Intersectionality has become the latest buzz word on the far left, though it has a long pre-history. As
a concept it emerged in the late 1980’s and can be seen as a critique of the then dominant idea of
feminist separatism; that all women have a common interest in fighting patriarchy because they
have a shared experience in being women. The prevalence of this ideology proved divisive on the
left with women only demonstrations, women only meetings and women only buses being booked
By contrast the concept of intersectionality, which was largely developed by black feminists,
emphasises that women and everyone else have a myriad of cross cutting identities, whereas some
may well attract oppressive behaviour from others, the same person whilst disadvantaged in one
respect may be privileged in another; e.g. a white woman suffers oppression as a woman but enjoys
a degree of privilege in a racist society as a white person. The moral to be drawn from all this is not
to splinter into smaller and smaller sub-sets but to recognise where we are, organise accordingly
and build unity based on that recognition and the overlaps which follow.
The Internet and social media clearly play an important part in the current growth of intersectional
thinking, indeed to some extent intersectionality appears to mirror social media in that each group
locating themselves at a particular intersection will have links, likes and friends in the real world in
much the same way as a blog or Facebook page has in the virtual.
Allies have become an important concept in this context. Thus people from outside the identity
group in question but sympathetic to its goals play a supporting role, so men support feminist
projects, whites supporting black initiatives etc.
Sexual minorities have also found a niche within the intersectionality paradigm especially those that
go beyond the now, more or less established, LGBT communities. So asexuals, intersex and a host of
other orientations, genders and fetishes are represented, each intersecting with other identities.
The transgender community have, for decades, been in the forefront of a battle against some radical
feminists and their tendency to dismiss male to female transsexuals as male imposters.
Intersectionality has enabled the transgender community to assert their place in the radical
movement, uniting with those feminists who are more ‘intersectionally friendly’ including anarcha-
feminists and socialist feminists. At the same time, the transgender community have begun to
contribute positively and visibly to a range of other progressive causes from environmental activism
to anti-fascism, gaining more allies in the process.
As well as ascribed characteristics; gender, sexuality, race etc; there are other identities to add to
the mix. Most importantly for the left is of course class which is largely ascribed (in that we are born
into a particular class and, notions of social mobility notwithstanding, it is often difficult to move
out). Class here however is one of many identities, it does not necessarily have the dominant status
accorded to it in classical Marxism. From a Maoist-Third Worldist point of view this could be seen as
a bonus. From a First World perspective, the emphasis put on other ‘isms’ provides avenues of
struggle which do not rely purely on economic situation and the mitigating effects the relative
privilege which many First World workers enjoy. At the same time, potentially First World and Third
World identities could be incorporated into the scheme, intersecting in the matrix of privilege and
oppression. Thereby recognising the very different life chances, for example, of a non-white woman
working as a teacher in Britain and a non-white woman teaching in southern Mexico.
There are problems however. Alongside social identities, ideologies and lifestyle choices are
sometimes added to the intersecting matrix. Most people on the left would have difficulty in
accepting veganism as a legitimate ideology in this context and many would consider elevating
animal rights to the level of campaigning for rights for oppressed peoples to be offensive. However,
as a non-vegan the present writer believes the role of intersectionality among campaigners for
animal rights should be welcomed as it is moving a significant number of vegan activists to view
animal rights, not in isolation, but as part of a wider struggle, thus forcing them to engage with those
other issues. The main motivation for this has been the unwelcome attention which the animal
rights and environmental movements have received from far right groups hoping to make some
headway for their reactionary ideas. As the animal rights movement has become a battleground in
the struggle against fascism a number of initiatives asserting the importance of opposing racism,
sexism and homophobia as integral elements to any struggle for animal rights should be welcomed
by the rest of the left, not derided.
It should also be noted that there is nothing intrinsically progressive about intersectionality. To take
the example of Straight Edge; a lifestyle which developed within punk and related music scenes
which involves abstinence from smoking, drinking alcohol and taking drugs. Straight edge became
an early forum for what has emerged as intersectional thinking. Thus whilst the scene was largely
dominated by anarchism, there was Communist Straight Edge, Antifa Straight Edge, Vegan Straight
Edge, Queer Edge and then, as identities became compounded; Vegan Antifa Straight Edge. Then
things took a religious turn (perhaps this was not surprising given the historical association between
abstinence and spirituality) with Christian Straight Edge, Muslim Straight Edge and even something
called Krishna Core (straight edge for Hare Krishna disciples). From here elements of the scene
slipped down the slippery slope. Hardline straight edge combined the initial abstinence from drink
drugs and smoking, with veganism and (with or without the Christian or Muslim elements) endorsed
the politics of anti-abortionists. From there developed NA straight edge (NA = National
Autonomous) and ultimately, NS straight Edge (NS = National Socialist).
Outside of the straight edge scene it is possible to discern anti-abortion vegans, vegan Nazis, anti
abortion feminists and even gay Nazis. Despite their internal contradictions the existence of these
admittedly tiny subcultures provides a warning that intersectionality is a tool rather than an ideology
and as such can be used by both sides.
So what has this got to do with Maoist Third-worldism? If you have a perspective that the First
World working class is largely bought off through the exploitation of the Third World then a
perspective which emphasises the intersection and thus unity, of a number of social, political,
personal and ideological identities, in addition to economic identity (i.e. class), then the concept could
provide a means of identifying avenues of struggle in the First World which are not wholly dependent
on economism. Moreover the identities of First World and Third World can intersect with feminism,
LGBT rights, green issues etc. which give emphasis to the particular contexts and difficulties of these
struggles in the Third World.
The high point of what is being called third wave feminism thus far was probably the Billion Women
Rise protests of February 2013. Not a billion, but certainly hundreds of thousands of women (and
male allies) participated in scores of countries all over the world. Among the most militant and
largest protests were those seen in the Philippines where the most high profile organisation involved
was Gabriela a mass revolutionary women’s group liked to the Maoist movement in the Philippines
and to the International League for Peoples Struggle. Similarly it is worth noting the existence of
adivasi student and adivasi women’s’ front organisations allied to the CPI(Maoist) in India.
This writer also awaits with interest a promised article on ‘Queer Maoism’ on the Maosoleum blog
which may provide further valuable perspective on this.
Time will tell whether intersectionality becomes another passing left wing fad or an established
method of thinking and acting throughout the revolutionary movement.
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