This document, after a thorough discussion at all levels of the International Marxist Tendency over the past year, was approved unanimously by the IMT World Congress held at the end of July 2018 with the original title Marxist Theory and The Struggle Against Alien Class Ideas. Its aim is to draw a line between Marxism and a set of idealistic and postmodernist alien class ideas, which have affected for some time a layer of activists in academic circles and are also being used in a reactionary manner within the international workers’ movement.
This document is a call to intensify the theoretical and political struggle against these ideas and methods.
The crisis of capitalism has exposed many deep-seated currents of opposition to the existing society, its values, its morality and its intolerable injustices and oppression. The central contradiction in society remains the antagonism between wage labour and capital. However, oppression takes many different forms, some of them considerably older and more deep-rooted than wage slavery.
Among the most universal and painful forms of oppression is the oppression of women in a male-dominated world. The rebellion of women against this monstrous oppression is of fundamental importance in the struggle for socialist revolution, which cannot be attained without the full participation of women in the fight against capitalism.
For centuries the stability of class society has established a solid point of support in the family: that is to say, on the enslavement of women to men. This form of slavery is far older than capitalism, as Engels explained, the emergence of the patriarchal family represents the “world historic defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.”
This male domination and the subservient position of women in society and the family is now being questioned, along with all the other barbarous institutions that we have inherited from the past. Why should women continue to tolerate the position of second-class citizens? The questioning of the role of women in society and the family has serious revolutionary implications and can lead to a revolutionary questioning of capitalist society itself.
The senile degeneration of capitalism leads to a serious deterioration of the conditions of all workers. But it imposes particularly harsh conditions on women and young people. Many find themselves denied access to adequate work and housing. Single parents and their children are condemned to poverty and endless hardship. For many, even to have a roof over their heads becomes difficult or even impossible. In the workplace, women suffer from unequal pay to all manner of harassment and abuse. The situation has become absolutely intolerable.
It is possible to judge the level of civilisation of a given culture by its treatment of women, children and old people. From this point of view modern capitalism is far less civilised, more inhuman and cruel than earlier forms of human society. The level of alienation and degradation of human beings, the indifference to human suffering and obscene egotism have reached levels unknown in history.
The degeneration of capitalist society reveals itself in its crudest form in the epidemic of violence against women. In India, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico and other countries, this has expressed itself in an unprecedented number of abductions, rapes and murders. But in societies that like to describe themselves as civilised, similar horrors are being perpetrated against women and children. These are revolting symptoms of the sickness of a society that is rotten ripe for overthrow.
A growing feeling of alienation, injustice and oppression is feeding a general movement of rebellion among women against the existing state of affairs. The awakening of millions of women, especially the younger generation who feel a burning indignation about the discrimination, oppression and humiliation to which they are subjected under an unjust system is a profoundly progressive and revolutionary phenomenon that we should celebrate and support with the utmost enthusiasm.
It goes without saying that Marxists stand one hundred percent in favour of the complete emancipation of women. There cannot be the slightest hesitation, ambiguity or doubt about this. We must fight against the oppression of women at all levels, not just in words but in deeds. Under no circumstances can we allow the impression that this is somehow a secondary issue that can be subsumed under the general category of the class struggle. It would be fatal for the cause of Marxism if women believed that Marxists are prepared to postpone the struggle for their rights until after the victory of socialism. That is entirely false and a vicious caricature of revolutionary Marxism.
While it is true that the complete emancipation of women (and men) can only be achieved in a classless society, it is equally true that such a society can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Women cannot be expected to put to one side their immediate, pressing demands and await the arrival of socialism. The victory of the Socialist revolution is unthinkable without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism.
Marxists must fight for even the smallest reforms that can serve to improve the living standards of the working people under capitalism for two reasons. In the first place, we are fighting to defend the workers against exploitation, to defend living standards, democratic rights and the most elementary conditions of a civilised existence, to defend culture and civilisation against barbarism. Secondly, and most importantly, it is only through the experience of day-to-day struggle that the class can acquire a sense of its own power, to develop its organisational strength and raise its collective consciousness to the level demanded by history.
To demand, as sectarians and dogmatists have done, that the workers should set aside their day-to-day demands “in the interest of the revolution” is the height of stupidity. It would doom us to complete sterility and isolation. On that road the socialist revolution would forever remain an impossible mirage. In the same way, the struggle for the advancement of women, against reactionary male chauvinism, for progressive reforms and complete equality in the social, political and economic fields, is a fundamental duty of all genuine revolutionary Marxists.
On 8 March 2018 we saw a graphic indication of the colossal revolutionary potential of the women’s movement in Spain, when 5.3 million people (both women and men) responded to the call for strike action. Hundreds of thousands participated in demonstrations all over Spain. This magnificent mobilisation was held under the banner of feminism, although it also reflected a colossal mood of discontent that has built up in Spanish society on a huge range of issues, for example the pensioners who also staged mass demonstrations around this time.
The central issues, however, were specifically related to the oppression of women: the wage differential, violence and harassment of women in the family, at work, in education, the burden of housework, etc. This was exemplified by the monstrous case of gang rape in Pamplona, and the scandalous conduct of the right-wing judges, which was a clear proof of the rottenness and reactionary character of the entire Spanish state, police and judiciary, all of which were inherited directly from the Franco dictatorship as a result of the betrayal of the so-called Democratic Transition.
It is an elementary truth of Marxism that in any mass movement it is necessary to distinguish carefully between the reactionary and progressive elements. That there was a tremendously progressive element in this extraordinary movement is beyond all question. We not only supported it but did so energetically and enthusiastically.
But it would be completely incorrect and one-sided merely to emphasise this aspect of the movement and ignore the other side. What was the role of the leaders of this movement? They demanded that there would be women only pickets and separate women only blocks at the demonstration and wanted to allow only purple flags. The strike was supposed to be followed by women only, with men taking their place at work – that is to say, acting as strike-breakers!
This would have severely restricted the scope of the movement on March 8 and rendered a general strike utterly impossible. This was completely against the interests of the movement and clearly reflected the narrow outlook and reactionary and divisive policies of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois feminists.
Our Spanish comrades intervened energetically in this mass movement and got a very sympathetic hearing. Although we do not call ourselves feminists, we make it very clear that we stand wholeheartedly in favour of the struggle for the emancipation of women and are fighting shoulder to shoulder with all those who are struggling against oppression. In all the demonstrations and meetings, we found no hint of any prejudice against us, at least from the great majority of women who regard themselves as feminists.
Is it true that feminism is not a school of thought or a theory? That depends how you look at it. It is perfectly true that the millions who participated in the strikes and demonstrations in Spain on 8 March under the banner of feminism had nothing whatsoever to do with the feminist prejudices of the leadership. They were instinctively fighting against reactionary phenomena that filled them with righteous indignation. That is the starting point for revolutionary developments.
However, the leadership of that movement was in the hands of bourgeois and petty bourgeois feminists who most certainly represent a school of thought and a definite ideology that is fundamentally opposed, not only to Marxism, but essentially to the interests of the struggle for the emancipation of women itself.
Nowadays the concept of feminism has become so broad as to become virtually meaningless. All of a sudden, everyone has become a “feminist”. Even the reactionary politicians of the PP describe themselves as feminists, because, you see, they have women ministers – every one of them as reactionary and corrupt as their male counterparts.
The new second-hand version of the PP, Ciudadanos, is particularly insistent that it is naturally “feminist”. But the reality of this bourgeois feminism was glaringly exposed by the fact that the party leader Albert Rivera himself, stated that they could not support the feminist strike on 8 March “because it was anti-capitalist”. We also note that those politicians of Ciudadanos who finally decided to turn up on the demonstrations were booed by the demonstrators and expelled from the movement.
Even among the most advanced sectors there are all kinds of confusions and illusions, which are deliberately fed by the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois “theoreticians” of feminism. Another idea which is widespread is about the “transversal” character of the movement, that is, that the movement should involve all women regardless of class, political ideology, etc.
With a friendly and patient approach, we can combat these prejudices and clarify the confusion. But we must avoid mixing up our banners. In order to win over the best elements, it is necessary to maintain a firm and clear Marxist position at all times.
Is it necessary for us to call ourselves feminists in order to link up with this important layer? All our experience indicates that this is not the case. The following example is of great symptomatic interest. In Antequera (Málaga), we organised a meeting about the 8 of March feminist strike with several female speakers from left wing and trade union organisations. One of our female comrades spoke at the meeting, explaining that she was a trade unionist and a revolutionary Marxist and outlining our programme. At the end of the meeting, a group of young women, immediately approached her at our stall and said they wanted to get involved. These young women would obviously regard themselves as feminists. But they had no problem whatsoever in identifying themselves with the programme of Marxism.
If our comrades had adopted a sectarian and dogmatic attitude to the movement, they would undoubtedly have alienated themselves from such women as these. There is no question of Marxists adopting such a foolish approach as that. But at the same time, we must adopt a principled attitude, making it very clear that we are Marxists who are fighting for women’s rights and that we consider that this important struggle can only be waged successfully as part of a general revolutionary class struggle for a root and branch change in society.
Here we have a very clear analogy, which is the attitude of Marxists to the national question. Do we support the demand for the independence of Catalonia from the Spanish state? Yes, we do. But we do so, while explaining that on the capitalist basis, independence will solve nothing. We stand for the Catalan Workers’ Republic, which in the future could form part of a socialist federation of Iberian peoples.
But do we therefore call ourselves Marxist nationalists? Certainly not! We are not nationalists, but proletarian internationalists. It is precisely part of our revolutionary internationalist programme to support the fight of the Catalan people to free themselves from the tutelage of the reactionary Spanish state, the rotten PP government and the undemocratic monarchy inherited from Franco. But the phrase “Marxist nationalist” is a contradiction in terms.
Again, our experience in Catalonia indicates that it is not necessary to use such confusing language in order to convince the best and most revolutionary elements of the workers and youth, many of whom are beginning to understand the limited and reactionary nature of bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalism and seeking a more radical, revolutionary and class alternative.
In the last analysis, all questions – the question of national oppression, the struggle for women’s emancipation, the fight against racism – have a class character. That is the fundamental dividing line that separates Marxism from nationalism, feminism and every other manifestation of the struggle against oppression.
