Towards a Queer Marxist Future with Holly Lewis
Transcript March 25, 2020
[edited for clarity]
Laborwave Radio in conversation with Holly Lewis, author of The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection.
It’s commonly understood within the academy that the terms “man,” “woman,” and “other” are socially constructed, and that their meanings are maintained by the current political order. But few thinkers have attempted to reconcile that knowledge—which is rooted in Marxism—with queer theory. The few who have, meanwhile, usually attempt to do so through issues of libidinal desire and sexual expression.
In The Politics of Everybody, Holly Lewis argues powerfully that the emphasis on desire, though seemingly innocuous, is actually symptomatic of neoliberal habits of thought, and consequently, is responsible for a continued focus on the limited politics of identity. Instead, Lewis shows, we should look to the arena of body production, categorization, and exclusion; only through such a reorientation can we create a politics of liberation that is truly inclusive and grounded in lived experience.
Works referenced and links at the end of the transcript.
“Whether you know it or not there’s queer people working amongst you to eradicate expropriation. We’re everywhere. So it really is a matter of how much is the Marxist and labor movement going to embrace the queer people that are already in it and fighting for it? And as soon as the Marxist and labor movements do that it’s Queer Marxism; a queer internationalist movement.”
Laborwave: Before we get into the conclusions of your book I want to highlight the ambitious approach you’ve taken. You say right off the bat that you’re trying to speak to multiple audiences who are “third wave feminists and queer theorists who have commitments to gender and sexual liberation, but have little familiarity with Marxian economics. Marxists who want to go beyond facile dismissals of identity politics to better understand the relationship between the objective realities of material existence and the experience of that existence. And those working to clarify their political and philosophical orientation towards gender.” Why those audiences were you trying to speak to at the same time?
Holly Lewis: To a certain degree those are the audiences I am most often in conversation with, so they are the groups that I am aware of who were talking past one another, and I wanted to put them in conversation with each other. I’m sure there are other groups or categories of speakers and thinkers talking about these things, but those were the three groups of people that I felt qualified to put into conversation.
LW: Later in the conclusion you mention “politics of the fragment,” so it seems like part of the reasons to address these audiences is to try to piece together the fragments happening on the left to get back to something that’s more of a whole, is that right?
HL: It is, and at the same time I think that one of the things I say before I begin the conclusion is that solidarity means taking sides. When you say “solidarity on the left” that’s what is really important. It’s not a universal humanistic solidarity, but a solidarity amongst those who choose to fight on the left. That is the unity I’m interested in.
LW: Your book is rich with analysis, and I encourage everyone to pore over the book. It concludes with this chapter on “Ten Axioms Towards a Queer Marxist Future.” What I was hoping is we could take each of these axioms one at a time and allow you to elaborate on them. The first axiom is “the politics of the fragment should be replaced by an inclusive politics of everybody.” Can you elaborate more on that?
HL: The first thing I would say is that it is important for readers, particularly in the United States, to understand that I wrote this book in 2014-2015 and to a certain degree some of the arguments have contributed in some of the debates that it’s influenced. So, some of this might seem really elementary now, but it wasn’t at the time at all.
Why I say the politics of the fragment should be replaced by an inclusive politics of everybody is because arguments on the left were avoiding thinking about economics due to the artificial separation between economic thought and social thought brought on by the neoliberal era. This thinking poses the idea that economics is just mathematics and is a science you have to be initiated into in the bourgeois academy to understand it, so we just don’t think about those things and to think about them is probably economistic and reductive anyway, and we want to have a richer analysis. But what was happening through that separation was that people were looking at things through the framework of identity in two ways, and both of them fell into the queer theory purview.
On one hand you have arguments where someone like Judith Butler talks about our identities as being created by the state, and that is how we’re visible to the state. And so by “queering up,” in other words, by messing with our identities and reperforming them, not in a one-off way but thinking them through in a lived day-to-day basis, we’re challenging the state. This argument was really an anti-identity politics view.
