To the Daring Belongs the Future: The Anarcha-Feminist Movement

Anna Propas

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Flick Ruby

To the Daring Belongs the Future: The Anarcha-Feminist Movement

Anna Propas

†††††The anarchist movement has long fostered feminists for several quite obvious reasons. Primarily, the concepts and basic ideologies of anarchism are very similar to those of feminists, because the society that the anarchists are looking to overthrow is largely based on male supremacy. For this reason, during the height of anarchism, many feminists hailed to early anarchists as their influences. However, many mainstream male anarchists rejected them, employing the typical views of the time that women were meant to care for domestic affairs. For this reason many anarchist women identified themselves with the feminist movement rather than be associated with anarchist men.

†††††Women anarchists mainly focused their attention on the traditional family structure. They saw sexual inequality in the nuclear family, and believed that reform of laws alone could not bring about equality, and therefore mainly fought for the anarcho-communist cause. Most women supported communist anarchists, because they believed that a less regulated social structure helped to serve the needs of the anarcha-feminist. If all were equal in their ideal community, then women would not be suppressed.

†††††Another cause that the anarcha-feminists fought for was the issue of birth control. Since the main concerns of anarchists in America were sexual, it was mainly American anarchists who promoted contraception. In Europe the issue was less hotly debated because most countries had more sexual freedom than America. In the early twentieth century, it was argued that frequent childbirth weakened women and produced sickly children. Later on, with the rising demand for sexual freedom, women further argued that they could not be free if they were not secure in knowing that they had a means to prevent pregnancy. Goldman argued that for many women sexual attraction was the only color in their life, and should not be forced to suppress their sexuality, nor to suffer an abortion or unwed motherhood.

†††††Feminists such as Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre fought for womenís rights, yet strongly opposed suffrage. De Cleyre argued, " the ballot hasnít made man free and it wonít make us free." Goldman, like de Clayre denounced the fight for woman suffrage, and she even went so far as to call it evil. Goldman argued that the ballot gave people the illusion that they had power, and enslaved them to the government. She also contested that people easily submitted if they believed that they did it by choice (Marsh 60-61).

†††††Most anarchist women fought for the rights of homosexuals as well as heterosexual women. Although many women supported homosexuals, Emma Goldman was the most involved with lesbians in the anarchist movement. Her most notable acquaintance was Margaret Anderson, a Chicago bohemian who was eventually drawn to the anarchist movement by her admiration for Goldman. She suggested that homosexuality might be more natural than heterosexual relationships. Goldman encouraged Andersonís belief that sexual liberation and self realization were identical. Andersonís admiration for Goldman soon faded as she begin to see Goldmanís weaknesses. As Anderson begin to realize the error in her earlier beliefs, she drifted away from the anarchist movement (Marsh 41-42, 94).

†††††It was also speculated that Goldman had a lesbian relationship with a political activist and former prostitute, Almeda Sperry. Although Sperry wrote love letters to Goldman, there is no way of proving that Goldman had any sexual relation with the younger woman. In fact, Goldman seemed to have difficulty with female friends. She viewed them as political and sexual rivalries. While she praised many women activists, she found personal relationships difficult (Morton 68).

†††††Many early anarchists such as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon applied their doctrines of equality only to European males. He declared that there are "badly born and bastard races" (Marshal 256). Another anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, expected women to be politically active, but at the same time disapproved of women who put feminism above their faithfulness and their devotion to working class males (Marsh19).

†††††Although a few men completely denounced women as their inferiors, most men simply ignored the women anarchists. Many male anarchists, both communist-anarchists and individualists believed that women would achieve sexual freedom after a revolution. These men urged women to put aside their fight for equality and aid the men in their fight to overthrow hierarchy. These men, such as Peter Kropotkin and Victor Yarros insisted that a fight for the workers would pave the way for the womenís liberation movement (Marsh 54).

†††††The rights that women anarchists fought for were basically the same as mainstream anarchists, yet the anarcha-feminists actually practiced what the common male anarchist preached. While the male anarchist argued for freedom and equality, his household was a classic nuclear family structure. The female anarchists, however, worked towards sexual freedom, and did practice to the extent that they could, for many men suppressed their rights for birth control.

†††††Even with their radical ideas, many male anarchists were very conventional, not only in beliefs, but within their own families as well. These men let themselves be influenced by the common prejudices of a society larger than their own small anarchist community. This was a violation of the morals that held together their system of beliefs. Although they fought for absolute equality, they practiced selectively on groups they saw fit to liberate.

