Trotskyism, Class, and Feminism

Trotskyism, Class, and Feminism

This is my blog "RageAgainstCapital"'s reply to the video "Marxism and Feminism" by "In Defense of Marxism". In it I provide an Anarcha-feminist critique of the Trotskyist form of Feminism the video extols.

There is a fairly well viewed by now video by the Trotskyist group “IMT”, YouTube Channel “In Defense of Marxism”, called “Marxism and Feminism”. It’s one of their filmed talks they regularly put out and it attempts to put forward a Marxist Feminist or as it is sometimes called “socialist feminist” analysis of patriarchy and womyn’s oppression which in the case of this talk is as apposed to inter-sectional feminism, queer-feminism, and radical feminism. This video has gained a lot of views mostly because Sargon of Akkad (popular men’s right’s activist and misogynist/anti-feminist) did his own video criticizing it. This has sort of made me want to cut through the bullshit and give my critique of the video, I have seen it many times, don’t ask me why, and there is a lot to legitimately critique. That said right wing anti-feminism is definitely not the view one should be critiquing anything from and the ideas in the video are pretty popular so I thought I would lay out my own critique and publish it.

The video starts out by claiming that Marxists do not think of the social revolution as a completely determined and automatic occurrence nor do they see oppression as completely economic. For all you could criticize Marxism for this is certainly true. Marxism as a current in the worker’s movement has always held that the social revolution is a matter of the organizing and work of the working class and does not just happen from without. It holds that while social oppression springs from economics, oppression does not always take on a purely economic character, Marxism explains society through the complexity of it’s entire make up and not just through it’s economic base. However, this will be important later as this emphasis on how Marxism is supposedly not at all mechanical the speaker espouses will later come back to bite them.

It should be noted that Marxism does as Bakunin said base it’s social theory in the proletariat of the cities and sees the capitalist mode of production as the historical precursor to socialism as all other modes of production and is thus limited and mechanical in those ways. As Rocker says, we can not confine history into definite historical stages, and as Bakunin points out the Marxist emphasis on the industrial proletariat lead their faction of the first international to ignore the Russian peasantry who were living in oppressive conditions.

The speaker then goes on to describe the root of womyn’s oppression by speaking on the rise of class society. The construction of class society and the oppression of womyn that fallowed as a result is a complicated topic, but the speaker spends little time on it. What description they do give is widely inaccurate. They describe the development of class society in agriculture being cultivated which according to the speaker lead to different people controlling better land, having better tools, ect. which for a reason that the speaker never goes over translated into the development of the class system. This is not at all how it happened historically. In reality the process had little to do with the kind of land people worked or some having better tools then others. The development of class society did not simply spring out of the development of agriculture either, agriculture existed in primitive communism for a period of time. In fact Friedrich Engels notes specific tribes that had access to arable land and live stock which they implored in agriculture. The development of class society actually came out of specific people gaining a social monopoly over community resources. This broke the communalist operations and equitable social relations inside tribes of primitive communist society and created a division of labor for the first time in human societies.

The speaker then goes on to give, an again, brief, and not very detailed explanation of the development of nuclear family units that left out many key factors such as the re-organization of household life over time along patriarchal lines. If the speaker is trying to assert a Marxist perspective on these things, they are quite ineffective at it, all of the things I have just talked about were part and parcel of Engels’ analysis of the family and class society. The speaker completely ignores said analysis while at the same time claiming to be expounding and clarifying the “Marxist” viewpoint.

The speaker then makes a number of dubious and just outright incorrect claims about the nature of welfare capitalism in the united states after which going on to talk about the different types of feminism. The speaker criticizes inter-sectional feminism on the grounds that it separates the struggles of working class people by creating more and more divisions among the oppressed. The speaker justifies this argument with an extremely populous understanding of what the “working class” constitutes, to the speaker it seems that simply any one in an oppressed social position is working class. This however doesn’t square with even Trotskyist forms of Marxism. The working class as Marx and Even Trotsky understood is the body of people within capitalist society who have no property in production and thus must sell their labor power to those who do have such property. Not everyone who is oppressed in anyway is a member of the working class. It is because of this that oppression though ultimately relying on class division takes many different forms. Examples are white supremacy, patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia. Since the speaker does not understand this and attempts to universalize one type of oppression they ignore the need for different social struggles that are interconnected and reaches the conclusion that working class struggle in itself will put an end to all other systems of domination going on to say “It will be hard to oppress your womyn if she is out fighting the police.”, “It will be hard to oppress your gay son if he saves your life in the struggle.”. This is no doubt a reductionist understanding of oppression. If a social revolution fails to implore different intersecting social struggles then it will not be truly liberatory.

