by Phil Duncan*
Much of the left, even people who formally identify as marxists, have collapsed politically in the face of postmodern gender theory of the sort pioneered by American post-modernist philosopher Judith Butler.
For Butler even biological sex is socially constructed. “If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.” (Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity.)
Butler’s postmodernist conflation of sex and gender, which disappears biological sex and elevates gender, is central to trans ideology and now taken for granted on much of the NZ left. Postmodern gender theory and self-ID politics, the most subjectivist identity politics of all, Judith Butler Thought, reign supreme across swathes of the NZ left.
People who once self-described as marxists now argue that people are whatever they say they are – if a male says he is a woman, even a lesbian, then he is. Even a heterosexual male can be a lesbian by saying he is. Just by magical incantation.
This is also rather like the nonsense of bourgeois sociologists in the 1960s at the height of the long postwar boom. Well-paid workers in the imperialist world were declared to be “middle class”. This was buttressed by the fact that many such workers, especially in countries like the US, actually saw themselves as “middle class”. Marxists, of course, said “No. Workers as a class are not defined subjectively by how any of them see themselves at any point in time. They are defined in terms of their relationship to the means of production. The working class is the section of society that owns no means of production and has no way of surviving other than by selling their labour-power.” Objective, material reality. Marxism 101.
Similarly, women as a sex – like men – are defined by their relationship to the means of reproduction, not by the ideas in any individual woman’s head, let alone any individual man’s head! A male can identify as a woman all he likes but he is no more a woman than someone who has no way of surviving other than by selling their labour-power is middle class. Conversely, of course, there are capitalists who define themselves as “workers” because they go into their business and do a bit of the running of things. They are not workers because they think they are; they are capitalists because they own the means of production, buy labour-power and set it to work, appropriating part of the value produced by those whose labour-power they buy. Again, Marxism 101.
And if a man can declare himself to be an actual woman, the self-identifying marxists can’t logically then reject a capitalist claiming to be a worker or a deluded worker claiming to be middle class.
In his excellent contribution to the debate about postmodern gender theory and pseudo-science, James Robb notes, “Modern science rests on the assumption that the material world exists independently of human perception of it. For example, over a period of a hundred million years, the dinosaurs lived, foraged, ate, fought, reproduced sexually, then declined and vanished to extinction – and all this happened many millions of years before there were any human beings to perceive their existence, let alone assign a sex to any individual dinosaur.
“The task of science is to discover the facts of the material world and its laws of motion. This is consistent with the materialist conception of existence and the materialist theory of knowledge matter precedes mind. The opposite of materialism is the idealist conception, which places thought or spirit as primary, and sees the material world as an imperfect reflection of the spirit. The idealist conception was encapsulated by Rene Descartes in the aphorism ‘I think, therefore I am.'” (James’ article, a model of Marxist analysis, is here.)
Those who have collapsed in front of the onslaught of postmodern gender theory have now rejected marxist materialism. All that is left is a mass of confusion where people can write their own script and be literally anything just by self-identification and self-declaration. And the more histrionic the declaration, the more true it is supposed to be!
Much of the left in NZ prefer the analytical approach of vulgar bourgeois sociology and postmodernism to using the tools of marxism, like historical materialism and materialist dialectics. Makes life easier for them no doubt and provides another loud bandwagon to jump on. But has nought in common with scientific socialism and ends up endorsing and enabling vicious misogyny of the sort that permeates (male) transactivism, right up to and including murder of women as in the case of “transwoman” (ie male) Dana Rivers. (Redline will be running an article on the Dana Rivers’ murders in the future, a case about which the bulk of the US left has remained very quiet.)
Stark dividing lines are being drawn.
Between those who support women’s liberation and those who make it conditional on women doing what men tell them and letting them into every women-only space that women (and progressive men) have fought for. Even letting men decide who is a woman – and who is a first-class woman (transwomen) and who is merely second class and barely accepted on sufferance (actual women).
Between those who are enabling misogyny, including violent misogyny and actual anti-women violence, and those who oppose misogyny in theory and practice.
Between those who reject the materialism of Marx and Engels in practice (and, more and more, even in theory), exchanging it for crass bourgeois sociology and woke philosophical idealism, and those who remain committed to the marxist philosophical and analytical method.
Marxism is profoundly inconsistent with trans ideology, as are anarcho-communism and council-communism. And, clearly, radical feminism is too, in championing the rights of women to emancipation. Indeed, radical feminism is currently defending a materialist and scientific approach that has far more in common with Marxism than the postmodernist gender theory and ultra-identity politics that much of the would-be Marxist left has succumbed to.
* With thanks to Susanne Kemp for the Butler quote and other info on Butler.
Further reading on Marxism, materialism and trans ideology
For the full list of our relevant material on Redline, see Gender-critical material on Redline