The various Occupy movements which have garnered widespread support and mainstream media attention over the past year have been exciting and heartening to watch and participate in. They have also received many criticisms from all kinds of communities, and from other movements. One of these critiques, which I don’t feel has been given enough attention, is the notion put forth by some factions of the movement that corporate force–and the economic orders it represents–is the root of all evil and inequity. The underlying rhetoric around much of the Occupy and many other anti-capitalist and anarchist movements, is that the elimination of global capitalism would effectively dismantle all forms of oppression and inequity in its wake. Though many queer, Brown and feminist activists have already critiqued this idea, I have some points I would like to add.
The idea that capitalism is the root of all injustice is not a new one, and has not only been espoused by straight, white men. Perhaps the most famous activist who often expressed such sentiments was Lucy Eldine Gonzalez Parsons–a legendary anarchist and feminist of Indigenous, Mexicana and African decent–renowned for her contributions to radical labor movements of the late 1800s. Much of her own work and activism traced the origins of multiple forms of oppression–including racism and sexism–back to the economic order of capitalism. As a Brown, working class woman, she saw the hierarchy and scarcity inherent in capitalism as the cause of many other kinds of disparity, all of which it depended on to function. It was these claims, bold for their times, which often incited the most volatile reactions from her comrades and critics, who in their era saw race and gender as abstract ideas, not linked to something like economics, which they saw as concrete.
The controversial claims which Parsons made in the late 18 and early 1900s are still debated in activist communities today. However, whereas Parsons linked gender and race to capitalism at a time when it was discussed almost exclusively in relation to wages and resources, activist and organizing communities in our current moment express these links more commonly–much of the populist rhetoric surrounding Occupy Wall Street being a prime example. Yet the problem which many of these arguments run into is the same one for which many other Brown feminists of later generations called out Lucy Parsons: Because we often see race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability as necessarily linked to capitalism–as I believe we should–we come to see modern economics as the root of all other systems of oppression. Instead of imagining capitalism as one order of inequity which must be addressed alongside all others, we make the claim that by attacking capitalism, we are effectively attacking all systems which perpetuate injustice.
As oppressed people, but particularly as Brown, Indigenous and queer people, we should know that the eradication of capitalism and corporate force (while desirable) will not eliminate all forms of inequity, disparity and systemic prejudice. For each of our cultures holds long legacies of slavery, ethnic cleansing, patriarchal rule, and systemic violence which predate colonialism and global capitalism by centuries. What the rise of these systems has represented is not the introduction or invention of these forms of oppression, but a fundamental shift in how they are instituted, who has the power to institute them, and which groups and identities have been created and united as their targets. In other words, and for example, Black people killed, robbed and enslaved one another for generations before the category “Black” even existed. This is something that we Black people in 2012 would do well to understand and remember, as we fight not only to better understand our place in current orders, but how to align ourselves with all people in our efforts to transform them.
As people bearing multiple forms of oppression, we understand in ways that others may not the ways in which all systems of injustice are inseparable, but simultaneously distinct. This is a kind of awareness we must learn to bring to anarchist and anti-capitalist struggles, not as a means of undermining them, but of reminding them that they are not inherently inclusive. We have and continue to experience violence, silence and invisibility under more regimes than solely that of global capitalism. Understanding that inequity and domination exist before, outside of, and even in opposition to capitalism is an ability which comes simply from remembering our own histories as colonized subjects, and our intersecting identities today. We have sometimes been the ones who treated capitalism as the source of all injustice. Let us fight in the present and into future to paint a broader of image of what oppression consists of, and work to unite all people in opposing it in every form.