In recent years, in examples far too widespread to be viewed as exceptions, activist spaces have been broken by the mishandling of cases of sexual violence, including denial, cover up, and victim shaming. Among these spaces are socialist organizations, NGOs, and social movement coalitions. While there is an advanced body of socialist and Marxist feminist literature identifying the structural and ideological linkages between patriarchy and capitalism, the capacity to challenge these oppressive practices is sorely inadequate. This panel focuses on documenting these experiences with a view to transformative practice. Addressing the theme of fighting all oppressions, and focussing on transformative initiatives and sharing knowledge, the panel presents papers addressing activism and sexism as well as resistance, drawn from both firsthand experiences and extensive documentary and social research.
Sexism, Socialism and the Left: Three Case Studies
Socialist organizations have long struggled with the challenge of sexist practices, but there have also been numerous examples where such organizations have been at the forefront of movements for women’s rights and equality. How do we explain this apparent contradiction? To address this issue, this paper draws on personal experiences and research of the authors – over more than four decades of shared praxis on the left– to consider three pivotal examples in the recent and distant history of socialist organizing. These examples include: the founding period of the International Socialists in Canada (1975-6); the crisis of the International Socialists Tendency and Socialist Workers’ Party UK (2010-13); and the Bolshevik-Menshevik division in Tsarist Russia (1902-3). The authors argue that unresolved tensions need to be identified and addressed in order to refocus and move forward towards a consistent, emancipatory practice.
Activism, Sexism and Resistance: “Total System Failure” in a Development NGO?
Sexual and gender-based violence in global organizations are pervasive problems. Whistleblowers and activists have leveraged online activism and individual testimony (#metoo, #aidtoo), while advancing a systemic critique that interpersonal abuses are enabled by a toxic culture and pattern of unequal power rooted in patriarchy, white supremacy, and the capitalist-colonialist logics of development. Discussion of a case study of a development NGO in Toronto helps shine a light on the stubborn persistence of oppressive dynamics in social change work – comparable to those encountered within left organizing – that is complicated by the professionalization/institutionalization of activism and reliance on state and corporate funding.
Reflections on a Lifetime of Feminist Activism
Suzanne Berliner Weiss
I became an activist in 1958 through revolt against my parents’ sexist concept of women’s role. A year later, I joined a socialist group that called for women’s liberation but did not reflect adequately this goal in its own activities. A decade later, the party was reshaped by the rise of a mass feminist movement, but it still could not escape the deep prejudices of society. From 1975 to 1984, inspired by the Black struggle for freedom now, I trailblazed industrial jobs for equal treatment for women and again encountered society’s deep resistance to progress. Only after I left my socialist organization did I find the needed scope for activism for justice for women as well as for humankind as a whole.