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This was my first attempt to write about intersectionality from an anarchist perspective. Originally published in Irish Anarchist Review #7

As class-struggle anarchists dealing with the relations between gender, race and class, we must, in theory and practice, pick a path between two pitfalls. On one side is economic reductionism – the reduction of all political questions to the social relations of production – which erases the perspectives and struggles of women, queers and people of colour; submerges their voices within an overly generalised class narrative, in which the idealised Worker is implicitly white heterosexual and male; or consigns their struggles to a secondary importance compared to the “real struggle” of (economic) class against class. On the other is a stultifying and inward-looking liberal-idealist identity politics, concerned fetishistically with the identification of privilege and the self-regulation of individual oppressive behaviour to the (near) exclusion of organised struggle, which, while amplifying the voices of the marginalised, consigns them to an echo chamber where they can resonate harmlessly.

While both poles described are actualised within the anarchist milieu, we should not make the mistake of thinking that both pitfalls are equally imminent. White supremacism and patriarchyi are hegemonic within our society and this is reflected in anarchist spaces: dismissive “critiques” of identity politics are far more common than over-enthusiastic engagement. Therefore this piece will not offer yet another of these critiques, which more often than not function only justify the continued ignorance and inaction of those unwilling to destabilise their privilege.ii

Rather this piece deals with a more difficult question: “How does one reconcile the diverse political perspectives of feminists, queers and activists of colour with the tradition of class-struggle anarchism?” I do not offer a complete or authoritative answer, but rather attempt to move forward a conversation which seems to be perpetually re-iterating its own beginning: “we must begin to talk about gender and race issues”. Indeed we must, but we must also move beyond beginning.

The traditional approach

Most class-struggle anarchist understandings of the inter-relation of gender, race and class allude in one way or another to the Marxist base-superstructure model of society, that is, that the relations of production are the base of society, which generate the political superstructure which includes the state, culture, gender and race relations etc. A vulgar Marxist idea of the base-superstructure model holds that the base determines the superstructure absolutely and the superstructure is unable to affect the base. The implication of this is that no specific agitation on gender or race issues is needed: if women, queers or people of colour wish to improve their position in society they should simply participate in the class struggle which will necessarily and automatically result in the dissolution of all hierarchies. A particularly crude but somewhat instructive example of this thinking tells us:

In any class society—thus, in any society in which the state and the economy exist—only the ruling class can be truly said to have privilege… [S]o-called privileges are nothing more than a minimal easing of the conditions of exploitation experienced by people in these specific social categories. They are intended to convince these people that they have more in common with their exploiters than with those not granted the same “privileges” and to convince the others that their real enemy is not the ruling class, but rather those granted a less intense level of exploitation… Since only the ruling class truly has privilege, the destruction of privilege will only occur when we destroy all rule.iii

This sort of utopian thinking denies that gender or race have any autonomy from class: patriarchy and white supremacism are merely tools employed by the ruling class to divide the workers. Of course, in reality, the establishment of a communist economic system does not preclude the continuation of patriarchy or white supremacism. One can easily imagine, for example, a communist system where women are held to be the collective sexual property of men, with sexual access ensured by systematic rape and battery, whose economy is perfectly functional.

More sophisticated variants of this model, often accompanied by some dialectical flourish, acknowledge the necessity of specific anti-sexist, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, and anti-transphobic agitation, lest these dynamics persist “after the revolution”, but still understand gender and race issues as being essentially forms of bigotry fostered by the ruling class to divide workers against themselves to prevent the realisation of their collective “objective” interests as a class. Gender and race struggles are thus positioned as ancillary to the class struggle, even if they are formally considered “central” to it. Patriarchy and white supremacism are not understood as constituting systems in their own right and forms of power other than the economic are rendered invisible. The pertinent question here is not whether this picture is correct in some “objective” sense – whether metaphysically all power “really” resides in the means of production – but rather: which voices are amplified by this framing and which are muted? What forms of action are opened and foreclosed by choosing this framework at the expense of another? Who among us has the power to define the “objective” interests of the working class?

