Let s put one lie to rest for all time the lie that men are oppressed, too, by sexism - the lie that there can be such thing as men s liberation groups. Oppression is something that one group of people commits against another group specifically because of a threatening characteristic shared by the latter group - skin color or sex or age etc. The oppressors are indeed fucked up by being masters (racism hurts whites, sexual stereotypes are harmful to men) but those masters are not oppressed. Any master has the alternative of divesting himself of sexism or racism - the oppressed have no alternative - for they have no power-but to fight. In the long run, Women s Liberation will of course free men, but, in the short run, is going to cost men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. Sexism is not the fault of women kill your fathers, not your mothers.
I look at their faces. I see reflection and masks that sometimes repeat my own in a strange cyclical pattern of power. Because in here, I am but a wage-slave, condemned to sweating and hurting for eight bucks an hour, forced to smile and accept condescending behavior from the all-smiling, ever merry elite of capital. Out there they might call me a brother, an equal. We are not.
The system of class and the European system of white dominance and colonialism fused to became one single straight brute force, a giant juggernaut that tramples over the working-class worldwide and its two legs are racism and sexism.
Let us be realistic.
While I work at Stanford University, serving food for the sons of the elite and the future elite, it is increasingly strange for me to realize that this elite sometimes has skin darker than mine, accents thicker than mine, visible cultural roots sometimes more apparent than mine. The extent to which this realization affects me cannot be easily described - it is an eye-opener and a mind narrower. It is both an epiphany and an obscurity. This multicolored, multicultural bourgeoisie is always the enemy and sometimes the most unexpected and always undesired ally, which forces its diversity and its oppressed situation down my throat in an obscene mockery of the plight of the workers of the world.
Let us be realistic.
Racism -white dominance- is not an American phenomenon. The white race supports a global system of racial inequality and prejudice where, worldwide, the white male has a hegemonic dominance. It is the new
capitalist model, and it is the old. Imperialism is a stream that never dried because it is vital for World Capitalism.
THE WORLD ELITE - WORLD CAPITALISM
The capitalist globalization process that everyday kills and destroys the lives of millions of people around the globe serves the political, social and economic agenda of a very well structured global elite. This global elite is essentially composed of capitalist white males, power-hungry and with no desire whatsoever to relinquish or divide power. It is paramount to their institutions of power to secure the invisibility of the fact that the elite of the world is composed of one class, one race, and one gender. This elite controls the levels of government and the levels of business.
They are the church (the moral authority) and they are the creators of culture. They are the philosophers, the educators. They are the most pernicious and dangerous group of people. Across the centuries this elite has used the divisions and social inequalities in society to their advantage. In fact, they are the creators, maintainers, and sole beneficiaries of this oppressive structure. Through a structured and systemic misogynist, racist, homophobic, brutal capitalist protocol, they ensure the maintenance of their global empire and especially the maintenance of their privilege domain over the majority of the people on earth.
It is (and always was) in the interest of this elite that we, the people, do not understand their affairs and have no access to their domains. The institutions of race, class and gender are notably set to the advancement and comfort of these people and the exploitation of others.
Nowadays, this elite maintains a global system of exploitation, a structure that interlocks racism, sexism and traditional capitalist exploitation. For lack of a better word I shall call this system World Capitalism.
Traditional Marxist and class struggle analysis have always had poor understandings of race and gender. The concept that those two systems of exploitation are a fruit of capitalist society and will be eliminated when the class struggle is resolved fails to analytically criticize a culture based on racism and sexism, both of which came into the picture way before capitalism was around.
Furthermore, these reductionist analyses fail to recognize that the power structure of privilege does not have to be ratified by the police, the capitalists or even the State. Culture alone can be a catalyst of exploitation and submission. A complete revolution against the bourgeois social fabric cannot be done simply by taking the bourgeoisie out of the picture.
