“Building Bridges – shifting and strengthening visions – exploring alternatives”: under this title the second edition of the Marxist-Feminist Conference gathered on 7–9 October in Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts 500 participants from 29 countries of all continents.
The event has been jointly prepared and hosted by a broad alliance of feminist and progressive organisations together with transform! europe which bore to a large extent the responsibilty for providing the technical conditions.
However the event could only take place due to the engangement of many feminist volunteers from the Austrian feminist network (see attached programme brochure) and Plattform 20.000 Frauen.
In contrast to last year’s first edition of the conference this time it was possible to also secure a significant participation from CEE, Eastern and Southern Europe.
For more details read the article by Brigitte Theissl, originally published in Der Standard (online edition). Find the abstracts in the attached programme brochure (pdf). The videos and audiofiles of the panels are available here.
Writing Feminism into Marxism
By Brigitte Theissl
The Second International Conference on Marxism-Feminism Brought together in Vienna Left Theoreticians and Activists from All over the World.
Concepts such as “women’s liberation” and “relations of subordination” occur only extremely rarely in the texts of modern gender studies. “Being a Marxist feminist means being a dinosaur in my surroundings”, these were the words used by a Swedish activist in the final plenary session of the Vienna Conference. Her worries about an entire disappearance of Marxist feminism – or feminist Marxism – seemed somewhat unfounded at least in view of the interest this event met with: about five hundred persons, among them a number of students, were registered by the organizers on the three days of the conference at the Atelierhaus of the Academy of Fine Arts. A similar interest had been noticeable last year in Berlin, where the congress, initiated by Frigga Haug, took place for the first time.
Theory and Practice
The densely packed conference programme was divided into two streams, Marxist-Feminist Theory on the one, Organization on the other hand. In the streams running parallel to each other, researchers and activists from Europe but also from Argentina, Brazil, the USA, South Africa and Australia presented their analyses, among them renowned intellectuals such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, theoretician of post-colonialism and professor at Columbia University in New York, and Nira Yuval-Davis, a London-based university professor. Due to the high level of theoretical reflections, participants who were not familiar with all the details of the writings by Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Antonio Gramsci and thinkers of the Frankfurt School, at times found it hard to follow the debates – but discussions aiming at concrete political action were not the focus of the congress anyway.
Already in Berlin criticism had been raised of the excessive amount of theory, a criticism Frigga Haug met by stating that it was necessary to strengthen Marxist-feminist theory as a tool for the transformation of society. The concepts of labour and care-work, questions of intersectionality, new materialism and ecofeminism were the subjects of debate at the conference as were Marxist-feminist analyses of motherhood, anti-fundamentalism and anti-racism, illegality, education and sexist islamophobia. In the stream “Feminist Organising beyond Europe” in particular, in which activists reported on the feminist struggles in Turkey and women organising in trade unions in Brazil, the time was lacking to look for cross-national commonalities. Feride Eralp from the Istanbul Feminist Collective, during the war at Kobane a volunteer in the border town of Suruç, was raising the questions in her topical speech of how war and masculinities were forming each other and what women’s resistance could look like in a society marked by an all-pervading “cross-border politics of hatred”.
Frigga Haug, former professor of sociology, president of the Berlin Institute for Critical Theory and member of the party DIE LINKE, has for decades been working at reconciling Marxism and feminism, or, in other words: to make productive the tensions existing between them. To her, feminism without a critique of the capitalist mode of production is as unthinkable as Marxism excluding an analysis of the relations between the sexes. “It is clear that gender relations are relations of production, not an addition to them”, runs thesis three of a manifesto formulated by Haug and discussed at the Vienna conference.
This manifesto is to be the basis of future co-operation and understanding and revealed that – unlike postmodern feminism – Marxist feminism neither shies back from an overpowering “We” nor from an essentialist concept of women and be it only for strategical reasons. It was this question that made visible a demarcation line often running through feminist contexts between different generations. The proposal by a young theoretician to expand the theses presented (“Marxism-feminism rejects a naturalising conception of gender as well as a postulating of the bi-gender system as a supra-historical and ontological reality”) earned a lot of applause in the room, while it did not meet with approval by Frigga Haug, who had already in her introductory speech delivered a polemical side-blow to the “sixteen genders” it has meanwhile become possible for people to adopt.
Berlin – Vienna – Lund
Even though there was not too much time and space for the exchange between generations and their specific experiences, as one activist criticised, the conference brought together activists and theoreticians of all ages, something that is rarely the case in feminist events. Presumably, the baton will be handed over by Frigga Haug, Nora Räthzel, Heidi Ambrosch and others involved in the organisation of the conference in Vienna to activists in Lund who will host the third international Conference on Marxism-Feminism.
Alone, organising the event offers the chance to work one’s way through neoliberal conditions: The initiative is not backed up by a financially potent organisation, rather it rests on the shoulders of a few individual supporters to bring about another international event of a similar scope. “Organizing a Marxist-Feminist Congress and finding different approaches to cooperation and conflict in it is a means of translating our resistance into the development of a continuous Marxist-Feminist movement”, are the words in which thesis 12 determines the route.