The 8 March movement in Spain only serves to underline these points. The mass movement against the oppression of women has a tremendous revolutionary potential. But this potential can only reach its full extent to the degree that the movement goes beyond the narrow limitations of bourgeois and petty bourgeois feminism and links up with a general movement of the working class to change society. Our task is to assist it to make the necessary transition.
While actively participating in such movements and attempting to win over the best elements, we must at all times bring out sharply the class divisions that exist in all these movements, basing ourselves on what is progressive in them, while exposing and criticising the bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements in the leadership.
The importance of theory
Engels stressed the significance of theory for the revolutionary movement. He pointed out that there were not two forms of struggle (political and economic), but three, placing the theoretical struggle on a par with the first two. Lenin emphatically agreed with Engels’ view when he wrote in What Is To Be Done?:
“Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity.”
The prior condition for the building of a genuine Marxist International is the defence of the basic principles of Marxism. This implies an implacable struggle against all kinds of revisionist ideas, which in essence reflect the pressures of alien classes on the workers’ movement.
Marx and Engels waged an implacable struggle against all attempts to water down the ideas of the movement, pitilessly exposing the false theories, first of the Utopian socialists then of the followers of Proudhon and Bakunin, and finally against the opportunist Katheder-Sozialisten like Dühring – the “clever” university professors who, under the pretence of “bringing socialism up to date”, tried to strip the revolutionary essence of Marxism.
Lenin, from the very beginning of his revolutionary activity declared war on the “young” people who, like Dühring, claimed that certain of Marx’s ideas were out of date and needed to be revised, demanding “freedom of criticism”. He showed that this so-called “opposition to dogmatism” was merely a pretext for people who wished to replace the revolutionary content of Marxism with the opportunist policy of “small deeds”, a trend that later crystallised into Menshevism.
Later, in the period of reaction that followed the defeat of the 1905 Revolution, the mood of despair among layers of the middle-class intelligentsia found an echo inside Bolshevism when a section of the leadership (Bogdanov and Lunacharsky) began to reflect the fashionable philosophy of subjective idealism (Neo-Kantianism) and mysticism.
It is no accident that Lenin wrote one of his most important philosophical works Materialism and Empirio-criticism to combat these ideas. We might add that Lenin was prepared to break with the majority of the Bolshevik leaders on these philosophical questions, which were also connected to ultra-left politics.
Before his death Trotsky was engaged in a very sharp struggle against a petty bourgeois tendency in the American SWP (Burnham and Shachtman) on the question of the class nature of the Soviet Union. Trotsky explained that their false position rejecting the defence of the USSR was, on the one hand, a reflection of the pressure of alien classes (the petty bourgeois intellectuals) on the SWP, on the other hand, a rejection of Marxist philosophy (dialectics).
From these few examples, we can see the vital role that the struggle for theory has always played in the history of our movement. What sets the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) apart from all the other tendencies is above all our painstaking attitude to theory. Over a century and a half, Marxism has built a scientific programme upon the laws that govern the movement of capitalist society. This is a colossal conquest, which we must defend against all attacks – whether from the right or the “left” wing.
The IMT has a proud tradition in this respect. In a period when many were abandoning the ideas of Marxism, including many former “Communists”, we remained implacable in our defence of the fundamental ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. The Marxist.com website has established a sterling reputation for its theoretical clarity. This is what has set us firmly apart from other tendencies in the labour movement.
We have always refused to make concessions to revisionists who reflect the pressures of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology. We remain completely impervious to the deafening chorus that demanded “new ideas” in place of the allegedly “old fashioned” ideas of Marx, which are, in reality, the most modern ideas, the only ideas that can explain the present crisis and show a way out of it.
The decay of culture
There are periods in history that are characterised by moods of pessimism, doubts and despair. In such periods, having lost faith in the existing society and its ideology, people search for a viable alternative, which is revolutionary of necessity. But the old society, although it is dying on its feet, still exerts a powerful influence. No longer commanding positive support, it emanates negative moods, as a corpse emits a bad odour.
In the days of its youth, the bourgeoisie believed in progress, because, despite all its brutal and exploitative features, capitalism played a very progressive role in developing the productive forces, thus laying the material basis for a higher stage of human society: socialism.
In the past, when the bourgeoisie was still capable of playing a progressive role, it had a revolutionary ideology. It produced great and original thinkers: Locke and Hobbes, Rousseau and Diderot, Kant and Hegel, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, Newton and Darwin. But the intellectual production of the bourgeoisie in the period of decline displays all the evidence of advanced senile decay.
The postmodernist confusion that passes for philosophy in our times is in itself a confession of the most abject intellectual bankruptcy. The intellectual snobs who strut around the university campuses with airs of great superiority treat the philosophers of the past with contempt. But the poverty of content of this so-called philosophy is so glaring that the postmodern flea-crackers immediately shrink into insignificance when compared to any of those great thinkers.
Postmodernism denies the concept of historical progress in general, for the simple reason that the society that spawned it is incapable of any progress. The mere fact that this postmodernist “narrative” could be taken seriously as a new philosophy is in itself a crushing condemnation of the theoretical bankruptcy of capitalism and the bourgeois intelligentsia in the epoch of imperialist decay. In the words of Hegel: “By the little which can thus satisfy the needs of the human spirit we can measure the extent of its loss.”
This is no accident. The present epoch is characterised by ideological confusion, apostasy, disintegration and dispersal. Under these conditions a mood of pessimism seizes the intelligentsia, which yesterday saw capitalism as a never-ending source of careers and the guarantee of a comfortable living standard.
In order to save the bankers, capitalism is preparing to sacrifice the rest of society. Millions of people are faced with an uncertain future. The general ruin does not affect only the working class, but extends to the middle class, the students and professors, the researchers and technicians, the musicians and artists, lecturers and doctors.
There is a general ferment in the middle class, which finds its most acute expression in the intelligentsia. This is a class which, crushed between the big capitalists and the working class, keenly feels the precariousness of its situation. While some are being radicalised to the left, the majority, particularly in academia, are dominated by moods of pessimism and uncertainty.
When they say “there is no such thing as progress”, what they mean is: the present society gives us absolutely no guarantee that tomorrow will not be worse than today. And that is quite correct. But instead of drawing the conclusion that it is necessary to fight to overthrow the present system that has led humanity into a historical blind alley and threatens the very future of civilisation and culture, if not the human race itself, they cower in a corner, retreating into themselves, while salving their uneasy conscience with the comforting thought that “there is no such thing as progress, anyway.”
Out of this narrow-minded prejudice, lack of vision and intellectual cowardice, other, more practical conclusions inevitably flow: a rejection of revolution in favour of “small deeds” (like pettifogging arguments over words and “narratives”), a retreat into subjectivity, a denial of the class struggle, elevating “my” particular oppression over “yours”, which in turn leads to an increasing compartmentalisation, and ultimately atomisation of the movement.
There are, of course, some differences between the situation today and the ideas that Lenin combatted with such ferocity in 1908. But the differences are merely of form. The content is very similar, if not identical. And the practical consequences are one hundred percent reactionary.
An age of apostasy
Lenin was always honest about problems and difficulties. His slogan was: always say what is. Sometimes the truth is unpalatable, but we need to state the truth always. The reality is that, for a combination of circumstances, objective and subjective, the revolutionary movement has been thrown back, and the forces of genuine Marxism reduced to a small minority. That is the truth, and those who deny it are merely deceiving themselves and others.
In recent decades the shrill demand for a revision of the fundamental postulates of Marxism has become deafening. Marxism, we are informed, is synonymous with “dogmatism” or even Stalinism. This desperate search for “modern ideas” that will allegedly supersede the “old discredited ideas” of Marxism is not at all an accident.
The working class does not live in isolation from other classes and inevitably comes under the influence of alien classes and ideologies. We also live and work in society and are constantly under these pressures and moods. The general moods of society can also penetrate the working class and its organisations. In periods where the class is not generally moving, the pressures of the bourgeoisie and especially the petty bourgeoisie are intensified.
After the long period when the workers fell into temporary inactivity the petty bourgeois elements came to the fore in the labour movement, elbowing the workers to one side. The workers’ voice is drowned out by the chorus of the “clever” people who have lost all will to fight themselves and are anxious to persuade the workers that revolution brings only tears and disappointment.
Following the fall of Stalinism, there was a general mood of confusion and ideological backsliding. Many people dropped out of the communist movement, and cynicism and scepticism became fashionable. Disillusioned with the betrayals of the Socialist and Communist parties, left-wing intellectuals reacted, not by breaking with Stalinism and reformism, but by moving away from the ideas of Marxism and revolutionary socialism altogether.
Many, particularly the ex-Stalinists, abandoned Marxism and the struggle for socialism and set off on quixotic quests for “new methods” (which, like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, they never find). To these aging cynics all their youthful dreams of revolution now seem like foolishness (“the sins of youth”, as the arch-revisionist Heinz Dieterich likes to call them). And one feels a powerful urge to settle accounts with one’s past, to correct these youthful peccadilloes and thus to discourage the new generation from following the road of sin.
The organisations of the labour movement were gradually pushed to the right. The workers were elbowed to one side by the middle class careerists, who seized the leading positions. This, in turn, caused many workers to fall into inactivity, leading to an even greater increase of the petty bourgeois element.
In such periods, the voice of the worker is drowned out by the reformist chorus of “innovations” such as “new realism”, “New Labour”, and so on and so forth. The ideas of the petty bourgeois become predominant. The ideas of class politics and revolutionary socialism are proclaimed as “old fashioned”. In place of “dogmatic Marxism” we have many, many different ideas: pacifism, feminism, environmentalism – in fact, any “ism” you like, except, of course, socialism and Marxism.
