WE SHOULD ALL BE SOCIALIST FEMINISTS
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.