Identity politics, class and autonomous organising

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  • user warning: Table './external/cache_views_data' is marked as crashed and last (automatic?) repair failed query: UPDATE cache_views_data SET data = 'a:3:{s:6:\"result\";a:6:{i:0;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8499\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:46:\"Elections: Shouldn\'t We \'Fight on All Fronts\'?\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:1445:\"<div data-contents=\"true\">\r\n <div data-block=\"true\" data-editor=\"c9jab\" data-offset-key=\"cfk4-0-0\">\r\n <div class=\"_1mf _1mj\" data-offset-key=\"cfk4-0-0\">\r\n <span data-offset-key=\"cfk4-0-0\"><span data-text=\"true\">Anarchists are in favour of grassroots organising rather than engaging in electioneering. <span data-offset-key=\"cfk4-0-0\"><span data-text=\"true\"><em><img alt=\"\" src=\"/sites/default/files/strike.png\" style=\"width: 400px; height: 321px; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid; margin: 3px; float: right;\" /></em></span></span>Some crticise this position, stating something along the lines of:<br />\r\n <br />\r\n &#39;<em>But what about social housing, free education, and an increased minimum wage? That&#39;s change which will make a big difference to people&#39;s lives. And electoralism and grassroots organising aren&#39;t mutually exclusive. We shouldn&#39;t concede that ground to the right, we should fight on all fronts&#39;.</em></span></span><br />\r\n <br />\r\n <span data-offset-key=\"cfk4-0-0\"><span data-text=\"true\">Social housing, free education, increased minimum wage - there are worthwhile reforms which might be achieved by a left wing government, or might not, but they&#39;re fairly beside the point. It&#39;s worth remarking though that the best way even to achieve reforms through the state is by having strong social movements which can apply pressure to politicians.</span></span></div>\r\n </div>\r\n</div>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1497286800\";}i:1;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8470\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:73:\"WSM Points of Unity Explained: 1 - Class Struggle and Leadership of Ideas\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:778:\"<p><em>&#39;1. Anarchism will be created by the class struggle between the vast majority of society (the working class) and the tiny minority that currently rule. A successful revolution will require that anarchist ideas become the leading ideas within the working class. This will not happen spontaneously. Our role is to make anarchist ideas the leading ideas or, as it is sometimes expressed, to become a &#39;&#39;leadership of ideas&#39;&#39;.&rsquo;</em></p>\r\n<p>We&#39;re usually told that class society is a thing of the past. After all, aren&#39;t we all middle class now? But this is false, and there still very much exists a severe division between people based on property and work, a hierarchy which is a basic fact of the economic system known as capitalism.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1491552000\";}i:2;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8471\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:51:\"WSM Points of Unity Explained: 2 - Power Structures\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:560:\"<p><em>&#39;2. We reject the idea that society can be changed through &#39;good people&#39; gaining control of the power structures. This means we reject both the electoral strategy of the social democratic and green parties and the &#39;revolutionary&#39; strategy of the various left groups.&#39;</em></p>\r\n<p>The WSM is working towards a free, equal, democratic society. We believe the only way to achieve this is by people taking their destinies into their own hands, forming grassroots mass movements, and creating new truly democratic institutions.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1491552000\";}i:3;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8472\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:50:\"WSM Points of Unity Explained: 3 - Platformism (1)\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:495:\"<p><em>&#39;3. We identify ourselves as anarchists and with the &quot;platformist&quot;, anarchist-communist or especifista tradition of anarchism. We broadly identify with the theoretical base of this tradition and the organisational practice it argues for, but not necessarily everything else it has done or said, so it is a starting point for our politics and not an end point.&rsquo;</em></p>\r\n<p>The WSM practices a form of anarchism which strives to be highly organised and coherent.