‘Scientific socialism’ and subjectivity

No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. – Mikhail Bakuniniv

A particularly egregious influence of Marxism on anarchist thought is the supposed need to understand the world systematically – to render the world objectively knowable through the development of a theoretical system, which totally describes reality, and provides a set of objective truths against which other understandings of the world can be compared – related to the failed project of “scientific socialism”. Anarchists (Bakunin in particular) have long recognised the authoritarian nature of this project: a movement mobilised according to scientific theories can only be a movement of “experts” leading the masses – the “false consciousness” of the masses can only be directed to revolutionary ends by the Party, which, by some unknown means, comes to be the bearer of true consciousness backed up by objective scientific facts.v

Objective or universal knowledge is impossible. We exist within a web of social relations and only a god would be able to view the totality of social relations as an objective observer. What we see and what we do not is dependent both on how we are positioned relative to others and in which directions we choose to look. The systems we develop for understanding the world are therefore products of the particular web of power relations in which we are situated; are necessarily at best partial, subjective and tentative; and reflect both the oppressions and privileges to which we are subject. Their proper function is as working theories that enable us to act as effectively as possible within our social context, not as dogmas to which reality must be made to fit. Claims to objectivity and universality are nothing other than a power grab; what is considered central to the struggle for human liberation is a reflection of who has power within the movement. The centrality of economics to our theory, and our particular conception of what class struggle entails and what it does not must be critically re-evaluated in this

Intersectionality and privilege

[T]here is an important value in overcoming the fear of immanent critique and to maintaining the democratic value of producing a movement that can contain, without domesticating, conflicting interpretations on fundamental issues. – Judith Butlervii

Feminist theory provides useful theoretical tools for analysing the inter-relations of gender, race and class. Critiques of second-wave feminism, particularly from women of colour, highlighted the role of universalist feminist narratives in the marginalisation of working-class women, women of colour, and those whose gender expression or sexuality deviated from the norm: the idea of a universal female experience in practice meant the universalisation of the issues of the most privileged sections of the feminist movement. The theory of intersectionality was developed to address the issue of how a movement could begin to accommodate the incoherency of perspectives entailed by the abandonment of universalism and still continue to function effectively.viii

Intersectionality recognises that these incoherences are not merely intellectual disagreements, but rather reflect real differences in the experience of oppression from different subject-positions. We are all oppressed and privileged in various ways within various systems, and these systems interact in complex ways to produce a totality within which gender, race and class cannot be disentangled and approached as distinct objects: ones positioning with respect to race, for example, changes qualitatively what it means to be a certain gender. We must therefore reject the notion that the class struggle is or could be the same for everyone, and turn to the more complex task of treating class as contingent on other hierarchies.

Dare to look at the intersectionalities. Dare to be holistic. Part of the heart of anarchy is, dare to go against the grain of the conventional ways of thinking about our realities. Anarchists have always gone against the grain, and that’s been a place of hope. – bell hooksix

Examining intersectionalities means not just developing an understanding of the different forms of oppression and the struggles against them, but also means asking certain questions about the ways in which they intersect. To illustrate, let’s examine two seemingly distinct areas of recent WSM activity – the Campaign Against the Household and Water Taxes (CAHWT), which is a particular tactical engagement in a more generalised struggle against austerity, and the campaign for abortion rights in Ireland, which forms part of a wider struggle to maximise reproductive choices for women – and ask: what is the relationship between austerity as a generalised imposition on our class and the restriction of reproductive choice as a particular imposition on women? What are the common forms of social control mobilised in these two seemingly discrete spheres?