†††††Among the male anarchists there were a few supporters of the feminist movement. Michael Bakunin declared that: "We demand, along with freedom, equal rights and duties for men and women" (Burman 200). Hugh Pentecost believed that women were intellectually inferior to men, but this was simply a result of their lack of freedom. One British libertarian socialist, Edward Carpenter demanded a world where " and women could be lovers and friends" (Marshal169). Another anarchist man, and perhaps the most influential male feminist, published his journal Lucifer, and dedicated it to the "emancipation of women from sex slavery." However, because of his support for the womenís rights movement, neither Herman nor Lucifer were taken seriously by other anarchist men (Marsh 55-56).

†††††Many anarchist men who supported the women in their struggles were government-by-consent anarchists. These men, such as S. P. Andrews and Josiah Warren, promised women they would "relieve the female from of the family from the full, mill-horse drudgery..." (DeLeon 78).

†††††Many anarcha-feminists found little more luck with the main stream feminists than they did with male anarchists. The common feminist cared little about the economy and government and disregarded the anarchist women. To the anarchist women, this was ridiculous. They saw the state and patriarchy as one, and presented this as further evidence in favor of destroying all male dominated power structures.

†††††One factor that divided the women of two separate movements was the separation of classes. Of a sample of ten women from each group, fifty percent of anarchists were of the lower class, while seventy percent of mainstream feminists were middle class, and thirty percent were upper class (Marsh178). This meant that the feminists were simply fighting for a right in a society that could work for them, while anarcha-feminists wanted a part of a world that did not yet exist.

†††††Anarcha-feminist found themselves rejected by two worlds in which they should have been welcomed. Most male anarchists viewed the struggle for equal rights as a waste of time. They valued their fight against government more than the idea that equal rights created a stronger community. Mainstream feminists saw the anarchists as ideologists, mainly because the major advocates of suffrage were socially privileged and had no problem with the system they lived in. If given equal rights, the feminist felt they could live in their society. Because of this discouragement from groups on both sides, the anarcha-feminists made little progress, yet did influence a later generation of women anarchists in the 1960ís. So, the anarcha-feminist work was not in vain, although their cause must have seemed hopeless in a time when only two or three of their numbers were widely known for their struggle against a state made of hierarchy, corruption, and patriarchy.


Flick Ruby

For too long anarchist feminists have been labeled as the ladies auxiliary of male bomb throwers. The misconception and manipulation of both feminists and anarchist principles and practice have resulted in the use of sensationalist and ridiculing tactics by the state and its spokespeople. This has not only polarised the general populace from potentially liberation concepts but has also polarised anarchist from feminists. In the past and more so recently there has been a uniting of these beliefs and Peggy Korneggers article; 'Anarchism; the Feminist Connection' goes so far as to say that the two genres of thought are inextricable tied although the connection has not been consiously articulated by feminists very often. Kornegger agrues that feminism "emphasis on the small group as a basic organisational unit, on the personal and political, on anti- authoritarianism and on spontanious direct action was essentially anarchism. I believe that this puts women in a unique position of being the bearers of a subsurface anarchist consiousness which if articulated and concretised can take us further than any previous group toward the achievement of total revolution.

While anarchism has provided a frameword for the transformation required, for far too long even this revolutionary ideology has been largely male identified; male articulated, male targeted and male exclusive in both its language and participation. It has therefore been unfortunately lacking in vital analysis especially with regard to the psychological and physical realities of oppression experienced by the majority of the human population: women. As Emma Goldman said of the Spanish Revolution of 1936 "Despite the impressive rhetoric, most frequently male anarchists retreated to cultural orthodoxy in the personal relationships with women ...The vast majority of Spanish comrades continued to expect their own "companions" to provide the emotionally supportive and submissive relationships "necessary" for the activism of the males". Anarchism has often duplicated the very concpts of power it sought to obliterate . One of the basic tenants of anarchist feminsm is that we are not prisoners of the past -

The past leads us if we force it to

Otherwise it contains us,

In its asylum with not gate

We make history or it makes us"

As anarchist feminist we are not asking men to attone for the sins of the forefathers, we are asking them to take responsibility for the masculinity of the future, we are not asking women to be perpetually aware of their opression but to emerge from it. Mostly we are not locating conflict with certain people rather than the kind of behaviour that takes place between them.

