By Aldous Reno & Florence Oppen
“Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter…”
These are the words of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford describing the sound of recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh while he attempted to rape her at a party when they were teenagers. “Indelible”, meaning permanently marked or inked, like the millions of women and LGBTQ people who have to deal with sexual harassment and violence on a regular basis in the United States.
Though from the outset there was strong opposition to the nomination of Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court for his extremely anti-woman, anti-environment, pro-corporation voting record (more), it was only Dr. Blasey-Ford’s accusations that opened the possibility of cancelling Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Dr. Blasey-Ford’s brave testimony was met by disgusting, openly sexist attacks from conservative politicians and their base, but also and more importantly by mass demonstrations of support for women and gender minorities against a culture that allows men to sexually assault with impunity. On the day of that Blasey-Ford came out against Kavanaugh, for the first time in US history, hundreds of fast-food workers in 10 major cities went on strike specifically over sexual harassment. Then, in the week leading up to the vote, thousands of people protested in Washington D.C., on the streets of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, New York City, and hundreds of other locations across the nation, resulting in hundreds of arrests. The message was clear: an attempted rapist doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court. Despite this, he was confirmed.
While the Women’s March organization began two years ago with the“lean-in” brand of feminism and a call for mass marches, this strategy took a back-seat in 2017 and recently during the Kavanaugh controversy. While Democratic Party speakers and organizers say they believe in grassroots activism, their message on women’s rights and the Kavanaugh controversy was spoken outright with the slogan “Remember in November”. On the Women’s March website, the liberal organization offers three options: mobilize today, vote tomorrow, and shop at the kiosk- for “Power at the Polls” t-shirts, of course. But the origins of “rape culture” are not in our voting choices, nor will they be solved at the ballot box. Capitalism cannot reproduce itself without subduing women (and LGBTQI people), and continuing masculine domination. The labor of social reproduction – the securing of food and shelter for families, the education and cultural training of children, the care work for elders and those whom capitalism has psychologically traumatized- usually falls on women, in U.S. society and beyond. Not only are the ranks of the profit-creating working class here and internationally increasingly occupied by women, who more poorly paid than men because of gender discrimination, women also are the primary workforce in the “second job” of social reproduction, and this work they usually do without receiving a wage. A powerful feminist movement, challenging the basic structure of property relations and surplus-value generation on which capitalism is built, is something to which the capitalist class is absolutely opposed, regardless of their tokenization of the occasional “lean in” corporate feminist like Sheryl Sandberg. The failure to Cancel Kavanaugh is the epitome of the shortcomings of the #MeToo phenomenon itself, and why #MeToo, in not attacking capitalist property relations, will never evolve into the movement our society needs to end gender oppression.
The name reveals the source of the problem. #MeToo is not a movement, because it’s not rooted in working class organizations that organize people in a physical place. It is organized on social media platforms. It emerged with the campaign to out prominent Hollywood producer and serial rapist Harvey Weinstein, . People began to use the hashtag on social media to show how common it is to be sexually assaulted in this society. Unfortunately, discussing harassment on social media is as useful as commenting on the rainstorm without even eyeing an umbrella. At worst a rapist will be publicly chastised or lose their current job, but since there’s no form of institutional accountability, most assaulters spend their entire lives just like Brett Kavanaugh: anonymous, immune, and free of accountability.
The only way to end sexual violence, and not just attempt to hold perpetrators accountable after the violence, is through a change in the material circumstances of our society that allow men to dominate the lives and bodies of other people. Economic inequality, exclusion from public spaces, and constant vulnerability to sexual violence in at home and in the streets, these are all material conditions that come with being a woman or LGBTQI. At workplaces, in the streets, and in people’s homes: these are the places we must organize for power against sexual violence, not as progressives content with occasional reforms to capitalism, but as socialists. This means our strategy is overturning the property relations and material inequality that creates sexism in the first place.
Socialism Ends the Material Basis of Sexism
Capitalism exists through the exploitation of the many by the few. When we go to work, the value of the work is stolen from us by the owners of production, the capitalists. Oppression works by heightening this exploitation. Women and LGBTQ people receive less pay for equal work, unpaid domestic labor, exclusion from many workplaces, and are not able to control how our bodies are treated or used. This is gender oppression. Oppression also divides the working class, so that it is more difficult for us to advocate as one single group, as workers. Who can trust their coworker to have their back against the boss when the same co-worker sexually harasses them? What campaign will be strong or smart enough when half of its members are excluded from full participation? Other forms of oppression work in similar ways; a Black worker will be more discriminated against than a White one in the hiring process. An LGBTQ worker can be harassed or fired without reason. If there is no solidarity between workers due to racism or homophobia, we’ll never be able to unite to defeat the capitalists, the only beneficiaries of oppression.
