Toward a unifying struggle against capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression

Raju J. Das,
Robert E. Latham,
Lilia D. Monzó

Summary: Raju Das and Robert Latham interview Lilia D. Monzó, author of “A Revolutionary Subject: Pedagogy of Women, of Color and Indigeneity.”

Robert Latham: Today we have the honor of speaking with Lilia Monzo who’s a professor in
the Education program at Chapman University in the Greater Los Angeles area. She’s the author
of the book, A Revolutionary Subject Pedagogy of Women, of Color and Indigeneity, and has
written numerous articles such as “Confronting Colonial Representations of Latinas: Developing
a Liberation Praxis,” “The Dialectic in Marxist and Freedom for Today” and “The Immutable
evidence that Capitalism is Racist and Misogynist,” which recently appeared in the Monthly
Review.

Raju Das: We would like to begin our conversion by asking you to tell us what you have been
writing about over the last five to 10 years in terms of society and its major problems. In other
words, we would like you to give healthy glimpse of your stimulating scholarship that has been
published within the US and internationally, so the listeners and readers can have a context to
better understand what you will address in the second part of the conversation.

Lilia Monzo: Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my work and some of my
thoughts on some obviously important issues, particularly in these dangerous times. My move
towards becoming more of a Marxist began not that long ago, really about five years ago or so.
I’ve always been a critical scholar, but really delving into the ideas of Marx was something that I
came to under the tutelage of Peter McLaren, who’s a good colleague, friend, and a mentor. And
then beyond Peter, I have maybe in the past five years or so been highly involved in the
International Marxist-Humanist Organization.

I’m highly involved in that organization and have been highly influenced by the foundational
work of Raya Dunayevskaya, if you know her work. There’s a lot of things that you can say
about her work. Other influences include the work of CRL James. In my view Marx is a real
humanist and this is a side that I think was missing in much of Orthodox Marxism. This
humanism comes out of the 1844 Manuscripts and this recognition of what it means to be human
and of our potential as human beings – and the fact that capitalism deforms us, it turns us into
things. We’re so alienated that we become lost to our own creative labor, and to our own sense of
what it means to be a human being. We lose our interconnectedness with other human beings and
other life forms.

We can’t take for granted who we are when we purchase something. The fact that that something
contains and is embedded with human energy and human creativity and human potential. Those
connections also can allow us then to know better the atrocities that go on in the world. That we
are makers of and subject to history has been a really important aspect of my development as a
Marxist.

In the last few years I’ve really been involved in looking at the dialectic between philosophy and
organization and this is, to me, foundational to so many other things that stem from it. This stems
basically from Raya Dunayevskaya’s work, and bears on how we can look at the dialectic
between intellectuals – I mean people like us who work as academics etc – and organization in
the sense of people that are actually of the working class. These are people that are
predominantly oppressed, whose exploitation is such that they are the ones that are likely to risk
their livelihoods for the betterment of society. They are living proof of the atrocities and also
have within them a capacity to strike, to challenge the status quo in a way that that many of us,
although we profess to want to, may not have the will to do so. We are in some ways too
embedded in institutions of power.

Even myself growing up as a woman of color, a Latina woman in the US, with immigrant roots,
with parents who don’t speak English and still live in very much a working class community.
Even I, based on my own educational trajectory, have spent so many years reading books that it
sort of separates us, even me, to some extent from really understanding what drives some people
and drives their passions. What is it that moves people to actually change the world? And what
are some of their limits in terms of moving forward in society dialectically. That has been some
something I’ve been writing about and looking at in relation to the notion of the theory of state
capitalism.

When we forget that dialectic, when we forget that the intellectual actually needs to learn from
the people, then we’ve created inadvertently, this relation of domination that continues to exist,
even when we profess to be looking for forms of liberation or socialist alternatives. This can be
in conditions where, for example, women’s liberation is put on a back burner to capitalist social
relations and changing an economic system. That can be a class reductionism that ignores say
women’s liberation or maybe not ignores it but considers it secondary or a byproduct of the
economy.

