Abstract

This special section gathers activist texts and theoretical reflections on the International Women's Strike of March 8, 2017. Contributors from Turkey, Argentina, Poland, and Italy consider the strike's implications and effects, emphasizing the ways in which it both indexes and advances, both speaks to and spurs, a radical re-politicization of feminism. Texts by Rita Segato and Françoise Vergès provide critical frameworks for understanding this process. All of the texts collected here—essays, dispatches, chronicles, manifestos, and an interview—indicate the urgency and the promise of a feminism that refuses racism, capitalist exploitation, environmental depredation, and state violence.

“What does it mean to act together when the conditions for doing so have been devastated?” With this question, Verónica Gago concludes her reflections on the work of the transnational feminist collective Ni Una Menos. The question can be inflected in two different ways: Gago asks what it means to act together, to struggle collectively, despite the fact of devastation. But she also asks what it means to assemble and act on the basis of devastation, to take devastation as a point of departure, to make damaged life into a precondition and not only a problem for collective resistance.

The contributors to this special section all offer answers to Gago's question understood in the latter sense.1 They ask us to attend to scenes of devastation, of social attrition, atrophy, wreckage, or ruin, even while they model various kinds of bracing response to these conditions. The activist texts in the pages that follow respond to a “regime of emergency” in Turkey; to a proposed abortion ban and a far-right government in Poland; and to femicides, austerity measures, and worsening inequalities in Argentina and Italy. In each case, the strike emerges as a means of both registering and refusing to sustain a current distribution of devastation: a gendered distribution of violence, lethality, precarity, and exploitation. At the same time, though—during the months leading up to October 3, 2016 in Poland, October 19, 2016 in Argentina, and March 8, 2017 internationally—the strike also let feminist activists signal their commitment to broad and ongoing anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal, anti-racist, and anti-nationalist projects. “The strike made a difference,” Paola Rudan writes of March 8, 2017, “because it allowed feminism to go beyond the borders of the ‘woman question,' to become both a mass political practice and a means by which to question the whole neoliberal order.” Similarly, Gago claims that the strike made it possible to “understand violence as a network of forms of exploitation deployed by contemporary capitalism,” and made feminism “into a mode of organization, a practice of alliances, and a diffuse language that was truly transversal and expansive.”

Indeed, the following texts show, in its encounter with the strike, feminism becomes—or remembers that it has always been—transversal, expansive, and critical in a sense that makes these texts apt contributions to this inaugural issue of Critical Times. These varied contributions—essays, dispatches, manifestos, chronicles, and an interview—all show critique at work, and indicate why theorizing matters to activist practice. They prove that radical feminism remains inseparable from what Ellen Rooney calls “systemic critique.” Considering the women's marches organized in the United States in January 2017, Rooney notes that such a critique “sees climate change, prison reform, reproductive rights, gun violence, education, health care, transgender rights, jobs, and many other topics as feminist issues because feminists are concerned, impacted, injured, or inspired by these issues.”2 The contributors to this special section let us expand Rooney's list of issues that have now or again been forcefully recast as feminist. These contributors make clear that not only gun violence, but also state violence in Turkey and Argentina, not only reproductive rights, but also the conditions of migrants in Poland and Italy were seen as feminist issues for the strikes' organizers in those countries. So, too, were the claims of indigenous communities, new forms of indebtedness and resource extraction, and the consolidation of securitarian and authoritarian regimes.

To be sure, many activists have long seen these kinds of issues as feminist. Readers may recall, for instance, the Wages for Housework campaigns that began in Italy in the early 1970s or the Black feminism of the Combahee River Collective, founded the same decade.3 These movements' critiques were nothing if not systemic. But, as Françoise Vergès argues—in one of two texts in this special section that, rather than responding directly to the strikes, offer a sense of the debates that precede and enable their organization—subsequent decades witnessed the eclipse or forgetting of this form of critique in mainstream feminist discourse in the Global North. This meant feminism's co-optation, its commodification, and what Vergès calls, anticipating the polemics in these pages, its “depoliticization.”

All of these processes contributed to the impasse that Nina Power described in 2009, in her book One-Dimensional Woman. Here Power offered a stark assessment of the challenges facing radical feminism. Reminding readers that ideology is not reducible to mere illusion, but rather has material effects as it shapes our perception of the real, Power wrote: “ideology has managed to (temporarily) make classical forms of organization (trade unions, protest groups) seem unnecessary, outmoded, and impossible, all at the same time.”4 The feminist strikes that are the subject of this special section suggest that Power's first parenthesis has already proven prophetic. If, according to Power, the “classical forms of organization” that, just a few years ago, seemed “unnecessary, outmoded and impossible” included trade unions and protest groups, the following texts attest to a range of efforts to reanimate another form of organization: the strike. At the same time, though, the activists whose texts are gathered here forge alliances with unions and protest groups as well: both Katarzyna Rakowska in Poland and Gago in Argentina point to a convergence between feminists and union activists, and all contributors emphasize their solidarity with protest collectives ranging from the movement for peace in Kurdistan to Black Lives Matter.

Together, then, these contributions make clear that we are witnessing what Vergès calls a “re-politicization” of feminism: a refusal of neoliberal depoliticization that is also a renewed commitment to systemic critique and sustained engagement in political struggle, including struggle in its “classical forms.” Far from seeming “unnecessary, outmoded, and impossible,” these forms of organization have come to seem urgent, timely, and achievable at a transnational if not global scale again. Yet in her “Manifesto in Four Themes,” Rita Segato teaches us to hear the “re-” in “re-politicization” as signaling reinvention as much as recovery or return. Segato contends that the space, meaning, and practice of politics must all be altogether rethought in light of the massive—or indeed the millennial—failure of state-centered projects. These, for Segato, are at best residually patriarchal and colonial. They follow from a “fantasy of the state" related to what Vergès, quoting Sara Farris, calls femonationalism”: a fantasy that sustains liberal feminism as well as nationalism itself. But, Segato concludes, the “fragments” of alternative, feminist, and radically pluralist forms of collective organization remain. To make something of these fragments is not necessarily to reconstitute the politics or the social life we have known. It can instead mean, under conditions of devastation but moved by desire, bringing something else into being.

Notes

1

Gago's question echoes one posed by Judith Butler: “What does it mean to act together when the conditions for acting are devastated or falling away? Such an impasse,” Butler continues, “can become the paradoxical condition of a form of social solidarity.” Butler, Notes, 23. This last suggestion is also in keeping with Gago's argument in “Critical Times / The Earth Trembles.”

2

Rooney, “Feminists,” 447. In this special section, both Gago, in “Critical Times / The Earth Trembles,” and Rudan, in “The Strike that Made a Difference,” address a comparable shift from “identity” to “systemic critique” explicitly.

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