(note: I may use the gender-neutral “them,” “they,” “their,” and “theirs” to refer to imagined persons)
I want to start by saying that I’m skeptical of Starhawk’s proposed solutions. It seems to me that her positions aren’t necessarily unique, or even rare, among social movements. But first, I want to try to outline the problem and move on from there.
It seems clear that there’s a tendency in the last several centuries toward various comminutions: mind separated from body, grace as something acquired from outside ourselves, Christianity’s division into various denominations, divisions of labor, the dissolutions of our communities, and so on and so forth. Something similar seems to have long been happening to the left. Some people seem to have concluded that there’s no hope for a much better future, so we should resign ourselves to making improvements on the margins. I should clarify what that means because it could easily be taken in a number of ways. On one hand, I think that most social activists feel that there’s no good reason to privilege some future utopia, in which everything is perfect, over the contemporaneous improvement of the conditions under which people—especially traditionally marginalized people—live. That said, the thesis that says that we should stop looking at solving broad issues of power and focus on smaller, less ambitious movements is one that finds its logical end in each of us fighting against the particular configuration of oppressions that each of us as individuals feels, in solidarity with everyone else. Such an approach would, then, fail to recognize that it’s these particularized struggles that is the very cause for the oppressions that each of us feels. That is, we all help to constitute and reproduce power, so we all have some ability to add or subtract to or from the oppressive systems that rule over our lives. Instead of coming to the conclusion that we need to band together if we’re ever going to stop any, let alone all, of these problems, what often seems to happen is that we come to the conclusion that we should divide our efforts up so that smaller and smaller groups fight for fewer and fewer demands—the hope perhaps being that all of these movements would collectively apply enough pressure to cause broader change while specifically-targeted actions could achieve more specific goals in the interim. Juris enumerates several of the various movements, their different strategies, their different concerns, where they come from, etc. There is something very modernistic in this approach and it also seems, on its face, self-defeating.
Starhawk proposes that we should “be loudly and clearly identified as antiracist and antisexist.” (194) I agree that we should do that, but that doesn’t seem to me to be a solution. She goes on to describe what good allyship means, including developing “personal, not just political relationships,” “raising the issue of diversity,” “sharing resources” and “opportunities,” “interrupting oppression,” and “offering support” (199). Again, I agree that these are things that we should do, but I’m not sure how they help to integrate these movements or to produce substantive changes.
It seems to me that if social movements were truly serious both about intersectional considerations and about effecting broad, meaningful change, one place to begin to try to solve some of these problems would be to try to restart efforts to desegregate US society. When whites and POC are living in the same communities, seeing their conditions as the same as one another’s, seeing their fates and plights as the same as one another’s, then this would increase the common ground on which they could stand and help to develop badly-needed social pidgins, patois, and creoles. In other words, what Starhawk’s chapter showed was that people from differing backgrounds often have such differing experiences, cultures, and languages that there’s no hope for effective communication and action. By trying to desegregate society, there could be more reason to hope for the overcoming of these obstacles, as opposed to simply trying harder, as Starhawk seems to be suggesting. (Not to intentionally be too Marxist-in-an-archaic-annoying-way, but it also occurs to me that the fight for less working hours is another one that seems long dead but potentially highly relevant.)
While I’m talking about possible solutions, it also occurs to me that part of the problem on the left has always been that the left goes stale. This makes perfect sense. How relevant are factory unions today, anyway? And, even when they did have power, they spent so much time trying to negotiate with capitalists in order to make workers happy that it’s easy to see how other social movements and social consciousnesses began to outflank these supposed leftists. My point is that this seems inevitable in a more general way. As radical entities come to have power, they tend to have to deal with elements closer to the center in order to make things happen. If someone spends all their time compromising with people they disagree with, ideas about what can be attained and what should be fought for might become what would seem more realistic, i.e. less radical.
I’m sympathetic to Grubačić’s view of anarchism as non-sectarian, non-vanguardist, and non-elitist (39-40), but it seems to me that his conception privileges academia and professional activists over more common manifestations of anarchism. I especially appreciated when he said “creating webs of solidarity can make all of them more powerful.” (40) In part, Grubačić seems to privilege intellectual engagement in order to make power more diffuse and more equitable—if everyone has access to a great amount of knowledge, then it becomes harder for any class of people to exploit another. I’m sympathetic to this argument, as well. His framing of positive and negative liberties seemed odd to me (41). Positive freedoms are those that allow some people to exploit resources (including labor) at the expense of other people’s access to those resources, often to the very serious detriment of those deprived. I don’t think that anarchism’s problem has likely ever been a lack of advocacy for positive freedom, even if I agree that a utopian imaginary is a good thing (41-2). I also might oppose him (he doesn’t go into sufficient detail) when he takes issue with the “the worse, the better” concept (42). I think that exactly what’s necessary now, perhaps more than ever, is to undercut the privilege of those who have the most. A society in which people were willing to give things up is one in which people could perhaps eventually be on level ground. In the long run, I propose that what we need isn’t so much to focus on greater empowerment; instead, we need more disempowerment, from which more equitable empowerment (and, therefore, necessarily greater empowerment for many of the disempowered) would follow. To be clear, the short-run is a different case, but Grubačić seems to be more focused on developing a long-term strategy. His love for Chomsky and the Enlightenment makes me nauseous.
“Emergence” made the point that the Zapatista movement is in dialogue with various movements around the world. It further expressed that there is a tendency for these movements to recognize the various ways by which unequal power distributions hurt various people in various ways, albeit that the various carryings out of these forms of oppression tend to carry similarities, as well. Especially, the forms of these oppressions’ beneficiaries are often common between the different forms of these oppressions. Juris argues similarly.
“Emergence: an irresistible global uprising.” We Are Everywhere. New York: Verso. 2003.
Grubačić, Andrej. “Towards Another Anarchism.” The World Social Form: Challenging empires. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 2006. 35-43.
Juris, Jeffrey. Networking Futures: The Movements against Corporate Globalization. Durham: Duke University Press. 2008. 27-60.
Starhawk. “Building a Diverse Movement.” Webs of Power: Notes from the Global Uprising. 2002. 179-200.