She who stumbles

… may not fall

The Revolution Will Not Be Published

First of all, I have to sigh and restate my desire to get away from blogosphere conflicts that centre around white North American women. I consider the conflict itself a waste of time for me, since I don’t think I’m going to make a difference to the business of the US feminist blogosphere by contributing on white peoples’ blogs.

I am appropriating from this conflict a few specific issues which I want to address, because they caught my attention and jibed with a few other things I’ve been thinking about. But they do involve criticism of another blogger, who is being criticised for a few other things at the moment. If that hurts her feelings, well, ok.

I want to talk about the blogging v. book publishing and how the divergence between these two modes of communication reflects divergences in social justice work in general. My ideas about his have been informed by the work of Brownfemipower in writing about the nonprofit-industrial complex and blogging as a tool for liberation. (And yes, I’m referring to the Incite! Women of Color Against Violence anthology with a similar title, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded.)

I guess my other deleted comment* from the Feministe thread is a good place to start:

I don’t buy that in the years of reading and commenting at Bfp’s blog, Amanda didn’t notice that Bfp was working on dealing with immigration as a feminist issue. I can remember, last year, Bfp blogging about every single issue that Marcotte mentions in her article. If Amanda wants credit for not being stupid, then she has to own up to paying attention to a blog she claims to read.

I also find the article in question highly bizarre since it doesn’t mention a single immigrant women’s/women of colour organisation which is working on the issues, despite Marcotte’s willingness to make ambiguous statements about the relevance of feminism and intersectionality. Returning to Jessica Hoffmann’s piece, it’s clear that the state of feminism is such that it’s women of colour who are the innovators and doing the most cutting-edge work. Hoffmann is one white woman who isn’t afraid to credit specific woc for that work. So why the disappearing act with woc in Marcotte’s article? Why do woc appear only as victims, but not the originators of the concept of intersectionality — one of the ideas which woc use to push for liberation?

It points to a common practice whereby white people render women of colour, especially radical woc activists, invisible. Where white women take credit for the innovations of woc. This is harmful to women of colour. It reduces the visibility of the resources which are out there, and it limits the growth of woc-initiated initiatives.

I for one don’t trust Marcotte’s judgement in deciding who is out to get her and who has genuine criticism. It’s common for her to claim that her critics are jealous of her book deal. I find it interesting that accusations against her are egregious and unethical because she’s a professional, but that she can attribute all kinds of motives to people who don’t have book deals, and that’s okay because writing isn’t their livelihood. So accountability in the feminist movement has to go out the window to support those privileged women who get into positions of power? So the work of women of colour is less valuable than that of white women because woc are unpublishable (then again, Marcotte’s publisher is Seal Press)? Again, I would expect that from conservative feminist organisations like NOW, not from people who are familiar with and accept the work of radical women of colour like Brownfemipower. I don’t accept the implicit vanguardism in that formulation.

If it’s personal and about Amanda Marcotte’s livelihood, then it should be equally personal for Bfp and all the women of colour involved too. If Marcotte stands to have her means of making a living damaged by accusations of “stealing,” what do woc stand to lose? And the answer is no less personal, no less vital, than the means of our existence too. Woc might not make our bucks by blogging, but woc have long criticised and resisted co-optation by capitalism as the strategy for achieving justice (and yes, Bfp blogged about this as well). For radical women of colour, blogging in itself is a tool for change, used in different ways than it is used by white liberal feminists.
Hence why white liberal feminists who do deal in capitalism have to face up to the onus of dealing justly with these alternatives. And that means not appropriating, and giving support to woc initiatives whenever possible. I do not see that Marcotte has done these things, and in fact has made a series of excuses to avoid doing them in the future.

The fact is, ‘professionalisation’ in feminism is not a new issue nor an issue specific to white US feminists. I have had a number of conversations with women around the world who have criticised the women who take up “leadership” positions in their regional/local/national feminist movements through a combination of class/ethnic/race/sexual/able-bodied privilege and professionalisation of feminist work.

The criticisms — that these women represent only a narrow agenda based on an even narrower conception of the problems, that they are self-serving and unresponsive, that their work is compromised by the agendas of business, academia and the state — are predictable and well-worn, but still have yet to be addressed or dealt with.

However, there’s a bigger criticism out there. It’s an elephant-sized issue, and hardly anyone talks about it. Anne Summers mentioned in a speech last year, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it, and I want to explore it more.