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1491552000\";}i:4;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8473\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:50:\"WSM Points of Unity Explained: 4 - Platformism (2)\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:1238:\"<p>&#39;<em>4. The core ideas of this tradition that we identify with are the need for anarchist political organisations that seek to develop:</em></p>\r\n<ol>\r\n <li>\r\n <em>Theoretical Unity</em></li>\r\n <li>\r\n <em>Tactical Unity&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </em></li>\r\n <li>\r\n <em>Collective Action and Discipline&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; </em></li>\r\n <li>\r\n <em>Federalism&rsquo;</em></li>\r\n</ol>\r\n<p>Federalism is an organisational structure based on &ldquo;the free agreement of individuals and organisations to work collectively towards a common objective&rdquo;. It is finding the best balance between independence and coherence. All decisions are made by those affected by them as opposed to centralism, where decisions are made by a central committee for those affected by them. This means, for example, that while all WSM branches are united under a common national policy, they are also autonomous, i.e they can make their own local decisions. It also means that we have no leaders or officials with higher authority than others. Rather, we have &#39;officers&#39; who are delegated temporary authority to perform certain tasks as mandated by the membership (for instance, to be treasurer).</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1491552000\";}i:5;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8474\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:57:\"WSM Points of Unity Explained: 6 - (Other) Mass Movements\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:1309:\"<p><em>&#39;6. We also see it as vital to work in struggles that happen outside the unions and the workplace. These include struggles against particular oppressions, imperialism and indeed the struggles of the working class for a decent place and environment in which to live. Our general approach to these, like our approach to the unions, is to involve ourselves with mass movements and within these movements, in order to promote anarchist methods of organisation involving direct democracy and direct action.&#39;</em></p>\r\n<p>While the workplace is of course a critical site of political activity, there is a much broader terrain on which to strive for our liberty. Ultimately, we want a world where people are free and content. So, everywhere that we are ripped off, suppressed, attacked, sidelined, or degraded, is a place for us to fight back and band together with others. In a social order which thrives on us keeping our heads down and being passive, resistance in its many forms is to be encouraged and supported. Whether or not that resistance is as radical or as &#39;pure&#39; as we&#39;d like we should engage, of course with our anarchist heads screwed on. While being a purist sect on the sidelines can feel satisfying to the initiated, ultimately it is a redundant way to make change.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1491552000\";}}s:10:\"total_rows\";i:1531;s:5:\"pager\";a:5:{s:9:\"use_pager\";s:1:\"0\";s:14:\"items_per_page\";i:6;s:7:\"element\";i:0;s:6:\"offset\";i:0;s:12:\"current_page\";i:0;}}', created = 1498171272, expire = 1498171572, headers = '', serialized = 1 WHERE cid = 'wsm_only:block_1:results:692e0a14e0b7ab966d18830fa49232e2' in /var/www/public/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
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  • user warning: Table './external/cache_views_data' is marked as crashed and last (automatic?) repair failed query: UPDATE cache_views_data SET data = 'a:3:{s:6:\"result\";a:6:{i:0;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8414\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:108:\"Minister for homelessness says beware of neighbours filling swimming pools in piss poor divide and rule move\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:288:\"<p>You can tell a lot about someone from what they worry about. The Housing Minister Simon Coveney isn&rsquo;t so much worried about people sleeping on the streets at the moment. He is losing sleep about the thought that other people might fill their swimming pools with free water!</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1483808884\";}i:1;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8403\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:23:\"Class and Exploitation \";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:440:\"<p><strong>What this paper does... &nbsp;</strong><br />\r\n The left talks about class in ways that are often contradictory and confusing.&nbsp; This paper represented our collective use of class and how we understand exploitation. The scope of what we cover means that it necessarily makes sweeping generalisations but the goal is to sketch what our collective perspective is around these, not to be an educational resource in itself.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1481573672\";}i:2;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8402\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:40:\"Perspectives for Struggle and Revolution\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:891:\"<p><strong>What this paper is</strong>&nbsp;<br />\r\n What we summarise below is what the WSM has collectively agreed are the prospects for struggle in the short and medium term both in terms of global and local capitalism but more importantly of the existing movements and struggles and those we think are coming into existence.