Capitalism, a decadent and destructive system, throws all its crises and horrors on the workers and the majority of the population of the planet. Unemployment, hunger, violence, wars, mass imprisonment and genocide of the black and poor youth of the periphery, femicides and LGBTQ-phobic crimes, persecution of immigrants, expropriation of native peoples…. This is what capitalism has to offer to all the exploited and oppressed, while a handful of super-rich accumulate even more capital and parade in the Forbes magazine list of billionaires.
By: Érika Andreassy
Inequality and the consequences of the economic, social, health and environmental crisis fall most heavily on the most exploited and oppressed sectors of the working class. The increase in exploitation and oppression, in turn, also increases awareness and struggles against them. The working class has long resisted by leading strikes, revolts and revolutions, overthrowing governments, and showing that it is not willing to pay the price of the capitalist crisis. The oppressed: youth, immigrants, women, blacks, LGBTQIA+, indigenous and others have been part of the vanguard of these processes and, in many cases, resistance and hatred of oppressions are the very trigger of struggles and rebellions.
The uprising against racism in the United States in the context of the assassination of George Floyd, the resistance of the Ukrainian people against Putin’s war, the revolt of the Iranian women for freedom, the struggle for abortion, and the indigenous uprising in Latin America are just a few examples of these massive and widespread struggles against the oppressions that are fomented and reproduced by the world capitalist-imperialist system in crisis and decay. This system needs more and more oppressions to overexploit, plunder and divide the proletariat and dominate it. This also reveals the enormous importance of this issue for the working class and for revolutionaries.
Capitalism: a system of exploitation and oppression
In capitalism, oppression plays several roles: it makes it possible to expand the profits of the capitalists through the super-exploitation of sections of the class; to maintain a standing reserve army which exerts pressure on wages, putting pressure on and lowering the standard of living of the entire class; to guarantee the reproduction of wage labor through the unpaid work done by women in the family sphere; and to guarantee bourgeois domination, encouraging reactionary ideologies and behaviors that degrade, subordinate and keep part of the class in a situation of inferiority and disadvantage, thus providing a shelter for this hierarchical and intrinsically oppressive system.
Capitalism is incapable of definitively solving the problems of oppression since they are part of its very nature. It is true that it can grant rights to the oppressed here and then withdraw them there, but it cannot guarantee full equality, since none of these rights, once won, is irrevocably assured. Just look at the rollback of abortion legislation in the United States, 50 years after it was won by the rise of feminist struggles in the 1970s.
Capitalism can only resolve these questions in an exceptional, provisional, partial and incomplete manner. Never in a generalized way. That is to say, never in all parts of the planet and in its collective essence, for all the oppressed of the world, nor in its economic-social dimension, and not even in its political dimension (juridical, before the law). Therefore, only with the defeat of capitalism and the end of the class society that feeds and maintains it can we definitively put an end to oppressions.
The importance of democratic conquests
This does not mean that the working class is indifferent to the political achievements and advances and/or setbacks in the democratic rights of the oppressed such as, for example, legislation that guarantees equal opportunities and rights, fighting discrimination and violence, the legalization of abortion, gay marriage, the criminalization of LGBTQ-phobia, punishment of racism, and greater representativeness in the spaces of power, etc. Nor can we neglect the importance of combating oppressions and the ideologies that sustain them, denouncing abuses, sieges, domestic violence, black and indigenous genocide, crimes against LGBTQI+ people and femicides, demanding from the State, at all times, measures that can put an end to oppressions.
On the contrary, it is not only essential but necessary to fight for every conquest that can be taken away from this system and to demand from class organizations, unions and social movements to take up these banners as part of their program and struggles, because, to the extent that this system makes the oppressed of the working class its main victims, it is also evident that this sector is the one that feels the most the lack of those rights.
