If one takes the aim of anarchism as being that of achieving social freedom - a state in which no person(s) dominate(s) or oppress any other - then feminism is plainly relevant to anarchism. Indeed from such a viewpoint feminism would be part of anarchism: that part of the theory and practice of anarchism that analyses the causes and conditions of sexist oppression in theory in order to overthrow them in practice. That this logical relationship of feminism to anarchism does not correspond to their current or historical relationship hence needs an explanation.
Whilst a cursory glance through anarchist history suggests that anarchism probably has less on its conscience in this regard than Marxist and other socialist movements one could hardly say that the problem of sexual repression has attracted anything like the attention that the problems of economic or political oppression have. Bakunin declared for complete social, economic, and political equality of the sexes based on the abolition of civil and religious marriage, the juridicial family and the personal inheritable property on which it is based. However whilst progressive for its time Bakunin's formulation was adequate neither theoretically nor programmatically. At the time there was little that could be said about control of one's own body contraception and abortion - although this issue was taken up by Emma Goldman this century. More seriously Bakunin did not tackle the problem of internalised oppression (or oppressiveness) and hence gave only a legal and economic (later also medical) account of the conditions of womens' liberation. For this reason it was possible for the practices and attitudes of oppression to continue within anarchism together with an ideology-political commitment to liberation.
It is also true that anarchists - as have socialists and feminists have often been guilty of taking a certain sort of oppression as fundamental and of identifying the achievement of the conditions of certain freedoms with the achievement of those freedoms, themselves. In the case of the anarchist movement this reductionism has sometimes taken the marxist-economist position of reducing everything to the change in the relations of production but it has also taken the form of regarding "the revolution" as a once-and-for-all event in which everything is made anew overnight and individuals smash all their social, political, economic, cultural, intellectual and psychological chains at once. More usually however anarchist reductionists, have regarded everything as following from the suppression of "the State". Between marxists who have reduced the problem of freedom to that of a change in the relations of production; feminists who have reduced it to the abolition of sex oppression; and anarchists who have reduced everything to the problem of authority there can be little useful communication.
The most important thing feminism can learn from the anarchist movement is the necessity of avoiding the error of reductionism. If one regards the central thing in recorded history as being the fact that societies have been divided into order givers and order takers - or that they have exhibited a dominance of males over females - then one discovers that in terms of principle alone there is nothing specific that one can say about any society. The differences recede into the background and all societies become variations on the same theme. History itself ceases to exist. From a religious viewpoint this would not matter but from a revolutionary viewpoint - feminist or anarchist - it does. If one cannot within one's theory distinguish between modem society and previous societies then one cannot discuss the question as to whether the existing society contains forces which might lead toward change in the direction one desires; at least one cannot discuss this question without smuggling in a completely different set of categories.
If the reductionist temptations were overcome then the immediate objective of feminism would be to analyse modem society in order to discover the conditions for the overthrow of sexist oppression and the immediate objective of anarchism would be to do the same in order to overthrow the State. On this basis it would appear that there was no relation between the two movements but this appearance would be only .because we were ignoring the fact that for anarchism the destruction of the State is only important as a means to social freedom. Social freedom itself depends on much more than the abolition of the State. It depends amongst other things on the creation or appropriation of such a hypothesised non-reductionist feminism.
I say "hypothesised" since it does not seem that either feminism or anarchism has yet succeeded in elaborating a theory adequate to its tasks (I assume of course that this can be done). Despite this I believe that there has already been and is possible in the future a fruitful interchange at the level of political and interpersonal practice. Historically anarchism buttressed its attack on the State by an attack on the legitimations of authority. This attack on political authority and authoritarianism was not only directed outwards but had important effects on political and personal relationships within the movement itself. This is an aspect of anarchism which has been largely adopted by the women's movement - as has its movement as opposed to party structure - because the exercise of political authority and the special leadership figure seemed in some sense to be part of the social values associated with "masculinity" and patriarchalism, (history after all is the history of male leaders. Look at the ordinary treatment of women leaders for the exception proving the rule). However this tendency was deepened by the analysis of "sexual authoritarianism" in a way that had not been done in the anarchist movement. In this improved form it is time for the anarchist movement to reappropriate it. Since we are all believers in equal decision-making power it is time to analyse and break down the mechanisms preventing all people from participating equally. It should be mentioned here that in the process of refining the anarchist practice the women's movement brought into focus several things which had been skimmed over earlier but were by no means connected with sex oppression. Not of course that the women's movement lives up to its (anarchist) ideal. It can be just as canine (the neuter form of what sexists used to call 'bitchy') as any left-wing movement but at least it has formulated practical steps towards ideal internal communication.
In conclusion then anarchism and feminism have something to learn from each other but there are also some things they could learn together. Even apart from the fact that anarchism logically presupposes feminism, feminism is closer to anarchism than to any other left-wing position. They are united in their insistence that the forms of interpersonal relations desired for the future society will only be achieved by striving to produce them now in the existing radical or revolutionary movement. Like the old Industrial Workers of the World they both attempt to start building the new society within the shell of the old.
FAAB, Sept-Oct. 1975