The working-class majority is the ultimate oppressed identity.
Intersectionality is a Two-Way Street
When we say “the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex,” the flow of intersectionality may go in directions you may not expect.
In this piece I’m going to make a few extremely controversial contentions:
- The Left’s form of dialogue such as privilege-checking, or limiting who can speak on what issues based on demographics, is invalid — nearly anyone should be able to speak on anything without call-outs or moralistic shut-downs, with supporting reasoning provided
- All workers should literally be considered members of the various movements of the oppressed, such as the women’s movement, the Black struggle, the LGBT struggle, even if they don’t personally belong to those demographics, because those oppressions are reinforcing support systems for the capitalist system that oppresses all workers, and as such they have a right to participate in the movements against oppression, including criticism and disagreement with how they’re conducted
Arguments that there are limits on who has a right to criticize or disagree with the opinions or actions of oppressed groups are all incorrect. Oppressed groups are never to be given privileged speech that can’t be contested, as it proves only to be an obstacle to necessary dialogue and communication, creating barriers to understanding and unity rather than fostering it. (In fact we may better prepare oppressed groups for the arguments they have to make to broader society by being all the more rigorous.)
The summary of the argument is, the entire working class is oppressed by capitalism. The various oppressions of specific demographics are support structures that hold capitalism up, among other relationships between base and superstructure. Since the entire working class (ie 80% of society) is oppressed by capitalism, and the various oppressions help hold capitalism up, even workers who may not be subject to a particular kind of oppression have a right to comment on how the movement against that oppression is conducted, and to think and comment freely about how that oppression works. This is because they have a personal need to tear down the system that is holding them down, and if the specific oppressions that may not affect them personally are support systems for capitalism, then they still get a say in how the fight is conducted to take down the support systems for the capitalist system that does, itself, hold them down personally. The specific oppressions which do not directly affect them are nonetheless support systems for the capitalism that directly does.
All sections of the working class are oppressed by capitalism. This has not necessarily been universally agreed — it has instead been agreed that most of the working class is only exploited, not oppressed, by capitalism. I am rather saying that the working class, ie roughly 80% of society, is oppressed in the same sense that people think of groups like women, people of color, the LGBT community etc. as oppressed. Google’s definition of oppression:
noun: oppression; plural noun: oppressions
- prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.
“a region shattered by oppression and killing”
|synonyms:||persecution, abuse, maltreatment, ill-treatment, tyranny, despotism, repression, suppression, subjection, subjugation; More
“the young people in this country have known nothing but oppression”
- the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control.
||persecution, abuse, maltreatment, ill-treatment, tyranny, despotism, repression, suppression, subjection, subjugation;cruelty, brutality, injustice, hardship, suffering, misery
The working class is oppressed:
- Exploitation, the theft of part of the value a person a produces in a working day in order to add it to profits, is the majority basis of profit in capitalism, and is major form of oppression of the working class, though not usually remarked as the same type of oppression faced by specific demographics such as African-Americans or immigrants when discussed by Marxists. By any definition of oppression, exploitation is definitely a form of oppression.
- The working class faces universally faces oppressive policing under capitalism as well, if with dramatically varying attention depending on race.
- The working class faces a denial of genuine democracy in politics under capitalism; this is oppression because it leads to the denial of the expression of a person’s full, complete human participation in life.
- The working class is denied genuine control over its own daily working life conditions under capitalism, and this is an extreme form of oppression.
- The working class has no democracy in the workplace in capitalism, and this is oppression.
- The working class has no democracy over the macro-economy in capitalism, instead with individuals forced to respond to the sociopathic dictates of a chaotic and privately-owned market, and this is also a form of oppression.
People say it’s inappropriate or preachy for whites to tell people of color what their interests might be, or men to debate women what their interests might be. But what if I tell you your interests are socialist revolution? What if I’m telling you the truth? What if that’s necessary? And what if everyone else is telling you to support racism or capitalism or your own oppression? Is that good? Should you listen to them instead?
People will always debate what each other’s interests are. If you can’t debate what the interests of people unlike yourself are, you are literally not a socialist, you are literally incapable of organizing the working class, you are literally incapable of waging revolution, the working class is multi-demographic, we will always have to reach and communicate across uncomfortable lines. Get the fuck used to it.
If Everything Is Connected, Everyone Gets a Say
All forms of oppression are support structures for capitalism.