In the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1937 the Spanish Anarchist movement waged a social revolution collectivizing workplaces and agriculture on a mass scale. However, this did not lead to an end to patriarchy in the areas the Anarchists controlled. Womyn were more or less faced with the same patriarchal oppression they were faced with before, and described the situation as one where men would preach feminism when out in the streets, but once they came home would act just as oppressive as they did before. The Nuclear family unit was never broken with and thus womyn were subordinate to men even though both womyn and men were involved in a large scale social revolution. It took a separate organization for womyn’s liberation (Mujeres Libres) integrated into the larger social Anarchist movement that could push for internal struggles within the worker’s movement that would could liberate womyn from their oppression in the home and in the class struggle to alleviate this

At the time the IWW was organizing class struggle was exclusionary toward the black community, white and black worker’s could not be regularly seen fighting along side one another, this lead the IWW and other organizations such as he CPUSA to breakdown racial barriers and integrate the black working class into the class struggle. This had to be carried out by organizations themselves and was not simply an organic product of the class struggle itself.

In order for a social revolution to really deconstruct all oppressive institutions they must be viewed for how complex they actually are. We have to view the oppression of the working class as the oppression of the working class, the oppression of womyn, the oppression of people of color, the oppression of LGBT people, ect as all different and distinct forms of oppression that exist as a result of the division of labor, in in our society, the capitalist division of labor. It is true that oppression can not be viewed as an isolated, individual matter that has nothing to do with the economic base of society as advocates of privilege theory would have it. Oppression needs to be viewed in a historical materialist manner which analyses it as the result of a historically specific organization in production, but oppression can not simply be viewed as the oppression of the working class. Such arguments mirror those of “brosocialists, “manarchists”, and other members of the “left” that have reactionary social views and tenancies. I could easily draw a parallel with the speaker’s argument and the “class comes first sweetie ;)” argument, or the argument that womyn’s lib divides the working class, or even arguments from the “#alllivesmatter” crowd.

The speaker eventually goes on to highlighting some goals that they feel are conducive to womyn’s liberation. The major one being the nationalization of all production under the proletarian dictatorship. This comes from the Trotskyist notion that the communist revolution is primarily based in the state nationalization of property, which has a lot of problems.

One big problem with this argument is that it is an instance of form over content. Nationalization and even nationalization under worker’s control can happen in a capitalist context.

The speaker goes on to argue for this point of view, saying that “we can do anything” (including taking care of womyn’s issues) when production is nationalized under the dictatorship of the proletariat. There are a few problems with this as I see it. The first is that nationalization of production comes with a lot of limitations. While it is often useful in the neo-liberal era to break the power of private capital and deliver utilities to the working class, it creates a management beurocracy that not only comprises worker’s control or any form of cooperative socialist planning, but also creates extreme inefficiencies. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” as Marx saw it was the opposite of this kind of set up where associated workers would collaborate to manage their own affairs and run society. This is where Trotskyism and Trotsky’s own views tends to break from Marxism, Trotsky and Trotskyists seek a revolution that takes place from above guided by party bosses which nationalizes industry under the control of said party bosses. This not only creates a social environment that negates the dictatorship of the proletariat and rather creates the dictatorship of the party bosses as the political set up in the Soviet Union and Maoist China, but also the kind of liberatory environment conducive to womyn’s liberation. An example of this would be when the CCP in China moved womyn out of their houses and into communal kitchens where they would play a subservient role and afterword would end up as a female reserve labor force under the guise of womyn’s liberation.

