Before reading this piece I highly recommend reading A Class Struggle Analysis of Privelege Theory from the woman’s caucus of the Anarchist Federation, as the discussions that led up to it being written and that have happened since informed this blog post.
I have recently been involved in several discussions that have got me thinking more deeply upon how the concepts of oppression/privilege and the those of intersectionality fit into a class struggle analysis of society. I have seen these terms being rejected out-0f-hand as part of an often well-founded rejection of wider identity politics. This usually comes down to the conception that notions of privilege and intersectionality provide a means to measure or chart one another in an “oppression olympics”, adding points here, taking away points there, then seeing who trumps who, then breaking us down into different points on an intersectional chart separated by our genders, sexualities, race or ethnicities, nationalities, abilities, etc. Rather than oppression being something external that is done to you and causes the material conditions by which you are oppressed it becomes something that used as self-description by the “in group” who inadvertently segregate themselves (and their identity).
In a liberal analysis this could, and does, occur all too often. More than once I’ve heard this referred to as tumblr politics, in reference to the shallow and reactionary views that find fertile soil in that particular blogging site.
In a class struggle analysis of privilege there is never any accounting undertaken and it is not our fault if we are part of a group that is systemically privileged or oppressed. Privilege is not something intrinsic to us, it is something done to us and something we have to struggle against in the same way we struggle against oppression. There is no accounting, we are just are in the position we are in.
In simple terms, when taken from a class struggle perspective, intersectionality helps to explain how these various privileges and oppressions come together for each person and show that while in one area we may share an experience of oppression with one another (say two people sharing the systemic oppression faced for being a different gender to that assigned to them by others), in another area we may be in a position where we are afforded some small privilege that the other person does not experience (say because one of those people is white & native to the dominant culture while the other is black & an asylum seeker).
Intersectionality does not try to chart or plot anything. It is simply an acknowledgement of the fact that we all experience privilege/oppression (or advantage/disadvantage if you prefer) differently. It does not try to relate one to another. The document from the AF Woman’s Caucus I link above is built as an expantion on part of the AF aims and principles where it states:
“In order to be effective in our various struggles against oppression, both within society and within the working class, we at times need to organise independently as people who are oppressed according to gender, sexuality, ethnicity or ability. We do this as working class people, as cross-class movements hide real class differences and achieve little for us.”
Intersectionality and privilege are tools of thought that help us in this task by allowing us to have a better picture of how privilege/oppression divides us so we can build practical solidarity between different parts of the working classes who become conscious of their situation and take up the class struggle. This in turn will help people raise class conciousness across the board with specific fights against oppression/privilege being informed by those who are subjected to them. That is why, to my mind, these ideas are an important part of the class struggle.