by Ashley Rogers
This article was originally published in Socialism Today, the paper of the Independent Socialist Group. Subscribe to the paper to receive each issue in print and read the articles before they’re published online!
In November 2021, a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse of murdering two people at a 2020 protest held in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Though the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests of 2020 brought millions out into the streets against racist police violence, Rittenhouse’s acquittal shows that the pressure the movement brought on politicians and the capitalist class has faded. Meanwhile, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that ended anti-abortion laws, could be overturned. The Supreme Court upheld a Texas abortion ban and seems likely to do the same elsewhere. With the victories of past mass movements against oppression being steadily eroded away, workers and youth are looking for a way to fight back. There’s a clear need for a socialist challenge to special oppressions like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and more.
The wealth of the capitalist class comes from the exploitation of the working class. In addition, many workers face special oppressions based on identity. Some progress has been made towards legal rights and less overt oppression. But while Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg are able to “break barriers,” this will not change the fact that one out of every three Black men born today will serve time in prison, or that nearly half of LGBT workers report experiencing workplace discrimination.
Simply removing discriminatory laws from the books doesn’t resolve inequality. Nor does a more “diverse” ruling class fix the oppression that workers of any identity experience. Oppressed groups weren’t handed their rights. The Civil Rights era saw an explosion in militant action against racist oppression and for improved economic conditions. Many workers of all races drew the connection between racism and capitalism. Important legal rights, including an end to overt segregation, were won. Roe v. Wade emerged from the 1970’s women’s rights movement. The combined pressure of the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, and other mass movements forced the capitalist class to grant concessions. When working people—regardless of their identity—fight together, they win! Capitalists, recognizing this fact, use discriminatory ideas to pit workers against each other.
Under capitalism, workers’ victories are constantly attacked. Democratic Party politicians regularly promise to fight for oppressed groups, yet do little besides pay lip service to workers’ interests while in office. Biden’s campaign promised to make Roe v. Wade the “law of the land” yet the attack on abortion rights accelerates with little pushback from his administration. During BLM and the Women’s March, Democrats led millions off of the streets and into support for Biden on the promise of reforms. Now with Democratic control of Congress and the Presidency, reform has stalled. Democrats play a key role in demobilizing movements that pose a threat to capitalism. We can’t rely on corporate politicians to protect the gains workers’ movements have won!
The working class makes up the vast majority of society. We hold the power to bring the capitalist class to its knees through workplace action. In the words of Malcolm X, “we’re not outnumbered—we’re out-organized.” To defend our movements, and to win real gains against the capitalist class, a movement needs democratic structures that can develop a clear political program, debate and decide on tactics, and hold leaders accountable.
While the BLM protests of 2020 weren’t able to achieve systemic change, they showed the power mass movements have to break through bigoted ideas workers have picked up under capitalism. Workers and youth of all races joined together to demand an end to police violence and racism. While limited by ties to the Democratic Party and a lack of organization, the embryo of a mass movement developed, capable of winning vital police reforms including community control and oversight, and demilitarization. An organized mass movement with the right tactics can strike at the root of the racist capitalist system.
Capitalism will always reinforce and profit from our oppression. Only by bringing about a socialist society can we begin to reverse the damage done by centuries of capitalist exploitation. With the economic basis for special oppression gone, socialism can improve the conditions of all and bring an end to the bigoted ideas that plague society.