An understanding of the concept of privilege and how privilege imposes itself on our daily lives is necessary get at the root of why racism and sexism are so strong in our societies why we have to fight for the right of getting jobs (not goods jobs, just jobs in general), why it is dangerous for us to walk at night, why, even when economically it would make sense to alleviate the tension around race and gender, our society is adamant in keeping those
tensions alive and burning. The global elite benefits threefold from the system of World Capitalism - a system devised, planned and structured around white male bourgeois privilege, a system that connects different forms of exploitation in one single machine.
In contrast to some people, I firmly believe that the structure of World Capitalism could not do without racism and sexism. The reasons for the existence of these two systems of oppression can be slightly different but the end result is the same - the submission of the oppressed to the elite of capitalist society.
For the purpose of this analysis, racism and sexism shall be broadened to include a multitude of other correlated subjects that are intrinsically tied to and share the same roots of racism and sexism. In this essay, racism refers (unless noted) to race dominance and privilege, national identity, nationalism, imperialism, colonialism and cultural repression. All these share the basic premise of domination of one ethnic/national group over a subordinated one.
To understand Race and Capitalism in a broader sense than the American concept of race, it is paramount for us to analyze race in its historical context.
Racism in Europe started before Capitalism. The feudal lords and the crown of Spain (absolutist and mercantilist) already obsessed over the concept of limpieza de sangre , the purity of blood. This concept became strong in Spain in the 1400 s, when the Spaniards fought against the Moor invaders. A national liberation struggle, if you like.
These concepts of race and the purity of blood, however, were deeply ingrained in European culture. Europe was a continent driven by conquest and tribal wars. The Romans regarded the tribes of Germans and Francs to be barbarians, brutes of low intelligence and destined to be submitted to the rule of the Roman Empire.
Examples demonstrating a racist culture and a racist system as integral parts of the European culture run back in history ad nauseum. Why should we be shocked that they, when spreading their empire, spread too their racist system?
It is a fairly common misconception that other cultures had no racist background until the arrival of the Europeans. That is not true. The African tribal wars that to this day plight the people in that continent are a living proof that race (identity) was an issue long before Capitalism.
What seems then to be the purpose of racism? In classical dialectical materialistic analysis, the constant struggle over power between forces of society shapes the format of the future as well as the present of a given society. In the case of the disappearance of race and gender in our society, the only struggle to be faced is the class war against a united working class, the capitalist are bound to lose. The need of a different struggle, the need of race and gender inequality for the capitalist is to engage the working class in different battles, to divide and conquer it.
Based on that, one could argue that racism has always been a structure designed to maintain the power of a certain class over another by creating a platform of equality of sorts, making them brothers of the oppressed class. This definition of racism carries more weight than we can initially imagine, but it fails to recognize that racism can outlive class oppression and still be the source of power for a few that would rule at the top of a racialized hierarchy.
Racism and sexism are more culturally rooted in the world than Capitalism, more than the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Racism and sexism are two paramount structures of domination with which the world dominant class maintains its power and without which, the structure of World Capitalism would collapse.
It is part of the strategy of the global elite to actively support and maintain white dominance worldwide. The idea that white supremacy is an American phenomenon, that it is a national issue, and that racism in the U.S. has origins in American Capitalism is, in essence, a very American idea. At the
same time, the complex aspects of race in the U.S. and the current debate on racism and classism might be the catalyst for change in the perception of race and white dominance. Global white dominance appears in two different aspects privilege and de facto ruling.
The privilege of the white race is an absolute in the world s politics and economics nowhere on the face of the world are people of European descent the oppressed minority (or majority) to an elite of color. The white race enjoys a privilege that does not falter by geographic means.
The white colonial/imperial power stretched itself across the globe through the process of capitalist globalization. The consolidation of global capitalism is not only rooted in racism but dependant on it. From Brazil to India to Mexico, the lighter skin carries a lighter burden and occupies the higher place. The de facto ruling of a white elite that controls the global capitalist structure enforces the privilege of the white race .