On the other hand there was this movement toward hyper-analysis toward the situatedness of every individual’s gender and identity and how they fit within the system. That hyper-particularity, which was popular at the time, became a way for us to not be able to talk about mass politics and even group politics.
As an example a group I was involved with in Philadelphia in 1995 came out and decided they weren’t going to do coalition work anymore, so even amongst people that had this solid identity there was a refusal to work together. But of course if you have an economic analysis, particularly a Marxist economic analysis, you can’t just have the working class separated and fragmented everywhere and not working together in order to combat the problem.
So this is where the initial axiom comes from that we need to have an inclusive Marxist politics, because for me the politics of everybody is a Marxist politics about the material social relations of everyone in the world.
LW: When I read this it seemed to me too that you’re saying the way we win and have victories need to be more than on the level of deconstructing language. In some variants of modern theory today the focus on language and changing and purifying language seems to be the way people imagine the world changes. I want to read this quote, “in poststructuralist variants of this model, the best one can do is be aware of how language is operating within you and construct yourself as a challenge to the structures and strictures of discourse: instead of the prefigurative utopian slogan ‘be the change you want to see,’ this model of political consciousness suggests ‘be the resistance you wish could exist but cannot exist because we are always already interpellated into language and, by extension, the state.’” I’m amused by this quote because I think the tone is a little satirical, but pretty spot on. So is this also why we need to move toward this inclusive politics you’re talking about?
HL: Yes and what’s interesting about that is after writing the book I’m convinced of this than ever. The first reception of the book was international, so I was going to audiences of people who don’t speak English and these internecine debates over what we should call ourselves and how we should refer to ourselves doesn’t necessarily translate. Even beyond that it separates us in a different way as English-language speakers in a particular national experience and framework. So what we’re actually doing is segregating ourselves off from the rest of the world, and we’re creating a micro-politics that is geographically and linguistically bound that we may not even know.
The more that we’re online, too, becomes a problem of being very online as it’s accelerating this problem because we’re so often representing ourselves in terms of text boxes and strings of texts causing our experiences to disappear into text. Again this is for those of us who are very online, and certainly those who are not very online are not living that way at all and have a whole different set of experiences.
I think there’s more evidence for me now that we need to move away from this kind of politics. Now, to be very careful about this, on the other hand arguing and attacking people online because they’re talking about their identities is just as unhelpful. One of the things that I’m really opposed to is treating class as if it’s another identity, and making an identity politics out of class. When we make an identity politics out of class and pose it to everyone else what we’re saying is that people that are working class are not in those other categories, or not in those other categories in important ways. I think that’s why class analysis often gets characterized and caricatured as this “white male” thing, but that’s because people are putting class into an identity framework and class is not an identity. What we’re talking about is something entirely different when we’re talking about class and the totality of capitalist relations, and how they function and hurt people and how we need to work together in order to solve those problems.
LW: The second axiom towards a Queer Marxist future you write is “analyses of political economy should be concrete, dialectical, and gender/sex inclusive.” Can you talk more about that?
HL: This has become a really rich area of research, and it’s been taking off in the past few years. One of the things that I do in the book is try to reorient discussions of sex and gender away from Friedrich Engels and towards Lise Vogel’s work, which looks at Marx’s Capital. I’m trying to understand gender through Marx’s Capital as opposed to this idea that gender comes from the creation of the family, the development of property, and then somehow gender norms that come from this are not class-bound. Even Clara Zetkin had criticized Engels for this, saying ‘okay if gender inequity and violence comes from property relations then why is there any sexism in the working class?’ The answer was always toward a ‘well there’s a parroting of the ruling class,’ and that’s just a really thin analysis.
Lise Vogel’s work in the 1980s begins this movement towards understanding how gender works within capitalism itself, and how capitalism uses gender in order to create groups of people that take care of the workforce in particular ways so that it doesn’t have to pay for it. It also reveals how that kind of denigration in a market that says that you are equivalent to what your wage means that you’re worth nothing if you’re paid nothing. Lise Vogel’s work and the subsequent work that’s been done on Marxian economic theory I think really begins to talk to us about how capitalism uses gender and the concepts of gender identity in order to keep itself going, and how it can’t really exist without a category of people that are ideologically obligated to care for people.
