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“The Tribune Of the People”: Marxism and The Struggle Against Oppression

By Raya

In What Is To Be Done?, Lenin argued that a socialist party must be a “tribune of the people” that “is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears” and “is able to generalize all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation.” For such a party, there can be no single-issue movements, only one totalistic struggle that unites all the oppressed and exploited groups in society. Whether one begins with the question of trans liberation or combatting climate change, it immediately become obvious that the fundamental question is one of overthrowing the capitalist system. Likewise, anyone who wishes to seriously challenge capitalism and the economic inequality it generates, must necessarily develop a program for the liberation of those groups uniquely oppressed impacted by it. Homelessness, for instance, cannot be meaningfully addressed as an economic issue without engaging with the racist, homophobic, and transphobic systems that lead to people of color and queer people to experience it disproportionately. Nor can queer or black homelessness be addressed without raising the question of why homelessness exists at all in a society that has more than empty homes to shelter everyone experiencing homelessness at the present time and developing a program of struggle against the capitalist system that produces such absurdities.

This understanding and totalistic commitment is the foundation for the solidarity of individual revolutionaries with all movements of the oppressed and exploited people, and upholding this solidarity is foremost among the duties that a revolutionary party imposes on its members. Marxists begin from interconnection of all types of oppression within capitalist society and seek to overturn it. As Malcolm X put it “you can’t have capitalism without racism,” and as socialist feminists have always emphasized “There will be no women's liberation without revolution. There will be no revolution without women's liberation.” The struggle against every type of oppression and explication is linked to the struggle against every other type and the victims of any one type of oppression are harmed by existence of every other type. Marxists are not allies of any oppressed group, standing separately from and unaffected by the struggles of that group but choosing to lend their support to it, but are part and parcel of every oppressed group and every movement that arises from the initiative of the oppressed and exploited. The liberation of each oppressed group is the precondition for the liberation of any one oppressed group.

Those organizations that base themselves on single-issue reformist programs, as well as those supposedly revolutionary organizations that postpone radical ends to distant future in favor of a moderate practice in the present, become safety valves of the prevailing world order. Through a million unnoticed and unplanned actions their sense of political possibility and imagination is lost, their purpose is narrowed to the point were discussion of their original goals can seem almost heretical, and they turn on their most militant and committed members. They co-opt and contain the spontaneous dissent of the oppressed and exploited masses, becoming barriers to the end of oppression and exploitation. Worse, those organizations which merely propose a program of limited reforms or of ameliorating some of the evils of the system within the system can often become directly involved in perpetuating oppression. The task of revolutionaries must be, therefore, to ensure the closest possible unity between educating and organizing on behalf of radical goals and everyday political practice. The struggle for reforms within the context of the present world order should take the form of transitional demands that leads to the questioning of that order and expose the oppressive nature of prevailing power relations. When activists are attacked by police for protesting against white supremacy, or even for demanding the preservation of local libraries, they receive an unforgettable lesson on the institutional function of law enforcement agencies in class societies. For its part, the revolutionary party gains the confidence of the masses through its participation in the spontaneous movements that emerge from them and in the struggle for the demands raised by these movements. Members of a revolutionary party are distinguished from individuals spontaneously drawn into ongoing struggles only by their theoretical understanding of the situation and their commitment to the international revolutionary movement as a whole.

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