reckoning with Patriarchy, Eurocentricism, and Authoritarianism within Marxist organization and Parties
“The main threat to humankind, the flora and fauna and our entire biosphere, is capitalist imperialism: a totally out of control, predatory, global system of accumulation and oppression that’s on a collision course with the limitations of our planet: daily devouring children, women, people of color, the poor, workers of all stripes, wildlife and the environment in the pursuit of profits.
All of our problems rest on the artificial divisions that have been engendered between the oppressed for hundreds of years: divisions based on gender, race, ethnicity, culture, geography, sexual preferences, age and otherwise. These divisions have been fostered, historically, by those who have sought to use them in their pursuit of power and material gain.”
–The Dragon and the Hydra: A historical study of Organizational methods By Russell Maroon Shoatz
“It is not the movement which should be armed, but rather the people. And we should arm them not just with guns, but with revolutionary ideology. They make the revolution, not a vanguard underground force. There are no heroes or condescending saviors, we must act as our own liberators.”
–Anarchism and the black revolution by Lorenzo Komboa Ervin
“They all considered their organizations and themselves as the nucleus of the party, the one and only party, the vanguard party which was destined in time to lead the struggle for socialism. This is what ruined them. And the rejection, the conscious vigilant, implacable rejection of this conception is the indispensable basis of the great work for socialism which is crying to be done and which can be done by us.”
-Facing Reality by CLR James and Grace C. Lee
The people are always rebelling
Got a letter in the mail the other day saying my food stamps are being cut like everyone else’s come next month, thinking about the impending end of my unemployment coins, the lack of jobs, the lack of housing, the new penalty fees for the lack of healthcare that has always been there, but now we get to be criminalized for it thanks to our fascist president, thinking about the impending escalation of war in Syria and everywhere by this imperial government, and the war here as more and more money gets funneled into the State as they prepare for ‘civil unrest.’
These thoughts are warmed by images of recent rebellions in Brazil, where teachers, in solidarity with Black Bloc, went on strike and banks were destroyed. These rebellions are a continuation of struggle against the government that escalated in June when the people took to the streets to protest the World Cup. And before then in April 2013 when 700 indigenous people’s occupied the Brazilian House of Representatives in defense of their land and to protest PEC 215 a measure that would give congress exclusive authority to decide boundaries of Indigenous land. Thinking of Mexico City and the teacher’s occupation of the Zocalo and the rebellions that continue to erupt in the streets as the pigs moved in. Thinking about Colombian farmers and youth confronting the violence of free trade and the State marching chanting ‘”Long live the farmers’ strike! Food sovereignty!” Thinking of the striking berry farmworkers at Sakuma Brothers farm in north Washington, who have been on strike since September 12th 2013 to protest the arrest of their council president as well as the low wages and exploitative conditions they endure. Thinking of the continuation of struggle here in the bay as autonomous networks of queer/folks of color are being formed thru that struggle. The system continues its expansion of empire, attempting to occupy more indigenous land, more war to control more resources, more ‘urban renewal’ aka poor people of color removal through that new form of colonization called gentrification, more pigs to smash the impending rebellion that will and must erupt here in response. The conditions are violent and oppressive, but they always have been and our people are ALWAYS rebelling. We must remind ourselves of that sometimes. I’ve tried to remind myself of these truths all my life. My first understanding of oppression and exploitation was within my home watching my parents struggle to pay bills and support us, and the ways they used drugs and addiction to deal with the violence of living within this colonial empire. I saw the ways my father used physical and spiritual violence against my mother to deal with his disempowerment as a Black man living within this White Supremacist system. And I learned how to be empowered as a woman through my mother’s survival and resistance to this horizontal violence within our home. As a poor, half-Black, queer womyn growing up amongst these conditions I understood the complex ways the system uses Patriarchy and White Supremacy to further divide us as a people. I understood the ways capitalism profits off of our misery and alienation from one another. I knew then that the system must be destroyed in order for us to live.
