Build: The Socialist Feminism Issue


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Laura Colaneri, Chicago DSA, DSA Socialist Feminist Working Group

Socialist feminist organizing is hard.

Of course, all of our organizing is hard—we’re fighting for a complete societal overhaul in the most powerful capitalist, imperialist country in history, and, as is typical on the greater left and in feminist circles, we all have different ideas of how best to win that fight. But socialist feminist organizing is particularly hard. We face attacks from right wing misogynists, centrist liberal feminists, and leftist “allies” who condemn our organizing as liberal identity politics or bourgeois moralism. We face the suffocating patriarchal tendencies and misogyny that permeate our everyday lives and our organizing spaces. And even when we don't face those challenges, we're still struggling to identify our role within DSA's big tent and determine where we can be most effective in our movement.

The major difficulty of socialist feminist organizing in DSA today is that we must be everywhere at once, inboth internal and external organizing, stretching ourselves thin, without losing sight of the projects that only feminists are advocating for. Every issue that we organize around as socialists, we must also organize around as feminists. Applying a feminist lens deepens our understanding of each problem affecting the everyday lives of the working class and is critical to our fight for just solutions.

Responding to an argument from some detractors on the left effectively illustrates this central problem. Some leftists, who view themselves as “universalists” but whose opponents usually term them “class reductionists” or “class-first” socialists, argue that organizing around “identity politics”—including gender identity, race, sexuality, and disability, among other categories—is “particularist.” Thus, such organizing is not a worthy focus for socialists, who should strive to address “universal” issues that appeal to the entire working class. To them, identity-related categories are merely a way of turning the working class against one another and splitting it into smaller and smaller portions that are ineffective in organizing against capitalism.

Leaving aside the obvious criticism (among many others) that the gender identity “woman” includes close to 50% of the working class population, this idea illustrates a major mistake made by critics of feminism: treating it as though it is a narrowly focused identity rather than using it for what it is: like Marxism, a form of analysis, a way of seeing and interpreting the world. In this sense, the difficulty at hand is that feminist organizing is not actually niche or particular at all. Rather, the feminist project is the exact size of the socialist project. There is not a single issue around which we organize as socialists to which a feminist lens cannot be applied in order to improve our analysis and aid our struggle.

Herein lies the major challenge: organizing around more “explicitly” feminist issues, while also integrating a feminist lens into every structure whether internal or external to DSA. Internally, socialist feminists educate our comrades about feminism and patriarchy. We combat unhealthy organizing spaces and sexual harassment and assault. We engage women and non-binary people and develop them into effective organizers with an eye to the ways that our organizing spaces can be exclusionary to non-cisgender and heterosexual men. We provide (or lobby our chapters to provide) child watch at meetings to make our chapters more accommodating to families. Overall, we strive to make DSA into a welcoming, healthy feminist space, all while women often do more than their share of administrative work in their chapters and reproductive labor in their homes.

Externally, we provide political education to the public. We are pulled in all directions as we strive to share the labor and provide a feminist lens in every one of our chapter’s projects, from electoral to housing to mutual aid. We develop our own projects around issues that matter to us as socialist feminists. Moreover, because society traditionally views these issues as “women’s issues,” it often falls to us to organize around projects related to, for example, abortion access, even though such projects could easily fall under the purview of healthcare organizing.

A further difficulty here is that developing such projects within our socialist feminist groups (rather than within an issues-based group such as healthcare) means that we also run the risk of becoming siloed off from other groups in our chapters if we do not relate our work and our feminist lens back to the overarching issue of healthcare. Ultimately, we do a little bit of everything, and for this reason socialist feminist organizers in DSA face disproportionate levels of burnout as they overcommit themselves for the good of the movement.


These circumstances plague me as I strategize in my role as steering committee member of Chicago DSA’s Socialist Feminist Working Group and interim steering committee member of DSA’s Socialist Feminism Working Group nationally. I ask myself: What is the role of a distinct socialist feminist group in DSA when, by necessity, we are involved in everything? Can we, as the problematic neoliberal refrain about the working woman says, “have it all?” If not, what dedicated purpose should we serve as organizers? Should we prioritize political education and internal organizing so we can make more socialist feminists in chapters that we have made safe, welcoming, and feminist? If we believe this internal work is essential, must that come at the expense of our developing our own unique external campaigns, thus running the risk that reproductive justice and other “typically” feminist projects fall by the wayside?

I don’t have good answers yet, except that I refuse to sacrifice one for the other. But I do think it’s important that we, as socialist feminist organizers, ask ourselves these questions.

Regardless of the difficulties, socialist feminist organizing in DSA holds a lot of promise. Socialist feminist spaces are uniquely welcoming and provide a supportive environment for comrades who are often marginalized in both their everyday lives and other organizing spaces. They also encourage democratic, comradely discussion and consensus-building in ways capitalist society discourages and chapter meetings might lack.

Day by day, feminists in DSA fight to strengthen our chapters and bring a feminist lens to all the work that we do as an organization. We do this to ensure that DSA advocates for those whom patriarchal, racist capitalism oppresses the most. But to do this effectively, we need every comrade in DSA to bring a feminist lens to their work and their lives, just as they bring a Marxist one, and to challenge the patriarchal, white supremacist aspects of capitalism as an integral part of the class struggle.

Build #6 - April 2019


Download the printable PDF of Build #6 here.

