Socialism, Intersectionality And The Myth Of The Social/Fiscal Disjunct

01/14/2017 11:59 pm ET Updated Jan 16, 2017

More than being factually inaccurate, it is genuinely fucked up to chalk all of socialist thought up to white men given the indelible role that racial minorities have had in shaping the movement. We need to stop doing this.

Redit Media

Prior to the civil rights movement and the congressional resorting of democratic committee chairs in the ‘70s, there existed an ideological heterogeneity within the two parties. To the south, conservative democrats relied primarily on white, blue collar voters to help enact what we might view as “fiscally liberal” policy while maintaining what, at the time, was “socially conservative” policy (i.e. racist, segregationist policy). In the northeast, there existed a constituency of liberal republicanism, which was weary of unions and very prone to deregulation of the financial industry while maintaining “socially liberal” policy positions. After the Civil Rights movement there was what is referred to as a “political realignment” of the parties.

This began in congress — young new liberal Democrats in the House of Representatives began to push out the old southern Democrats from their committee chair positions, which had been gained by seniority within the House. By the beginning of the Reagan administration, the realignment had all but been completed, save the “blue-dog democrats” of the south and midwest — which were essentially moderate democrats.

The term “centrism” is telling from the perspective of principle-based voting. The inability for the term to carry any true political meaning reflects, in large part, the inherently arbitrary nature of the disjunct between the “social” and “fiscal” realm.

Liberal pundits made great efforts during the Sanders campaign to portray the socialist movement as fundamentally an economically-driven ideology. In doing so, the narrative implicitly relied on a disjunct between the ideology of social and fiscal realms. The notion that these two realms are necessarily separate helped bolster their ill-founded conjectures that the modern socialist movement was composed of cisgender, straight, white men who were unable to fathom the intersecting nature of oppression, due to economic oppression being the only form of oppression facing these individuals. Relying on intersectionality as a seemingly diametrically opposed mode of privilege analysis, they continually focused on the economic nature of the movement as precluding any space for the existence identity-based politics.

The nature of fiscal policy is that is intrinsically linked to the social standing of certain groups, and visa versa. Take for example, a policy of reparations. This is usually clumped into “social” policy although, arguably, it is fundamentally a fiscal one — it provides a means by which the federal government would redistribute material wealth. Another example is women’s access to health care: although it might be viewed by unaffected parties as being a social one (particularly the ready access to birth control and abortions), it is fundamentally a fiscal policy insofar as it creates an immense financial burden on women who attempting to seek adequate health care.

The presumption that economic grievances are somehow reserved to white men who have no other means of expressing oppression is a harmful one.

On the other hand, a policy of financial deregulation or an income tax scheme may be quickly determined to be a matter of fiscal policy, but such policy nonetheless has profound social implications. In particular, we tend to view the policy decisions surrounding the regulation or deregulation of certain markets are being distinctly fiscal in nature. When the derivatives market was deregulated, we chose to view that a form of purely fiscal policy. The deregulation of the subprime housing market was also framed as being a matter of fiscal policy — even when such policy is going to have a markedly different affect on poor populations within the United States than on upper middle class or upper class populations. American rhetoric is not fractioned over whether or not those poor populations are, largely, also divided by racial lines.

The interplay between this disjunct and a perversion of so-called Marxist theory is worth noting, as well. There formed a false dichotomy between class distinction and other forms of identifying features, this false dichotomy is what, in large part, “supported” the bulk of the “Bernie Bro” narrative. The “Bernie Bro” was a (mostly fictional) young, white, male political actor who supported Sanders due to his misogynistic rejection of the female candidate and only adopting an overtly socialist position due to his whiteness, the latter being a presumption that socialism inherently valued “class” above all other distinctions.

Polls repeatedly showed that, in particular, young women actually outnumbered young men in their support of Sanders. This was true of nonwhite voters as well — what tended to differentiate the vote was not race nor sex, but age. In fact, polls showed that Sanders actually lead in the polls with young (aged 18–29) black and hispanic voters. That is to say that more young black and hispanic voters were voting for Sanders than Clinton. If the “Bernie Bro” was meant to be the young, white and male there sure seemed to be a lot of nonwhite and female (and nonwhite female) voters who did not fall into this clearly ill-fitting yet relentlessly embraced mold put forth by Clinton-supporting pundits.

