CapitalismEssaysThe Left

John Dewey’s Encounter with Leon Trotsky

The 1930s was one of the one eventful and productive decades in Dewey’s life. He published more than a half dozen books including Logic: The Theory of Inquiry. It was during this decade that he sharpened his understanding of radical democracy and a renascent liberalism. He interrupted his scholarly work to travel to Mexico as the Chair of the Trotsky Commission — or to give its full title, “The Commission of Inquiry into the Charges Made against Leon Trotsky in the Moscow Trials.” …

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EssaysLiberal Democracy in QuestionThe Left

Look Out Kids: On the New and Next Left

A reply to Eli Zaretsky

Bundled into Eli Zaretsky’s unmistakable claim that second wave feminism was substantially to blame for the undoing of the 60s-era Left is another curious charge: that no American Left exists today, or has for a long time [“Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left”]. In their response, Ann Snitow and Vicky Hattam expose the flimsy basis and maladroit construction of the first charge [“The Women Did It?”]. While adding to their case, I address mostly the second. I do so not as one who “was there” in the 1960s but as both a scholar of the period and an activist since the 1980s in what I’ve always considered the Left. Zaretsky’s rebuttal of the Snitow/Hattam response further confuses his original argument while modestly improving its terms. I deal with it briefly at the end.

Uniting both of Zaretsky’s claims is a dismissive view of the experiences and perspectives of others. Second wave feminists might feel proud of their efforts to establish battered women’s shelters, health and day care collectives, rape crisis centers, alternative schools, peace camps, and more accepting versions of the family. …

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EssaysSex & GenderThe Left

Further Reflections on Feminists and the Left

A response to Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam

“The Women Did It?” by Ann Snitow and Victoria Hattam correctly argues that we need to understand the conflicts and splits of the late nineteen sixties if we are to build a New Left today. Today’s Left is rooted in the decisions and turning points of that time, and it will be hard to build something new until we come to grips with our past. However, Ann and Vicky (for we are all friends) frame the issues wrongly in that they are essentially concerned with blaming and defending. They reiterate that the men of the New Left really were sexist, and that the women of the New Left really had not meant to destroy the New Left in creating women’s liberation. This is not the way to think about it.

To be sure, I would be fool indeed to “blame” women for the demise of the New Left, as Ann and Vicky suggest I do. The women’s movement of the late sixties was akin to a natural force, a great river of emotion and eloquent power; who would blame a river? …

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EssaysRace/ismsSex & GenderThe Left

The Women Did It?

A reply to Eli Zaretsky

We are living through dark times. Many lament the decline of a vibrant Left in American politics; why the right has been ascendant for the past quarter century is a matter worth extensive exploration. Zaretsky’s “Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left,” however, both underestimates the deep roots of the American right and overestimates the power of feminism (Perlstein, Lowndes). In doing so, Zaretsky makes it difficult to rethink the possibilities and obstacles for the Left now. Zaretsky’s account of feminist politics runs amuck because of the ways in which he links feminism with madness and distances it from radicalism and race. Let us untangle the ways in which Zaretsky puts these elements in play in ways that distort past, present, and future.

Let us begin at the beginning — with madness. Zaretsky starts with a fine recognition of Shulamith Firestone (1945-2012), and her work as a radical feminist thinker (The Dialectic of Sex) and activist. …

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EssaysThe Left

Autonomous Politics and Liberal Thought-Magic

In response to Nancy Fraser

Anarchism is often dismissed as incoherent, naïve, and ineffective. This is Nancy Fraser’s position in a recent article called “Against Anarchism.” Fraser’s criticisms are worth engaging not because they’re particularly perceptive or unique, but because they’re exceedingly common: these are some of the reasons that people dismiss anarchism all the time. What is it about anarchism that’s so threatening to people like Nancy Fraser? I think Fraser (and many others) are actually threatened by what I’ll call “autonomous politics,” which is both narrower and broader than anarchism, encompassing currents of Marxism, indigenism, queer politics, feminism, and anarchism. My suspicion is that Fraser hates autonomous politics not because it’s ineffective or undemocratic, but because it undermines her whole worldview and political project. Autonomous politics destabilizes liberalism, opening up more productive ways of thinking and relating. …

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EssaysThe Left

Rethinking the Split Between Feminists and the Left

The recent death of Shulamith Firestone marks a milestone in the history of second wave feminism, and encourages an historical perspective. Firestone was one of the most inspired and original political intellectuals of the sixties, and a founder of the modern feminist movement. I can speak personally here of the impact of Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex (1970) on my own life. When I first read the book, upon its publication, I immediately recognized that its portrait of a universal system of male domination rooted in the family was both the most important challenge to the Marxism that had shaped my worldview, and an equally important corrective to its blind spots. My 1972 book, Capitalism, the Family and Personal Life began as a review of Firestone’s work and proposed both to answer and to learn from it.

In a recent New Yorker (April 15, 2013) Susan Faludi provided a powerful and moving account of Firestone’s brief, brilliant career and its tragic aftermath.Firestone was only twenty-five years old when she published Dialectic of Sex.

 

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