The cries to be intersectional echo from every corner of the woke left. Those who are deemed to be not “intersectional” are shamed as TERFs, class reductionists, brocialists, or even fascists and right-wingers. Of course as leftists we should condemn bigotry wherever it may occur, even within our own movements and organizations. But that does not mean we should uncritically support all ideas that arise within the left. Especially something like intersectionality which arose out of the academic new left, which was propped up and funded by bourgeois elements like the CIA. Nothing must be left unchallenged or uncriticized, intersectionality included.
Intersectionality is commonly defined as the intersection of multiple oppressions typically caused by identities such as race, class, sex, gender, etc, resulting in the creation of overlapping and interdependent forms of oppression. Intersectionalists call that no form of oppression be thought of and treated separately. An example of this is with abortion laws, how they don’t exclusively affect women negatively, but disproportionately harm women of color and working class communities. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this explanation, that’s all it is. Rarely is there a coherent solution that intersectionalists offer. Additionally, Marxists have long recognized this fact that oppressions can overlap and intersect. Engels recognized the intersection of class and gender in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, as did Marx, Lenin, Kollontai, Hampton, etc. The only difference however, is that this pattern wasn’t called intersectionality, people weren’t called to be “intersectional” rather the word intersectional was replaced with the word solidarity.
However, there are many issues amongst the supporters and theoreticians of intersectionality, the main issue being that identities such as race, sex, and gender are seen as these abstract isolated floating bodies, there is very little material analysis within intersectional analysis. Intersectionalists call for a comprehensive and inclusive approach to help the marginalized groups but what is an intersectional solution? Many of the marginalized peoples that intersectionality advocate for are in the working class. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. According to the Center for American Progress of the 38 million people in poverty 21 million of them are women. In 2019, using data from the Census Bureau, poverty rates for Black and Hispanic people were at 18.8 percent and 15.7 percent, almost ten points greater than Non-Hispanic White people. And according to the Williams Institute 22% of LGBTQ people live in poverty compared to 16% for cisgendered people. Transgender and bisexual cis women have a povety rate at about 29%. People of marginalized identities (PMI) face significantly higher poverty rates than the national average. Poverty and class based oppression is a major issue in many marginalized communities, yet in many discussions about intersectionality rarely does class get brought up, or it is seen as a secondary subject. Additionally, in many “progressive” circles the working class, especially the rural working class is dismissed as a monolith of white people in the Midwest who hold reactionary views. This view is not only incredibly wrong, it’s classist and bigoted, as it’s marginalized people who suffer poverty at higher rates, especially if they live in rural areas.
That’s not to forget of course that much of the language surrounding intersectionality and the woke left is incredibly alienating to the working class, including PMI working class. According to a Yale study people responded more favorably to policy proposals emphasizing class. The people tested were given policy proposals ,advocating for the Green New Deal, affordable housing, weed decriminalization, increasing the minimum wage, and forgiving $50,000 of student debt, framed in class, race, and race + class lens. The policy proposals framed with class did the best. What this shows is that even if you care about racial justice the best way to help minorities is to frame your policies in a way that emphasizes class. People care about bread and butter issues, and we don’t need a Yale study to back this up, we can look at the Sanders campaign. The Sanders campaign for a long time polled incredibly well among minorities. In California, he had an approval rate of 49 percent among Latinos, and 39 percent in Texas. Sanders also did incredibly well among young black people and LGBT (4 in 10 LGBT voters supported Sanders). Sanders championed a platform of class based issues, most notably Medicare for All and Free College, issues that are explicitly class centered but benefit minorities greatly. The elites did everything they could to sabotage his campaign and threw all of their known insults towards him and his supporters, including that of “class reductionist”, “brocialist”, and “bernie bro”, never mind that Sanders had overwhelming support among women and minorities. Of course Sanders is a social democrat and many of his proposals would have been unlikely to pass due to the political system being created to serve the interests of capitalists. However, the fact that minorities and women overwhelmingly supported Sanders who is straight, white, and male over other candidates like Harris, Buttigieg, and Warren shows us that people care more about actual policy that actually helps them over symbolic gestures of wokeness.
Speaking of which race/identity neutral class based policies championed by Marxists and other socialists but often sneered at or dismissed by the wokeists have helped minorities and women the most. Take social security for example which was heavily championed by Marxists and labor activists, women are the majority beneficiaries of social security, making up 56% of beneficiaries 65 and older, and 66% of beneficiaries 85 and older according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. Social security is a lifeline for many women in older age against poverty. Wokeists constantly shrill about being intersectional, and to account for all forms of oppression in one’s activism, yet they themselves rarely take into account class and how closely tied it is to the oppression of the minorities they so claim to stand with.