Anarchist feminism addresses these notions of power, attempts to criticise, envision and plan. Everything is involved in the question. However it is from a consious understanding of the lessons of the past that presses us into the future, however angry or embarrased. While it is not my intention to analyse in depth the traditions of anarchism and feminism, discussion of their union in the past and the barriers to this union may help to inform both genres as I see them as both phenomenas of urgent relevance.

Definitions of both anarchism and feminism are totally anathma as "freedom is not something to be decreed and protected by laws or states. It is something you shape for yourself and share however both have insisted "on spontenaiety, on theoretical flexibility, on simplicity of living, on love and anger as complementary and necessary compoents of society as well as individual action." Anarchist feminist see the state as an insitution of patriarchy, and seek to find a way out of the alienation of the contemporary world and the impersonal narture of the state and its rituals of economic, physical and psychological violence.

The word anarchist comes from archon meaning a ruler and the addition of the prefix "an" meaning "without" creates the terms for concieving not of chaos not disorganisation, but of a situtaion in which there is emancipation from authority. Ironically what consititutes anarchism is not goal orientated post revolutionary bliss but is a set or organisational principles which may redress the current obstacles to freedom. As Carlo Pisacane, an Italian anarchist wrote "The propaganda of the idea is a chimera. Ideas result from deeds, not the later from the former, and the people will not be free when they are educated, but educated when they are free."

Most of the focus of anarchist discussion has been "around the governmental source of most of societies troubles and the viable alternative forms of voluntary organisation possible", but has paid little attention to the manifestations of the state in our intimate relationships nor with the invidivual psychological thought processes which affect our every relationship while living under the tyranny of a power-over ideology. The above quote came from George Woodcocks anthology called The Anarchist Reader who should be forever embarrased for citing only one woman briefly (Emma Goldman in the role of critic of the Russian Revolution). The quote continues "and by further definition, the anarchist is the man who sets out to create a society without government."


How is it that revolutionary libertarian fervour can exist so harmoniously with machismo? It is far too easy in this instance to say that "It is hard to locate our tormentor. It's so pervasive, so familiar, We have known it all our lives. It is our culture." because although it is true the essences of liberty so illustrously espoused by these people have not extended their definition of freedom to ther sisters. Why not?? It is often a problem of language used by idealists in their use of the term man as generic, but what is also clear in so much of the rhetoric is that the envisioned 'proletariat' is the male worker, the revolutionary is a person entering into the struggle that is the seeking of a "legitimating" expression of 'masculinity' in the political forum staked out by the dominant male paradigm. Feminists are suspicious of logic and its rituals and the auidence addressed by a ritual language, with reason. Consider the folloving examples and if you are not a woman try to imagine the conflict created by such wonderful ideas that deliberately and needlessly exclude you from relevance or existance.

"Our animal needs, it is well known, consist in food, clothing and shelter. If justice means anything, nothing can be more unjust than that any man lack them. But justice doesn't stop there."

"the objection which anarchists have always sustained to fixed and authoritarian forms of organisation does not mean that they deny organisation as such. The anarchist is not an individualist in the extreme sense of the word. He believes passionately in individual freedom, but he also recognises that such freedom can only be safeguarded by a willingness to co-operate by the reality of community"

"An integral part of the collective existance, man feels his dignity at the same time in himself and in others, and thus carries in his heart the principle of morality superiour to himslef. This principle does not come to him from outside, it is secreted within him, it is immanent. It consititues his essence, the essence of society itself. It is the form of the human spirit, a form which takes shape and grows towards perfection only by the relationship that everyday gives birth to social life. Justice in other works, exists in us like love, like notions of beauty of utility of truth, like all our powers and faculties."

"Chomsky argues that the basis of Humbolt's social and political thought is his vision "of the end of man"...the highest and most harmonious develpment of his powers to a complete and consistent whole. Freedom is the first and indispensable conditions which the posasibility of such a development presupposes."

And as if bearing witness to the sucesses of the socialisaion process, women too use this language as Voltairine de Cleyre said "And when modern revolution has thus been carried to the heart of the whole world if it ever shall be, as I hope it will - then may we hope to see a ressurection of that proud spirit of our fathers which put the simple dignity of Man above the gauds of wealth and class and held that to be an American was greater than to be a king. In that day there shall be neither kings nor Americans - only men, over the whole earth MEN."

