All it takes is reading another white male Marxist critique of intersectionality to remember exactly why I don’t consider myself a Marxist.
(My Facebook status Sunday 5/18)
[For an earlier discussion of some of these issues, see the original post.]
Why should anyone care about intersectionality?
What does this long strange word signify?
Can’t we just focus on practical immediate needs for radical politics?
There’s a huge elephant in the room of the far left – it should be called the failure of Marxism – but many would rather try and revive the dead corpse. Saying Marxism is dead does not mean it is useless. Curing fatal diseases like cancer involve detailed examination of tumor-ridden corpses, and so I am committed to studying the failure of Marxism in the 20th century in order to mobilize a stronger movement for social transformation in the 21st century. Marxism at many points was a heroic effort at human emancipation and its failure was not entirely internal. The ruling class was dead set on defeating socialist class struggle by any means necessary and, in the words of Warren Buffet, “my class won.”
In the 60s, instead of a replay of the radical movements of the first half of the 20th century, US politics began to depart from the narrow concern with class politics that had been the center of gravity for everyone on the left from Anarchists to liberal labor unions to the Communist Party. While there were important struggles by the labor movement in the 60s, the Civil Rights, Anti-War, and Feminist movements overshadowed the national stage. US Labor was moving decisively into a period of reaction as evidenced by mass support for Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War from labor unions down to the rank and file. Of course, fueling this righward shift was the emerging New Right coalition that had first shown its hand in the extreme candidacy of Barry Goldwater. In the mid-70s this coalition launched one of its most important offensives, the Christian Right mobilization symbolized in the founding of the Moral Majority by segregationist preacher Jerry Falwell.
However, the Left never again found its footing and, despite attempts to regroup, the death of Marxism also meant the death of any radical left, Marxist or otherwise. The System reigned supreme and the long night of reaction continues to strangle humanity’s future before it could even be conceived. But, for some of us, that long night has driven us to rethink the radical left down to its very foundations. What if Marx was simply wrong when he believed that the proletariat was the gravedigger of capitalism? Maybe the working-class was a host body for a deadly parasite that could never be destroyed without killing the host itself?
The left has tried to rethink social revolution and many have fallen prey to despair or compromise along the way (often both). Marxism showed such great promise and for a time in the early years of the last century, its triumph seemed inevitable. The depth of that failure haunts us. We must discover a new path in the darkness together or we will all perish separately.
So, intersectionality? This big word has a simple definition. Social struggles all intersect and interact with all others. We cannot fight against capitalism if we are not also fighting male domination and systemic racism. To fight systemic racism but not capitalism or male domination will get us at best weak reforms, but not deep lasting sytemic change. Although I am invoking a classic triad of race, class, and gender, each of these implies other domains such as lgbtq politics, ecological crises, and religion. The role of the State and its military might are also key domains of revolutionary struggle. Intersectionality attempts to lay out this complexity and live into its challenges.
Intersectionality is not the solution to the radical left’s powerlessness. And, it should never be advanced without a clear commitment to reclaiming the legacy of failed class struggles. We cannot overcome the system as a whole if we do not fight against capitalism with all our might. However, we cannot fight against capitalism today with the obtuse perspective of most classical Marxism or indeed any approach that uses Marx to drive a wedge between feminism, anti-racism, eco-politics, or the religious left. All of these multifarious movements offer irreplaceable contributions to the revolutionary future that humanity must create or we face endless enslavement or worse, complete extinction.
Comments on the “intersectionality controversy” I’ve made this past weekend.
“Critiquing intersectionality in the service of reasserting the universality of Marxism – ie capitalism is the most important social system to fight – often takes the form of excusing/ignoring how Marxist movements and organizations have been and still are white male undertakings that lack/exclude female and nonwhite perspectives. The working-class has always been multiracial and pan-gender, and yet, marxists are nearly always white males. Maoism escapes some Eurocentrism, for interesting reasons, but not the male domination within the Marxist tradition.
Capitalism itself is a white male undertaking, so it stands to reason that an immanent critique of capital would originate within that context and share some of its myopia. Intersectionality originated among black feminists in reaction to white feminists, not postmodernism. Pomo was an available tool in the academy to decenter various white male discourses, but blacks such as Hill Collins, bell hooks, and Cornel West reshaped these tools to their own agendas, so any putative genealogy is fractured.