That brings us to what the family is and how it operates. When you’re talking about queer oppression it often happens in and through the family. At the time there was a lot of arguments that sort of went like, ‘if queer people oppose the family then somehow we’re anti-capitalists.’ This really heavily impressed upon an individual politics of performative resistance that privileged people that didn’t have to take care of other people. It was contradictory, and I wanted to begin conversations that could clarify.
LW: Going back to what you were saying earlier about how class is understood often as an identity box of white cis-men, which is pretty absurd when you look at who working class people are, without doing this analysis in a queer and gender inclusive way you write that ‘economics as a field becomes the purview of white men.’ So this is a danger in itself in that we fail to have a concrete class analysis that is robust and provide analyses that broaden our inclusion of everybody.
HL: Right, how can you have an analysis of workers if you’re going with a caricature of who you think workers are, or a snapshot of who workers were in a particular time and place and particular industries? We know that even in the nineteenth century we have little girls that are making candy and being scalded to death. Girls work too in child labor. We can’t really have a rich understanding of the working class with these limited frameworks.
The philosopher Sandra Harding talks about this in terms of “strong objectivity.” She’s not a Marxist, but she talks about this in terms of strong objectivity meaning that if you’re excluding groups of people and then ask questions and create frameworks for those questions then you’re not really seeking objectivity. You’re really just talking amongst a group of people, and what seems to be objective and true amongst you is just your slant and just coming from your experience and methods of tackling a problem. But if you want strong objectivity then you need to have everybody included. That’s really what I’m going for here is strong objectivity, but that also requires listening to people who are different than you and are coming from different positions.
LW: The third axiom that you write about is “the intersectional model of oppression should be replaced with a unitary and relational model.” I’ll give you lots of time and space to elaborate on that.
HL: This is the only time that use the word “intersectional.” I call it also the “vector model of oppression” as opposed to the term “intersectionality.” The word “intersectionality” explodes in the 2010s and it starts serving a whole host of projects and becoming a buzzword to explain all kinds of social relations that move away from its Black Feminist origins, so that’s number one.
Number two I had something very specific to say about this, which is the Marxist analysis is looking at complex material social relations, and when we look at identities and the complications of identities in terms of vectors interacting with one another what we’re doing is saying there’s this thing called race, which is gender-independent, and at some point it intersects with this thing called gender, which is race-independent, and this framework ends up recreating the very problem that it is trying to solve.
At the same time its locus of where it frames its questions and points its camera is at the individual body. What is occluded in that and hidden is where are all these vectors coming from. Where is the racism and sexism coming from? So this is not an argument against concrete analyses of the ways that multiple oppressions interact in human relationships. It’s saying that just throwing out the word “intersectional” and claiming that’s the solution isn’t going to get us anywhere.
When we’re looking at a concrete situation, like for example if we’re trying to talk about the situation of Black lesbians in South Africa as opposed to Black lesbians in the United States when we’re doing that concrete local analysis what is called “intersectionality” is quite important. Because in that instance we’re not trying to come up with a systemic understanding of what is happening globally, we’re talking about concrete particulars. Going back to the idea of strong objectivity shows that concrete particulars are really important. But those concrete particulars don’t get us to a systemic analysis that we need. I would never tell people to abandon concrete particulars. What I’m talking about is moving away from this vector model of saying there’s this abstracted plane that racism exists on and there’s this abstract sexism, and on the individual bodies they merge with one another. Not helpful.
LW: In wanting to get to concrete causal factors where oppression emerges you talk about how without that analysis, disconnected from material life, oppression seems as if it were borne from ill will and bad ideas. I think that goes back to the focus and belief that language changes the world which posits that it’s just the ideas that need to be changed, everything is in our minds already constructed in that way, and all we have to do is unlearn it. But what you’re pointing out is how limited that is in actually changing the world.