What you end up with is that the foundations of relations of domination remain. How do you
profess to be for liberation and then go home and continue in a family context that is patriarchal
– even though that patriarchy is so subtle, right? People can’t really put their finger on it so
easily. So it doesn’t look to the world as patriarchy. Because, you know, men are cleaning dishes
and et cetera, right? Like that’s not necessarily what patriarchy is about. Though these are
embedded values. They are a function of the development of human hierarchies.

Raya Dunayevskaya argued that these relations of domination are also at the foundation of many
revolutions, and can result in a revolution that turns into its opposite, which we’ve actually seen
in most of our so-called socialist experiments. This idea that some people presume to know
better than the workers themselves. To be able to say this is the way the revolution has to go and
has to develop right? Whether it is claimed by intellectuals because of their philosophical
development as academics. Or whether for some men there is an assumption that economics is
more important than the oppression of women. Or whether it is white supremacy and this notion
that racism is a byproduct of capitalist economic relations. This is how relations of domination
remain in place. In all this, you’re basically shifting the power dynamics rather than actually
challenging the system altogether.

I don’t want to be too academic here, but it’s sort of the negation of the negation, right? What I
just described is really at the first negation. But you don’t actually get to challenge the system for
what it stands for, which is the idea of human hierarchies. The idea of relations of domination of
the capitalist class controlling the means of production and human beings that are workers and
produce, always putting forth their energy and their labor for the service of others.

So that’s the work that has moved me into looking at the people first and the current struggle and
movements that are actually gaining traction among the population, right? And if we look here in
the US we can see that historically it’s the Black masses who have been at the forefront of social
movements. This an important part of my work, and looking historically and contemporarily one
adds the role of women in social revolution, right? And in socialist revolutions across the world
we see women as key features. Only recently are their contributions being acknowledged, as
women have entered the fields of history and sociology, political science, etc.
So that gives you an idea of some of my work.

* * *

Robert: Lillia you’ve raised so many issues that speak directly to our second question. And that
is the question of what basically your work implies for today’s living struggles against capitalism
and for the advancement of socialism around the world. By world I mean in in different locales
and sites. You might look at imagining if you’re brought before the workers, what would you tell
them as an equal to them.

Lilia: I think in answering this question I will end up having to go back towards my previous
remarks as this dichotomy, for me at least, is difficult.

I think first of all, one of the things that we need to emphasize today is the question of who are
the workers of the world. And of course, the workers are generally in the global South and many
of them are migrants or immigrants, etc. People who have been pushed out of the global South,
pushed out or taken out through slavery, etc. People who are actually moving in spaces and
facing oppression understand their experiences of exploitation. In my view at least, the social
conditions are present for these people to organize and to collectivize and to begin to make
changes in the world.

We see that there has been some movement and there is growing interest in Marxism in the
young, in the younger population, right? And I think Bernie Sanders also was able to popularize,
or at least make acceptable, even the term socialism, which, prior to that, people couldn’t even
say without raising eyebrows and it’s now entered our language and people aren’t raising their
eyebrows anymore so much, right? But we need to bring the many voices that constitute the sort
of workers we now have in our society.

I work through the lens of critical pedagogy, which is especially relevant to the field of
education. In that I see value in movement to a broader terminology that encompasses more
people and different sorts of identity other than worker, which I think is also part of looking at
who is in the world today, who is moving and who are these people that we need to follow and
learn from. So the Oppressed becomes a terminology that maybe is more acceptable and draws in
more people and within that understanding, we have to see that historically, as I mentioned, the
Black masses have been vanguard.

There is a very strong conception of this that comes from Raya Dunayevskaya’s work, but in my
own work I’ve tried to extend that to look at communities of color, other marginalized
communities, in particular women of color, in our country, but also, across the world.
Historically, women have been highly influential in organizing and coming up with ideas. We
see today the role of women in Black Lives Matter. We have women in the Zapatista movement,
I mean everywhere right? Their influence is critical and they are actually bringing forth ideas
that are different from traditional views – especially ideas about intersectionality.

Such thinking is in movements in Latin America and is very much an aspect of Black Lives
Matter, which of course you know has been now touted as probably the largest movement in
terms of numbers of participation in the United States ever to exist. We see that they are bringing
forth different ways of organizing, different ways of moving and developing ideas. So the notion
of “Reason and force” that comes from Raya Dunayevskaya is about including those voices in
our organizations and learning to listen to women, especially women of color who are coming up
with new approaches and developing ideas related to their understandings of what it is that we
need to be and do to create avenues for change.