&nbsp; It should be read in conjunction with &lsquo;<a href=\"http://www.wsm.ie/c/role-anarchist-organisation-policy\">The Role of the Anarchist Organisation</a>&rsquo; which is the long term strategic view within which these short and medium terms considerations are shaped.&nbsp; Fundamentally we think &lsquo;kick it till it breaks&rsquo; leads to burnout and inactivity. Sustained organising over decades requires a collective understanding and identification of the moments of opportunity scattered through the periods of preparation and experimentation.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1481573217\";}i:3;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8398\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:70:\"Saoradh, Irish republicanism and the politics of Unfinished Revolution\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:819:\"<p><img alt=\"\" src=\"/sites/default/files/SaoradhUnfinished.jpg\" style=\"width: 400px; height: 400px; margin: 3px; float: right;\" />The launch of Saoradh in the Canal Court Hotel in Newry is the latest republican project to have emerged but is it a fresh departure a break from past mistakes or just simply a re-packaged version of the pre ceasefire Provies?</p>\r\n<p>Since its inception, Saoradh has faced increasing state repression on both sides of the border as it has attempted to establish itself. Many will look upon this crackdown as evidence of a real threat to the status-quo and therefore acclaim the revolutionary potential of Saoradhs&rsquo; version of republicanism, confusing revolution with the reality that the state will always repress those who they perceive question their monopoly over violence.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1481125350\";}i:4;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8376\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:78:\"Report on “Kurdish Resistance in Turkey and Syria” meeting (November 2016)\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:631:\"<p><img alt=\"\" src=\"/sites/default/files/Rojava%20Solidarity%20meme.jpg\" style=\"width: 350px; height: 263px; border-width: 3px; border-style: solid; margin: 3px; float: right;\" />About 50 people gathered in the Teacher&rsquo;s Club on Monday evening for a public meeting organised by Rojava Calling.</p>\r\n<p>Speaking at the meeting were Faysal Sariyildiz, People&rsquo;s Democratic Party (HDP) MP in Turkey, and Calvin James, a Dublin born DJ and activist who spent 6 months as a volunteer medic in northern Syria in 2016. Faysal joined the meeting by Skype from Brussels as the Turkish state recently cancelled his passport.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1480328230\";}i:5;O:8:\"stdClass\":5:{s:3:\"nid\";s:4:\"8359\";s:10:\"node_title\";s:82:\"Rojava revolution - Co-operatives & assemblies - video with commentary in the text\";s:21:\"node_revisions_teaser\";s:1445:\"<p><img alt=\"\" src=\"/sites/default/files/DecisionMaking.jpg\" style=\"width: 400px; height: 300px; margin: 3px; float: right;\" />As they have driven ISIS back in northern Syria / Rojava the Kurdish YPG and their allies in the SDF have won increasing visibility in western media. While such reports often mention the key role in this fight played by women in the YPJ, there is otherwise little examination of the revolution happening behind the front lines in Rojava. That revolution is why they stood and fought ISIS rather than fleeing. This can be true of a lot of alternative media coverage. In part this is due to the limited amount of information on what this revolution involves. but it&rsquo;s also in part because photographs of women with guns are judged to be more striking than women workers in a co-operative bakery or a community assembly.</p>\r\n<p>We&rsquo;ve tried to address this imbalance somewhat, both in our coverage and through bringing a number of Kurdish and other speakers over to talk at the Dublin Anarchist Bookfair. They spoke about what is happening behind the front lines. What is it that is being constructed that so many have judged is worth going to the front lines to defend against ISIS? Our speakers this year included Erjan Ayboga author of &lsquo;Revolution in Rojava&rsquo; and US academic Janet Biehl who has visited the region twice since the revolution to investigate what is happening on the ground.</p>\r\n\";s:21:\"node_revisions_format\";s:1:\"2\";s:12:\"node_created\";s:10:\"1474896093\";}}s:10:\"total_rows\";i:716;s:5:\"pager\";a:5:{s:9:\"use_pager\";s:1:\"0\";s:14:\"items_per_page\";i:6;s:7:\"element\";i:0;s:6:\"offset\";i:2;s:12:\"current_page\";i:0;}}', created = 1498171272, expire = 1498171572, headers = '', serialized = 1 WHERE cid = 'not_wsm:block_1:results:6f171fd0922b167e997398452392a596' in /var/www/public/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
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Date:

