Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Class Struggle

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. 

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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.

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Activist Burnout Part II: Gender.

alicebreckless

[THIS PIECE CARRIES A STRONG TRIGGER WARNING FOR DISCUSSION OF RAPE AND RAPE APOLOGY.]

This piece has been, if anything, harder to write than the last, as it is introspective: I’m talking about things we do to one another that make people drop out or cause people to expend all of their energy deflecting personal attack, and fighting for internal change – distracting from whatever ideal it was we joined the movement to oppose.

I can only write as a white, cis-female, relatively middle class and highly educated, activist. I have tried my hardest to be properly intersectional – if I need helping out with anything, please call me on it.

Gloss for those unfamiliar with the term: to be “cis-gendered” means to broadly identify with the gender that you were assigned at birth.

I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist, so I don’t have any statistics to offer in…

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Activist Burnout I: An Anatomy.

alicebreckless

[TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of suicide, police violence, mental breakdown.]

“its hard to beat the Black Bloc
but I’ve seen them beaten down.”
– Decca Muldowney

A note here on context: over the last – suddenly ten and more – years I’ve been involved in various campaigns around climate change, education, immigration, the rights of women and trans* people, and against war, and probably other things that have slid from my mind just now. For the purpose of this particular post, I am drawing primarily from my experiences in the student and anti-cuts movement which began in 2010 and was characterised by a series of beautiful and hopeful occupations and a series of clashes with the police. Subsequent posts in this mini-series will address different movements and different aspects of burnout. The next post will be on burnout and gender, which is an important and frequently overlooked conversation.

I’ve been writing…

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Queer Anarchism: Equality or Liberation? Recording from Dublin Anarchist Bookfair 2013

A talk looking at the differences between the mainstream LGBT politics of equality and the radical queer politics of liberation (via Automatic Writing).

Queer Anarchism: Equality or Liberation? Recording from Dublin Anarchist Bookfair 2013 by Workers Solidarity on Mixcloud

Queer Anarchism: Equality or Liberation? Recording from Dublin Anarchist Bookfair 2013

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when aging commies try to convince me julian assange is a great dude

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Unspoken Arguments

There are some positions on issues that are implicitly against the dominant views in society that when mentioned automatically begin an unspoken argument with those aren’t on board already:

  • Veganism: The rejection of the comodification of all animals.
  • Atheism: The lack of belief in a god or gods.
  • Anarchism: Seeks the abolition of state, capital and unjustifiable hierarchy in our social relationships and the creation of horizontal networks of voluntary association working along side one another in mutual aid.

The stance taken in each of these fields puts me at odds with others due to a common underlying feature…

The Burden of Proof
The underlying reason for conflict in all three cases is that the burden of proof is being placed on the structures asserted upon society – structures of hierarchy, privilege and dominance – to justify themselves. Anarchism in particular does not rely on taking a dogmatic stance to reach fixed position so much as asking people to employ the methods of sceptical enquiry and critical thought to find the best methods for reaching the goal of a society where needs are met and well-being for all is the prime concern.

“[Anarchism is] based on the assumption that any structure of authority and domination has to justify itself – none of them are self-justifying. Whether they’re in individual relations, or international affairs, or the workplace, or whatever – they have a burden of proof to bear, and if they can’t bear that burden (which they usually can’t), they’re illegitimate and should be dismantled and replaced by alternative structures which are free and participatory and are not based on authoritarian systems.”
Anarchism 101, Noam Chomsky

To my mind an anarchist analysis of the use of  animals as commodities would show that while there are plenty of arguments from tradition and personal taste that can be used to try and justify the many cruelties we inflict upon other species, these do not show why such behaviours are necessary and as such should be removed.

As for believing in god(s), in the whole of recorded history the only case put forward for their existence can be clearly demonstrated as either arguments from ignorance, arguments from authority, arguments from tradition, or unverifiable/unrepeatable personal experience. These cannot justify any prioritisation or imposition of the moral codes or social mores from the attendant belief systems.

When compared to other political philosophies anarchism often gets lumped in with other strands of leftist thought. While we profess the same goal of communism, “the left” peruses authoritarian methods that cannot meet their burden of proof as to their necessity. On the other hand anarchist thought has found that the ends reached are tied to the means used to produce them, and so anarchists reject authoritarian means as they will not provide libertarian results.

Actions speak louder than words
While I would stop short of saying that someone was not an anarchist if they held some belief in the supernatural or were vegetarian or an omnivore, I do find that there is a conflict in interests that, depending on circumstances, may make them act in contradiction to their anarchism.

This contradiction becomes irreconcilable when someone says they are an an anarchist while participating in an authoritarian left-wing group or while putting their time and energy into reformist parliamentary campaigns. If the methods being employed do not follow directly democratic organisation modes or employ direct action to resolve an issue or seek goals that move society towards anarchist communism, then ultimately the individual is engaging in systems of domination that do not meet the burden of proof to their necessity. Their claim to be an anarchist is hollow.

In conclusion I feel that anarchists everywhere, myself included, should work to identify any cognitive dissonance between our anarchism and those structures of authority we have not yet questioned and still participate with. When we put out time and energy into trot front groups or parliamentary battles we use more energy for lesser results. Conversely, when anarchists actually follow a consistent anarchist methodology, not having to be part of the same organisation but following principles of mutual aid to other anarchist endeavours, then we find that our ideas punch above their weight. Only by doing this can we remove ourselves from acting against our interests and put energy into those endeavours that will build the new world in the shell of the old.

 

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POSTSCRIPT: So, it was pointed out in a conversation about this post elsewhere that I was getting kinda hyperbolic at the end that:

“Strictly speaking, this is neither irreconcilable nor an example of cognitive dissonance. Both would only apply here if a person held fairly standard anti-state/anti-parliamentarian anarchist positions while *believing* that revolutionary goals could be achieved through those other-than-direct-means. Neither apply if an engagement with those means is understood in terms of utility (however marginal), and this doesn’t make for a ‘hollow’ anarchism or imply ‘bad faith’ on the part of participants.” 

I totally accept this point as it is often necessary to work in less than ideal circumstances in the interest of concrete material gains in the here-and-now. However I am still critical of those who would choose to call themselves anarchists while ignoring anarchist methodology and focus all their attention solely into work that has no revolutionary aim or hinders progress towards a free society. If someone is constantly acting to reinforce structures of authority then what is the worth of their professed anarchism? 

…perhaps more to follow…

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Cordial reminder: the state is not our friend

So much so…

Another angry woman

Content note: this post discusses rape and victim blaming

Look, I respect your decision to call the cops if you’re feeling threatened–it’s not a choice I’d ever make, but do what works for you. Let’s never take things further than that, though. Let us not continue to step in and ask the state to do shit for us, like porn filtering and new laws and the like. Let us remember that they are definitely not our friends.

Let’s have a look at two stories that have been in the news today. First, we have the sad tale of a woman who reported her rape to the police, was referred to the specialist unit and they ignored her. The rapist was her husband. He went on to murder their two children. The police resisted an investigation into how this could have possibly been allowed to happen. Eventually, a disciplinary happened…

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