There is no socialism without feminism


By Julian Rodrigues*

In Brazil, thousands of women, poor young people, black people, came into contact with feminism, with the demands for sexual and gender freedoms and with the struggle for racial equality in a context of hegemony of non-Marxist authors and theories.

“People subject to cultural injustice and economic injustice need recognition and redistribution” (Nancy Fraser)
“For a world where we are socially equal, humanly different and totally free” (Rosa Luxemburg)

I begin this text with a confession/regret. It is not easy to be an organic militant of the socialist left and, simultaneously, an activist/leader/researcher of the LGBTI and Human Rights movements. My sadness is because – even after all the political-theoretical advances that have occurred in the last 40 years – it seems that we are still trapped in a kind of limbo. Most of the party and social left see my militancy, and that of LGBTI/feminist/anti-racist activists, as something, deep down, somewhat extravagant. Secondary thing.

“Wow, the guy is from the PT, he's nice, he's capable, but he's a fag, huh? beware of the jokes – he helps a lot in building the party line for this particular sector – but he is always poking and trying to insert the fagot into our core policies.”

Even so, I was able to play a leading role in many things, such as the creation of the LGBTI Parliamentary Front, the consolidation of the PT's national LGBTI sector, the construction of the Lula-2006 program, the XNUMXst National Conference, the formulation of the programs of Mercadante, Marta and Haddad, the creation of Transcitizenship, and so many more things.

On the other hand, returning to the general picture, I strongly register: the idea that we, socialists/communists/PT, are historically enemies of feminist, LGBTI and anti-racist struggles is mistaken. One of the pioneers of the discussion on sexual rights was Magnus Hirschfeld[1], doctor, sociologist, militant of the SPD, the German socialist party, and fighter for the repeal of Paragraph 175 (which criminalized homosexuality in that country).

It was also socialist women who drove the feminist movement from the 8th to the XNUMXth century. Without Clara Zetkin (a member of the same SPD) there would be no March XNUMXth, for example. Not to mention the giant Alexandra Kollontai and the impressive advances of the Russian Revolution, in its early years, in the field of women's rights and individual freedoms.

Done this I salute the flag, it is undeniable that the international communist movement and the majority of the left relegated, most of the time, the feminist, anti-racist and anti-homophobic agenda to a secondary place (when they did not ridicule it). It is not a question of mapping this route in detail here.[2] (of the relationship between Marxists and the LGBTI struggle, for example), but to problematize some very current issues.

Starting from the “place of speech” (a hyperproblematic concept that will deserve another article) of a socialist and gay man – who, at the same time, is a PT militant and an LGBTI movement – ​​there is a lot to develop.

Regarding the question that the left did not deal with racial issues, the confrontation with the slavery heritage and the struggle for racial equality, it is a fact that, with all the political-theoretical limitations, it is not possible to erase the performance and formulations of the PCB, which since its founding in 1922 has addressed and elaborated the problem of structural racism in Brazil, investing in the organization of black people. Already in 1930, for example, the BOC (Bloco Operário Camponês), driven by the young Communist Party of Brazil, launched Minervino Oliveira as president of the Republic, a marble worker, black worker.

It is also impossible to delete all historical, theoretical, practical and objective imbrications. Feminism and socialism are inseparable movements, which does not allow us, of course, to ignore the very strong contribution of liberal feminism and so many other feminist strands in the wonderful journey for equality between women and men in the last century.[3]

However, a strong tension between communist/socialist movements and parties and the activism of women, black men and women, homosexuals and trans people has always been a present and significant element, worldwide and in Brazil. It has never been a simple matter for socialist feminists to organically incorporate themselves into the leadership of left-wing organizations because, among many other reasons, women have struggled to demonstrate that “the personal sphere is political”.

Gender oppression is not a simple consequence of capitalist economic exploitation that will be resolved in a magical second moment (in post-revolution socialist society). And the men of the left and the entire sexist organization of society have never been sensitive, let's say, to the new women's issues.

In the case, for example, of the then “brand new” homosexual, lesbian, trans issue, and the innovative power of the black movement uprising, the knot has always been much more difficult to untie. And we are talking about issues that gained prominence at the end of the 1970s in Brazil.

Does the left only think about class?

David Harvey[4] synthesizes both the delay of the world Marxist left and the liberal slide of the new movements: “The entry into cultural politics was more compatible with anarchism and liberalism than with traditional Marxism, leading the new left to oppose traditional working-class attitudes and institutions ”.

It is not news that the fragmentation of politics, the emergence of new actors, sectors, demands and agendas such as issues related to gender and racial equality, LGBTI, sexuality, environment, of colonized peoples, were incorporated by the so-called “new left”. and, at the same time, stigmatized (or despised) by the traditional Marxist left.

