Boredom”], p. 15-19.

12 La Ligue Communiste, The Communist League, a Trotskyist organization banned in June 1973 and reformed a few months later as La Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, Revolutionary Communist League (which dissolved itself in in 2009 to give rise to the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, New Anti-capitalist Party).

13 On the Human Being, Male & Female, accessible on theanarchistlibrary.org

14 The German Social Democratic Party of which Rosa Luxemburg led the left wing, which became the Communist Party in 1919.