For anyone that knows me, you know that I believe the University of Sydney Union is a joke. It’s a joke because of what it does, what it fails to do, and how it is organised. But you pay around $100 a year to fund it, and it’s the self-declared centre of student life, and you realise it has a $20 million budget, and that it’s the first non-academic thing most students see when they first enter university, and it’s not so funny anymore.
Four years after starting University, and what was once an organisation I admired for its bars and student societies and democratic control is now what I am most disappointed in after finishing my studies and facing graduation. What follows is a list of my frustrations with the Union.
This is an edited version of a comment I made in the USYD Ethnocultural and People of Colour Collective regarding the debate between class/materialist politics and identity politics following a blog post by Tim Scriven. In order to respect collective autonomy, I have edited out mentions of other people in the group and their comments. Other things that have changed include the statistics for the gay marriage/minimum wage polls, which are based off a David Sirota article, that were slightly inaccurate the first time around.
I believe quite strongly in class struggle. I don’t think the analysis of class struggle as the primary struggle is one that says workers are more important than other oppressed groups, but rather, that oppression will not completely end until the class distinction between the bourgeoisie and proletariat is eradicated. Class politics is not opposed to intersectionality, because nothing in class politics denies that oppressions can overlap. Class, after all, is not an identity (even though Marx talks about ‘class consciousness’) but a mode of existence and a stratification in society. You can’t self-identify as proletariat or bourgeoisie – it is just something you are based on your positioning within society and capitalist means of production. It’s partially why I don’t think the term ‘low SES’ is that useful. I’ve read a lot of articles on the issue of class that came in after Marx, and the argument is that for class struggle to win, you need the liberation – or at least, the beginning of the liberation – of women, queer people, people of colour, people with disabilities, etc. However, the opposite is not true: there can be leaps forward for women within the capitalist state while maintaining the oppression of other groups.
Not only that, but there will always be an underclass of any oppressed group while capitalism still exists. There may be more female parliamentarians, quotas may be achieved for boards, etc. but that will just widen the gap between working class women and bourgeois women. Until class is abolished, the place of women within capitalism will not be abolished: the role of unpaid domestic labour, the role of the mother. That’s why so many modern socialists incorporate gender politics into class; even old socialists like Emma Goldman were renowned for being materialist feminists. There is not much point in making sure that women enter the ruling class, because that just changes the demographics of your oppressor rather than substantially liberating the oppressed. To put it another way: why does it matter if there are more female police when ultimately they’ll still be brutalising the working class while propping up systems of oppression, including the patriarchy? Same with class and race, and the politics of imperialism and fascism as functions of capitalism. Crises of capitalism lead to the Nazi Party – just one example of the connection between economic and racism. Another is warfare, a product of capitalism and the competition between states. War creates the nationalism that generates racist scaremongering.