That is, when you rely on bureaucratisation and incorporation of high-level leaders into the state and business, once the state decides it doesn’t want to deal with women’s issues any more, you’re basically fucked. And this is what has happened to the Australian women’s movement in the eleven years that John Howard was in power. Women’s government agencies were consistently de-funded, attacked ideologically and dismantled, while sexist policies around abortion, welfare, family, childcare, maternity leave and workplace relations were put into place.

This is also occurring in the environmental movement, where large NGOs are becoming more conservative so as not to lose lobbying access, while ineffective and even dangerous policies are being pursued (e.g. increasing reliance on nuclear energy, carbon trading, bio-fuels, carbon sinks, ‘clean coal’, electricity privatisation).

It is not a new observation I’m making (regrettably, I’m at a loss for who to link on this, other than Paula Rojas, who I found via Bfp), but I would like to explore it further than it seems to have been. Specifically, I want to explore what kinds of consequences it has on social movements when relatively fragile (and I use the term relatively here, for contrast) social movements must interact with the agendas of the state, of business, and academia. For it seems to me that these interactions are often toxic, producing a huge level of division, disorganisation and ultimately, in destroying fragile coalitions and organisations.

The much larger apparatus’ of the state, business and academia seem to appropriate the best energies of the activists whose genuine ingenuity and passion are co-opted into ossified hierarchical structures. And the movement responds by rallying support for those activists because they command unprecedented levels of power and mainstream credibility. Yet that credibility is premised on an overall tokenism about the issue at stake, be it ecological justice, women’s liberation, racial justice, disability rights, or queer rights. The hierarchical accountability structures which authorise that credibility can muzzle the most radical activist (e.g. Peter Garrett).

In many cases, a lack of political will at the top co-exists with fluctuations in activist work in creating alternatives around an issue or set of issues. Howard’s ruling out same-sex marriage rights hasn’t stalled queer community-building, and the announcement of a “new paternalism” in Aboriginal affairs hasn’t stopped Aboriginal activists from organising their communities. But when equal access to elite status becomes the goal of a political movement, it becomes apparent that it is no longer concerned with justice, and it develops a parasitic relationship with the grass-roots of that movement.

This is why I’ve started to believe in the concept of ‘revolution’, if not the actuality of a national revolution. It’s because optimism about piecemeal change relies on putting your faith in incrementalism — the model where small changes accumulate on top of each other to eventually lead to a situation of greater justice. But the strategies of the system only reproduce injustices and inequalities in different ways. If you abolish legislative racial segregation without ousting the agents whose interests lie in certain types of labour and certain types of housing being devalued, then they will continue to be devalued. If you abolish nuclear energy without ensuring more ecologically sound energy production, you stand only to strengthen fossil fuel industries and pave the way for re-nuclearisation.

Ultimately, incrementalism only works insofar as goals stay the same while everything else changes.

We may be able to make a difference by initiating reforms which work against the logic of the existing system. But that requires deliberate and very considered work, involving a great variety of groups, to achieve. And to achieve that, we need spaces in which radical forms of democracy operate, so as to establish a level of independence from outside agendas.

This is why the most path-breaking work is outside most of the power structures in society, and why non-profit/non-governmental organisations, government agencies, and for-profit corporations lag so far behind in transforming society in the shape of radical justice. It’s why the revolution will not be published, and certainly not by Seal Press. It’s because the most groundbreaking feminist work isn’t being published at all, and in fact is in an antagonistic relation to the publishing industry and the academic-industrial complex.

Perhaps grass-roots radicalism will frame the shape of a new, just society, because it needs to frame new ways of being to survive. Or perhaps those new ways of being are only transitional forms, or maybe they’re just instrumentally useful. I’m not a soothsayer, so I don’t have the answer to that. I do, however, believe that I need grass-roots radicalism to survive, and that I can see changes occurring because of what I do. That’s good enough for me; I don’t need a book deal.

* With Feministe and the thread in question I can readily believe it was just a case of caught-in-moderation, but it doesn’t seem to have affected anyone else, and the mod restrictions seem lax enough that a pointless provocateur got through when I didn’t. After the Seal Press imbroglio, I’m just a little bit sensitive to being censored for making reasonable criticisms, so excuse me if I need to joke about it to blow off steam.

