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Sex, Race and Class – Selma James

young, black, female proletarians

The left itself is largely responsible for narrowly defining working class politics. Historically, some seriously problematic marxist forces have limited the definition of working class politics to issues concerning white, male, industrial workers.

On the contemporary left scene we find many forces (even, or especially, self-labeled marxists and communists) who seek to right the wrongs of previous generations. While these efforts may be honest and genuine, they often fall far short of actually re-aligning theoretical paradigms of “class” and “struggle” in a positive direction. Often times, race & gender become atomized and separated from class in efforts to develop an intersectional approach.

Selma James’ classic piece “Sex, Race and Class” represents a serious analysis of the organic intersections of the often-mentioned triad of oppression. One need only read the first paragraph to sense it contains important insights into the contemporary struggle to develop a mixed gender, multiracial working class revolutionary theory and struggle.

. . . if sex and race are pulled away from class, virtually all that remains is the truncated, provincial, sectarian politics of the white male metropolitan Left.

Capitalism and the Left have mystified the real relationships between these categories, and it’s an important task for revolutionaries, particularly in the US, to understand the poverty of our current theory in order to begin pulling ourselves out of the self-imposed silos our theories have us incarcerated in.

Sex, Race and Class
(Selma James – 1975)

There has been enough confusion generated when sex, race and class have confronted each other as separate and even conflicting entities. That they are separate entities is self-evident. That they have proven themselves to be not separate, inseparable, is harder to discern. Yet if sex and race are pulled away from class, virtually all that remains is the truncated, provincial, sectarian politics of the white male metropolitan Left. I hope to show in barest outline, first, that the working class movement is something other than that Left have ever envisioned it to be. Second, locked within the contradiction between the discrete entity of sex or race and the totality of class is the greatest deterrent to working class power and at the same time the creative energy to achieve that power.
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