On Patriarchal Violence and Rape Apologia in The Chicago Activist Scene: The Proletarian Feminist Response


Patriarchal violence, while not unique to imperialist capitalism, is one of its foundational tools, and is integral to its perpetuation. When discussing how pervasive and omnipresent rape and rape apologism are in organizing spaces in Chicago, it is crucial that our analysis be couched in an understanding of the fact that gender oppressed colonized people, the world over, have been and continue to be brutalized by agents of white supremacist, patriarchial abuse. To call ourselves internationalists, we must confront behavioral patterns that are weaponized in service of patriarchy and empire worldwide. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism, and patriarchal violence, especially against colonized people, is used in its service. We cannot claim to oppose imperialism as revolutionaries without also dismantling the tools that facilitate its power, including this violence.

From women in occupied territories like Korea, China, and the Philippines being forced into sex work on amerikkkan military bases in order to appease foreign soldiers during their occupation, to the continued trafficking of colonized people across the globe today for gendered/reproductive labor (ranging from domestic to sexual), patriarchal violence is essential to amerikkka maintaining its stranglehold. This historical reality is deeply intertwined, not just with the male chauvinistic abuse present in Chicago organizing, but also with the violence seen in Atlanta. As colonized women are displaced in the imperial core, they are coerced into labor that makes them partiularly vulnerable to sexual violence out of economic need produced by imperialist aggression in their homelands.Gender-oppressed Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people are forced to confront the most heinous violence white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy has to offer through man camps, kidnappings, mass incarceration, and sexual assault at the hands of pigs, ICE, and the church, to name a few.This is why, in addition to condemning the protection of perpetrators of patriarchial violence, we explicitly extend our solidarity to sex workers, especially colonized sex workers, and other workers most vulnerable to receiving the sort of violence that we are holding a line against.

We understand the necessity for building a united front. We value our developing relationships with other organizations, tendencies, and struggles to unite around a common goal. We cannot (and should not) attempt to take on the task of building revolution alone. We adhere to the Maoist principle of unity-struggle-unity. This means we start an organizational relationship from a point of desired unity, not necessarily an already existing point of unity, and attempt to synthesize ideas, achieve cohesiveness, and ultimately arrive at a higher point of unity through struggle. This keeps us sharp and allows us to arrive at new conclusions, obtain knowledge through practice and study (praxis), and prepare us for working toward revolution. All of this assumes we are handling issues that are primarily non-antagonistic contradictions. Antagonistic contradictions are those that must be “solved” through considerable struggle, sometimes with one side of struggle destroying the other. Patriarchal violence is an antagonistic contradiction, which means we cannot unite and struggle constructively with individuals or organizations that uphold it.

Violence against women is a permanent feature of all capitalist societies, including US capitalist society. It is one of the most abhorrent aspects of patriarchy, the evil institution of women’s oppression. Patriarchy in the US has its own specific characteristics that are particular to capitalism, such as the widespread commodification of women. The term “commodification” refers to the transformation of women by the capitalists into objects for sale, a process in which ordinary men also participate. Violence against women also shows up within self-proclaimed revolutionary organizations and revolutionary movements in the US. This includes rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, unwanted sexual pressure, other forms of physical and verbal abuse, and other forms of violation of consent. – Center for Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Studies ​​​​​​(CMLMS), ‘On Standards of Feminist Conduct’

Self-proclaimed revolutionary organizations in Chicago are no exception. In our early attempts at building a united front, contradictions were and will continue to be exposed. The Chicago Left organizing scene, much like the left in amerikkka and abroad, is overrun with male chauvinists. They engage in mental gymnastics to masquerade as revolutionaries, while shielding their “comrades” from accusations of sexual violence and patriarchal abuse. This proclivity is not isolated to a single formation or ideological tendency. In Chicago we have seen Anarchists, Revolutionary Communists, Democratic Socialists, and every other shade of red and black reject the principles of proletarian feminism. The practice of developing proletarian feminism within the working class and their political formations will never be complete until capitalism is overthrown. Even then, there must be a constant two-line struggle to uphold the principles of proletarian feminism amongst the people and the party. In every stage, including this one, we must adhere to these principles or become counterrevolutionary. 

