Ben Lunn provides a Marxist critique of intersectionality and discusses an understanding of oppression and discrimination based on a class perspective.
Since the evolution of neoliberalism, personal identity has become a much larger proponent of ideology. It became popularised by Thatcher’s ‘There is no society, only individuals’ and has been used as a rallying cry against trade unionism, collective organisation, and arguably simple decency. Obviously the whole of the Western world has not turned into individually obsessed conservatives pursuing their own capital interests, so a liberal counter had to develop to attempt to challenge this; or in the very least, make it slightly friendlier.
Intersectionality has evolved to take up that mantle. For those outside of university circles, creative industries, or vague left wing Facebook pages, Intersectionality is a term to describe activism based on similar struggles i.e. women suffer from misogyny in the workplace, people of colour suffer from racism in the workplace – therefore the workplace needs to change its behaviour to become more open. It can also be used to identify more nuanced understandings of individual struggle i.e. someone who is Romani, disabled, LGBT+, and a women suffers multiple forms of oppression which either each impact slightly differently or amass into a larger bout of oppression.
Just like political correctness, intersectionality has good intentions at heart. It accepts that every single person faces various forms of oppression within our culture, and that this oppression is unique to each person. As a disabled person there are elements of life that I struggle with, but being a white male, doctors do not question my assertions about my mental health quite to the same degree as others. It is based in truth. But ultimately truth is only part of the battle, if the battle at all. As we have seen with political correctness, as well meaning people policed it so heavily reactionaries were able to poison it into becoming synonymous with censorship or ‘Anti- white Racism’. Also what good is saying the correct terminology if institutions are still racist, misogynistic, ableist, homophobic, transphobic and so on. The emergence of the Alt-right shows us, hiding behind correct terminology merely masks the intent, thus allowing the fascists to be vague as to avert attention and make the left look like the real danger as they obsessively call out racism.
What intersectionality ultimately lacks is identification of the root cause of societal problems as well as other materialistic manifestations of these problems. If we take race as an example, in Britain anti-Slav sentiment is huge due to UKIP’s constant assertions that Poles/Bulgarians/Czech/ Slovak people are stealing all the jobs. So under intersectional thinking, a Polish woman faces huge amounts of pressure in society because of being a woman and being Polish. However if the same Polish woman went to the US or Canada, the racist sentiment disappears, not because the US or Canada is some non-racist utopia, but because the significance of being Polish diminishes as issues of race within North America pinpoints on skin colour, so our Polish woman would simply be a white woman, so in theory is less oppressed. If we followed this thinking to an absurd level, if we kept shuffling people about in this manner we could in theory solve all the world’s problems without addressing the fact that racism exists, but merely move the people away from the racism.
This lack of material awareness starts to highlight the flaws in intersectionality. Mostly due to being the product of academic study and research, it itself is rooted in a certain layer of privilege and protection, which ultimately shelters it from needing to assess these wider problems. It also fails to include the historical circumstances too, namely oppression of certain groups has changed over time. If we take African-Americans as our example, up until the end of the Civil War, African-Americans were treated like cattle, not human beings, and were maintained like cattle as their owners needed them to survive to be productive. After that, segregation started to become implemented, which saw a rise in anti-black sentiment because they changed from being cattle to a perceived possible threat to the livelihood of white society. The effects of segregation are still felt today, as people are still alive who lived through it, and in reality the apparatus built has not been demolished, so ‘Black Neighbourhoods’ still exist, worse credit ratings, higher incarceration rates etc.
Intersectional thinking would highlight how wrong these circumstances are, however, it would struggle to truly analyse the situation well, namely in some cases African-Americans were treated better as slaves because animal rights in the US has far exceeded the rights of ethnic minorities, and the cruellest problem being lynching only began to gain momentum after the slaves were emancipated, so one form of oppression was replaced with another. A Marxist understanding shows us, oppression goes through stages, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism, and so we can begin to understand the fight for African-American rights is a journey more than a singular event that ‘fixes the problem of racism’. As we saw white people in America responded to the first Black president by electing one of the most rabid dogs the right could muster.
Beyond the historical failings, intersectionality fails to truly engage with the root cause of the problem. As Marxists we know class society, capitalism and imperialism are the sources of this oppression, as all the various oppressors are granted their power by the state and by capital. Intersectionality is correct in highlighting how different sections of the working class are oppressed differently, however instead of just highlighting nuanced oppression the objective must be to identify oppression and unite together on a class basis not just because sections of the class ‘suffer uniquely’ – on then can real societal change occur.
Equality can never occur for just one group, it is equality for all or it is equality for none. As Communists we have a strong history of accepting each community knows their struggle the best and how to address particular issues they face, and we show solidarity with that – be it picketing against racist thugs, fighting for disabled rights, defending LGBT+ community to be who they are and to love who they love – we Communists show solidarity as our strength comes from unity.
To conclude, in reality I do not have much of a problem with intersectionality due to its good intentions and genuine sincerity to fight for what is right but like Democratic-Socialists they fail to see that equality and fairness simply cannot be won under capitalism. In a socialist society, Intersectionality could be an amazing tool as then we will be in a situation to ponder and address each specific problem one by one. But until then, intersectionality, like political correctness is very fine icing on a cake we have yet to bake, and when the capitalist class has all the cake, who really gets the enjoy the icing?