The Tyranny of Tyranny
Cathy Levine wrote this essay, excerpted here, as a response to the The Tyranny of Structurelessness. It has been attributed to Black Rose no 1, but was not published in the Boston-based magazine of that name. It was reprinted by the London-based Rising Free Collective. The book Untying The Knot: Feminism, Anarchism and Organisation, which also reprinted it, claims it was written in the early 1970s.
An article entitled 'The Tyranny of Structurelessness' which has received wide attention around the women's movement, assails the trend towards 'leaderless,' 'structureless' groups as a dead-end.
While written and received in good faith, as an aid to the movement, the article is destructive in its distortion and maligning of a valid, conscious strategy for building a revolutionary movement. It is high time that we recognize the direction these tendencies are pointing in, as a real political alternative to hierarchical organization, rather than trying to nip it in the bud.
A large group functions as an aggregate of its parts -- each member functions as a unit, a cog in the wheel of the large organization. The individual is alienated by the size, and relegated to struggling against the obstacles created by the size of the group.
Small groups, on the other hand, multiply the strength of each member. By working collectively in small numbers, the small group utilizes the various contributions of each person to their fullest, nurturing and developing individual input, instead of dissipating it in the competitive survival-of-the-fittest/smartest/wittiest spirit of the large organization.
The feminist movement in its fullest sense, that is, as a movement to defeat patriarchy, is a revolutionary movement and a socialist movement. A central problem of women determining strategy for the women's movement is how to relate to the male Left; we do not want to take their modus operandi as ours, because we have seen them as a perpetuation of patriarchal, and latterly, capitalist values.
Instead of getting discouraged, we should be in our small groups -- discussing, planning, creating, and making trouble.
What we definitely don't need is more structures and rules, providing us with easy answers, pre-fab alternatives and no room in which to create our own way of life. What is threatening the female Left and the other branches even more, is the 'tyranny of tyranny,' which has prevented us from creating organizations that do not obliterate individuality with prescribed roles.
Creating Women's Culture
In suggesting that the next step after consciousness-raising groups is building a movement, Freeman not only implies a false dichotomy between one and the other, but also overlooks an important process of the feminist movement, that of building a women's culture. The culture of an oppressed or colonized class or caste is not necessarily revolutionary.
The aim of feminist revolution is for women to achieve our total humanity, which means destroying the masculine and feminine roles which make both men and women only half human. Creating a woman's culture is the means through which we shall restore our lost humanity.
Unless we examine inner psychic shackles, at the time we study outer, political structures and the relationship between the two, we will not succeed. Where psychological struggle intersects political involvement is the small group. This is why the question of strategy and tactics and methods of organization are so crucial at this moment. The Left has been trying for decades to rally people into the streets, always before a number sufficient to make a dent exist. As Stone pointed out, you can't make a revolution when four-fifths of the people are happy. Nor should we wait until everyone is ready to become radical.
While on the one hand, we should constantly suggest alternatives to capitalism, through food co-ops, anti-corporate actions, and acts of personal rebellion, we should also be fighting against capitalist psychic structures and the values and living patterns which derive from them. Structures, chairmen, leaders, rhetoric -- when a meeting of a Leftist group becomes indistinguishable in style from a session of the US Senate, we should not laugh about it, but re-evaluate the structure behind the style.
The Small Group is a Solution
The origin of the small group preference in the women's movement -- and by small group I refer to political collectives -- was, as Freeman explains, a reaction against the over-structured, hierarchical organization of society in general, and male Left groups in particular. But what people fail to realize is that we are reacting against bureaucracy because it deprives us of control, like the rest of this society; and instead of recognizing the folly of our ways by returning to the structured fold, we who are rebelling against bureaucracy should be creating an alternative to bureaucratic organization. The reason for building a movement on a foundation of collectives is that we want to create a revolutionary culture consistent with our view of the new society; it is more than a reaction; the small group is a solution.
Because the women's movement is tending towards small groups and because the women's movement lacks direction at this time, some people conclude that small groups are to blame for the lack of direction. They wave the shibboleth of 'structure' as a solution to the strategic stalemate, as if structure would give us theoretical insight or relief from personal anxieties.
Contrary to the belief that lack of up-front structures lead to insidious, invisible structures based on elites, the absence of structures in small, mutual trust groups fights elitism on the basic level -- the level of personal dynamics, at which the individual who counters insecurity with aggressive behavior rules over the person whose insecurity maintains silence. The small personally involved group learns, first to recognize those stylistic differences, and then to appreciate and work with them; rather than trying to either ignore or annihilate differences in personal style, the small group learns to appreciate and utilize them, thus strengthening the personal power of each individual. Given that each of us has been socialized in a society in which individual competition with every other individual is the way of existence, we are not going to obliterate personal-styles-as-power, except by constant recognition of these differences, and by learning to let differences of personal style exist together. We should guard against situations which reward personal style with power.
All across the country independent groups of women began functioning without the structure, leaders and other factotums of the male Left, creating independently and simultaneously, organizations similar to those of anarchists of many decades and locales.
Considering how much the various derivatives
of the term 'anarchism' are bandied about, very few
people in the Left have studied anarchism with any seriousness.
For people priding themselves on cynicism about social taboos,
we sure are sucked in by this taboo against anarchism. A study
of anarchism is highly recommended.