HL: This idea of one’s identity is what one’s epistemology is, or that the way that you see the world and the way you behave in the world, has some element of truth in it. However, the cause is not your identity. Your identity is the effect, not the cause. So if it boils down to the history of racism is that white people have bad ideas, then you have to ask why? That means that there has to be this thing, this real ontological thing, called “white people,” that’s transhistorical, who have ideas that come from this type of physiology, and that gets us into some really bad territory. In looking at identity we’re looking at the symptom and saying the symptom is the cause. Once again, identities matter but identities aren’t what is initially causing these situations.
LW: The next axiom you write about is “being queer and trans is neither reactionary nor revolutionary.”
HL: I mean this was just a thorn in my side when I was writing at the time. As a queer person so many of the analyses were confusing affect with class position. But, once again, this was happening without an economic understanding or even a thought for social material relations which was erased from our language and we couldn’t talk to each other with this framework. Without that the question of why are some people non-binary and others binary the answer would be ‘well the non-binary people are radical and the binary people are not radical. Therefore the non-binary people were being oppressed, and the binary people are the oppressors.’ It was just kind of maddening.
There was this kind of language around not just about your gender but about your affect. If you had a “normie” way of dressing that was indicative that you were an oppressor. And that you were probably doing a host of oppressive things based on this, such as kicking genderqueer youth of color off your property. But of course it’s because, and I write about this, when we’re talking about the issues that were going on in New York City at the time the issue wasn’t between normative gay people and queer youth of color it was between landlords and working people who were oppressed. That’s what was going on, it was a landlord and nonlandlord relation of classes.
What this means is that if you’re a gay person who just wears jeans a t-shirt and you identify in a way that is cis that you’re not the reactionary cause of the problem. This was also instinctively known. In the gay community nobody actually went around yelling at their individual friends who weren’t queer enough. Everybody was the exception-- ‘you’re okay though.’ And that’s because there just wasn’t a framework to talk about these things, because we weren’t able to talk about capitalism and how it affected social relationships.
The other thing is this puts an incredible amount of pressure on non-binary and genderqueer people. The idea that you are who you are because you are a challenge to the system, and your very existence is a challenge to the system. Which everybody who is genderqueer knows, but to have this put upon you in some ways puts you on a pedestal and in other ways it puts you in real danger.
I’ve said this before, but my partner, who is non-binary, was attacked and was really upset about it. When they went to school a faculty member said, ‘be joyous, you’re genderqueer so you should be filled with joy about who you are.’ It’s a way of undermining people’s account of their own suffering as well as not listening.
LW: The other aspect that you highlight in the book is how often Marxists have been guilty of accusing people of being reactionary or eliding working class politics through their affect or presentation of gender. Am I understanding that correctly?
HL: To a certain extent it was the opposite. It was if you dress in a particular, a normative way, then you’re working class, and if you aren’t normative then you’re not working class. This is also not true. The working class is very queer and non-binary. The working class is everything, so that was a false reversal of the problem. So this idea that you’re going to walk into a room full of Marxists and it’s all going to be people in jeans and t-shirts, and if someone is queer that’s just a bourgeois affectation. This comes, in part, from problems in some “really existing socialist societies” with the homophobia that existed within those. There was an idea that any kind of flamboyance or femininity was a bourgeois affectation, so there’s a holdover that we need to be dour and not fanciful.
LW: The next axiom that you write about is “the binary is not the problem, and non-binary thinking is not the solution.” Can you elaborate more on that?
HL: There was this problem at the time, but I feel like it’s gotten better as well, where everything was about thinking against the binary: the “third way” was always the answer. As somebody who was a union activist, and as a graduate student I was on strike, nothing will teach you about how that’s untrue more than being on a picket line. There is no third way, it’s a which-side-are- you-on problem. We can’t throw away the which-side-are-you-on problem as just “binary thinking” or “needing to be more nuanced”. I was certainly responding to that kind of “phony poststructuralist” thinking that was being applied in really opportunistic ways and to cross picket lines.