One of the things we need to be really thinking about is how to transform some of our ideas into
action. On the left, historically, and even contemporarily, we have seen social movements and
organizations fall apart. The recent #MeToo movement offered women the opportunity to feel
like they could stand up and say, we have sexual harassment within our organizations and we
have the inability to create social conditions where women are not just heard but have their ideas
taken into account and implemented. And this is a huge problem in our organizations that are
predominantly still male dominant and white dominant.

I think that is a crucial aspect of our movement building moving forward. I don’t know if you
want to stop me and ask questions for follow up.

Robert: Maybe it’s a good opportunity for Raju to raise any queries.

Raju: Lilia, you said that prior to your move towards Marxism, you were engaged in what you
called critical scholarship or critical thought. So, there is the move from critical thought or
critical scholarship to Marxism and specifically Marxist Humanism. The question is, in what
ways are the political implications of what you called critical scholarship different from the
political implications of Marxism that you have been attracted towards, and specifically the
Marxism of the type that that you are attracted towards, which is Marxist Humanism? So, what
are the differences in terms of practice or going back to Marx. We can understand the world in
different ways but as you recognize, the point is to change it. From that change angle, how is
critical thought and Marxism different?

Lilia: I think most approaches like critical race theory and other social, cultural approaches I
delved into and worked from tend to be much more reformist oriented. As to their connection to
capitalism there is a tendency to look at class as a cultural phenomenon versus class as structural.
But the basis of our society is not only economic but also affects all aspects of our world
including the social-cultural. Both have material implications as well as ideological ones because
these things are dialectical.

I think one of the things that was the focus of my work and is the focus of many people who do
race work is a focus on anti-race struggle. But I came eventually to realize that there’s a
limitation there because we don’t want to equalize poverty and other forms of oppression so that
everybody, across race and gender and other identities, is seen as equally oppressed, right? What
we want is a liberation for all, liberation from exploitation, from poverty, from world destruction.
So yeah,, I think that’s what drew me to Marxism, specifically the international humanistMarxism. Of note are people who have, I think, been instrumental in contemporary work along these lines Peter Hudis and Kevin Anderson. Those two are amazing scholars and colleagues.

That said, I think increasingly I’m beginning to see that there are important things that we can
learn from those different theories and those focuses that are associated with intersectional work
that’s coming out. We need to really follow movements of the oppressed and what they care
about and what they understand is right and this takes us to identity and theories of identity.
Of course, there is a strong critique of identity politics within the Marxist orientation. And to be
clear I don’t support the identity politics that comes out of postmodernism. There’s a distinction
to be made here. The identity politics that has been sort of popularized in academic fields under
the postmodern movement is about this notion of the multiplicity of individuality. I don’t want to
argue against that work per se, but I think one of its limitations is that by creating this notion that
each of us is so individually different from everyone else we can come to a position where we
don’t know what it is we need to change. And we don’t know how to work together.

There is also an aspect of that work that calls for anti-essentializing most anything. Therefore,
we can’t think of anything that we can sort of rally around. That is problematic. However, I think
that that is predominantly an academic theory. I think for people of color, LGBTQIA+ folks and
women, identities, not in academic fields, are all about finding connections with people as
marginalized human beings, as oppressed and exploited peoples. Relevant here is the way that
Frantz Fanon talks about it, this notion of finding a space where the marginalized can locate their
own humanity, which is not recognized in the world and in our society. Ignoring that which has
grown so important to people of marginalized communities, BIPOC communities, indigenous
communities, etc is really to ignore the Reason and force of these communities.

