Revolution or War n°17

(January 2021)

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Intersectionality: an Ideological Product of Capitalist Thought

The concept of intersectionality originally refers to Black feminism [1], a term coined in the late 1980s by the American jurist Kimberlé Crenshaw. The following argument is directly addressed to the proletariat and its organizational forces of the Communist Left. A Marxist critique of this ideology is essential in the period when we see an intensification, particularly in the United States, we will come back to this, of an essentialist categorization of struggles whose strategic reality rests on identity politics. Let us note that this ideology of intersectionality is a product of these identity politics, and the anti-proletarian dimension of this product results in an exacerbation of essentialist categories such as the antiracist or antifascist struggle as a whole. Thus begins the disqualification of the class, in this case the proletariat, as an actor of the emancipatory struggle; we are not here in a simple manoeuvre of substitution of the interests of the class but in a pure and simple negation of the class struggle as the motor of history. This empirical approach based on identitarianism represents, at the same time as a real danger for the dialectical understanding of the historical movement in general, a revelation of what leftist practices are likely to produce in terms of strategy in the field of class struggle. It is a question of identifying a specific relationship of domination resulting from a cultural, religious, racial or sexual conditions or states by targeting the interaction of the different modes of domination. It is therefore a question of identifying a particular condition or state as a function of a universalisable identity.

The central issue of this article is to raise the question of the use of a notion whose purpose is to authenticate a multitude of reified sub-categories. These sub-categories are criteria for a hierarchy whose effectiveness is based on dominant taxonomies. We don’t have to give in or make any academic concession to the intellectualism of the agents of domination engaged in a speculative study of the notion of intersectionality; we must denounce its scope and incidence on the ground of the multiple struggles led by the proletariat.

Previously in our journal Revolution or War n° 16 [2], we had denounced the false polarization racism/antiracism in an article entitled Protests and Electoral Campaign in America: The False Opposition Between Racism and Anti-Racism and the Threat it Poses for the International Proletariat. This article is part of a Marxist critique of the situation in the United States, a situation which, to say the least, was explosive following the murder of Georges Floyd, and which led to a wave of demonstrations and scenes of urban guerrilla warfare that were heavily and savagely repressed by the police. These demonstrations and the violence they convey interpellate. It is no pure chance that these events are occurring mainly in the United States at a time when the gap between exploiters and exploited is widening. The Covid-19 pandemic, if it favours the acceleration of the global systemic crisis of capitalism, is not, as we are being told, the real cause of the global economic and financial crisis. This systemic crisis is that of the process of accumulation and of the increasingly inextricable contradictions between overproduction and distribution.

If we have to pay particular attention to the almost daily events that punctuate the American life, it is precisely because the economic situation of the first world power is in such a dilapidated context that only a strategy of preparation for a generalized war, as we can see in particular in the various strategies of development of the imperialist conflicts in progress, can at least momentarily delay the revolutionary process and the victory of the world proletariat. Thus, the US must be seen as the site of the first battle of the class confrontation and its development on a world level. The answer is probably to be found in Western Europe where, despite the terrorist attacks and the democratic and national unity campaigns that accompany them, the proletariat suffers less from anti-racist mystifications – which does not take anything away from the reality and danger of racism on the old continent – and, above all, has the experience of the generalized imperialist war still strongly present in the present generations as well as the experience of the mass strike. But who says this in the end does not claim in any way that this development takes place under the condition of a proletariat conscious of its interests, that the class struggle in its effectiveness indicates that the revolutionary process is underway; far from it. The events which we have been able to follow indicate that the movement in the current period is of a completely different nature. It is precisely here that identity politics intervene, whose intersectionality theorizes the movement as being the result of racial contingencies, which we know in the United States take on a particular significance as a consequence of the objective history of the construction of a set of states which was largely based on the slavery of the black population.

