gender trumps class? <xyxy at>

Jon Johanning jjohanning at
Wed Aug 14 07:40:59 MDT 2002

On Tuesday, August 13, 2002, at 04:23  PM, nancybrumback at wrote:

> Otherwise, I think my quote from Marx in my last email on gender and
> class
> shows that neither gender, nor class, nor race, nor whatever trumps
> anything
> else as far as the basic relations of class society are concerned. The
> many relations of any society (economic, political, social etc.) are
> connected and interconnected into a whole, the sum of which is greater
> than its parts, like an organic, living being, where no one part is
> more primary than any other, because all have their own role to play
> and all are needed to maintain the life of -- whatever it is.

I think there is a letter of Marx's which relates to this point (Marx to
Meyer and Vogt, April 9, 1870, McLellan, David, _Karl Marx: Selected
Writings_, pp. 639-40):

"The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who
lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he feels
himself a member of the ruling nation and so turns himself into a tool
of the aristocrats and capitalists of his country against Ireland, thus
strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious,
social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude
towards him is much the same as that of the 'poor whites' to the
'niggers' in the former slave states of the U.S.A. The Irishman pays him
back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker at
once the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rule in Ireland.

"This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the
press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the
disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the
impotence of the English working class, despite its organization. It is
the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And that
class is fully aware of it."

Obviously, this can be generalized to antagonisms based on sex, race,
nationality, etc., etc. -- whatever differences humans use to split
themselves up into "us" and "them." I would put it this way: these
antagonisms neither "trump" nor "are trumped by" class, because they are
no different from class in their social functioning. They *are* the way
in which class functions in a specific society or country at a specific
time. If you want to understand how class works in, say, the U.S. in
2002, you need to see how the society battles issues of female/male,
white/non-white, "American"/"foreigner," and so on. There is no way of
separating "class," as a reality, from these other divisions. (Of course
it can be conceptually and analytically distinguished from them, but if
we attribute reality to that distinction we get into trouble.)

The only amendment I would make to the quote from Marx above is to the
words "This antagonism is artificially kept alive..." This seems to
imply that if the press, pulpit, and comic papers (nowdays we would say
"the media") stopped keeping such antagonisms alive, they would die of
their own accord. Today, unfortunately, we have discovered that
divisions of humanity into "us" and "them" have a life of their own
apart from the media; it seems that humans have a tendency to set them
up in all societies and periods of history (the particular antagonisms
varying to some extent in place and time, of course). To completely
eradicate them, we have to do more than just cleanse the media of them;
we have to address them directly and eradicate sexism, racism, etc., by
working on them explicitly.

This work is an integral part of the work of establishing socialism,
communism, or whatever you want to call the ultimate goal of political
activity precisely because, as I said, class *is* sexism, racism, etc.,
in this time and place.

Jon Johanning // jjohanning at
If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders
of giants.-- Isaac Newton
If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing
on my shoulders.-- Hal Abelson, MIT professor

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