In addition to the failings of Revolutionary Communists here in Chicago and in amerikkka broadly, there exists a trend of rejecting proletarian feminism amongst the libertarian left. Anarchist male chauvinists, or as many have labeled them, “Manarchists”, have shown that they are also a bastion for patriarchal violence. Anarchists in Chicago and across amerikkka dress up their bourgeois individualismas revolutionary fervor. These men prioritize their desire for individual expression and so-called “personal freedom” over the physical and mental safety of non-male organizers. Their actions seem to indicate the belief that with enough social capital, they should expect to be able to dodge accountability. This is identical to values that the ruling class espouse. In the context of protecting and defending survivors, and rejecting patriarchal violence, this becomes very dangerous. The bourgeois individualism of an Anarchist can lead to a disingenuous understanding of autonomy. This misunderstanding, or willful contortion of the autonomy of each individual, can be perverted into rape apologism — the process often goes like this:

An Anarchist rapes someone; the Anarchist organization has the rapist engage in “restorative justice”; the rapist Anarchist is absolved of guilt by engaging in an “accountability process.” Survivors of patriarchal abuse are then forced to make a choice: leave organizing, or continue to organize in close proximity with their rapist, because publicly outing their rapist would be seen as “de-platforming” and an attack on the rapist Anarchist’s autonomy.

These ill-will attempts at restorative justice are shamefully faulty and seek only to restore the rapist and his supporters, not the survivor. Prominent organizations across the city engage in these practices and call them things like “men’s circles” or“accountability processes.” After an abuser completes or merely engages with these processes, it allows them plausible deniability; they can claim that they are focused on their rectification or recovery, that they are doing something to heal themselves. These processes usually come at the expense of the survivor, who is often forced to sit face to face with their abuser as part of the restorative justice practice. The kind of emotional damage these interactions can inflict constitute re-traumatizing survivors, while also using the emotional labor of women to heal violent men. Opponents of true accountability processes might categorize a survivor’s refusal to organize with their rapist as “carceral logic,” when in reality, this is an act of self-defense. 

Within Anarchist culture, the worst thing someone could be is an informant; the worst consequence for organizing is being thrown in jail. However, for non-men, the specific threat of patriarchal violence is ever-present—not only from their bosses or the pigs but also from Anarchist organizers with a known history of abuse who have been allowed to remain in the movement. The version of reality where the greatest consequence of organizing is incarceration is a male one, and often only afforded when they are heterosexual and cis.We say, in contrast to this misogynistic line, that informants are agents of the state, and so are rapists. Rape is a betrayal of every single revolutionary principle and deserves to be treated as such. Patriarchal violence is inextricably tied to amerikkkan imperialism and occupation globally. You cannot oppose the so-called u.s. state while defending, or trying to “restore” abusers in your ranks. Attempting to “restore” an abuser is a gross violation of the trust of colonized gender-oppressed people.

There are no shortage of examples that elucidate this shameful side of the Anarchist movement. A current FTP-Chicago comrade joined a local Anarchist led tenants’ movement two years ago. After months of being part of the organization, the current FTP comrade learned that one of their fellow organizers had been accused of rape in another state. The rapist had offhandedly mentioned attending the IWW’s “men’s circles,” but gave no indication to community members or other organizers what this meant.The leadership of the organization never mentioned anything and welcomed the rapist’s participation with open arms. The current FTP comrade left the Anarchist organization shortly after learning this information. 

For a survivor, the fallout of abuse is all-consuming. It hinders their ability to fully engage in revolution. Beyond this loss, when organizations protect rapists, the inevitable consequence is that their leadership and all those who chose to remain with that organization become rape apologists by proxy. Think about this: if you were in an organization whose leadership defended a rapist, would you want to continue organizing with them? We believe the only revolutionary answer is no. There is no amount of good work that makes up for rape,nor any rapist whose presence in an organization does not hinder revolution.

It is not only Anarchists that perpetuate this cycle of behavior. In late 2020 and the early months of 2021, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) went through a massive upheaval due to revelations that there existed a pervasive culture of patriarchal violence. This episode was much like the upheaval that rocked the International Socialist Organization (ISO) several years back. First-hand accounts of misconduct and lengthy criticism have circulated regarding PSL chapters across the u.s., their national leadership, and their vanity presidential candidate. In Chicago, a culture of patriarchal violence was perpetrated by the con artist John Beacham, the larger leadership body of Chicago PSL, and notably by Gloria La Riva herself on trans-femme comrades in the PSL Chicago chapter. Below is an excerpt from an article published by People’s Voice Network (PVN), summarizing a document written by former PSL cadre in Chicago.

