Marxism and Trans Liberation

It is impossible to achieve trans liberation, or the liberation of any oppressed sector of society within the framework of capitalism. We need a revolution to overthrow it.
  • Virginia Guitzel | 
  • May 28, 2021
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

This past week, Pluto Press published Transgender Marxism, the first ever collection of writings seeking to link Marxism with trans liberation. One of the authors included in the book, Virginia Guitzel , is a member of Left Voice’s sister organization in Brazil. At the launch event, Virginia gave the following speech:

First of all, I would like to thank Jules and Elle very much for putting  this book together. We began discussing it in 2019, and since then, it has been shaped both by the pandemic and by the political and social transformations taking place around the world. To name just a few: the second cycle of the international class struggle with important strikes in France, the mass uprising in Ecuador and Chile, reactionary coups in Bolivia and Myamar, the rise and subsequent crisis of the far right, a massive questioning of the police in the heart of U.S. imperialism as a result of Black Lives Matter, the recent struggle of the Palestinian people against against the Zionist State of Israel, and the arrival of a global pandemic that has deepened the economic crisis and revealed the most cruel and inhuman face of capitalism, where all the technological advances and all productive forces were focused on profit above lives. None of these issues are separated from the experiences of trans people living in each of these countries. So it is an immense joy to be part of this discussion on the relationship between trans issues and Marxism.

What I would like to highlight is the importance of this book today, in a context in which the inability of capitalism to truly end any form of oppression is clearer than ever. We must be clear: it is impossible to achieve trans liberation, or the liberation of any oppressed sector of society within the framework of capitalism. We need a revolution to overthrow it.

Every right obtained is not a permanent victory, but is subject to cuts and adjustments imposed by governments and international financial institutions, and since the crisis began, social polarization has deepened, and as a result, the most reactionary sectors have resurfaced and expressed the most virulent xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia. Take Bolsonaro for example, in my home country of Brazil, and his attacks on oppressed people. But there are also many governments that, behind a “progressive” discourse, make agreements with the Right wing, offer concessions to the Church and other religious organizations, and roll back democratic freedoms. 

For 30 years after the fall of the Soviet bureaucracy, our generation heard about an “actually existing socialism” that is homophobic and transphobic.  We were sold the idea that capitalist democracies were the apex of civilization and diversity. 

In 2021, however, we have witnessed white supremacists in fur and horns raving in the middle of the U.S. Capitol building. It’s obvious that the supposed moral superiority of capitalist democracies is a lie; capitalist democracy will not provide queer liberation. Anticommunist discourse is, in fact, an artificial way of linking Marxism to its opposite, Stalinism, in order to separate the working class and the most oppressed sectors from the only scientific theory of our emancipation, which is why we need a revolution to win a trans liberation.

Certainly, this counters the view of a white, European, hetero, and cisgender Marx, who is not concerned with complete emancipation of all spheres of life and cannot contribute anything to a discussion of trans liberation. Or that Marx’s answer to the emancipation of women would be only their entry into the labor market to guarantee their financial independence. In fact, the realization of Marxist ideas in the Russian Revolution was the culmination of attempts to transform all spheres of life, with Russia becoming the first country in the world to legalize abortion, decriminalize homosexuality, and guarantee public cafeteria, laundries, and public day care centers, which even today many capitalist democracies do not offer.

But it was also the process of revolution and counter-revolution in revolutionary Russia that

provided the scientific basis for the Theory of Permanent Revolution, developed by one of the most important leaders of the 20th century: Leon Trotsky. This, for me, is the

representation of Marxism for the 21st century. And to talk about Trotsky, I want to paradoxically talk about something he didn’t write, but it was part of the whole of his thinking about the conclusion that the class struggle does not end with the seizure of power, but sharpens

further. 

This helps us reflect on a very important concern that we constantly face within the trans community: a skepticism that socialism can guarantee trans liberation or the belief that the working class is inherently prejudiced and transphobic. So I want to speak to that directly. 

Stalinists who claimed that the seizure of power was most of the battle– say, 90% of the way toward socialism, for Trotsky, it was only the stat. Say, something closer to 10%. So it was not a guarantee of our true emancipation, but only a condition. 

