Women’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge

The celebratory mood is over, or rather, deserves to be; it was misguided in the first place because cultural/gender politics trivializes the foundational repression of advanced capitalism, that which gives to such repression the discriminatory content and practices necessarily to be opposed if the society has any claim to being a democracy. Of course, the March was crucially important both in exposing historical abuse (measured in centuries) and shattering illusions of apathy and/or consensus in American society in the new dispensation.

But what about the old dispensation? Trump is an excrescent feature of long-standing anti-humane, anti-radical politics and social values. He may be a convenient lightning rod for current problems affecting, e.g., wealth distribution, unemployment, and a shredded social-safety net, but every rotten (I use the term advisedly –Webster’s: putrid, morally corrupt) measure on war, intervention, regime change, and a domestic climate of fear, drawing inward, undifferentiated and neurotic hate, can be found in Trump’s predecessors, starting with Obama, and going back—with minor exceptions—to Truman and Kennedy.

Face it, America is a sick society, its chief symptoms a false consciousness and unreasoning reification of capitalism as The Absolute Good, enough, when filled out, to explain the disvalue and shortcomings of this past weekend’s mobilization. The New York Times (NYT) had photos of the March in American cities and throughout the world. Placards shown therein give a solid indication of the parameters of the protest. Placards don’t lie; they reveal and summarize innermost demands, and on the whole, they tended to disappoint if not anger this writer. To say, as so many did in identical wording, “Women’s Rights = Human Rights,” is a gratifying political tautology which says, however heartfelt and earnest, next to nothing, because failing—my “halt at the water’s edge” in the subtitle—to designate the power context, political economy, ideological underpinnings, of the culprit responsible for the falsification of the equation of women’s rights and human rights.

You may call it capitalism; or exceptionalism; or—and I would disagree—the distortion of an otherwise sound polity of justice. But labels are less important than understanding, and here, beyond a placard of my own, “Class Over Gender,” in fighting both domestic repression and international criminality, I would ask, in this time of conflict, grief, and suffering, whether control over one’s womb, gender identity, or cracking the glass ceiling, has greater significance than, e.g., putting a stop to Israelis herding Gazans into UN schools and blowing them up, or armed drones used for targeted assassination, or a worldwide network of military bases, poised to implement regime change, unilateral hegemony, or provocative confrontation with Russia and China? The list can be infinitely extended, so far has America slid down the slippery pole of crypto- (and perhaps soon to be fully actualized-) fascism.

Why, therefore, at the risk of total ostracism from a radical community (one in whose membership, though scattered, somewhat mythical, entirely variegated in its composition and demands I take pride in being included) would I choose to criticize The Woman’s March, knowing full well its already iconic/sacred character, and how deeply meaningful to the participants? Good question, for which the answer, as I see it, would be: It stops short of essentials, it does not go far enough, it perhaps provides ersatz relief and creates the illusion of meaningful action, but at the same time stays safe, non-subversive, not striking at the sources of wealth, power, and militarism in America, and hence, changes little, is easily assimilable, in a word, cajolable, eating out of the same feed-bag that has given us Bush, Obama, Trump, miscreants of social injustice and totalitarian international politics.

We see the development from Banana Republic (my recent CounterPunch article) to, happening right before us, Rogue State (Webster’s, succinctly, adj., vicious, destructive, applied to animals), a societal process of grinding out a position of counterrevolution in all things, not least, determined opposition to, and contempt for, a doctrine of human rights which, beyond pertaining specifically to women, mobilizes, now necessarily on class terms (if that were only possible!) on behalf of fundamental equalitarianism for all human beings, achieved, again necessarily, through the democratization of social structure. What good, e.g., is gender equality (Hillary in the White House) if the social order is functionally diseased with mass poverty, authoritarian habits of deference, a positive inclination toward war, both for assisting or making possible the profitability of capitalism, and for boosting psychological confidence and well-being to compensate for an inner core of separateness, one from another, and selfishness.

Alienation makes possible false consciousness, here, an inability to generalize and then bring to fruition the more meaningful equation, democracy = humanity, both predicated on structures which do not foster domination and repression, whether political, economic, or ideological (America ranking high on each, and maybe in that order). ‘Nuff said. I do not want to hurt the feelings of anyone involved in the March, and those at home and in other lands who identify with the marchers. Ideally, there is a rhythm to social protest, and that the weekend will lead to more. But by “more,” I mean greater substantive radicalization, and not simply further demonstrations. Transgender people suffer. Queers suffer. Gays and Lesbians suffer. The suffering is real, and is rooted in a society that cannot accept human equality and individuality.

Yet to get anywhere in the direction of a commonwealth of freedom requires looking beyond, while drawing anger and determination from, the viciousness and shabbiness of discrimination and getting down to the nitty-gritty of power, militarism, and hate. Besides, who would want cultural/gender rights if everything else about the society, from extreme wealth concentration to racism (which was not given proper attention in the March), remained the same?

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.