Class is often the last issue to be brought up in woke and intersectional circles, whereas individual identities such as sex, race, and gender are raised onto a pedastal. They are seen as essential to one’s identity, regardless of one’s class position or their role to the means of production, a person becomes an amalgamation of their identities. What is more essentialist and individualistic than that? As Eve Mitchel, a marxist feminist, writes in critiquing bell hooks, “Similarly, theories of an ‘interlocking matrix of oppressions,’ simply create a list of naturalized identities, abstracted from their material and historical context. This methodology is just as ahistorical and antisocial as Betty Friedan’s” Wokeists often fail to take into account the historical and material context of identity. They claim that racism and sexism existed before capitalism therefore, so called “class reductionism” is bad (even though most accusations of class reductionism are brought up when someone starts talking about class). Yes racism and sexism existed before capitalism, but capitalism compounded the oppressions and created new ones. Additionally, capitalists have used racism and bigotry to distract from solidarity amongst the working and colonized peoples. For example, in Rwanda the Belgians favored the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority, allowing the Tutsis to oppress the Hutus leading to resentment among the Hutus, eventually leading to the Rwandan genocide. This can also be seen even in America where the media stokes up racial fear and hatred of Black, Asian, Latino, and Middles Eastern people to prevent the white working class from recognizing that it’s not immigrants or people of color who are stealing their jobs, but rather it’s the capitalists who are exploiting them and making them replaceable. The isms and phobias don’t exist in a vacuum; they are enforced by class society. It has always been the upper classes who have stoked racial and xenophobic tensions. It wasn’t the people of Rome who decided randomly to go fight the Goths but the patricians who commanded the people of Rome to fight against the Germanic tribes to protect and expand the borders of Rome. The same can be said today in America and in the imperial cores. It is the upper classes, the bourgeoisie who stoke racial tensions through the media, education, popular and high culture and combined with a loss of jobs and lack of prospects create resentment amongst the white working class. The saying “It’s a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight” describing the draft on both ends that was supposed to be applied to all men of combat age but ended up being dodged by the wealthy can be applied today. The military is largely composed of underprivileged people of various ethnic origins, it’s poor schools that recruiters target not the wealthy ones, yet the wokeists rarely acknowledge that, heck they don’t even seem to acknowledge imperialism or even question the imperialist narrative at all! If anything they’d rather make it “intersectional” as seen with the recent military and CIA ads featuring women and people of color.
This is nothing new as imperialists have historically used progressive cases to further imperialism and even more insidiously they have been absorbed without question by the social democrats and many so called “intersectional” leftists who believe the imperialist narrative about many anti-imperialist countries such as Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, China, the former USSR, etc. The intersectionalists fail to recognize that class society is at the root of racism and sexism, or that people of color, women, and lgbtq people make up a large portion of the working class. If they truly want to eradicate racism and sexism they would focus their attention on the bourgeoisie, the bankers, financiers, and landlords who contribute nothing while leeching off of the hard work of workers (often of marginalized identities themselves) rather than sowing division and preventing solidarity!
History is a class struggle not an identity struggle. It is through class struggle that has paved the way for social progress and our conceptions and ideas of identity are based in the mode of production. However, intersectionalists fail to recognize that, rather they see identity and bigotry as abstract floating bodies in space. They see oppression as signs of individual hate rather than a way for capitalists to more ruthlessly exploit one section of the population, driving the working conditions down for all workers and preventing solidarity. Intersectionality has failed to recognize this, rather the ideology’s followers fail to recognize how entrenched class society, particularly capitalism, in every facet of our lives. They see identities as lines that are intersecting with each other forming unique and individual experiences of oppression, yet they fail to see the class nature behind the oppression, and often any critique of their philosophy is often dismissed as reductionist or right wing. However, no mode of thought is immune to criticism, especially one that makes claims as outlandish as intersectionality.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
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The Midwestern Marx Youth League (MMYL) was created to allow comrades in undergraduate or below to publish their work as they continue to develop both writing skills and knowledge of socialist and communist studies. Due to our unexpected popularity on Tik Tok, many young authors have approached us hoping to publish their work. We believe the most productive way to use this platform in a youth inclusive manner would be to form the youth league. This will give our young writers a platform to develop their writing and to discuss theory, history, and campus organizational affairs. The youth league will also be working with the editorial board to ensure theoretical development. If you are interested in joining the youth league please visit the submissions section for more information on how to contact us!