Like everybody else, Unity and Struggle members have grappled with how to address abuse and patriarchal behavior in our society, and in left organizations including our own. We don’t have easy answers, but we’ve found it helpful to study the nature of abuse under capitalism and different responses to it. Below is the syllabus for an abuse study that some U&S members and friends are currently test-driving in several cities, based on interest. We hope other groups will take up the reading list, adapt it to their needs, and use it to craft responses to abuse in our movement and lives.

UPDATE 6/5/2016: We’ve added a few more discussion questions to this study guide, to reflect some of the themes that came up as we finished reading everything.

Sit El Banat, stencil tribute to the women who were beaten, dragged and stamped on by military forces in December 2011. Image from SuzeInTheCity
Sit El Banat, stencil tribute to the women who were beaten, dragged and stamped on by military forces in December 2011. Image from SuzeInTheCity

Abuse Study Guide

1. Defining Abusive Relations.

Objectives: (1) Gain empirical understanding of the broad range of physical and emotional abuse in intimate partnerships; (2) Explore relationship between objective social relations and individual experience of abuse, consent, trauma; (3) Develop our own definition of abuse;


Bancroft, L. (2002). Why does he do that?: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. New York: Putnam’s Sons. Sections 1 and 2 (chapters 1-9)

  • Summarize general characteristics of power imbalance, manipulation, emotional abuse in relationships.
  • Summarize author’s views on the underlying assumptions that enable abusive behavior. Are these conscious or subconscious, for Bancroft? Where do these assumptions come from?
  • Discuss how abusive dynamics appear differently in relationships in non-hetero / non-white contexts.
  • Would you expect abusive behaviors to constitute a pattern? To intensify or become physical over time? Why / why not?
  • Discuss the difficulties individuals in abusive relationships have in recognizing the abuse they’re experiencing and its causes. Why is it sometimes hard to recognize from the inside?
  • Discuss how the different abusive dynamics Bancroft describes appear differently in different settings (e.g. public vs. private, to strangers vs. to longtime friends of a couple, etc).
  • How can abusive behavior be changed, from Bancroft’s perspective? What ways does Bancroft suggest people can get out of abusive relationships, if they can’t be changed?

Robin West, “The Harms of Consensual Sex” (read with chapter 7 of Bancroft book)

  • Summarize the liberal notion of consent West is arguing against
  • Outline how broader social relations condition individual consent choices
  • Explore implications of this critique for politics of consent and sex. What would alternative framework have to take into account?
  • While West critiques liberal notions of consent, she also critiques the “all sex is rape” view. Summarize her critique, and why she doesn’t want to erase the distinction between consensual / non-consensual entirely.

Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. New York, N.Y.: BasicBooks. Chapters 2-3.

and optionally

Bessel van der Kolk. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score  Part 2: This is Your Brain on Trauma (or this video)


Ethan Watters, (2011) Crazy Like Us: The globalization of the American psyche. Chapter 2.

  • Summarize Herman’s definition of “trauma.” In what ways do individuals respond to traumatic events?
  • Summarize van der Kolk’s understanding of the embodied aspects of trauma. What do you think is the relationship between the physical body and one’s emotional experience?
  • How, in Herman’s view, can individuals heal from the experience of trauma? What processes are involved? For Van der Kolk?
  • In what ways might our experience of events as traumatic, or our methods of recovering from them, be shaped by our social relations and cultural context? How might they be historically contingent?


2. Patriarchy as a total social relation

Objectives: (1) Describe how biological and social reproduction assume specific patriarchal forms under capitalism; (2) Map out feminist debates over the nature of reproduction, housework, sexuality, and male violence.


Silvia Federici. (2004). Caliban and the Witch. Ch 2, Ch 4 (p.179-end).

  • Summarize Federici’s argument regarding place of gender relations in development of capitalism. Compare / contrast this account with other (incl. orthodox Marxist-Leninist) accounts
  • How, in Federici’s view, did social divisions such as gender enable the creation of a proletariat, and how do these divisions help perpetuate the proletarian condition? Discuss the implications of Federici’s view for class struggle and revolution.
  • In what sense are women a “commons” for men, in the past and today?

