Class struggle or ‘identity politics’?

BY: Scott Hiley| July 12, 2018
Class struggle or ‘identity politics’?
QWhy is your party engaging and giving legitimacy to identity politics? Class before identity! Identity politics only serves to split the workers against each other at the delight of the bourgeoisie! Please fight to unite the working class instead of dividing them. If you call yourselves Marxist-Leninists then please act like Marxist-Leninists and not some left Com silliness. Slogans like "against male supremacy" and "against white supremacy" only serves to isolate males and whites and turn them away from your movement. While I'm sure that that's not the intended message, that IS what the message will be to the majority of workers who are white and/or males.
AHi Jack,

Thanks for writing in.  Short answer: we are building working class unity.  Racism, sexism, national chauvinism, discrimination against LGBTQ people: these are the things that divide and weaken the working class.  That's why they are such powerful tools in the hands of capital.

Capitalism isn't just an economic system.  It's a whole organization of society based on inequality between the class that produces value (workers) and the class that appropriates it (capitalists).  That social organization includes other forms of inequality, which shape how capitalism works and reinforce the rule of the capitalist class. For example, white supremacy arose within capitalism as a result of, and justification for, the expropriation, enslavement, and genocide of non-Europeans.  Other forms of inequality (like male supremacy) existed long before capitalism, but are now pressed into service by the capitalist class.

In other words, people experience the basic reality of class in different ways. A woman worker, a Native worker, a trans worker face assaults on their safety and dignity above and beyond those shared by male, or white, or cis workers. The same is true for a woman CEO, a Native venture capitalist, or a trans investment banker with respect to their male, white, and cis colleagues.

But most members of oppressed groups are not CEOs, venture capitalists, and investment bankers. They are workers--our comrades, our brothers and sisters. When we say "an injury to one, is an injury to all", it's not just a nice sentiment. What harms one section of our class, harms all of us because it breaks down unity and diminishes our ability to fight back. Equality is the only possible basis for solidarity, so the struggle against racism, sexism, and all forms of discrimination is a fundamental part of class struggle.

This is a basic part of Marxism, not some newfangled 'Left com silliness', as you put it.  It's not a coincidence that the Soviet Union was the first country to give women the right to vote, or that Cuba has the world's second-highest proportion of women in its legislature.  It's not a coincidence that the that the South African Communist Party was at the center of the anti-apartheid struggle, or that the labor movement in the United States made its greatest gains when it brought together the fight against racism and the struggle for workers' rights.

So, to sum up, we commit ourselves to fighting white supremacy, male supremacy, and other forms of oppression not despite being a revolutionary working class party, but precisely because that's what we are.  If people feel alienated or threatened by that position, then they're not ready to join in our work.

Thanks for writing in.

Photo: a mural in Washington, DC commemorates the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike, which brought together labor rights and civil rights. Original 1968 photo by Ernest Withers; mural by French artist JR.  Image by Glyn Lowe, under license from creative commons.
    Scott Hiley has taught French, literature, history, and philosophy at the high school, college, and post-graduate levels.  A member of CPUSA since 2010, he is active in struggles against austerity and for education justice and labor rights. His articles have appeared in the People's World (US), the Morning Star (UK), and l'Humanité (France). He lives in a rural town in upstate NY.

Comments (9)

Evan Pritchard | September 29, 2018 at 3:16 PM

Lenin wrote of the need for social democrats (this was before the renaming of the Party as Communist) to aspire to more than just trade union consciousness and to become tribunes of the oppressed. This was 15 years before the Russian Revolution. Communists cannot narrow our goals or our appeal in the name of broadening them. Identity politics are indeed a blind alley but so is narrow economism, or ignoring the fact that some sections of the working class and wider popular masses have specific needs in terms of fighting oppression. The need to steer a path between these apparent contradictions is one of the reasons a scientific approach to class politics is required. Ie the need for a communist party.

Alvaro Rodriguez | July 17, 2018 at 8:59 PM

Great answer Scott! Without building working-class unity, socialism is not possible.

Jack | July 17, 2018 at 5:45 PM

Thank you for replying but I’m afraid I must disagree. Yes, the bourgeoisie uses these tactics to divide us, that is obvious. You must understand though as a supposed Marxist-Leninist party that these problems are a symptom of capitalism and capitalist society, If you’re trying to solve these problems under the conditions of capitalism you will fail, I’m sorry but that is the fact of the matter. These problems can only be solved under Socialism, obviously, we cant be sectarian and exclude those people, that’s not what I’m saying. My point is this is not the main focus. The main focus is the establishment of a socialist society and a socialist planned economy ran by the workers. Please understand the conditions of capitalism and what is and isn’t possible under it, its simple dialectics. You mention women’s rights in the Soviet Union, yet you don’t seem to understand that these were only possible because of the overthrow of Tsarism and capitalism in the Russian Empire. You didn’t see Lenin or the Bolsheviks heavily emphasize these points prior to the revolution, why? Becuase they were tied in and thus secondary to the overthrow of capitalism! These rights were granted fully on the founding of the Soviet Union after socialism had been established as the main mode of production. The point I’m trying to make is you need to tie in racism with capitalism itself and make capitalism the main target. I have comrades in the USA that keep me informed and they have also not seen CPUSA tie this in very well. Maybe we are all wrong and you are using the correct method but from what I’ve seen you need to improve. Please don’t take this as an attack on CPUSA but as criticism (maybe wrongly placed?) which can be used to improve on.

    Scott Hiley | July 18, 2018 at 7:56 AM

    I think we’re in agreement that racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression cannot be eliminated as long as capitalism exists–that only socialism can make a definitive solution possible. But we also have to recognize that overthrowing capitalism will not automatically eliminate white supremacy, male supremacy, etc (and that we will never build a united, powerful, class-conscious workers’ movement without active struggle against them). These democratic struggles have to be waged along with, and as part of, the struggle for socialism.

      Jack | July 23, 2018 at 9:28 PM

      basically what I’m trying to say in short is Not black power, not white power, but workers power! (to overthrow capitalism)

        Joe Sims | July 24, 2018 at 12:27 PM

        Labor in the white skin cannot be free while labor in the black is branded. workers power is based on class unity: an injury to one is an injury to all. By taking up racism and sexism we unite the class as a whole.

    Ken Heard | July 30, 2018 at 4:04 PM

    We have read Marx Engles and Lenin. Read the ‘Letters to Americans’. then read Marx in his letters to President Lincoln. Give them to your comrades. You will see what was seen then.

E.E.W. Clay | July 16, 2018 at 4:53 PM

Les Jeux Sont Faits!

E.E.W. Clay | July 16, 2018 at 4:50 PM

Spot on Scott!

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