Gender, Gender Roles, and the Unity of the Working Class

Members of the APL march on May Day, Chicago, IL

By: The APL LGBTQIA+ Commission. To join our organizing commissions, click here.

 “Marxist-Leninists are not conservatives.  On the contrary, they are the most progressive of people.  Resolute fighters against all that is backward and outdated.” -Enver Hoxha

There is an absence of principled, Marxist-Leninist analysis on gender, gender norms and sex in the present discourse, even as LGBTQ+ movements take leading roles against emergent fascist movements. This has damaging implications for the communist movement at large, creating a vacuum where all manner of reactionary ideas come to the fore, and distorts the dialectical materialist and revolutionary class conception of these scientific, social structures. To that end, it’s necessary to put forth a scientifically socialist analysis on biological sex, gender identity, and gender norms throughout the productive stages of history, their differences and the necessity to expose reactionary ideology posing as communism that would divide the working class movement. The American Party of Labor stresses the importance of solidarity and unity of all strata of the working class, building towards a mass movement which alone can resolve the crises of capitalism. 

In the vein of these “revolutionary” distortions, similar to the vulgar, reactionary analysis of gender, gender roles and biological sex, it is essential to establish the lines of separation for each on the basis of dialectical and historical materialism. In a broad sense, sex can be defined by the biological assignment of ones reproductive and observable characteristics at birth, assignments which are not binary (either male or female) and include a variety of attributes, such as those assigned male at birth, those assigned female at birth, and intersex individuals with varying observable characteristics. Before we define gender identity and gender roles, we need to first understand the historical context of gender. 

In prior stages of human development, with a more or less undeveloped understanding of science, these societies tended to assert moral idealism dependent on the establishment of social concepts such as gender identity and roles stemming from a rudimentary grasp on sex. Upholding these assertions reinforces the dominant class ideology of a given time. In slave society, the patriarchy emerged alongside private property rights and the enslavement of individuals as a means of social control, alongside the submission of women to control the inheritance of the established property and the defense of social privileges.

Exploring this scientific development, as matriarchal society was succeeded by patriarchal society, from prehistoric humanity moving into slave society, Engels wrote in his work, Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State:

“Mother-right has given way to father-right; increasing private wealth has thus made its first breach in the gentile constitution. A second breach followed naturally from the first. After the introduction of father-right the property of a rich heiress would have passed to her husband and thus into another gens [“a gen” to mean “a family”] on her marriage, but the foundation of all gentile law was now violated and in such a case the girl was not only permitted but ordered to marry within the gens, in order that her property should be retained for the gens.”

Everything is fluid, everything changes. This is the dialectical understanding of society. It begins with accepting that social conventions serve a given historical stage of human development, reflecting the understanding and prejudices of the ruling classes of each stage, utilized to their service. The societal development of different peoples around the world contrasted heavily from the strict individualism of the European ruling class. From the European accounts of the enslavement of African peoples and the colonization of the Americas, we can see that the European imperialists were dumbfounded at the self-determination of the women, the state of the family, and the absence of organized religion. Father Lallemant commented on the Wendats in 1644: 

“I do not believe that there is any people on earth freer than they, and less able to allow the subjugation of their wills to any power whatever – so much so that Fathers here have no control over their children, or Captains over their subjects, or the Laws of the country over any of them, except in so far as each is pleased to submit to them” (The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, Volume 28, Page 47).

Obviously, in the overarching sense, the culture of the empire uprooted the domestic and implanted itself in foreign soil to serve its role as the tried and true method of social control. Which led to, among other factors, the establishment of a global structure of imperialist domination and the successful birth of the capitalist system. From the conception of gender and subsequent development of roles as a measure of social domination, the changes and growth from one societal stage to another exposes the separation of gender from biological sex, as well as a more expansive and nuanced reality pertaining to gender. 

Gender identity is understood as one’s internal alignment or relationship with gender as a cultural concept, whereas gender expression describes one’s outward gendered presentation. Gender roles are those cultural expectations of performance and the responsibilities assigned to particular genders, such as men being providers and women being housekeepers. As our understanding of gender grows, so too does our critique of gender norms.

Non-conforming people, in capitalist society, drenched as it is in layers of austerity and exploitation, are obstructed from pursuing corrective measures for the reassignment of their gender such as hormone replacement therapy and reassignment surgery. These affirming treatments are held hostage by for-profit, overly expensive healthcare plans—an obstruction worsened by the discrimination that non-conforming individuals face today in employment, housing and credit, buttressing the “normal” exploitation of all wage workers. This is accompanied by the no-less insidious degree of hate crimes and domestic abuse that exist for non-conforming people, in particular youth, in today’s decaying cultural landscape of individualism and ignorance permeated by endless distortions of non-conforming people in capitalist press, media, platforms.This is a political and ideological stance shared even by some so-called “revolutionary” and “progressive” forces as the transphobic-dominated activist groups and parties. 