Trotsky dealt with such a phenomenon when he wrote the Transitional Programme in 1938: “The tragic defeats suffered by the world proletariat over a long period of years doomed the official organisations to yet greater conservatism and simultaneously sent disillusioned petty bourgeois ‘revolutionists’ in pursuit of ‘new ways.’ As always during epochs of reaction and decay, quacks and charlatans appear on all sides, desirous of revising the whole course of revolutionary thought. Instead of learning from the past, they ‘reject’ it. Some discover the inconsistency of Marxism, others announce the downfall of Bolshevism. There are those who put responsibility upon revolutionary doctrine for the mistakes and crimes of those who betrayed it; others who curse the medicine because it does not guarantee an instantaneous and miraculous cure. The more daring promise to discover a panacea and, in anticipation, recommend the halting of the class struggle. A good many prophets of ‘new morals’ are preparing to regenerate the labour movement with the help of ethical homeopathy. The majority of these apostles have succeeded in becoming themselves moral invalids before arriving on the field of battle. Thus, under the aspect of ‘new ways,’ old recipes, long since buried in the archives of pre-Marxian socialism, are offered to the proletariat.” Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Programme.
Matters today are no better with the ultra-Left sects who eke out a miserable existence on the margins of the labour movement. Though they invoke Marx, Lenin and Trotsky in every other sentence, they do not even bother to reprint their works, preferring more “modern” (or “postmodern”) ideas that they have taken over uncritically from the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. The Mandelite sect (the so-called United Secretariat of the Fourth International) is the clearest example of this.
On the other extreme, sects like the Taaffeites (CWI) and SWP in Britain and Lutte Ouvrière in France fall back into the swamp of “economism”, which Lenin sharply condemned. The demagogic mask of “workerism” and rejection of students and intellectuals as a whole is merely a façade to disguise contempt for theory and the substitution of revolutionary politics for so-called “practical politics” and “bread-and-butter issues”. It is hard to see which deviation from genuine Marxism is worse.
“New ideas for old”
In the tale of Aladdin, an evil wizard dresses up as a street vendor and offers new,shiny lamps as a free trade for old ones. Aladdin’s princess foolishly accepts the offer, and so loses the power of the genie of the lamp. It is an entertaining tale, but it contains a serious message: it is foolish to exchange things of proven value for bright shiny gold, which turns out to be illusory.
It is ironic that precisely at this time, when the crisis of capitalism has completely vindicated Marxism there is a veritable race on the “Left” to throw Marxist theory overboard, as if it were so much useless ballast. The former “communists” no longer even speak of socialism and have consigned the writings of Marx and Engels to the dustbin.
The ideas of revolutionary Marxism are presented as old fashioned and irrelevant. The middle class intellectuals and “progressives” fall over themselves in their attempts to discredit Marxism. This general atmosphere of ideological confusion, questioning of Marxist “orthodoxy” and rejection of theory can have a pernicious effect even in our own ranks.
This is not the first time we have seen such things. These anti-revolutionary reformist tendencies have always been present in the movement. As we have seen, Marx, Lenin, Engels and Trotsky all had to deal with the same campaign for “new ideas”, which has always been the battle-cry of every revisionist from Dühring and Bernstein onwards. We have dealt with some of these “contemporary alternatives” in the book by Alan Woods, Reformism or Revolution, Socialism of the 21st Century, Reply to Heinz Dieterich.
What this incessant quest to revise Marxism reflects is the despondency of the older layer who, demoralised by past defeats and failures, have lost the will to struggle for revolutionary change in practice, but wish to salve their conscience by posing as Marxists who, becoming “older and wiser” have understood that the “old ideas” were only after all utopian dreams with no practical relevance to the present world.
The sole purpose of these arguments is to divert the attention of the youth, cause the maximum confusion and to act as a barrier to prevent the new generation from gaining access to Marxism. It is only the mirror reflection of the campaign of the bourgeoisie against socialism and communism. But it is far more dangerous and damaging than the latter because it is a campaign waged under a false banner.
Its proponents are radically opposed to revolution and socialism but they dare not admit this – possibly even to themselves (to what extent they actually believe in the nonsense they write is something that only an expert psychologist can determine). They disguise their reactionary anti-revolutionary and anti-socialist message under a thick layer of “left” and “radical” phraseology that makes it all the more difficult for most people to identify. The ideas of socialism are watered down, revised or simply dropped.
The Marxist tendency is not immune to the pressures of capitalism. The confused and pessimistic moods of the middle-class intellectuals can sometimes find an echo within the Marxist movement, where they manifest themselves as a constant attack on “stultifying orthodoxy” and a constant appeal for “something new”, which remind us very much of the siren call of Aladdin’s wizard.
The dangers of student work
Revolutionary socialists are accustomed to the furious onslaughts against socialism and communism – not only those of the open defenders of capitalism and imperialism, but also the reformists (both of the right and the left varieties), and also the so-called radical petty bourgeois intelligentsia, some of whom wish to fight against capitalism, but have not the slightest idea of how to do so.
We have laid heavy stress on the importance of student and youth work, and this is giving us very important results, not just in Britain but also in many other countries, including the USA and Canada. We must continue with this orientation for the foreseeable future, but we must also give careful consideration to the way in which it is carried out.
It is true that work among students has enormous possibilities for us. But it is equally true that it contains many risks and dangers. We must always keep our eyes open to these dangers, in order to avoid very serious consequences. It is necessary to bear in mind that the universities are an alien milieu, full of people from alien classes and heavily under the influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas.
The student milieu remains overwhelmingly bourgeois and petty bourgeois, which also affects students who are of working class origin. In many cases they are only too anxious to climb up the social ladder and then kick it away, leaving their class far behind them in their rush to become doctors, lawyers and politicians. This may not always be the case, but all too often it is.
The universities are a transmission belt for the spreading of reactionary bourgeois ideas in society. They are veritable hothouses where the bourgeois develop a thousand and one weird and wonderful ideas to confuse and mislead the youth and steer them away from revolution. The universities are not “temples of learning” but factories for the mass production of ideological defenders of capitalism.
In the epoch of the senile decay of capitalism the universities have become a poisonous swamp in which reactionary ideas are flourishing, and nobody appears to have the guts to tackle them head-on.
It is the first duty of Marxist students to combat these ideas – not only the openly reactionary ideas of the bourgeois academic establishment but also the myriad confused notions of the “progressive” and “radical” petty bourgeois elements who pretend to be against the system, but in practice confine themselves to impotent raging against this or that symptom.
An ideological weapon of reaction
It is not an accident either that the proponents of these ideas gained prominence in the universities in the late 1980s or 1990s. As the class struggle receded, an extensive anti-Marxist campaign was undertaken in the universities. Individuals who had been engaged in the revolutionary movements of the 1970s and early 1980s were taken into universities and installed in comfortable jobs for the purpose of attacking Marxism.
These attacks were partly of a crude, openly pro-capitalist variety, but others were more veiled and cunning. Intersectionality and identity politics allowed the “left” intellectuals a convenient way of deserting the class struggle and abandoning socialism, whilst continuing to pay lip service to “progressive causes”.
It is no accident that these ideas are being pushed throughout the education system today by the ruling class. For example, Queer Theory can be traced to the wave of postmodernism and other idealist and subjectivist ideas which developed as a reaction against Marxism in recent decades. A recently declassified CIA report from 1985 called France: Defection of the Left Intellectuals reveals the delight of the intelligence agency with the rightward drift in academia:
“Mitterrand’s policy failures and short-lived alliance with the Communists may have accelerated disaffection with his government, but leftist intellectuals have been distancing themselves from socialism – both the party and the ideology – at least since the early 1970s. Led by a group of young renegades from Communist ranks who billed themselves as New Philosophers, many New Left intellectuals have rejected Marxism and developed a deep-rooted antipathy toward the Soviet Union.Anti-Sovietism, in fact, has become the touchstone of legitimacy in leftist circles, weakening the traditional anti-Americanism of the leftist intellectuals and allowing American culture – and even political and economic policies – to find new vogue” (Our emphasis)
The report goes on:
“The Bankruptcy of Marxist Ideology. Disaffection with Marxism as a philosophical system-part of a broader retreat from ideology among intellectuals of all political colours – was the source of the particularly strong and widespread intellectual disillusionment with the traditional left. Raymond Aaron worked long years to discredit his old college room-mate Sartre and, through him, the intellectual edifice of French Marxism. Even more effective in undermining Marxism, however, were those intellectuals who set out as true believers to apply Marxist theory in the social sciences but ended by rethinking and rejecting the entire tradition.
“Among post-war French historians, the influential school of thought associated with Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre, and Fernand Braudel has overwhelmed the traditional Marxist historians. The Annales school, as it is known from its principal journal, turned French historical scholarship on its head in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily by challenging and later rejecting the hitherto dominant Marxist theories of historical progress. Although many of its exponents maintain that they are ‘in the Marxist tradition,’ they mean only that they use Marxism as a critical point of departure for trying to discover the actual patterns of social history. For the most part, they have concluded that Marxist notions of the structure of the past – of social relationships, of patterns of events, and of their influence in the long term – are simplistic and invalid. In the field of anthropology, the influential structuralist school associated with Claude Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and others performed virtually the same mission. Although both structuralism and Annales methodology have fallen on hard times (critics accuse them of being too difficult for the uninitiated to follow), we believe their critical demolition of Marxist influence in the social sciences is likely to endure as a profound contribution to modern scholarship both in France and elsewhere in Western Europe.” (Our emphasis)
Similarly, the CIA was involved in covertly supporting a number of “anti-totalitarian” left-wing publications, such as Partisan Review, Der Monat (which published articles by Adorno and Arendt among others), Mundo Nuevo and so on. The common theme running through these journals was a defence of the “intellectual” in contrast to the class struggle.
It was precisely from the hands of these intellectuals that the bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas dominating the universities today arose. Foucault is seen as the father of Queer Theory. As the class struggle ebbed, in the wake of countless betrayals by the leaders, these ladies and gentlemen concluded that it was in fact the class struggle and the working class which was flawed and not its leadership. They merely adapted their “philosophy” to the interests of the bourgeoisie and the labour bureaucracy. In their minds, the class struggle was dissolved into an infinite series of small individual struggles with no common characteristics.
Insofar as they acknowledged the class struggle they disparaged the alleged “backwardness” of the working class and called for a change in the “discourse” rather than a bold lead from the cowardly leaders at the head of the movement. As we see from the CIA report, the ruling class, far from feeling threatened by any of these “radical” vogue ideas, welcomed them wholeheartedly as valuable tools in the ideological struggle against Marxism.
