2021, issue 2
Enough with the Caricatures: Now is the Time for Solidarity
Janneke Toonders
Marxism, Intersectioality, Capitalism, Activism,
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 License International License (CC
BY 4.0). © 2021 The author(s).
Krisis 41 (2): 143-147.
Review of
Ashley J. Bohrer. 2019. Marxism and Intersectionality:
Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under
Contemporary Capitalism. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag.
1432021, issue 2
Enough with the Caricatures: Now is the Time for Solidarity
Janneke Toonders
In Marxism and Intersectionality: Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality under Contemporary
Capitalism Ashley J. Bohrer argues that the “work of changing this world will have to
be done in conversation with both of these theories” (27). The book is a monograph
dedicated to bringing Marxism and intersectionality into a long overdue and very
welcome conversation. Bohrer’s personal motivation stems from her dissatisfac-
tion with how these traditions usually approach one another; for, although both are
theories on “the structure of injustice in the world” (19), they tend to approach each
other with derision, resulting in caricaturist (mis)understandings. The book aims to
“move beyond this intra-left stalemate” (14), since a more active engagement between
Marxism and inter sectionality could create the basis for a “theoretical coalition between
perspectives” (23).
The main objective of the book is to understand how gender, race, sexuality,
and class are constituted under capitalism. Capitalism, in this sense, is understood as
“the grammar” of the world, insofar as it produces and maintains a whole range of
oppressive and exploitive practices (14). These practices are particularly structured by
the connections between race, class, gender, and sexuality. To be clear, Bohrer does not
argue that phenomena such as colonization, racism, or heteropatriarchy can be fully
accounted for in an analysis of capitalism. Nevertheless, she contends that such an
analysis is needed for challenging, and hopefully uprooting, contemporary systems of
exploitation and oppression.
Importantly, Bohrer does not believe in the rigid distinction between academia
and activism. Marxism and intersectionality are two intellectual projects that are ded-
icated to causing a radical intervention in the world (21). Noteworthy is the consid-
eration of the history of activism that is present in both Marxism and intersectionality
throughout the book. Thus, while the book is mainly a theoretical exploration of the
two tradi tions, a deliberate eort is made to consider actual struggles and movements.
Bohrer’s appeal to activism is also reected in her own account of a possible shared
future of the two traditions. Ultimately, the book works towards a “coalitional politics”
(253) grounded in a particular understanding of solidarity that will be able to mobilize
a true transformational power.
The desired theoretical coalition is built up in three stages: “Histories”, “Debates”,
and “Possibilities”. Since Bohrer must rst demonstrate how the two traditions can be
drawn together, the rst two parts of the book are mainly devoted to providing a survey
of both perspectives’ thinkers and their theoretical positions. It is important to keep in
mind that Bohrer treats both Marxism and intersectionality as internally heterogeneous
traditions. According to her this allows for a much broader scope, one which includes
thinkers who have contributed to, are in dialogue with, and have been inuenced by,
either Marxism or intersectionality.
The rst chapter especially – cleverly called “Chapter Zero”lays the ground-
work for the book by giving a broad overview of dierent thinkers who had aliations
with both traditions. In doing so Bohrer wants to demonstrate in what sense there
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is a certain historical and theoretical overlap. The main focus of the rst chapter lies
on the period between the 1920s and the 1980s, where critical thinkers came into
contact through shared struggles (41). Bohrer traces the connections between the two
traditions in early twentieth century activism, where there was a “massive upsurge in
black partition in socialist, communist and Marxist organizations in the United States”
(42), to the late twentieth century, where new approaches such as the jeopardy approach
and standpoint theory were developed. Additionally, Bohrer considers the precursors
of intersectionality, since this was only fully developed during the 1980s. The positions
of thinkers such as Claudia Jones, W. E. B. Du Bois, Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and many
more, testify to a certain common ground between the two traditions.
Subsequently, the second chapter explores the full-blown theories of intersec-
tionality, by discussing several “positions shared by most if not all intersectional theo-
rists” despite “internal debates” (85). After discussing ve denitions of inter sectionality
(respectively oered by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Leslie McCall, Patricia Hill Collins, Ange
Marie Hancock, and Vivian May), Bohrer reconstructs “six postulates” that serve as
broad principles on which nearly all intersectional thinkers agree (84, 91). These pos-
tulates are also central to Bohrer’s own argument. Insights such as the “inseparability of
oppressions” (i.e. viewing oppressions as “mutually constitutive”; 91), or the claim that
“oppressions cannot be ranked” (i.e. the “rejection of primacy”; 92) are crucial for the
arguments she makes later on.