Deemed “brocialists,” this myopic description of the varied constituency of Sanders supporters also served as a misguided and malformed description of the modern socialist movement. The implicit notion that was continually put forth was, as aforementioned, the belief that socialists disregard any identifying properties other than class — effectively “rejecting” social change in lieu of fiscal change. To be certain, I cannot speak for all Sanders supporters nor can I fully ascertain what each self-identifying socialist believes the role of race, gender, sex, sexual identity, sexual orientation and each other potential identifying factor should be within a socialist movement. What I do know is that a large part of socialist rhetoric not only embraces movements for racial, gender and LGBT equality, but that its largely inextricably intertwined with them.

The presumption that economic grievances are somehow reserved to white men who have no other means of expressing oppression is a harmful one. Any attempt to divvy up distinctions and lay bare compartmentalization of any socio-economic strata tends to rely on false dichotomies and a failure to identify proper cause-and-effect. This is disingenuous at best and more likely just plain purposefully misleading. Some of the greatest socialist writings hail from the depths of the minority tiers of privilege. It is an affront to any social minorities to erase the profound role they played in shaping modern socialist theory.

Angela Davis wrote Women, Race and Class in 1981. Davis articulated the plight of the black woman in America and in so doing spoke of the need for socialist change:

Like their men, Black women have worked until they could work no more. Like their men, they have assumed the responsibilities of family providers. The unorthodox feminine qualities of assertiveness and self-reliance — for which Black women have been frequently praised but more often rebuked — are reflections of their labour and their struggles outside the home. But like their white sisters called “housewives,” they have cooked and cleaned and have nurtured and reared untold numbers of children. But unlike the white housewives, who learned to lean on their husbands for economic security, Black wives and mothers, usually workers as well, have rarely been offered the time and energy to become experts at domesticity. Like their white working-class sisters, who also carry the double burden of working for a living and servicing husbands and children, Black women have needed relief from this oppressive predicament for a long, long time.

Davis ends this chapter by concluding,

The abolition of housework as the private responsibility of individual women is clearly a strategic goal of women’s liberation. But the socialisation of housework — including meal preparation and child care — presupposes an end to the profit-motive’s reign over the economy. The only significant steps toward ending domestic slavery have in fact been taken in the existing socialist countries. Working women, therefore, have a special and vital interest in the struggle for socialism. Moreover, under capitalism, campaigns for jobs on an equal basis with men, combined with movements for institutions such as subsidised public health care, contain an explosive revolutionary potential. This strategy calls into question the validity of monopoly capitalism and must ultimately point in the direction of socialism.

The contention that the formation and flourishing of capitalism was dependent on slavery is not new. Speaking of capitalism as a foundational aspect of “the modern world,” Greg Grandin explains:

“Slavery created the modern world, and the modern world’s divisions (both abstract and concrete) are the product of slavery. Slavery is both the thing that can’t be transcended but also what can never be remembered. That Catch-22 — can’t forget, can’t remember — is the motor contradiction of public discourse, from exalted discussions of American Exceptionalism to the everyday idiocy found on cable, in its coverage, for example, of Baltimore and Ferguson.”

The reality being that slavery and all the trappings of racial oppression which founded and enabled and perpetuated the system — and capitalism, as a mode of economic governance — are so fundamentally entwined as to have been impossible to have existed and to continue existing without one another. Socialism is a response not just to class inequity, but to the profound social realities of marginalization.

Furthermore, the American Socialist Party quite overtly has and continues to not only oppose the militarization of the American boarders, but request complete amnesty for all undocumented workers. By 1975, The Chicano Struggle and The Struggle For Socialism had been written, in its opening paragraphs declaring:

“The national oppression Chicano people and other minorities face, and the  exploitation of the whole working class, can only be eliminated by making revolution and eliminating their source — capitalist rule.”

The attempt to parse through these issues without being cognizant of the ever-present role of the capitalist in creating these social strata is doomed to fail. The reality is that there is a very real and inextricable relationship between the social “groups” (i.e. racial minorities, sex, sexual orientation, etc.) and the economic realm of which they inhabit.

So, perhaps an early means of dispelling this sort of bullshit rhetoric would be to render passé the use of terms such as “fiscally liberal/socially conservative” or whatever bizarre means by which one might find their ideology most fitting. For the distinction is not only illusory but ultimately harmful.