When I taught Military Science at the United States Military Academy at West Point, back in another life, one of the classes was about Sherman’s arsonist “march to the sea.” But the arson — which is all that seems to be remembered — was really part of a strategy that prefigured the strategic bombing of WWII. In fact, Sherman was racing to Atlanta, then Savannah. Unlike his fellow Generals who looked to attack one another, consistent with the obsolete Napoleonic doctrines in which they were all schooled, Sherman recognized that there were two new technolgoies that had fundamentally changed the character of war: the railroad and the telegraph. Sherman was intentionally by-pasing tactical engagements en route to Atlanta, and his employment of the torch was a way to ensure he wasn’t easily followed by Confederate Armies, themselves reliant on foraging along their axes of advance. He was taking away their food and shelter. His real goal was the rail and telegraph hubs in Atlanta, the nerve center of the Confederate war effort. In one fell swoop, he could starve them for supplies and communication, then advance rapidly to seize a critical port from whence they received outside assistance.
What in the world does this have to do with gender?
Those familiar with this site and some of my other writing, as well as the new book, know that there is an on-going struggle within the socialist movement over the question of gender. I’ve been one of the provocateurs on this question; and there are still plenty who want to find a way to leave it alone. People also know by now — if they’ve seen my arguments — that I advocate for an analysis of gender that is more or less consistent with that articulated within the current called “radical feminism.”
There are two central reasons I propose that the left re-engage with radical feminists: (1) the method of inquiry into gender as a system of social power used by radical feminists is more consistent with the basic assumptions of a “materialist conception of history” (marxism) than existing-Marxism itself, and (2) failure to merge these two tendencies has been a colossal strategic failure — primarily created by unexamined patriarchy on the socialist left.
Let me explain the strategic signficance.
I posted the following today at Huffingtonpost:
If anyone needs an object lesson in why the Democratic Party — handed a series of scandals and embarrasing revelations by the Republicans — is still perfectly capable of losing election after election, or barring that, becoming low-cal Republicans, I give you Vernon Robinson. Robinson is a Black Republican standing for so-called “liberal-Democrat” Brad Miller’s North Carolina 13th District Congressional seat.
Here is a taste of strategic theory culled from military science: If you stay on the defensive long enough, you will be pinned down and placed under seige. Then you have a choice: break out or capitulate. Following up, here is an excerpt of the first two of Vernon Robinson’s stands on “the issues”:
“Securing Our Borders
“Our current immigration policy is a treasonable threat to both public health and national security. We do not need a wall to secure our borders. Five thousand Marines and 100 UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) can do the job tomorrow. We must also make English the official language of the United States. Any local government or college that interferes with immigration enforcement should lose its federal aid. Finally, automatic citizenship for those born here must be replaced with the baby adopting the citizenship of the mother. These steps must precede any guest worker program.
“Anyone wishing to work here must return home to apply, agree to be deported for any violation of law, carry a bio-metric ID card at all times, and have their employer sponsor bear the cost of any public services used (courts and health care). Massive criminal and civic penalties for hiring illegals must be put in place. As your Congressman, I will work to ensure your children don’t have to learn a second language to get a job and that you won’t have to press 1 for English any longer.
“Defending Marriage and Traditional Values
“I will always fight for what’s right and you will always know where I stand. We cannot redefine marriage as any grouping of adults and children. I will vigorously oppose homosexual marriages, marriage-lite proposals and adoptions, as well as “gay” Scoutmasters. While my opponent believes that those in a drag queen parade and Rosa Parks are both civil rights leaders, I will join the dozens of Congressmen who sponsored an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that provides that ‘Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.’”
Make fun of Uncle Tom all you like. Tom knows how to get paid. And make fun of Republican operatives all you like. They know how to use Democratic hypocrisy and opportunism to build a wedge.
As the joke goes — Republicans run on what they believe, and win. Democrats run on what they believe will win elections, and lose. The Republican Party is based fundamentally on three core values. (1) White supremacy. (2) (Clerical) Patriarchy. (3) Imperialism. The Democratic Party is based fundamentally on three core values. (1) Color-blind equality. (2) Gender-blind equality. (3) Imperialism. Since color-blindness is a kind of narrative-mythology to ignore the real existence of white supremacy as a structural reality in American society, it leaves the structural subjugation of African America, Hispano-Latina America, Native America, et alia, intact. Since gender-blindness is a kind of narrative-mythology to ignore the existence of patriarchy as a structural reality in American society, it leaves the structural subjugation of women (and consequently non-heterosexuals) intact.
It is considered lumpy to bring this up in what seems a perennial election year, when so many have again pinned their hopes on an electoral miracle to halt the decline of the American Empire and all its illusions both moral and material, but the struggle between Republicans and Democrats is no more oppositional than any other sibling rivalry. Ask yourself why both parties consistently throw their weight behind so-called “free trade” agreements, that are little more than a recipe for loan sharking and extortion on an international scale. Ask yourself why both parties fight to see who can give the most support to Zionist expansionism and international outlawy. Ask yourself why they fight over Roe vs. Wade, which guarantees only an abstract “right” to seek an abortion, when the Democrats could have fought for Harris vs. McRae, which would have guaranteed funds to any woman seeking an abortion — making the promise of equal access a material, and not an abstract, reality. Ask yourself why Democrats have put more people of color in prison than Republicans, when incarceration combined with felony disfranchisement and Repbulican local-district gerrymandering have re-constructed Jim Crow on a new foundation.