As an androcentric undertaking, capitalism excluded women’s labor from its formative structure . That historical exclusion opens the question of whether a (white) male industrial working-class movement could truly emancipate women, since women’s labor was changed by industrialization, but in a different manner than male labor was transformed. Women and nonwhite persons contribute important alternative experiences of capitalism than those selectively analyzed by Marxism, but which are no less crucial to a revolutionary critique of capitalism. A revolutionary universal struggle for human emancipation cannot limit itself to the Marxist tradition.”
“What most marxists cannot grasp is that universality is not innate, but must be created. We are all gendered and ethnically identified from birth. Capitalism does not eliminate these systems, it reconfigures them to its own ends.
The presence of a few nonwhite or female billionaires does not negate the Eurocentric origins of capitalism. You can’t fight capitalism as a merely economic system, that was one of the flaws of most Marxist movements. You must also fight it as a racist and sexist system.
Every socialist organization I know is male-dominated, even if they are not white-dominated. My socialist organization deliberately gives equal representation to women in leadership and is explicitly committed to socialist-feminism, but not equally committed to nonwhite inclusion, so we still have a predominantly white membership. Our membership is also still mostly male, even with our aggressive feminist policies.
You cannot advance socialism for women and nonwhite persons if your organization focuses only on white male social struggles. Women and nonwhite persons have fought against capitalism, but in movements distinct from the white male socialist milieu.
“Capitalist can’t oppose Eurocentrism as a system because capitalism is inherently European. Even its Asian and African forms. Yes, you can find liberal critics of Eurocentrism, but they are often still embedded in white cultural assumptions. The better liberal critics of whiteness lean towards socialism, but often reject Marxism because it is myopic in its economism. I’m not saying discard Marxism, but rather supplement it and rethink it in light of a more historic clarity about race and gender as elements of global domination perpetuated by the capitalist class.”
“The European and American ruling class have exported capitalism everywhere, but still concentrate most power and wealth in their hands. The decentering of capital from its original homelands has consequences for undermining white supremacy, but that process is still very early. Chinese hybrid state capitalism is a very different animal from western capitalism, but has decades to go before catching up to western capitalism.”
[A significant sidebar conversation took place on “socialist-feminism” one of the most explicit attempts to transform Marxism into a broader revolutionary philosophy.]
“The basic argument of socialist-feminism is that the capitalist ruling class is also an androcracy that enforces the subordination of women and that constructs the white male working class in opposition to female and nonwhite persons, thereby excluding women’s reproductive labor from the wage labor system, such as childbearing, domestic work, emotional nurturance of fragile male egos, etc. That has begun to change due to feminist struggles, but still a large number of white male marxists tend to devalue and abstract the living labor of women and nonwhite persons from their understanding of revolutionary transformation.”
“It isn’t the case that women are more revolutionary, but that as victims of both economic and gender domination, women have a greater likelihood of being radicalized than white working class men, who historically compromised with the capitalist class via unions, family wages, liberal social programs rather than become revolutionary opponents of the ruling class.”
“The failure of revolutionary consciousness in the early 20th century in the US rests on the cooptation of the white working class. Women did become radicalized in the 60s, but the right-wing assault on the new left was devastating to all of the left and in part supported by reactionary sections of the white working class. That reaction is inexplicable in Marxist terms, but predictable if one takes race and gender into account. As women now move out of their marginal position in the working-class, they are poised to revive radical politics. It will take years for this shift to develop its full potential, and the next decade will be pivotal.
“The cooptation of the white working class against revolutionary consciousness was built into capitalism and even Marx foresaw it. However, many marxists failed to see it and fought against including women and nonwhite persons in unions, precisely because their demands were “too radical.” I experienced this directly in the 1980s.”
If Marx was right that social position would foster revolutionary consciousness, then women and nonwhite persons would have distinct, though not opposed experiences of class domination. I’ve found it very hard to fit into Marxism, and I’ve tried. However, whenever I question the revolutionary potential of the white male working class, I get attacked. And, I AM a working class white male and most of them are college graduates working on advanced degrees. They have no experience within the working class and fuck it, I DO!