Other activist groups bypass the legislative arena and focus on direct action. Sometimes this overlaps with a legal approach, such as civil disobedience to influence legislators and win specific goals. How many women chained themselves to the White House gate or endured the torture of force-feeding in Holloway Prison to win the right to vote? But actionists can also target other institutional arrangements of power, circumventing the law entirely. The Montgomery bus boycott is a good example of applying economic instead of political pressure. As with legal remedies, the goal of direct action can be liberal or radical.
No single action, whether “inside” or “outside” whatever system of power, is going to be definitive. A serious resistance movement understands that. Instead of closing off whole sectors of a power’s organization, a successful movement aims at wherever power is vulnerable compared to the resources at hand. The “inside” and the “outside” actionists need to see themselves as working together toward that larger goal. Both are needed. Plenty of “outside” people do nothing effective their entire lives—indeed, a whole subculture of them declare that individual psychological change is a political strategy and attending personal growth workshops is “doing the work.” You could not find a more liberal view. My point here is that “inside” and “outside” the identified system are not the bifurcation points of liberals and radicals.
A related mistake is in believing the most militant strategy to be the most radical. It isn’t; it’s only the most militant. I don’t say this from a moral attachment to nonviolence. Derrick wrote 900 pages (in Endgame) to refute the pacifist arguments generally accepted across the left, and much of this current book is meant to inspire seriously militant action. But we need to examine calls for violence through a feminist lens critical of norms of masculinity. Many militant groups are an excuse for men to wallow in the cheap thrill of the male ego unleashed from social constraints through bigger and better firepower: real men use guns. Combined with ineffective strategic goals, and often rabidly masculinist behavioral norms, these groups can implode when the men start shooting each other. Michael Collins was killed by other Irish nationalists, Trotsky by Stalinist goons, and Malcolm X by other black Muslims. Leftist revolutions that used violence have often empowered a charismatic dictator and the next round of atrocities. Socialists and anarchists—many of whom believed in the Soviet Union as the utopian kingdom come—were stunned and appalled by the pact between Stalin and Hitler, and by the subsequent genocidal behavior of Joseph Stalin. Allowing violence to be directed by the wrong hands does nothing to bring down an oppressive system, and, indeed, reinscribes the system called patriarchy.
As Theodore Roszak points out, this strand of the male left has taken up “violence as self-actualization.” Often tracing its roots to Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, or Jean Paul Sartre’s introduction to that book, violence is not just considered as a potential tactic; it’s urged as a psychological necessity for the manhood of the oppressed. “At this point,” writes Roszak, “things do not simply become ugly; they become stupid. Suddenly the measure of conviction is the efficiency with which one can get into a fistfight with the nearest cop at hand.”11
This approach is actually no different than that of the workshop hoppers; the goal is a satisfactory internal emotional state (and not a particularly liberatory one) rather than an egalitarian society or the resistance movement needed to get us there.
The misogynist entitlement of men on the left was what led to the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s. Women learned to think politically in the civil rights movement, the student movement, and the peace movement, and then applied that analysis to their own situation. The behavior of their male comrades was no different from that of men of the establishment—“no less foul, no less repressive, and no less unliberated,” as three Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) veterans put it.12 This was true across the racial spectrum. Former Weather-woman Cathy Wilkerson said many women dropped out of the antiwar movement altogether because of the sexism: “You couldn’t penetrate the left. It was just like a stone wall.”13 Writes historian Jeremy Varon, “As part of its infamous ‘smash monogamy’ campaign, Weatherman mandated the splitting apart of couples, whose affection was deemed impermissibly ‘possessive’ or even ‘selfish’; the forced rotation of sex partners, determined largely by the leadership for reasons both political and, it is alleged, crudely ‘personal’ (the charge is that some male leaders essentially shuttled particular women between collectives in order to sleep with them); and even eruptions of group sex in which taboos broke down in variously uncomfortable and exhilarating scenes of libidinal confusion.”14
Exhilarating for whom? is the question, answered by Varon’s understated observation that “life in the collectives could be especially difficult for women … and also invited the sexual exploitation of female members.”15 Weather Underground collectives were “psychologically harsh environments [that] rewarded assertive and even aggressive personalities, while chewing up those less confident or able to defend themselves.”16 Even the women’s cadres were “driven by a coerced machismo” that, not surprisingly, “encouraged neither true autonomy nor solidarity among the women.”17
Underground newspapers like the Free Press, the Berkeley Barb, and Rat made money from ads that both used imagery of objectified women and sold actual women as sexual commodities. As early as 1969, women at the Underground Press Syndicate Conference proposed a resolution that “papers should stop accepting commercial advertising that uses women’s bodies to sell records and other products, and advertisements for sex, since the use of sex as a commodity especially oppresses women.”18 Eventually “a particularly violent and pornography-filled issue of Rat, with articles trivializing women’s liberation, so enraged the women on the magazine’s staff” that they joined in coalition with other feminist groups and took over the magazine. Robin Morgan was a member of the editorial coup. Her foundational article, “Good-Bye To All That,” was published in the new Rat, an article filled with justified feelings of rage and betrayal. The New Left looked just like the Old Patriarchy, a problem that has only increased on the left as it has embraced pornography as freedom. Freedom for whom?, To do what?, and To whom? are the dirty little questions that leftist men refused to face. The fact that an entire class of women was kept in conditions of abuse and servitude utterly contradicted any claim the left could make to defending universal human rights.
