Fighting Invisibility: Maria Lacerda de Moura and Lucy Parsons

: Maria Lacerda

When I heard about Maria Lacerda de Moura for the first time I could only find short excerpts from her texts on the Internet, and nothing translated to English. When I finally returned to Brazil, I looked for an anarchist library hoping I could hold a book of hers and read it. And that’s exactly what happened. The edition of “Compulsory military service for women? I refuse! I denounce!” (Serviço militar obrigatório para mulheres? Recuso-me! Denuncio!) is epic; fragile and immortal at the same time. The hard, rough, red cover was definitely brighter and more vibrant 80 years ago. The thick, brittle and far from white pages do not always contain words, probably because of the printing method of the time. And the scent of life and history is the closest we come, without moving, from what we feel when we find the largest and oldest tree in the forest.

The old Portuguese takes some getting used to. And for me it was uncomfortable reading a less-than-​​queer idea of femininity (of the time and unfortunately still existent today). Even then, she approaches gender-binarism critically. The most fascinating thing about the book is the intersectionality so far ahead of its time. Maria Lacerda recognizes what we now call white feminism; the bourgeois woman who does not care about social justice, and the woman who seeks to insert herself in the sexist world of war and the State, instead of fighting it. For Lacerda, recognizing classism and being against the State were already inseparable from the idea of ​​being against sexism.

It’s important to recognize that in Brazil we consume ideas from the “outside” and we invisibilize local knowledge and thinkers. Eurocentrism is a multi-centennial force that we all internalize, regardless of current political affiliations. Maria Lacerda de Moura’s books were not translated, or even republished, while texts of thinkers (predominantly men, white, westerners) are reproduced and translated incessantly for decades. I don’t believe at all that this is associated with the historical and political relevance of her work, but rather a result of the undeniable historical erasure of women of color within the neo-colonial Patriarchy.

This year, 2018, the New York Times admitted that its obituary, since 1851, has been dominated by white men. So they created a kind of column dedicated to women who were neglected and omitted.

“[W]ho gets remembered — and how — inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.”

(Amisha Padnani and Jessica Bennett, March 8, 2018)

The deconstruction of this misogynist and racist judgment of value is very recent. It’s happening late, and slow. Therefore, it’s also our responsibility to combat the invisibility of women, black, and indigenous peoples within the anarchist political landscape. Why when men, predominantly white, make political statements with which we do not agree, do we still call them important thinkers? While women, especially black women, are not only not cited, they are not seen, and their lives are erased or re-written from the perspective of a man?

The magazine The Enemy of the Queen; based in Salvador, Brazil; of which the 2nd issue was published this month, is an initiative to fight the subjugation of revolutionary women, and to combat the invisibilization and silencing of our voices, and the voices of our ancestors.

: Lucy Parsons

Lucy Parsons, like Maria Lacerda, is a woman who must be urgently removed from obscurity. For the many of you who already know plenty about her, also know that it’s due to the militant (DIY) efforts of very few of us in Brazil that some of her work is available in (BR) Portuguese and distributed at all. Her story has immense power for us here now, especially in the city known as the capital of the African Diaspora (Salvador), in a country on the brink of completely losing its faith in “democracy”.

Reading the words written by a black anarchist woman born in 1853, probably enslaved in Texas, can send chills down one’s spine. She entered the labor movement and moved to Chicago, where she wrote to the newspaper that her husband Albert edited called The Alarm. Not only did she write, but she organized workers and was a great public speaker.

In 1886, she was a prominent figure in the epic anarchist struggle where many were killed, wounded, and imprisoned: the Haymarket Affair. The demonstration of the “eight-hour movement” in May 1886 was a fatal confrontation between workers and the police – hands of the capitalist state. At the end of 1887, after a long and painful legal process of investigation, her husband was brutally executed, alongside 3 other anarchist and union leaders, for their involvement in the revolt – a phenomenon that until today is immortalized on the 1st of May, but unfortunately not thoroughly remembered.

Even after so many attempts by the state to interrupt this woman’s work, her militancy was not shaken. In 1905 she was one of the founders of the Industrial Workers of the World, which to this day should serve as an inspiration for revolutionary labor organizations, capable even of joining socialist and anarchist forces.

When it comes to anarchist feminism, Emma Goldman and Lucy Parsons had ideological conflicts that some believe to be generational. Lucy’s feminism was founded on working-class principles, while Emma applied the concept to the relationship between womanhood and love. For Lucy, the oppression of “the Negro“, the worker, and the woman comes directly from Capitalism. While Emma believed in the liberation of the woman herself, as something separate from the class struggle. In other words, Emma was called bourgeois, while Lucy a communist who prioritized class struggle over that of the woman.

All this might be redundant to some of you, but looking at history from the perspective of others helps us avoid the constant reinvention of the wheel as if it were new. What we can now recognize is that Anarchism has been a hostile political field to racially marginalized segments of the population, as virtually all fields were, and somehow still are. Analyzing why this is is essential so that we can unlearn this harmful behavior. The inability to recognize another’s reality is what has caused so much animosity between these two great anarchist thinkers. Being a feminist without being anti-capitalist and anti-racist means nothing, and if we don’t expect from ourselves and our revered thinkers a clear stance on this, we have a problem. A problem that will keep the anarchist ideological field deafeningly bourgeois and white.


By Mirna Wabi-Sabi