Transnational corporate forces are massively concentrated in the U.S. and Europe and so are the powerful nation-states. The white race enjoys a position of privilege in these two arenas. Token gains around race and gender are allowed not so much to pacify race and gender struggles, as it is to foment further struggle. The idea is to give the exploited a little taste of what they could get, but to make it clear that they would have to carry a
certain burden in order to get it just like a mule who tastes a piece of carrot once is bound to want to eat the whole carrot, and will work with all its strength to reach the unreachable carrot, while carrying the weight of the cart in its back. But, apparently contradicting themselves, the capitalist class shows its contempt for race and gender equality by openly attacking any form of improvement in the situation of the oppressed genders and races.
This makes the structure, in the eyes of people of color, a racist one, instead of a purely classist one. It is necessary to keep people thinking that a) gains can be achieved inside the structure and b) racism is everywhere (which is true, but it needs to be really thrown at people s faces all the time). The objective of this exercise is to demonstrate both that power is on the side of the elite and that therefore the oppressed?s situation can only improve if they submit enough so the elite do not see them as a threat but as something they can thoroughly control. In order to carry out this exercise the elite maintains a distance between those that have power and privilege and those who do not. It is interesting to see that the elite of color benefits from the racist structure too, and that if racism were to simply be wiped out of the whole scenario, they would be in bad waters. It is in their interest that the white elite dominates - that would eagerly try to take over if they thought that they could do it without tearing the fabric of social control
that the white capitalist elite maintains.
The racist structure of the system allows the elites of color to maintain their power. Imperialism has been used as a shield by every single dictator that had its power threatened by the bigger shark. From Castro to Hussein to Milosevic, third world dictators drag millions of people of color, working class people, and anti-imperialist militants into the defense of their oppressive regime. This is not a justification of U.S. actions but rather an example of how the racist structure of global capitalism doesn t just benefit the white elite and is therefore supported directly or indirectly by the elite Worldwide. It is a case of opportunism, where oppressors assume an oppressed mask to defend and maintain their dominance over various groups of people.
A concrete example of this is the role that Brazil now plays in the FTAA meetings. Lula and the PT (Brazilian Worker s Party) have repeatedly tried to sell an image of a defiant Brazil, which is concerned with the imperialist role that the U.S. would play in South America irf the FTAA gets approved. What they are really concerned with is that Brazil might lose its hegemonic dominance over the South American market, and then, if the U.S. does not open its market to Brazilian products, the Brazilian elite class of land owners would lose power. They are not concerned with the effects of the FTAA on labor, environment and the people. It is just very convenient that these issues are only brought up to rally public support.
This pattern repeats itself around the globe. Besides, the majority of this elite of color are actually descendent of Europeans. Just look at South America, the diversity and richness of races and cultures in it, then look at the elite of South America, a very white and European bourgeoisie. The elite of Africa, while not European in skin, are mostly educated and raised in Europe or the U.S. The pattern repeats itself.
In maintaining white supremacy, the elite of color try to escape guilt-free. In the fight for racial and gender equality, the working class remains bound. It is not that these fights are not important if anything, alongside class, they are the most important ones. It is only that, without the fall of the Capitalist system as a whole, any fight becomes just filler.
Other parts of the elite of color take a more aggressive position in the defense of the interests of the World Capitalist elite the elites of Japan thrive off of the complete submission to the American Empire. Make no mistakes, this is hardly a submissive elite - they were imperial forces for centuries and held an elitist racial position over their neighbors. However, in this game they play the subordinate elite because it is very much in their interest to keep the status quo, the rest is inconsequential. Japan, defeated in WWII, is reborn as a Global power, but in submission to white empire. The Left worldwide have, for decades now, struggled with race, class and gender, with which liberation should take precedence, without realizing that if any take precedence, the whole fight in itself is almost a moot point. Racism is not only a pillar of class oppression, it is one of the single bases of oppression itself.
In this essay, when referring to Sexism, it is incorporated into the concept (unless noted) issues like - women s rights, women s position in the bottom of the scale of the capitalist society, homophobia, heterosexism, and male violence against women and queer people.
Sexism - Male dominance, is the least addressed and consequentially the most widespread system of oppression in the world. The roots of sexism in societies cannot be easily traced and I will not even attempt to delve into its history to avoid any fallacy.
