Socialist Worker

‘Community’ is no way to fight against oppression

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2621

Do you have to be Jewish to define antisemitism?

Do you have to be Jewish to define antisemitism? (Pic: Guy Smallman)


The attacks on Jeremy Corbyn over his support for Palestine have involved a lot of talk about the “Jewish community”.

Until earlier this month, the Labour Party did not say describing Israel as racist was antisemitic.

Supporters of the Israeli state said this position offended the “Jewish community”.

Behind this is an attempt to equate Jewishness with Zionism, the founding ideology of Israel.

But many Jews oppose Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. There is a wide range of opinion among Jewish people just as there is among all groups.

There is not one Jewish “community” that thinks, acts and lives the same way, just as there isn’t a “Muslim community” or a “black community”.

The idea of a “community” implies that some shared characteristic, such as religion or race, gives people a common interest. But this completely ignores class.

All women experience sexism, but rich women bosses or the queen don’t have the same class interests—or lives—as working class women.

Billionaire boss Mohammed Ibrahim is listed as one of the top 500 influential Muslims in the world. His life of luxury is a million miles away from that of working class Muslims.

Understanding

The idea of communities gives the impression that someone’s religion, race, gender or sexuality is the key to defining and understanding them, not their class.

It ties ordinary people and the rich together by suggesting that shared characteristics means they have shared interests.

It’s linked to the argument that you have to be a member of an oppressed group to understand that oppression. So, Corbyn’s critics argued that he had no right to define antisemitism because he isn’t Jewish.

It’s true that oppression shapes experiences. Men won’t know what it’s like to directly experience sexism, for instance.

But suffering oppression doesn’t give you an automatic understanding of it—or an interest in fighting to end it.

Theresa May says she’s a feminist. But she is part of a class that fights to uphold a system that oppresses women.

Frederick Engels, on the other hand, understood that women’s oppression is rooted in class society and campaigned to end it.

For socialists, a vision for a better world sits alongside the fight against of sexism, homophobia and racism today.

It’s understandable why people who suffer oppression may conclude that they need to stick together.

Bigger

Muslims who suffer Islamophobic abuse in the street may feel safer staying in areas with bigger Muslim populations.

Women who suffer violence at the hands of men may think that men in general are a problem and want to organise separately.

But dividing people up based on their various characteristics makes it harder for ordinary people to unite against their common enemy—the rich.

We need to get rid of oppression. And since it is rooted in capitalism, that means we have to challenge the system.

The ruling class has an interest in protecting the system—even if some of its members experience some oppression within it. Working class people, whatever their religion, race or sex, have a common interest in uniting to get rid of it.

They also have the strength, numbers and collective experience to overthrow capitalism and build a new society free from oppression.


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