The leaders of the Black Power movement provided similar examples. Eldridge Cleaver wrote openly of raping black women as “practice” for raping white women.19 He was eventually arrested and jailed for both. Huey Newton, cofounder of the Black Panthers and its Minister of Defense, raped numerous women with the backup of his armed thugs. He is quoted as saying, “There are two kinds of rape. In one version, you simply take a woman’s body. In the other, you not only take her body, you try to make her enjoy being raped.”20 He was arrested for embezzling money from the Black Panther’s education and nutrition program, and he was convicted of embezzling money from a Panther school, probably to fund his drug habit. Newton was also tried twice for the murder of a seventeen-year-old prostituted girl, Kathleen Smith. Malcolm X wasn’t much better. He was a batterer and a pimp with a hateful attitude to lesbian women before converting to Islam. Afterward, he instituted his male supremacist ideology in the guidelines for black Muslim family life, which, like all fundamentalist religions, gave men the ultimate ideological reassurance that dominating women was God’s plan.
It is important to note that at the time, and continuing to the present day, there were and are men and women of all races who rejected this behavior as exploitative and unacceptable. The radical Puerto Rican group, the Young Lords, stands as a great example. Originally, the group had an all-male leadership and a point in their platform that stated, “Machismo must be revolutionary.” Iris Morales remembers,
Men in leadership were abusing their authority and women recruits would come in and the men would be sleeping around with them. They’d be sleeping with two and three women, of course, they were mucho machos and thought this was really cool. They pulled out their list to compare who had the most conquests, and we were outraged, the women were outraged.21
The women began meeting without men in their own caucus and came up with a list of demands. These included promoting women to leadership positions, child care at meetings, and including women in the defense ministry. They found support among the more progressive men because “they understood that without women you can’t have a revolution.”22 Over an amazing six months, all ten of their demands were met, even the adoption of the slogan “Abajo con Machismo!” (Down with Machismo!). Feminism was taken so seriously that “almost every single central committee member was demoted for male chauvinism and they had to change their way of being, even the chairman of the organization.”23 The men even started their own caucus to discuss issues of machismo. This transformation was documented in Morales’s film ¡Palante Siempre Palante!24
Morales also speaks of “the sad story of the movement,” a story replayed into heartbreak across so many movements. “There were one or two women who shunned us altogether. And they later emerge on the backs of the movement we had fought for. This is an important lesson because not every woman is my sister and not every Puerto Rican is my sister.”25 Solidarity with each other is such a precious commodity, often harder to come by than public courage against the oppressor. Attacking each other is doing his work for him.
Similarly, Norm R. Allen Jr. coined the phrase “Reactionary Black Nationalism” to describe the “bigotry, intolerance, hatred, sexism [and] homophobia” that he urged the black community to reject.26 Mark Anthony Neal’s New Black Man stands as an engaging template of moral agency and community building in the face of both oppression (he’s African American) and privilege (he’s also heterosexual and a man).
Even in this short discussion, the complexity of the issue of violence becomes apparent. It’s understandable that people who care about justice want to reject violence; many of us are survivors of it, and we know all too well the entitled psychology of the men who used it against us. And whatever our personal experiences, we can all see that the violence of imperialism, racism, and misogyny has created useless destruction and trauma over endless, exhausting millennia. There are good reasons that many thoughtful people embrace a nonviolent ethic.