Grant, Judith. (2005) “Gender and Marx’s Radical Humanism in The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” In Rethinking Marxism 17.1.

  • Connect Marx’s gender perspective to his general humanist perspective. What is “man,” “woman,” and “human,” in this account?
  • What are gender relations under capitalism for Marx, and what might they become in a revolutionary society?

Selma James. (1975) Sex, Race and Class.

  • Outline James’ understanding of relationship between social categories and division of labor
  • Summarize how James sees autonomous movements contributing to class revolution

Valentine. (2012) “The Gender Distinction in Communization.” In Lies: A Journal of Materialist Feminism. pp. 191-208.

  • Summarize Valentine’s arguments around domestic violence.  What is the relationship between domestic violence and capitalist social relations?
  • How might this understanding of domestic violence combine with an objective understanding of the social relations of capitalism that Federici, Grant and James lay out?

Kathy, Miriam, (2007) “Toward a Phenomenology of Sex-Right,” in Hypatia, Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 210-228.

  • What is the second wave feminist understanding of “sex-right?”How does Miriam adapt and update this idea?
  • How might this understanding of sex-right combine with an objective understanding of the social relations of capitalism that Federici, Grant, and James lay out?


3. Individual and collective responses to abuse

Objectives: (1) Develop familiarity with history of U.S. feminist anti-violence movement; (2) Identify how professional definitions of abuse, trauma, recovery are incorporated in contemporary left; (3) Identify strengths / weaknesses of current left’s approach to abuse;


Susan Schechter (1982) Women and Male Violence: The visions and struggles of the battered women’s movement, Seven Stories. Chapters 2,3,4, and optionally 8.

  • Summarize the concrete actions and demands developed by the battered women’s movement
  • How does personal challenges and transformations in shelter movement compare to theraputic approaches advocated by, eg, Judith Herman?
  • What forces drove nonprofitization, and what would alternative trajectory have looked like? (Extending from this, what direction would our alternatives take today?

Bancroft, L. (2002). Why does he do that?: Inside the minds of angry and controlling men. New York: Putnam’s Sons. Section 4 (chapters 13-15)


INCITE! (2005). “Community Accountability within the Progressive People of Color Movement.” Sections 3-6.

and optionally

CARA (2011). “Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Accountability Strategies”,  in The Revolution Starts at Home. (originally published sometime earlier). Pg 69-78.

  • What is Bancroft’s understanding of the causes / roots of abuse? Based on this understanding, how does he imagine we can fight back? Do we agree with this framework?
  • How does Bancroft connect the “values” / assumptions individual men come to have in their relationships with women to conditions in broader society? How might Marx draw this connection?
  • How does INCITE!’s understanding of the roots of abuse, and the means to achieve accountability, compare with Bancroft’s?
  • At what points in the INCITE document do the authors run into debates or problems? Why do these come up as problems? Have you seen these issues arise in accountability processes?
  • What do we take from Bancroft / INCITE in terms of addressing abuse, and what is not useful?

Accounting for ourselves, Crimethinc.

  • Revisit the ten pitfalls of accountability processes they highlight. How are these pitfalls generated by the conditions of life under capitalism? What might make these pitfalls more or less prominent in different types of communities or contexts?
  • The “transformative justice” perspective has some popularity in the left. What individual, collective, or social factors might affect whether an individual or community would be able to transform itself in the ways the perspective aims at?
  • The zine offers men’s groups as one possible direction for accountability work. What might be the potentials and pitfalls of this strategy?
  • Summarize the “primary, secondary, tertiary” prevention typology the zine borrows from the NGO world. Are these categories useful? How do the four directions the zine lays out fit into these categories?