Both are biopolitical projects; that is, both aim, at the level of the individual and of the population at large, at producing certain kinds of people and not others in the furtherance of particular objectives. Austerity, which is commonly understood as a mechanism of extracting capital from the population and transferring it to a capitalist class in crisis (which is true), is also a project aimed at reshaping our lives to produce austere subjects: idealised workers primed for participation in neoliberal markets, who provide a maximum of productivity at a minimum cost, living lives with a minimum of material comforts, a restricted sphere of social activity, whose activity is continually aimed at maximising marketable skills, actively seeking job “opportunities” etc.x The restriction of reproductive choices, while often seen as merely a result of backward religious moralism, must also be understood in this way: by denying women access to abortion outright and ensuring that access to contraception is expensive, sexual activity (and the social activity surrounding it) is disciplined toward the production of life within certain normative contexts (i.e. the stable monogamous relationship, called marriage in its ideal form) while other forms are precluded.xi Both involve the mobilisation of many of the same mechanisms of social control: the police, the judicial system, the contraction of the welfare state (in particular the cuts to child benefit function to prevent problematic sections of the working class from reproducing and placing a burden on the state, while imposing a particularly cruel form of discipline on those that do), the taxation system (VAT on condoms, for example), education, public health etc.

An intersectional approach thus reveals the deep interconnections between superficially distinct spheres of political activity. Women’s struggles and the class struggle are found to be inseparable. The slogans “Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay” and “My Body, My Choice” resonate deeply with one another, as both involve a refusal of biopolitical control and an assertion of the right to live self-directed lives autonomous of the demands of the powerful. Intersectional praxis involves, in part, uncovering these interconnections and writing them into the public discourse.

Speaking and listening

As anarchists, we are not immune to the effects of being formed within a social context in which women, queers and people of colour are sytematically oppressed. Practices of dominance and submission are deeply ingrained into our culture and habituated within normative forms of social interaction, and cannot simply be dispelled with the performative declaration: “I am anti-racist”, I am anti-sexist”, “I am an anarchist” etc.xii Put simply: if left unexamined, our subconscious habits in social interactions will reproduce the marginalisation of the already-marginalised within the anarchist movement.

If, as I have argued, the building-blocks of anarchist theory and practice are the subjective perspectives of those who experience oppression directly (as opposed to ready-made theoretical systems) then an awareness of the ways in which privilege manifests in inter-personal relations is of particular importance.xiii The ability to contribute to shaping the direction of the movement is predicated on the ability to speak and be listened to by others within the movement. The ability to speak from an authoritative position, with the expectation of being listened to, understood and treated seriously, the ability to rely on certain culturally-specific assumptions (common sensexiv) in making a point, and so on, are more readily available to those who are already privileged by power structures than it is to those who are not. Awareness of privilege, then, is an important counterbalance to social forces which produce marginalisation, which allows us to organise more effectively against those forces. This is the precise opposite of the liberal-moralist theory of privilege, which elevates privilege awareness to the status of an abstract good.

The class struggle

At this point one might be wondering what precisely the implication of this argument is. Do I mean to say that class must no longer be at the centre of anarchist politics? Or am I saying that class is understood in a way that is too narrow? I am saying both of these things, or, more precisely, both are valid ways of parsing the same argument. If class is understood as being simply a matter of economics, and particularly those aspects of capitalist economics that appear most pressing to white heterosexual men; if class-centricity means that a deep understanding of the way in which capitalism produces capitalists and workers is essential for all anarchists, while deep understandings of the way in which patriarchy produces men and women, and white supremacism produces white people in relation to a multiplicity of (in)subordinate racesxv, are not; worse still, if it means that obscure historical knowledge of failed revolutions and exegesis of the texts of dead theorists takes precedence over the experiences of living people, then class must be removed from the centre of our theory. If, however, class is understood as encompassing the totality of hierarchical social relations, as being the product of many systems acting sometimes in concert and sometimes autonomously of one another, and moreover as bringing together a diversity of experiences and struggles in a spirit of solidarity and mutual recognition, then this is precisely the heart of anarchism.

i I am using these terms in a broad sense for the sake of readability. White supremacism encompasses all oppressions on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture, nationality and migration status which function to empower whites. Similarly, patriarchy includes the oppression of women, queers, trans* people and others oppressions on the basis of gender.

ii For a balanced critique, see “The Poverty of Privilege Politics” by by Tabitha Bast and Hannah McClure, Shift Magazine,

iii “A Question of Privilege”, Venomous Butterfly,

iv Quoted in Michael Bakunin (1961) by E. H. Carr, p. 175

v Within the Marxist tradition, this attempt to attribute the “perspective of totality” to the Party has been criticised by John Holloway. See Change The World Without Taking Power, p.35,

vi At the risk of stating the obvious, I am not advocating here a rejection of science as a methodology or the embracing of irrationalism; rather we should embrace a certain epistemological modesty and reject the power effects of positioning a particular set of ideas as scientific/universal/totalitarian.