“Intersectionality” and “Identity Politics”
One of the most recent variants of identity politics to sweep the radical petty bourgeoisie is the concept of intersectionality. This is not just a minor deviation or confusion by well-meaning young people, but an entirely retrograde, reactionary and counter-revolutionary ideology that we must combat with every means at our disposal.
The ruling class has always striven to sow division in the working class, following the age-old tactic of divide and rule. They use any means to turn one section of workers against another: racism, the national question, language, gender or religion – every one of these has been used, and is still being used, to divide the working class and to divert its attention away from the class struggle between rich and poor, exploiters and exploited.
This fact is well known and understood by almost everyone on the Left. But in fighting against racism, sexism and other forms of oppression that exist in society, it is possible to go to the other extreme, abandoning the class point of view and playing the game of the ruling class by putting what divides us above everything else, ignoring the roots of oppression in class society, advancing the sectoral interests of this or that group to the detriment of the united class struggle.
Most people who are focused on particular forms of oppression tend to ignore or play down the real basis of oppression, which is class society itself. They oppose any attempt to unite the working class in a revolutionary struggle against Capital, insisting that we concentrate on this or that issue. The results are negative in the extreme.
In an increasing number of cases university authorities and student unions, hiding behind “political correctness”, identity politics and the alleged desire not to hurt the sensibilities of certain people, are practising a policy of blatant discrimination and censorship, banning certain people from speaking – not only racists and fascists, but also to an increasing degree, left-wingers.
The following example from Canada is sufficient to expose the counter-revolutionary activities of these groups. Following the US elections, a group of youngsters in Toronto spontaneously were trying to organise an anti-Trump demonstration through Facebook. These youngsters were immediately subjected to a torrent of abuse by the “identity politics” crowd who denounced them in the most vicious terms for not having a black speaker on their platform, etc. etc. As a result, these youngsters, feeling intimidated, were demoralised and driven out of the movement. This is not an isolated case but is entirely typical of the reactionary tactics of this tendency.
The time has come to call things by their right name: that is, to state clearly that identity politics and all the related nonsense that has raised its head in recent years represents a clearly reactionary tendency, which must be combated with the utmost vigour.
The national question
It is possible to draw a certain analogy between so-called identity politics and the national question. Of course, every analogy has its limits. But in this case, the analogy is very striking and can be simply stated: Marxists are opposed to and fight against any form of oppression or discrimination, whether on grounds of nationality, gender, ethnicity, language, religion or anything else. And that is quite sufficient.
Marxists will defend oppressed nations against powerful and predatory imperialist states. We are against oppression in all its forms. That is our starting point. But these elementary propositions by no means exhaust the question of a Marxist attitude to the national question. After A, B and C there are more letters in the alphabet.
Marx explained that the labour question is always the most important question, and the national question is always subordinate to it. The right of nations to self-determination is not an absolute right outside of time and space. It is always subordinate to the general interests of the international proletarian revolution. Lenin frequently emphasised the same point. The struggle of the working class against capitalism demands the complete solidarity and the closest unity of the workers of all nations.
While struggling against every manifestation of national oppression or discrimination, it is necessary to resist the attempts of the bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalists to subordinate the workers to their particular views and policies. In The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, in 1914, he wrote the following:
“It makes no difference to the hired worker whether he is exploited chiefly by the Great-Russian bourgeoisie rather than the non-Russian bourgeoisie, or by the Polish bourgeoisie rather than the Jewish bourgeoisie, etc. The hired worker who has come to understand his class interests is equally indifferent to the state privileges of the Great-Russian capitalists and to the promises of the Polish or Ukrainian capitalists to set up an earthly paradise when they obtain state privileges. Capitalism is developing and will continue to develop, anyway, both in integral states with a mixed population and in separate national states.”
It is well known that Lenin consistently supported the demand for the right of nations to self-determination, up to and including separation. But that is only one side of the equation. Lenin also defended the unity of the working class and its organisations and was implacably opposed to any suggestion of the setting up of workers’ organisations based on national lines (dare we say, on the lines of “identity politics”?)
In his writings on the national question, along with his insistence on the right of nations to self-determination up to and including separation, Lenin also emphasised the need for the Marxists to draw a clear line of demarcation between themselves and the petty bourgeois nationalists and Democrats:
“Secondly, in our country, the inevitable struggle to separate proletarian from general bourgeois and petty bourgeois democracy – a struggle that is fundamentally the same as that experienced by every country – is being conducted under the conditions of a complete theoretical victory of Marxism in the West and in our country. The form taken by this struggle, therefore, is not so much that of a struggle for Marxism as a struggle for or against all petty bourgeois theories that lie hidden behind ‘almost Marxist’ phrases.” (The national programme of the RSDLP, 1913)
We will always defend the rights of oppressed nations against their oppressors. But this does not mean that we must accept the impositions of the bourgeoisie of oppressed nations or subordinate the interests of the working class to their demands. On the contrary, it is the first duty above all of the workers of an oppressed nation to conduct an implacable struggle against their own national bourgeoisie, exposing its demagogic claims and resisting all attempts to subordinate the workers of the oppressed nation to “their” bourgeoisie.
In The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, written in February-May 1914, he writes: “The bourgeoisie always places its national demands in the forefront, and does so in categorical fashion. With the proletariat, however, these demands are subordinated to the interests of the class struggle.”
The Jews suffered from the most appalling oppression in tsarist Russia. The Jewish workers were doubly oppressed – as workers and also as Jews. The Bolsheviks stood for full rights for the Jews and fought arms in hand against the anti-Semitic pogrom-mongers. Yet Lenin denounced in the most emphatic manner the attempts of the Jewish Bund to claim a special status within the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party. He denied their right to speak exclusively on behalf of Jewish workers. He said that to accept such claims would be to deviate from proletarian policy and subordinate the workers to the policy of the bourgeoisie. The Bundists were scandalised and attacked Lenin for his alleged lack of sensitivity to the problems of Jewish people, but Lenin merely shrugged his shoulders. The principles of proletarian class unity and internationalism had to take precedence over the national question.
Let us draw an analogy between the attitude of Lenin towards national oppression and the question of “identity politics” in general and feminism in particular. The bourgeois and petty bourgeois feminists, like the bourgeois nationalists, demand categorically that the gender question must take precedence over all else, and that working class women must identify themselves first and foremost with all other women, including, and above all, the “clever” bourgeois and petty bourgeois women intellectuals who lord it over the feminist movement.
We answer their insistent demands as follows: while we will fight to defend women’s rights, we are not prepared to subordinate ourselves to the leadership of bourgeois and petty bourgeois women who are pursuing their own interests under the guise of fighting for the cause of “all women”. The interests of working class women are fundamentally the same as those of working class men. All are oppressed and exploited by the bankers and capitalists, and it makes no difference to them whether these bankers and capitalists are men or women.
Working class women are oppressed not only as workers, but also as women, and are faced with specific questions that must be raised in our programmatic demands. However, we cannot trust bourgeois and petty bourgeois elements to fight for the demands of working class women, since in the last analysis their interests do not coincide, and are mutually antagonistic.
In the case of the national question, the antagonism between the workers and peasants and the national bourgeoisie was frequently expressed in the form of a civil war. What was the attitude of the Bolsheviks in such cases? Let us take a specific example from the Russian Revolution. Was the national movement in Finland progressive or reactionary? The Bolsheviks granted the right of self-determination to oppressed nationalities, including the Finns and the Poles. But that is only half the story. In Finland, there was a civil war between the Bolsheviks and the Whites, the latter fighting under the banner of Finnish independence.
There is absolutely no doubt that if the Bolsheviks had had a sufficiently strong military force, they would have intervened in Finland to crush the bourgeois nationalists and support the workers, and the victory of the Finnish workers would not have led to independence, but the entry of Finland into the Soviet Republic.
Trotsky once wrote that the nationalism of the oppressed can be the “outer shell of an immature Bolshevism”. That statement is perfectly correct – in certain cases. But it is not true in every case. Nationalism of oppressed nationalities might be the outer shell of an immature Bolshevism; it might equally well be the outer shell of a nascent fascism. That depends on concrete circumstances.
For example, had the balance of forces been different, the Finn’s right to self-determination would have been completely subordinated to the interests of the international proletarian revolution. Unfortunately, the Soviet Republic did not yet possess the Red Army, and the Finnish Revolution was crushed by the Whites. In this case it would be utterly reactionary to argue that Finnish nationalism was the “outer shell of an immature Bolshevism”? And one could quote many similar examples.
Racism and identity politics
The United States is an incredibly diverse country, in large part due to its long and brutal history of wars, conquest and slavery. At a time when young American capitalism was confident of itself and its future and could absorb endless waves of immigrants it inscribed on its Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” This has changed into its opposite. The senile decay of American capitalism finds a graphic expression in the reactionary, narrow and xenophobic policies of Donald Trump. The policy of “America first” signifies an attempt to return to the old policies of isolationism at a time when it is impossible for the USA to extricate itself from the rest of the world and therefore from the world crisis of capitalism.
Trump’s reactionary demagogy aims to confuse the workers of the USA by blaming unemployment and poverty on immigrants and foreigners. There is an intensification of racism and a mood of fear among immigrants and non-whites. Among these layers the idea of “identity politics” can find a sympathetic echo. That is quite understandable. But like anything else, a correct idea when carried to an extreme turns into its opposite.
In the United States there is a long history of “identity” which predates the more recent “identity politics”. The concept of identity in the sense of identifying as Irish American, Italian American, Jewish American and so on, was used to push the idea that Irish American workers should identify with Irish American bosses, Italian American workers with Italian American bosses, Jewish American workers with Jewish American bosses and, more recently, black and Latino workers with black and Latino bosses. This was used in a reactionary manner to divide workers according to their ethnic origins and thus weaken the working class as a whole.
In spite of this, for a young black person to wish to assert their identity and to feel proud of it is an understandable and justified reaction to the kind of institutionalised racism that for generations has held black people in contempt, denying them any place in history and culture in the land of their birth. This is the same feeling developed by some indigenous groups in Latin America, who, tired of the exploitation and subjugation, feel proud of being indigenous and wish to defend their language and culture.
