August 27th, 2021

A Letter to my Socialist Friends and Colleagues

I say I'm not a socialist; I'm less than enthused when you want our group to affirm in one of its planks that we are.

You say, "I'm surprised and disappointed, Allan". You say, "I really would have thought that you'd be on the side of the poor and the working class. That you'd see that the system is rigged against them, unfairly. I never knew you were a friend of the bankers and corporations and such an ally to the rich and powerful. But seriously, you think capitalism is fair and that people get what they deserve in the free market?"

So we need to have a conversation.

A lot of my friends and associates in the Green Party, among feminists, and within the LGBTQIA+ community, when they say "socialist", mostly mean "Gee, capitalism is unfair, most of the people doing the work don't get the benefits, and it's set up that way, and I'm against all that" and so on.

But would you consider yourself a radical feminist for thinking, "Gee, it's a man's world and it's unfair to women"? Radical feminism is more than just that, there's an attempt to get a handle on why, and how it works and what to do about it and how it should be instead. Socialism, as I think of it, is that way too. It contains a theory of what the oppression and exploitation is, and why it exists; it identifies causes and mechanisms of power and inequality, it defines relationships between categories of people. It diagnoses the problem and it proposes a solution.

Radical feminism says that it all started with sex and reproduction, that sexual inequality arose between the male and female people of our species -- that it wasn't inevitable or natural, and doesn't have to be that way, but somehow became that way, a male supremacy system where men had power over women, and that later that inequality became a blueprint for disempowering and oppressing other categories of people.

Socialism says that it all started with property and control of the means of production, that wealth inequality arose between those who owned or controlled the land (and, later, other means of production, e.g. factories etc) and those who did the labor. In the era when Marx formulated his theories, it was radical to insist that it wasn't inevitable or natural to have a nobility and a working class. Socialism says it doesn't have to be that way, but it became that way, and that fundamental inequality became a blueprint for disempowering and oppressing other categories of people as well.

I hope that when stated that way, you can see that all the intersectionality in the world still leaves us with a disagreement between these theories. They can both be right about the oppression of the working class and the oppression of women, and about how one form of oppression can be mirrored in how yet another category of people get oppressed. But they can't so easily both be right about their sense of where the root of the problem lies. And it goes deeper, as roots tend to.

Radical feminism, or at least most of it, does not posit that male people are inherently the enemy of equality or that they represent a permanent threat of oppression. But socialism specifically fingers the ruling class, the wealthy oligarchs, the wealthy, as inherently oppressors. The social construction of their class directly depends on exploitation and oppression of the majority, and their very existence, along with the system that enshrines them, are the reason the problem exists in the first place.

Part of the difference is due to the realness of biological sexual dimorphism and the artificiality of class. There is the sense that the ruling class are who they are because of their behaviors, because of their participation in the system that rewards them and exploits the others. In contrast, in a radical feminist context, while the same case can be made that male people are responsible for their participation in patriarchy, we assume they would still be male whether they participated or they didn't, collectively and individually.

Socialism points a finger. "Those people", it says, identifying the ruling class, the rich owners of the means of production, "it is their fault, they are the reason capitalism exists and they are the force that perpetuates it".

Radical feminism, despite its (un)popular image as a hateful indictment of men, actually is a lot more nuanced. Most radical feminist theory recognizes that if male dominance isn't built-in biological as part of nature, it has to be explained; something besides maleness needs to have caused it and to be responsible for the problem.

So socialism has a central adversarial streak. It has culprits in a way that radical feminism does not. Radical feminists may state that males benefit from patriarchy, and have a tendency to support the patriarchy in their behaviors because of how they perceive their personal interests, but they also tend to state that feminism will be of benefit to everyone, not just women, whether men realize it or not.

This makes a significant difference to me. There is an undertone of hate and blame, of culprit-blaming and resentment, in socialism. I find it detrimental, conservative, politically cancerous.