[Audio recording of recent talk and discussion in the Black Rose anarchist social centre in Sydney on the theme of identity politics and its relevance today. Below is the text of the talk given by Timothy followed by a lively and constructive discussion covering everything from sexual violence in radical spaces to ‘intersectionality,’ feminism and autonomous organising.]

This talk is at a midpoint between being an original work, and being an exegesis of Selma’s James justly famous “Sex, Race and Class.” This astonishingly brilliant work contains within itself the clear foundations of a historical materialist, or Marxist, conception of the relationship between capitalism and oppression. Because I have mixed in many of my own original points, both intentionally and no doubt by accidental misinterpretation, I would strongly suggest everyone here goes and reads the original.

 

 

Guest article.

I.

I was asked to give a talk on identity politics, and provide a critique of it. One problem with this task is that few people, if any, openly describe themselves as supporters of identity politics. Identity politics, especially in radical circles, is mostly used as a pejorative. It is a term that applies to that person over there, but not to us. Nonetheless I think there is a recognizable tendency in contemporary politics that could be described as identity politics, a movement which has developed its own practices and language. I am skeptical of the value of more precise definitions than this because I do not think there is one, and trying to provide one does violence to the fluidity of the subject matter. Like other movements, such as the New Left, identity politics resists classification.

My main concern with the discourse around identity politics, with its manifestations in places like the online blogging service Tumblr, are that it represents the fight for social justice as being a fight against an incredibly diverse array of oppressions, without a sense of an underlying structure that maintains, exacerbates and reproduces them. It therefore tends to articulate a quite liberal politics. In my view, a deeper critique of oppression’s underlying unity in diversity is required.

We can be very clear on one thing. What we mean by a critique of identity politics in the context of this talk is simply the critique of a politics which sees different forms of oppression as separate though interconnected social systems. We are contrasting this with a view according to which oppression arises from, or more accurately is part of, a single social system. A system centered on the extraction of labour from we who produce this world into the parasitic bourgeoisie. While identity politics tends to support this conception of different and at least somewhat independent oppressive systems, naturally the broad collection of positions it encompasses has many other aspects. We are thus critiquing identity politics in this talk in a very narrow sense. Still I think this conception of fighting various forms of oppression, where each struggle is its own distinct thing, is very close to the methodological heart of what is generally called identity politics.

Supporters of what is loosely called identity politics are usually well aware of how different forms of oppression interact, through invaluable concepts such as intersectionality. What is missing in modern identity politics is not an understanding of the interaction of forms of oppression, but an understanding of their root unity in a capitalist social system.

 

II.

The problems of this world appear to us, at first, like a huge pile of broken things; War, poverty, environmental destruction, and of course racism, sexism, queerphobia and ableism to name a few. The suggestion that these forms of strife are not independent, but share a common root, is an old one. These days however, it is common to suggest that different forms of political problems are independent social systems.

I am going to argue that various forms of oppression center around capitalism, or a system where a few individuals own the means of production, and primarily live off the takings of that, while most have no choice but to work for a living, or if they can’t find work, live on charity or unemployment benefits. Capitalist society is by its very nature a class society, but before we go on it’s important to understand how this crucial term 'class' is best defined.

The most popular way of looking at class bases it on how much money you earn, what schools you went to, whether you like high-brow or low-brow art etc. However, none of these are directly related to class in the Marxist sense. Class in the Marxist sense, a sense also used by many anarchists, is a question of whether you earn your living through your labor, or through ownership of the means of production. Those who earn their living through work are said to have ‘surplus labor’ extracted from them: that is the labour that we are not directly compensated for through wages, that goes into the employer’s pockets for free. These victims of surplus labour extraction are said to be the proletariat or working class.

So class is defined by the extraction of surplus labor. What many critics of Marxism, and even many Marxists, don’t realize though is that we don’t merely have surplus labor extracted from us at formal jobs and workplaces. For example, home-makers who raise children and clean houses are doing labor which is absolutely indispensable to the maintenance of the workforce, that capital needs in order to continue, yet they are not paid for it directly. Instead they in effect receive a portion of their spouse’s income. Students at schools and universities are doing work that capitalism absolutely needs to function, they are transforming themselves into value added human capital, yet they are also not compensated for it directly. Instead they are given the often false promise of higher wages or better jobs down the track if they keep at it and do well.

