Agents of change

Lilia D. Monzó, A Revolutionary Subject: Pedagogy of Women of Color and Indigeneity (New York: Peter Lang, 2019). 290pp., £95.59 hb., £36.74 pb., 978 1 43313 407 4 hb., 978 1 43313 406 7 pb.

History is usually taught through a white, Eurocentric, male lens, erasing the contributions of women. Women of Colour and Indigenous women, specifically, have consistently been erased from history; at best, marginalised to a footnote. In A Revolutionary Subject, Lilia D. Monzó situates Women of Colour and Indigenous women as revolutionary subjects who have played a pivotal role in revolutionary movements and who continue to do so in the present. Tracing her own path toward political consciousness, and providing the stories of revolutionary women through history, Monzó’s book situates these protagonists as critical agents of change, proposing that the revolutionary subject is ‘made in the process of struggle’.

Establishing the genesis for the subject of her book, Monzó examines the work of Karl Marx and Raya Dunayevskaya to situate Women of Colour and Indigenous Women as revolutionary subjects. The book begins with an intersectional reading of Marx, one that considers the ways gender and race, alongside class, have particularly impacted Women of Colour and Indigenous Women. As Monzó moves back and forth in her reading of Marx, she covers coloniality, slavery and white feminism. Acknowledging interpretations that problematise Marx, Monzó nonetheless challenges analyses that characterise Marx as Eurocentric and sexist, offering an inclusive reading that encompasses Chicanx and Latinx movements.

Monzó’s text acknowledges and names women as key players in revolutionary events in history in order to combat the ways in which Women of Colour, as she writes, to ‘varying degrees’

have internalised deficit narratives, disdain for our ways of being and thinking, deep seeded fears of our physical and emotional safety, guilt for succeeding in a dominant White male world, and an uncritical gratitude for everything, including for being allowed to breathe. I want to argue that it’s time we challenge the narratives, ideologies, and normalised gendered and racialised practices that are meant to keep us ‘in line’.

By considering Women of Colour and Indigenous women as central figures in revolutionary change in history, Monzó portrays what is still possible today. In addition to listing the many critical contributions by Women of Colour during moments of, or movements for, revolutionary transformation such as the Cuban Revolution, the Black Panther Party and the Zapatistas, Monzó also details her own path toward political consciousness.

Monzó writes that her ‘book is about the revolutionary history and potential of racialised women’, and the strength of her text lies in those sections where she introduces revolutionary Women of Colour and outlines their path toward political consciousness and political radicalisation. In Chapter 4, ‘In Search of Freedom: My Road to Marx’, Monzó walks the reader through experiences in her life that led her toward becoming a Marxist humanist feminist. Anticipating the reader’s query, she addresses the question: ‘So how did a Latina Cuban “exile” come to question and challenge all that she had grown up hearing and find her way to Marx?’ Her political awareness largely stemmed from her family’s move to the United States, specifically the family’s move from Miami to Los Angeles. In California, away from the Cuban community, the family was left with little to no resources or connections. During their time living in California the family endured economic hardships and setbacks, which, in turn, allowed Monzó to see that the U.S. economic system treated the worker as ‘subhuman’. Her awakening to feminist thought is less formed for the reader, but Monzó suggests witnessing and questioning gender roles in and outside of the home was part of that journey. Her experiences growing up frame her critique of social class and capitalism, clarifying the book’s genesis and goal.

Following her description of her personal political trajectory, she moves on to list revolutionary women across history and throughout the world, providing an analysis of women such as Assata Shakur, Ding Ling, Celia Sanchez and Zhao Yiman, which situates them as pivotal players within their respective historical and revolutionary events. For example, in highlighting Shakur’s role within the Black Panther Party, Monzó points out that her ‘story reveals grippingly how the personal is always political and how Black revolutionaries are not born but made in the context of Black exploitation and oppression’.

In the same chapter, she briefly explores contemporary women-centred movements such as Zapatistas, the Women’s Protection Units in Rojava and Black Lives Matter. Acknowledging that these groups are women-centred, and naming the ‘three self-identified Queer Black women’ who founded the Black Lives Matter movement (Alicia Garza, Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Opal Tometi), is a strong step toward an inclusive pedagogical analysis that positions women as revolutionary subjects in present-day movements, but Monzó could have delved a bit deeper here.

Appropriately given the subject of the book, the voices of women en la lucha are represented in Chapter 6, co-authored with Anaida Colón-Muñíz, Marisol Ramirez, Cheyenne Reynoso and Martha Sanchez. Within this chapter, the four women mentioned share their narratives and reflect on the economic and gendered oppression that led to their political consciousness as revolutionary subjects, with one narrative provided in Spanish with the English translation offered as an appendix. Each woman is involved in a local organisation. Colón-Muñiz, for instance, is a coordinator of el Centro Comunitario de Chapman University, which offers education programs to the Latinx immigrant community. Sanchez is an undocumented woman who is an organiser for the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which helps low income families. It is within these stories that Monzó provides the pedagogy suggested in her title. The women detail how they arrived at political consciousness, how their experiences in poverty and as women informed how they would interact with their community. The narratives serve as a lesson on what is possible, in spite of structures of oppression: their poverty, their undocumented status and the racism they experienced from a young age.

By contrast, in the last chapter on the ‘Pedagogy of Dreaming’ Monzó seemingly shifts the direction of her book from the materiality of political struggle to the realm of dreams. Dream here indicates a potential for imagining a new way of being and living. She begins with a discussion of the ways Christianity and Jesus’s teachings can be seen as communist, making connections through the phrase ‘walking with grace’. At first, this chapter seems to deviate from the previous chapters, which focus and delineate a Marxist humanist reading of women’s contributions to revolutionary change. However, Monzó’s attempt with this section, which borrows from Peter McLaren and Jose Miranda, to argue ‘the communist teachings of Jesus Christ … had nothing to do with the savagery and barbarism of the colonial being that claimed to draw inspiration from Christianity to engage in a project of mass genocide against Indigenous peoples to dispossess them of land and resources’ is an attempt to be inclusive of the ways in which religion and / or spirituality is central to many articulations of a need for change. While this argument seems gratuitous and underdeveloped, it sets up one of the themes of Monzó’s chapter: the power of dream. A dream is a vision of what is possible. Consequently, Monzó connects religion to ‘political grace’, which she argues, ‘draws upon our spirituality to unearth and develop these lost subaltern epistemes toward a liberatory praxis’. Monzó contends that Women of Colour and Indigenous women must see ourselves, first, as fully human and that our ‘dreaming must not only reflect our desires but also be connected to how we truly see ourselves in the world today’.

Monzó offers a ‘pedagogy of Women of Colour and Indigeneity’. She also provides a pedagogical approach to history by suggesting what might be learnt from women’s roles in revolutionary events:

The oppression of Indigenous women and Women of Colour is clearly a function of a complex interplay between gender, colonialism, race, class, and other antagonisms. It is my contention that this violence against Indigenous women and Women of Colour will not be eradicated unless we develop a struggle that is anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-sexist, anti-racist as well as against all other forms of oppression.

Monzó’s contention is a timely one. Her book serves as a guide to the past and as a blueprint for what could be possible in the future. Read during this pandemic, as uprisings against police brutality continue across the United States, A Revolutionary Subject provides some reflection on the ways capitalist society treats the worker, especially the worker of colour, and reminds the reader of the power of the collective. Monzó shows that minoritised women as a collective have the power to shift present day conditions just as they have participated in revolutionary movements throughout history. The hope, or the dream, as Monzó would argue, lies in the collective struggle against a capitalist system. One can only imagine the agents of change today’s systems of oppression are creating.