Text Call | Anarcho-syndicalist Trans-Feminism by Piper Tompkins

[Read this text on Piper’s blog]

Anarcho-syndicalism is a movement which seeks the liberation of all people oppressed by capitalism through the struggle of those people to abolish capitalism and create a libertarian socialist, or Anarchist society. One of the groups of people oppressed by capitalism are transgender people, something I know well as a trans-women myself. Trans people are people who do not identify with the gender classification they were given at birth. Our society determines what gender identity people can have when they are born based on what reproductive organs they posses, accordingly people are assigned as either “male”, or “female”. Trans people are people who reject the gender identities assigned to them and attain/create new gender identities for themselves. These people may identify as men, or women, both, or neither.

PATRIARCHY AND CAPITALISM

Our capitalist society is a patriarchal one, meaning that those who identify as men have power over those who identify as women. Men make up the majority of the ruling class and their bureaucratic flunkies such as politicians, or CEOs, and women make up the majority of the working class. As such men generally hold the lion’s share of wealth and power in society and gender roles which privilege the power of men predominate. Men are seen as being inherently masculine and powerful while women are seen as being inherently nurturing and week willed. As such society is constructed around masculine power. Institutions such as the state are based on masculine ideas of competition, warfare, and control. This patriarchal system is based on reproduction.

Women are predominantly saddled with the house-work since they are (supposedly) nurturing and weak and men are predominantly charged with being the head of the household going out to make a living by selling their labor power on the market since they are (supposedly) strong and conditioned as such to labor. In such a set up the women performs a large amount of unpaid labor for the capitalist that employs her husband and the capitalist class generally because she carries out the labor needed to keep the worker’s life going and raise the next generation of exploitable workers. Effectively the women becomes a member of the working class through this unpaid labor as she is performing labor for the capitalist class’s profits.

Even after women have gained access to the workforce and been given the ability as such to directly sell their labor power to the capitalist class on the market they have been saddled with what is called the “second shift”. They still take care of the majority of the house work, but also go out to work themselves and based on the norms of gender have to juggle their work life and their lives as nurturing mothers. As such capitalism holds women down and gives men advantages of wealth and social power/status in order to extort women’s unpaid labor for the capitalist class.

TRANS OPPRESSION AND CAPITALISM 

Trans people fit into this with the fact that they reject patriarchy’s classifications of gender assigned to them at birth. Gender is a matter of personal identification rather than reproductive organs, but patriarchy tells all of us that our gender identities are strictly based on our body parts despite many people being born without traditional sexual organs, or the traditional amalgamation of chromosomes. As such trans people are chronically underemployed and thus chronically impoverished and are disproportionately victims of violence. Racist, queerphobic, misogynist attacks on trans women of color are a regular occurrence with many of them being killed as a result. Trans people are socially barred from going into the bathrooms they want because they are viewed as the opposite gender they identify as. Trans people are legally classified by the state as a their assigned gender at birth often with a corresponding name attached to that gender. We are viewed as unnatural, mentally ill, or trendy attention seekers despite many indigenous and eastern societies having a wide range of gender expressions historically that don’t fit the male/female binary based on reproductive organs.

As such patriarchy in capitalism also forms the oppression of trans people with social norms and institutions being much more attentive to the interests of cis (non-trans) people than those of trans people. As such trans people are made into a surplus population superfluous to capitalism, marginalized, repressed, killed, beaten, and injured.

TRANS-FEMINISM

In the 80s predominantly trans women of color involved in the feminist movement organized a movement within it based on a critique of the mainstream of the Feminist movement. The critique was that the mainstream Feminist movement represented the interests of white middle class cis women over those of poorer women, women of color, and trans-women. This was no doubt the case in a Feminist movement post the civil rights era of the 60s and 70s where struggles by different kinds of marginalized groups had been reigned in by politicians and capitalists for their own interests. In the women’s movement the radical rank and file action of women had petered out and organizations such as HRC had become part of the state bureaucracy in the US under the guise of fighting for women’s interests with the real intent of fighting for their own careers.

This sub-movement within Feminism was called “trans-feminism” and put an emphasis on the oppression of trans women and women of color specifically. It developed a Feminist narrative that rebelled against typical what is called “white Feminism”, or Feminism based on the interests of white, cis, middle class women.

ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM

The history of Anarcho-syndicalism is a long one with large volumes of writing dedicated to it so I will only go over some basic history and the fundamental ideas of Anarcho-syndicalist theory and practice. Anarcho-syndicalism is a strategy which Anarchists adapted by combining “revolutionary syndicalism” (organizing militant workers’ unions to secure workers’ interests and overthrow capitalism to create socialism) and their political philosophy of Anarchism (a tenancy of the socialist movement which holds that socialism can only be established through the self-organized struggle of the oppressed against all top down systems of domination such as capitalism and the state). As such Anarcho-syndicalism became the theory and practice of the Anarchist labor movement at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. Anarcho-syndicalism remains alive and well to this day with Anarcho-syndicalist propaganda groups and revolutionary unions around the world.