vii “The End of Sexual Difference” in Undoing Gender by Judith Butler, p. 176

viii See “Refusing To Wait: Anarchism and Intersectionality” by Deric Shannon & J. Rogue, for an account of the history of this development, as well as an excellent exposition of intersectional theory.

ix “How Do You Practice Intersectionalism? An Interview with bell hooks”, Common Struggle,

x In particular, various reforms of the social welfare system have a particular aim of disciplining the unemployed in this way.

xi The fact that this project is increasingly an abject failure producing an assortment of individually and socially problematic situations is besides the point here.

xii See, for example, “Towards an Anarchist Anti-Racism” by Dónal O’Driscoll,

xiii For another class-struggle anarchist perspective on “Privilege Theory”, which takes a somewhat different approach from mine, see “A Class Struggle Anarchist Analysis of Privilege Theory” from the Anarchist Federation Women’s Caucus,–from-the-womens-caucus-.html

xiv “Many quite nefarious ideologies pass for common sense. For decades of American history, it was “common sense” in some quarters for white people to own slaves and for women not to vote. Common sense, moreover, is not always “common” — the idea that lesbians and gay men should be protected against discrimination and violence strikes some people as common-sensical, but for others it threatens the foundations of ordinary life.” “A `Bad Writer’ Bites Back” by Judith Butler,

xv See “Abolish Whiteness” by Noel Ignatiev, for a development of this point.


The Left is not an organism, it is an ecosystem. An organism can operate intentionally and in unison only inasmuch as it is under the dominion of a subject. The Left is not composed in this way, and could not be without an overarching disciplinary apparatus – that is, without mirroring the control mechanisms of bourgeois society.


Recognising that the Left is an ecosystem calls for an ecological approach to understanding tactical questions. The starting point of such an approach must be the recognition that the Left is composed of heterogeneous elements, none of which hold any kind of privileged position over one-another. There is no centre against which a periphery can be defined, only a diversity of subjects in ever-shifting relations to one-another, traversed by communicative and affective flows encountering a pathway here, a blockage there, within a complex landscape.


Function is an emergent property of the system, which is not reducible to the individual or collective intentions, wishes, or actions of the elements, or any particular grouping of elements. What the Left does, what effect it has on its world, and the role various elements have in producing that effect is not within the control of any particular component of the Left, but emerges from the relations between the elements as they interact with and transform their environment, and themselves in turn.


Diversity is a sign of the health of an ecosystem. It allows for a greater range of functions and a greater adaptability to change. It is necessary to work towards a maximally productive arrangement of diversity – never a monoculture.


This does not mean adopting a laissez-faire attitude to tactical questions. Debate and disagreement, even sometimes conflict, are the necessary correlates of diversity. Rather, what is required is an approach to disagreement that recognises that the extinction of the other harms the system as a whole. The purpose of debate should be the deepening of insight and the removal of blockages to our potentialities, and never the domination or conquest of difference.


Binarisations place us in oppositional relations to one another, producing unproductive disgareement that harms us all. Perhaps the most significant is that of “peaceful” vs. “violent” protest. What is crucial is to recognise that there is no possibility for peace within capitalist society, only varying degrees of complicity and resistance to the systemic violence intrinsic to capital. All forms of protest and non-protest embody the dialectical tension between complicity and resistance. As an ethical designation, “peaceful protest” is utopian junk, while the fetishisation of violence is its microfascistic mirror image. The issue is always that of the strategic deployment of violence and non-violence, remaining aware that our resistances are never pure escapes, but are always thwarted to some extent, always contradictory. Put simply: someone always gets hurt. The aspiration to peace, if it is to be more than an aesthetic element of ideology, means grappling with the reality that we are always-already soaked in violence, so long as material reality of domination remains.

