Tag Archives: combahee river collective

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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