I had some time to talk with Jeyoani this weekend (my 31-year-old daughter who lives in Los Angeles, but was up visiting). She introduced me to the artist who created the image above, Erin Currier. What a find! And, I felt so encouraged as she urged me to keep on writing about the things nobody else is writing about, keep on writing what I have learned in my life about men, about women, about power, about revolution, keeping writing what I know to be true, what I have discovered and lived, keep on writing what is unpopular to write, what people don’t like and don’t want to hear, when there is every reason to write about it and every reason for people to hear about it. It’s not as though I would stop, but Jeyoani’s encouragement always lifts me up, particularly when I am feeling the aggravation of being the only person, or one of a very few persons, who is willing to talk about certain things, who is willing to say certain things, lay them out there, who is willing to take the hits for it. That’s not always the greatest place to be.
But then, that’s what being a revolutionary is. Making revolution isn’t a great place to be. Revolutionaries are never popular with mainstream people or those invested in the mainstream. Revolution-making can seem unrewarding and difficult in other ways; it can be tedious and wearisome. There isn’t any real blueprint for it. It is risky and dangerous in all sorts of ways. It is inconvenient, disruptive, and at times, exhausting. Above all, it can be lonely and frustrating. It’s a lot easier to like the idea of revolution than to actually live a revolutionary life. The moment things get tough, most people are more than willing to bail, to cave, to cut whatever deal they can cut if it will provide them with some relief.
Well, I’m getting to something. Around the internet over the years, I’ve often read references to Joreen’s (Jo Freeman’s) essay, written during the Second Wave, and entitled, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” Usually this essay is dusted off and waved around when people get tired of the hard work of revolution. The words appeal to people who are frustrated over the inefficiencies, hardships, inconveniences involved in learning new ways of relating which challenge and reject dominance hierarchies, coercion, authoritarianism, rigidity, the state, structure, “big” and institutionalized and national in favor of mutuality, nonviolence, creativity, the sharing of power, respectful interactions which reject coercion, small, local and noninstitutional. This latter is hard work. It doesn’t come easy to any of us; it’s not what any of us has learned or known in our families, in schools, in churches, in the marketplace, in our intimate relationships. We have to make it up as we go along and making it up takes time and patience, sometimes more time and patience than most who fancy themselves to be “revolutionaries” are willing to give. It’s tempting to give up, decide maybe we really need structure, maybe we need authority, maybe a little coercion isn’t so bad, maybe dominance hierarchies are unavoidable or even “natural.” And so, the revolutionary spirit is lost, the revolution tarries, conflicts ensue, and the revolution is not made for lack of people willing to make it.
What I always think about when I read someone referencing “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” is the essay responsive to that article, entitled, “The Tyranny of Tyranny.” Something that is often lost in the referencing of these old essays is context, the understanding that they were usually communiques, written by people who were in the process of making revolution, often during times of conflict or difficulty. Where there is a bold statement on some issue, if you dig a bit, you will usually find a response to that statement or writings which provide important context and which are well worth considering.
Here are excerpts from “The Tyranny of Tyranny” written by Cathy Levine. The article is dated in some ways, but it is also timeless, and these paragraphs are excellent and inspiring, a reminder of the necessity of living in the revolution all of the time, because changing the world begins with changing the way we relate to our sisters and brothers in the movement we are all making hoping to change the world. Sadly, Levine’s words were not taken to heart. Not only was the revolution which began in the 60s incomplete, we’ve lost so much, and one reason is, people got tired. Revolution was hard. Caving is easier. Bailing is understandable. Well, of course revolution is hard. It commands all of one’s life and attention and energy.
An article entitled ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’ which has received wide attention around the women’s movement… assails the trend towards ‘leaderless’, ‘structureless’ groups, as the main – if not sole – organisational form of the movement, as a dead-end. While written and received in good faith, as an aid to the movement, the article is destructive in its distortion and maligning of a valid, conscious strategy for building a revolutionary movement. It is high time that we recognise the direction these tendencies are pointing in, as a real political alternative to hierarchical organisation, rather than trying to nip it in the bud…
Joreen associates the ascendency of the small groups with the consciousness-raising phase of the women’s movement, but concludes that, with the focus shifting beyond the changing of individual consciousness towards building a mass revolutionary movement, women should begin working towards building a large organisation. It is certainly true and has been for some time that many women who have been in consciousness-raising groups for a while feel the need to expand their political activities beyond the scope of the group and are at a loss as to how to proceed. But it is equally true that other branches of the Left are at a similar loss, as to how to defeat capitalist, imperialist, quasi-fascist Amerika.
