Editor’s note: this text is excerpted from The Feminist Revolution (La potencia feminista), to be published in English by Verso Books in 2020. To give an idea of the context in Argentina in which Verónica Gago is writing, half a million women came out to each of the marches that followed the women’s strike in 2017; 800,000 women were on the streets for International Women’s Day in 2018 and in 2019; and massive and sustained mobilizations for the legalization of abortion also took place throughout 2018.
“Let the Chicago Boys tremble. Long live the feminist movement.”
(Graffiti in front of the Catholic University of Chile, 2018.)
In what sense does the contemporary feminist movement – in the multiplicity of struggles that it participates in and leads today – express an anti-neoliberal dynamic from below? How does it initiate political forms that are new while also inscribed in genealogies of discontinuous temporalities? I want to propose eight theses that demonstrate its novelty.
1. The tool of the feminist strike maps new forms of the exploitation of bodies and territories from a perspective that is simultaneously that of visibilization and insubordination. The strike reveals the heterogeneous composition of labor in a feminist register, recognizing tasks that have historically been disregarded, showing its current imbrication with generalized precarization and appropriating a traditional tool of struggle to overflow and reinvent it.
The international strike opened up a feminist perspective on labor. Because the feminist perspective recognizes territorial, domestic, reproductive, and migrant labor, it broadens the very notion of the working class, from below. Because it starts from the recognition that 40% of the workers in our country are involved in diverse modes of the so-called informal economy, vindicated as the popular economy. Because it makes visible and values work that has historically been ignored and devalued, that is how we affirm that #AllWomenAreWorkers.
Yet there is an even more radical element: the feminist strike places us in a state of applied investigation. What do we call labor from the living and working experiences of women, lesbians, trans persons, and travestis? Beating to the rhythm of the question of what it means to strike, we are, in an applied way, mapping the multiplicity of tasks and intensive and extensive working days that are not paid, or are badly paid, or are remunerated under a strict hierarchy. Some of those tasks were almost not even named, others named in ways that belittled them.
The feminist strike is strengthened because of its impossibility: the women who cannot strike but desire to do so; those who cannot stop working for even one day and want to rebel against that exhaustion; those who believed that it would be impossible to strike without the authorization of the union hierarchy and yet they called for the strike; those who were able to imagine a strike against agrotoxins and finance. All of those women and each one of us pushed the frontiers of the strike. At the conjunction of impossibility and desire, a radical imaginary emerges about the multiplicity of forms the feminist strike can take, moving it to unexpected places, displacing impossibility and desire through in its capacity to include vital experiences, and being is reinvented by bodies that are disobedient to what is recognized as labor.
With the strike, we made visible the differential of exploitation that characterizes feminized labor, in other words, the specific subordination involved in community, neighborhood, migrant, and reproductive labor, and we showed how its subordination is related to all forms of work in the everyday. We showed that there is a concrete place where that differential starts: the reproduction of life, from its meticulous and constant organization that is exploited by capital at the cost of it being an obligation, free, or poorly paid. But we went even further: from reproduction–historically negated, subordinated, and tied to processes of domestication and colonization–we constructed categories to rethink waged labor, unionized or not, traversed by ever greater levels of precarization.
By interlinking all the modes of value production (as well as exploitation and extraction), we mapped the concrete imbrication between patriarchal, colonial, and capitalist violences. This makes clear, yet again, that the feminist movement is not external to the class question, even if it is often presented as such. Nor can it be separated from the question of race. There is no possibility of “isolating” feminism from those fabrics where the combat against renewed forms of exploitation, extraction, oppression, and domination is situated. Feminism, as a movement, displays the historical character of the class as by the systematic exclusion of all who are not considered white waged workers. Therefore there can be no class without understanding racialization. In this way, it becomes clear to what extent narrative and organizational formulas were modes of systematic subordination of feminized and migrant labor and, as such, the cornerstones of the sexual and racial division of labor.