If it’s not clear that sexual violence is utilized by the ruling class to oppress the poor and people of color, consider that significantly more sexual assaults are committed by police officers than by people in the general population [X]. The practice of police harassment in the US originates in the era of slavery when being black or indigenous meant having no freedom to move, no freedom to participate in civic life, or to sell one’s labor through a job. Today, the police still harass the most marginalized people, sex workers, people without homes, and black people in virtually any situation, to maintain segregation, suppress civic/voting activities [X], and repress political activists [X].
The capitalist economy relies on this material inequality and gender oppression to function. Gender roles, which today are commonly defined only as “men” and “women”, mandate that women do double the work. Most women have one or two jobs to provide income to the family, and then “off the clock” perform the unpaid labor that’s necessary to reproduce the workforce, such as domestic labor and child rearing. This is not so different from the way that racism was historically used by Europeans to enslave African and Indigenous peoples to ensure a source of free labor to maximize profits. In fact, it was centuries of slavery that allowed the ruling classes of England, France, Spain, and other European powers, to accumulate enough wealth to develop the industries of capitalism that we know today.
Without the social oppressions of racism and sexism, capitalists would not be able to steal as much labor value. Similarly, without the oppressions of homophobia and transphobia, the ruling classes wouldn’t be able to maintain the gender roles that restrict how we live and participate in the economy (i.e. “nuclear” heteronormative families). In a socialist society, women would be able to participate fully in public and civic life because care of the young and old, cooking, laundering, and other care work would be socialized, meaning everyone would share this labor. In a socialist society there would be no forced consumption of products or mandated gender roles, so people would be free to love and to express themselves in whatever way they choose, as long as it’s not harmful to others. There would be no police to repress civic engagement, because we would have a government of the working class majority, not a ruling class minority, so direct participation in society’s governing would be normal. We would not be in a situation of hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets only for ten white men to ignore our plea. There would be no prisons to unjustly enslave people because most so-called crime would go away in a society where the wealth of our labor is used to feed, clothe, and shelter all people, from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. Racial caste would be destroyed along with the material inequality that underlines every racist moment in our world today. Socialism is not an impossible utopia, as liberals and conservatives alike would claim, it’s a clear vision for a far better way to structure our society. As the poor get poorer, the planet gets hotter, the seas rise , the storms get bigger, the exploitation becomes more intolerable, more people are forced to migrate, and far-right or openly fascist governments come to dominate the global political landscape.ending capitalism is not only a political necessity, it’s necessity for our very survival.
No Equality Under Capital
At the service of the capitalist state, conservative and even progressive leaders (who might even be gender or racial minorities) have different material interests than the masses of working people in this country. While these leaders will pose as champions of women, “the middle class”, or “the minorities and LGBT” people, none of these politicians are funded or accountable to their working class base. Instead, Democrats and Republicans alike have a vested interest in maintaining the machinery of class relations; the police, prisons, banks, and corporations. That’s because CEOs, banks, think-tanks, and a few very rich men, are the funders of both parties, and are also the groups to submit new legislation to the Congress in the first place. It doesn’t matter what line the candidate runs on; money talks. For example, newly christened “Resistor” for the 2018 electoral season, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, argued in federal court that ending unpaid prison labor, such as the use of inmates to fight California’s extreme wildfires for pennies a day, would drain the state of California of hundreds of millions of dollars. [X]
On the other side of the coin, a key feature of conservative US politics and the most anti-woman aspect of the Kavanaugh appointment is the clearly alluded-to plan to revoke Roe vs Wade, or the federal legality of accessing an abortion. Worse, the alcoholic judge has openly conflated abortion with birth control, citing his ruling on a decision that allowed employers to deny reproductive healthcare to women on the basis that it was an “abortion inducing drug” [X]. Of course the CEOs of insurance companies directly benefit from narrowing the coverage they provide, and are happy to do away with providing reproductive healthcare care.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has begun the legislative process of criminalizing transgenderism, as exemplified first in the trans military ban, and more recently and chillingly in a leaked memo which seeks a return to definitions of gender based on sex at birth). This makes it much easier to discriminate against trans people in the workplace and in housing , in turn making it harder for trans people to live and advocate for themselves, for example by to participating in a political movement to challenge gender inequality. This absolute marginalization sends a clear message to everyone else regarding gender roles: stay in your place.