Empire thrives on making us feel alone. The ruling class wants us to believe there is no help when they evict us from our homes. They want us to believe we should feel ashamed of the abuse they inflict on many of us. They have ingrained these types of myths into our consciousness. Capitalism wants us to believe that the only way to live freely is through self-sufficiency.

Some of us work 80-hour weeks, in addition to shouldering domestic responsibilities never meant for a single person, and we are often made to feel guilty for reaching out to our loved ones for support. In many of our roles, we are forced to solve problems individually, rather than collectively. Capitalism locks us into lonely and miserable lives. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34. Alienation and loneliness are features, not bugs, of capitalism.

As socialists, we know the solution to these structural problems is not individualized. Yelling at individual men will not single-handedly abolish patriarchy. Instead, we focus our energy in implementing policies that lift up women and gendered minorities. Since capitalism profits from making us feel powerless, organizers have one of the greatest tasks of all: showing our communities how powerful we can be through collective action.

When we organize, we are building cultures of care. We are fighting for our neighbors, our coworkers, our families, our friends, and ourselves. Within DSA, we are building structural solutions to the ruling class’ destruction of our communities. We have neighborhood hangouts, craft nights, and beer caucuses to build relationships so that we can fight alongside each other. We fight for tenants unions, learn how to talk to our coworkers about socialism and healthcare, and remind each other that we can be loud together until they can’t ignore us.

The most beautiful part of socialism is that it is impossible to do alone. Socialism is the antidote to the disease of alienation capitalism. We refuse to allow Empire to convince us that we have to go through this dark world alone. When we organize together, we show the deepest type of love to one another: solidarity.

When we do nothing, the same forms of oppression we are trying to fight replicate themselves in the very spaces we hope will foment and facilitate revolution. The first people to get pushed out are typically the most marginalized among us, who are typically doing the draining work of keeping our organizations afloat.

A lack of community care is how movements are destroyed. As organizers, we are constantly on alert and witnessing burnout in our work. Party machines and non-profits view volunteers as transactional. We must reject this approach. Our goal is not to schedule as many people for a phone bank or canvassing shift as possible. This framework that views people as disposable also allows ableism, xenophobia, transphobia, and multiple forms of oppression to thrive.

We all bring skills, gifts, and behaviors that can uplift and support one another. We must harness this potential to revolt against the ways in which capitalism wants us to relate to each other. It will be messy and challenging, but it will be worthwhile. Pour energy and resources into implementing strong harassment policies and community standards; they protect us and hold us accountable.

We want to win, but we cannot win alone. Taking community care seriously and integrating it into all of our organizing is of the utmost importance. We have a responsibility to each other, and developing community care is not only important for our day-to-day survival, it is necessary for our liberation. We engage in the struggle because we have no other option. Our lives depend on it. We organize because we care so much about each other and ourselves. We deserve lives full of laughter.

Sometimes we cry through emails, or while on mute in conference calls. It is so hard to communicate with each other when we all have our unique lived experiences. We study socialism because we know that we can figure out what brings us together and what connect us. By engaging in the struggle, we can discover that the oppression we face is not the only thing linking us together. We also share a deep desire to live in harmony. To bake, to knit, to paint — to live beautiful and wonderful lives together; this is the world we want.

We have seen glimpses of this better world. We have fed each other on the picket line. We have won races that seemed impossible. We have hula-hooped with each others’ kids. We have raised more money for abortion care than we thought was possible. The hell world we live in is engineered to keep us down. But, we are fighting back.

We are lifting each other higher than the ruling class could ever know. We are building something new.


Build #5 - February 2019


Download the printable PDF of Build #5 here.

“Solidarity Forever.”

It’s a phrase used a lot in DSA. We sing the union anthem at most gatherings and use it as valediction in emails. We say it when our comrades are striving, be it on the picket lines or on the ballot. But what do we really mean when we say “solidarity forever”?

We mean that we, as socialists, are dedicated to standing with the working class, understanding our issues and struggles, and working to positively change our conditions. We mean that as believers in a universal right to a dignified and fulfilling life, we will forever and everywhere side with those being denied such a life against those who seek to deny it.

What makes a life “dignified”? As socialists, we understand that everyone deserves to live with honor and respect, but capitalist interests exploit and divide us. We fight to create the material conditions that allow people to continue the unifying struggle towards socialism.

What makes life “fulfilling”? A fulfilling life is not dictated by servitude for survival. When we build community and expend our energy on meaningful pursuits, that is when we are truly living fulfilling lives.

Capitalism seeks to compromise that fulfillment for its own gain; through alienation, through wage slavery and making our very survival dependent on our ability to work. To live truly fulfilling lives, we must break the chains of capitalism.

Finally, what makes a right “universal”? Universal rights are rights inherent to all, regardless of where we’re from, who we are, or what we do. Capital should not determine access to shelter, safety, healthcare, or sustenance.

So how do we put that into practice? Within DSA, we employ many tactics to create a symphony of forces for solidarity. We might one day set up a brake light clinic, and the next day canvass for a local initiative on rent control. Though these tactics are different, they place us in solidarity with our communities because they work to change conditions for our neighbors and comrades.

The material in this issue of Build shows DSA practicing solidarity, and doing it well. From the incredible work supporting the migrant caravan in Tijuana, Mexico, to a critical winter clothing drive during some of the coldest months of the year, and more. All across the country—and beyond—socialists are embodying the call for solidarity and showing up.

They’re showing up for workers, showing up for their communities, and showing up for each other.

“Solidarity Forever.”

In DSA we don’t just sing the phrase, we live it.