2. With the strike, we produced a new understanding of violence: we escaped confinement to the limited sphere of domestic violence by connecting it to economic, labor, institutional, police, racist, and colonial violence. In this way, the organic relationship between sexist and femicidal violence and the current form of capital accumulation becomes clear. The anti-capitalist, anti-colonial, and anti-patriarchal character of the feminist movement comes from establishing and disseminating that analysis in an applied way.
The strike simultaneously produces a point of view that considers resistance to expropriation, insubordination to labor, and financial disobedience.
This allows us to investigate the relationship between conflicts in territories against neo-extractive initiatives and sexual violence; the nexus between harassment and power relations in workplaces; as well as the way in which the exploitation of migrant and feminized labor is combined with the extraction of value by finance; the plundering of public infrastructure in neighborhoods and (formal and informal) real estate speculation; the clandestine state of abortion and the criminalization of Indigenous and Black communities. All of these forms of violence take the bodies of women and feminized bodies as the spoils of war. This connection between the violence of dispossession and sexual violence is not only analytical: it is practiced as a collective elaboration to understand the relations of subordination and exploitation in which femicides are made intelligible, as well as to chart a strategy of organization and self-defense. In this sense, the feminist movement practices a popular pedagogy through an interpretation that connects violence and oppression and does so from a place of contempt for both. On this point, escaping from the totalizing narrative of victimization, is what enables the interpretation of violence avoid translation into a language of pacification or pure mourning and lament. It is also repels the institutional responses that reinforce the isolation of these problems and that seek to resolve them through a new government agency or program. Institutional instruments can be important as long as they are not part of a tutelage that codifies victimization and encloses violence as exclusively domestic. The interpretation of the intersectionality of violence that has been made possible through the strike opens a new site of enunciation, opening, building and expanding the organizational horizons of movement. The vast map that this has enabled us to chart widens our view and goes to the roots of the connections between patriarchy, capitalism, and colonialism, converting it into the construction of a shared common sense.
3. The current feminist movement is characterized by two unique dynamics: the combination of massiveness and radicality. It achieves this because it constructs proximity between very different struggles. In this way, it invents and cultivates a mode of political transversality.
Feminism makes explicit something that does not seem obvious: that nobody lacks a territory, thus disproving the metaphysical illusion of the isolated individual. We are all situated and, in that sense as well, the body can begin to be perceived as a body-territory. Feminism ceases to be an external practice related to “others,” and is rather taken as an interpretative principle for understanding conflicts in each and every territory (domestic, affective, labor, migrant, artistic, campesino, urban, marketplace, community territories, and so on). This allows an inter-generational mass feminism to unfurl, because it is appropriated by the extremely diverse spaces and experiences.
How is this composition, which we can characterize as transversal, produced? By starting from the connections between struggles. But the web constructed between diverse struggles is neither spontaneous nor natural. Rather, in relation to feminism, the opposite was true for a long time: feminism was understood in its institutional and/or academic variant, but historically dissociated from processes of popular confluence. There are fundamental genealogical lines that have made the current expansion possible. We can trace four in Argentina: the history of human rights struggles since the 1970s, led by the Mothers and Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo; the more than three decades of the National Women’s Gathering (now the Plurinational Gathering of Women, Lesbians, Trans Persons, and Travestis); the emergence of the piquetero movement, which also had a feminized protagonism when it came to confronting the social crisis at the beginning of the 20th Century; and a long history of sexual dissidences movements, ranging from the legacy of the Homosexual Liberation Front (Frente de Liberación Homosexual) in the 1970s to lesbian militancy for autonomous access to abortion to trans, travesti, intersex, and transgender activism that revolutionized the bodies and subjectivities of feminism against biologicalist limits.
The transversality achieved through the organization of the strike updates those historical lines and projects them into a feminism of the masses, rooted in concrete struggles of popular economy workers, migrants, cooperative workers, women defending their territories, precarious workers, new generations of sexual dissidences, housewives who refuse enclosure, those fighting for the right to abortion involved in a broad struggle for bodily autonomy, mobilized students, women denouncing agrotoxins, and sex workers. The feminist strike creates a common horizon in organizational terms, and this horizon functions as a practical catalyst.
