Theory 101: Patriarchy as a Structure of White supremacist Class Rule under Imperialism
The function of patriarchy is not only to oppress women to the benefit of men but also to stabilize relations under US imperialism by ensuring the exploitation of oppressed people, especially Black people.
“The history of lynch mob violence that characterized the Jim Crow period is riddled with examples of white women falsely accusing Black men of rape and assault.”
Patriarchy and sexism have become intensely disputed subjects of discussion in what passes for political discourse in the United States. Much of the conversation, however, has been suffocated by the nauseating opportunism of bourgeois opposition to Trump. Kavanaugh and the cast of ruling class characters at Trump’s side have been labeled by their ruling class Democratic Party opponents as the embodiment of “old guard” patriarchal and racist norms. We are constantly reminded that prior to Trump, racism and sexism were not as “emboldened” as they are now. And many would have reason to believe this is true given the crass and open-air orientation of Trump and his elite followers. However, to reduce patriarchy and racism to obscene rhetoric is to erase their significance to class rule under US imperialism.
This essay focuses on patriarchy. Patriarchy is often portrayed as the discrimination and degradation of women for the benefit of men. These conditions are byproducts of patriarchy, but they do not explain why these conditions come about. Furthermore, to look at patriarchy simply as a mode of discrimination or “hate” ultimately silences and erases the systemic injustices associated with the patriarchal structure of class rule. Brett Kavanaugh and other rich capitalist men have used their power and control over the state to protect their interests. However, it is also true that certain variants of feminism have simply not challenged class rule at all but rather have modified it to work for a few women at the expense of the majority of women and oppressed people generally.
“To reduce patriarchy and racism to obscene rhetoric is to erase their significance to class rule under US imperialism.”
Social relations must be informed by the context in which they arise. Just as socialism in Cuba did not look like socialism in the USSR, so too does imperialism in the United States not look like imperialism elsewhere. Patriarchy under US imperialism stems from the same root as anywhere else: the development of private property. Frederick Engels traced the root of patriarchyto the displacement of indigenous matriarchal societies and the class antagonisms that arose from the development of surplus product. Private property necessitated that the female sex become a domestic servant. The spread of monogamous family relations and the state helped keep class antagonisms in check. From a Marxist point of view, patriarchy is a system of relations where the profits derived from the wage slavery of men is bolstered by the domestic slavery of women. The unpaid wages of women have historically contributed to the expansion of surplus value for capitalist oligarchs.
Patriarchy in the private-property dominated United States has presumably functioned to empower men and disempower women. The mainstream understanding of patriarchy is that men dominate women for power and have been endowed with privileges as men that come at the expense of women. There is data to back up this claim. Men make higher wagesfor similar work. Women are underrepresented within institutions of power. Women die everyday at the hands of intimate partner violencein the United States.
“Certain variants of feminism have simply not challenged class rule.”
However, the oppression of women by men is not a monolithic phenomenon in the heartland of US imperialism. As a system of class rule, patriarchy cannot be separated from white supremacy and empire. An understanding of patriarchy as class rule is fundamental given the influence of bourgeois feminism in the United States. Bourgeois feminism posits that the struggle against patriarchy is best fought by vying for positions of power within the imperial power structure. This strand of feminism has come at great cost to Black women, Black men, and peoples all over the world.Bourgeois feminists defend the status of women such as Hillary Clintonand Madeleine Albright despite their histories as war-mongers and servants of Wall Street. It doesn’t matter how many Black men, women, and children have suffered from Clinton policies or the fact that Albright claimed it was “worth it”to kill a half a million Iraqi children by way of starvation sanctions. Bourgeois feminists believe that women should be celebrated no matter the class position they occupy or the crimes they commit against the people.
Bourgeois feminism is white feminism. White feminism, as an ideology of the rich, must be part of any analysis of the system of patriarchy. There is a dangerous, often unacknowledged history in the United States of white women, especially propertied white women, exploiting and oppressing Black men and men of color for profit, power, and status. The history of lynch mob violence that characterized the Jim Crow period is riddled with examples of white women falsely accusing Black menof rape and assault. Furthermore, most white women vote by their race and class interests and not by their gender. Most white women who vote in the US belong to the White Man’s Republican Party and voted for Trump in 2016.
“Bourgeois feminists believe that women should be celebrated no matter the class position they occupy or the crimes they commit against the people.”
An analysis of patriarchy must also consider the special oppression of Black men and men of color under the dictatorship of the rich. As Dr. Tommy Curryhas written extensively, Black men have never been considered men at all under the gender categories of patriarchy.Black men have been portrayed as beasts and treated as such throughout U.S. history. The high rates of incarceration and unemployment for Black men in the US means that they do not enjoy the same “privileges” as white men nor do they experience gender in the same way as white Americans. In fact, data indicates that Black men commit a small fraction of intimate partner homicides in the US and are more supportive of women’s rights and empowerment than white women.
The contradictions of patriarchy are thus products of white supremacy, capitalism, and empire. Patriarchy is a serious problem, but it doesn’t affect all men or women the same. This includes Black men as well as men and women all over the world targeted by US wars. As revolutionaries, we must be able to explain why rich white women like Hillary Clinton are able to utilize a trillion-dollar war chest to drone strike men, women, and children in Yemen or Pakistan without consequence. The function of patriarchy is not only to oppress women to the benefit of men but also to stabilize relations under US imperialism by ensuring the exploitation of oppressed people, especially Black people.
“Black men have never been considered men at all under the gender categories of patriarchy.”
A dangerous neoliberal trend has emerged in the United States that reduces patriarchy to just another form of oppression. The trend is aligned with COINTELPRO imperatives and represents a continuation of the US police state’s suppression of revolutionary theory and activity. A plethora of bourgeois theories on gender, race, and class have sought to explain exploitation and oppression under imperialism as separate yet interrelated phenomena. This deviates markedly from an analysis of class and dialectical materialism that explains all phenomena as shaped by a struggle between the development of contradictions whose parts are linked until a revolutionary rupture causes a break and thus a new set of contradictions. Thus, defining patriarchy as a separate entity from other aspects of class rule enables the ruling class to create anti-solidarity institutions, such as the non-profit industrial complex, that organize political activity based on donor-based competition between organizations vying to popularize their particular system or problem as the most critical. Furthermore, by seeing patriarchy as just another form of oppression, room has been left open for imperialist countries such as Israel and the US to “pinkwash” transgender and queer issuesas an excuse to colonize the Palestinian people.
To conclude, patriarchy is a weapon of class rule. It is a malleable weapon that shapes the existence of people trapped in the social order of imperialism. Making the conditions of class rule in the US and their global implications the primary point of analysis does not discount or discredit gender oppression. Rather, it enriches our understanding of patriarchy and offers solutions beyond bourgeois/white feminism. From here we can begin to approach political struggles with the understanding that our first concern is to secure the political power necessary to transform the lives of the exploited and oppressed classes.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He and Roberto Sirvent are co-authors of the forthcoming book entitled American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News- From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror(Skyhorse Publishing). He can be reached at [email protected]