Growing pains for the old and young radicals

I have always loved my elders, and have relished the time I spend with them. It’s largely due to the lack of grandparents in my life, and my general interest in grown folk things. I remember as a little girl I used to fantacize about having an older womyn take me in and teach me the truths of the world; traditions to pass on to other womyn; and all the wisdom of her lived experiences and mistakes. This drove me to befriend the old womyn, who lived next door to me growing up. The experience wasn’t quite as romantic as I envisioned. But we did have a lot of tea dates, where she showed me pictures of her beloved cat Maxine.

As a radical I feel it is absolutely necessary to connect with militants from generations before us, as well as build a multigenerational political struggle. This helps us folks in the younger generation place ourselves in history through learning from our elders, who have been a part of historical movements in the past. But with all the wisdom and experience that our elders bring, they also sometimes bring an attachment to old ideas that must be left in the past. As we learn from struggles, past and present, we must craft new revolutionary theory and organization. A huge lesson that I have taken from struggles in the past is the importance of rooting ‘domination’ out of our organizations and the oppressed in general. That means our revolutionary movement must value feminist and anti-racist principles, and see issues surrounding ‘identity’, such as gender, race, sexuality, age, ect., as organically connected to class position. The elder marxist males I have been exposed to have a tendency to hold onto some class reductionist ideals that were so characteristic of revolutionary movements from the past. Marxists historically have not acknowledged difference within the class, and have not been scientific enough in their theoretical explorations of oppression and exploitation within our societies. The different lived experience of women, people of color, queers and immigrants have often been left out of the analysis. However, there has been a lot of effort made by different tendencies and individuals, who seek to advance marxism by updating its content. I still notice that feminism and issues of gender and sexuality still seems to be hard for some of our elder males to absorb.

One elder in particular I am very close to. His opinions, comradeship, and support matters deeply to me. It is important for me to have healthy relationships with older men, because I have had very few. I was raised by my mother and when my father was around he wasn’t always ‘present.’ A crack addiction left him high, unpredictable, and an abusive terror to my mother. Yet, as a young womyn I wanted so bad to believe in him. I saw his potential and talents and I wanted him to make better decisions for himself and us. I also wanted his love and respect. None of these things ended up happening the way I dreamed, and it has been seven years since we have spoken. This is why the relationship I have with this particular elder means a great deal to me; I want to continue to learn from him, and be committed to working within a multigender and multigenerational movement.

That said, this revolutionary’s consciousness is still effected by the problems of generations past when it comes to gender. As a black worker he understands the intersections of race and class well. But his clarity of these issues does not carry over when it comes to intersections of gender, race and class. He still sees feminism and marxism as contradictory, and issues of domestic violence, rape, and regulation of sexuality as personal (not political) matters. I understand his critique of bourgeois feminism and aspects of radical feminism, who failed to bring up issues of class and race. The black feminists share these critiques in their very marxist-friendly analysis of the bourgeois women’s movement, which is why it is important to distinguish between the different tendencies within feminism. I try to explain this to him, and compare it to the ways we differentiate marxisms (stalinist, leninist, trotskyist, autonomous). He is quite stubborn and often fails to understand the comparison.

If we are to integrate and bring women into our marxist movement and organizations we must prioritize and value feminism. Not all feminism is good just like not all marxists are good or useful. But feminism can be very important, healing and empowering for a lot of women. It gives you clarity and understanding of all the painful conditioning we go through as we have been broken into these rigid gender roles that regulate our sexuality. As marxists we must expose the system in all aspects of its oppression and exploitation to build a revolutionary consciousness that will change the system. The more advanced and complicated the system is the more complicated the oppression is, and the more likely the oppressors (the ruling class) will try to hide its inner workings. Marx wrote,

“Thus the most general abstractions commonly appear where there is the highest concrete development, where one feature appears to be shared by many, and to be common to all. Then it cannot be thought of any longer in one particular form.”(6)

Capitalism and the division of labor relies on fetishizing economic forms that dictate our social relations. All of our particular lived experiences, as well as human potential, is abstracted within this system. As revolutionaries we must not continue that process and reduce all oppression to one abstract form, whether it be solely focusing on class, race or sexuality. We must expose the complicated ways domination plays out within our society, and that means looking at how it materializes within the class and our communities. Marx was brilliant, but his theoretical investigations failed to expose the ways homophobia, sexism and racism are integrated into the capitalist organization of our society. This doesn’t mean we reject him. We use his method to make new theoretical explorations that advance the method and our theoretical analysis and strategy for struggle. If we are to build a world free of oppression and exploitation and that is built around the survival and development of the people then our revolutionary organization and movement must be free of domination.

We must all  (young and old) learn these feminist lessons from the failures of past struggles if we are to work towards building a truly holistic and revolutionary working-class movement today. Unfortunately, these lessons aren’t easy and come with a tremendous amount of growing pains. As a young person I am committed to building a multigenerational organization and struggle that learns from our elders, but our elders must be open to our perspectives and advancements too. We must be committed to dialoguing and learning from these lessons together if we are going to achieve unity in theory and practice.

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2 Comments on “Growing pains for the old and young radicals”

  1. i feel this.
    there is so much “crazy making” when women/gender oppressed people talk about our challenges. it’s a very hard thing to deal with when your very person comes under attack for what are political differences.
    how to begin describing the strength, resilience and confidence we need?
    its a rough world for revolutionary women and queers. but we have pushed through. thanks for such a loving post on such a hard topic.

  2. Fray says:

    Nice post. Your point about failing to differentiate between different types of feminism really resonated with me. When leftists do this, it conveniently keeps them ignorant since they will write off self-education about feminism as bourgeois. Having studies various types of radical and revolutionary feminism in the past and being relatively new to the Marxist method, I’m excited to begin to apply that method to feminist texts; I’m sure there’s a lot that Marxists could learn from doing that. On an organizational level, lumping all feminism in with the bourgeois type also leaves us vulnerable to liberal-baiting of women revolutionaries who bring up gender.

    And I very much agree with you about the need for intergenerational organizing and development as militants. This is something that’s been largely missing from my life. Most of the older people I’ve organized with have been white liberals who quite honestly are exasperating to work with; any direction from revolutionary elders has come in the form of reading. In the longer term, my partner and I have talked about dealing with this by trying to work out ways to create structure within our communities to support things like child care so that people don’t drop off the scene once they turn 30. In the meantime, I wish you the best in your conversations with the elder comrade you mentioned here.


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