What is partly developed below has the task of demonstrating, particularly in the United States, in what and how this notion only serves the spheres of domination, in what way by categorising it reifies into a multitude of sub-categories by re-naturalising them in all the specificities and particularisms with the sole aim of diverting the class struggle, the proletariat from its true goal, the seizure of power and the establishment of its dictatorship. These reified subcategories include the class in the whole of the identity politics, they essentialize the class, they separate it from its historicity, they deny it and oppose it. The Black Lives Matter movement is an illustration of this categorization, of the reified subcategorizations of the so-called dominant taxonomies. If the notion of intersectionality can be complex, voluntarily complexified by the various agents of domination, its approach and its verification on the ground of reality are no less transparent. We have said that, in any case, it is through essentialization and re-natularization into a multitude of reified categories, be they racial, cultural or sexual, that the class struggle as the motor of history is rendered obsolete. So let us understand that, for example, the black female worker is racially categorized, she is characterized by this essentiality of being black; she is black before she is a worker. This social status of being a worker being only one social characteristic among many others that do not constitute her essentiality, based on her being black, is decisive as to her real place in society. She is subject to pressures of domination which determine her in a particular otherness. The white female worker, under the condition of her (dominant) race, is herself subject to domination (she is however considered privileged according to some proponents of intersectionality), in the same way as the black female worker, she is dominated by a boss in terms of proximity, but this domination in the blind spot of the ideology of intersectionality is of a completely different nature and, this other nature, also comes under an otherness which corresponds to a particular category, a reified sub-category. It is easy to understand that the real condition in this case, that of being workers, leads us to think of class struggle as the motor of history from the moment that the class is determined by the relation of exploitation and that this determination is inscribed in a relation of force. The condition of the exploited female worker is seen through the lense of intersectionality; she is extracted from her socio-economic contingency as a woman exploited by a system of production, she is expelled from the class as an actor of it. Beyond this and consequently, it is the class itself which is de-substantialized from the consciousness it has of itself; it is the social fact which is itself de-substantialised. It is nothing other than an operation of atomization of the proletariat confronted with the particularism separating it from its historical future as a revolutionary class. This atomization does not, however, come from a simple entropy but concedes to individuation the possibility of its own subjectivity, so that the relation of domination no longer reflects a social relation strictly speaking but presents itself as ’a free market of identities’ where only the principle of group identity (races, homosexuals, women, etc.) is recognized and recognizes itself as such.

The fact of being black, female, homosexual, indigenous and, why not, Amish has become, in terms of identity and symbolism, the terrain on which most of the actors of sporadic revolts, often violent and duly repressed by the bourgeois state apparatus, surf, while at the same time decision-makers, trade unions and parliamentarians speak out in terms of the fight against inequality, the defence of women in the face of discrimination in the workplace, legislate on the issue of racism and the havoc it wreaks on societies.

A hasty conclusion in the face of such a development would consist in saying that finally it is through the negation of particularities and social differences within the class that the proletariat homogenizes itself. But in reality it is the opposite. It is through the organization of the proletariat and with the party that is its political leadership that these contradictions or particularities are dialectically overcome by the consciousness of the class of its historical and universal future as an emancipating class.

The aim here, in the restricted limits of an article that does not allow us to develop all the evolutionary aspects of what some people wrongly call ’Theory of Intersectionality’, is to demonstrate how this ’theory’ purely and simply denies the inescapable class confrontation defined by Marxist theory. Thus one can read or hear that Marxist theory suffers from a conceptual insufficiency limiting it to economic determinism, which does not allow it to embrace the totality of the historical process.

This reductive accusation aimed at Marx in particular attempts to annihilate Marxism as a theory of the proletariat, whereas the proletariat has constantly demonstrated that, well beyond the economic function and its technical aspects, it is indeed a social relation that Marx studies, this relation being determined by a central figure of the process of production/distribution and the social relations that it engenders. Reducing Marxist thought in this way is at best a matter of carelessness or a vulgar conception of Marxism when it comes to sincere individuals who have fallen into the terrain of leftism, the worst being voluntary falsification, a strategy well known to leftist bourgeois forces.

