Anarchism, at its most advanced stage, takes into account all living creatures, but typically we concern ourselves with other humans. Intersectional theory comes from feminism and is applied to women only, but anarchists have used the term intersectionality to apply to all humans since, in theory, their realm of concern is that broad.
It is worth recognizing that fact and building a recursive understanding of what intersectionality looks like under anarchist and feminist frameworks, since the term is so poorly understood and often is used as a weasel word for the tallying mechanism of competing oppressions, or Oppression Olympics.
To anarchists, oppression is any act which denies one freedom. But this is an incredibly vague notion and leads to the antithesis of anarchism if it is not further clarified, since in the oppressor’s mind, oppression is their kind of freedom. First, the distinction between oppression and abuse should be made.
Abuse is the “oppression” of an individual. Actual oppression is a social phenomenon, affecting large groups of people who have something in common, such as a religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, or disability. In any given context, the distinction between the abused and abuser, and oppression and oppressor, can be made clear by who holds control over that person or people.
If it is an external individual or social group exercising control over that individual or social group, then that is abuse or oppression, respectively. Control, however, is fundamental to freedom, in the sense of an individual being able to control their own self, or a social group being able to control, direct, or determine their own destiny. This is reflected in the principle of worker cooperatives, self-management.
Understanding freedom by observing who is in control of what and whom helps us understand the difference between states of unfreedom such as chaos and tyranny. It is in setting appropriate boundaries between self and other, and selves and others, that the distinction between freedom and abuse is made obvious. Freedom from tyranny is the freedom that genuine anarchists speak of.
Tyranny is the control of others. Tyranny is undesirable because it leads to harm and distress. Chaos is the lack of control over oneself or one’s own destiny. Tyranny, in fact, is a state of chaos. Tyranny is what anarchists refer to when they speak of “social hierarchies”, yet this catchall term needs to be interrogated because anarchists themselves often don’t define social hierarchy beyond the infantile “I don’t like it and I can’t change it”.
Now as for intersectionality, the word was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe the colliding forms of oppression experienced by women of color. I think it is not a bad idea to have an anarchist reconception of intersectionality, but its origin must be acknowledged, especially when we talk about feminism.
Anarchists need to know that feminism and the concepts that serve it should not be equivocated with anarchism, and should not be surprised when concepts do not translate over well. A simple diagram could explain why.
Anarchism, the overarching theory of freedom. Anarchism is a humanist political philosophy.
Feminism, the theory of the liberation of women from patriarchy.
Black liberation, the theory of the liberation of black people.
Marxism, the theory of the liberation of workers.
Abolitionism, the theory of the liberation of slaves.
X liberation, the liberation of X people.
And so on.
Reductionism is what we call when any given struggle for liberation is prioritized over another, or over all others. Let me be clear, this does not mean that the individual cannot hold subjective biases towards particular liberations. In fact, that is necessary for the purpose of conserving time and energy.
That is not reductive. In the big picture of anarchist theory and priorities, which requires the juggling of all liberations, reductionism is what leads to civil war and the dissolution of anarchist society, when for example the liberation of people of color is privileged over the liberation of women, so that it is deemed acceptable for men of color to be sexist towards women. Or as another example, when lesbians deny their womanhood and privilege homosexuality as more important than women’s liberation.
Or the classic class reductionism in which workers are deemed more important than women, or homosexual people. Aside from the fact that reductionism often leads to heinous acts, neither liberation is more or less important than the other.
In fact the very question of “which human is essentially more important than the other” is the antithesis of the anarchist way of life, and ideally these interests should never be made to compete, especially because people are often part of multiple groups and cannot be made to choose sides. Anarchism must acknowledge our interconnectedness.
Reductionism is when an understanding of intersectionality breaks down, and through it hierarchies begin to form through battles between groups of competing interests, using their oppressed status as commodities or social capital. It is an altogether narcissistic social affliction, blurring healthy boundaries between groups and ultimately enabling oppression.
Anarchism cannot survive it, not even the specific liberation movements favorable to anarchism can survive it without turning into something else entirely.
I am often shocked that so many people in liberation movements only understand what liberation for themselves means, rather than having a holistic notion of what freedom means. So I hope that this offers clarity.