But Joreen fails to define what she means by the women’s movement, which is an essential prerequisite to a discussion of strategy or direction.
The feminist movement in its fullest sense, that is, as a movement to defeat Patriarchy, is a revolutionary movement and a socialist movement, placing it under the umbrella of the Left. A central problem of women determining strategy for the women’s movement is how to relate to the male Left; we do not want to take their modus operandi as ours, because we have seen them as a perpetuation of patriarchal, and latterly, capitalist values.
Despite our best efforts to disavow and dissassociate ourselves from the male Left, we have, nonetheless, had our energy [drained]. Men tend to organise the way they fuck — one big rush and then that “wham, slam, thank you maam”, as it were. Women should be building our movement the way we make love — gradually, with sustained involvement, limitless endurance — and of course, multiple orgasms. Instead of getting discouraged and isolated now, we should be in our small groups — discussing, Planning, creating and making trouble. We should always be making trouble for patriarchy and always supporting women — we should always be actively engaging in and creating feminist activity, because we ail thrive on it…
The other extreme from inactivity, which seems to plague Politically active people, is over-involvement, which led, in the late ’60s, to a generation of burnt-out radicals. A feminist friend once commented that, to her, “being in the women’s movement” meant spending approximately 25% of her time engaging in group activities and 75% of her time developing herself. This is a real, important time allocation for ‘movement’ women to think about. The male movement taught us that ‘movement’ People are supposed to devote 24 hours a day to the Cause, which is consistent with female socialisation towards self-sacrifice. Whatever the source of our selflessness, however, we tend to plunge ourselves head-first into organisational activities, neglecting personal development, until one day we find we do not know what we are doing and for whose benefit, and we hate ourselves as much as before the movement…
These perennial Pitfalls of movement people, which amount to a bottomless Pit for the movement, are explained by Joreen as part of the “Tyranny of Structurelessness,” which is a joke from the standpoint that sees a nation of quasi-automatons, struggling to maintain a semblance of individuality against a post-technological, military/industrial bulldozer.
What we definitely don’t need is more structures and rules, providing us with easy answers, pre-fab alternatives and no room in which to create our own way of life. What is threatening the female Left and the other branches even more, is the “tyranny of tyranny”, which has prevented us from relating to individuals, or from creating organisations in ways that do not obliterate individuality with prescribed roles, or from liberating us from capitalist structure.
Contrary to Joreen’s assumption, then, the consciousness-raising phase of the movement is not over. Consciousness-raising is a vital process which must go on, among those engaged in social change, to and through the revolutionary liberation. Raising our consciousness — meaning, helping each other extricate ourselves from ancient shackles — is the main way in which women are going to turn their personal anger into constructive energy, and join the struggle. Consciousness-raising, however, is a loose term — a vacuous nothingism, at this point — and needs to be qualified. An offensive television commercial can raise a women’s consciousness as she irons her husbands shirts alone in her house; it can remind her of what she already knows, i.e., that she is trapped, her life is meaningless, boring, etc — but it will probably not encourage her to leave the laundry and organise a houseworkers’ strike. Consciousness-raising, as a strategy for revolution, just involves helping women translate their personal dissatisfaction into class-consciousness and making organised women accessible to all women.
In suggesting that the next step after consciousness-raising groups is building a movement, Joreen not only implies a false dichotomy between one and the other, but also overlooks an important process of the feminist movement, that of building a women’s culture. While, ultimately, a massive force of women (and some men) will be necessary to smash the power of the state, a mass movement itself does not a revolution make. If we hope to create a society free of male supremacy… we had better start working on it right away, because some of our very best anti-capitalist friends are going to give us the hardest time. We must be developing a visible women’s culture, within which women can define and express themselves apart from patriarchal standards, and which will meet the needs of women where patriarchy has failed.
Culture is an essential part of a revolutionary movement — and it is also one of the greatest tools of counter-revolution. We must be very careful to specify that the culture we are discussing is revolutionary, and struggle constantly to make sure it remains inveterately opposed to the father culture.
The culture of an oppressed or colonised class or caste is not necessarily revolutionary. America contains — both in the sense of “having” and in preventing the spread of — many “sub-cultures” which, though defining themselves as different from the father culture, do not threaten the status quo. In fact, they are part of the “pluralistic” American one-big-happy-family society/ethnic cultures, the “counter-culture.” They are acknowledged, validated, adopted and ripped off by the big culture. Co-optation.