Marxism and Vanguardism or the counter-revolution known as ‘male’ ego
As I grew so did my desire to resist and I chose to do that with other queer womyn and people of color, because we shared a common experience and struggle. It wasn’t until college that I got introduced to Marx and Marxism. I was still fairly new to the bay and I met some Marxist dudes in college, who knew other Marxist dudes, and who were interested in organizing outside of the university with revolutionary politics. My allegiance was with womyn of color so I was skeptical of any grouping that chose to identify their political practice based off the writings and experiences of a European man. Didn’t European men colonize us to begin with? Would they really understand the ways oppression works under this capitalist system? Would they have the most useful solutions for our liberation? That said, I was thirsty for revolutionary politics and actions in the bay and this group of people expressed the desire to create a new type of Marxism; not a weird cult political party populated by old White dudes like the rest of the Marxist tendencies and groupings around. This Marxism was autonomous from that. This Marxism would be anti-racist and sexist and spread the idea of revolutionary pedagogy, and horizontal communal structures to the working class. I was curious although still concerned by this new male dominated phase of my political activity. The space did not have gender diversity with a 70/30 ratio of men versus womyn. But I agreed to build with them, and this new network of people became a collective called Advance the Struggle (AS). During the two years I spent organizing within this collective I learned a lot about the left, especially the Marxist/Socialist left, historically and currently. It became clear to me that this fresh new expression of Marxism that my former comrades preached about was nothing more than the same old Eurocentric, hierarchical, male dominated Marxist party, which has existed for decades. Besides this being a mechanical and failed strategy, the absorption of western/bourgeois values at the core of it not only holds on to capitalist politrikkks, but also white supremacy and patriarchy, which provide the foundation of colonization and capitalism. These things create the colonial experience and system we have been living under for over 500 years. Marxist parties focus their struggle on workers struggle to gain power over the industries, as opposed to throwing out the notion of authoritative power and industrialization all together through decolonization. Russell Means speaks to this in his speech “For America To Live Europe Must die,”
“Revolutionary Marxism is committed to even further perpetuation and perfection of the very industrial process which is destroying us all. It offers only to ‘redistribute’ the results—the money, maybe—of this industrialization to a wider section of the population. It offers to take wealth from the capitalist and pass it around; but in order to do so, Marxism must maintain the industrial system. Once again, the power relations with European society will have to be altered, but once again the effects upon American Indian peoples here and non-Europeans elsewhere will remain the same. This much the same as when power was redistributed from the church to private business during the so-called bourgeois revolution. European society changed a bit, at least superficially, but its conduct toward non-europeans continued as before.”
The Marxist vanguard parties perpetuation of industrialization and State capitalism has proven historically that it can be absorbed by the ruling class and the State, and therefore limits our decolonial struggles. Marxist influenced Socialist and Communist parties, who claim to represent the needs of the people, have undermined the people through taking power within bourgeois governments that continue to oppress and exploit us. We have seen this throughout Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa. On a micro scale I have seen this consciousness exist within a small Marxist collective, where the internal politics and culture is driven by the unchecked ‘male’ ego seeking to control the political landscape and take power. Over time I have learned that this way of thinking and organizing is counter-revolutionary, and continues to hold our struggles back rather then advance them. I left this collective for the health of my own spirit. It could not grow in the direction I needed to for my people. We are living in shifting times. Capital is imploding because it is not sustainable, fascism is growing through the State and through White Supremacist militias, the economic crisis is rapidly increasing poverty globally, and the earth is and has been suffering through it all. We have seen these conditions worsen over time, and we’ve also seen the ways different revolutionary movements have responded to these conditions and failed to move us closer to liberation. We need to be building and finding unity in and through struggle. I want to learn from the past so that we don’t continue to repeat the same errors today. I don’t claim to have THE truth or a fixed answer. That kind of thinking continually holds us back. We will be learning and resisting always while we are still breathing. I seek to offer some autonomous critiques of Marxist practice, largely based off of my experience within the Marxist collective Advance the Struggle. My experiences and studies of revolutionary history have shown me that Marxism and Marxist organizations continue to rely on a vanguardist model of organizing, which is western and colonial at its roots. The people will be the ones who will make revolution. Not the vanguard party.