However, in this essay, I shall analyze sexism in its relationship with Global Capitalism and the struggle for liberation. The revolution of the Capitalists was economic and political- not social. The French Revolution, the fall of the Absolutists in Europe, and the social changes that followed were designed to enforce the rule of the bourgeoisie and strengthen the influence and power of this rising class against outside forces.
Representative democracy, liberty and freedom and all the other promises that the revolution made to the people were designed according to which form would create a favorable atmosphere for the establishment of capitalism.
It is interesting then to notice that the revolutionary leaders were quick to crush the women s movement that was born during the French revolution. The establishment of Capitalism could not allow the development of such a movement, especially since, in order to meet what those women were demanding, a distribution of power was necessary. One pamphlet distributed by women during the revolution was called Request for Women to be
Admitted to the Estates-General, and had the following quote Man is born egotist...he reduces us to managing his household affairs and to partaking of his rare favors when he feels so inclined. Nothing could be more true and it exemplifies the relationship between the elite and women - the relationship of power and the need for a structure that justifies and maintains such a relationship. The current strained relationship between
Capitalism and women has a lot to do with the fact that the elites of the World are - no matter their color - an oppressive majority of males. Male dominance is not only a cultural trait as it is one of applying a simple rule of power - those who have power will not give it up for free. Concentrated power is limited - the more you share the less you have. The elites of the world will not relinquish power to women.
The relationship of power between men and women needs to transcend race and class in order to be effective. Although one could argue that this is just another classist plot of the bourgeois to keep their economic rule over the working class, it is very interesting to notice that misogynist thinking is part (in different levels) of a multitude of cultures, even before they were put in contact with each other. Hunter-gatherer societies had their good
share of misogyny - they were hardly the utopia that certain people picture them to be. The dominant gender in our societies has been exploiting women s work and women in general for millennia after millennia. Sexism is not a capitalist invention. It is no accident that the bourgeoisie s power is composed essentially of males, this is merely a consequence of the fact that even when the class struggle between the nobility and the bourgeois aristocrats was being fought in the French Revolution, in one thing they agreed - that it was a fight between men, to see which men was going to be the rulers. It is obvious then why the views of women like Olympe de Gouges, a French Revolutionary woman, were so threatening to the male revolutionaries that she was guillotined in 1793 as a reactionary royalist. Robespierre and Marat and the men of the Revolution were most certainly terrified of losing their power to a woman who advocated not only the
necessity of full legal equality between the genders, job opportunities for women, schooling for girls and the creation of a national theater where only plays written by women could be performed, but the creation too of the National Assembly of Women, emphasizing the need for women of self-government and equal power for men and women.
Gouges understood that, because the culture of sexism, a structure that embraced men and women as equals would do nothing to actually satisfy women s needs and desires for liberation - it would merely be a token act. The need of self-organization for women came from the realization that in a social structure, every single relationship is one of power and, if the social structure is constructed by men, it would be inherently sexist. Only women can devise a structure that would really benefit women.
Sexism always had a condescending tone to its rhetoric, a view that men s subjugation of women was actually a necessity for the welfare of women. What is interesting is that this view is deeply ingrained in the social fabric of our society, and to ensure this, it is necessary that all men participate consciously or unconsciously in terrorizing women much like the State, the function of manhood is to terrify women into accepting men s protection for the price of their total submission. As Susan Brownmiller puts it, rape is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear . All forms of violence against women (rape, domestic violence etc) are forms of intimidation and bullying through which, firstly, male dominance is imposed, and second, male protection is made necessary . Culture reinforces the dominant role of the male and its need of violence.
Violent behavior by men against women and against each other is more than just assertion of power against the recipient of violence, it is part of the engine that feeds off the terrorizing of women to keep them submissive. It is the double use of the rod - it can beat you up or beat someone else to protect you. And, as Susan Griffin notes in the book Rape - The All-American Crime, if the professional rapist is to be separated from the average dominant heterosexual [male], it may be mainly a quantitative difference.
