These are some thoughts on how I might word the part on the interplay of class and other forms of oppression in an “Introduction to Democratic Socialism” talk – as an alternative to the usual, “We know that race and gender oppression are not subsumed under class, but…”
Early in the socialist movement, socialist analysis tended toward economic reductionism: all historic forces, all forms of oppression, were subsumed in the concept of “class”. Modern Democratic Socialists realize that this analysis is not correct. The oppressions that people suffer because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics of their identity, each has its own history, its own dynamic, which is intricately wrapped up with their class position (as each also is with the others), but not dependent on or uniquely determined by class. This kind of analysis is called an “intersectional” one, and modern Democratic Socialists understand that an intersectional analysis of oppression is required. Democratic Socialists oppose all forms of oppression and exploitation, whatever their source, and our vision is of a world in which all people are equally valued, and equally free.
If Democratic Socialists still focus largely on class, it is because – who but us? The history and experience of our movement uniquely position us to understand and appreciate the roles of class and class exploitation in producing injustice in the world. In many ways, this focus and these analyses are the particular contribution that we can make, as socialists, to modern liberatory movements. It is important that class as a source of oppression be understood, and fought. There is no implication that class is the only source of oppression, or even, in many cases, the most important.
There is one unique feature of class oppression that is worth pointing out. Human differences based on race, gender, sexual orientation, culture, are to be embraced and celebrated; only the oppression is to be opposed. But ending class oppression pretty much depends on ending a system of production based on economic class. In struggling for gender justice, we seek a world in which social forces targeting people’s gender do not negatively impact their well-being; we do not necessarily seek a world in which nobody has gender*. But it is perfectly reasonable that the struggle for economic justice should end in a classless society, and this has historically always been a goal of socialism.
*This is not to say that “gender”, in a future, non-oppressive society, will be understood the same way as it is now. There are many ways in which our culturally determined concepts of “gender”, “race”, etc. are determined by, and serve, the oppressive situations in which we currently live. Part of struggling for liberation is a struggle to redefine these things appropriately; but not, necessarily, to obliterate the underlying reality. Understanding that “race” is an artificial, unscientific concept, originally constructed to falsify moral legitimacy for oppressive systems of colonization and slavery, does not mean we seek a so-called “melting pot”, from which all of our descendants ultimately come out the same hue. But a socialist economy, with all the productive forces of society collectively owned and controlled, with no division into “owners” and “workers”, i.e., a classless society, is a perfectly reasonable thing to seek.