Harvey goes to the heart of the matter, when he notes that the opening of part of the left, since the 1960s, occurred simultaneously with the abandonment of the belief both in the proletariat as an instrument of change and in historical materialism as an instrument of analysis: “Thus, the new left it lost its ability to take a critical perspective on itself and on social processes of transformation, insisting that it was culture and politics that mattered, and that it was neither reasonable nor appropriate to invoke economic determination even in the last resort; was unable to contain its own slide into ideological positions that were weak in confronting the new-found strength of the neoconservatives.”

And so we return to imbroglio initial. The “old” socialist vanguard and the leadership of most leftist entities, movements and parties did not really incorporate these issues. Even today, in fact, they skate, even with all the advances that have occurred. At the same time, the current progressive youth places feminism, anti-racism, ecology, the defense of LGBTI rights at the center of their militancy, and kind of erases the socialist, Marxist, communist references from their worldview and social practice.

While this new vanguard of the left – university, black, young – preferentially refers to the centrality of the battle for respect for diversity, human rights, gender and racial equality, it often also underestimates, in practice, any anti-systemic perspective and “ disruptive”. These thousands of new militants abandon historical-dialectical materialism as an important part of explaining the world and distance themselves from anti-capitalism, even going so far as to almost ignore class contradictions as a structuring factor of all forms of oppression.

They don't talk about socialism or revolution. Something different. In the 1980s, for example, one of the hallmarks of socialist feminism in Brazil (and of PT women) was the following slogan: “there is no socialism without feminism”.

In many moments today it is too difficult to identify significant differences between progressive neoliberals (genius concept coined by Nancy Fraser)[5] and this activism of the young feminist, anti-racist, pro-LGBTI left. I would say that the emphasis on the importance of representativeness has emptied the denouncement of material inequality as a basic reading key to the reality of economic and social oppression in capitalism all over the world.

There is a generational cut that structures this question, of course. The historic defeat of the socialist project (symbolized by the fall of the Berlin Wall) had as one of its consequences the almost crushing of the Marxist theoretical tradition in universities. And a loss of influence of communist ideas around the world. If we add this to the hegemony of a program, a center-left tactic and a moderate reformist form of organization in the popular field in Brazil, it becomes easier to understand the kids' minds.

liberal left

In Brazil, thousands of poor, black, female youths came into contact with feminism, with the demands for sexual and gender freedoms and with the struggle for racial equality in this context of hegemony of non-Marxist authors and theories — although not necessarily anti-Marxist ( poststructuralism, theory queer, decoloniality, etc.). A new wave of feminism and LGBTI activism, together with the visibility and empowerment of black women and men, has, however, provoked noise and reactions, on the left and on the right. Here, I will limit my analysis to the progressive field.

The strengthening of this agenda emerged accompanied by a progressive questioning of previous forms of organization, both of the entities and structures of social movements and, mainly, of the party form, in particular the Workers' Party, seen as a "government" or part of the "system". by most of this new activist crowd.

In practice, a good part of the new university-young-black-feminist-LGBTI activism took shelter in the PSOL (even with many restrictions) and/or bet on visibility, empowerment, sealing, individual action on social networks, as the center of political action. Something half autonomist, half anarchist, half…

Problematic concepts such as “privilege” and “whiteness” have become almost hegemonic in certain circles, to the detriment of any classist perspective or systemic analysis of capitalism. The focus on denunciation, on blaming people individually for their actions or even for their conditions, replaced structured views on intercrossed social, class, race, gender, territory inequalities. No economy and no history, no class and no mode of production.

At some point, capitalism, the class struggle, the oppressive structures, imperialism, geopolitics, the dominant bourgeoisie disappeared. Only “evil” individuals remained, carrying, one by one, their privileges as white, heterosexual men. In practice, thousands of left-wing militants ideologically revolve around liberalism, in its progressive version, even though they militate organizedly in self-styled socialist parties.

So, in this current hour, left-wing sites are no different than pretty liberal right-wing ones. When the group close to PSOL from Mídia Ninja and Luciano Huck's brother from “Quebrando o Tabu” reverberate the same worldview, it is because there is a clear problem of ideological hegemony. Part of our “txurma” no longer knows what grapes are and what bananas are.

vintages/ indented from left

Meanwhile, in the “Sala de Justiça”, a large chunk of our old, straight white males, party and union leaders, mezzo communists/socialists, mezzo moderate/accommodated, are anchored in a disqualifying label (which has gained popularity) to discard at once any and all feminist, pro-diversity, anti-racist, libertarian agenda.

learned what it looks like cult classify the struggle for diversity and human rights as an “identity agenda”, supposedly something that would divide the working class and facilitate the electoral victories of the extreme right because it is something intrinsically contrary to the “values ​​of the people”. nothing new in front. Deep down, it's a group that never swallowed the protagonism of women, of blacks and blacks, of young people, of LGBTI; who was never really convinced that affirmative policies are essential for the advancement of equality and respect for diversity.

