Organization, Articulation, and Multitude

Curator's Note

My admiration for the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement in Iran comes from the outside.  I have never been to Iran, and I do not read Farsi.  But even from the outside, I am struck by the courage, audacity, and innovation of those engaged in this movement.  In the accompanying video, I talk briefly about how such movements travel, and how activists elsewhere are inspired by them and adopt their practices and aspirations, translated to their own political conditions. 

Here I would like to emphasize two other important aspects of this movement.  First is the articulation of diverse struggles within the movement itself.  The feminist component of the movement most often takes center stage, defining it as a protest against femicide and the many mechanisms of patriarchal control.  But the Kurdish liberation face of the movement is interwoven with the feminist struggle, which is obvious, at least from Mahsa Amini’s ethnic identity and the Kurdish origin of the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom.”  In addition, the movement has, at times, also included labor struggles, with relative success.  Every successful movement today, I would contend, must present a multiplicity, that is, it must provide the means for struggles that are relatively autonomous to articulate with one another in a common fight – not a unified, homogeneous movement, in other words, but a coherent constellation or composition.  In every country, of course, this composition will be original.  Gender, race /ethnicity, and labor struggles will take different forms, and the means by which they link together will inevitably be different.  One aspect, however, that today defines how these different political multiplicities are composed seems to be shared across the world, and is especially evident in Iran: that feminist theory and feminist practice provide the terrain most adequate for addressing these processes of articulation and multiplicity.

Second is an aspect of the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement that I would like to understand better and is also, I imagine, difficult to evaluate for those inside Iran, even perhaps those engaged in the movement.  This movement has taken the form of a multitude, as many have remarked.  There is no central committee that directs the actions of the movement and no leader that speaks in its name.  Many of the most powerful movements of recent decades have taken this form, of course, including the great uprisings from 2011 to 2013 in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, and elsewhere.  The key, however, is to understand the development and strength of the forms of organization within this multitude.  A multitude is not formed spontaneously – in fact, it requires more organizational activity than a traditional, centralized party or movement.  The “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement must have a certain measure of such organizational relations, built from below – because without such organization, it could not have continued this long and been so effective.  The question, however, is whether the movement can invent (or is already putting into practice) organizational forms sufficient to allow it to continue further, to weather the ferocious attacks of the state, and to continue to innovate politically.  The organizational capacities of the multitude will, undoubtedly, be tested in the coming months. 

But regardless of its future, we should recognize all the ways in which the “Woman, Life, Freedom” movement has already presented us with a luminous example, of crucial importance not only for Iranian society but also for liberation struggles across the world.

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