The women’s culture faces that very danger right now, from a revolutionary new liberating girdle to MS magazine, to The Diary of a Mad Housewife. The New Woman, i.e., middle-class, college-educated, male-associated can have her share of the American Pie. Sounds scrumptious — but what about revolution? We must constantly re-evaluate our position to make sure we are not being absorbed into Uncle Sam’s ever-open arms.
The question of women’s culture, while denigrated by the arrogant and blind male Left, is not necessarily a revisionist issue. The polarisation between masculine and feminine roles as defined and controlled by male society has not only subjugated women but has made all men, regardless of class or race, feel superior to women — this feeling of superiority, countering anti-capitalist sentiment, is the lifeblood of the system. The aim of feminist revolution is for women to achieve our total humanity, which means destroying the masculine and feminine roles which make both men and women only half human. Creating a woman’s culture is the means through which we shall restore our lost humanity.
The question of our lost humanity brings up the subject that vulgar Marxists of every predilection have neglected in their analysis for over half a century – the psycho-sexual elements in the character structure of each individual, which acts as a personal policeman within every member of society… The psychic crippling which capitalist psychology coerces us into believing is the problem of the individual, is a massive social condition which helps advanced capitalist society to hold together.
Psychic crippling of its citizens makes its citizens report to work, fight in wars, suppress its women, non-whites, and all non-conformists vulnerable to suppression. In our post-technological society… the psychic crippling is also the most advanced — there is more shit for the psyche to cut through, what with Jonathan Livingston Seagull and the politics of “You’re okay, I’m okay”, not to mention post-neo-Freudians and the psycho-surgeons. For the umpteenth time, let it be said that, unless we examine inner psychic shackles, at the time we study outer, political structures and the relationship between the two, we will not succeed in creating a force to challenge our enemy; in fact, we will not even know the enemy. The Left has spent hours and tomes trying to define the ruling class; the ruling class has representative pigs inside the head of every member of society –thus, the logic behind so-called paranoia. The tyranny of tyranny is a deeply-entrenched foe.
Where psychological struggle intersects political involvement is the small group. This is why the question of strategy and tactics and methods of organisation are so crucial at this moment. The Left has been trying for decades to rally people into the streets, always before a number sufficient to make a dent exist. As Stone pointed out, you can’t make a revolution when four-fifths of the people are happy. Nor should we wait until everyone is ready to become radical. While on the one hand, we should constantly suggest alternatives to capitalism, through food co-ops, anti-corporate actions and acts of personal rebellion, we should also be fighting against capitalist psychic structures and the values and living patterns which derive from them. Structures, chairmen, leaders, rhetoric — when a meeting of a Leftist group becomes indistinguishable in style from a session of a US Senate, we should not laugh about it, but re-evaluate the structure behind the style, and recognise a representative of the enemy.
The origin of the small group preference in the women’s movement — and by small group I refer to political collectives — was, as Joreen explains, a reaction against the over-structured, hierachical organisation of society in general, and male Left groups in particular. But what people fail to realise is that we are reacting against bureaucracy because it deprives us of control, like the rest of this society; and instead of recognising the folly of our ways by returning to the structured fold, we who are rebelling against bureaucracy should be creating an alternative to bureaucratic organisation. The reason for building a movement on a foundation of collectives is that we want to create a revolutionary culture consistent with our view of the new society; it is more than a reaction; the small group is a solution.
Because the women’s movement is tending towards small groups and because the women’s movement lacks direction at this time, some people conclude that small groups are to blame for the lack of direction. They wave the shibboleth of “structure” as a solution to the strategic stalemate, as if structure would give us theoretical insight or relief from personal anxieties. It might give us a structure into which to ‘organise’, or fit more women, but in the absence of political strategy we may create a Kafkaesque irony, where the trial is replaced by a meeting.
The lack of political energy that has been stalking us for the last few years, less in the women’s movement than in the male Left, probably relates directly to feelings of personal shittiness that tyrannize each and every one of us. Unless we confront those feelings directly and treat them with the same seriousness as we treat the bombing of Hanoi, paralysis by the former will prevent us from retaliating effectively against the latter.
Rather than calling for the replacement of small groups with structured, larger groups, we need to encourage each other to get settled into small, unstructured groups which recognise and extol the value of the individual. Friendships, more than therapy of any kind, instantly relieve the feelings of personal shittiness — the revolution should be built on the model of friendships….