FOR ANARCHO-SYNDICALIST TRANS-FEMINISM

Trans-feminism seeks to abolish patriarchy and trans-oppression along with it. As explained above, trans oppression and patriarchy are reproduced and formed by capitalism. There can be no trans liberation, or women’s liberation in general without the destruction of capitalism and the liberation of the working class. Nobody can be free when a society built on the exploitation of one class by another exists. Capitalism can only exist when the majority of people don’t own the tools they use to produce the things they need to consume to survive. This is the class dimension of capitalism where a small minority of people (capitalists) control production and the production process. Because production is the property of the capitalist class under capitalism the majority of people have to sell their ability to work (labor power) to the capitalist class on the market by agreeing to work for capitalist firms. In exchange they receive a wage which Peter Kropotkin and Karl Marx estimated is only about a third of what workers produce while working for these firms. The rest is pocketed by the capitalist owner of the firm and put up for sale on the market to generate profits where workers buy said product with their wages in order to survive.

So how can we as trans-feminists get rid of capitalism for a better a society? Anarchism as a political philosophy seeks to abolish capitalism in favor of a society without class distinctions, where production is collectively owned, and as such all coercive institutions such as the state disappear and are replaced by the free cooperation of working people to meet their needs. This kind of society would be “socialism”, or “communism”. Since only those oppressed by capitalism have the power and the knowledge to dismantle it Anarchism holds that workers and people oppressed by capitalism through mechanisms  such as patriarchy and transphobia need to organize themselves directly without supervision from any outside party against capitalism and for socialism.

How can we create this self-organized struggle? Anarchists have adapted Anarcho-syndicalism because the strategy of Anarcho-syndicalism is creating a self-organized mass Anarchist movement through workers organizing into militant associations which they themselves control (unions) and through these associations fighting for their interests against those of the capitalist class as well as against capitalism as a whole and thus for it’s overthrow and replacement with socialism.

Since trans people and women are also oppressed by capitalism the Anarcho-syndicalist movement needs to support the fight of trans people and women against their oppression. This involves supporting trans-people and women in whatever ways possible in developing their specific self-organized struggle against transphobia and patriarchy. For it’s part the Anarcho-syndicalist international organization IWA has emphasized women’s liberation as a key aspect of working class self-emancipation, not only paying lip service to it’s importance, but aiming to give men and women workers equal say within the organization and carve out specific spaces for women to pursue their specific interests as gender oppressed people. When it was founded in the 20th century the IWA was named after the “International Workingmen’s Association” founded in the 19th century. For the specific reason of gender equality it took out “workingmen’s” and replaced it with “workers” becoming the “International Workers’ Association”.

In the 19th century the Anarcho-syndicalist union in Germany, the FAUD, created specific spaces for women to discus their oppression among themselves. This was because the FAUD recognized how women’s relegation to domestic labor lead them to be exploited by the capitalist class. This project was limited in the sense that it never really questioned the assumption that women should be home-makers and thus failed to give them a broader place in the movement. That said, the project is still notable in terms of the experience of Anarcho-syndicalism being mixed with gender liberation. The mother of Anarcha-Feminism (Anarchism which adapts a specific Anarchist version of Feminism) Emma Goldman was an Anarcho-syndicalist and argued for syndicalism as the strategy of the labor movement.

In the Anarcho-syndicalist social revolution in Spain 1936-7 when workers took control of production and the management of society patriarchy lived on in the worker controlled society. Women were still relegated to house work and were not treated as equals to men in the revolutionary struggle for a new society. As such an Anarcho-syndicalist group with the name “Free Women” emerged to address this problem. They fought so that women were included as revolutionaries equal to men organizing women and challenging the patriarchal narratives of the Anarchist movement dominated by men.

The liberation of trans people, women, and the working class from capitalist society and the construction of a free society requires a marriage of revolutionary Anarcho-syndicalist politics and a trans-inclusive Feminism. I would call this “Anarcho-syndicalist Trans-Feminism”.

Bibliography:

Gender, Power, and Struggle, Polite Ire

Wage Labor and Capital, Karl Marx

Conquest of Bread, Peter Kropotkin

Lexicon: Gender, Institute For Anarchist Studies.

Trans FAQ, GLAAD

Anarcho-Syndicalism, film by Thomas Beckmann, Barbara Uebel, and Markus Hoffmann

Fighting For Ourselves, Solidarity Federation

Work, Anarchist Federation

De-essentializing Anarchist Feminism: Lessons From The Trans-Feminist Movement, J Rouge

2009 Dublin Anarchist Book Fair Talk, Martha Ackelsberg

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