And what is this condition? First of all, we must tear down the whole structure that’s based on inequality and the subjugation of one group under another, as a mechanism to increase the rates of exploitation. We need to break down the material basis for all trans oppression and all oppression. Part of the process to break this structure involves creating the socio-political and economic conditions to confront centuries of racist bourgeois ideology, homophobia and transphobia, and patriarchy. And that precisely, the Revolution within the Revolution (and therein lies its permanent character) is a process that depends on the international development of the revolution as well as the self-activity of the masses, because it is through the movement of  the masses that their consciousness, determined by their concrete existence, can develop. Much of this certainly was already considered by Marx, who said that the Revolution would be the work of the workers themselves in a conscious way.

Why does this seem important to us today, in light of the release of Transgender Marxism? Because this book can fulfill an initial role not only of countering one of the “victories” of neoliberalism — in separating the fight against oppressions from an overall fight against capitalist exploitation — but also open a debate with the left itself. So that trans people can also combat these distortions of Marxism, retaking the revolutionary path. The trans folks on the front line of the international class struggle from Myanmar to Colombia are proof that in the face of every economic crisis, it is the sectors most oppressed by the old that seek to build a new world.

It is precisely for this reason that it is important to critically assess the international left, which

over the last few years can be roughly divided into two blocs that can be seen practically in the left’s response to the recent and incredible Black Lives Matter movement, which spread to the whole world after the racist murder of George Floyd, opening a fundamental questioning of one of the main capitalist institutions — the police — in the heart of imperialism. It opened a questioning of all forms of oppression and a focus on Black trans oppression, without tens of thousands marching in New York City under the banner “Black trans lives matter.” BLM had important expressions of confluence of the Black movement with the labor movement, such as the bus drivers who refused to take demonstrators to jail or the dock workers and many other workers who began to demand the removal of the police from their unions. 

The sectors of the left that did not pay attention, or give importance to this movement, are not leftists or socialists. These reductionists who talk say discussions of oppression “divide” the working class are not socialists at all. 

Others who participated in the movement did not try to strengthen this between oppressed sectors and workers, to develop the self organization of the movement in workplaces and schools. Instead, the movement was led to an electoral realm: limited to electing Joe Biden and Kamla Harris, — the first Black woman to bomb Syria — and as we have seen recently, also gave her support to the massacre of the Palestinian people.

These reflections, in some way, are present in my essay in the book, “Notes From Brazil,” which

was written in 2019, and I invite everyone who wants to understand how we got into this

situation in Brazil to read it. But the main theoretical reflection about Brazil that seems to me

important to share here is that we are in the most reactionary pole of the world, with

more than 400,000 dead by coronavirus, and Brazil is the country that kills the most trans people in the world. Life expectancy for trans people fell from 35 to 30 years during the pandemic. 

And from this situation, it is important to think about the problems of the anti-oppression movements that position themselves outside of politics. For example, some feminist or LGBTQI+ groups did not see the importance of acting against the coup in Brazil because it was not an agenda restricted to our oppressions. By doing this, these groups fell into the trap of this progressive multiculturalism full of neoliberal attacks, which had as a consequence a greater precariousness for the lives of trans people and even led to the reactionary Bolsonaro rising to power. 

On the one hand, there are two fundamental international tendencies that obstruct the path of our emancipation today: the repression and marginalization of our identities represented by Bolsonaro, and the neoliberal cooptation that seeks to reduce our aspirations the narrow capitalist margins, represented by the Supreme Court and the O Globo media network.

And so, I hope that this book can also serve to contribute to what kind of organization we need to overthrow capitalism and liberate trans identities and all of our sexual potency. Would it be a party like the ones that have been appearing around the world, like Syriza and Podemos, which create illusions that we could confront attacks through electoral means and ended up, in a few years, being the very agents of the economic adjustments against the working masses?

Or, as we see today the crisis of the French NPA, which, as part of these broad parties, has led to important debates within the French left. I cannot go into this too much, but the NPA is considering now running it’s own, independent, anti-capitalist candidate— refusing to put forward a left alternative in the polarization between Macron and Le Pen. In opposition to this, we who build the Trotskyist Fraction Fourth International have been at the forefront of the debates within the French left and have been the front line in the U.S. of the struggles for Black Lives Matter denouncing the deviation that Biden’s election sought to co-opt this new questionings into the institutions of the rotten American regime. In France, it is this battle that we are giving as CCR. In Chile, we are also denouncing the deviation of the mobilizations of 2019 in this Constituent Constituent, and in Brazil, we debated with the PSOL that their following the PT without countering the role they play in the class struggle will not be able to build a way out for our demands. In each of these countries we struggle for the self-organization of the working class together with the social movements to be able to confront all forms of oppression and exploitation is the contribution that we also want to give in the trans-anti-capitalist struggle.

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