Identity & oppression

marxism poster women 1 Image public domainFor Marxists, the fight against oppression goes hand in hand with the class struggle. While we recognise that different groups in society suffer different forms of oppression, we affirm that this oppression is rooted in the class system itself. Racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are deeply ingrained in capitalist society. However, the Marxist method of historical materialism allows us to trace the roots of these ideas, looking at how they’ve evolved historically and the role they play in society today.

No form of oppression is built into our DNA, nor naturally ordained. The systematic attack against specific groups was not possible before the emergence of the state and class society. As it developed, these ideas have helped uphold the position of the ruling class. In modern society, segregation, violence against women and disenfranchisement are all examples of ways to keep the working class divided, downtrodden and less able to organise against its common exploiter – the capitalist class. 

In Lenin’s book, What is to be Done? he explains how uniting struggles is not the same as merging them all into each other. It is precisely this approach that we take in the fight against oppression. Using class methods, we seek to strike these forms of discrimination at their core. By pitting us against one another, the ruling class creates the idea that an individual worker can benefit from the oppression of another. This is a lie. All means of discrimination serve to put a constant downward pressure on conditions and quality of life for the working class, creating a race to the bottom. The only way to fight against this is to unite the workers of all nations, races, genders and sexualities along class lines. This is how we will ensure the full liberation of all of humanity.

"One must take into account the objective fact that otherwise they will snatch the appropriate passages from your pamphlet, interpret them in their own way, make your pamphlet into water pouring on their mill, distort your ideas in the workers’ eyes, “confuse” the workers""

"The recent dispute in Dublin also brought out in a very striking manner the terrible nature of the conditions under which women and girls labour in the capital city, the shocking insanitary conditions of the workshops, the grinding tyranny of those in charge, and the alarmingly low vitality which resulted from the inability to procure proper food and clothes with the meagre wages paid. Consideration of such facts inevitably leads to reflection on the whole position of women in modern Ireland, and their probable attitude towards any such change as that we are forecasting."

"The thing is not what you subjectively “mean” by this. The thing is the objective logic of class relations in affairs of love."

"We stand together in sisterly sympathy for all those who are suffering from these events, and with an unshaken determination to fulfil faithfully our duty as socialists, and not to be led astray when the international enemies of the peoples seek to deceive us, nor to be alarmed by the thrat of danger and persecution."

"We Socialist women hear the voices which in this time of blood and iron still speak softly, painfully, and yet consolingly, of the future. Let us be their interpreters to our children. Let us preserve them from the harsh brazen sound of the ideas which fill the streets today."

"Together with our husbands, sons and brothers we stand for peace and for fratetnity between the workers of all countries. Together with them we fight against Capitalism and for Socialism."

"Acrobats in the field of philanthropy and police defenders of this system which makes mockery of poverty and need gather “to struggle against prostitution”, which is supported precisely by the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie...."

"A display of proletarian women’s poverty and indigence will bring a different benefit: it will help wage-slaves, both men and women, to understand their condition, look back over their “life”, ponder the conditions for emancipation from this perpetual yoke of want, poverty, prostitution and every kind of outrage against the have-nots."

"The 'Labour Woman' will give a loud and unfalsified voice to all the miseries and injustices capitalist exploitation and political rightlessness bestow on the working-class women"

"The philosophers hitherto have only interpreted the world in different ways; what has yet to be done is to change the world."

"Adult Suffrage could be realised in England, if – what a pity there is an “if” still! – if all the Socialist and trade unionist forces would unite their efforts and their action about this reform."

"The proletariat, in its entirety, without distinction of sex, shall be able to call out to the capitalist order of society: “You rest on us, you oppress us, and, see, now the building which you have erected is tottering to the ground.”"

“Peace on earth! Fraternity between the nations! War against war!”

"The slaves of our days have numbered themselves and they will no longer be slaves. By the May demonstration they show that they have recognised clearly their own true interests, that are in irreconcilable antagonism with the capitalist interests."

The family, private property, and the state – the basic institutions of capitalist society – are neither 'natural' nor everlasting. They are the product of specific economic and social conditions. Friedrich Engels traces the evolution of these institutions from the dawn of class society until capitalism. He shows how the oppression of women as a sex begins with the development of private property, and how the development of the modern working class creates the material basis to end that oppression.