For the third consecutive year, the Women’s March took place in cities all around the world under the banner of justice and equality for women of all backgrounds. Hundreds of thousands participated in Washington, DC, the birth city of the march. Solidarity marches in Canada gathered a few hundred people. While fewer people participated this year, it is clear that the fight against the oppression of women is far from over.
The first Women’s March on Washington in 2017 was an outpouring of anger and discontent at the election of a misogynist and racist president of the United States. It took place on January 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump displayed the utmost disrespect and disregard for women throughout his campaign. The way the media condoned his behavior towards women and immigrants was simply an expression of the sexism and racism that is inherent in capitalist society. The origins of the Women’s March can, therefore, be traced, not only to the fight against the oppression of women but also to the fight against Trump.
The 2017 Women’s March on Washington was amongst the biggest protests in US history, even larger than the demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the ‘60s. As many as seven million people gathered in solidarity in 673 marches taking place on the same day across the globe. This was a tremendous show of strength against the misogynistic and xenophobic policies of the American president. With turnout more muted in 2018 and even more so in 2019, let us evaluate what the Women’s March has accomplished.
The Women’s March succeeded in getting a lot of attention and shedding light on the deep-seated sexism that permeates American society. Along with the #MeToo movement, it encouraged the organization of grass-roots activism to bring focus on questions of of oppression and injustice. It proved that America was never “great” for women and oppressed minorities. But while criticisms is welcome, it is ultimately not enough to simply point at something and say it is wrong—something concrete must be done about it.
After two years, the leaders of the Women’s March in the U.S. have come up with a “Women’s Agenda.” The agenda includes some very good points like increasing state funding to end gender-based violence, canceling the student debt, and transitioning to renewable energy. According to their American website, the agenda “will serve as a work plan to Congress and will create the roadmap we will use to mobilize our constituents into 2020 and beyond.” While the agenda hits at the heart of a lot of issues facing average Americans, the question must be asked, can the leaders deliver?
On a national level, the leadership of the Women’s March is facing controversies and divisions. They have been accused of anti-Semitism for allegedly kicking out an activist in the group for being Jewish. Tamika Mallory, one of the leaders, has also publicly refused to disassociate herself from Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, despite the anti-Semitism of some of his public statements. This dispute resulted in two marches happening at the same time in New York City, effectively dividing the movement.
In an interview in December with The New York Times, an ex-member of the group said that one of the leaders told her “we really couldn’t center Jewish women in this or we might turn off groups like Black Lives Matter.” The same article on the Times continues, “Women’s March activists are grappling with how they treat Jews—and whether they should be counted as privileged white Americans or “marginalized” minorities.” Accusations of anti-Semitism have led many local branches to distance themselves from the national leadership or to dissolve altogether, weakening the organizing capacity of the Women’s March.
This is what happens when the focus of your political activity is identity and not ideas. When people relate to each other only on the basis of their gender, religion, race, etc., they start putting individuals in endless boxes of “intersecting oppressions,” separating, rather than uniting, the oppressed. The national leadership of the Women’s March’s adherence to identity politics has proven the toxicity these ideas bring to a mass political movement. Instead of focusing on what unites us, the emphasis is put on what divides us. There can be no long-lasting, meaningful unity on this basis.
In a society that is becoming more and more polarized as a result of economic dislocation and growing inequality, the focus on identity plays right into the hands of the capitalists and their political representatives. Hillary Clinton, for example, used her identity as a woman to try to get votes over her political opponents. Putting her identity at the forefront of her campaign, Clinton tried to shame young, progressive females attracted to the ideas of Bernie Sanders into voting for her instead. In reality, it was Clinton’s warmongering and friendliness with Wall-Street that repelled many women from participating in the second round of the elections after Sanders’s “political revolution against the billionaire class” capitulated to the DNC.
As Marxists, we call for unity along class lines in our struggle for better living and working conditions. After all, the vast majority of the population is working class. In this struggle for improvements, the working class is always met with contempt from the capitalists. When we fight for abortion rights, marriage equality, an end to police brutality, and a living wage, we are asking for equality in an inherently unequal system. We struggle for reforms insofar as they improve our ability to undermine the position of the capitalists. We must also remember that reforms are never granted willingly. The only truly lasting and effective way to fight for a better life is through mass, militant, united action involving all layers of the oppressed. A gain for any layer of the working class is a gain for the whole class and all of the oppressed.
Despite the liberal outlook of many of its participants, the 2017 Women’s March was a step in the direction of mass action. Unfortunately, the poison of identity politics has gained the upper hand. The recent midterms show that the anti-Trump mood remains. Real change, however, is not a mere function of the total number of women elected, or whether these women are muslim, indigenous, or bisexual. Rather, the ability of elected officials to accomplish any meaningful action for the working class depends on the class perspective and interests they defend. All efforts to bring about real change through the Democratic Party will run head-first into the imperialism, xenophobia and sexism that is at the root of all capitalist parties, no matter how “progressive” they pretend to be.
While we fight for reforms, we understand that capitalism is a crisis-ridden system under which no reforms are sustainable. This is why, to quote Eleanor Marx, “we accept these benefits as weapons, weapons that enable us to fight better on the side of our working-class brothers. We are not women arrayed in struggle against men but workers who are in struggle against the exploiters.” A Marxist organization with a clear class analysis that explains why oppression exists and how to fight it is vital if the many movements that will emerge in the years to come are to succeed in uniting all of the exploited and oppressed in our struggle against our common oppressors.