Since when is equality between women and men a simple matter of asserting female identity? Who decreed that questioning the slavery heritage and structural racism is only related to reinforcing black identity (and not social equality)? Where did they get the idea that freedom of sexual orientation and gender identity has to do with the mere proclamation of identities (and not with justice)?

Some of the leaders/formulators of the Brazilian left – somewhat heterosexual, perhaps whiter, perhaps more sexist, perhaps more pretentious – seek to anchor themselves in openly liberal American authors, such as Mark Lilla,[6] the guy who decides to give advice to the left, focusing his criticism precisely on the agenda of human rights and diversity. And blame Trump's victory on us!

Damn! the historic journey of women, blacks, LGBTI, is not just about being able to sit at a lecture table or be sealed on social networks, scaring evangelical masses who, supposedly, would otherwise vote for the left. It is for full rights, equality and recognition. Strictly speaking, the guys blame the achievements of women, black men and women, the LGBTI, for the rise of the extreme right. It's as if we had advanced the signal too much. They treat working people as “intrinsically reactionary”.

They abdicate the civilizing character of communism, socialism, the left in general. In a utilitarian and economistic way, they erase that beautiful concept of Marx: emancipation. As if it were possible, or coherent, to defend a new world without questioning patriarchy, racism and all kinds of oppression.

Class, race, gender, rights and freedoms

It is very “crass” to consider that a left-wing program cannot, at the same time, dialogue with the working class in all its dimensions. In Brazil, then, to think that class, generation, gender, race, territory, sexual orientation, gender identity, would be disconnected is gigantic idiocy. Without redistribution there is no recognition. And vice versa.

The gang, instead of quoting Lilla, should go after Fraser.[7] Gender and race, she teaches us, have economic and cultural-value dimensions. It is therefore necessary to integrate the struggles and remedies for social and economic injustice (redistribution) and for symbolic and cultural injustice (recognition). It is not a simple task, nor free of contradictions.

My central point here is: what left is this that antagonizes the struggle for social and economic rights, the struggle for gender and racial equality, for sexual freedom? Is there (or should there be) hierarchy in the socialist-popular-bloc demands and mobilization agenda?

Now, since the 1980s, in Brazil, left-wing feminists have propagated the synthesis: gender, race and class (the struggle of lesbians, transvestites and trans women was still missing). Why back off now? What is the point of labeling these struggles of ours — and which are, in fact, part of the popular field as a whole — as merely “identity”?

On the other hand, what is the real basis for forgetting the class struggle and just talking about “representativeness”?, or supposed “privileges” (of people who are not rich) or “whiteness” (as if proletarian whites were the same as bourgeois whites)? When did a “less vulnerable” condition automatically become a place of oppression? From what moment did the confrontation with patriarchy, machismo, cis-heteronormativity, capitalism, structural racism, become a mere denunciation of individual privileges of the so-and-so or the so-and-so?

There are many distances and theoretical, generational, territorial, social, organizational, partisan bottlenecks. But it is possible to converge. When Angela Davis seats 6 people in Ibirapuera to listen to her, it's because there is a way, yes, now. It is possible to be a communist, feminist, anti-racist, internationalist.

It is necessary and urgent that the majority leadership of the left (mainly PT and PCdoB + some “intellectuals”) stop despising what they call “identity agendas”. By the way, that they immediately interrupt the use of this category (arrogant, sexist, disqualified and disqualifying).

At the same time, it is necessary for the young avant-garde to cease its restrictions on leftist political parties and incorporate the perspective of working people, class struggle – and Marxism – in its analyzes and in its programs, strategies, tactics and methods of struggle.

And let's all go back to Rosa, why not? Without social equality there is no recognition of diversity and no freedom. Or to Fraser, let's mix the remedies of cultural recognition with those of material redistribution.

*Julian Rodrigues She is an LGBTI and human rights activist.


[1] Facchini, Regina, and Simões, Júlio Assis.On the Rainbow Trail: from the homosexual movement to the LGBT (FPA, 2009).

[2] Renan Quinalha already made a beautiful sketch, “Marxism and sexuality in Brazil: recomposing a history”, in the magazine Left margin, no. 33, 2nd wk. 2019, published by Boitempo.

[3] For an initial overview, see Brief History of Feminism(Claridade, 2011), by Carla Cristina Garcia, and Feminism and Politics(Boitempo, 2014), by Flávia Biroli and Luis Felipe Miguel.

[4] Harvey, David. Postmodern Condition (Loyola, 25th ed., 2014).

[5] Nancy Fraser,What made Trump and 'Trumpism' possible was a crisis of hegemony.” ( "From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump—and Beyond") 

[6] "The left must think about the republicanism of the future"

[7] Fraser, Nancy. From distribution to recognition? Dilemmas of justice in a “post-socialist” era. Trans. Julio Assis Simoes. Field notebooks, 14/15, Jan/Dec 2006.

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