Similarly, it goes without saying that Marxists must actively oppose any discrimination against and oppression of people for their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity, fighting to abolish all reactionary laws on marriage and the like. That is part and parcel of a general fight against the right wing and the ruling class. Marxists denounce all the oppression and injustice that capitalism provokes, whoever may be suffering it. All the scourges of capitalism, from the oppression of women, to environmental disasters, or the oppression of small nations, fill us with anger against the system. We stand under the banner of “An injury to one is an injury to all”. Marxism is an all-encompassing theory of struggle for the liberation of humanity, and it places the working class at the head of that struggle because it is the most revolutionary oppressed social class, it has a special role in production and society, and because it is a direct product of the capitalist system. This leading role of the working class in the struggle against all kinds of oppression also derives from its own conditions of life and work which contain, in embryonic form, the future elements of a socialist society, which does away with the division into social classes, the oppression of one nation or people by another, and, of course, the oppression of women by men.
This active solidarity is completely incompatible with the notion of allyship, which arises from identity politics’ insistence on the primacy of subjective experience. Because it is argued that only those who have lived through oppression understand it and are able to fight it, those who are sympathetic to the plight of oppressed and marginalised groups are relegated to a secondary role as passive supporters.
But so-called “identity politics” is actually harmful to the cause of women, black Americans, immigrants, indigenous people and LGBT people. It deepens racial divisions while claiming to bridge them, throttles free speech and renders a rational debate impossible. Political demagogues and petty bourgeois fanatics who substitute shrill denunciations for argument shout down anybody who dares question their “political correctness”. An atmosphere of hysteria is generated.
These people assume that political and social problems can be reduced to the problems of oppressed groups. They seem to think that demands for colour- and gender- coded justice will solve all problems. In reality, the problems of oppressed minorities are a reflection of the deep contradictions of capitalism, not the cause. In this way these demands divert attention from the real problems and sow endless confusion and division. These people accuse the Marxists of ignoring the struggle of the oppressed. They say that we are waiting for a revolution that will solve all problems and that we have no answers for the here-and-now. Nothing could be further from the truth. We propose class struggle methods of fighting oppression. We propose militant mass tactics against all injustice. It is the proponents of reformist identity politics who tinker with quotas and legalisms while leaving the structure of capitalism intact. They sow confusion and divide people into smaller and smaller groups, leaving them powerless to fight back against the real source of oppression and exploitation. We merely explain that the problems of the oppressed are a reflection of the deep contradictions of class society and it is utopian to believe that these problems can be completely resolved while class slavery remains. Only the widest unity of all sectors of the oppressed and exploited can fight oppression today, and prepare the way to overthrow the capitalist system.
The politics of division
There is absolutely no doubt that racism is an important issue in capitalist society. It has always been used by the ruling class to divide and weaken the working class, setting one social group against another on grounds of ethnicity, skin colour, language, etc. The struggle against racism in all its forms is therefore a priority for Marxists who will always strive to achieve the maximum unity of the working class in its struggle against Capital.
In no advanced capitalist country has the fight against racism such great importance as the United States. The emergence of Black Lives Matter is the expression of the wish of millions of black people to fight back against police violence, discrimination and racism. That is entirely progressive and must be supported.
However, the tendency to “theorise” this phenomenon has led to exaggerations that can have negative results, particularly for the struggle of black Americans for their just rights. Marxists fight against racism and police violence, but we are under no obligation whatsoever to accept a one-sided and false ideology that does nothing to help this struggle and everything to hinder and weaken it.
Undoubtedly, there are numerous forms of oppression in addition to class exploitation, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and so on. As Marxists we acknowledge and fight against all forms of oppression. The problem with intersectionality is that it emphasizes what divides us over what unites us, focusing on the infinite combinations of different forms of oppression and so-called “privilege” that each person may experience and arguing that as a result we all have conflicting interests. This pits different oppressed groups and layers of the working class against each other instead of promoting the sort of collective, militant class struggle that is required to fight oppression and end class exploitation.
According to prominent intersectional feminist Patricia Hill Collins, “all groups possess varying degrees of penalty and privilege” and “depending on the context, an individual may be an oppressor, a member of an oppressed group, or simultaneously oppressor and oppressed”. She uses the example of white women being penalized by their gender but privileged by their race. The problem with this viewpoint is that it suggests that if a person doesn’t experience a given form of oppression, then they are an oppressor who has an interest in maintaining that form of oppression over others. This focus on the individual as the primary perpetrator of oppression only serves to further atomize the struggles of the oppressed. Furthermore, no one layer of the working class has any interest in maintaining the oppression of any other. Precisely the opposite.
Instead of uniting all the oppressed people in a common struggle against capitalism and the bourgeois state, the “intersectionalists” want to break down the struggle into its smallest component parts: pitting black women against black men, black disabled women against black able-bodied women, etc. By breaking down and separating things in this way they are dividing the movement, diverting attention from the main issues and pitting different groups of the oppressed against each other.
Thus every separate segment is invited to assert our rights against your rights. The movement thus is broken into smaller and smaller parts. In the meantime, the real oppressors, the bankers and capitalists, the newspaper barons and police chiefs, the reactionaries and racists, rub their hands and watch in glee as the movement consumes its energies in a myriad of senseless squabbles and conflicts.
This leads to attacks by some activists against other activists for their supposed ranking in a “hierarchy of privilege”. Thus, black men are said to be “privileged” compared to black women, and so on. The list is endless and the inevitable result is the atomisation of the movement into a thousand fragments. Instead of fighting against the common enemy, every segment of the oppressed is encouraged to focus on their own form of oppression and arguing against every other segment of the oppressed.
Rather than mass struggle, small groups of activists engage in their own isolated battles over particular issues. But matters do not end there. Taken to its logical conclusion no organisation is possible as inevitably every individual is unique, and has their own unique experience of capitalism. Talk of “allies” and coming together is merely a cover to obscure the divisive approach they advocate.
An example of the absurd extremes to which these ideas lead is the recent furore over the transphobia of radical feminists, like Julie Bindel, Germaine Greer and others who have made a number of inflammatory comments about transgender women, basically accusing them of “not being real women”. This is an expression of the obsession of identity politics with defining which category someone is in. Furthermore, instead of politically challenging ideas they disagree with, both sides respond with boycotts, no-platforming, protests and hooliganism that shuts down events and prevents debate.
If it is true that every segment of oppressed people experiences oppression in a different way, it can be argued with equal validity that each separate individual also experiences things differently, and therefore no other person can understand myproblems, which are my personal property. This argument leads us right back to the philosophical morass of subjective idealism that Lenin demolished so comprehensively in Materialism and Empirio-criticism. The subjective idealism inherent to intersectionality is exposed in its crudest form in the following passage by Patricia Hill Collins: “the overarching matrix of domination houses multiple groups, each with varying experiences with penalty and privilege that produce corresponding partial perspectives…No one group has a clear angle of vision. No one group possesses the theory or methodology that allows it to discover the absolute ‘truth.’”
Class standpoint abandoned
In any of the articles and speeches by adherents of “intersectionality”, one rarely finds any mention of class, much less the working class.
In those rare moments when class is mentioned, it is not expressed in a Marxist way, but as a form of discrimination (“classism”) – just one of many and by no means the most important. The working class is no longer the producer of all wealth, exploited in the productive process, but only one more category of people who are “discriminated against”: yet another sad case of ex-leftists who have completely abandoned the standpoint of communism and socialist revolution.
Rather than find the root of oppression in class society and, under capitalism, in the economic domination of the bankers and capitalists, the “intersectionalists” try to find it in the social behaviour of people and the language they use. In their view, women’s oppression today is not a result of capitalist wage slavery, but a result of the use of discriminatory language or of discriminatory structures in organisations.
In the former colonial countries, as a result of the ideological bankruptcy of Stalinism, different groups or tendencies sought, after the triumph of the Chinese and Cuban revolutions, a new, more original form, outside the “Marxist orthodoxy”, a new philosophy of liberation. This alleged philosophy argues that the key to the liberation of the ex-colonial countries is to do away with Eurocentric thought and language, and this will lead to an epistemological and thought decolonisation. This will be the basis for understanding the history of these countries in an ‘original’ way, and there will begin their liberation. This reformist and reactionary thinking invites us, not to fight against the bourgeoisie and its brutal forms of exploitation, but to find, epistemologically speaking, new ways forward.
From this point of view, what is required is not a revolution aimed at the radical reconstruction of society from the foundations, but reform and a change in people’s mentality and conduct. The aim is not to change society but to strive for individual self-fulfilment in the abstract – never mind the fact that as long as capitalism continues, so too will exploitation and oppression.
The revolutionary party is a tool for the working class to take power and transform society. It is not a miniature copy of the new society, but the catalyst for creating it. It goes without saying that we combat any expression of oppression in our ranks and in our political activity. However, intersectionalists imagine they can build a pure organisation that is purged of discriminatory behaviour, capable of creating a society free of discrimination. They do not understand that any organisation will be under pressure from the society in which it is built. For example, the oppression of women under capitalism makes it unlikely that we will have equal representation of men and women in most organisations as long as capitalism exists. We must remove all barriers for women and other oppressed groups to participate, but we cannot remove the pressures of class society, as long as class society itself exists. The intersectionalists end up focusing all their energy into building this utopian prototype of the future society within the confines of the old, instead of building the organisation that can actually end this society and its discriminatory behaviour. This idealist conception is a complete negation of the materialist and dialectical conception of society. The idealist conception also finds its way into the types of “reforms” that parts of this movement put forward: “gender neutral language”, “gender neutral bringing up of children”, etc. By such means the “intersectionalists” imagine that somehow the root of oppression is to be found in bad ideas that can simply be “educated away”, a completely reformist and utopian conception.
“Different schools of feminism”?
In the last few years we have witnessed mass movements against oppression and discrimination in several countries. From the initial Black Lives Matter movement against the police killing of young black people, to the same-sex referendum in Ireland, the movement in defence of abortion rights in Poland and the movement against violence on women in Argentina, Mexico and other countries. These movements reflect a progressive feeling which we must connect with and contain an element of questioning of the system as a whole.