As it’s presently constructed, the LGBT movement is probably less than a decade away from achieving all of it’s major aims in most Western societies: centrally, same-sex couples having the right to marry and raise children, and, more broadly, equality, understood as assimilation within already-existing conservative institutions such as the military, the police, or the boardroom. Inevitably, this will mean a massive demobilization and depoliticisation among LGBT people and the collapse of much of whatever activist networks currently exist, as, demonstrably, we will have achieved pretty much everything we are currently demanding.

But equality is not liberation. Paradoxically, even as gay concerns become increasingly mainstream and everyone from major corporations, to the English Defence League, to apartheid Israel scramble to feel the benefits of positive pink PR, we are hardly closer to liberating our sexualities from the bridle of conservative/religious moralism.

Instead, we have sought, and are beginning to be granted, inclusion within heteronormative structures, namely marriage, but only on the understanding that the basic form and logic of marriage is to remain unchanged. In fact, this very concession is at the core of much of the smug liberal advocacy for “marriage equality”: of course conservative concerns are irrational, we have no intention of threatening their family values ideology, we just want in.

Marriage as an institution is the antithesis of free love, the mechanism by which the state bludgeons our sexualities into the most useful shape for reproducing the next generation of labour, and the word-made-flesh of anti-sex theology.

However marriage is redefined, it will never be ours. The State retains the power to define what constitutes a “normal” relationship, to write the relationship script for the vast majority of society, while those who don’t or won’t fit the script are pushed to the margins. This doesn’t just affect people at the point where they “choose” to get married, but in fact all relationships are expected to be proto-marriages: monogamous, and aiming at permanence, with a series of predefined stages (which vary according to culture) on the way to marriage. Romantic narratives about “finding your soulmate” (i.e. expectation that you will only legitimately love one person in your entire life) are bound up with the institution of marriage, and shape people’s expectations around sex and relationships in an often damaging way.

Marriage is the institution of an ideology that sees human sexuality as a threat, and seeks to constrain it. Ideally, sex should only happen for the purposes of procreation, but failing that, only within the bounds of stable monogamy, and not in any way that might be considered kinky or weird. There is no room for fluidity, or polyamoury, or promiscuity, which are at best tolerated among young people with the expectation that they will “settle down”.

It’s an institution borne out of sexual repression and patriarchy, and inseparable from its history as male ownership of women – a history which still shapes the lived realities of married people.

Generally speaking, within the structure of marriage, women are still expected to do the work of child-rearing for no money, and their work isn’t even considered work. Often this is on top of having a full time job, so women work a double-shift, usually for less pay than a man on a single-shift. While same-sex marriage may begin to decouple this expectation from gender somewhat, the child-rearing-as-unpaid-labour problem remains embedded into the very construction of the nuclear family.

Necessarily then, we can only participate in marriage on their terms. However much it changes, we will always have to change more in order to assuage the fears of conservatives that we pose a threat to their vision of sexual morality. Within the LGBT community, there is political pressure, particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators, to have a binary-identified sexuality that was fixed at birth, or to ditch the concerns of trans* people altogether because they make us look bad. In other words, gay marriage takes a certain section of the queer community and makes them just like straight people, casting the rest aside.

This process of recuperation has happened over a relatively short historical period. Within decades, we have gone from being a radical sexual liberation movement which challenged and threatened the foundations of conservative sexuality morality, of which marriage is a keystone, to being little more than a movement beating at the door of family values ideology begging to be let in. In order to claim the right to be included within marriage, we place ourselves in the position of defending marriage, or cementing its position in the centre of society – we become it’s biggest cheerleaders, pushing out endless stories about happy gay couples who just want to get married because marriage is such an awesome institution – the fullest and most natural expression of love between two human beings – or of gay couples who raise perfect children (according to conservative standards) because we’re such awesome parents.

In short, as long as we continue to aim for equality-through-assimilation, we concede that we will never win the struggle to free love from the grip of bourgeois morality, and to experience love as we see fit, with whoever we see fit. In fact, we strengthen the institutions that keep our bodies and our hearts in chains.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that the usage of LGBT here for what is essentially an LGB movement focused on LGB concerns erases trans* people. I use LGBT in a referential rather than descriptive sense because that is how the majority of the movement self-describes.

