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Biden’s “Diversity” and the Fight Against Oppression

The mainstream press has billed Joe Biden’s cabinet as the “most diverse ever [1].” Barring confirmation roadblocks, the cabinet will seat more women and people of color than any presidential cabinet in history. The confirmed Secretaries of Defense (Lloyd Austin III), Homeland Security (Alejandro Mayorkas), Transportation (Pete Buttigieg), and the candidates for Health and Human Services (Xavier Becerra), the Interior (Deb Haaland), head of the Office of Management and Budget (Neera Tanden), head of the Council of Economic Advisers (Cecilia Rouse), and the Representative of US Trade (Katherine Tai), all represent firsts for people of color, women, and LGBT+ individuals. Additionally, Kamala Harris has become the first-ever black American, Asian-American, and woman to serve as vice president.

This follows a year in which over 25 million Americans took to the streets to protest against police brutality and racism [2]—the most recent expression of the simmering discontent with the centuries-old inequalities embedded in American society. The capitalist class is understandably anxious to try to quell the growing anger against the present system. As such, Biden’s cabinet is welcomed with open arms by the majority of the ruling class, who could surely benefit from the appearance of diversity and inclusion. The president has been preaching the need for “unity” for some time now, and perhaps, they hope, these new hires will help “heal the divide.”

But behind the rhetoric of healing and unity, we must seek to understand whose interests are really represented by this cabinet. Marxists do not take the fight against racism, gender and sex discrimination, or any other form of oppression lightly. We seek to drive this poison out of society once and for all. But precisely for this reason, we must have a scientific understanding of how the working class should fight to win against oppression—and how not to.

That class is the fundamental dividing line in modern society is the starting point for the Marxist analysis of history. Class is defined objectively, by one’s relationship to the means of production. Under our present economic system, if you must sell your labor power for a wage, because you are not independently wealthy and do not own the means of production, then you are a worker. If you own the means of production, or own a large number of shares in them, and thereby live off the labor of the working class, then you are a capitalist. To be sure, layered upon these objective relationships are myriad identities that overlap both major classes. However, the fundamental social antagonism in society is that between those who own means of production and those who do not.

In a society in which a minority of the population owns the vast majority of the resources and wealth, the majority will be forced to fight over the remaining scraps. In turn, the ruling class uses the age-old tactic of “divide and rule” to keep the working class atomized and divided. Racism, sexism, and other divisions are consciously fomented to pit different layers of the working class against each other, rather than against their common class enemy.

Through their labor, in interaction with nature, workers of all identities create all of the value in the economy. And yet, the surplus value they generate over and above what they receive in wages and other benefits is appropriated by the capitalists in the form of profit, interest, and rent. The class struggle is the struggle over control of the surplus wealth in society. This means that the interests of the working class and the interests of the capitalists are diametrically opposed, and those interests exist independently of the identities of the individuals in both groups. In short, the fundamental class interests of all workers are the same.

The same is true for the capitalist class. Regardless of the varying identities within the class, every member of the ruling class has a shared interest in maximizing profits by driving down the living conditions of the working class as much as possible. They and their political representatives are perfectly willing to play off of identity divisions in order to keep the working class at bay. And if it is necessary to feign sympathy for the struggles of marginalized groups, they are happy to make room at their table for a few individuals from oppressed groups—as long as this poses no harm to their system as a whole.

In the same way that corporations will gladly tweet #BlackLivesMatter if it helps them sell their products, the capitalist government will cynically appoint individuals from various oppressed groups. This allows them to give the appearance of “progress” while defending their class’s overall interests. This is how Joe Biden—a segregation enabler [3], alleged [4] rapist [5], crime bill enthusiast [6], Iraq War supporter [7], and the man who proposed [8] that police “shoot [people] in the leg” instead of using lethal force [9]—can don the “progressive” mantle without fundamentally changing his politics [10].

This kind of cynical tokenism has been used throughout history. Individual “representatives” of this or that oppressed group are raised up—to represent the interests of the ruling class. To give just a few examples: In 1985, Philadelphia’s first-ever black mayor bombed the compound of the black anarchist organization MOVE [11]. The first black mayor of NYC, David Dinkins, increased the police budget and staff to then-record levels. The first woman judge of the US Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor, was appointed by Ronald Reagan. And Elaine Chao, the first Asian-American woman to be a presidential cabinet secretary—served under both George W. Bush and Donald Trump.

Beyond their apparent “diversity,” the incoming Biden cabinet has a long history [12] of corporate ties [13] and attacks [14] on the working class. For example, Lloyd Austin III, the first black Secretary of Defense, is a board member of Raytheon [15]. As one of the largest military contractors in the world, this company has made billions of dollars supplying Saudi Arabia with the bombs it drops on Yemen. Biden’s cabinet members are united by the class interests they ultimately defend. The Democratic Party, the Presidential Cabinet, and the US capitalist state as a whole are institutions existing solely to defend capitalism, the system which keeps the vast majority of women, people of color, and LGBT+ individuals exploited and oppressed. In the coming years, this defense will come at the expense of both the working class and the genuine fight against oppression. Just as Obama worked to undermine, derail, and defuse the first wave of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, so too this administration, despite its diversity, will do the same with any and every independent movement of the working class.

Marxists fight oppression by fighting capitalism, and in doing so, we must be clear about each and every cynical attempt by the ruling class to obscure the class line in society. By organizing to unite workers of all identities to fight for a revolutionary socialist program [16], we aim our fire at the system that forces us to work for a pittance until death.