Monthly Archives: August 2009

What Marxists Should Learn from Black Feminists

I’ve been reading This Bridge Called My Back, and re-reading the Combahee

women of color against bourgeois pigs

women of color against bourgeois pigs

River Collective’s statement, which is known for its important contribution towards an intersectional understanding of the Race/Gender/Class triad of oppression.  Their take on the racialized and gendered nature of class is right on:

We need to articulate the real class situation of persons who are not merely raceless, sexless workers, but for whom racial and sexual oppression are significant determinants in their working/economic lives. Although we are in essential agreement with Marx’s theory as it applied to the very specific economic relationships he analyzed, we know that his analysis must be extended further in order for us to understand our specific economic situation as Black women.

They also self-identify as socialists:

We are socialists because we believe that work must be organized for the collective benefit of those who do the work and create the products, and not for the profit of the bosses . . . We are not convinced, however, that a socialist revolution that is not also a feminist and anti-racist revolution will guarantee our liberation.

These women had a nuanced view of what socialist revolution should be about.  Many in the marxist movement absolutely miss what these black feminists hit squarely on the head – that the revolution is about one class against another, but that this revolution is meaningless if oppressions & contradictions within the class (racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc) are not dealt with.

On the one hand, there are those who focus entirely on a seemingly race-less and sex-less “working class” being pitted against the bosses.  Included here are many trotskyist & anarchist formations.

On the binary opposite side of the spectrum are those who focus on the oppression of “people” and how these “people” (presumably class-less black people, women, queers, students, etc) will be those who make the revolution.  Included here are mostly maoist formations . . .

On yet another hand, those who do acknowledge and uphold the intersectional approach often lack a revolutionary strategy & program for making revolution, and focus mostly on the experiences and identities of oppressed groups (women of color, queer, etc).  Often times these intersections are like linear lines criss-crossing at fixed locations, with little said about the historical evolution of these simultaneous oppressions, and how they developed out of each other.  Many of this persuasion may be found in academia, or in non-profit organizations.

What are we left with?  A pretty empty vacuum of revolutionary politics.  A sad state to say the least.

So, what’s the challenge?

To develop a strategy, theory, program, and organization which speaks to the experiences of all oppressed people, and which sees the ending of oppression as a class struggle – with the all-important caveat that this class struggle be full of color, gender, and sexuality – but a class struggle nonetheless and not some struggle of abstract, utopian, class-less “revolutionary people.”

The piece “Sex, Race & Class” by Selma James speaks more to the organic intersections of the triad of oppression, and is a good complement to the Combahee River Collective’s classic statement.  Enjoy 😉


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Update: Global Class Resistance

Zimbabwe, Canada, Argentina, South Africa, Honduras, Mexico. Class struggle in all these countries, along the same worker-capitalist fault line. Each of course has its own particular contexts with its own contradictions, but nonetheless, how many working class people are seeing their situation as being bound up with that of the ethnicity in the next neighborhood over, let alone being conscious of their place in a global proletarian class, in a global division of labor?

The point at which solidarity can actually be expressed materially by workers in the US with workers elsewhere is still very far off. To see this manifest would require entire new layers of workers getting organized (largely immigrant, but retail, unwaged, and informal economic sectors too) with a radical perspective from the get-go by internationalist Marxists.

Those workers already organized by patriotic unions (afl-cia, change-to-win, etc) have a distorted perspective not only regarding the international proletariat, but also the scope of their own activity domestically. The link between internationalism and militancy is very strong. Militants would have to either revolutionize those unions from within or go through a process of building dual unionism to build an alternative with a revolutionary perspective.

Perhaps all workers should be seen as “new layers” and directly recruited by marxists to socialist organizations which can organize workplace, community, and political rebellion without a mediating front of some kind such as a union or community organization.

Marxists can go directly to the streets in working class communities and to workplaces (including campuses) and hand out flyers with news of workers fighting back, and fuse it with an analysis of the system in its particulars and generalities. Radicals can and should do this basic work to erode hegemonic apathy and narrow-mindedness. Influencing consciousness can prime the terrain for concrete organizing. That organizing can take different forms depending on the perspective of the Marxist, but it should be done.