There are times, particularly politically, where there are sides. When I say ‘solidarity means taking sides’ there’s a binary at that moment. There’s a binary between antifa and fascists. I don’t want to have a nuanced analysis when I’m fighting against fascists. Once again these are things that people knew, but there wasn’t clarity around this. If you’re talking about a strike, the strikers are a unified group of people fighting another unified group of people, but there are tensions and complexities amongst the strikers. So you don’t want to erase those complexities and tensions amongst them, and that’s the kind of rich analysis I’m looking for. Even when we’re speaking terms of sides there’s complexity on each side that need to be taken into consideration for us to build solidarity with one another.
LW: For your sixth axiom you write, “Marxists must stand against trans exclusionary radical feminism,” or what is often just called terfs. I must say it sounds really obvious today, but maybe when you were writing it not as much.
HL: No it wasn’t at all. What was happening was that people were largely deciding to support trans and non-binary people based on emotion and instinct. There was this feeling that these terf people were probably not people you wanted to get behind mostly because everyone who was a good Marxist understood that trans people were oppressed. The gut instinct was a good one, but I wanted to back it up with analysis. Now there’s this whole group of young trans Marxists who are addressing these questions and it’s been really fantastic. But also young trans Marxists, and I’m not trans, wanted to focus on trans political issues beyond combating terfs and I feel that it falls on cis people to fight these violent people. We don’t need to have our trans comrades using up all their energy to fight these really violent and cruel people.
At the time it wasn’t really thought of, and the narrative was ‘we want to support oppressed trans folks, but because capitalism uses women as child bearers, we can’t exclude child-bearing from our definition’ So you can see how the concept of a “gender critical feminism” started weaseling its way into some nominally Marxist accounts. This also was the case because classical Marxists were largely rejecting Judith Butler at the time, so there was this idea that there was gender, which was socially constructed, and sex which was a real physical form that exists somewhere in the heavens as some kind of true thing called “the sexed body.” The insight that Butler has which we can’t lose, and now I think it is very broadly taken up, is that the body is also socially constructed. The body is how gender is expressed and understood. This idea of separating gender and the body is completely artificial, and doing it in the name of science is ridiculous. A science claiming that there are male bodies and female bodies and they intrinsically separate would mean that there’s no intersex folks. This is a religious type of thinking, not a scientific type of thinking, and luckily scientists have exposed the lack of scientific rigor in these essentialist arguments, so it’s much easier for lay people to make arguments against these claims.
If anyone is a terf at this point you’d have to really question their deeper commitments to inclusive politics in general, and to science and feminism. Just today some terfs attacked a rape crisis center for having gender-neutral bathrooms, so really?
LW: Even as I said before it seems like today this has largely been accepted it doesn’t mean that we don’t need to stake this claim and keep terfs out of our movements. What I appreciate your consistent theme has been is that solidarity means taking sides and which side are you on, and how do we make our side as broad and inclusive as possible. And it wouldn’t involve terfs, at least not in my movement.
HL: No, it wouldn’t, and they’re really making it easy for us because they’re aligning with the right. What we’re seeing is that terfdom is an indicator of movement towards the right. The arguments start becoming quite irrational at a certain point and you start to see them moving toward the right. You want to move people away from terfism, but at this point if they’re going towards terfism they’re moving away from any kind of Marxist politics in general. Because Marx’s Capital doesn’t care about identities. Marx even describes capitalists only insofar as a personification of the system. He openly says these are personifications of capital. With the kind of slippery shifting that happens within the capitalist system, not to mention the declassing of individual economic actors, this idea that there is an eternal thing called ‘woman’ is not Marxian. To say we’re going to hold strong on these particular transhistoric identities; what Marxist says that?
LW: The next axiom is “queer communitarianism should be replaced with queer political demands.”
HL: This is something that is maybe still not so popular. I’m not a proponent of communitarianism for the same reason I’m not a proponent of the family. I think of communities as larger extended families. When we talk about in the queer community “chosen family” or “extended family” the bottom line is what you’re really saying is you need a family. You’re not taken care of through the system that you live in or through broader society, and that you need to rely on a network of people who personally know you in order to survive. As a Marxist I’m fighting for something a justice and freedom from exploitation that goes way beyond that.