The possession of democratic rights does not put an end to the question for the class problems as a whole, but their conquest helps to unveil the real cause of the evils we live within the capitalist system: the division of society into classes, which allows a tiny portion of society, the bourgeoisie, to appropriate the immense wealth produced by the majority, the workers. This social condition, which allows the exploitation of one class by the other, is especially supported by reactionary ideologies (machismo, racism, xenophobia, LGBTQ-phobia, etc.), which pit workers against each other and cover up the rigid mechanism of functioning of capitalist society.
Fight against oppressions to unite the class
We defend a different society, a socialist society, which allows the development of all human potentialities. We understand that the struggle for revolution and for socialism is a struggle of the whole working class to end capitalist exploitation and oppression, but the class is also (and in some cases even mostly) made up of blacks, women, immigrants, and LGBTQI+ peoples. We reject any struggle for socialism that, in the name of a supposed totality of the class, denies the specificities of the sectors that compose it. We do not believe that socialism can be built and continue to reproduce oppressions. In the same way, it is not possible to do without the oppressed sectors of the class to carry out the socialist revolution.
If the example of the Russian Revolution showed, on the one hand, the potential of socialism for the liberation of the oppressed, the Stalinist counterrevolution, on the other hand, showed that the road to capitalist restoration passed before and also through the suppression of the conquests of women, through the criminalization of LGBTQI+ peoples, and through national oppression, among others. The supposed “socialism” with machismo, with LGBTQ-phobia, with racism, as practiced in the USSR in the Stalinist period and in the other bureaucratized workers’ states, such as Cuba and China, is not socialism, it is Stalinism.
The oppressions inside the class divide and weaken the struggle against capitalism. The struggle against oppressions is necessary to unite the class and an essential part of our revolutionary Marxist program before, during and after the seizure of power by the workers. We defend that the banners of the oppressed for equality, against violence and for rights must be part of the general program of the class, not only because the conquest of democratic rights allows the oppressed of our class to be an active part of the struggle for socialist revolution, but also because this common struggle strengthens the bonds of solidarity among the exploited and oppressed and allows the class unity necessary to rise up as a class against the submission imposed on us by capitalism.
As Marxists, we hold that class struggle is the driving force of history. But we do not deny that, within the framework of existing social relations, a section of our class “benefits” from oppression, including in material terms. However, the benefits these sectors derive from inequality, whether of women, blacks, LGBTQI+ peoples, immigrants, etc., are small, empty and transitory in the face of the substantial costs that accompany them. When working men oppress women or when white workers oppress black workers, they are not only reproducing bourgeois ideologies, but they are also acting in favor of maintaining the system of capitalist exploitation, playing into the hands of the bourgeoisie in every way and acting against their own class interests.
A socialist and revolutionary perspective for the struggle against oppression
It is a fact that oppression affects individuals of all classes and not only the poor or workers, but the level of oppression and its consequences are qualitatively different for members of different social classes. None of the oppressions affects equally exploited and exploiters, and even the proletariat and petty bourgeoisie. The privileges and material benefits enjoyed, for example, by the women of the ruling class mean that they have a strong interest in preserving the existing social order. Their privileged existence is paid for by the super-exploitation of their working class “sisters,” especially in colonial and semi-colonial countries. The only way women’s unity can be built across class lines is by subordinating the interests of poor, black and working-class women to those of bourgeois women.
But, since it is something that permeates all social sectors, the struggle against oppressions can be -and almost always is- used by the bourgeoisie to divert the focus of the class struggle and keep the workers divided. They divide us in their discourse, exhaustively reproduced by their reformist friends, that the main contradiction of society is the division of gender, race, sexual orientation. Therefore, according to them, the central battle of the oppressed must be against the oppression of the oppressed: against patriarchy, white privilege, and heteronormativity, and united in classless movements.
