Anarchism in Interesting Times
Toxic, hostile, liberal, middle-class, divisive; These are some of the ways I’ve heard intersectionality theory and it’s proponents described in left-wing circles over the last year or so. It’s been quite the hot topic, and has certainly divided the left into two, sometimes hostile camps, but the hostility has more often than not, come from those opposed to the idea. It seems the mere mention of the word, or anything vaguely related to it, is likely to get you into a heated, two hundred comment facebook row.
My last blog post ripped the lid off the can of worms, so to speak, when I critically called attention to a comic strip that lampooned proponents of an intersectional anarchism. That post has over ten thousand views to date and has had in excess of one thousand shares, from people who clicked the facebook button on the page, alone. The discussion has followed the pattern described in the above paragraph, with the hostile camp divided into three groups.
The first group can broadly be summed up in one sentence; Lighten up and get a sense of humour. Only one response is necessary; “It’s just a joke, like on Top Gear“. The second can be roughly put into the “anonymous insults from men in their twenties and thirties who still live with their mothers” box, and be forgotten about (Though I may post some screenshots for posterity, at a later date. Oh, Hi anarchistnews.org). It is the third group I want to address here, the ones who made some attempt at a political critique. The screenshot below, while not the most eloquent example of this, neatly paraphrases the argument.
There is no basis to the idea that intersectionalist ideas and anti-oppression politics are middle class. The vast majority of people suffering oppressions of race and gender are working class. Intersectionality itself can be summed up as the study of how various oppressions and exploitation intersect. Understanding the intersection of various oppressions that are faced by working class people is a necessity for building a movement that is capable of challenging capital.
The charge that intersectionality is liberal, while related to the idea that it is middle-class, differs in that the former category is ideological, while the latter is (supposed to be, at least) economic. Intersectionality is not an ideology, nor is it an adjunct of any particular ideology, rather, it is a tool for examining social relations that can be used by anyone. In that respect, it can be liberal, if used by liberals. But in the hands of anarchists, it is anarchist, and when used by marxists, it is marxist. Your perspectives on class, the state and democracy are going to inform how you use it and what direction it points you in.
Our commenter above, sees all this as a “diversion from the central struggle”. He is not alone in this. Many objectors to intersectionality, that have categorised it as divisive, see the central struggle as direct opposition to capital in workplace struggles, leading to the building of a untied class movement with the capability of seizing the means of production and building a socialist/communist society based on democratic control of the economy. I agree with the goal of a communist society and I agree that workplace struggles are a key tactic, but I disagree that issues of gender and race are diversions. They are crucial aspects of building a united class movement.
The complexities of working class life can’t be reduced to a crude analysis based on production, exchange, and what happens in the workplace, the number on our payslip, how we are taxed, or worse, where we live and our preference of cultural consumptuion. The collective experience of the working class is far richer than that. The way society is currently organised casts a shadow over all aspects of our lives and narrows the choices we can make. Anyone who does not see abortion as a class issue, who does not see housework as labour, who views workplace struggles as more important to struggles surrounding childcare, who thinks the regulation of our sexuality or gender identities are the concern of liberals, reduces anarchism to syndicalist economism.
Reducing the class struggle to it’s economic dimensions can only result in a class struggle of the privileged, that is, the average white male worker, who, in the western world, generally already has the social freedoms that are denied to others. Organisations and individuals who take this approach marginalise and silence the majority of the working class in order to retain their own ideological purity. That is text book sectarianism, that is the side of this argument that is divisive.
Understanding how differences of gender, race, sexual orientation, and disability oppress is a necessity if we want to build a movement that unites a class whose majority is made up of people who face some of those oppressions. Making the space for those people to relate how they are oppressed, on their own terms, is the only way to begin to understand these differences. By fighting those oppressions together, with genuine solidarity, we can begin to build a movement capable of reconstructing society from the bottom up. The liberty of the oppressed is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment, it is the first condition of our own social emancipation.