It is powerful how, by integrating this multiplicity of conflicts, the mass dimension is redefined based on practices and struggles that have historically been defined as “minoritarian.” The opposition between the minoritarian and the majoritarian is thus displaced: the minoritarian take up the mass scale as a vector of radicalization within a composition that does not stop expanding. This challenges the neoliberal machinery of minority recognition and the pacification of difference.
This political transversality is nourished from the diverse territories in conflict and it builds a common affect for problems that tend to be experienced individually, as well as a political understanding of different forms of violence that tend to be encapsulated as domestic. This complicates a certain idea of solidarity that supposes a level of exteriority that establishes distance with respect to others. Transversality prioritizes a politics of the construction of proximity and alliances without ignoring the differences in intensity among conflicts.
4. The feminist movement deploys a new critique of political economy. It includes a radical denunciation of contemporary conditions of the valorization of capital and, therefore, it updates the notion of exploitation. It does so by broadening what is usually understood as the economy.
In Argentina in particular there is a crossroads that allows for a new critique of political economy. This is due to the practical encounter between popular economies and feminist economics. Popular economies as reproductive and productive webs express an accumulation of struggles that opened the imagination of the feminist strike. That is why in Argentina the feminist strike manages to deploy, problematize, and valorize a multiplicity of tasks based on a map of work in a feminist register, since it is connected to a piquetero genealogy which problematized waged labor and forms of “inclusion.” It is these experiences that are at the origin of popular economies and that persist as an insurgent element that is summoned once again by popular feminisms.
The dynamic of organization of the feminist strikes sparks two processes in popular economies. On one hand, the politicization of reproductive spheres beyond the home functions as a concrete space for elaborating the expansion of the labor that is valued by the strike. On the other hand, a feminist perspective on those tasks makes it possible to highlight the patriarchal and colonial mandates that naturalize them and, therefore, that enable the deployment of logics of exploitation and extraction over them.
The feminist strike, on initiating a reading based on defying inscription into reproductive tasks in family terms, challenges the permanent moral augmentation imposed by social subsidies and produces an intersection between feminist economics and the popular economy that radicalizes both experiences.
Through the strike, the feminist movement produces figures of subjectivation (trajectories, forms of cooperation, modes of life) that escape the neoliberal binary that opposes victims to entrepreneurs of the self (even in the pseudo language of gender that speaks of entrepreneurial “empowerment”). Feminisms have become anti-neoliberal by taking responsibility for collective organization against individual suffering and denouncing systematic policies of dispossession.
The current feminist movement proposes a precise characterization of neoliberalism and, therefore, opens up the horizon of what we call anti-neoliberal politics. Due to the type of conflicts that it maps, visiblizes, and mobilizes, a complex notion of neoliberalism unfolds that is not reduced to the binary of the state versus the market. On the contrary, feminist struggles point to the connection between the extractive logic of capital and its imbrication with state policies, determining how value is exploited and extracted from certain body-territories. The perspective of feminist economics that emerges from here is therefore anti-capitalist.
5. The feminist movement takes the streets and builds in assemblies, it weaves power in territories and elaborates interpretations of the conjuncture: it produces a counterpower that articulates a dynamic of achieving rights with a radical horizon. Thus, it dismantles the binary between reform or revolution.
With the strike, the feminist movement constructs a common force against precarization, austerity, layoffs, and the violence that those involve. Above, we highlighted the strike’s anti-neoliberal element (challenging the business rationality as the order of the world), affirming its class-based nature (that is, that does not naturalize or minimize the issue of exploitation), and anti-colonial and anti-patriarchal character (because it denounces and defies the specific exploitation of capitalism against women and feminized and racialized bodies). This dynamic is key: it produces a practical intersection between race, class, and gender, and it generates another rationality for reading the conjuncture. This means that the parliamentary debates (affirming that there is no right or force of law that is not first formulated in social protest) and the radicalization of the popular organization of feminisms resist being reduced to a “quota” or a “sector.”