When I wrote the book, in queer circles there was this idea that abolishing the family would abolish capitalism. In the book I say ‘yes capital needs the family, but not always in every instance.’ We have workers living in dormitories, and so long as those workers go to work every day capital doesn’t really care if they’re having sex with one another. Workers who are living in sex segregated dormities are having to take care of one another. What capital cares about is the social reproduction of society and not having to incur those costs of a laborer’s life as much as possible to drive wages down as much as possible.
We can have situations where instances of the family are abolished but reconstituted in different ways. So on the one hand I am for family abolition, but on the other hand what I’m really for is the socialization of reproductive labor across society. It actually goes back to the axiom about language, and that is when we talk about the queer community we’re talking about a local queer community and its local challenges and local linguistic needs. We do still live locally and those things are important, but we also live transnationally and connected to the queer people who are involved in industrial production and distribution around the world. In this sense, the idea of queer community is a bit of a necessary fiction under capitalism and it needs to be understood as not an endgoal, but a mechanism of survival for the present day.
LW: The next one you write about is, “Queer Marxism is not the analysis of queer consumption habits.”
HL: This is also a bit of a time capsule. Older queer people were thinking in terms of their youth, which was before the boss offensive, post-Stonewall, where being queer was connected to the idea of being radical through identity constitution alone. So there was a lamenting of the normalness of queerness that had happened, and that the normalization of being LGBT was seen as problematic. Of course that normalization in a neoliberal system means that all of a sudden you become a market segment for capital. So what was happening at the time was a lot of dismissiveness towards queer people for capitulating to rainbow capitalism via rainbow consumerism. Once again it was ‘look at all these middle-class gay people buying stuff.’ My argument was they’re buying stuff because they’re middle-class not because they’re gay.
Consumption habits are not a major category of analysis for Marxists. We look at production. We don’t morally condemn people for consumption. So I found it really strange that Marxists were going to that “buy nothing day” kind of critique and anti-consumerist analysis. It was, like I said, a bit of a time capsule. “There is no ethical consumption under capitalism” is a common phrase now, so it’s not really a problem anymore. Those of us working on the social reproduction side of things have won that debate.
LW: I do agree that people have accepted that, however I wonder how much in terms of practicing solidarity and what they believe changes the system it’s catching up. You hear people talk about Amazon, and they ‘well I just don’t shop on Amazon.’ That consumer individual mindset seems to still be the framework that people operate under for how they believe social change happens.
HL: I hear what you’re saying and I should clarify that at least Marxists talking about gender issues are no longer speaking in those terms, but I think the general public is still talking about solutions in a consumer context. This is because of the relative weakness of the labor movement, and not just the labor movement as a physical manifestation of our politics, but the ideas and education you get from being part of the labor movement. When you don’t have that or any kind of Marxist economic training, what you end up with is people asking how can they make a difference and their answer is to buy the right stuff and not shop at particular places. People who feel powerless will grasp onto any sense of power, and I think that it’s a feeling of powerlessness amongst the working class that leads us towards a type of consumerist politics and certainly that is a form of propaganda--the ruling class telling us to buy certain things as solutions to problems. So it’s no surprise. But my issue was that Marxists were talking this way, and to me that was just inherently anti-Marxist. Because if the Marxists can’t get the Marxist analysis right, then how do you explain the Marxist analysis to non-Marxists so you can have these types of conversations?
LW: Your next axiom is that “queer politics must oppose imperialism with a queer face.”
HL: There was this pinkwashing of Israel happening, and pinkwashing of the Iraq War. We were being used, queer people were being used, in order to sell certain variants of nationalism in the United States as well as imperialism. And I think we’re much more aware of that these days, and I think it’s common amongst the movement itself that this is not acceptable.
There’s another thing that’s going on here--queer internationalism is a real possibility. If you are a part of a imperialist force that is terrorizing other working people and oppressed people around the world, then how are you in solidarity with the queer people in those regions? You’re not. You’re a queer nationalist, not in the way that Queer Nation put it, but a queer person that cares about “your nation” in the white nationalist way.