Against women, religious bigotry is used to claim that birth control is evil. Against LGBTQ people, fake science is used to claim that genes determine gender and anything else is perversion. Both are used to deepen the material exploitation of people by devaluing our labor and making it harder for us to advocate for our material needs. Gender oppression is nearly always accompanied by other forms of oppression, like racism or xenophobia, that make it doubly difficult for women and LGBTQ people to advocate for themselves. That’s why a powerful feminist movement will be led by the most marginalized sectors of women and LGBTQ people, the at-will workers, undocumented people, and people of color. The voice of a powerful feminist movement will be the voice of the masses who suffer under sexism as we turn the gears of this society, and it will thunder out not in the treacherous circus of news and social media, but in the streets and the courts whom we force to give us equality.
Where and How to Wage the Feminist Battle
On the same day Blasey-Ford came forward with her testimony, September 18th, hundreds of workers affiliated to the Fight For $15 campaign went on strike in 10 cities across the US to specifically protest sexual harassment the first time this has ever happened in US history. Earlier this year, an estimated 50,000 teachers went on strike in conservative dominated states in the 2018 red-state teachers strikes. Seventy-five percent of K-12 teachers are women [X]. The two largest mass mobilizations in all of US history were the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches. Internationally, the Ni Una Menos movement against gender violence and for women’s rights, has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in Latin America in mass actions and strikes, and is credited by the organizers of the Women’s March as an inspiration [X]. Locally, thousands of Marriott Hotel workers in the Bay Area are on strike across the Bay Area, and on October 4th the Cancel Kavanaugh mobilizations in San Francisco marched eight blocks to meet the striking UNITE HERE workers and walk the picket lines. Just last week, 42,000 AFSCME 3299 workers employed by the University of California system (the 3rd largest employer in the state) went on strike for the second time in 2018. Sixty percent of AFSCME 3299’s members are women.
This nascent resurgence of the labor movement in the service sector, 80% of the US workforce [X], should represent the rebirth of the gender rights movement in the US. An effective feminism is a militant feminism, a feminism that wins protections from harassment in the workplace, a feminism that wins wage increases, affordable housing, subsidized childcare, and universal healthcare, including safe access to abortions. By organizing in our workplaces, homes, and in the streets, we confront the constant challenge of undoing the deep patriarchy that is reproduced by our class (through organizations that educate against sexism) as well as what’s imposed on our class by capitalist society (the material inequalities of sexism).
We cannot count on the Democratic Party to wage this battle for us or with us, we can only count on them to take the power we build in the streets and use it for increasing their power in Congress. It’s true that the DP sometimes markets itself as feminist, and at times it might advance some mild material reforms (such as the Affordable Care Act reform and marriage equality under Obama) under popular pressure. However, while the base of the DP might be the more progressive sectors of the working class, its funders and masters are billionaire media moguls, monopoly bankers, and Wall Street pundits. Without a sustained movement of working people that forces these reforms to be enacted and fights to maintain them against the interests of capital, these so-called gains are easily reversed by an ultra-right administration such as Trump’s. Additionally, relying on an electoral strategy of reforms prevents us from building the working class power that is needed to end capitalism, which is the only way to end the material basis for oppression in the future.
While there have been several key upsurges in the labor movement in the last two years (red state teacher strikes, taxi drivers unionization, Dia Sin Inmigrantes), these movements have come from the masses of unorganized and rank-and-file workers, not from the labor aristocracy of the AFL-CIO and the like. We cannot count on the labor bureaucrats , who’ve allied themselves with the Trump government and led the degeneration of unions s, to lead the feminist movement, any more than we can count on the Democratic Party. These institutions are not made by us, nor are they made for us, and because the nature of the State is to maintain class relations, they will never be transformed into something we can use.
The militant feminism we need must come from a grassroots source that is independent of the two major parties of the ruling class and of the labor aristocracy, that does not collaborate with the ruling classes or diffuse the energy of mass mobilizations into a voting body. We need an organization that is of, by, and for the working class. We need an organization in which we can consistently build our power, not one that filters our outrage into occasional mobilizations that don’t change anything. Our political enemies know the difference, and we should too. We must learn to fight for wage increases, rent control and affordable housing, public childcare, full reproductive healthcare, and protections from sexual violence. More, when we build this movement, we cannot isolate ourselves into a “politically pure” space (such as man-free, cis-free, Republican free) in hopes of avoiding sexism. Sexism and rape culture are intrinsic to capitalism, and , and even the working class, women, and LGBTQ people can behave in sexist ways that have been internalized. A feminist socialism will be transformative of the structures of society, and of our class, as we ceaselessly fight against gender oppression from within and outside the movement to end capitalism.
The Ni Una Menos movement, which has moved hundreds of thousands of people against gender violence all over Latin America, takes its name from a Mexican poem, and means Not One Less. Not one less of us will be in the world of tomorrow because of this violence. Not one less of us will be in the struggle to end this oppression. We all rise together, until we are free.