In Spain the 8 March strike and the movement against the “La Manada” (wolf pack) gang rapists, involving hundreds of thousands and even millions, took place under the name of feminism. In the eyes of the masses the word has acquired the meaning of “struggle for women’s equality”. However, the leaders of the organisations calling for the 8 March “feminist strike” are feminists in the sense of adhering to feminist theory. They argue that the struggle for women’s liberation must be “transversal” (i.e. cutting across class and political lines), that men can be at best “allies” and should not have participated in the strike but rather their role should have been to replace women strikers in their jobs, and also promote the idea that exploitation of women under capitalism takes place in the reproduction of labour and therefore we should fight for “wages for housework”. As the movement became a mass movement, most of the participants would not have been aware of many of these ideas.
In these conditions some comrades have raised the idea that we should adopt the word “feminist” and describe ourselves as such. We don’t think this is correct nor necessary. Of course it would be a serious political mistake to start our arguments in writing and in our intervention with a polemic over the meaning of the word “feminism”. What we need to do, as in any intervention in a mass movement, is to use its most progressive and revolutionary aspects and propose, in a positive way our own programme and strategy. We have to argue, in a comradely way, against the wrong and counter-productive ideas put forward by the leaders of the movement, while linking up with the revolutionary spirit which inspires its ranks. This is what we have done so far, in places like Mexico, in Italy (where there was a mass movement around 8 March in 2017) and in Spain. The fact that we do not call ourselves “feminist” has not been an obstacle for our intervention.
Many young men and women call themselves feminists without actually being such from a Marxist point of view. They are beginning to be aware of inequality in society and what they mean by calling themselves feminists is that they are against oppression of women and want an equal society. That can be a starting point for being won to revolutionary Marxist ideas.
Feminists often blame “patriarchy” for most of the problems of society. It is true that the enslavement of women is the oldest form of slavery, which arose alongside class domination and has existed for thousands of years. Only a fundamental reconstruction of society can end this abominable slavery once and for all. But such a fundamental change can only be brought about by the united revolutionary action of the working class. That presupposes the unity in action of working class men and women fighting for their emancipation as a class. Feminists tend to see patriarchy as a structure separate from that of class society, which leads to the inevitable conclusion that the struggle for the emancipation of women is separate from that of emancipating the working class. This is a reactionary and divisive idea, which is also present, albeit in a diluted form, among many who call themselves Marxist feminists and socialist feminists.
The full emancipation of women can only be achieved by a social revolution, which will abolish the exploitation upon which the oppression of women is based. Does that mean that we ignore the struggle for the advancement of, for example, women under capitalism? Of course not! We will fight against even the smallest manifestation of discrimination and the oppression of women. That is the prior condition for achieving the militant unity of all workers.
It is sometimes argued that there are different feminist schools of thought, and this is undoubtedly the case. It is also the case that there are many different kinds of anarchism, and some are closer to Marxism than others. But that does not change the fact that there is a clear dividing line between genuine Marxism and anarchism.
Although there are different kinds of anarchism, they all have the same kind of prejudices, to one degree or another. The way to win over those anarchists who are closer to communism is not to pretend that these differences do not exist, or to say to the anarchists: “You see! We are really all fighting for the same thing!” Quite the contrary; the way to dispel the confusions of an honest anarchist is to explain the difference between the confused and unscientific ideas of anarchism and the clear, scientific ideas of revolutionary Marxism.
At the time of the Russian Revolution some described themselves as “communist anarchists”. As a result of the experience of the Revolution, the best proletarian elements among the anarchists moved closer to Bolshevism and fought side by side with the Bolsheviks in the revolution and the Civil War. Many of them joined the Communist Party. The tendency of “anarcho-communism” represented a kind of halfway house or transitional stage in the movement towards communism.
In the same manner, it may be the case that some kinds of feminism are more progressive than others. Marxists must fight with every means at our disposal for the complete emancipation of women. One might ask what is feminism? This is a question that it is quite impossible to answer in any definite way. It is a term used both by conservatives and liberals, progressives and left-wingers. It is used to advocate the invasion of Afghanistan, on the grounds of protecting women’s rights, and at the same time people who want to fight for equality and the liberation of humankind use it. In fact, even in Spain, the right wing ruling party also used purple feminist ribbons on 8 March to show they “are feminist too”! The Oxford dictionary defines it as: “The advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.” That definition shows the central problem of the term: that it says nothing at all really from a class perspective.
Feminism might best be defined by what it is not: it does not give any answer as to how oppression arose and hence how it can be combated and removed. All the different kinds of feminism have their own answers, if they have any at all. Feminism implies that somehow it is possible to remove oppression of women before removing the root cause of this oppression: capitalism and class society in general. Instead of clarifying, it blurs the class lines. All the different kinds of feminism only look at the symptoms and not the root causes. As Marxists we have to state what is. We need a clear line of demarcation to feminism. This is not because we do not fight for “women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”, which of course we do, but because even the “best kind” of feminism only creates confusion and a false sense of unity across class lines.
Therefore it makes no sense to declare ourselves Marxist feminist. Actually it is directly counterproductive, and it does not help to clarify the question for the honest young class fighters who call themselves feminists. On the contrary, we have to explain openly why we are not feminists, as a means to help these people on the road to Marxism and so as not to create a bridge for petty-bourgeois, non-class ideas and philosophical idealism to slip into the ranks of the Marxists.
Although we cannot declare ourselves feminists, we must not give the impression that we are in any way indifferent to the deep-seated sense of indignation felt by the mass of working class women who suffer both in their position as workers and women under capitalism. Nor should we give any credence to the false idea that Marxists subordinate the struggle for the liberation of women to a distant socialist future. Under the banner of feminism, despite all its contradictions and limitations, a new generation of women are moving into struggle against the present state of things. Setting out from this concrete situation, and recognising its revolutionary potential, we must find the way to link the age-old oppression of women with the concrete conditions of the era of capitalist decay.
Similarly, when working as revolutionaries within the trade unions we participate in the day-to-day struggles of fellow workers, whilst also demanding fighting unions and socialist policies. In the same way we must participate in every mass movement of women, striving to give it the most militant character and linking the immediate demands to the need for a fundamental change in society. It is our obligation to bridge the transition between the democratic aspirations of women and their fight for equality with the idea of a common struggle of all workers against an oppressive system, emphasising the need to unite to strike a final blow against capitalism, which always seeks to divide the oppressed class to perpetuate its domination.
By saying you are a “Marxist feminist” you end up implying that Marxism does not encompass the fight for equality. It is true that Stalinism did not. But just as we fight a battle against Stalinism to reclaim the Marxist heritage we must do so in this field. We argue that Stalinism is not Marxism, and the Stalinist bureaucratic regime was not Socialism, and in the same manner we must argue that the Stalinist view on women, homosexuals etc. has nothing in common with Marxism.
By definition, the category “women” includes women of all classes – classes which have irreconcilable interests. As it blurs these decisive class distinctions and contradictions, feminism cannot be reconciled with Marxism, which starts with a class analysis. If we are to win over the feminists moving towards Marxism, this can only be done by being absolutely firm on our principles. We must repeatedly stress that the full emancipation of women can only be achieved through class unity and the socialist revolution. There are those who call themselves feminists because they defend women’s rights. Marxists also defend women’s rights, though we are not feminists. In any case we need to explain in a comradely way that we do not oppose their struggle, quite the opposite, we are in favour of women’s rights, but we think they can be achieved through the struggle against capitalism, not by dividing. At the same time, we must be at the forefront of every struggle against discrimination and inequality, struggling for even the smallest demand that tends to advance the cause of equality and opposes any form of oppression or discrimination, such as:
- Universal employment with equal pay for work of equal value.
- An end to austerity (which disproportionately affects women, cutting their wages and forcing them to do more household work, caring for the young and the elderly to make up for the lack of social services)
- Right to abortion
- Free, quality health care for all, to include unrestricted access to free family planning, abortion and domestic violence centres
- Fully paid parental leave
- Massive programme of social house building
- An extensive network of free and high-quality nurseries, covering actual working hours
- Free and high-quality elderly care, both residential and non-residential
- The provision of free catering and laundry services
- Free, high quality, canteens at work and in schools
- Oppose and fight violence against women
However, the prior condition for a successful struggle in the workplace is the unity of men and women workers as workers. The fundamental line of demarcation is that Marxism explains society in class terms, not in terms of gender. The most fundamental division in society is that between workers and capitalists, exploited and exploiters. That there are other kinds of oppression is also true. But in the last analysis, not one of these can be solved on the basis of capitalism.
As on every other issue (wages, pensions, housing, health, working conditions) the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism is the only way to mobilise and organize the working class in preparation for the overthrow of capitalism, in which women workers will play an absolutely vital role.
We of course welcome the fact that there are feminists who have begun to understand the limitations of feminism. But this positive trend can only have significance as a transitional stage that leads finally to the adoption of a consistently revolutionary class point of view. The complete emancipation of women will be achieved through the triumph of the socialist revolution, or it will not be achieved at all.
In place of a genuine struggle for equality we are offered artificial quotas. In place of the struggle for emancipation through a revolutionary reconstruction of society we are offered “political correctness”. This boils down to endless petty quibbling over words and semantics: the impermissibility of using this or that word, the need to change “gender-based language” and so on and so forth.
In the true spirit of postmodernist “narrative” that substitutes the Word for the Deed, endless time has been wasted in certain countries where people who describe themselves as “Lefts” and even “Marxists” perform verbal acrobatics to twist language, neutralising masculine and feminine forms, ending up with mutations like “compañer@s” in Spanish, “compagn*” in Italian, and so on. This kind of playing with words does nothing whatsoever to advance the struggle for the emancipation of women, black people or anybody else. It is tokenism of the crudest and most ridiculous kind.
In the German Ideology Marx and Engels already dealt with the idea that by changing the consciousness of individuals you can change material conditions and that in order to have a revolution you first need to “educate” people:
“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is, of necessity, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.”