Then of course the very idea of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” should probably be called into question. I don’t want to get into it at length here so I will simply quote Rudolf Rocker on the subject.
The “dictatorship of the proletariat”, an inheritance from the bourgeoisie

That is all that can be said of dictatorship, since it is not a product of socialist thinking. Dictatorship is no child of the labour movement, but a regrettable inheritance from the bourgeoisie. passed into the proletarian camp to guarantee its “happiness”. Dictatorship is closely linked with the lust for political power, which is likewise bourgeois in its origin.

Dictatorship is one of the forms which the state, ever greedy for Power, is apt to assume. It is the state on a war footing. Like other advocates of state idea, the supporters of dictatorship would — provisionally (?) — impose their will upon the people. This concept alone is an impediment to social revolution, the very life’s blood of which is precisely the constructive participation and direct initiative of the masses.

Dictatorship is the denial, the destruction of the organic being, of the natural form of organisation, which is from the bottom upwards. Some claim that the people are not yet sufficiently mature to take charge of their own destiny. So there has to be a ruler over the masses, tutelage by an “expert” minority. The supporters of dictatorship could have the best intentions in the world, but the logic of Power will oblige them always to take the path of the most extreme despotism.

Our state socialists adopted the notion of dictatorship from that pre-bourgeois party, the Jacobins. That party damned striking as a crime and banned workers’ organizations under pain of death. The most active spokesmen for this overbearing conduct were Saint-Just and Couthon, while Robespierre operated under the same influence.

The false, onesided way that bourgeois historians usually depict the Great Revolution has heavily influenced most socialists, and contributed mightily to giving the Jacobin dictatorship an ill deserved prestige, while the martyrdom of its chief leaders seems to have increased. Generally, folk are easy prey for the cult of martyrs, which disables them from studied criticism of ideas and deeds.

The creative labour of the French Revolution is well known — it abolished feudalism and the monarchy. Historians have glorified this as the work of the Jacobins and revolutionaries of the Convention, but nonetheless, with the passage of time that picture has turned out to be an absolute falsification of the whole history of the Revolution.

Today we know that this mistaken interpretation is based on the wilful ignorance of historical fact, especially the truth that the bona fide creative work of the Revolution was carried out by the peasants and the proletariat from the towns in defiance of the National Assembly and the Convention. The Jacobins and the Convention were always rather vigorously opposed to radical changes, up until they were a fait accompli, that is, until popular actions imposed such changes upon them. Consequently, the convention’s proclamation that the feudal system was abolished was nothing more than an official recognition of inroads made directly by the revolutionary peasants into the old oppressive system, in spite of the fierce opposition they had had to face from the political parties of the day.

As late as 1792, the National Assembly had not touched the feudal system. It was only the following year that the said revolutionary Assembly condescended to prove “the mob of the countryside” right by sanctioning the abolition of feudal rights, something the people had already accomplished by popular decision. The same thing, or almost, goes for the official abolition of the monarchy.

-Rudolf Rocker
Anarchism and Sovietism

The speaker in part to support this argument proclaims that all the “socialist states” that have existed have been degenerated worker’s states, that they had worker’s revolutions, yet eventually consolidated beurocracy and thus did not function as ideal worker’s states. There are a few problems with this.

One problem is that Trotsky’s theory of degenerated worker’s state (which is what this argument is based off) is not an accurate description of how the Soviet Union functioned, Trotsky, as is noted by Hillel Ticktin and Loren Goldner, never actually works out how a state can have a degenerative beurocracy, but at the same time still function as a worker’s state. The reasoning that does go into it is decidedly weak. To argue that the USSR is still a worker’s state despite it’s very real degenerative beurocracy he assumes that the nationalization of the Soviet economy presumes a worker’s state. This however is quickly dismissed given a few basic facts.

The Nationalization of the economy under both Stalin and Mao did not give way to worker’s states.. In China the nationalization of the economy a short period after the founding of the PRC was part of the creation of a class stratified form of society in China with party planners at the helm and the CCP as the ruling class presiding over this society. In Russia the nationalization of the economy did nothing to stop a period of strong armed industrialization and collectivization that killed millions of peasants and workers, industrialization which Trotsky in his praised work on the degenerated worker’s state (“The Revolution Betrayed”) praised as a great achievement of the Soviet regime.