I think that this is a lot more obvious--the problem of homonationalism. I wanted to be really clear that it isn’t possible to be both a nationalist and a queer leftist or radical.
LW: This segways nicely into the tenth and final axiom, “wherever there is solidarity with the goal towards eradicating expropriation there is Queer Marxism.”
HL: Whether you know it or not there are queer people working amongst you to eradicate expropriation. We’re everywhere, queer people are everywhere. So it really is a matter of how much is the Marxist movement and how much is the labor movement going to embrace the queer people who are already in it and fighting for it. As soon as the labor movement and Marxist movement does that it’s Queer Marxism, and it’s a queer internationalist movement. Wherever there are people who are queer working against expropriation, and they are in every movement, then you have queers in your Marxism and you need to embrace them and bring them into the movement as queer people. Not saying, well you can be queer but don’t bring that in here, but embracing people as their full selves. That is what Marxism has to be, and it is what a revolutionary movement has to be. There’s no revolutionary movement without it. My goal and hope is that eventually you won’t need the term Queer Marxism because Marxism will be synonymous with queer power.
LW: I’m wondering just as a final word on the matter to ask where it sounds like in some instances you feel like there has been progress on this, what is your assessment today of Queer Marxism and where does it need to be furthered?
HL: This is kind of funny because as soon as people started talking about Queer Marxism people were already rolling their eyes about how ‘now we’re in a post-Queer Marxism world and we don’t need that anymore.’ I was like, come on we just started talking about this. [laughing] But it does lead to that because the idea is to eradicate Queer Marxism by making Marxism queer. That’s the whole point, it’s to make queer normal. To make fabulous usual. With this question it’s different in different places in the world and depending on the power of the queer movements-- it’s very site specific. But what this axiom does is it gives a little piece that can be easily translated to queer people who are fighting in movements so they can start articulating to people who might be homophobic and transphobic in their movements ‘hey we need you to really fully include us in and we want to be a part of this. Why would you kick us out of this and separate us from this movement and not address our concerns?’
We do have to worry about what some people are calling Red-Brown movements now. There is a part of not just the Social Democratic tradition, but of the usually less revolutionary traditions that think that queer people are some kind of extraneous outsider group and that the real people who need to be considered are in families, normal “salt-of-the-earth” people that live in families. These are really gendered and romanticized frameworks. In some segments it’s been called “normie Socialism,” but what it really is is an uplifting of the concept of the family and that labor analysis implies the family--the idea that good hard-working Americans exist in families, and the idea that the working class relies upon the family structure so therefore the family structure is inherently good. The working class relies on the family structure because the capitalist class relies on the working class relying on the family structure. But in the process, and this is something I talk about through the work of Barbara Fields using Gramsci, is that ideology comes from navigating the material terrain of our lives.
You grow up in a family and it’s your parents, let’s say, who are the ones fighting for you. So you grow to love and depend upon your parents. In the same way that when your boss gives you a wage, you really want that wage. So when we’re talking about something like abolishing the family it sounds like abolishing wages. For many people it’s the good thing that’s keeping you alive right now, so it sounds like we’re trying to take something away from them that they depend on to live. There can be a doubling down on ideas of family, and this is something that needs to be struggled against. But at the same time it needs to be impressed upon that no one is taking your family away from you, or that you shouldn’t love the people you love in your life. We’re just saying that we need to look at why the world has been structured this way, and why people are pushed out of it. Because queer people are pushed out of their families. Where for some working people the family becomes the support system that keeps them alive, for other people who are queer the family pushes them out onto the streets and then they have no support network.
We need something more reliable, and that’s a socialist society instead of one where care and love is based on the whims of sex and birth.
Holly Lewis, The Politics of Everybody: Feminism, Queer Theory, and Marxism at the Intersection
Friedrich Engels, The Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State
Lise Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Toward a Unity Theory
Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy
Sandra Harding, Rethinking Standpoint Epistemology: What is Strong Objectivity?
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields, Racecraft: The Soul of Inequality in American Life