Can Revolutionary Ideology from Europe not be Eurocentric?
“You cannot judge the real nature of a revolutionary doctrine on the basis of changes it proposed to make within the European power structure and society. You can only judge it by the effect it will have on non-European peoples. This is because every revolution in European history has served to reinforce Europe’s tendencies and abilities to export destruction to other peoples, other cultures and the environment itself. I defy anyone to point out an example where this is not true.”
–For America to live Europe must die by Russell Means
The short answer to the above question is no. European ideologies and culture despiritualizes everything. This is why global colonization started within Europe. A patriarchal system of male domination set off to ‘explore’ the world and dominate its natural resources leading to the development of capitalism, which objectifies us through this process of despiritualization. Therefore, solutions to this mess, this colonization we have been enduring for over 520 years does not lie within Europe. That means Marx and his protégées, no matter how useful their analysis is at times cannot provide the basis of our struggle and liberation. Bourgeois ideology and Marxist ideology still carry a western patriarchal framework that fails to understand the spiritual decolonial nature of our struggles. The way we must reclaim our bodies and spirits in harmony with the earth and each other to liberate ourselves. These ideas transcend the point of production; transcend the ‘worker’. If we are to get free we must reclaim our total selves; find wholeness.
This means confronting and destroying patriarchy and white supremacy and the ways it holds up this colonial capitalist system. Our spiritual bonds as a people and community were broken through colonization, our families forever bear the trauma of that experience, and we carry it within our blood. Our ways of understanding the world and spiritual practices were forbidden, and punished through murder if we broke such genocidal laws. Our language erased. Our culture erased. Our bodies taken through sexual violence and labor. Our minds controlled through western frameworks conditioning us to harm each other and ourselves; controlling the way we live and love. Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism has been useful to understanding the political exploitative nature of capitalism. Rather then providing a numerical explanation of the system he centered political economy from the position of the commodified worker as the basis to understand the exploitative nature of this commodity crazed system. But his own position as a privileged white man provided a blindfold to the violent realities of European colonization, and the resistance that has always existed to it way before Marx was born.
This harmful erasure of colonial history and resistance, which is prevalent throughout the bourgeois education system, also exists within the left, and was perpetrated within the Marxist collective, Advance the Struggle (AS) through the literature and politics developed within the space. The theory we read was mostly written by white men, and most of the history and struggles we studied were located within Europe. Therefore, just like bourgeois society, a straight white mans thought and experiences were centralized within the space silencing Black/Brown/Indigenous/Queer/Womyns struggles and lives. When people of color or womyn were read within the collective it was because their writings and theories were influenced by Marxism; a white man has to validate the ideas of womyn and queers of all colors in order for it to be taken seriously within AS, and I would argue, most Marxist spaces. Within the first month of the collective’s existence a reading list was being compiled for all the members of the collective to read with the intention of balancing out the knowledge within the space to create a horizontal internal culture. One comrade, who was a straight white male bodied person, created a three-tiered system and placed all the members within it. He categorized our intelligence and experience based on his Eurocentric understanding of knowledge. He was a white man and our abilities were judged on how well we understood these other white men (Marx, Lenin, Trotsky), which would provide the basis of our struggle. That was not revolutionary work. That was recolonization of revolutionary space and consciousness. This tiered system wasn’t shared with everyone in the group creating a hierarchical and secretive nature to the collective off top, but this type of authoritarianism was hidden through this discourse of horizontalism. This comrade placed himself as well as 2 other men at the top of the tiers. These three had known each other the longest in the group and had been reading/studying Marxism together before the rest of the group was formed illustrating a clear power hierarchy, which would structure the collective the whole time during the two years I was in it.
