The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.
The centrality of class to the Marxist critique of economic and socio-political arrangements has unwittingly been both deceptive and divisive. Yes class is indeed foundational to the Marxist perspective on private property and inequality in all economic epochs, particularly in the analysis of the exploitative and alienating elements of profit-driven capitalism.
But too often, a doctrinaire reading of Marx and Engels has lead the left to focus on class to the exclusion of the inter-related oppressions of race and gender. The tension between so-called "Identity Politics" vs. Class-based Politics ignores a wealth of scholarship and activism that emphasizes common ground and common struggle against these intersecting oppresssions. What follows is an attempt to briefly high-light these threads in the hopes for fostering coalition in the anti-capitalist, anti- racist, anti-sexist, anti- heterosexist struggle.
The work of Marx and Engels themselves contains the seeds of an intersectional race, class, gender anaylsis. In both Capital and Wage Labor and Capital, Marx outlines the connections between the expansion of capitalism and the creation of contemporary racism to legitimate slavery. Similarly, both Marx and Engels located the origin of women’s oppression in the rise of class society. This is a theme that is clear in both The Manifesto and Engels' later work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
The connections between the capitalist system of class oppression and racism and sexism were only briefly explored by Marx and Engels. Their introduction of these issues however, provided a platform for a large body of ensuing work that clarified the relationship between class race and gender in systems of domination. A partial listings of academic and activist contributors to this anaylsis includes W.E.B. DuBois, CLR James, Richard Wright, Frantz Fanon, Mother Jones, Herbert Marcuse, Angela Y. Davis, and more. (Please see Cedric Robinson, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition and Rosemary Hennessy and Chrys Ingraham, eds. Materialist Feminism: a Reader in Class, Difference, and Women's Lives)
In the United States, the fusion of race class and gender into Marxist ideology and action was perhaps most fully realized by the Black Panther Party, whose anti-capitalist critique was deeply tied to a larger critique of racial and gender oppression. It was the success of their community programs and broad coalitions - not the guns - that lead the FBI to declare the Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,”
1) WE WANT FREEDOM. WE WANT POWER TO DETERMINE THE DESTINY OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES.
We believe that Black and oppressed people will not be free until we are able to determine our destinies in our own communities ourselves, by fully controlling all the institutions which exist in our communities.
2) WE WANT FULL EMPLOYMENT FOR OUR PEOPLE.
We believe that the federal government is responsible and obligated to give every person employment or a guaranteed income. We believe that if the American businessmen will not give full employment, then the technology and means of production should be taken from the businessmen and placed in the community so that the people of the community can organize and employ all of its people and give a high standard of living.
3) WE WANT AN END TO THE ROBBERY BY THE CAPITALISTS OF OUR BLACK AND OPPRESSED COMMUNITIES.
We believe that this racist government has robbed us and now we are demanding the overdue debt of forty acres and two mules. Forty acres and two mules were promised 100 years ago as restitution for slave labor and mass murder of Black people. We will accept the payment in currency which will be distributed to our many communities. The American racist has taken part in the slaughter of our fifty million Black people. Therefore, we feel this is a modest demand that we make.
4) WE WANT DECENT HOUSING, FIT FOR THE SHELTER OF HUMAN BEINGS.
We believe that if the landlords will not give decent housing to our Black and oppressed communities, then housing and the land should be made into cooperatives so that the people in our communities, with government aid, can build and make decent housing for the people.
5) WE WANT DECENT EDUCATION FOR OUR PEOPLE THAT EXPOSES THE TRUE NATURE OF THIS DECADENT AMERICAN SOCIETY. WE WANT EDUCATION THAT TEACHES US OUR TRUE HISTORY AND OUR ROLE IN THE PRESENT-DAY SOCIETY.
We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else.
6) WE WANT COMPLETELY FREE HEALTH CARE FOR All BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE.
We believe that the government must provide, free of charge, for the people, health facilities which will not only treat our illnesses, most of which have come about as a result of our oppression, but which will also develop preventive medical programs to guarantee our future survival. We believe that mass health education and research programs must be developed to give all Black and oppressed people access to advanced scientific and medical information, so we may provide our selves with proper medical attention and care.
7) WE WANT AN IMMEDIATE END TO POLICE BRUTALITY AND MURDER OF BLACK PEOPLE, OTHER PEOPLE OF COLOR, All OPPRESSED PEOPLE INSIDE THE UNITED STATES.
We believe that the racist and fascist government of the United States uses its domestic enforcement agencies to carry out its program of oppression against black people, other people of color and poor people inside the united States. We believe it is our right, therefore, to defend ourselves against such armed forces and that all Black and oppressed people should be armed for self defense of our homes and communities against these fascist police forces.