Regardless of which approach any given Marxist chooses to take toward organizing the workers, news of international proletarian struggle can be used as an exposure for the US working class, showing them what is possible. By thinking about the conditions in other countries and analyzing the forces at play (class interests, contradictions within classes, the role of the state, the spectrum of political actors, etc) workers here “at home” can develop a richer picture of whats going on domestically. For the working class to become a class for itself it has to become conscious of itself and study itself.

Radicals of all persuasions should publicize these examples of global proletarian resistance as much as possible and agitate the working class in the US to consider how it might get organized to join the fight.

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Two Prison Riots – Two Different Strategies

Last saturday, August 8th, a prison riot broke out between Latino and Black prisoners . . . Over 200 prisoners were seriously injured.  What follows is a piece from a statement written by the Chicano Mexicano Prison Project on the riot.  They state that:

What we, Raza and Africans, and all oppressed people (including poor whites) must understand, it is that the “divide and conquer” strategy is the foundation upon which colonialism-capitalism rests. And, if we are serious about ending the vicious violence among colonized and oppressed (poor and working class) people, colonialism-capitalism must be destroyed.

We’re also posting an article on a 10 day prison rebellion (presumably the longest in US history) that happened in the 1990’s that highlights a different approach taken by the prisoners.  In the Lucasville prison uprising, Black and White prisoners united against the prison system itself.  The article reads:

The single most remarkable thing about the Lucasville rebellion is that white and black prisoners formed a common front against the authorities. When the State Highway Patrol came into the occupied cell block after the surrender, they found slogans written on the walls of the corridor and in the gymnasium that read: “Convict unity,” “Convict race,” “Black and whites together,” “Blacks and whites, whites and blacks, unity,” “Whites and blacks together,” “Black and white unity.”

What can we learn from counterposing these two examples of prison upheaval?

The full story of the Lucasville uprising is posted here.

Tim Wise on Obama Red-baiting: Socialism as a New Black Bogeyman

This was originally posted on Tim Wise’ facebook page,and we’re reproducing it here for folks to discuss, critique, and comment on. Tim Wise is a white guy known for his writings on white privilege.

Red-Baiting and Racism: Socialism as the New Black Bogeyman

By Tim Wiseobama-marx
August 10, 2009

Throughout the first six months of his administration, President Obama–perhaps one of the most politically cautious leaders in contemporary history–has been routinely portrayed as a radical by his opponents on the far-right. In particular, persons who have apparently never actually studied Marxism (or if they did, managed to somehow find therein support for such things as bailing out banks and elite corporations) contend that Obama is indeed a socialist. Reducing all government action other than warmaking to part of a larger socialist conspiracy, the right contends that health care reform is socialist, capping greenhouse gas emissions is socialist, even providing incentives for driving fuel efficient cars is socialist. That the right insists upon Obama’s radical-left credentials, even as they push an Obama=Hitler meme (something they apparently think is fair, since, after all the Nazis were National Socialists, albeit the kind who routinely murdered the genuine article) only speaks to the special brand of crazy currently in vogue among the nation’s reactionary forces.

As real socialists laugh at these clumsily made broadsides, and as scholars of actual socialist theory try and explain the absurdity of the analogies being drawn by conservative commentators, a key point seems to have been missed, and it is this point that best explains what the red-baiting is actually about.
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Let’s Learn From Haiti – Occupy!

As the capitalist crisis continues, workplace occupations have been increasing in frequency. The most recent example is Haiti, where over 10,000 workers are currently occupying their workplaces in order to secure the right to a minimum wage.

In the spirit of learning from our sisters & brothers around the world, we’re posting some news reporting on the struggle in Haiti, along with an article outlining the increased number of worldwide occupations by workers, and finally a translation of an interview with Zanon factory workers in Argentina who are known for having taken over production against bosses during the Argentinian uprisings of 2001.

These examples begin to demonstrate what a developing militancy looks like – confronting the state, self-organizing production without bosses, and occupying workplaces without respect for capitalist property relations.

One can begin to imagine what a world would look like if these types of isolated examples were to be interconnected across national boundaries and combined with assemblies and councils in communities and across institutions likes hospitals and schools.

The importance of certain questions becomes clear: what type of work do we need to do to sow the seeds for this type of radically different future? What types of organization must be built to make this a reality? What type of work should revolutionaries engage in so that the struggles that currently exist may be advanced and directed towards these goals?