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27 thoughts on “The Revolution Will Not Be Published

  1. Hey — I’m really sorry, I don’t know what happened to your post. I certainly wouldn’t have deleted that, and I can’t find it now in our logs either. About half the posts on that thread went through moderation and I did let some through that were totally pointless, I’m afraid — but I didn’t delete very many, and if somehow accidentally erased yours out of the system it was a stupid misclick. Apologies, and I’m glad you posted it here.

  2. P-O-W-E-R-F-U-L.

  3. “That is, when you rely on bureaucratisation and incorporation of high-level leaders into the state and business, once the state decides it doesn’t want to deal with women’s issues any more, you’re basically fucked.”


    and you know, that applies to a number of other issues/phenomena as well. there’s this very pervasive idea, reinforced of course by the socioeconomic structure (but somewhere in there, there’s a “core belief,” too), in the U.S., at least, where I’m most familiar with: democracy by representation. It isn’t direct. Therefore, “leaders” like Amanda or whomever, even bfp in some ways, get “appointed” informally because that’s the template we’re used to. It’s a very old template, I mean, leadership, obviously, predating and often being far more blatant than in U.S. style government/uh, system style in general.

    But…if one’s really interested in a “grass-roots” revolution, well, you do keep running into this shit again and again and again. That we, or most of us, do this at a remove: that there’s one from column A and one from column B, and we root for the winner, and in turn the winner will fix things.

    maybe time to rethink that some more.

    hard work, that, as they say, particularly if one is not coming from a particularly radical POV (I’m not claiming to be so myself).

  4. Holly, no hard feelings. When I posted the comment, it didn’t show up and when I tried to repost I got an error message saying I already submitted that comment… so it looks like the internet ate it.

    belledame, that’s been the strategy in Australia, too, and I have to wonder what the hell people were thinking when they came up with it. I’ve been an activist for 5 or 6 years and even I can see that it isn’t charismatic leaders that take people forward, it’s people working together, building on each other’s work, collaborating that takes people forward.

  5. *applaudes*
    Right on.

  6. Regarding “‘professionalisation’ in feminism”:
    Agreed. As I said in another thread, our job as feminists is not to write and publish books for profit; our job is to change the world.

  7. “We may be able to make a difference by initiating reforms which work against the logic of the existing system. But that requires deliberate and very considered work, involving a great variety of groups, to achieve.”

    I like this idea. It seems more realistic and doable than a revolution per se.

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  10. That is, when you rely on bureaucratisation and incorporation of high-level leaders into the state and business, once the state decides it doesn’t want to deal with women’s issues any more, you’re basically fucked.

    This point’s getting lost in the current US election scuffle (and I refer to local elections, not simply the presidential campaign that is getting all the hype right now), so thanks… wanted to underscore your point.

    Great post.

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  12. this is such a fascinating piece – making ties to liberal feminism (relying of gov/bureaucracy) and the current blogs and publishing conflicts. I only referenced this briefly in my post, but yours is a really thorough and well thought out piece. I wish I’d read it sooner.

  13. Thanks Professor! I like your post a lot too.

    I think a lot more analysis of the ways social movements intersect with capitalism is in order, and you’ve outlined really important issues.

  14. littlem on said:

    “Been caught in moderation once, when I was five …”

    And I can certainly empathize. What an awesome post.

    Since your entire point argues against sending it to AlterNet, may I respectfully suggest
    1) that you send it to Tim Wise
    2) that you look into self-.publishing on

    Because more people should read this.

  15. Thanks for the kudos, littlem, but I’m really not looking for a book deal or publicity. I have a hard enough time writing without all the added pressure of a celebrity gaze. Besides, this should be free.

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  19. That was fabulous, thank you.

  20. Okay my comment sounds silly maybe. I don’t usually comment all that much, but there was… several somethings…in what you wrote which really was quite moving and powerful. I need to read it again later, and I don’t know why. It is all very confusing. I’m sure I fell down a rabbit hole.

  21. Wow, I’m surprised I had that effect. I write cos something’s on my mind and there’s a computer in front of me… I’m glad you appreciated it. I guess we’ll see you when you emerge from yr rabbit hole.

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  26. Hi. I know I’m late coming to this post but I still wanted to comment because it is such a wonderful, wonderful piece you’ve written. Thank you for writing it and putting the energy and time into writing it.

    What you say about capitalism co-opting feminism and the way in which some (mostly white) people happily agree to this arrangement really put voice to some of the things I’ve been thinking about. I hope you don’t mind if I share this around and link to it.

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