This hierarchy and authoritarianism is not new to Marxism. History has shown that Marxists reduce their entire politic and energy into building the organization or party that will provide leadership or bosses for the revolution. This is the nature of the centralist strategy that permeates throughout the Marxist left, and which continually holds back our struggles. I found that the foundation of their politic is built off of the ideas of Russian revolutionary V.I. Lenin and his Bolshevik party. Lenin created the idea of the professional revolutionary and the professional revolutionary organization, which is eerily similar to bourgeois political parties that protect capitalism and structure our world. Even the language used, such as ‘professional,’ is bourgeois and careerist speaking to the hierarchical division of labor, which is both racist and sexist. According to Lenin it is the revolutionary party, which, like the factory, will train workers to become revolutionary leaders that will produce correct revolutionary ideas that they will then preach to the working class. In their eyes it is this machine, the revolutionary Marxist party, that will make revolution. But the people do not need more parties or more bosses telling us what to do. This sentiment is expressed well by Black militant Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin,
“What we don’t want or need is a group of authoritarians leading the working class, and then establishing themselves as a centralised decision-making command, instead of “withering away”; Marxist-Leninist states have perpetuated authoritarian institutions (the secret police, labour bosses, and the communist party) to maintain their power. The apparent effectiveness of such organisations (‘we’re just as efficient as the Capitalists’) masks the way that ‘revolutionaries’ who pattern themselves after Capitalist institutions become absorbed by bourgeois values, and completely isolated from the real needs and desires of ordinary people.”
These truths expressed by Ervin became more and more apparent to me as I continued to organize within AS, and around other Marxists and Marxist groups in the bay. Organizing consisted of hyper competition amongst other Marxist groups about who had the correct line, but there was no real spiritual connection to the people, the objects of their analysis. The methods and styles of organizing were reflective of an elitist Eurocentric male culture that was highly academic. This is why the Marxist left within this country is highly irrelevant to the people’s struggles. I found myself being disconnected more and more from my community and my people. Although the word ‘autonomous’ was thrown around in relation to Marxism there was no real respect or understanding of autonomy. Building and working for the organization became everything, and AS, like every Marxist group before them, was convinced that their organization was the one that would make revolution. The autonomy of other political spaces created by AS members, such as the student group Student Unity and Power (SUP) and the Marxist Feminist study group I started, were not respected. The majority of the members opportunistically viewed these spaces as a grounds for recruitment into their organization rather then a space to learn and struggle together for the collective liberation of all life. For me, autonomy means you do not need to join a revolutionary party to make revolution, and it is often these parties that hold back the movement of the people, because they are more concerned with holding power within these spaces rather than sharing ideas and struggling together. The people are the subjects of history not the vanguard party. Marxist Revolutionaries CLR James and Grace C. Lee speak to the problems of the vanguard party within their book Facing Reality. Although both of them are Marxist militants, it was the movement and self-organization of the people within struggle, which inspired them to shift their ideas around Marxist organization,
“on every occasion ‘the vanguard’ has found itself far behind in relation to the action and ideas of the masses in the revolution: on every occasion, instead of showing the road, they have dragged lamentably in the rear, trying with great difficulty to adapt themselves to events; on every occasion it is the most exploited elements, the most ‘backward,’ the most humble, who have been the most audacious, the most creative, the ones who have carried the movement forward without faltering as far as it was able to go, and sometimes further.”
The people do not need leaders and it is these self-appointed leaders who fall behind in all aspects of struggle often creating more damage through their attempts to micro manage struggle like bosses within a workplace. These Eurocentric male dominated and lead Marxist organizations continue to push forth a Eurocentric politic and culture that does not speak to our spirits, our creativity and our relationships with one another. This is the substance of revolution and life not a Eurocentric patriarchal vanguard party.
Patriarchy continues to colonize our struggles
“Within the context of colonization of Native nations, sexual violence does not affect Indian men and women in the same way. However, when a Native woman suffers abuse, this abuse is not just an attack on her identity as a woman, but her identity as Native. The issue of colonial, race, and gender oppression cannot be separated.”
-Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples by Andrea Smith
Throughout my life I have felt abused and harassed by my male bosses. I feel abused and harassed by men on the daily. And I feel like I do not have a lot of control over the situation and where the power lies, which is deeply oppressive. Objects do not have autonomy or control; they are to be used. As colonized womyn of color we experience this objectification at work, and outside of work within our daily lives, walking to the store, taking Bart, listening to the radio, and the list goes on. We understand this exploitative objectifying system in an intimate way due to our oppression within it, and the relationship between oppression and exploitation. Our bodies demonized and sexualized by colonizers in order to ideologically support the violence enacted against them in the pursuit of profit. Andrea Smith writes at length about the relationship between sexual violence and the colonization of native people, which can be applied to the effects of European colonization throughout the diaspora,
“Because Indian bodies are ‘dirty,’ they are considered sexually violable and ‘rapable.’ That is, in patriarchal thinking, only a body that is ‘pure’ can be violated. The rape of bodies that are considered inherently impure or dirty simply doesn’t count. For instance, Prostitutes have almost an impossible time being believed if they are raped because the dominant society considers the prostitutes body undeserving of integrity and violable at all times.”
This objectification triggers ancestral wounds. This pain fuels our drive to get free. If we are to talk about liberation then we must hear from the sisters and the queers, and we must be given the space to develop our ideas autonomously without the encroachment and insecurities of men, who wish to lead and control struggle. I refuse to listen to another Marxist or ‘revolutionary’ man talk about social relations and class struggle, but then fail to understand what that really means within this system, and the ways those social relations are carved out of patriarchy and white supremacy. Your politics are informed by your lived experience. When you are reading and producing theory it is being seen and filtered through this experience. If you have not experienced oppression or you have been given more social power, due to your privileged position within this hierarchical system then you do not get to take up so much space giving direction to the politic and movement to overthrow the system.
In AS I felt like my experience as a working class queer Black womyn was not spoken to, due to this neglect of gender and sexuality. There was an emphasis on class and race, but within this liberal way that did not interrogate the complexity of the class experience, and the relationship between gender, sexuality and race in terms of capitalism. There was only one to 2 other womyn of color in the group during my entire time within it, and only one other queer person. It was alienating. Anti-patriarchal work was seen as secondary and not fundamental to our political work. Decolonial gender analysis was not prioritized by the men in the group and it fell on the womyn early on to talk and write about gender. That is patriarchal. AS claimed to be a space for womyn militants and other oppressed members of the class to develop politically, but they did not try to develop any real process of accountability or practice to do that. Since the collective was dominated by straight men refusing to deepen their anti-patriarchal work the culture of the collective was also very straight and masculine, which isn’t safe for womyn and queer militants. Unfortunately, this is not unique to AS. Historically it has fallen on the womyn to check sexism within our struggles and that is a problem. In order for patriarchy to be smashed men must be working on their own harmful socialization and supporting and checking other male comrades. Just like in order for white supremacy to be smashed white folk have to be unlearning their privilege and supporting one another in the same process.
As a response I started a reading group for womyn-identified folk to read and study Marxism and revolutionary history with an emphasis on gender and race. It was an autonomous group, because the womyn in the space collectively agreed it would be safer to develop ourselves as warriors without the presence of male-bodied folk. This space was not separatist, and there was a conscious effort to do practical work with male comrades. This was never respected by male comrades within AS. There was a lot of pressure from AS males to integrate the space after it was articulated that it was an autonomous space. The Marxist feminist group I was a part of was not the only space being developed by womyn militants seeking autonomy from male dominated spaces. Another bay area Marxist Feminist group formed as well as a group in New York City. All of these spaces seemed to be a response to the patriarchy that exists within the left, Marxist and anarchist spaces in particular, and an interest by womyn to develop themselves as revolutionaries autonomously from these patriarchal spaces. The following winter in December 2010 there was a gathering of all three groups with the goals of building more solidarity amongst each other as womyn militants, as well as sharing and learning from one another so that we can build struggle together and support one another. One concrete and important plan that came out of this meeting was the building of a feminist summer camp the following summer 2011 to continue our work together.