This dynamic of the feminist movement is two-fold: it constructs its own institutionality (autonomous networks) and, at the same time, it interpolates existing institutionality. In turn it creates a strategic temporality that simultaneously acts in the present with what exists and with what also exists in the present but as virtuality, as a still open, not yet realized possibility. The feminist movement does not exhaust its demands or its struggles within the horizon of the state, even if it does not ignore that field of action, it decidedly does not believe the state is the place where violence can be resolved. This is a utopian dimension, that nevertheless has an effectiveness in the present and not in the postponement of a future and distant final objective. Therefore the utopian dimension also manages to operate amid existing contradictions without waiting for the appearance of fully liberated subjects or ideal conditions of struggles, nor trusting in a single space that totalitizes social transformation. In that sense, the feminist movement appeals to the power, la potencia, of rupture contained in each action, and it does not limit rupture to a spectacular final moment of a strictly evolutionary accumulation.
This, again, is connected with the power, la potencia, of transversality, which grows due to the way in which feminist activism has turned into an available force that is put into play in different spaces of struggle and life. In this way, it goes against the “sectorization” of the so-called gender agenda and against the infantilization of its political practices. In other words, transversality is not only a form of coordination, but also a capacity to make feminism into its own force in its each place, not limited to a logic of specific demands. This is not easy to sustain because it involves the daily work of weaving, of conversation, of translations, and of the expansions of discussions, of trial and error. But what is most powerful today is that that transversality is felt as a need and desire to open up a temporality of revolution here and now.
6. Contemporary feminism weaves a new internationalism. It is not a structure that abstracts struggles and makes them homogeneous so as to take them to a “higher” plane. It is perceived, to the contrary, as a concrete force in each place. It drives a dynamic that is made transnational based on situated trajectories and bodies. Therefore the feminist movement is expressed as a coordinated force of global destabilization whose potencia, notably, is rooted in and emerges from the south.
Contemporary feminism is an internationalism based on territories in struggle. That is what makes its construction more complex and polyphonic: it includes increasingly more territories and languages. It does not depend on the framework of the nation-state and therefore it already overflows the name ‘internationalism.’ Rather than international, it is transnational and plurinational. Because it recognizes other geographies and traces other maps of alliance, encounter, and convergence. Because it includes a radical critique of the national enclosures that seek to limit our struggles, because it is connected based on migrant trajectories and because it approaches landscapes that recombine urban, suburban, campesino, Indigenous, neighborhood, and community elements, and thus multiple temporalities are folded into it.
Feminist transnationalism involves a critique of the neocolonial advances against body-territories. It denounces different forms of extractivism and demonstrates their connection with the increase in sexist violence and forms of labor exploitation that take the maquila as their emblematic scene on this continent.
The feminist strike constructs an unstoppable transnational web because it maps, against the grain, the world market that organizes the accumulation of capital. However, these transnational links are not organized according to a calendar of meetings of large agencies at the service of capital. Based on the feminist strike, the movement adopts the form of a coordinator on the one hand, and of a committee on the other, of the encounter of struggles in the here and now of initiatives that break boundaries and cross borders. It is a transnationalism that pushed the global motto of the strike and thus forged a new type of coordination: “if we stop, we stop the world.”
The force of destabilization is global because it first exists in every home, in every relationship, in every territory, in every assembly, in every university, in every factory, in every market. In this sense it is the inverse of a long internationalist tradition that organizes from above, unifying and giving “coherence” to struggles based on their inscription to a program.
The transnational dimension composes the collective as an investigation: it is presented both as self-education and as a desire of articulation with experiences that at first are not close. This is quite different from taking collective coordination as a moral a priori or an abstract requirement. Feminism in neighborhoods, in bedrooms, or in households is not less internationalist than feminism in the streets or in regional encounters, and that gives it its powerful politics of place. It comes from its non-disjunction, its way of making internationalism a politics of rootedness and as opening territories to unexpected connections.
7. The global response to the transnational feminist force is organized as a triple counter-offensive: military, economic, and religious. This explains why neoliberalism now needs conservative policies to stabilize its mode of government.