Selections from Dangerous Spaces: Violent Resistance, Self-Defense, and Insurrectional Struggles Against Gender. Zine

  • Summarize the critiques of accountability processes put forward in the “Theory” section and the key concepts the authors put forward, such as mediation, community, hiding power exchange, triangulating, resonance, and whatever else jumps out at you.
  • Many of the theory pieces criticize accountability processes for mediating survivor autonomy (e.g, limiting survivors’ responses to fit the needs of an imagined community), and they turn to retaliatory violence as an unmediated form of action. Explore this juxtaposition more. How might collective retaliatory violence also be “mediated”? Is all mediation alienation (in other words, does all mediation involve giving up our capacity for action)? If not, how do you tell the difference?
  • Summarize the activities in the “Practice” section, and connect them back to the “Theory” section. How are ideas in the theory section put in action in the practice section? Could they be enacted differently? To the extent that you’re familiar with these kinds of practices, have they raised any further problems or questions to be explored?
  • The practice pieces include documents about not only physically attacking abusers, but also also groups (e.g. fascists) and institutions (e.g. newspaper offices) known to engage in or condone abuse. What are the theoretical warrants for these actions in the “Theory” section? How do the authors believe these actions will help overcome the limits of accountability processes?
  • One of the critiques of accountability processes is their tendency to reify categories like survivor, perpetrator, fucked up, or safe space, which are thought to be absolute and mutually exclusive. How does this refication happen? How do the actions in the practice section address this problem?


Summation Questions

  • What is the relationship between patriarchy and the capitalist mode of production? How does abuse arise in this overall system of relationships?
  • What different forms can abuse take, and how are they perceived by those involved and those outside?
  • What are the best ways to stop abuse, help survivors heal and move forward, and compel abusers to transform themselves? How might all these easier or harder, depending on the social and cultural context?
  • What kinds of responses to abuse are necessary and appropriate in our group, given our purpose and mission? What kinds of responses are possible, given our size and capacity? Do these change depending on the situation (in an incident between two members, a member and a non-member, or two non-members in our broader milieu)?
  • How might individual, organizational, or movement-wide responses to abuse change alongside changes in broader feminist class struggle?


Further Reading

Alice Echols (1989), Daring to be bad: Radical feminism in America, 1967-1975. University of Minnesota Press.

Angela Davis (1981). Women, Race and Class.

bell hooks (1993), Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-Recovery.

bell hooks (2004), We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity.

Big Flame. “History of Women in Big Flame.” (1 2)

Black Orchid Collective, “Feminist Struggle vs. Facebook Fragmentation,” 2013.

Courtney Desiree Morris, “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants: How Gender Violence on the Left Enables State Violence in Radical Movements,” 2010.

Generation Five, “Toward Transformative Justice,” 2007.

Goodman and Epstein (2008) Listening to Battered Women: A Survivor-Centered Approach to Advocacy, Mental Health, and Justice. American Psychological Association.

Hilary Abrahams. (2007) Supporting women after domestic violence. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.

Jean Quataert. (1979). Reluctant Feminists in German Social Democracy, 1885-1917.

Kate Weigand. (2001). Red Feminism: American communism and the making of women’s liberation.

Leopoldina Fortunati, “Learning to Struggle: My Story between Workerism and Feminism,” 2013.

Leslie Feinberg. (1996) Transgender Warriors.

Lise Vogel. (1981?) “Domestic Labor Revisited,” In Marxism and the Oppression of Women.

Martha Acklesberg (1991). Free Women of Spain. AK Press.

Mariarosa Dalla Costa, “The Door to the Garden: Feminism and Operaismo,” 2010.

Murray A Strauss. (1999) “The controversy over domestic violence by women” in Violence in Intimate Relationships. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Philly’s Pissed, “Thoughts about Community Support Around Intimate Violence.”

Romina Akemi, (2015) “Confronting Vigilante Responses in Accountability Work: The Need for Accountability in Everything We Do

Selma James, “Sex, Race and Class,” including postscript, in Sex Race and Class–The Perspective of Winning: A Selection of Writings 1952-2011.

Silvia Federici, “On Sexuality as Work,” 1975.

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