But the criticism is not limited to these terms. Marx would never have been interested in the racial dimension and in slavery in our societies and the cleavages it causes in civil society. Voluntary or involuntary ignorance is not enough to hide the reality :

“ Freedom and slavery constitute an antagonism. There is no need for me to speak either of the good or of the bad aspects of freedom. As for slavery, there is no need for me to speak of its bad aspects. The only thing requiring explanation is the good side of slavery. I do not mean indirect slavery, the slavery of proletariat; I mean direct slavery, the slavery of the Blacks in Surinam, in Brazil, in the southern regions of North America.

Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Consequently, prior to the slave trade, the colonies sent very few products to the Old World, and did not noticeably change the face of the world. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance ” (Letter from Marx to Pavel Vasilyevich Annenkov, Dec. 1846 [3]).

In this letter to Annenkov, Marx links the racial and slavery phenomenon to the development of capitalism. It was also Marx who, addressing Abraham Lincoln on behalf of the IWA (International Workingmen’s Association, the 1st International) in 1864, congratulated the American people on his re-election, whose ’war cry’ was ’death to slavery’:

“ While the workingmen, the true political powers of the North, allowed slavery to defile their own republic, while before the Negro, mastered and sold without his concurrence, they boasted it the highest prerogative of the white-skinned laborer to sell himself and choose his own master, they were unable to attain the true freedom of labor, or to support their European brethren in their struggle for emancipation.“ (Address of the International Working Men’s Association to Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America, November 1964 [4]).

Note that in this letter, Marx congratulates the American people who have just re-elected a president (Abraham Lincoln) whose programme is based on an abolitionist policy denouncing the blacks’ slave trade and the slavery of which they are victims. This is not a ceremonial, diplomatic letter consecrating the person of Lincoln for his re-election, but a message addressed entirely to the American people, or more precisely to the workers, to the working class, by placing it in front of its historical future. Let us note, moreover, that Marx does not limit the term slave to a simple semantic occurrence which would only qualify the condition of blacks, but underlines the difference between the direct slavery of the black slave who does not have the possibility of selling his labour-power since he is under the rule of a master-owner, and the indirect slavery of the proletarian who has the possibility of selling his labour-power, which makes him a wage slave. In both cases slavery is posed as a condition of the black or white exploited. It must be understood that in Marx the particularity of the condition of blacks is part of the general movement of capitalist exploitation, that colonialism and imperialism are inherent in the development of the system itself. These two differentiated conditions, direct slavery and indirect slavery, are two terms of the same process. The dialectic thus proceeds from overcoming these two contradictory conditions (identification of two terms whose negativities are themselves differentiated, the direct slave is absolutely constrained and totally reduced to the state of a commodity, the proletarian, whatever his skin colour, has the possibility of making money and earning a living sufficient to reproduce his labour power), by overcoming these contradictions in the process of the capitalist system. We deduce that although there is a differentiated form, the centrality of the process in question refers us back to the exploitation exercised by the dominant class constrained by the process of accumulation, the exponential realization of profits. This goes far beyond, not to say invalidates, the segmentation induced by intersectionality with regard to a hierarchization of the criteria and/or factors of domination.

In The German Ideology [5], Marx tells us that “ the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force ”.

The Identity Politics are at the origin of this a-historical tinkering of the dominant thought armed with its ’theory of intersectionality’, the class becomes an identity among many others, in that it is differentiated only by its entirely subjectivized nature in the market of ideas. Reduced thus to a subcategory, the class is denied an emancipatory dynamic, it is relegated to a mere collection of inert groups that have every reason to confront each other as the various competing economic consortia do on the market. Thus the dominant thought shifts the global character of class domination according to the class-against-class process that refers to Marxism onto the terrain of the sociological empiricism that separates identity from the movement that produced it.

In short, intersectionality is a pure negation of historical materialism.