AS did not support the summer camp for the same reasons they did not respect the Marxist Feminist group, because it was an autonomous space for womyn and trans people. One male member even described the organizers from New York as coming out to California to ‘steal their womyn.’ Their womyn? He evoked the same objectifying bourgeois property social position that prevails throughout society. As womyn we must belong and be validated by some man even within revolutionary movement. Until cis-male folk understand and are actively breaking down their conditioning to be oppressors, to possess and own womyn, they will fail to engage and work with womyn, and build a dynamic space where womyn want to struggle alongside them.
Around the same time as the development of the Marxist Feminist space a Capital reading group in San Francisco and Oakland was started. I went to the first few sessions and was uncomfortable by the members who populated the east bay group. It was about 20 people and they were all white men except for 2 to 3 women, including me, but I was the only womyn of color, and about four men of color. Almost all of these men were academics (professors, teachers, grad students). During the second meeting of the group I raised a political point about Marx’s neglect of gender in his analysis. This white male professor in the space, who apparently studied under Marxist academic Harry Cleaver (whatever) felt the need to respond to my point by saying, “I see what you are saying but that doesn’t go here. That analysis comes up later.” First off there is no fixed way to read Capital, and Marx was a white dude with a lot of privilege and blinders to oppression like this dude in the reading group that attempted to silence my arguments. My response was that my life experience offered important analysis missing from the text that should be respected. Furthermore, I asserted that it is alienating being in this space and feeling alone as a womyn of color. It’s alienating reading a very dated and challenging text in a room full of white men, some who have read it multiple times, filling the room with hot air, because they are talking so much. It took a lot of courage to offer my perspective and analysis. And then this man who knew nothing of me including my name tells me with such ease that I am wrong. That kind of behavior is what keeps womyn, especially black womyn, out of these political spaces. But that response was seen as too personal and inappropriate to the space, because I was talking about my feelings. And these Marxist men, including my own AS comrades, uphold the age-old patriarchal position that feelings aren’t political. But feelings are revolutionary, because feelings are what humanize us in this very dehumanizing system. I called on the Marxist feminist group for support and we had a meeting, where we invited the men of the Capital reading group, but only 3 men showed up. 2 out of the 3 were in AS. Nothing came from the meeting except anger towards me. Male AS comrades accused me of attacking them by bringing in the Marxist Feminist group, but what I was doing was trying to find a way to discuss these issues comradely and together. Their lack of interest in that discussion is the real sectarian behavior and continues to push oppressed folk away from revolutionary politics altogether.
Through AS’s neglect of understanding Patriarchy and the ways it conditions are social relations there was no understanding of the ways it socializes womyn to be pitted against one another in a competitive way that marks the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. We live in a society that devalues womyn so we devalue one another. When conflict arose between myself and another female comrade within AS secret meetings were had between the male comrades resulting in one of them meeting up with me to advise me to not talk to the other female comrade even though we had weekly meetings, where we must engage with one another. Rather than process the personal dynamics, which are influenced by the system, as a way to smash the beef and the harmful socialization, the collective strengthened the social relations by asking us to take separate sides and not talk to one another. This solution is a result of unchecked patriarchy within the politics and actions of the organization. Since the conflict involved womyn’s personal relationships with one another it was not seen as political or important, which is wrong. The quality of the relationships between all the comrades should matter. By separating us and not holding our feelings as an organization, harmful socialization was able to survive and be validated in the space by the male comrades. Shortly after the conflict this female comrade left the space…I left 8 months later.
AS’s neglect of anti-patriarchal work is not unique to their collective. Nor is it unique to Marxism. It is a reflection of the male domination that continues to permeate throughout the left and hold back our struggles. Until the brothers learn to step back, and see that their liberation is tied into the destruction of patriarchy, than no revolutionary movement will be able to sustain itself on this planet.