The postmodernist obsession with language puts the whole question upside down. Changing the language will not change one iota the real fact of oppression. To think so reveals a completely idealistic approach. Language changes and evolves, reflecting changes in the real world, but the converse is patently untrue.
Squabbles about words is a tendency that is typical of university seminars where people have all the time in the world to dedicate to endless arguments about nothing in particular, like a dog chasing its own tail. The German poet Goethe wrote: “In the beginning was the Deed.” What is required to bring about the emancipation of women is action to combat oppression and discrimination. But the prior condition of successful mass action is precisely the militant unity of working-class women and men against the bosses whose rule is based on the common enslavement of all workers.
It seems that the “radical” petit bourgeois must always have something or other to fuss about, such as so-called Queer theory. This is not the place to analyse this theory in detail. This can be done in separate documents and articles. Suffice it to say that this is a thoroughly reactionary concept rooted in philosophical idealism in its crudest form. It sows divisions that undermine the struggle against oppression and inevitably play into the hands of reaction, irrespective of the intentions of those who espouse these notions.
Marxism is based upon philosophical materialism – the only truly scientific method for analysing nature, society and human behaviour. Whether one likes it or not, sex in the animal world (including human animals) is a normal method of reproduction. Asexual reproduction exists in the animal world, for example in earthworms and certain fishes. But it disappears with the development of evolution and is totally absent amongst mammals.
Sex is not something that people have consciously determined or invented. It was a product of evolution. The idea that sex can be determined artificially by human volition is both arbitrary and philosophically and scientifically false.
The fundamental sexual division is between male and female. This is naturally determined by the reproductive process. This in turn carries within it the germ of the division of labour, which at a certain stage becomes the basis of class divisions in society. The subjugation of women to men, expressed in patriarchal family relations, coincides with the beginnings of class society, and will only finally be eradicated after the abolition of class society itself.
Marxists fight for the real emancipation of women and all other oppressed sections of society. But emancipation cannot be achieved merely by imagining that there is no such thing as gender. One can imagine oneself to be anything one pleases. But in the end, one is compelled to accept material reality over the mental meanderings of philosophical idealism.
Among the innumerable weird and wonderful variants of Queer theory (we should not really dignify this as a theory at all) there appears to be a common thread: firstly, it presents gender (and even sex) as a purely social construct, denying all biological and material aspects. The next step is to create in the imagination an almost infinite variety of genders, from which everyone is free to take their pick.
We do not deny the fact that in addition to male and female there are intermediate forms, which have been known for a very long time. In pre-Columbian America, such people were regarded as a special social group and treated with respect.
Modern science enables people to change their sex and this should be available to any person that requires it. It goes without saying that we are totally opposed to any form of discrimination and intolerance towards transgender people. Nor do we have any objection to anyone identifying as they please. However, by presenting this as a means of changing society, we end up with the idea (highly convenient for the ruling class) that emancipation is purely a question of personal lifestyle choice.
We see the negative effects of this kind of thing in the ugly splits and bitter feuding between some radical feminists and some trans-right activists. Such developments cannot be said to serve the fight against oppression in any sense, shape or form. They are thoroughly reactionary and must be combatted.
“Identity” in the labour movement
Marxists fight for the emancipation of women and will defend every progressive measure, no matter how partial, that tends to improve the status of women even within the limits of the present capitalist system. But we will conduct this fight with our own methods, that is to say the methods of proletarian class struggle.
We point out that in the last analysis the real and full emancipation of women can only be established on the basis of a root and branch transformation of society, that is to say, by means of a socialist revolution. But the prior condition for this is that the working class must be united and conscious of its revolutionary tasks.
Marxists are opposed to and fight against any kind of oppression or discrimination. But in opposing and fighting oppression and discrimination, we must never forget that our main aim is to fight for socialism, and that means above all to defend the unity of the working class. We stand for the complete unity of the working class, above all distinctions of gender, ethnicity, language or religion. Whatever serves to preserve the unity of the workers and raise their class consciousness is progressive. Whatever tends to divide the workers, for whatever reason, is reactionary and must be combated. This is a point which we must insist on. The oppression of women – and the particular oppression of working-class women – as well as other scourges of capitalism, such as the destruction of the environment or national oppression, are an integral part of capitalism. You cannot have capitalism without domestic slavery or the “double burden” faced by working class women; you cannot have capitalism without the devastation of the planet due to the thirst for profit of the big multinationals; and you cannot have capitalism without the enslavement of the small nations by the imperialist powers to plunder their resources and ensure their hegemony against other powers. Hence, the only real way of putting an end to all these scourges is through the socialist transformation of society, led by the working class.
The bureaucracy of the labour movement has learnt to play off different groups of workers against each other, allowing pay differentials between different sections of the working class. The trade union leaders, looking for an easy life and a compromise with the bosses sell out certain groups of workers in return for concessions for others. In more and more countries “positive discrimination” is systematically used by the bureaucracy to fill leading positions in the labour movement with careerist elements who use their gender or ethnicity to push themselves forward, aided and abetted by the right-wing bureaucracy, elbowing left-wing candidates to one side.
The bureaucrats are keen to establish “reserved seats” for women, black people, etc., for their own reasons. The trade union bureaucracy in particular uses this device in order to dilute the composition of elected bodies. They lean on groups of careerist bureaucrats who supposedly represent “special groups”, who thus make their way up the ladder through such patronage. And these are happy to support the leadership as long as they are given autonomy to push their “issues”. Rather than giving “representation” to these “special groups” what is achieved is an even less representative leadership, not elected on the basis of their actual political positions, but simply to satisfy quotas and so on.
The insistence on gender or ethnicity as the main issue tends to divide people, not on the basis of class but of other considerations. The consequences of this are extremely negative for the working class. It is not an accident that the right-wing trade union leaders, and the reformists and left reformists in particular, everywhere use “political correctness” and “identity politics” to divert attention from the class struggle and from the real issues facing the working class. They concentrate on questions of language rather than fighting oppression with militant class struggle.
These pernicious ideas are weapons in the hands of the most reactionary sections of the trade union bureaucracy, the main role of which is to police the working class and limit the scope and effectiveness of the class struggle. To the traditional armoury of the bureaucracy’s police methods, the threat of disciplinary measures, the removal of militant shop stewards, expulsions, etc., is now added a new method: intimidation and witch hunts by the fanatics of “identity politics”.
At one trade union congress in Britain the advocates of Identity Politics moved a resolution that stated that the union must automatically accept any accusation of harassment made by a woman against a man as true, with no further proof than the word of the woman concerned. A male delegate challenged this as follows: “I am a shop steward. Imagine that I have a woman supervisor who wants to get rid of me. She would have a very easy task: just accuse me of harassment and I would be sacked immediately and the union could not defend me.” On this occasion, the motion was defeated. But the danger of such policies is evident.
The reason they are not being seriously challenged is not because they have won the argument but because people are afraid of being bullied by the proponents of Identity Politics. Anyone who dares to object to their intrigues is immediately branded a racist, a misogynist or any other colourful epithet that occurs to them. This has led to hooligan conduct and vicious campaigns of slander directed against left-wing trade unionists who are witch-hunted on trumped up charges. Complaints are immediately drowned out by the shouting and bawling of the advocates of Identity Politics who do not hesitate to hurl the most scandalous insults and abuse against their opponents.
The principle of quotas is in reality the most blatant kind of rigging. Many a right-winger has been elected with the justification that he or she represents this or that minority group. But everyone keeps quiet about this for fear of being denounced allegedly defending discrimination.
In Britain Tony Blair was eager to use all-women shortlists to select careerist MPs and squeeze out the left. Ironically, it was the trendy “Lefts” who originally pushed these ideas as part of their positive discrimination agenda. They thus played right into the hands of the right wing. The right wing of the Labour Party used the national question to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, by proposing two extra seats of the NEC, one from Wales and another from Scotland, arguing that the “nations” should be represented. By a strange coincidence both the Scottish and Welsh Labour Parties were controlled by the right wing.
The left reformists, always keen to prove themselves and to present themselves as the most feminist, insist more forcefully on this. They insist on quotas and special treatment for women and others. Podemos, Momentum and others go much further on these questions than the traditional labour movement, which reflects the petty bourgeois influence on these organisations. One of the reactionary consequences of quotas are that they deepen division and competition within the working class. In the present period of acute crisis of capitalism, with cuts and austerity being carried out by all governments, a whole number of reactionary ideas can get the ear of certain backward sections of the working class, who can draw the reactionary conclusion that our problems do not derive from capitalism as such, but from the presence of national minorities and immigrants, from women claiming rights, etc. This is the basis of the propaganda of the fascist and most reactionary right-wing movements: we do not have enough jobs or crèches, or we have limited access to university or social benefits, etc., due to the quotas granted to national minorities, to gender, etc. All this helps to spread the poison of racism and division within the working class. Besides, those elected on the basis of a quota will always be considered as second rate, and what they say can easily be dismissed by saying, that they do not have a mandate but are only elected because they are women/black/gays or whatever quota they were elected through.
In Brazil, the situation is even worse. Almost the entire Left has capitulated to the atrocious proposal to divide the entire population on lines of “ethnicity” in order to then introduce quotas in universities, etc. – something our Brazilian comrades have taken an implacable stand against. They have argued that what we should fight for is education, health care, housing, etc. for all – an achievable goal given the wealth that exists in society – rather than viewing these resources as scarce and subsequently fighting for their proportional allocation.
We are implacably opposed to so-called positive discrimination, quotas, representation and all the rest. The way to ensure the maximum participation of women and minorities in the labour movement is to prove in action, not words, that we are fighting against all kinds of oppression and discrimination, for jobs for all, equal wages for work of equal value, etc. Only on the basis of a fighting programme will we succeed in drawing in the most oppressed layers of society. But that means that the leadership must be in the hands of the best fighters, whether they are men or women, black or white, straight or gay.
This empty tokenism was introduced into the labour movement firstly through the white collar unions, based on the middle class professions. They were closest to the middle class intellectuals and students. As a result of de-industrialisation and trade union mergers, these layers elbowed aside the workers. The more middle class types who are more articulate (or at least shout louder) were able to infect the movement with their “trendy” ideas, which they established as an accepted norm.