The fascism that we are seeing regionally and globally is reactionary: a response to the force deployed by the transnational feminist movement. The feminisms that have taken the streets in recent years to form a capillary concrete force in all social relations and spheres have called into question the subordination of reproductive and feminized labor, the persecution of migrant economies, the naturalization of sexual abuse as a means of disciplining a precarious labor force, the hetero-family norm as a refuge against that same precarity, domestic confinement as a site of submission and invisibility, the criminalization of abortion and of practices of sovereignty over one’s body, and the poisoning and dispossession of communities by corporations in cooperation with the state. Each one of these questioning practices made the normality of obedience tremble, shaking up its everyday and routinized reproduction.
The feminist strike woven as a political process opened up a temporality of revolt. It expanded as a revolutionary desire. It left no place untouched by the tide of insubordination and questioning.
Now neoliberalism needs to ally itself with reactionary conservative forces because the destabilization of patriarchal authorities puts capital accumulation itself at risk. We could put it like this: capital is well aware of its need for articulation with colonialism and patriarchy in order to reproduce itself as a relation of obedience. Once the factory and the heteropatriarchal family can no longer maintain discipline and once securitized control is defied by feminist forms of managing interdependence in eras of existential precarity, the counter-offensive intensifies. And we very clearly see why neoliberalism and conservatism share the same strategic objectives of normalization.
Since the feminist movement politicizes the crisis of social reproduction in a new and radical way as a crisis that is both civilizational and a crisis of the patriarchal structure of society, the fascist impulse launched to counteract it proposes economies of obedience in order to manage the crisis. Whether by religious fundamentalisms or the paranoid construction of new internal enemies, what we are witnessing are attempts to terrorize the forces of destabilization rooted in a feminism that has crossed borders.
8. The feminist movement today confronts capital’s most abstract image: financial capital, precisely the form of domination that seems to make antagonism impossible. By confronting the financialization of life, that which occurs when the very act of living “produces” debt, the feminist movement initiates a dispute against new forms of exploitation and extraction of value.
Debt appears as an “inverted” image of the productivity of our labor power, of our vital potencia, and of the politicization (valorization) of reproductive tasks.. The feminist strike shouts “we want ourselves alive, free, and without debt!” making finance visible as a conflict and therefore in defense of our autonomy. It is necessary to understand the mass indebtedness which has taken root in feminized popular economies and in domestic economies as an everyday “counter-revolution,” as an operation in the very terrain where feminisms have shaken up everything.
By taking finance as a terrain of struggle against generalized impoverishment, the feminist movement practices a counter-pedagogy in respect to the violence of finance and the abstract formulations for the exploitation of bodies and territories.
Adding the financial dimension to our struggles allows us to map flows of debt and to complete the map of exploitation in its most dynamic, versatile, and apparently “invisible” forms. Understanding how debt extracts value from domestic economies, non-waged economies, and from economies historically considered not to be productive, enables us to see financial apparatuses as true mechanisms of the colonization of the reproduction of life. It also allows us to understand debt as a privileged apparatus for laundering illicit flows and, therefore, to comprehend the connection between legal and illegal economies and the increase of means direct violence against territories. What debt seeks is precisely an “economy of obedience” in the service of the most concentrated sectors of capital, within which charity is used to depoliticize access to resources.
All of this gives us, once again, broader and more complex possibilities for interpreting the multiple forms of violence that claim feminized bodies as new territories of conquest. A feminist response to the machinery of debt is necessary, one which acts against the machinery of guilt that is maintained by heteropatriarchal morality and the exploitation of our vital forces.
Author & Translator Bios:
Verónica Gago is a member of #NiUnaMenos, co-founder of Colectivo Situaciones, and a professor of Sociology at the National University of San Martín. She is the author of Neoliberalism from Below: Popular Pragmatics and Baroque Economies (Tinta Limón, 2014; Duke University Press, 2017).
Liz Mason-Deese is an independent researcher, translator, and feminist activist based in Buenos Aires. She is also a member of the Viewpoint Magazine editorial collective.