We need to avoid the sort of intellectualism and elitism that can produce the opposite of the
revolutionary efforts that we want to produce. And so with that in mind some of us are trying to
develop this notion of intersectional Marxism. In that one looks at the reality developed say in
anti-racist struggle and recognize that if you try to get rid of racism you can’t without looking at
class. There’s absolutely no way. But we have to recognize that especially in the US racism is
there foundationally as a nation and that this is the oppression that people rally around.
And the racism question can affect organizing. Recall the occupation movement around 10 years
ago or so. it was criticized predominantly around the idea that it was a leaderless movement and
therefore didn’t have direction etc. and was sort of too spread out. But if you read some of the
work around what fell apart in the movement you learn that we had de facto leaders in the
movement. It fell apart because there was a de facto leadership of white males and I think there’s
something to learn from that.

Also. when you look at the struggle against racism you have to look at women that experience
racism, not just men, right? You have to look at and examine how class relations impact racism
and the fact that racism is really one of the most important tools and mechanisms by which
capitalism remains and maintains itself by dividing people of the working classes. And so,
understanding these relationships between these different oppressions is crucial because it allows
us to galvanize more people towards our own aims and to realize that we don’t have to
necessarily put one first, but that we can recognize that these are in interrelation. We have
interrelated forms of oppression and exploitation that need to be engaged simultaneously. But
that doesn’t mean that some people don’t work towards one more than another. It depends on
what it is that they know and where they’re focused in a particular time and space. This means
that we always have to look at our work and our movements in our organizations in relation to
these various forms of oppression and recognize that these are embedded within the work that
we’re doing.

Raju: So therefore, would you say just to summarize in the way I’m thinking about what you just
said – would you then say that critical thought that is not Marxist is inadequate because it ignores
or under emphasizes class and therefore it ignores or under emphasizes the need to go beyond
class relations and in our society in modern times beyond capitalism.

Robert: I would add the point that with intersectionality there’s a tendency to treat it all as
different registers of oppression that are going on everywhere regarding class, gender, race,
sexuality and this creates silos. Sometimes yes, we can make connections and all that, but the
question I would ask is whether it in the end it makes sense to recognize that there is at a certain
level a relative primacy to capitalism as a central force because it makes the world within which
other forms manifest. And this is where power is ultimately produced and anchored say in the
capital state and so on. There are people who are very committed to intersectionality who very
clearly refuse to go there. And I’m just wondering if you think about this.

Lilia: This is the crucial question that I get all the time, right? But I would refute notions of the
inadequacy of one theory versus another because I think we have things to learn from those
theories, right? I think Marxism if it is class reductionist is inadequate, so I wouldn’t say that
capitalism is foundational because that is the class-reductionist argument, that class relations and
capitalism are sort of the explanatory reason for capitalist relations to have evolved. If you really
look at where capitalism begins you can see that it actually is jumpstarted by colonization.
Certainly Marx talks about this in Capital. The idea that colonization and imperialism are only
primitive forms of accumulation overlooks that he calls it so-called primitive.

You know he was pretty sarcastic in a lot of his writing, right? So this notion of the so-called
primitive is an argument against this idea that colonization and imperialism was only the
jumpstart of capital that really pushes capitalism forward and into slavery, etc. It is not a onetime thing, but actually is a necessary and recurring aspect of capitalism. It is sort of one of the ways in which capitalism rectifies its internal conflict. So if you look at that, if you look at some of the work by Maria Mies, you realize that even before the inception of industrialization you begin to see forms of capital take place that actually brings forth the division and the exploitation of women. So you have to wonder why is it that colonization takes place in the global South?

Why is it that these are spaces where the Other is created under this notion of race, which is a
social construction, of course with all the atrocities that come with that. It’s not just exploitation.
If you read the literature on the colonization of the Americas, and I mean you’re talking about
atrocities that are created and they go beyond the exploitation of capital. Like the cutting off of
limbs of people. The mutilation of Indigenous bodies is unnecessary if all you’re looking for is
capital accumulation. I would argue that this notion of which comes first serves no purpose. I
don’t know what it helps us understand in today’s world. Instead, it continues to divide us in ways
that make our work not tenable for many communities. I mean, most of my colleagues, you
know, women of color and other people of color, do not embrace Marx primarily because of that
idea of class reductionism. It is a deterrent to bringing these ideas forward and bringing Marxism
to these communities that are actually the communities that are out there fighting for some
changes in the structures of our society. It doesn’t help.

