A few notes on New Communism and Feminism

 Over the past few months I have had a number of disagreements over the intersection of feminism and new post-financial crash communism. As those attempts at a conversation were ultimately deeply frustrating and destructive, I’m going to make an attempt to address several in conjunction here in the hope of driving forward mutual understanding.

I don’t agree with “privilege theory” as it implies individual rather than communal action

This implies that intersectional feminism is an individualist project, which it most certainly is not – it is one which relies utterly upon community, not only in all writing about addressing privilege, but in effective action in challenging its omnipresent, largely unconscious effects.

“Privilege theory” is an invasive construct from upper-middle class US campuses. The term was coined by a professor.

The term “privilege”, as used by intersectional feminism, antedates Kimberlé Crenshaw’s coining of “intersectionality theory” in 1989. The Combahee River Collective articulated many of the same ideas in 1979 while using the term “simultaneity”. This period of black feminism is poorly documented. It seems clear to me that Kimberlé did not coin this term in a vacuum, but as part of an ongoing, decades-long discourse around the failings of second-wave radical feminism.

Lack of documentation of both theory and statistical information, such as murder rates or detransition rates, is often used to attack trans women and trans feminism, the area of feminism of which I perhaps have most experience. It is generally used as part of a tactic of manufacturing uncertainty and silencing precarious communities in order to take legal and organisational action against them. I therefore am extremely skeptical of it as a tactic unless specific citations are used.

While many in the UK over the past few years have came into contact with intersectional feminism via Twitter and blogs, my first contacts came a number of years earlier. I did not first learn to “unpack privilege” via trust-funded campus activists, but from street queers, sex workers, and trans people in the mid- 2000s. All I can do is attest that while the terms and thought behind intersectional feminism have long had currency in grassroots organising outside the academy. I cannot link to much of this material, as it is both sensitive and lost in internet time. I can, however, if utterly required to do so, produce testimony from a number of friends asserting the same. I hope that this point will not be again dismissed, and that I will be given the good faith presumption that I am telling the truth.

This is all abstract theorising.

I am happy to talk in good faith about a great number of experiences I and others have had that would lead to indicate that it very much isn’t.

There is a vast amount of evidence that men overwhelm women in mixed-sex discussion. The conclusion to this paper is telling, and it references a great deal of other research. Research on gender and talk time lends to support the conception of privilege as an explanatory hypothesis.

Many studies on race also reveal different patterns of often-invisible discrimination.

There is a good deal of sound scientific evidence that indicates that the mechanics underlying “privilege theory” are real.

To reject a hypothesis with confirming evidence, you need evidence of your own.

Knowledge of the universe is itself a vast, materialist, communal project. Please don’t just dismiss what we have out of hand.

You’re lying or deluded about your own experiences. Your links are all bullshit.

This is why in some cases I no longer presume good faith.

I don’t agree with all this. Prove me wrong.

I do not have time or energy to devise a seminar series in order to do so. Perhaps if you are so adamant then we can agree to disagree.

Privilege is nonsense used by middle class people to divide and rule the working class, as argued here

This point fails to take into account economic class. The vast majority of post-70s “middle class” people are not meaningfully bourgeoise in any Marxian sense. They do not control their labour. Few of the young will ever own a home. Home ownership does not make someone structurally bourgeoise in any meaningful sense. Neither does working in academia. The academy is subject to controlling neoliberal ideology just as other sectors of society are. Precariously teaching for £15k per year does not make you bourgeoise.

I would contend instead that, since at least the 1980s and likely for quite some time before, “working class” as commonly used has more described a sociological group, not an economic one. Cooking with fresh herbs does not grant one ownership of the means of production. Speaking to one’s employees in a cockney accent does not make one a proletarian.

I would also contend that the very term “working class” needs re-evaluating in order to be useful. We no longer have many factories or mines to organise around, and an accent readily put on by mockney-tongued police spies does not constitute an organising principle.

I will expand on this point about the meaningfulness of class in a later post.

I don’t subscribe to any “party lines”. In this particular context, I refuse to refute the radical feminist line that all trans women are rapists, as doing so is just as bad as embracing it.

There is no “party line”, only people. If you refuse to concede such a basic human point as “all trans women are not inherently rapists”, your politics are both bitterly harmful and deeply absurd.

Communism doesn’t need feminism.

This is true, as far as it goes.

Communism is the only way, in the face of vast resource crises and the crisis of capital itself, to save the majority of the human race. If your group of queers or disabled people or trans people or so on are not among the elect, well, that’s a shame, but on the whole it is unimportant.

This also seems true a lot of the time.

Patriarchy existed before capitalism. There’s no reason to think it won’t outlive it.

This is why I am a communist in spite of my feminism and my own material interest, rather than because of it.


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