Things like racism, sexism, and homophobia depress wages for all workers — more extremely for the most oppressed, but also even for the less oppressed workers by driving down the general wage board — driving prices down of one commodity can drive down the prices for all comparable commodities, including wage labor, so an injury to one is truly an injury to all. Lower wages can boost profits and weaken the resources available to workers, therefore strengthening the capitalist system.
Things like racism, sexism, and homophobia create internal hostilities within the working class, and deflect social blame away from the elite toward victim-blaming and nationalistic fears.
If special oppressions are support structures for capitalism, and all workers are oppressed by capitalism, workers have the right to criticize and disagree with how the struggles against special oppressions are conducted. All workers have a material stake and personal need for those struggles to succeed. If those struggles are sabotaging themselves through counterproductive or dead-end tactics or strategies, that needs to be discussed and no one has a right to deny any worker to express their critical opinion on that or put forward their thoughts on what direction the struggle should go. Of course which strategies and tactics are flawed or effective is endlessly a matter of interpretation — and that’s precisely the reason why it has to be radically open to dialogue by all parties who have a stake in it, which is the entire working class.
I suspect that neoliberal and academic Democrats have intentionally stoked formed of identity politics which are aggressive and divisive against ordinary people and unifying notions of class struggle, rather than more unifying and synthesizing visions of intersectionality such as Sanders’ rhetoric of standing together.
The bizarre conclusion of this logic, taken to its fullest but the actual point of it, is realizations such as male workers are actually members of the women’s movement. The fate of male workers, as victims of capitalism, is involuntarily interwoven with the fate of women (we may well have come to just downright hate each other after all the gender wars and all the bickering over class vs. identity, but as it turns out we’re stuck with each other), since women are victims of sexism, one of the support structures of capitalism. Another would be, for example, that all white workers are, much to everyone’s surprise, unwitting members of the Black struggle. This does not merely mean that men must be obedient foot soldiers for the women’s movement. It means that they actually must be full participants with the full rights to disagree, criticize, and even lead.
Of course this two-way street is indeed a two-way street: if the entire working class is being included as having a right to comment on oppression and struggles against it, then it can also be justified to demand more of the entire working class in terms of fighting specific oppressions.
However this demand on the working class can, and must, be made from a self-interest perspective, rather than moralistically: “You should support my struggle as a woman because your struggle as a working person is interconnected with my fight against sexism, because both are struggles against capitalism.”
While this logic may be initially undesirable and receive a knee-jerk rejection from feminists, it may the only thing to convince men to actually fully join and sympathize with women’s liberation. Being full members rather than second-class participants whose opinion can be shut down with the words “well, you WOULD say that because you’re a MAN” is the only way men might ever be made to ever care, join, and dedicate their energy. Remember, male workers are also coming from an exhausted place of having their lives sucked dry by 9-5 slavery, ie are also members of the oppressed, and putting even more moralistic barriers in the way of their dialogue after their being drained like batteries in the Matrix all day is not a recipe for understanding. Obviously male comrades should give the same treatment of patience in the other direction, and maybe even a little more, but to be too delicate or self-restrained would frankly be “benevolent sexism.” This isn’t feudalism, chivalry is dead, and women don’t need to be excepted from dialogue and debate. Male comrades should just say what they actually think as much as women should. It would be interesting and would probably improve communication across the Left as a whole.
These are some of the most difficult possible ideas to introduce in the era of the Left’s and campus’ Peak Political Correctness on one hand, Fake Feminist Clinton, and Bad Boy Grab Her By the Pussy Trump whipping up waves of nazism and misogyny on the other, but we have to embrace that our task is precisely to stand up for the ideas that are the hardest but most necessary possible ideas to stand up for.
It appears I have paradoxically become someone who identifies as a brocialist and a feminist simultaneously (“brocialist-feminist”?) — class politics and identity politics are a fighting couple, after all — though this applies far more broadly than gender: I agree with the general principles of gender equality and women’s liberation, and anti-oppression politics in general, as anyone obviously should. I also don’t cave to moralistic virtue signaling that I should shut up just because a woman or a non-white person disagrees with me or criticizes something I say or do, nor that I should bite my tongue and hold back my criticisms of something stupid I see feminism, or a feminist, or a woman saying or doing. While supporting feminism’s goals I also critically engage with it. Women can also be wrong, and men can also be right — that’s what equality means. Equality is scary! It’s a lot of responsibility. It doesn’t give you the easy out of winning every, or any, disagreement for free.
The last thing anyone should do is be faced with actual equality and shrink from the challenge.