Robert: I would only follow up now with the point that what you’re sayings about things like
dismemberment is that certainly it may be driven by other things beyond the accumulation per
se, but it takes place within the world within which it operates, with such logics as accumulation,
commodification, and the various other manifestations of capitalism like trade. So we can have a
racial capitalism.

Lilia: Yeah

Robert: So I don’t think we’re disagreeing necessarily. The question of class becomes
complicated like you say. But as to capitalism per se…I mean there could have been a different
system within which dismemberment could emerge.

Lilia: I think we need to disagree here around your attempt to point out that racism is a qualifier
of capitalism.

Robert: No, it operates within the system that it, itself, is.

Lilia: I think capitalism functions within the system of colonization and imperialism. These
things are very interconnected and I’m still trying to think about, like how do we think about this
notion of racial capitalism. It actually is a racial-colonial capitalism. And then where does gender
fall into that, right? Because of course it’s also misogynist and I would argue that you have the
exploitation of women at the very root of capitalist relations because of course women produce
the special commodity, which is the worker.

I think there is work to be done on thinking about how we come together because I think that the
challenge to global capitalism is a global thing. We can’t actually challenge capitalism at a local
level, right? Or a state level anymore and so the attempt to challenge global capitalism is going
to need to bring all these people forward. All these groups have to come forward to make that
change and to buy into recognizing capitalism as a major structure of our society; and to
recognize its impact differently across groups as with the impact of racism and gender. While
seeing how it is dividing us in a way that doesn’t allow us to connect around capital, around the
challenge to capital or class struggle.

Robert: Capitalism is exactly the area that allows for unification. I think Raju would agree it
speaks, as you said earlier, so well, to there being so many movements that are mobilized around
these different areas and the question is how to unite them, how to make the connections, and to
challenge power and all that is oppressed by it.

Lilia: I think one of the things is if we look widely at social movements, we can see
organizations tied to smaller social movements all over the world. But the ones that have gained
significant attention, you see a significant role that women are playing in these. We see the role
of intersectionality in connecting things. The reason why Black Lives Matter became so large is
because it’s headed by three Black queer women who have been able to pull a membership across
all sorts of people and working class – across people who are interested in class relations,
interested in anti-racism, and interested in or who identify with LGBTQIA+. So this connection
is critical as are the insights that they bring around not just intersectionality in terms of identities,
but intersectionality in terms of inclusion.

So for instance, Rojava, one of the major aspects of their organizing is to be inclusive of
different religions and different languages, So they’ve developed ways in which they can be
inclusive of different ways in which people come together in different epistemologies and find
ways to connect across these differences that historically have been barriers.

Also, they connected through horizontalism; that is, without leaders. Organizing without leaders
is something that needs a lot of continued development. The critique of this is that if you don’t
have some sort of organizational leadership, or hierarchy it’s going to fall apart. Well, you know
the Zapatistas have been around for a long time and they haven’t fallen apart. I think that
unfortunately we’ve been led to believe that leadership is conceptualized in a certain way.
Organizational movements and organizing has been conceptualized in the White man’s ways for
500 years and we haven’t gotten too far. So after a few years of women struggling with this idea
of horizontalism, people are ready to throw it out the window and say this doesn’t work. I mean,
if men have had 500 years can’t we take, you know, a few, maybe 100 years to figure out how
this horizontalism can actually work. I mean, it may not be working now, right? You know there
is division. There are lots of things that are problematic in this notion of horizontalism. But my
point is that women are coming up with these ideas. Why aren’t we listening? Why is it that we
can so quickly denounce it as not workable. What are some different ways to try this out? Why
don’t we study this? I mean as academics, why don’t we study this? And that’s the idea of being
inclusive of not just listening to those voices and putting BIPOC bodies in those places, but
actually taking up those ideas that diverge and bring new insights into our movements. Why not
bring new blood and breathe new life into them.

Robert: Thank you, Lilia for addressing the second question directly with great enthusiasm.
Raju do you have any final comments?

Raju: I have many questions but I’m sure we’ll have many future conversations in the interest of
time we should maybe bring this to the to a conclusion. So again, thank you so much for
spending time with us.

Lilia: Thank you so much. It is really a joy that I’m in your project!

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