WSM Points of Unity Explained: 7 - Oppression and Intersectionality


'7. We actively oppose all manifestations of prejudice within the workers' movement and society in general and we work alongside those struggling against racism, sexism, [religious] sectarianism and homophobia as a priority. We see the success of a revolution and the successful elimination of these oppressions after the revolution being determined by the building of such struggles in the pre-revolutionary period. The methods of struggle that we promote are a preparation for the running of society along anarchist and communist lines after the revolution.'

While acknowledging the huge harm caused by capitalism and the state, our concerns do not end there. The Workers Solidarity Movement are anarchists because we oppose all forms of exploitation and oppression. All of the degradation, marginalisation, and violence, in this society. And so we recognise that patriarchy, racism, queerphobia, ableism, religious domination and sectarianism, xenophobia, and every way that joy is sucked out of our lives, are oppressive social systems in their own right which must be overthrown. While capitalism and the state are instrumental in spreading these oppressions, and while these oppressions are instrumental in sustaining capitalism and the state, they have their own independent existence and reasons to be wiped out.

The WSM’s politics are fundamentally intersectional. ‘Intersectionality’ is a fancy word for some rather basic ideas. You can think of it as ‘overlap-ism’ instead. There are three main points, 1) that each person needs to be seen as a whole, 2) that no power system exists in isolation, and 3) that all forms of oppression and exploitation should be uprooted at the same time. These ideas were put together in coherent form in in 1960’s/70’s U.S.A. by black feminists who faced problems of racism within the supposedly universal ‘sisterhood’, and sexism within the supposedly class-united left.

The first point refers to the fact that real people aren’t cartoons. We are each complicated and multi-dimensional. For instance, a person is not just working class. They also have a gender (and a race, and so on). In general, life for a working class woman will be significantly different than for a working class man, not only because a woman is oppressed by sexism but because class itself is experienced differently.

This leads to the second point. Being precise, there is no such thing as ‘gender’ as a free floating thing. As a practical example, note how wealthy women can afford to travel to England for abortions but poor women often cannot. We can see here the effect of class and gender ‘intersecting’ or overlapping. Notice how this example shows both that gender is different depending on class, but also that class is different depending on gender (cis male workers won’t have this problem).

The third point says two things: that single issue politics don’t work, and that no struggle is the ‘most important’ or primary struggle. The most common case of single issue politics on the left is socialists stating that we must focus on the ‘class struggle’ because capitalism, which tramples on all working class people, is our real priority. The reality is that, as described above, class doesn’t exist in isolation, people aren’t one-dimensional. There is no cartoon worker. In practice, putting a priority on class at the expense of struggles against specific oppressions like patriarchy and racism means side-lining those oppressed people in favour of what is usually the straight, white Irish, settled, cisgender, male citizen. Saying that capitalism is the ‘most important’ raises the question of ‘most important for whom?’.

Furthermore, the idea that capitalism can be overthrown without being part of a broader movement against oppression is false. For example, how are the working class to succeed if over half of them (women and non-binary people) are being repressed? All power systems are linked, or overlap.

Equally we reject the liberal distortion of these ideas, unfortunately also referred to as 'intersectionality', which advocates for fairer treatment of all groups while under the tyranny of capitalism and the state. It’s the flipside of the above. Attempting to achieve our freedom by picking away at issues without tying that into a broader project of replacing the economic and political system as a whole will fail. Capitalism and the state function to support and spread all forms of oppression worldwide.

The model of 'bring capitalism down, and the rest will come down with it' is overly simplistic. Even in the Spanish Revolution, sexism was rife among anarchists and women were compelled to organise themselves separately to advance their rights in the Mujeres Libres (Free Women). In Rojava today, this mistake has been learned from and gender liberation is at the heart of the revolution. Considering all of the above, it’s clear that we can't wait until 'after the Revolution' to root out these oppressions or even for them to magically disappear by themselves, they must be worn away constantly in the present. A revolutionary movement which makes these affronts to humanity a low priority is not so revolutionary. The groundwork must be put in today, and after all revolution is a continuous process.

See our Anarchism, Oppression & Exploitation position paper for more detail.

This is one in a series of short articles explaining the WSM Points of Unity.
To listen to all these pieces together, click here.
To read all the WSM Points of Unity, click here.
To read about the next Point of Unity - Imperialism - click here.

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