We have already spoken of the need to overcome capitalism and build socialism to definitively end oppressions, of the importance of the class as a whole and its organizations taking up the banners of the oppressed as part of their program and their struggles to unite the class and strengthen the common struggle against the system, that, as part of this, the oppressive sectors of the class must break with their own oppressive attitudes and place themselves as allies in the struggle against oppression. The question is what kind of alliance the oppressed sectors of the working class need in the struggle for their liberation.
The fact that the proletariat is strategically confronted with the bourgeoisie means that also in democratic struggles the interests that separate the exploited and the exploiters have different impacts for the oppressed of different social classes. In the struggle against oppressions, the proletariat can (and often even needs to) make episodic and punctual unity of action with oppressed sectors of the bourgeoisie around certain demands, but even when this happens, it must always maintain class independence. Because only taken from a revolutionary and socialist perspective and articulated with the struggle for the power of the proletariat and socialism, that is to say, combined and articulated in a transitional program that points the way to the national and international socialist revolution, can these struggles lead to the total emancipation of the proletariat and its oppressed sectors.
Any bourgeois, reformist or postmodern way out that suggests that it is possible to end oppressions within the framework of the capitalist system and/or individually is nothing more than a reactionary utopia. Ideologies such as empowerment, entrepreneurship, representativeness, despite appearing very attractive, serve to divert the struggle of the oppressed and channel them into purely electoral strategies and within the bourgeois capitalist regime.
Also erroneous is the vision of certain sectors that, while putting themselves in the camp of the socialist revolution, affirm that the proletariat ceased to be the social subject of the revolution, being replaced by new subjects. This is one of the most important controversies in the movements of struggle against oppressions: who is the social subject of the emancipation of the oppressed. Women, LGBTQIA+, and blacks as a whole form a polyclassist group. The working class, in turn, is composed of men, women, blacks, non-blacks, and LGBTQIA+. The complete liberation of the oppressed cannot happen without the socialist revolution, and the social subject of the revolution is the proletariat, with all the sectors that compose it.
A trajectory of struggle and principled action in the fight against oppressions
Since its foundation, the IWL has always had a principled action in the struggle against oppressions. In other words, for us, the struggle against all forms of oppression – machismo, racism, LGTBQI-phobia, xenophobia, etc.. – is more than a policy or a programmatic point: it is a principle.
As revolutionaries, we act to overthrow this system based on exploitation and put an end to all its evils and all oppression. However, we are inserted in this society, whose ideologies of oppression are so deeply rooted, impregnated in such a way that oppression is exercised, lived and perceived as if it were natural. In reality, it is historically constructed.
Revolutionary organizations reflect the society in which they live, but Marxism has a revolutionary program to change that society, to fight against it. When individuals join a revolutionary organization, they do not automatically become non-oppressors simply by joining that organization. In contradiction to the revolutionary program, they often reproduce oppression. Part of this has to do with the fact that these ideologies are so deeply ingrained within everyone that they see them as natural, and not cultural and acquired, as it really is.
But this contradiction needs to be resolved in favor of our program, from an internal struggle and measures that make truly revolutionary socialists different from ordinary people and from the macho, racist, xenophobic, etc. society, and to be defenders and allies of all the oppressed in the struggle against oppression.
Supported by the revolutionary Marxist tradition, our current has built a relevant theoretical arsenal on the question of oppressions, which demonstrates that the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed is linked to the struggle against capitalism because, in the last analysis, oppressions serve the material interests of the ruling class. We are proud of our history and our trajectory of fighting oppressions within the class and the party. Obviously, this trajectory has had its ups and downs, there were times when we let our guard down and the ideologies of oppressions penetrated inside us, others when we neglected the organization of the oppressed of the class as demanded by the revolutionary program. But this in no way diminishes our merits. It was not by denying the existence of oppressions or by throwing internal problems under the carpet that we managed to get here, but just the opposite, it was because of our ability, even in those moments, to realize our weaknesses and act to seek to overcome them, relying on Marxist theory and the revolutionary tradition.
Translation: Natalia Estrada