Then there are even stranger ways still that surplus labor is extracted from us. If you’ve ever used a self-serve checkout, labor is being extracted from you; you are effectively doing some of the work for the capitalist who is selling you things. If you’ve ever used Facebook, you’ve helped generate information which is then used to market products to you.

We can even go further than that. If you’ve ever given a friend a shoulder to cry on, you’ve done some of the emotional labor that capital needs to keep its workers healthy. All the time, always, we are doing things which keep this society running, for the disproportionate benefit of a few. I would hazard a guess and say that every single person in this room is a member of the working class, yet many of you have never set foot in a factory in your life.

 

III.

So we’ve seen that this extraction of surplus labor can happen anywhere- in the home, at university, and of course at our jobs. The division between those who do most of this labor, and those who benefit from it through their ownership of the means of production, defines the division between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or in other words the producing class and the ruling class.

But class can’t just exist as this simple abstraction: some do the work and some profit. It needs more than just this one single asymmetry. Marx said that the peasants of France were like potatoes in a sack, homogenous. Each village, each farmstead and ultimately in a sense even each peasant was similar. With peasants this doesn’t really matter to class society, because of their geographic dispersion and the difficulties this creates for them in organizing effectively.

Among the working class though, if there were a lack of internal divisions, there would be little preventing them from revolt. Without the logic of competition within the working class itself, revolution would be a quick inevitability. The only possible, sustainable working class is a working class riven with divisions. Thus the working class is organized into a series of binaries or oppositions, one part of which is superior in power and the other subordinated. To name a few such divisions, men and non-men, straights and queers, whites and people of color, white collar workers and blue collar workers, workers in the Global South and the Global North. The division between the producers and the exploiters can only be sustained through a vast number of other social divisions.

In addition to dividing the working class, these divisions also serve to create specialists. Women are nudged into being reproductive laborers, housemakers and the like, and also into various forms of care work, like social work and nursing. People of color are channeled into low paying jobs, and all too often into the prison industrial complex. Trans* people are disproportionately funneled into sex-work for a variety of reasons. When we realize the vast complexity of the different types of labor people do, white collar and blue collar, waged and unwaged, legal and illegal, it becomes easier to see the intricate patterns class takes in relation to oppression than when we are stuck with an image of the proleterian as factory worker.

All too often, Marxists have bought into the following picture of the working class that I am critiquing. In the first instance it really is just a sack of potatoes, and then secondary to that there are divisions and differences. I would like to emphasize again how deeply wrong this is. In addition to being an abstract relation of surplus labor extraction class is always a concrete institution with indispensable specificities. Class cannot live separated from its specificities, any more than a body can live separated from its organs. Those organs may change and mutate over time, perhaps some might even come in and out of existence, but the organs as a whole are absolutely essential to the body. It is not merely that the body causes the organs to come into existence, rather, neither can survive long without the other and really they are one.

What I am proposing is not that class is primary exactly. Class is no more primary than, for example, gender- because gender is absolutely essential to defining the actual shape that class takes in our society. Rather I think that class is not the same sort of thing as these other modes of oppression. In order for it to be a concrete thing, in order for it to be class as it is in any particular society at any particular moment of time, it needs a whole series of differentiations and complexities. Any capitalist society without such differentiations would be overthrown quickly. Oppression is vital part of that structure of differentiations and complexities.

 

IV.

A few things follow from the key role of various forms of oppression in class. One of the most important points to make is that anyone who wants to defeat class society has an interest in weakening the divisions created by oppressions. That is, to try and rip down the internal structures that holds up capitalism. If one were to attack a body, it would be prudent to target its vital organs. If class society depends on the division of the working class into dominant and subaltern components, then it is a necessity that these divisions should be attacked.