This has affected the unions in many countries to one degree or another. Thus we have reserved seats for women, LGBT, black people, disabled, and others no doubt. They have their own separate conferences, committees, etc., each with their own little bureaucracies. They insist that they alone can decide on these issues. And as long as they do not rock the boat for the rest of the union bureaucracy, they are allowed to run their own fiefdoms. The left reformists and sectarians accept this state of affairs, because their ideas and policies are also petty bourgeois in character.
Reaction against liberal feminism
Middle class women are clamouring for new career outlets: to become women bankers, CEOs, bishops – or even the President of the United States. This is a new variant on the old song of the reformists: “I am in favour of improving the conditions of the working class – one by one, commencing with myself.”
Precisely in what way the entry of women into the boardrooms of banks helps the cause of women workers is not explained. Are women bosses any kinder to their employees than male ones? The record is not very encouraging in this respect. And just how the successes of Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel or Theresa May have helped the cause of their “sisters” on the factory floor is a mystery that remains to be solved.
Gradually a growing number of politically conscious women have come to understand the negative aspects of feminism. They see that instead of combating capitalism as an exploitative and oppressive system, “lean in feminism” encourages women to think of the movement only insofar as it leads to individual gains for a certain layer of women.
In her book Why I Am Not a Feminist Jessa Crispin has described feminism as a self-serving brand popularised by CEOs and beauty companies, a “fight to allow women to participate equally in the oppression of the powerless and the poor.” That is not badly said, although one notes that, despite the book’s title, Jessa Crispin still describes herself as… a feminist.
The New York Times comments: “Why I Am Not a Feminist comes at a time when some portion of liberal women in America might be ready for a major shift – inclined, suddenly, toward a belief system that does not hallow the ‘markers of success in patriarchal capitalism… money and power,’ as Crispin puts it. There is, it seems, a growing hunger for a feminism concerned more with the lives of low-income women than with the number of female CEOs.
“The opposing view – that feminism is not just broadly compatible with capitalism but actually served by it – has certainly enjoyed its share of prominence. This is the message that has been passed down by the vast majority of self-styled feminist role models over the past ten years: that feminism is what you call it when an individual woman gets enough money to do whatever she wants. Crispin is ruthless in dissecting this brand of feminism. It means simply buying one’s way out of oppression and then perpetuating it, she argues; it embraces the patriarchal model of happiness, which depends on ‘having someone else subject to your will.’ Women, exploited for centuries, have grown subconsciously eager to exploit others, Crispin believes. ‘Once we are a part of the system and benefiting from it on the same level that men are, we won’t care, as a group, about whose turn it is to get hurt’.”
The crisis of feminism finds its reflection in a rapid leftward turn of politics in the USA in the direction of socialism and anti-capitalism, particularly since the election of Donald Trump. The reactionary nature of identity politics was clearly exposed in the 2016 US elections, when Hillary Clinton, that most consummate representative of Wall Street and the billionaire class, appealed to women to vote for her “because I’m a woman!”
Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, that hardened reactionary and war-monger, introducing Hillary Clinton at an event in New Hampshire, told the crowd and voters in general: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” In the event, millions of American women rejected this appeal to “gender politics” and turned their backs on Clinton and Albright and supported Sanders. This was a real kick in the teeth for the proponents of “Identity Politics”.
This showed that the women of the USA when voting for a candidate in the presidential elections consider the policies and ideas of a candidate to be far more important than their gender. In that they are quite correct, though it was unfortunate that the only alternative before them was the arch-reactionary Donald Trump who posed demagogically as the “anti-Establishment” candidate. If Bernie Sanders had stood, many would have voted for him. But that is another matter.
The heritage we defend
It is curious to note that Marxists are accused of neglecting or ignoring the problems of women. But the Marxists inscribed universal suffrage on their programme from the very beginning. This was before the suffragettes. Eleanor Marx fought in the British trade union movement for equal pay for women. As early as 1848, Marx and Engels raised the demand for the abolition of the bourgeois family, although they recognised that this could not be carried out overnight.
As soon as the Bolshevik Party took power in Russia in 1917 it carried out the most sweeping programme for the emancipation of women in history, as well as the decriminalisation of homosexuality, far more advanced than anything seen in the capitalist world in that period. The Bolsheviks demonstrated in practice that the overthrow of capitalism was able to guarantee women and gays far more than any amount of abstract quibbling about oppression in general.
As Trotsky pointed out:
“The revolution made a heroic effort to destroy the so-called ‘family hearth’ – that archaic, stuffy and stagnant institution in which the woman of the toiling classes performs galley labour from childhood to death. The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, crèches, kindergartens, schools, social dining rooms, social laundries, first-aid stations, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organisations, moving-picture theatres, etc. The complete absorption of the housekeeping functions of the family by institutions of the socialist society, uniting all generations in solidarity and mutual aid, was to bring to woman, and thereby to the loving couple, a real liberation from the thousand-year-old fetters.
“(…) It proved impossible to take the old family by storm – not because the will was lacking, and not because the family was so firmly rooted in men’s hearts. On the contrary, after a short period of distrust of the government and its crèches, kindergartens and like institutions, the working women, and after them the more advanced peasants, appreciated the immeasurable advantages of the collective care of children as well as the socialisation of the whole family economy. Unfortunately society proved too poor and little cultured. The real resources of the state did not correspond to the plans and intentions of the Communist Party. You cannot “abolish” the family; you have to replace it. The actual liberation of women is unrealisable on a basis of “generalized want.” Experience soon proved this austere truth which Marx had formulated eighty years before.” (The Revolution Betrayed, Chapter 7)
Once again on the importance of theory
What theory does the IMT defend? First and foremost, we stand on the basis of the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, which have stood the test of time and remain completely relevant and valid in the world of the 21st century. We stand for the ideas of the First International, the documents of the first four congresses of the Communist International (before the onset of Stalinist degeneration) and Trotsky’s Transitional Programme. These ideas have been developed and added to by the writings of Ted Grant in the decades following Trotsky’s death, which are also a fundamental part of our ideological heritage.
Inevitably some comrades that have joined the organisation in the recent period will not yet have acquired a full grasp of Marxist ideas. This will obviously take time and in itself does not pose any serious danger. However, it would be fatal if we made even the slightest concession to incorrect, alien and petty bourgeois deviations from genuine Marxism in our ranks. If a student wishes to join our organisation, we will say to them: you are very welcome to join our organisation, but only if you are willing to adopt the outlook and perspective of the working class and dedicate yourself to the study of Marxism. Please leave your prejudices by the door.
Marx wrote in a letter to Engels (17-18 September, 1879): “If people of this kind from other classes join the proletarian movement, the first condition must be that they should not bring any remnants of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, etc., prejudices with them but should wholeheartedly adopt the proletarian outlook.”
The Trotskyist movement has had plenty of experience of this kind of thing in the past. It is sufficient to point to the example of the American SWP, which completely degenerated because they ignored Trotsky’s excellent advice in the 1930s. They became swamped in the student milieu, abandoned the class standpoint, and adopted all the trendy petty bourgeois ideas, feminism, Black Nationalism, etc., ending up in the lamentable condition they now find themselves in.
We must educate the whole organisation on these questions in order to guarantee that no such development takes place within the IMT. We cannot tolerate even the slightest concession, even the smallest vestige of this in our ranks. To allow such petit bourgeois ideas into the organisation would lead to its eventual destruction as a genuine revolutionary Marxist force capable of winning the working class to the cause of socialist revolution.
Lenin, like Engels, Marx and Trotsky, never minced words when attacking alien ideas, particularly those of the radical petty bourgeoisie. We should republish what Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin wrote on the question of feminism. They are very clear in this respect. We must openly state our opposition to intersectionality and all other variants of “identity politics”, which clearly represents a counter-revolutionary tendency. On this question there is no room for ambiguity: we should express ourselves in the clearest and most emphatic manner.
We want to recruit students, but they must be those students who are prepared to break radically with petty bourgeois ideas and to place themselves firmly on the standpoint of the working class. Student comrades must face towards the working class, towards the factories and workers’ housing estates, towards the trade unions in the labour movement. Every student comrade should set him or herself the target of winning at least one young worker to the organisation. In November 1932, Trotsky wrote:
“The revolutionary student can only make a contribution if, in the first place, he goes through a rigorous and consistent process of revolutionary self-education, and, in the second place, if he joins the revolutionary workers’ movement while he is still a student. At the same time, let me make clear that when I talk about theoretical self-education, I mean the study of unfalsified Marxism.” (Trotsky, On Students and Intellectuals, November 1932)
The way to proletarianise our student comrades is first and foremost to provide them with a thorough grounding in Marxist theory. Many students have a lot of confused ideas that they have imbibed in the rotten academic milieu. Our task is to correct these false ideas as soon as possible. This will not be done by a softly-softly approach. Experience shows that the serious students, far from taking offence at straight talking, will respect you for it. Those who cannot take outspoken argument are not offended by our “tone” but simply because they find it impossible to abandon their petty bourgeois ideas and prejudices. Frankly, we do not need that sort of person.
We have succeeded in maintaining a solid and ideologically homogeneous organisation. This is the result of decades of strict Marxist ideological training of our basic cadres.
However, small mistakes in method, erroneous slogans and formulations, can develop into more serious problems. As Lenin put it, “a single scratch can cause gangrene.” We must make use of polemics to raise the political level and understanding in order to build the International on sound foundations.
Decades of economic growth in the advanced capitalist countries gave rise to an unprecedented degeneration of the mass organisations of the working class. This isolated the revolutionary current, which everywhere was reduced to a small minority. Out of necessity we have learned to swim against the stream.
However, this clarifying of our genuine ideas, methods and traditions was not achieved easily or without a struggle. It was manifested in a series of splits. Far from weakening the IMT, this process of selection has enormously strengthened us. The prior condition for future success was to break radically from opportunist and revisionist tendencies. As Lenin explained, “before we can unite, and in order that we may unite, we must first of all draw firm and definite lines of demarcation.”
Alone on the Left, the IMT has a serious attitude to Marxist theory. The theoretical training of the cadres is one of our most fundamental and urgent tasks. This is the foundation upon which we will build a powerful Marxist tendency rooted in the working class.