Well save me from tommorrow! Sometimes you have to edit your reading with so many (sic) (sic) (sick's) it renders the text unreadable. And so to what extent than has revolutionary ideology created and spoken to women when the language, the focus and the freedom offered is so often clearly for men? The fact is that women have only so very recently acquired access to education and also do not often have the opportunity for political involvement, consider both the physical and psychological barriers. There have always been a womans voice in political forums and feminism builds upon these tradition, theories and courage to create a body of thought that specifically addresses womens empowerment.

As Robin Morgan points out in her book The Demon Lover, the left have been dominated asnd led by a male system of violence which has created with reactionary punctuality its "opposite" (duplicate) of action theory and language. She argues that in the search for "legitimacy" that male revolutionaries adopt the forums and language of violence and domination that continue to oppress women but that because these fourms are seeminsly the sole route for political transgression; that women are enticed and engaged in the struggle that while purporting to be revolutionary it is revolutionary on male terms and will use and betray her. So often feminist have been abused by and asked by male revolutionaries to make ther claim and focus subsurvient to "the wider struggle". From the women Abolitionists jeered at when they gave a feminist understaning of the problems of male drunkeness and its devestating effects on women, to the suffragists accused of diverting attention from the war effort, to Zetkin, Luxumbourg and Goldman all suffering the eye roll and brutality of both the state that is and the state that would be. We see Alexandra Kollontai the only women involved in the Russian cabinet after the 1917 Revolution being exiled to Norway after all her references to the necessity of a feminist component to revolution were edited and diluted. We are asked to stop pursuing our cause and start defending it but to argue for the validity of our cause that would imply we wanted "in". Even recently a once respected friend said that "The womens meeting is on now, the real meeting will state in half and hour." When questioned he added "the full meeting". The fullness of the lack filling penile participation I supposed, lubricated and made ready, as always in isolation. Ah but how can one quibble about the sloppiness of language when it serves our purposes so well. Thankyou Mirabeau for the following "Every party has its criminals and fools because every party has its men."

Entering into political circles with men is an exercise in the risk of compromising and being obedient to this attitude or in confronting it. Ridicule is the worst, tokenism is little better and so gloriously rare and acute is our joy when the issues are taken seriously that we could be mistaken for groaning clapping seals unless we are already cringingly braced in anticipation of the backlash of men genuinely perplexed but inarticulate except in the socialised male response; defensiveness. But there must be some way in which to address the political nature of our polarisiaion as sexes in political forums which involve men. There must be some way to point to the coercive power structures that display a hidden elite, invariable of men but also of women. I believe like Peggy Krogger that feminism could be the connection that links anarchism to the future, both add to eachothers struggle not to seize but to abolish power, but both go further than the socialists and assert that people are not free becuse they are surviving, or even economically comfortable. They are only free when they have power over their own lives. Anaerchist feminist say that the goal is not to fabricate the new and artificial social forms but to find ways or articulating people so that out of their groupings, the insitutions appropriate to a free society might evolve."

Socialist organisations are popular with a lot of people who are flocking to these groups because it is felt that one must be involved with a revolutionary group,. Indeed. But their gender blind hierarchical bludgenoning from the poduim organisations have a typical style of interpreting feminist concerns and concrete grievances as irrelevant to or symptomatic of the larger struggle. "They appeal to the women to suspend their cause temporarily which inevitable leads to a dismissal of women's issues as tangential, reducing them to subsidiary categories."

Anarcha-feminist have said that often the "definitive body of theory which is so often the comforting cushion for male reclining, such theoretical over articulation gives one the illusion of responding to a critical situaion, without ever really coming to grips with ones perception of it. With capitalism and patriarchy so safely reduced to an explination, we distance ourselves from the problem and the necessity to immediately interact with it or respond to other people." So often revolutionaries deal with concepts and not people.

But while as anarcha-feminists we object to much of the politics of socialist (as a friend of mine says "After your revolution we'll still be us, but you'll be them, ) we also argue that liberation needs to happen in small afinity groups so that people are not blugeoned into opinions and can build up the personal relationshiop of trust that facilitates the grieving, the sharing and the exorcisms of the psyhological though processes and experiences that brought them to their politics.. This is often a sanity compromising process or do we actually become sane through that difficult time when we realise that the personal is political.

"Those of us who have learnt to survive by dominating others, as well as those of us who have learned to survive by accepting domination need to socialise ourselves into being strong without playing dominance submission games, into controlling what happens to us without controlling others." "To this end anarchism must start with a solid feminist consiousness and practise it or it is doomed to just as much internal contradiction and failure as anarchists traditionally foresaw for hierarchical Marxism."