(A review of Sharon Smith's Women and Socialism: Class, Race and Capital.)
[It is] crucial that Marxists do not accommodate theoretically to flawed or inadequate theory which will lead activists away from recognising class as the fundamental antagonistic divide in capitalism and that working class agency through collective class struggle is the key to addressing both exploitation as workers and oppression as women.
It is not that Smith is unaware of the limitations of identity theory and liberal feminism. [...] However, in her subsequent treatment of the currently popular notion of intersectionality, first promoted by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, she makes unnecessary and unfounded compromises with identity theory. On p159 she comes to the crux of the issue. “Intersectionality”, she writes, “is a concept describing the experience of oppression, not a theory explaining its cause(s)”. This is uncontentious, but then she continues: “It can therefore be applied to a variety of theories, from those informed by Marxism to those influenced by postmodernism.” This is very problematic as it fudges the gulf between identity theories and a Marxist approach to women’s oppression and liberation. [...]
Intersectionality was originally proposed as a part of a critique of liberal feminism and a demand that white feminists should recognise that women’s oppression can play out in very different ways if you are black and/or lesbian, for example. [...] This may be useful in “naming the reality” of multiple oppressions and acknowledging the real experiences of black and LGBT+ or disabled women, for instance. But it also shares the disadvantage fatal to all identity theory approaches, a lack of any recognition of class struggle as the motor of history. If class oppression is included at all it is only as one among a number of possible oppressions to which individuals may be subject. It becomes a mere descriptor rather than an exploitative relationship. The practical politics flowing from a theoretical acceptance of intersectionality’s supposed explanatory power amounts to the demand that we develop self-awareness and “check our privilege”. [...]