The extent to which dominance and violence are exerted over women may vary in quantity, but not in substance. The logic behind the creation of a social fabric that reinforces a gendered dichotomy of violence/passivity is to create an atmosphere of fear so overwhelming that the mere presence of the male becomes threatening, making any movement that challenges
patriarchy appear impossible. Male attitudes - tone of voice, way of sitting, conversation, clothing -everything is designed in order to keep women guessing and consequentially afraid. It is then not surprising that our movement and our spaces remain male dominated and will stay so until we critically analyze the balance of power in the attitudes and presence of men and women inside the movement.
A woman in a room full of men, no matter how strong, outspoken and determined she is, and no matter how much the men are determined to treat her as an equal - is definitively in a position of less power and thus will not have the same weight in her voice,unless structural changes are made to prevent that. And if radical organizations and institutions are not conscious of this power imbalance and do not actively confront this situation - the maintenance of the status quo is inevitable. The oppression of women by working class males is a phenomenon that can be traced back to almost every single culture. To see the feminist struggle as separate and a division of forces of the working class is a ludicrous statement - a reflection of a poor understanding of the nature of oppression and the nature of the working class.
Indeed, to separate these three fights is to divide the working class, but to set priority in any of them and have the others as a tag along is to totally destroy any hopes of liberation that the working class might have. Gender-based oppression serves a political purpose too. It serves the elites that women have no political power for the same reason that it serves the elites that people of color do not have political power. There is, however, a difference between the gender elite and the elite of color. The male-dominated elite of color is, globally speaking, fairly stronger and definitively more aggressive in its pursuit of power than the gender-elite. The gender-elite lives in a much more subordinate position (to their male counterparts) than the elite of color - thus putting them in a closer position with the women of the working class. An abused woman will identify with the plight of another one - independent of class or race a queer person can identify
with persecution and prejudice against all queer people.
It is, however, very important to notice that empathy and de facto equality are a far cry from each other, and while bourgeois women might have some aspects of gender oppression in common with working class women any substantial alliance is not possible because they are class enemies.
The union of the working class in one fight will not happen without the acknowledgement of the multiple layers of oppression inside the working class itself and the actual destruction of power imbalance within a movement that proposes to change the reality of oppression lived by the working class nowadays. A forced union of the working class, with disregard of the real issues of gender and race except in a superficial way, is bound to fail.
A world revolution is necessary - a complete change of structure, a social, economical and political revolution that destroys class, gender and racial oppression.
I disagree with the idea that the class struggle should take priority over the race and gender struggle - this centralist and elitist view of disregarding the concerns of women and people of color have been seen thousands of time before, and we have been betrayed and stomped on enough to realize that those with power will not relinquish it, it must be taken from them. Only the oppressed can liberate the oppressed, and it is vital that we understand that people of color, women, queers and all other oppressed people inside the working class don t just hear this motto repeated in their heads like a mantra, but that they actually need to exercise that line inside the movement and draw their own conclusions of where they want to go and what needs to be done. I too disagree with the idea that race and gender should be taken priority over the class struggle - the simple idea that race and gender issues can be solved inside the capitalist system in any frame is simply ludicrous. Inside the capitalist system, we have no real say in the
affairs of business and very little (in the most optimistic of the views) in the affairs of the government. A feminist or a race movement that does not have as priority the abolition of the capitalist system will fall short on its legs - gender and race justice are impossible inside the capitalist system. The capitalist system is not only a system based on class dominance, but one too that maintains women and people of color inside that class and
oppressed within it.
The means must be coherent with the ends. A movement that disregards any of the systems of oppression is bound to be limited and to create a society based on elitism. Unless the movement is committed to be one that addresses those three issues seriously and not sidestep them with we are all equal condescending behavior, its range is going to be limited and it will turn off people that see themselves as not only working-class, but that feel other pressing forms of oppression crushing them.
It is time to reevaluate the movement s approach on issues of race, gender and sexuality - it is good to see that there is a movement of people that are already working in that direction. It is time for us to have a revolution in ourselves to change our perception on what a real liberation of the people means.
I see their faces - their smiling brown faces - and there is nothing
of me in there. We shall build a different World.