Patriarchy and Empire, and Then Power: How “The Last Shall Be First and the First Last”


Patriarchal violence is connected to the violence of an imperialist system.  In order for capitalist empire to expand its wealth and power, it must resolve its internal contradictions.  Otherwise it will be too weak or too unstable to grow.  So first it moves against the most vulnerable populations within its borders.  The greatest in strength, the first in power, moves against the last in power (echoing Frantz Fanon).

Now, one would think that women and femmes– who historically, and in many parts of the world, have had the least power– would pose the least threat to the imperialist power structure.  Sadly, that’s not how systemic oppression works.  The less power you have, the more the system moves against you.  Because it can only prove it is stronger by testing its strength on your defenseless bodies.  It preys on the weak so it can test its stronger force, or its capacity for violence, and then move against an outside force.  If you have power, then its force can’t just move in.  It may be wiped out. Power only knows it has power by constantly testing itself against the weak– passing laws, making religious rules, saying you must do this, or you must not do that, squeezing more and more, getting stronger.  It’s like an exercise.  The objective of empire is to strengthen its internal contradictory elements, and to resolve its own weaknesses by increasing yours.  Imperialism is practising, on you, on me, on her, on all women here, so it can then go out and inflict this perfected violence on the rest of the globe.

Furthermore, women and all oppressed people have the least to lose by fighting back.  Imperialism needs to have its own house in order before it can attack the neighbor’s house across the street, or border.  While it’s off roughing up the world, oppressed people may be getting ideas at home.  So the imperialist power goes after the people who have the least to lose if society is disrupted.  Break us, make sure we stay broke, then break them.

Why do men in colonized communities so often fear they are being emasculated, and that their manhood is being jeopardized by the oppressive system?  Because the system– when it is imperialistic– first violates women and femmes, then it goes after the cisgender men.  So they feel they are getting the same treatment as the women.  The men feel emasculated.  And who has the least power?  The women, who have already been brutalized.  But now the brutalized men attack the women too, because they feel this is the only way to get their power (or manhood) back.  Imperialism taught them that manhood is connected with violence, that manhood means power.  And that power means manhood.  So they actually side with forces that are moving against them and the two move together against women.

However, the cisgender women below them still have one group they can move against too: trans women.  They say: the men are against us, and “you used to be a man,” so you must be against us too.  Of course, this view is contradicted by the fact that the men are exercising their power over trans women too, and trans women have even less power than cis women.  But quite often this contradiction is overlooked because transphobic cis women require an excuse to move against a group with less power.  Ironically, if they just accepted that transgender women are women too, all women would become a unified force, and thus we would be somewhat empowered to defend ourselves.  But it’s the objective of imperialism to divide the people whom it oppresses.  Obviously, this makes it easier to control them, or us.

And one of the greatest divides in imperialist, capitalist society is that which exists between white women and Black women/women of color.  White women in the colonial class often make this division grow even wider because we go to the white man and say: we’ll help you rough up the colonized subjects– women, men, gender nonconforming people in oppressed communities– if you will just leave us alone, and give us the vote, or that executive position in your corporation.  Elect me to be President.  In this respect, we’re like cis women, who turn against trans women because they think they may be able to gain an advantage.  The real advantage goes to imperialism because it can now strengthen its control.  But powerless people become so traumatized, they don’t think these things through.  Imperialist capitalism limits their consciousness of all the options.  They just strike at the identity closest to them.  For most people, it’s very hard to get close to wealthy cisgender white men: they’re behind high gates with armed security guards (police) out front.  So you put on your invisible blue uniform and strike the person at home instead: the disabled person, the trans person, the one with least power.  Obviously, if we were thinking straight we wouldn’t do that.  But we’re traumatized.  Empire encourages mechanical acts, just automatic movements of fists, machines, fighter jets, patrol cars, fingers on triggers, movements of muscle, movements of closing prison bars.

And so the empire at home becomes a fine-tuned instrument of violence.  And it practices its violence on colonized communities, particularly the women and femmes in these communities.  The United States perfected its capacity for imperialist violence on enslaved African women and on Indigenous women– on women, girls and femmes of color.  The military-industrial complex you see today was tested and gradually improved to move against the world by first moving against African and Indigenous women– Puerto Rican women, Chinese women, as well as European women, transgender and cisgender.  Once the machine is tested at home then it can attack abroad.  And of course, to the European colonizer, North America already is abroad.  It’s hostile territory.  So control the women here, especially brown women, terrorize and tame them, then you can deal with hostile territories around the globe– which are also sources of wealth.  The women here– we’re sources of wealth to empire.  If you don’t have power you don’t get paid– or you get paid less.  So empire, whose only concern is growing stronger and richer, sees anything it doesn’t already totally control as both a potential threat and a potential source of wealth.  Both.

Without capitalist empire, patriarchy loses the systemic basis for its power and its ability to inflict violence.  Of course, if we eliminate empire, patriarchy remains– it has infiltrated our very beings.  Each man is a walking empire, if he can walk.  At least white men are self-contained, individual empires, each one.  And white women are too.  In order to be otherwise, the patriarchy inside us has to be rooted out by the authoritarian power of a socialist state, until such a state also becomes useless and is then discarded– like capitalist empire.

Capitalism (or imperialist oppression) has the potential to be useful because it can unify all oppressed people in the world– against capitalism.  Violence begets violence.  But as long as we’re moving against each other, as individuals, and especially against Black trans women and trans women of color, capitalism will have us divided, simply reacting to violence with more violence against the least powerful.  Once we recognize the authority of mass power and become conscious of our capacity for greater violence, women and femmes and colonized peoples can all move in our various organizations which represent our overlapping identities, and we can make the patriarchal, imperialist ruling class fear us.

But we’re not at that point yet.  You’ll see, when the United States wears itself out destroying women at home and abroad, its power won’t be so attractive to the traumatized and opportunistic individuals who are both its victims and its instruments of violence.  This evil gray machine is weaponizing the people who will eventually be its demise, bringing down its power from within– and African women, Black trans women, will likely be out in front: the last becoming the first, the most violated among us (and by us) becoming the main source of victory for the masses.  Our daily violence and indifference to their lives, to their safety and happiness, to the well-being of Black trans women, is making it so.

Patriarchy and Empire, and Then Power: How “The Last Shall Be First and the First Last”

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