Can’t fight fire with fire
Nationalism, like Marxist organizational methods, has failed because of the inherent Eurocentric and authoritarian nature of the party, and the patriarchy that has helped inform these politics. The critiques I’m raising against Marxists and their organizational forms extend beyond just Marxist organizations and the dudes who populate them. I’ve seen similar problems in form and politics within nationalist organizations, and the dudes who populate them, which claim to have a decolonial politic. There is obvious importance to the Black Nationalist struggles that have developed in this country, because it is a response to the oppression of white supremacy and capitalism, as well as a response to the left. The Black Panthers formed out of a necessity to have more revolutionary Black politics within the civil rights movement that were pushing integrationist politics that sought to reform the system rather than destroy it. The Panthers were inspired by Nationalist and decolonial politics and struggles that came before them. Malcolm, Fanon, Garvey. However these warrior ancestors did not always aim their critique against capitalism as much as it focused on the ways the white man controlled capital.
Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X are politically significant for many reasons including pushing forward a strategy of liberation that wasn’t integration, equality and acceptance from the White man. Garvey said let’s go back to Africa, we don’t belong here. But within that was a Black capitalist mindset. Marcus Garvey printed his own money and developed capitalist ventures that relied on the love and support of Black people. Early on while Malcolm was still in the Nation of Islam he advocated Black capitalist strategies and the need for Black folk to own their own businesses in their own neighborhoods. Historically these ideas made some sense when you have seen your people oppressed over and over again by and through capitalist white supremacy and then on top of that exploited and kept in poverty through private property reducing our living to a hustle for survival. The direct and indirect violence of patriarchal white supremacist capitalism has made our lives very precarious. It makes sense that some of our ancestors would still be influenced by the money system, and might push for us to have a piece of the pie for ourselves. But it is this money game, which is the root of all destruction and misery. We will not get any closer to real liberation by using the white man’s system in our strategy. In fact, when decolonial struggles have moved forward with such strategies these revolutionary ‘leaders’ have sold out the brave hearts of the people through taking power and undermining the goals of total liberation. These are the failures I’ve seen within nationalist struggles.
State violence and repression as well as the proliferation of drugs within our communities were very significant in defeating Black Power struggles. Any revolutionary movement on this earth is vulnerable to the repression and oppression of the State. But these movements also failed because they were still too influenced by Eurocentric ideals. Hierarchical centralized parties that structured most nationalist organizations are similar in structure to the White mans political party system. The focus on leadership makes the movement and the organizations even more vulnerable to this repression. We see this very clearly within the Black Panthers, where the emphasis on Huey and the Chairman’s of the party provided real targets for the State to take out. The emphasis on leaders does not create a dynamic organization. A revolutionary organization should not have one leader everyone must submit to and learn from. This was the case also within the BPP where Huey was their leader and main theoretician. People were not taught to think for themselves and contribute to developing collective revolutionary consciousness throughout the organization and struggle. Instead they were taught to submit to a leader and regurgitate the leaders ideas. If you disagreed or disobeyed Chairman Huey Newton then you were punished, often violently. This type of structure and culture is not reflective of a healthy revolutionary movement. It is authoritarian, just like the system. We do not need revolutionary bosses or leaders. The people must lead themselves and must be empowered to do so. We must be centralized around who are enemy is and our will to defeat them, but this can look all kinds of ways in practice, and does not require a centralist party to manifest such rebellion. These Marxist, Nationalist and Marxist influenced Nationalist formations all have failed in their strategy, because they are a reflection of the white mans hierarchical power party system, which clings to patriarchal gender norms that we were colonized with and continue to be colonized with.
These strategies are Eurocentric through their hierarchy and centralization as well as through the patriarchal conditioning which still seems to mark most nationalist organizations. These nationalist groups have straight cis-male leaders, who do not understand the complexities and significance of gender oppression within colonization. They don’t even understand the ways their own oppression is related to patriarchy. Even when these politics are engaged with the focus is still on what is happening to ‘women,’ rather then understanding how all of us are molded into such a racist and sexist system. This perspective is also problematic, because it makes it seem as if womyn are passive objects for patriarchy to root onto, rather then seeing it as an antagonistic struggle between gender oppressed folks and the system. I am also not trying to paint womyn and queers as passive accessories within these organizations and movements. The BPP was very important to my development as a revolutionary queer Black womyn, because of the involvement of womyn within the leadership and struggles of the BPP and Black Power movement. I was inspired by their militancy. Womyn have always played important roles within our revolutionary struggles. That said, the culture of the group still reflected a patriarchal hierarchical party structure and politic, which is Eurocentric.