Gay marriage and immigration are brilliant strategies for Republicans, because they know Democrats will mount a feeble, half-assed response to their assaults in an attempt to compete for a sliver of the homophobic and xenophobic base that’s out there… and the Republicans also know how these two issues cut across racial-national lines. There is no shortage of gender-backward Black patriarchal preachers fag-baiting from the pulpit, who have leadership within the only social institutions over which Black folks have any real control. And the Republicans have sniffed out growing white and growing Black anti-Hispano-Latina xenophobia (based on competition for shitty jobs) as surely as a shark smells blood-chum.
The Republicans in North Carolina’s 13th District don’t have to win the Black vote. They know that African Americans rightly fear Repbulicans. That’s the only reason they stay wth Democrats ofter a series of betrayals no less stunning that the treaties signed with our First Nations. It’s defensive. It’s the wrong end of seige warfare. No one has figured out how to break out, so the Democrats engage in recurrent capitulations. That’s how they signe onto this disatrous and immoral war in Iraq, and why they refuse to stop it. The Republicans in North Carolina’s 13th District only have to get enough of the Black vote to shave Brad Miller’s majority. Because neither Brad Miller nor any of the leadership of the Democratic Party — as evidenced in their shameful silence on the racist affront to Cynthia McKinney — is going to act like leaders and tell hard truths to the masses of people. They can’t. They are part of the same class as the Republicans. They still get invited to the same fetes, no matter how much we or anyone else suffers with the results of this sibling rivalry.
Hatians set up buring tire roadblocks. Bolivians shut down capital cities by blocking the roads. Immigrants engage in boycotts and work stoppages. We take our Prozac, and we vote, wringing our hands a bit as we go home about those big, mean Republican bullies. And Vernon Robinson gets paid.
I apologize for my apparent inability to escape from military metaphors, but it is important to understand that the war-like nature of patriarchy and capitalism is not an outcome of our discourse, but the fact that these are really violent systems that physically attack workers and women.
This points directly to the way that gender — laying unexamined as a system that cuts across class and race/nation — serves as a unifying force for the dominant class and gender… not totally unlike the railroads and telegraphs in Atlanta in 1864 served the Confederate slavocracy.
Gender keeps shipping the ammunition and the communication to the enemy.
In our haste to pounce on the latest uprisings, which recur with almost monotonous regularity, we have for decades set gender aside as a “secondary contradiction.” National oppression stimulates a struggle, and we say this is the primary contradiction. A labor struggle takes form, and we say this is the primary contradiction. As if gender is not experienced on the skin of women 9and non-heterosexuals, as well) as primary. Then, when we see misogyny in popular music and homophobia from the pulpit or the union hall, and these tendencies among our coalition allies… we say, how do we deal with this?
In the Army, a lot of people from white, Black, and Hispano-Latina backgrounds are thrown together. Anyone care to guess what the subjects are where these mostly-male groups find common cultural ground? This may look like progress (Oh, look at all the black and brown and white men getting along!), but only if you are a male heterosexual.
We have fought — rightfully — for toe-holds in every union on the map, and continue to do so even when union density is at historic lows and falling. Yet there are thousands and thousands of rape crisis and domestic abuse prevention and rescue centers struggling to survive across the United States. The socialist left hardly knows where they are. The reason is that we have avoided the issues of domestic violence and rape, because they do not fit into our construction of the world defined primarily by economic class.
That’s why we don’t get gender yet. Gender is the rule of men-as-men over women-as-women. It happens across all classes and all nationalities. It does NOT only happen in the workplace, and in fact is often most violent in the home. And it is not just some aberration that is a symptom of capitalism, that will be solved once we get the other stuff done.
We refuse to even consider the possibility that a world historical struggle to break gender as a system of power might carry conequences as momentous, and even facilitative of, the struggle to break capitalism. Our shibboleths are as sacralized and faith-based as belief in transmogrification until we have seriously studied this possibility, and that begins with a real commitment to set aside our assumptions long enough to become genuinely familiar with what radical feminism has to say.
We do not get it that the way we experience one’s very own personal sexuality is as ideologically freighted as any worker’s false consciousness about the good will of bosses. We don’t get it that when we use the term “sex worker” the way we do, we are taking sides in a central debate within feminism, against the form of feminism that has consistently demonstrated the highest level of clarity about how male power works within the gender order, and that in turning sex into the adjective and worker into the noun, we are concealing the boss who is a violent pimp and the john who is pushing his dick into someone else’s humiliation, exploitation, subjugation, addiction, or poverty.. We don’t get it that pornography is not a civil rights issue, but a human rights issue… that any defense of it on whatever grounds is a betrayal of the specific women who are dominated within the industry and of all women whose subjugation is reinforced by its images — which are misogynist propaganda. We don’t get it because we haven’t learned to see gender as a class struggle on its own account, between men-as-a-class against women-as-a-class.
And we are weaker by orders of magnitude than we should be because of what we don’t yet get.
When we do get it, and when we do finally get past our own fears of the implications of radical feminism, we will have gained the capacity to see how critical it is that we attack this issue first, that we give it the absolute highest priority in our struggles, and that by smashing gender as a system of power, we will have cleared the way for the struggle to break first national oppression, then capital itself. There will be no more wedges like the wedge that gender built.
We will have seized the railheads of Atlanta, pried out the rails, and burned the ties. And our enemies will become disorganized and hungry.