After a transgender woman, Veronica, was groomed into participating in a failed split lead by a party founder, John Beacham—who also sexually harassed her—she was not allowed to return to the party while other cis/hetero participants were. [Chicago] leadership then slandered Veronica as “arrogant” to excuse their denial of her renewed membership, in what is clearly textbook trans-misogyny. Trans women are commonly derided and accused of possessing “male” traits or taking up too much space when we speak up for ourselves. Another transgender member of the Chicago branch was “demotivated” (which apparently means they were dissuaded from running for a leadership position) for speaking to Veronica during the time period in which she had supposedly resigned. This comrade was called “sloppy” and a “security risk” despite the fact that the constitution of the PSL does not restrict members’ communication with ex-members, and that both parties agreed not to discuss PSL matters at the onset of their communication. Presidential candidate and well-known PSL spokesperson Gloria La Riva was personally involved in disenfranchising and ostracizing Veronica…[in a call with the PSL Central Committee]La Riva flatly denied that transphobia was a problem in PSL. When this person remarked that La Riva was not qualified to judge this as a cis woman, La Riva bizarrely responded, completely avoiding criticism, “Did you say ‘cis woman’ referring to me? Because I denounce that characterization of me as to belittle who I am. I’m a Latina woman, and I’ll tell you something, there is a lot of racism going on here, and I will say that categorically.” There has been no self-criticism for La Riva’s unprincipled behavior and blatant transphobia on this call.

These behaviors, including a comrade being denounced as unfit for a leadership position in front of the entire branch, show a complete lack of understanding of proletarian feminism. The PSL operates using the liberal assumption that criticism is personal, thus there is no motivation for internal struggle to root out antagonistic, and therefore counter-revolutionary tendencies, like transmisogyny and patriarchial chauvinism. The practice of, and permissive attitude towards, patriarchal violence in PSL branches provides a training ground that teaches men how to exploit non-men as well as commit violence towards colonized communities and other oppressed populations. 

By running non-men candidates, the PSL absolves itself from reflexive criticism using such logic as “we ran a non-male candidate, how could we not uphold proletarian feminism? The opportunity to succeed in organization is there for women. All they need to do is take it.” In this way, PSL is also replicating the worker/boss dynamic. By valuing obedience and pushing non-men into tokenized leadership, work-horse, and scapegoat roles the PSL leadership turns the organizational relationship between men and non-men into one of manager and worker. 

PSL also attempts to use its “feminist, socialist” magazine “Breaking the Chains” as a panacea against criticsm. Unfortunately, all the editors of this magazines and most of its prominent authors and interviewees are donors, friends, and family members of the core Becker family running PSL, and in addition to that, all of the editors added their signatures to the statement PSL published doxxing a survivor who named an abuser in the Philadelphia branch in December.

The truth is, the visibility of the party-line toting, non-male leadership is a result of the fact that non-men who raise criticsm within PSL are silenced, discreetly pushed out, and often cop-jacketed for their behavior, while those who are willing to unquestionably accept all party practices are quickly and publicly elevated.PSL then avoids criticism by pushing tokenized non-male members to the front. Then they accuse their critics of racism and sexism when they call out their patriarchal behavior.Ex-members of identical demographics who tell the truth of what happened internally are not considered by them to be worthy of agency or respect. 

PSL shows a shocking lack of concern for the well-being and safety of their community, especially when threats come from within their own ranks. This trend in rejecting the principles of proletarian feminism runs deep in the Trotskyist camp. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), a formation destroyed by pervasive cover-ups of sexual violence, shared an internal line regarding feminism with the PSL. The comrade who exposed ISO’s rape cover-up described their line on feminism as follows:

There was no education, no agreed-upon position on how to handle sexual assault allegations, no library of information, no Pre-Convention Bulletins, no perspectives. There wasn’t even a political line on rape beyond vague sloganeering. The organization was just coming around to the idea that “feminism” was not necessarily a cross-class anti-Marxist position. The organization had, of course, always taken a strong stand on women’s liberation; however, women’s liberation entailed a direct struggle against capital. Feminism implied that women in an organization might take issue with the behavior of the cis men with whom they organized; this “taking issue” was perceived as potentially disruptive to the final goal of ending capital.

Within PSL, the “anti-Marxist” nature of feminism is a line frequently brought up by PSL members at internal meetings, although they appear to accept push back on it in public. In short, it can be summarized as “feminism divides the working class.” PSL discreetly advances this reductionist line, making an effort not to propagandize around it too explicitly since this idea has proven unpopular. 

While this line is indicative of a revisionist, class-reductionist stance, this misogynist politic isn’t reserved to Trotskyists and Marcyites. Just recently, Gonzaloite “Maoists” outside of Chicago put forth a polemic against the use of the term “proletarian feminism” based on the perceived breakage of thought between contemporary feminism and Marxist theory. Rejecting anything that doesn’t come from a select group of six male revolutionaries (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Gonzalo) is an erasure of the contributions made by revolutionary non-men to the left, as well as gatekeeping what is “acceptable” revolutionary practice and theory. Patriarchal violence isn’t reserved to one tendency amongst the left, but rather it is the habit of chauvinist men who want to make the revolution their playground. We must focus on what steps can be taken to eradicate patriarchal violence from movement spaces, and how we can truly support and welcome gender-oppressed comrades as revolutionaries. 