The Revolutionary queer organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionary (STAR) is also very significant, not just to queer struggle, but all revolutionary struggles for liberation, because we cannot atomize these struggles along gender, sexuality and racial lines. STAR had a relationship to Black and Brown Power movements. STAR militant and founder Sylvia Rivera was also a member of Puerto Rican Nationalist group The Young Lords, where she pushed the organization to take up the politics of queer struggle and liberation, which they did to varying degrees. STAR also worked with the Black Panthers and pushed them to adopt more queer politics and have more solidarity with queer struggles. STAR formed as a response to the lack of militant queer and gender politics that existed within these nationalist spaces and reformist queer spaces.
However, I still see within nationalist spaces, historically and present, very normative understandings of gender and sexuality. There is still an emphasis on preserving the Black and Brown family and a push to preserve heteropatriarchal social relations, where womyn bodied folks are expected to be straight and expected to be reproducing the next generation of soldiers for our struggles. Womyn’s political work is still being defined by our bodies and what they can produce, and all of this is being pushed politically by the straight male leaders of these organizations. Fuck that. Our bodies, genders and sexualities have been colonized by this European system to meet the needs of the rich. I will not join a struggle that seeks to do the same thing even with men of color in leadership. It is still the same strategy and must be called out as so. Controlling womyn, regulating our bodies and political work through not affirming or utilizing the brilliance we hold and have always held is reflective of the capitalist system and culture, which seeks to keep queers in the closet and womyn bodied folks in these boxes. We are descendants of warriors and witches and deserve to be treated as such. We deserve our dignity and respect just like any other living thing on this planet. That is what decolonization is about and that is what we are fighting for.
As working class womyn of color we don’t have the luxury to not think about gender, race and colonization. My experiences organizing with and around the Advance the Struggle collective and other Marxist and nationalist organizations have proven to me that there is a severe lack of work being done to fight white supremacy and patriarchy. This is due to the Eurocentric and patriarchal nature of Marxism, and Marxist organizations, which are more concerned with reproducing authoritative hierarchies and privileging European male knowledge. Rather than admit the fundamental neglect of these issues within their politics, and work on developing strong decolonial politics, these elitist Marxist spaces attempt to argue why patriarchy and colonization are apolitical and not important. It is very dangerous to eliminate these categories (gender and sexuality) from the political arena. In my experience I felt silenced and alienated; I also feel this way by society.
Moving forward I still see bourgeois and patriarchal thinking colonizing the consciousness of our people as well as the legacy of drugs and addiction continuing to colonize our bodies and spirits. These are markers of the white mans oppression that we all must rid ourselves of, including white men, because this system is unhealthy for all living things and we do not need to live this way. We must understand the artificial divisions implanted by racist sexist capitalism within our communities, and which structure the political economic system we are forced to live under. We must reject domination; we must stop dominating each other. Patriarchy allows men to dominate not just womyn, but men, queers, children, animals, the earth, everything. It is the foundation of capitalism.
We can learn from these mistakes and the successes too, as we strive to move towards the truth, liberation. Liberation does not mean owning property. That’s not autonomy. Liberation does not mean domination, whether its patriarchy, homophobia and white supremacy. Liberation does not mean that we break away from racist sexist capitalism just to reproduce it among our own communities. Different levels of these things have happened throughout history in our revolutionary struggles and movements and have contributed to partly why we are still not free, and these chains are old and tired. We must be learning from each other actively; this supports the growth of healthy individuals and healthy revolutionary movements. We are all contributing to the development of new ideas and rebellion and ways of living. One person does not have the answer and we do not need to worship them like the white mans god. I only hope that my experience can speak to others, and that we can move forward stronger and more connected, because we do not need this system. We only need some creativity, some bravery and each other.