8) WE WANT AN IMMEDIATE END TO ALL WARS OF AGGRESSION.
We believe that the various conflicts which exist around the world stem directly from the aggressive desire of the United States ruling circle and government to force its domination upon the oppressed people of the world. We believe that if the United States government or its lackeys do not cease these aggressive wars it is the right of the people to defend themselves by any means necessary against their aggressors.
9) WE WANT FREEDOM FOR ALL BLACK AND OPPRESSED PEOPLE NOW HELD IN U. S. FEDERAL, STATE, COUNTY, CITY AND MILITARY PRISONS AND JAILS. WE WANT TRIALS BY A JURY OF PEERS FOR All PERSONS CHARGED WITH SO-CALLED CRIMES UNDER THE LAWS OF THIS COUNTRY.
We believe that the many Black and poor oppressed people now held in United States prisons and jails have not received fair and impartial trials under a racist and fascist judicial system and should be free from incarceration. We believe in the ultimate elimination of all wretched, inhuman penal institutions, because the masses of men and women imprisoned inside the United States or by the United States military are the victims of oppressive conditions which are the real cause of their imprisonment. We believe that when persons are brought to trial they must be guaranteed, by the United States, juries of their peers, attorneys of their choice and freedom from imprisonment while awaiting trial.
10) WE WANT LAND, BREAD, HOUSING, EDUCATION, CLOTHING, JUSTICE, PEACE AND PEOPLE'S COMMUNITY CONTROL OF MODERN TECHNOLOGY.
When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that, whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shown that mankind are most disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But, when a long train of abuses and usurpation, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.
THE BLACK FEMINISTS
Ultimately, it is the work of the Black feminists, academic and activist, that clarifies the complexity of the intersecting oppressions of race class gender and other differences. Anti-capitalist work cannot be neatly compartmentalized out since classism is deeply intertwined with racism, sexism, heteosexism and ageism in what bell hooks terms white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. These oppressions are all part of the same power structure and resistance must be multi-facteted.
The work of Patricia Hill Collins and Audre Lorde is especially instructive here. The former, a sociologist, and the latter, a self-descibed Black Lesbian Socialist Warrior Poet offer us both rigorous intellectual anaylsis and a way forward.
In Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, Hill Collins explores the ways in which race class gender intersect to form a matrix of domination.
The Matrix of DominationAdditive models of oppression are firmly rooted in the either/or dichotomous thinking of Eurocentric, masculinist thought. One must be either Black or white in such thought systems--persons of ambiguous racial and ethnic identity constantly battle with questions such as "what are your, anyway?" This emphasis on quantification and categorization occurs in conjunction with the belief that either/or categories must be ranked. The search for certainty of this sort requires that one side of a dichotomy be privileged while its other is denigrated. Privilege becomes defined in relation to its other.
Replacing additive models of oppression with interlocking ones creates possibilities for new paradigms. The significance of seeing race, class, and gender as interlocking systems of oppression is that such an approach fosters a paradigmatic shift of thinking inclusively about other oppressions, such as age, sexual orientation, religion, and ethnicity. Race, class, and gender represent the three systems of oppression that most heavily affect African-American women. But these systems and the economic, political, and ideological conditions that support them may not be the most fundamental oppressions, and they certainly affect many more groups than Black women. Other people of color, Jews, the poor white women, and gays and lesbians have all had similar ideological justifications offered for their subordination. All categories of humans labeled Others have been equated to one another, to animals, and to nature.
Placing African-American women and other excluded groups in the center of analysis opens up possibilities for a both/and conceptual stance, one in which all groups possess varying amounts of penalty and privilege in one historically created system. In this system, for example, white women are penalized by their gender but privileged by their race. Depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed.
And, it is Audre Lorde who clearly articulates how race class gender differences are used to silence and divide those with common interests in dismantling oppressive systems.
Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ig¬nore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is domi-nant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion...
Those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference -- those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older -- know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish.
It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.
For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.
In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action....
In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower
A WAY FORWARD
Efforts to end racism sexism heteosexism and other oppressions are not mere distractions for anti-capitalist work. They are in fact at the very heart of this self-same stuggle. Oppressions are systemically connected. And, these oppressions, each and all, are perpetuated – not necessarily by the intentions of individuals – but by the reproduction of structures of power, privilege and domination. This system of dominance relies on the use of exploitation, marginalization, powerless, cultural imperialism and violence against the oppressed and, it relies upon division.
Build upon this rich body of work.
Create coalition around the common ground.
Let our difference become our strength.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.