The class, the proletariat in its struggle for human emancipation, that is to say, communism, reaching a certain level of consciousness, endows itself with its organization, the world communist party, a vanguard that is inseparable from the historical movement that produces it. Though the path towards social revolution and socialism is tortuous, though we suffer the setbacks of the complexity of the period, though our defeats send us back each time to the dialectical understanding of the objective conditions, this is the task of the proletariat, this is the task of its political leadership, this is the task of the communist party. At the VII Congress of the Communist Party, Lenin pronounced on the revision of the program and the change of the party’s name. It is not a question here of comparing what is not, but of highlighting an invariance of Marxism in the face of this concept or theory of intersectionality, in the face of the multiple attempts, especially during the 20th century but also at the beginning of the 21st century, to reduce Marx’s thought to an economist conception of historical development, where finally we can see an economy of thought generally promoted by what is called the humanities. This text by Lenin is timely. The readers will judge for themselves:

“ That is how things were and how they are, for commodity production begot capitalism and capitalism led to imperialism. Such is the general historical perspective, and the fundamentals of socialism should not be forgotten. No matter what the further complications of the struggle may be, no matter what occasional zigzags we may have to contend with (there will be very many of them— we have seen from experience what gigantic turns the history of the revolution has made, and so far it is only in our own country; matters will be much more complicated and proceed much more rapidly, the rate of development will be more furious and the turns will be more intricate when the revolution becomes a European revolution)—in order not to lose our way in these zigzags, these sharp turns in history, in order to retain the general perspective, to be able to see the scarlet thread that joins up the entire development of capitalism and the entire road to socialism, the road we naturally imagine as straight, and which we must imagine as straight in order to see the beginning, the continuation and the end—in real life it will never be straight, it will be incredibly involved—in order not to lose our way in these twists and turns, in order not to get lost at times when we are taking steps backward, times of retreat and temporary defeat or when history or the enemy throws us back—in order not to get lost, it is, in my opinion, important not to discard our old, basic Programme; the only theoretically correct line is to retain it. ” (Lenin, Report on the Review of the Programme and on Changing the Name of the Party, March 8th 1918 [6]).

Intersectionality under its theoretical cover as a critical theory of the various factors of domination and interactions identifiable within civil society and even in the institutions of the bourgeois state apparatus has become a ’science’ in defiance of the real movement which produces the totality and defines the relation of domination as the historical factor of class domination, which dialectically and historically refers us to the development of the class struggle. Here we are confronted with what dominant thought is capable of producing in order to deny what capitalist economic development is in its reality. Once again Marx did not write an economic theory which would be content with highlighting the mechanisms of exploitation. He studied the theory of bourgeois economics in the terms of a political critique of the economy. In doing so he made it clear that the relation production-distribution, far from being a mere mechanical relation, is a social relation determined by the capitalist mode of production, that there is no ’beyond’ of this relation but that it is immanent to the mode of production itself. In the face of historical materialism which is the very essence of Marxist theory, a theory which targets the contradictions inherent in the capital/labour relationship, the dominant thought all dressed up in the democratic chasuble and through these pseudo-sciences known as the humanities reduces the totality to an always extensive sum of specialities. Thus, in its institutional form, intersectionality has become the leading argument of economists, sociologists and even some philosophers, particularly with regard to gender theory. But a specialization of particularities, gender, feminism, and for some time anti-fascism and anti-racism, (let us understand that the list can only evolve) is nothing other than a politically assumed denial of the concept of alienation defined by Marx, a concept which he links to the development of the capitalist mode of production.

In its leftist version, which is none other than the laboratory for the study of the various demands and/or other contestations, denunciations, we find the anti-capitalist movement, whose memorable actions refer us notably to their interventions during successive European and G7-8-20 summits. This term anti-capitalism qualifies as the rallying point of the anarchist, Trotskyist and ecologist leftists, in short the ’armed’ wing of the bourgeois left. But even beyond the semantic insistence to disqualify and deny the Marxist linguistic corpus (working class, proletariat, dictatorship of the proletariat, the communist party and its political leadership, the interdependence of the party and the soviets or councils), it is indeed the negation of the class as the motor of history that is at issue. We should be interested here in a development of what is represented as movementism and the specificity of the anti-racist, antifa, feminist, ecologist struggles of the identity politics which are the fragmented terrain in which the movementist dynamic is inscribed. We are afraid to tackle here a subject whose importance requires another article aimed at demonstrating that these different figures of leftism, referring to the experimentation of struggles constrained by a horizontal democratism articulated around an emphatic and inconsequential discourse on direct democracy, are the instruments of dominant thought and its bourgeois left. Moreover, we cannot spare ourselves the analysis which leads to consider the party as the antidote for these heterogeneous identitarian groupings in contradiction with the historical goal of the proletariat: the seizure of power and the exercise of its dictatorship. It is within the party that the contradictions borne of particularisms are resolved; the party does not deny particularities, it historicizes them by overcoming the contradictions dialectically through confrontation and political clarification. That is to say, it awakens within the class itself the historical consciousness of its future as a class.