In all progress, small evolutionary changes precede societal revolutionary upheavals. It is from this we can observe the challenging of gender norms even in the backwards cultures of feudalism from individuals such as Joan of Arc and the challenging of gender identity itself from high-profile cases such as that of Eleanor Ryekener, a trans woman persecuted in the late 14th century in England. Put simply, in times of crisis, the labor and initiative of women was exploited even by the feudal nobility. Of course, in the case of Joan of Arc, her tactical mind and patriotic initiative was recognized and used by French nobility during the Hundred Years War, and disposed of thereafter in Joan’s execution for “heresy” – that is, her donning of men’s clothing to escape sexual violence from clergymen. 

To ensure the defense of the gender roles of the time of the ruling man over the submissive woman, any challenge to the crudely-understood gender identities of feudalism threatened the legitimacy of the rulers —so then all instances of open or outed non-cisgender identity was viciously prosecuted in Medieval European society, as seen in the case of Eleanor Ryekener. That was the system of small-holding peasants—in this late day of capitalism, all persons find themselves either wage slaves to the monopoly capitalists or in mortal peril of becoming one. In this culture, the validity of patriarchal gender norms has no base. Heightened scientific understanding allows for correction of gender identity for gender-queer individuals—the proletariat has no use for the rigid and rusted notions imposed by the European aristocracy and bastardized by the genocidal capitalist class on a world just as diverse as it is exploited. 

In the same way as the capitalist must obscure, invent and dissuade the workers from economic and political education for their own survival, so too do they vest their interest in the creation of artificial divisions in the working class by promoting superstition and dismissing the validity of genderqueer people, the vast majority of which are proletarian. The liberation of the proletariat therefore is married to the liberation of women, from the gender norms co-opted by capitalism from feudalism, and to the liberation of all society from the prejudices derived from misunderstandings of gender, race, and class. Only the united working-class has historically proven triumphant. In the same sense as the class struggle under capitalism is simplified, so is the association of the laboring class on an intersectional basis — a peasant tied to his land in Holland might not even have had awareness of transgender identity, while a steel-worker in Pittsburgh can watch a speech of a trans rights activist on their smart phone at his lunch break. This is not to hint at the “superiority” of the capitalist system or to dismiss the fact that prejudices take time to break down, but assert instead that capitalism begins digging its own grave by educating and linking together those it enslaves. 

On the other side, the strawman of the ignorance fanned by capitalist pundits and politicians, are the performatively liberal  “activists” that bring race, gender and gender norms to the spotlight, while excluding class. This puts the discourse in the awkward position of radical liberals supporting Pete Buttigieg on the virtue of his gay identity, who coasted through the last primary on electoral “irregularities” and promised nothing of substantive change to a nation in the midst of the capitalist crisis. We can not abide our racial, gender, and sexual identities to become a tool of the ruling class to permit and ensure its domination over all workers, world-wide. No, a scientific understanding is needed that touches on the nuances and connectedness of each — of class, of gender and of race — building a proletarian intersectionality that does not hold any identity over the other in importance. A revolutionary must not heed the wicked hucksters who divide the working class by demanding either the dismissal of the class struggle, or the abandonment of whole strata of the revolutionary proletariat. 

Sadly, we must admit that in certain sectors of the “Marxist-Leninist” and working class movement a reactionary bourgeois position on the questions of biological sex, gender identity, gender norms, and gender roles has developed in the absence of an in-depth materialist study of these issues. These reactionary sections of the working class movement idealistically push the modern bourgeois and eurocentric understanding of gender as a metaphysical truth, ignoring the vastly different historical stages of development gender has gone through and is going through, often times claiming that gender-queer people are “idealists,” trying to “bend reality to their will.” 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Any given person’s expression or outward presentation of their gender may not conform with the social expectations of their gender. The social consciousness of individuals, stemming from their social being, establishes that their consciousness too, is materialist in essence, expressed in performance and perspective. They also ignore the vast cultural differences in gender roles, norms, and identities that have developed in a nonhomogeneous fashion historically and globally. In essence, these backward sections of the working class, “Marxist-Leninist” movement serve the reactionary, trans-exclusionary idealists by pushing the same metaphysical understanding of gender onto the masses of exploited people. It is the working class who do not benefit in any way from the continuation of these constructs or in the artificial, cannibalistic division of their own class to the undisturbed rule of the capitalists that does not discriminate in its exploitation of all producers.

Categories: American Party of Labor, Editorials, LGBTQIA+, Women

%d bloggers like this: