In my youth, I served a brief stint as an executive and member of the Victoria, British Columbia chapter of the Young Communist League. Every Tuesday, our small, awkward group of teens would sit in the basement of a local Unitarian Church—a space provided to us for free—and hash out issues of Party progress.
It might sound corny, but we started and ended every meeting with playing (some of us singing) the Internationale. In Russian, no less.
It was 2005, and the toxicity of superlative identity politics had not yet absorbed the left. I actually remember being criticized by a comrade for obsessing over feminism …
I had written in to our Party’s leader to complain that our own Rebel Youth Magazine had selected Kanye West’s Late Registration as Album of the Year, despite what I asserted was its rampant lyrical misogyny. I was provided a nonchalant response encouraging me to “chill out.”
Today, I can barely recognize Rebel Youth Magazine—or the YCL’s platform, for that matter.
I recently saw the website littered with identity virtue signals. Indigenous and Black rights, women’s marches, complaints and grievances put forth on behalf of Peoples of Colour towards the ominous, omnipresent white male bogeyman.
Class conflict, the core tenant of Marxist and Leninist communisms, was almost a miniature asterisk—or, an excuse used to justify the red flags and edgy sickle and hammer motifs. This has become a reoccurring theme in “Marxism.”
Not too long ago, a “mutual” on Twitter posted a photo of a sign he had spotted for the York University Revolutionary Student Movement.
The sign proudly declared the organization’s stance against a slew of -phobias and -isms, each with their own little identity represented therein. My knee-jerk reaction of eye-rolling was only strengthened when the subtext to this declaration was “raising class consciousness.”
Anyone (and I mean anyone) who has read any (and I mean any) Marx would immediately see an issue. That being how class consciousness is meant to do away with individual grievances and consolidate them all under a single name—the proletariat—and as being caused by a single factor—systemic exploitation by the bourgeoise.
Class overruled all other factors when determining who was who in the oppressor-oppressed relationship. A wealthy black woman would not, for example, have less privilege than a homeless white male.
So, I asked myself, who are these faux revolutionaries? These pirates commandeering Marxist philosophy? Where did they come from?
While I often call them neo-Marxists for the sake of simplicity, they cannot technically be classified as such, or even as anti-Fascists (another title they enjoy employing).
Both movements, originating with the New School of Social Policy (popularized as the Frankfurt School), were equally as dismissive of identity politics.
While there was some incorporation of feminist thinkers and thought, none of the most significant figures – Adorno, Horkheimer, Habermas, Fromm etc.—ever wrote on or cared for the idea of fracturing larger groups of the ‘oppressed’ into individual identities, each with their own unique grievance.
In fact, some Frankfurt School alumni were shunned by the other members for being too focused on identity. Most notably, Wilhelm Reich was cast away for his loud, incessant political emphases on youth, women, and “sexual deviants.”
They are, in short, vulgar intersectionalists. Identity determinists with a complex history rooted in African-American dissatisfaction with a largely white philosophical class they saw as too dismissive of race in the wider scheme of capitalistic oppression.
W.E.B Du Bois is quite notorious, in my interpretation, for his role in establishing intersectionality as though it was a branch of Marxist philosophy.
He frequently employed Marxist symbolisms and terminologies alongside his covert rejection of Marx’s economic determinism in favour of a racialized anti-capitalism. Du Bois postulated that white people so inherently hated blacks, that the white working class could never be a friend of their black counterparts. From Marxism and the Negro Problem:
The black proletariat is not part of the white proletariat… Negro labor in America suffers because of the fundamental inequities of the whole capitalist system, the lowest and most fatal degree of its suffering comes not from the capitalists but from fellow white laborers. It is white labor that deprives the Negro of his right to vote, denies him education, denies him affiliation with trade unions, expels him from decent houses and neighborhoods, and heaps upon him the public insults of open color discrimination. It is white labor that deprives the Negro of his right to vote, denies him education, denies him affiliation with trade unions, expels him from decent houses and neighborhoods, and heaps upon him the public insults of open color discrimination.
Here, Du Bois is demonstrating the original, persisting intersectional rejection of a principle concept of Marxism: That fundamental discriminations and social differentiation (on all levels, institutional and personal) are, in fact, designed by the bourgeoise to maintain control of the proletariat.
A population divided and bickering amongst themselves is far easier to keep distracted than one united in a single struggle against a common enemy, after all.
Despite allegedly having read Marx, Du Bois still came to a conclusion antithetical to Marx’s observations on workers alienating themselves from others like them on the basis of petty differences. From The German Ideology:
Competition separates individuals from one another, not only the bourgeois, but still more the workers, in spite of the fact that it brings them together. Hence it is a long time before these individuals can unite…Hence every organized power standing over these isolated individuals, who live in conditions daily reproducing this isolation, can only be overcome after long struggles.
In essence, the logic of capitalism and proletariat isolation necessarily creates hostility between the different proletarian groups!
Racism, sexism, etc … Marxism, as such, pleads with workers to resist those urges to fragment and ascribe them to a wider element of their continued oppression.
Ironically, Du Bois’ own theories on identity overruling class would be further condensed by black feminist thinkers, who became frustrated with his genderless racialism and lack of offered assistance to black female activists. Even Du Bois’ himself was not safe from the same critiques he had pioneered against Marx’s class determinism.
This pattern of group disintegration would persevere throughout the history of intersectional thought, leading to its official coining by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.
Since then, more intersectionalists have claimed to somehow simultaneously be Marxists than I can shake a sociology textbook at. And I die a little more every single time.
It continues today. Intersectionality has become a running joke to most onlookers, with tinier and tinier aggrieved fragments shattering into smaller and smaller ‘intersections,’ each competing for status as the sublime oppressed. Whenever this is the case, no matter how much someone might insist otherwise, it is not Marxism.
All of this speaks to a larger issue, and that is the abandonment of Marx. The left is quick to label everything they do Marxist, while the right is quick to condemn everything Marxist as a result. Marx has become but an ideological patsy, a ragdoll flung around to prove points. His portrayals both as a prophet and a con-artist blaze on the banners of those who have never actually read him.
In reality, Marx’s initial observations on power dynamics still have some relevance today. I see them unconsciously manifested all the time on both the left and right in populist movements appealing to the disenfranchised “little guy.”
Whenever a plurality of people is told to band together, in spite of all their differences, against an elite—that’s Marxism.
Whenever you shake your head at race baiting or gender baiting—that’s Marxism. And whenever you get sick and tired of powerful media, government, or corporate influencers trying to manipulate you into believing their interests are your interests—that is Marxism.
As for me, I ended up both quitting and being excommunicated from the Young Communist League. Ironically, not because I became fed up with the intersectionality, but because I was too intersectional and became disillusioned with the lack of specific feminist focus.
A verbal fistfight with my riding head over it all scythed the final straw. I guess you could call me a pioneer.
You’re welcome, Young Communist League. I’m sorry, everyone else.