This post was written for the Workers Solidarity Movement site in October 2011 when the Occupy movement was just kicking off. It attracted quite a lot of attention at the time, because I think it echoed a lot of the frustrations leftists were feeling towards the movement. It was even picked up and republished by the IWW in the Industrial Worker newspaper.

I’m mainly reposting this because I want to copy some of the better stuff I’ve written for activist publications over to this blog, but it is interesting to read over this in retrospect and see how some of these dynamics played out in different contexts around the world.

Occupy Dame Street

What are we to make of the global ‘Occupy X’ movement which has exploded onto the streets of cities across the world, turning public spaces into campsites of opposition? Certain things are obvious: Firstly, the fact that there are thousands of people across the world taking over public spaces to express their anger at the financial system is undeniably a good thing. Having camped out outside the Central Bank on Dame Street on Saturday night, I can also say that these protests exude a positivity and hopefulness that is so often lacking from the ritualistic parades of anger that make up most protest marches. But there are also, in my view, serious political problems that prevent the movement from moving beyond a ‘radical sleepover’ and becoming a genuine anti-austerity grassroots resistance movement.

The analysis below is based in my own particular experience of the Dame St. protest on the ground and of the US protests as a media event. Obviously any attempt to discuss a diverse and fluid movement like this as a whole can only ever be approximate and reductive. This account is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to sketch what I see as the major trends and tendencies emerging within the movement, and should be read with that in mind.

Non-politics, incoherence, (neo)liberalism

The ‘Occupy X’ movement has since its inception shown an extreme aversion to being seen as political. Some aspects of this, such as banning political party banners, are an understandable pragmatic reaction to the tendency of various Leninist parties to hijack these kinds of events by swamping them with flags, banners and paper-sellers. But the anti-politics of the movement, at least on the part of the organising core and the Adbusters collective who issued the call for the original Wall St. protest, is also ideological: an odd synthesis of post-leftist anti-organisationalism (which sees formal political organisations, trade unions, etc. as being necessarily oppressive) and neoliberal post-politicism (which sees a Left vs. Right contest of ideas as being largely irrelevant after the fall of the Berlin Wall). After decades of neoliberal governance and media spin attempting to drive ideology and politics out of public discourse in order to enshrine the liberal-capitalist consensus as being ‘above politics’ and to reduce political questions to technical ones best dealt with by ‘experts’, it is perhaps unsurprising, but nonetheless disheartening, to see this depoliticisation reflected in contemporary forms of resistance.

Most obviously, this has been expressed in the movement’s unwillingness to attempt to agree on a coherent set of positions beyond some very basic points of unity with no underlying analysis of society. Instead, the occupied space is used by individuals to express a range of incoherent and often mutually contradictory ideas which are related only by being in some sense opposed to the status quo and the political and financial elites. On Saturday, I spoke to individuals who believe in everything from Rawlsian social democracy, to anarchism, to paranoid crypto-anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (the New World Order, etc.), to Stalinism. Of course, the advantage of this is that it’s extremely inclusive – the only requirement to participate is a sense that things are not as they should be and that the financial sector and the state are in some way to blame – but this also means that reactionary ideas are treated the same as progressive ones rather than being robustly challenged. In practice, this means that the ideas that come to the fore tend to be those that are already dominant in society: the ideas of the ruling class. In the US context, the dominant messages from Occupy Wall Street have been liberal, reformist and nationalistic: those that posed the least threat to the establishment. For example, a call to “make Wall Street work for America” amounts to little more than a call for increased exploitation of the Third World as an alternative to imposing austerity. A call to reform banking practice to constrain “corporate greed” is merely a call to stabilise capitalism so that the course of exploitation runs more smoothly. The problem is capitalism, not regulatory failure, or corporate greed or a lack of economic patriotism, and the inadequacies of these analyses need to be exposed rather than uncritically welcomed. The Irish protest seems to be following a similar pattern, with a particular anti-IMF/EU flavour.