“ It is elementary – or rather it was before – to affirm that before starting a class battle, it is necessary to establish the objectives that one sets oneself, the means to be employed, the class forces that can intervene favourably. There is nothing ’theoretical’ in these considerations, and by this we mean that they do not expose themselves to the easy criticism of all these elements jaded of ’theories’, whose rule consists, beyond all theoretical clarity, in tinkering in movements with anyone, on the basis of any programme, as long as ’action’ remains. We are of course those who think that action does not derive from ’shouting’ or individual goodwill, but from the situations themselves. Moreover, for action, theoretical work is indispensable in order to preserve the working class from further defeats. And one must grasp the meaning of the contempt affected by so many militants for theoretical work, because it is always a question, in reality, of introducing, in secret, in the place of proletarian positions, the principled conceptions of the enemy: of social democracy, within revolutionary circles, while proclaiming action at all costs for a speed ’race’ with fascism. (Bilan #7, L’antifascisme, formule de confusion [Antifascism, a formula of confusion ], May 1934, translated by us) [7]

The Institutional Intersectionality

Can we say that there is no smoke without fire? We believe that anti-capitalism in the form developed above is the experimental laboratory of the institution, of the state. Beyond even the recuperation that is being made of it in the framework of parliamentarianism and its allies on the left of capital, we are witnessing an ever more pressing will of the domination to want to complete this notion of intersectionality, not hesitating to formulate its scientific content. Domination reinvents itself in the circumstance in a multiplicity of interactions subject to categorical separations and gives itself the mission (in the theological sense of the term) to constrain its effects. Thus, specialists and other eminent slavish thinkers are at work not to decide what is class domination, but to methodically and ’intersectionally’ study the cross-processes of domination, their interactions. Based on a study of facts, events and social movements in general, the pseudo-science of intersectionality announces a return to theology and metaphysics as the only response to real contingencies; democratism and the sanctification of inequalities is its absolution. A new religion is born, intersectionality.


It is the events in the United States and the emergence of Black Lives Matter that led us to question this concept or notion of intersectionality. We consider that the dynamic set in motion in North America following the murder of George Floyd and the events that took place, violent demonstrations followed by a repression establishing a climate of civil war, deserve our full attention. As for the history which does not repeat itself, it can however stutter and its immediate echo raises the problem of anti-racism and anti-fascism which is nothing other than the result of a false consciousness about the immediate interests of the proletariat. And well beyond a false consciousness such as the proletariat could appropriate it, it is inscribed in the genes of the bourgeoisie which, strategically, prepares the generalized war. Intersectionality, at the service of the bourgeoisie and its representatives of the bourgeois left, as an ideological product of the bourgeoisie, as a tool of persuasion, constitutes a real offensive against class consciousness through the atomization of the proletariat. Its ramifications in Europe are manifold through feminism, ecologism, anti-racism and anti-fascism. Anti-capitalist movementism is the mould in which the categorization of struggles is formed, classifying them hierarchically according to criteria of domination which we could qualify as transversal. It is a blow against the proletariat and the inescapable necessity of the international consolidation of its forces to lead the only struggle of which it is the historical subject, that is the struggle for communism. Intersectionality is also a spiritual power by the socio-empirical identification it makes of the different groups present in civil society. It proceeds from a political de-substantialization of the class in favour of a purely identity-based seizure of it, it denies a fortiori the dialectical relation between domination and struggle of the emancipating class, it subordinates the objective conditions to the mere appearance of their manifestation, thus reifying the dynamic movement of emancipation by relegating it to democratism and parliamentary cretinism of which Marx spoke.

Our will is the following: to gather the class under the political leadership of the communist party. It is our principled task to strategically explain the communist programme.