Class reductionism refers to a damaging trend among certain left activists, namely the belief that it's ok to ignore the specific oppressions faced by Oppressed Nationalities, Women, Queer workers, religious minorities, Disabled workers, in short, anyone who is not a cishet white male worker. They usually claim that these concerns will be automatically addressed by a socialist revolution, despite all evidence to the contrary, leading sober observers to the conclusion that they just don't care. A recent example of this is the St. Louis left applauding the decision of the County Prosecutor's staff to join the murderously racist police union, in an attempt to undercut Wesley Bell's reform agenda. This needlessly divides the movement, marginalizes the very people we need to be centering, and is something Lenin himself fought against.
Class Reductionism is Anti-Leninist Because...
It relies on the pre-Lenin assumption that the revolution would be the affair of the most elite workers of Europe, which events proved faulty at best. Lenin saw that Capitalism would be weakest among those who were suffering the worst under it- namely the oppressed peoples of the world, such as colonized backwater Russia and its hundreds of subjugated nationalities. Whereas mainline Social-Dem parties had no problem supporting imperialism in WWI, trusting that their workers would set their colonial subjects free after the revolution which never came on their terms, and Trotsky told us to ignore the developing world in favor of repeated, costly attempts at revolution in the west, Lenin and Stalin saw a more fertile following among the colonized nations, and acted accordingly. Plenty of national bourgeoisie among oppressed nations could make useful temporary allies. It doesn't take much to see how this applies to any group of people who are especially marginalized under capitalism and have organized for their interests (Afro-Americans, Queer ppl- despite comrade Stalin's short-sighted deference to popular prejudice, Indigenous populations, etc.) Therefore, a correct ML position would be to support these groups in their struggles under Capitalism, but also to work with vanguard elements of those communities to teach all parties that socialism is a necessary precondition to the final abolition of racism, homophobia, sexism and others. Basically, East Germany is the best example of this stuff working well.
One clarification is to confess that not all MLs embrace the necessary understanding of Leninism, which at its best could be described as an early form of intersectionality. Uncle Joe Himself kowtowed to a bunch of angry homophobes led by Gorky, and historically socialist societies haven’t always been enlightened on each of these issues. For example, Romania under Coucescu was as sexist as any Christian theocracy, and movements in countries with stronger churches (Russia, Venezuela) haven’t had much luck holding back homophobia. Additionally, there is the fact of the “Doctors’ Plot” accusations that fell most heavily on Soviet Jews with very little justification, and looks like just vulgar antisemitism- truly disappointing from the USSR which did so much to fight antisemitism in the 1920s and 30s.
And yes, plenty of modern (mostly white, straight and male) left groups think that just ending capitalist mode of production will suffice for eliminating social oppressions. Basic decency would suggest that this is, technically speaking, fucked up. History would also suggest a) that this is not correct) and b) the most successful movements are often those that reach out directly to all oppressed people and show us that our interests are part of the workers’ movement.
A really good case study is how 19th century Germany birthed the western world’s first modern LGBT Community in the 1840s, and over the next 50 years brought it leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the world in Queer Community. This helps explain why the KPD (Communist Party of Germany) was Queer-positive and remembered their Queer members and Comrades after the Holocaust, and eventually built a relatively queer-positive socialist democracy, decades before we were even legal in the US.
Where we bring orthodox Marxism back into the picture is in looking at the effects of each of these oppressions. By this I don’t mean that Marx is a more eloquent or enlightened critic of racism, sexism or anything like it than MLK, Fanon, Hughes, Davis, or anyone like that, but that Marx’s explanation of how value is extracted from workers is the root to my understanding of how the system sustains itself, and how even socially privileged white workers are economically undercut by our own racism and that of our bosses.
This guides my interest in political action- I’m hesitant to use the pejorative “Oppression Olympics” for describing the thicket of competing demands from different oppressed peoples to remedy different social wrongs, but it often seems to fit. I confess to being overwhelmed and confused by apparent contradictions of modern intersectionality (i.e., is it still ok to fight homophobia or partner violence when they are perpetrated by PoC? Modern intersectionality says no. When and how can Atheists like myself be permitted in movements that include religious people? Modern intersectionality says that to be non-religious is to be a Nazi. How do we include Disability rights in the movement? Modern intersectionality says that Disabled people who do not belong to an oppressed nationality are faking it), and the only framework I’ve found that leaves me any semblance of clarity or sanity is to focus on the material aspects of these issues. I.E. prejudice is a problem because it leads to action- whether job discrimination, financial super-exploitation, police violence, wife-beating and other aspects of rape culture, and pitting workers against each other.
My native St. Louis is a perfect example of just how fucked up the workers’ movement is by racism, including class reductionism. When most unions ignore oppressed nationality and women workers, and endorse police violence against marginalized people, Workers of Color don’t necessarily see how their interests are served by these unions! This leaves us at each other’s throats, with the unions constantly deciding who is still in and who is out. Generally speaking in STL, it’s the older, white “labor aristocracy” against the Black community, with Women’s groups and the Queer community of all races fluctuating between the two poles, and nobody pays any attention to the immigrants except in cases of extreme emergency. Guess who wins from this? The Capitalists! Workers can't be surprised when our indifference to other workers' human rights alienates them from us.
The fundamental question at the heart of this is, why am I a tankie? And how do I define Tankie?
Let’s lay my qualifications out on the table- I’m a white, college educated, transgender (binary), panromantic, demisexual, autistic, Atheist, German-American, working woman. Privileged in a number of key ways, oppressed in others, and exploited.
I define a Tankie as