I recently finished The Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement, which is a short but power-packed work by Anuradha Ghandy. To call Ghandy just a feminist is an understatement. Her work was centered both on gender and on the Dalit. This small written work explains why she identified as a Maoist as opposed to a "liberal activist" or a "radical feminist".
I'm still trying to grapple with the latter part, since it covers critiques of anarchy that I still need to spend time digesting. However, her critiques on liberalism and its lack of potency in fighting for the dismantling of the patriarchy (and by extension the poisonous, oppressive structure of our current society) struck home.
Let's start with a definition of liberalism.
A political theory founded on the natural goodness of humans and the autonomy of the individual and favoring civil and political liberties, government by law with the consent of the governed, and protection from arbitrary authority.
There are two things that stood out to me here, one of which Ghandy covers in her work.
The first is the 'natural goodness of humans' and 'protection from arbitrary authority.' I argue here that humans are good until they've bowed down to greed. Jeff Bezos is not a human. Mark Zuckerburg is not a human. People like these, who benefit from (and continue to pursue) oppression of people below their class for their own wealth, have lost a crucial sense of humanity. (And, arguably become arbitrary authorities over their workers in the process.)
This is the first part in which liberalism fails to address the problems of our current society.
The second is 'autonomy of the individual' which Ghandy covers as "a belief in the natural equality and freedom of human beings." The natural equality, based on the above definition, is refuted by the very existence of the men I brought up in my first point. So let's move on to covering individualism:
Ghandy critiques "extreme individualism" as being valued over "collective effort".
This should come as no surprise, partially because liberalism started in the 17th century as a philosophy of the rising bourgeoisie. The supporters of liberalism here were coming into money under the dual rise of both liberalism and capitalism, and thus into power.
Like many who gain power, they sought to keep it - even if it meant keeping others down in order to get it. This includes other people in their "class." (I'm constantly reminded of feudal societies here, where members of the family would kill one another in order to be next in line for the throne.)
In addition, the leading liberal thinkers of the time did not deign to address "the patriarchal family and the position of women within it." Many of these leading liberal thinkers were men, so this did not come as a surprise.
However, the rising bourgeoisie is what stands out here. Liberalism, despite its definition, did not hold up to considering all classes as history progressed - and arguably, it never was supposed to benefit anyone apart those who had the means. Its very definition puts a focal point on one's self and individual freedoms.
Liberalism historically has centered around wealthy social circles. As Ghandy mentions in her book, the "question of class differences and the effect of class differences on opportunities available to people was not taken into consideration."
When our political, self-proclaimed "liberal" left claims to be looking out for everyone, it becomes abundantly clear that they mean everyone who is within a higher wealth bracket than most of our society.
These wealthy people - and their successes off the backs of the working class - funnel power into the State, which continues to reinforce their standing in society. It is a vicious, never-ending cycle.
Even when looking through the lens of liberal feminism, women in the bourgeois classes who led this movement "did not extend the question of rights to the working classes, including working-class women." In fact, Ghandy even points out that "the liberal strategy of changing the laws within the existing system was not enough to get women justice and freedom."
So, they settled for "struggling for equality of conditions rather than merely equality for opportunity."
Thus, even within the same wealth bracket, women were still below men and would always be below men if they applied liberal feminism.
Liberal feminism is therefore dead on arrival. With liberalism's frame built by male philosophers and the stranglehold the bourgeois had on the success of this movement, there was no way women of any class would achieve anything close to equality or freedom - individually or collectively.
Zooming in further with liberal feminism, we can also take a look at other critiques of liberalism as a whole:
- Again, the focus of "individual rights" over "collective rights." This puts "I" before "we" and has people looking out for their own self interests as opposed to the people who struggle with them. Left unchecked as our nation has been, this is how you get the Zucks and the Bezoses as well as the extreme gulf you see between classes today. Capitalism only hastens the progress of that gulf into an abyss.
- Liberalism focuses on reform as opposed to taking apart the system causing the oppression as a whole. To use Ghandy's words, it "does not question the economic and political structures of the society which give rise to patriarchal discrimination" (and discrimination across races, classes, etc.). Further, this focus on reform and using petitions or conventions instead of what Ghandy calls "militant mobilization", severely limits the movement especially under an oppressive State.
- Speaking of the State, liberalism proclaims the State itself is neutral and will intervene when the oppressed groups are being treated unfairly. We already know this to be false in capitalist nations like the U.S. or we wouldn't watch as killers in police uniforms walk free after shooting unarmed Black people. The State defends "the interests of the ruling classes who benefit from the subordination and devalued status of women" (and BIPOC folx, and trans folx, and the working class...). If it didn't defend the ruling classes, then the State would lose the inordinate amount of power it already has. And, as stated, individuals (who, in liberal societies, make up the State) have a really hard time giving up power.
Knowing this, I have difficulty believing that the political left in this country goes far enough to the left to support its citizens. In fact, there really isn't anything about liberalism in its definition and practical examples that supports left-leaning measures at all, and I am confused about how we've been conflating the two (left and liberal) as one and the same for so long.
To be liberal is to settle only for petitions and conventions, to allow the march of our oppressive capitalist State to continue.
To be liberal is to settle merely for "equality of conditions" while many struggle to access the same opportunities for a flourishing life, which those in the wealthy classes have in abundance.
To be liberal is to give up on justice for all genders, classes, and races that don't fit the wealthy cis-white male mold. To settle for "thoughts and prayers" instead of action.
It's time we stopped thinking our politically left comrades are doing enough for our country. They are out for their benefit and the maintenance of the oppressive power structure that brought them into office.
To call yourself a liberal is to align with them in upholding this poisonous system.
We need to go further left.
That gulf between social classes does not have long before its sides erode and give way to an abyss.
Don't think for a second that your fellow liberals will pause before shoving you over the side to save themselves as that gap widens.