Monday, March 30, 2009

The economic roots of oppression

It seems a common criticism that communists ignore the psychological, social and political dimensions of misogyny and racism, that they see misogyny and racism as purely economic problems. While there may be some communists who take this approach, there is a more subtle argument: there are of course other dimensions to misogyny and racism, but so long as there is an enormous economic incentive to oppress and exploit women and racial minorities, efforts to address the non-economic dimensions will have only limited effects.

I'm not saying that these limited effects are always entirely worthless. No one should complain that forcible rape has been increasingly criminalized in the last 30 years or that women and blacks now have the vote (although having the vote in a bourgeois democracy is itself of limited value).

Furthermore, under capitalism, the best anyone can achieve is that entry into the bourgeoisie — or descent into the hyper-exploited — is no longer arbitrarily decided by race and sex... but this still leaves an enormous number of people oppressed and exploited.

I personally have been accused of asking women to "wait" for liberation. This is nonsense. I'm exhorting 70% of women not to wait while 10% are afforded entry into the bourgeoisie and another 20% allowed to serve the bourgeoisie for a few scraps of privilege. I demand — and every communist demands — that those who are admitted to the bourgeoisie and those who serve them, including women and/or blacks, give up their economic privilege, a privilege supported and paid for by the labor of the oppressed masses.

I understand too — and any sensible communist also understands — that very few, male or female, white, black or brown, will ever voluntarily give up his or her economic privilege. Everyone has a good rationalization why they personally "deserve" whatever surplus labor they extort from the oppressed masses, why someone else should be the first to forego their privilege. (It's another case of the Prisoner's Dilemma: if I forego my privilege just to have someone else exercise it, I'm just a chump.) Bourgeois privilege must be taken by force and the institutions that promote, protect and defend bourgeois privilege must be smashed. In just the same sense the bourgeoisie took by force feudal, hereditary and monarchical privileges in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the institutions that promoted these privileges were smashed or trivialized into irrelevancy. (Leaving, of course, those institutions which could be adapted to minority class rule in general.)

I'm for the liberation of everyone, every woman, every black person, every poor schmuck, male or female, white or black, who has to clean toilets every day and go home to a roach-infested crowded tenement, hoping they're not murdered by the army of occupation police on the way home. I'm not willing to liberate only that fraction of women or blacks who can worm their way into the bourgeoisie. I'm not willing to say to the masses of people that the best you can expect is to be oppressed by someone with the same color skin or the same genitalia.

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