This talk, which has been edited, was presented on June 11 at a joint meeting of the Marxist Youth League and the Buffalo branch of Workers World Party.

WW Graphic: Daphne Barroeta

In 1972, Sam Marcy, founding member and late chairperson of Workers World Party, wrote in a Party document: “The oppression of national minorities is not the only oppression meted out by a divisive ruling class. There is also the extra oppression of women, of youth and of gay [now LGBTQIA2S+] people. The degeneration of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly capitalism carries to an extreme all the forms of oppression which the capitalist system, in the previous epoch, had engendered and developed.

“As the crisis of the social system becomes more and more apparent, the need of the ruling class to unload its burden on the most oppressed sections of the society becomes more evident. Only by dividing, fragmenting and continually pitting different elements of the oppressed masses against each other can the capitalist establishment maintain its sway over all society and hope to survive.”  (tinyurl.com/58b9dx2f)

Indeed, liberation of any type or of any oppressed grouping does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in the space of solidarity, of struggle co-joined with struggle in the revolutionary aim of overthrowing our shared oppressors and stripping away the machinery of oppression. 

Perhaps one of the biggest problems for our shared struggle today is liberalism. Liberalism exists in many forms and in many contexts. The specific context I am referring to is the ideology that the working class has inherited from the ruling class. This trend exists as a defective tendency within the progressive sections of our class camp, currently mobilized in the anti-war and anti-imperialist movement, but also lives on in other co-current struggles. 

Peace is not liberation

Liberalism as an ideology holds onto appendages of capital and seeks to moderate the struggle against the ruling class. Two popular and contemporary examples are as follows: First is the idea that queer liberation can come from supporting queer-owned businesses and by assimilating queer-coded commodities into the market. In this case, so-called “resistance” against violence exists as a commodity to be bought or an experience to be consumed. 

The second example is the idea that peaceful action is an absolute standard for resisting the violence enacted by the ruling class. Currently, this is most often expressed within the context of the Palestinian genocide and sounds something like “violence is wrong on both sides.” 

This is not to say that peaceful action cannot be effective, but rather that peaceful action is not universalizable — especially within the context of combating settler-colonial violence. This erroneous view is starkly apparent when it comes from media personalities but can hide itself within the revolutionary movement. 

While it is important for revolutionaries to seek alliances with others in the fight against imperialism, we must not allow ourselves to become lost, unable to distinguish between peace and liberation or between commodities coded to match our oppressions and the products of a truly liberated people. We cannot buy our liberation. We cannot peacefully coexist with the ruling class — or their traitorous pigs. 

Comrade Kwame Ture refuted this notion of peace when he said in 1968 in Peter Brooks’ documentary “Tell Me Lies”: “There’s a difference between peace and liberation, is there not? You can have injustice and have peace. You can have peace and be enslaved, so peace isn’t the answer — liberation is the answer.”  

The youth on the front lines of the struggle for liberation understand comrade Ture’s concept of peace all too well. For many children in Palestine, it means wholesale death, destruction and disease at the hands of settler colonialism and white supremacy. 

For many queer youth, both inside and outside the imperial core, it looks like homelessness, domestic violence, drug addiction and a struggle to access basic medical care. 

Changes won through decades of struggle – not voting

Speaking personally, I have lost years of my life to anti-transgender bigotry. I have lost contact with much of my family both in the United States and in México. What has allowed for much of my transition needs has not been rainbow streamers or fellow queers on TV. It is the decades of struggle against the state and their pigs that forced the bourgeoisie to give us concessions, such as including trans health care in Medicaid coverage.

And this fight is not over. Concessions to the movement are not enough for me and should not be enough for you. As our siblings on the forefront of the battle against fascism in this country are discovering, these reforms can disappear at the blink of an eye. Those who think we can buy trans rights, economic justice or peace in the Middle East through “voting blue” are wrong. Voting against a fascist is not enough. We must combat the whole capitalist class that profits from and coddles fascism. 

We must move members of our class from theoretical opposition to capitalism and its varying forms of systemic violence to active resistance against capital. Liberalism within the anti-war movement has blunted the edge of the revolutionary movement, especially the student/youth movement, in a manner which manifests in conciliatory attitudes towards the university establishment and university police for the purpose of careerism. 

We cannot allow ourselves to assimilate into petite bourgeois society and have our activism become a “wild and fun period in our past.” We cannot allow bumper stickers, vague social media posts and progressive slogans on our coffee mugs to become the end horizon of our struggle. Those with a measure of privilege in our society must become involved in the fight against our class enemy. 

Mao on liberalism

Especially for those of us who align in some manner or another with revolutionary organizations, we cannot give up our militancy. While comrade Mao Zedong was writing on Sept.7, 1937 – within a different context – the text  entitled “Combat Liberalism” does an excellent job of discussing the fight against this ideological enemy in concrete term: “Liberalism stems from petite bourgeois selfishness. It places personal interests first and the interests of the revolution second, and this gives rise to ideological, political and organizational liberalism. 

“People who are liberals look upon the principles of Marxism as abstract dogma. They approve of Marxism but are not prepared to practice it or to practice it in full; they are not prepared to replace their liberalism with Marxism. These people have their Marxism, but they have their liberalism as well — they talk Marxism but practice liberalism. They apply Marxism to others but liberalism to themselves. They keep both kinds of goods in stock and find a use for each.” (marxists.org) 

While being a revolutionary is hard work, it is necessary work. Dedication to advocacy must include a shift to a revolutionary paradigm in order to attain true and total liberation for all working-class and oppressed peoples. 

Let us remember who our enemies and our allies are. Our enemy is the ruling class and the ideologies that stem from capital, which poison the working class of our world. We must fight this enemy on all fronts — whether it be in the streets, in cultural work and institutions, in our places of work, in the home or online. 

And we must fight this enemy in solidarity with our comrades abroad. 

Daphne Barroeta

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Daphne Barroeta

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