The other problem is that none of these regimes really produced any worker’s control in the first place. The founding of the Soviet Union was marked by the creation of an oppressive Bolshevik regime that smashed worker’s uprising and hallowed out worker’s institutions making them institutions of state beurocracy and control and no longer of worker control. Lenin even describes this process in his pamphlet “Left-Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder”. He justifies this by denying that independent worker organizations would serve any purpose and that the Bolshevik state had already built itself around worker’s power, an extremely ironic argument if you ask me. The Bolsheviks fought the “Worker’s Opposition”, a group advocating that the trade unions be taken out of state control and returned to the workers, run exclusively by and in the interests of the workers, tooth and nail to make sure that their goal was never realized and that unions remained nothing more then state management agencies. The worker’s councils that are so famous for their role in the Russian Revolution, where the Soviet Republics got their name, the soviets, had been completely d-constructed leaving only a shell which barely served any purpose after the revolution. The National Liberation campaigns the USSR carried out during it’s life time were basically just ways for the soviets to produce bureaucratic, and voluntaristic regimes looking develop capitalism like their own that could be used as weapons against the west in the conflict between the two. This goes for Cuba, Vietnam, Turkey, and any other state one could name that was the result of these campaigns. The Chinese CCP never had any real connection with the worker’s after actions it took while allied to the KMT ruined it’s reputation in the eyes of worker’s and thus it had to focus on procuring support almost exclusively among the peasantry to found the PRC. The founding of the PRC was fallowed by one man state management of factories. The Viet Minh uprising which produced the “communist” regime in North Vietnam staged a bourgioes revolution, partly buy allying with western imperial powers while maintaining a purportedly anti-imperialist position, partly by brutally repressing the internationalist Trotskyist worker’s orgainizations, and partly by constructing a regime favorable to the new capitalist class. The Albanian Stalinist regime under Hoxha was based on using a strong armed state to bring Albanian peasants into wage labor and super-exploiting workers that built public utilities like roads and bridges. I could sit here and list examples until Facebook lefitsts finally realize that meme pages generally are not a viable medium for serious politics, I could go into the regime in Grenada that was squashed by US imperialism, or even the Sandinista regime that was influenced by the Castro regime and that took their name from an Anarcho-syndicalist and mimicked the Spanish Anarchist black and red flag. The bottom line is that in any one of these situations you want to cite there was no worker’s state to degenerate.

Going back to the beginning paragraphs of this piece, the speaker closes by saying that in the end “our ideas will be proven correct, and theirs proven wrong”. Certainly something that someone who wants to prove that Marxism is not disconnected mechanical drivel would say.

To be clear, I think a video with a real “socialist feminist” or “Marxist feminist” analysis would have been eye opening and constructive, even tho I would never call myself a Marxist feminist simply because I am not a Marxist and do not view feminism that way. Marxist feminism however does provide a historical materialist understanding of feminism and is valuable in those ways. This is not what the video I am responding to does. Instead it offers a deterministic form of feminism that disregards womyn’s struggles in any other arena, but that of working class struggle and the building of a “worker’s state” which given the vanguardism the speaker openly calls for would actually be run in the interests of party bosses.

It is rather hard to find anything redeemable in the video, maybe that they have a cool banner in the background? Jokes aside this video is largely a waste of time, the only reason I put so much effort into writing about it is because it’s a somewhat popular video and thus an Anarcha-feminist critique in my opinion would be useful.

I’m not female as many of you know, so I don’t feel to comfortable giving detailed prescriptions about feminism, I just do not feel it is my place as a man. However, I will say as many female Anarcha-feminists have said before that the emancipation of womyn can only come as a result of the destruction of all systems of domination , if even one authoritarian social system remains then womyn will not be free as no one will be free. This type of oppressionless society is not produced by nationalizing the means of production and the subsumption of society under party bosses, rather it comes from the “real” movement of society’s oppressed masses against their own oppression. That is the destruction of authoritarian social systems by those who are oppressed by them and the creation of social relations that foster freedom and self development in their place.

Posted By

Dec 27 2015 08:45


  • This type of oppressionless society is not produced by nationalizing the means of production and the subsumption of society under party bosses

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