Socialist thought contains an inconsistency in how class is viewed. Historically, Marxist thought on the relationship between classes and individuals who were of those classes held that people's identities and interests are shaped by their class. As one of the original prototypes of what became the field of Sociology, this theory tended to treat individuals as blank slates. As I said before, it was radical for its time to posit that the built-in nature of people did not differ, that we were all the same at heart, and that only our social conditions turned us into lords of the manor or peasants of the field. And the classic finger-pointing was actually aimed at the class of people, the ruling class, and not the individual people who comprise it. So it isn't entirely fair on my part to say that socialism hates individual wealthy people and blames them as culprits, as in the formal sense it doesn't, it views all individuals as puppets of their upbringing and social status. But while you can have a revolution against a class of people, when you line them up against the wall you still end up dealing with individual people.

In order to explain how the masses of people are kept from always already being in a state of revolution against the minority of wealthy bourgeois ruling class, Marxism, and the socialist thought that built upon it, speaks of false conscousness and class consciousness. But when you start off with individuals painted as blank slates whose consciousness is caused by their class membership and social situation, there isn't much room to examine the process of perceiving, realizing, knowing. Or of being misled, fooled, deluded into believing the ruling class's ideologies and propaganda about proper place and capitalism as a meritocracy and so forth. Socialist consideration of consciousness, identity, and social participation is clumsy and limited.

Radical feminism's view of the individual isn't a blank slate model. There is a strong thread of thought within radical feminism that revalorizes emotional cognitive processing, both as a critique of patriarchal worship of emotionally detached logic and reason, and as a key to intuition, seeing past what has been taught, seeing through even an omnipresent social ideology.

It's inherently better at not collapsing the individual person into their membership in a category, and to see all the categories and all social structures as participatory behaviors of individuals, not as things in themselves.

The socialist will often consider the individual person who has privileges within the oppressive world and think to themselves, "This person has the power to stop the oppression but doesn't". Or they may not merely think this to themselves but say it loudly, while pointing the finger.

It isn't like that. Power, first off, isn't what the world tends to think it is. What patriarchal ideology says that it is. Power over other people isn't a substance that the powerful possess, the way one possesses a candy bar. Power is a social relationship. It is defined within social structure, and, within that structure, the powerful are as thoroughly defined by it as the powerless. Radical feminism shows us that all structures are dances, verbs, processes that individuals engage in, and do not have genuine existence as nouns outside of that. But one individual, one dancer, can't use the power defined for that position to do completely other things with it. One can occasionally abdicate, but in leaving the dance floor one leaves behind the power; one does not get much opportunity to weild that power to stop the dance. It just doesn't work that way.

There is power to effect change, and it lies in communication. To modify the dance, one must engage with the other dancers and compare notes and change behaviors, and there are ways in which the privileges and opportunities of the powerful do make some actions possible at the individual level that are not available to the less privileged, but to far lesser and more intricately nuanced degree than implied by the socialist's glare.

The socialist shows up at the meeting with a military bearing, serious and ready to engage in the struggle, committed to the cause, deliberately dangerous to the oppressors and adversaries, and prepared to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to triumph in the revolution. It's an attitude, a way of framing the approach. Sometimes you can almost see the olive drab fatigues and the cartridge belt.

View it from a radical feminist perspective. It's hard to get more masculine than military. The adversarial oppositional approach, the erasure of sensitivity in favor of blunt realpolitik, the sacrificing of gentle inclinations, the cessation of patience and flexibility in favor of demands and the undercurrent of threat.

Communication, as I said, is power, the real power to change things. One communicates by being open, sharing, listening, caring, merging one's perceptions with another's. We are all socially situated and none of us had more than a peripheral range of choice in picking our social situation. Blame has no useful role, and picking fights with the other dancers in the dance won't often increase the likelihood of listening and learning. Anger has a valid role in communication but it needs to be accompanied by compassion.


Do you counsel young people trying to sort out their gender identity? You should read my book! It's going to add a new entry to your map of possibilities when you interact with your clients!

My book, GenderQueer: A Story From a Different Closet, has been published by Sunstone Press. It is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and ebook, and as ebook only from Apple, Kobo, and directly from Sunstone Press themselves.

My second book, That Guy in Our Women's Studies Class, is also being published by Sunstone Press. It's a sequel to GenderQueer. It's expected to be released in late 2021. Stay tuned for further details.

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