The theory underlying this anti-politics, so far as I can gather, is this: no two people experience oppression in the same way, and thus any attempt to unite people under a political programme inevitably ends up erasing some people’s perspectives. This is superficially quite a pleasing analysis, since it creates a framework under which all ideas can be understood as equally valid, since they all derive from lived-experience, but it’s extremely problematic. Implicitly, it denies the possibility of coming to an inter-subjective understanding (i.e. one based in mutual recognition of shared experiences and understanding of differing ones) of oppression through collective discussion and compromise, and instead collapses into a naive relativism that produces a vague and weak politics, which plays into the hands of those who wish to dismiss the protesters as ‘hippies’ who don’t understand the complexities of capitalism. In any case, it’s easy to overstate the case for subjective perspectives and ignore the objective factors that shape experiences: the processes and structures of capitalist domination.

Bring back the working-class!

One of the major victories of neoliberalism is the eradication of the working-class from the popular consciousness. One of the results of this is the prevalence of the idea among certain sections of the left that the working-class is no longer relevant to understanding power in the modern world – an outdated idea clung to by old-left dinosaurs. This is reflected in the idea of ‘the 99%’ which has become the slogan of the ‘Occupy X’ movement, which expresses a very crude understanding of class, where the ruling class are an arbitrarily defined proportion of the wealthiest people in society. This makes for some great chanting – “we are the 99%!” – but is a poor criterion for membership of an anti-capitalist or anti-austerity movement. Put bluntly: there are an awful lot of capitalists, bosses, managers, bankers, CEOs, politicians, police, prison wardens, pimps, heroin dealers, etc. in the 99%.

Properly understood, class is not a classification system of individuals based on how much money they have, it’s a social relation between people that derives from the organisation of labour under capitalism. In other words, it’s the way people are forced to relate to one another in order to participate in capitalist society. Class oppression is not a small cabal of the ultra-rich in Wall Street or Washington or Leinster House, it’s in every workplace, every police station, every dole queue, every courtroom, every prison and every territory occupied by Western militaries, and can only be sensibly understood as such.


The radically democratic nature of the occupations creates the potential for the movement to evolve in any number of possible directions. Whether or not they become genuine resistance movements depends largely on how much the radical left are willing to engage with them, and re-assert the importance of class politics in understanding and countering oppression, by participating in the actions, discussions, and assemblies. A key hurdle has already been overcome: people are on the streets, expressing their dissent, reclaiming public spaces; it remains to be seen what comes of it.

When I say learned, a lot of this is stuff I knew already, but which has become a lot more starkly clear through the Campaign.

  • Talking to people is key to building any kind of resistance. There’s no real substitute for knocking on people’s doors or stopping them in the street and communicating your ideas. Things like handing out flyers and papers, while much easier, just don’t have the same effect as a face-to-face conversation. You also get to learn a lot about the level of politicisation, and the language it’s expressed in, outside of the activist bubble.
  • How to talk to people. This is essential reading for anyone doing any kind of organising. The biggest revelation for me was that listening is much more important than talking.
  • There’s too many of us for the State to handle. This sounds a bit like Communism 101, and I’ve known this intellectually for years now, but it’s only recently, through walking around working-class neighbourhoods (even in a small city) and seeing just how many people there are out there that I’ve started to feel that revolutionary change is actually a pretty realistic prospect (if we do our work properly). If we become ungovernable, even in a relatively small way like boycotting an unfair tax, the State actually doesn’t have the resources to govern us anymore.
  • Democracy is strategically important and not just in the sense that our organisations should reflect the kind of society we want to create, but that only through participatory democracy can we build an effective campaign, because only grassroots democratic decision-making gives the campaign the benefit of the creativity and intelligence and experiences of a broad mass of people.
  • Some people have really annoying letterboxes. I don’t get why people have letterboxes that have that weird carpetty stuff in them (and sometimes two flaps). Surely all of their post gets scrunched up and ruined like my flyers did. Also, some people hide their letter boxes in random places around their garden. Also, I’m more scared of dogs than I realised.

Check out: the Campaign Against The Household & Water Taxes website.