Moreover, it is useful to make a distinction between relative advantages and absolute advantages. It’s obvious that straight people have it relatively better than queer people, white people relatively better than people of color and men relatively better than non-men. But this does not imply that both groups wouldn’t be better off if oppression were defeated, i.e. this doesn’t imply that straight people gain an absolute advantage from heteronormativity. If this is the case, then it is very important we be aware of it. If working class men ultimately benefit from patriarchy, then it is unclear how non-males could persuade them to fight against the oppression of women, except through abstract appeals to morality. However, if we see that we have a common enemy it is clear why working class men should be allies to working class women, because the liberation of one is bound up in the liberation of the other. Our solidarity should not be based on charity; rather it should be based on a shared path to liberation.

The solution to attacking the system of relative advantages given to parts of the working class is not to pretend that they don’t exist, but to recognize that fighting and ultimately defeating them through the abolition of capitalism is essential. Precisely because the advantaged within the working class lose out less from oppression, and are often even duped into thinking they gain from it, it is important that those most interested in defeating every form of oppression, the oppressed group themselves, have space to organize autonomously against their subjugation.

I’m concerned that the picture of oppression as made up of a series of separate cultural institutions which are independent but interacting has encouraged movements to think that their various interests are either potentially opposed to each other, or not intimately linked. When we realize that we have a shared enemy, we can act in a greater spirit of love, solidarity and mutual support, fighting oppression more effectively both within our spaces and within broader society.

 

V.

So I’ve argued that it’s absolutely essential to attacking capital to attack oppression, indeed every attack on oppression is an attack on capital, but what about the converse, that in order to attack these oppressions, we must ultimately try to dismantle capitalism.

Capitalism doesn’t simply passively benefit from divisions in the working class, as if they were simply pre-existing problems. Rather capitalism actively works to sustain them. The popular culture it produces mirrors existing prejudices back at us. The way its wage systems are structured means that it renders many more women dependent on men than men dependent on women. The so called justice system is really a massive prison industrial complex which serves mostly to defend property rights and simultaneously maintain white supremacy, othering and criminalizing people of color.

But what about prejudice, the subjective component of oppression, wouldn’t that stick around after a revolution, even if the material base of oppression in the extraction of labor is defeated? It’s one thing to abolish the class structure, but how would this act to end things like racist slurs, queer bashings or even rape?

Well I don’t think that anyone could guarantee that ‘interpersonal’ oppression would disappear immediately if capitalism were defeated. By the same token though I don’t believe that prejudice is simply a free-floating system of ideas, rather I think that without the material bases that capitalism provides for prejudice, such as the production of competition between groups, racist, sexist and queerphobic popular culture and the massive violence of the state, prejudice would fade.

In school we are taught that prejudice is a kind of mistake that people tend to make sometimes. We are rarely, if ever, taught to think about the systematic roots of oppression. Our whole society tells us that oppressive conduct is primarily a mistake that individuals make, as if it were a problem similar to lying, being mean or cheating at cards. The truth is though; because prejudice is not natural it must be constantly reinforced. The ways capital does this are immeasurable- by dividing communities so we only spend time with people like us, by the generation and propagation of images of prejudice for mass sale, by telling us that our jobs are at threat because of women or people of color. Thus I think there is reason to be confident that just as oppression of all sorts is indispensable to capitalism, so capitalism is indispensable to all forms of oppression. Now you might argue that prejudice could continue indefinitely after the dismantling of capitalism because it is embedded in our discursive structures or something like that. But even if you do think that it would, it seems clear that there would be far more space for fighting such things in a non-capitalist world.

Now it’s worth reiterating, so this talk is not misunderstood by any who would have us abandon our specific struggles in favor of some abstract class struggle conceived of as separate to various struggles against oppression, that my conjecture that the defeat of capitalism is tied to the elimination of all forms of oppression does not mean that oppression doesn’t need to be struggled against now. Rather, grasping that oppression is inextricably linked to capitalism leads to the view that in order to fight capitalism, we must fight oppression directly, and that this is as important as any other struggle. Thus I finish by echoing Selma James:

"Power to the oppressed and therefore to the class."

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