To this aim, comrades in FTP-Portland have formed a survivor-led, proletarian-feminist mass organization to combat patriarchal gender-based violence and expel predators from organizing spaces or affinity groups. These organizers range across a variety of ideologies, united around a single concept: unwavering opposition to patriarchal violence and the apologia of male chauvinism that continues to enable these behaviors in left organizations.The formation so far has been successful in beginning to unite people affected by patriarchal abuse in order to begin providing an alternative to the coercive, traumatic, and often dangerous processes of old that would place abusers in a position to bargain with survivors on methods of “restorative justice.” This is important work, and we must learn from and be led by those who are most affected by material oppression. Abuse will not be defeated by abusers. Survivors will lead the revolution.

One would think other so-called revolutionaries would embrace an organization formed around a goal as straightforward as “oppose predators and abusers,” but so far, this has not been the case. Survivors have been “cop-jacketed”(a spin on the term “bad-jacket“) by self-proclaimed abolitionists (usually cis white men), who are, contradictorily, unable to even imagine a sincere attempt to abolish misogyny or gender-based abuses in organizing spaces. This accusation usually implies that survivors are largely fabricating their injustices– lying about claims as extreme as sexual assault only to stir up public opinion about an organization, or sow confusion and discontent to disrupt “revolutionary efforts.” This claim is especially ironic since these organizations are only recreating, perpetuating, and faithfully participating in the same violent, patriarchal system they claim to be fighting against. Comparing survivors and their comrades to amerikkkan pigs, who as a group comprise an epicenter of domestic violence in amerikkka (up to 40% of domestic partners of pigs are reported to experience domestic abuse), is not only disgustingly disingenuous, but also historically false. A large number of abusers in “radical” spaces, especially in the 1960s, were literally police informants. Historically, misogynists make great informants. You can read more here: https://truthout.org/articles/why-misogynists-make-great-informants/.

The knee-jerk distrust and dismissal of survivors’ claims reveals the overall reactionary and chauvinist nature of many “leftist” groups when confronted with exposing and solving contradictions within their ranks. Their actions show reluctance to change and inability to give up power. They resist commitment to a style of leadership that seeks to prevent further abuse from taking place. They claim to be working toward liberation and the revolutionary change necessary to dismantle patriarchal structures, but cannot address the issues presented at their front doors, or sometimes even their own mirrors. A large section of oppressed masses are not men.

In FTP-Chicago, we see ourselves in the process of developing a culture of proletarian feminism, both within our organization and the communities we organize in. We know our project is nowhere near completion, which is why we are making a call to all Anarchists, Communists, Socialists, Progressives, and Revolutionaries to join us in our struggle to create a culture of proletarian feminism here in Chicago. As part of our call for a united front to uphold proletarian feminism in Chicago, we are and will continue offering public criticism on some of the more egregious known transgressions of patriarchal violence against comrades on the Chicago left. We hope that this criticism will help demonstrate the depth of this crisis and impress the urgency with which we must address it.  

With this frame of reference, FTP-Chicago is calling on revolutionaries throughout the city to stand up and unite around these action steps:

1.There must be zero tolerance for patriarchal violence or abuse. The consequences can be nothing less than expulsion from the organization.

2. Revolutionary organizations are not states with their own court of law, they are voluntary associations which must make a call, based on the information at hand. The investigation must be based principally on the survivor’s account. The accused cannot be allowed to simply deny the survivors’ account, or call into question their motives. We acknowledge the long, racist history of white women falsely accusing Black and Indigenous men of color of sexual assault and rape. A dialectic material investigation must include this context seriously. Doing so does not supplant the fact that the survivor’s account is still primary.

3. Rectification for perpetrators of patriarchal violence must be encouraged but can only happen after expulsion from the organization. Certain acts, such as rape or sexual assault, must result in a lifetime ban without question. The safety and comfort of the survivor and other non-male comrades must take precedence over the rehabilitation of abusers. When rectification is applicable, it must mean not only thorough self-criticism, and the submitting of one’s actions to the scrutiny of public opinion, but also completing concrete political work in the struggle against patriarchal oppression.

4. Principled organizations must emphasize continuous transformation of thought and of action among its membership, towards the actuality of gender-based liberation.

5. Political education that is provided must include serious study of patriarchy. This study is a tool for identifying manifestations of male chauvinism, both within the organization and within individuals. Facilitated group settings must be utilized for such behaviors to be criticized, and for reaching collective decisions on the necessary solutions and rectifications.

These action steps were inspired by On Standards of Feminist Conduct, which can be found here: http://www.signalfire.org/2013/08/18/on-standards-of-feminist-conduct-cmlms/

If you and your organization unite with these points, organize with us to eliminate male chauvinism, gender-based oppression, and patriarchal violence from our movement! A united front grounded in proletarian feminism will win! All Power to the People!