Demonstrating that Marxism and intersectionality are not “two completely
exogamous traditions” (78) allows Bohrer to engage more specically with why and
how these traditions diverge in contemporary debates. After all, despite their somewhat
shared history there have been numerous debates between the two traditions. Chapters
three through ve elaborate on these debates, and how they have been dominated by
mutual misunderstanding. Bohrer attempts to show how these misunderstandings are
grounded in certain caricatures rather than in accurate comprehension. She thoroughly
engages with the Marxist critiques of intersectionality which rely on the arguments that
the latter is a form of identity politics, that it is postmodern, and that it is liberal. This
is followed by her discussion on intersectionality’s critiques of Marxism, according to
which Marxism is class reductionist, essentially Eurocentric, and homogenizing of the
Surely these caricatures may be true for some Marxists and for some intersec-
tional thinkers, and as such, Bohrer’s point is not that these caricatures are completely
unfounded. Rather, she believes that the “best versions” of these two traditions have a
certain anity, while the caricatures are much closer to the worst versions (20). These
caricatures – as exacerbated tendencies existing within both traditions should there-
fore be taken as a warning; in this sense, Bohrer argues, their mutual misunderstanding
could actually be quite informative.
While continuing to engage extensively with other thinkers, Bohrer explicates her
argument in the book’s third part. The general aim of this last part is to map new possi-
bilities for theory (academia) as well as for the organization of movements (activism) by
shifting beyond the supposed stalemate. In order to do this, Bohrer begins by examining
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the relation between oppression and exploitation for fully understanding the system of
contemporary capitalism. This is followed by a discussion of the method of dialectics as
a way of reading capitalism’s mechanisms and operations. Finally, in the last chapter, the
question of organization and the notion of solidarity is revisited.
In the sixth chapter, Bohrer rethinks the relation between exploitation and
oppression. On the one hand, structures of exploitation are usually understood as the
systematic taking advantage of workers’ labor and their products. On the other hand,
structures of oppression are seen as forms of systematic subjugation based on race, gender,
sexuality and so on. Generally – though there are certainly exceptions – Marxists have
seen oppression as a consequence of exploitation, while intersectional thinkers have
viewed exploitation as a form of oppression (187, 193). Inspired by intersectionality’s
rejection of hierarchizing oppressions, Bohrer proposes to render exploitation and
oppression as “equiprimordial” (196). From this perspective, capitalism is a system which
has both as its constitutive logics: “they are equally fundamental, equally deep-rooted,
and equally anchoring of the contemporary world” (198-199). Hence, no analysis of a
phenomenon will ever be complete without taking into account the interplay between
oppression and exploitation.
To demonstrate why we should understand oppression and exploitation as
equiprimordial, Bohrer oers the historical example of chattel slavery. Without doubt,
an analysis of chattel slavery must take into account the exploitation of the enslaved’s
labor; this analysis cannot be complete, however, without also considering the racist ide-
ologies that were equally fundamental in sustaining slavery. Chattel slavery was racial-
ized exploitation, but the capitalist prot motive cannot fully account for the structures
of racial oppression. Furthermore, the logics of oppression and exploitation distinc-
tive of chattel slavery were also permeated with gender and sexuality. Hence, Bohrer
asserts: “neither exploitation nor oppression can separately capture the phenomenon”
(200). An equiprimordial analysis can do justice to the multiple yet related shapes of
oppression and exploitation under chattel slavery (without reducing one to the other).
Considering both oppression and exploitation as co-constitutive logics of capitalism (in
all its historical formations), Bohrer thus paves the way for a non-reductive approach.
The following chapter elaborates on how we can understand capitalism’s com-
plexity, since its logics produce all sorts of real contradictions. For example, it “produces
both enormous wealth and abject poverty at one and the same time” (original emphasis;
209). According to Bohrer it is the dialectic method that is capable of navigating us
through capitalism’s muddied waters. First, however, dialectics is critically reconsidered
in order to arrive at the “dialectics of dierence” (225). Bohrer wants to get rid of
two misconceptions concerning the nature of dierence. According to her, both the
liberal tendency to entirely erase dierence, and the neoliberal notion to render us all
completely unique, are dangerous. Such one-sided approaches are incapable of recog-
nizing how capitalism dierentiates and homogenizes us at one and the same time. A
dialectic of dierence, however, can grasp how capitalism is “bringing us simultaneously,
sometimes painfully, closer together and farther apart” (226).
Capitalism’s tendency of concurrent homogenization and dierentiation is,
according to Bohrer, a crucial piece in the puzzle of organizing “political relationships
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of coalition” (232). The last chapter “Solidarity in the House of Dierence” turns
towards the question of solidarity, and how it can recognize both dierence and relation.
The title is a reference to Lorde’s assertion that connection and alliance is found in the
“house of dierence” (2018, 268). While elaborating on Lorde’s claim, Bohrer writes:
“we do not have to bridge our dierence; we already live together in the house of
dierence” (254). In the nal chapter, Bohrer starts by discussing the orthodox Marxist
idea that solidarity ultimately relies on a notion of “commensurability” (233). From this
perspective, however, solidarity is thought to be an articulation of a shared condition or
a unity. The issue with this is that a coalition would only become possible at the very
lowest level of commonality. As a result, moments of dierence or non-unity are either
thought to be secondary or completely irrelevant.
One of intersectionality’s substantial insights is that “solidarity does not have to
be based in commensurability” (249). Indeed, the non-commensurability of positions
is often central to intersectional thinking. As an example, Bohrer briey elaborates on
Crenshaw’s (1989) discussion of the momentous case of DeGraenreid v. General Motors
from 1976. After they were red, ve black women accused the automobile company
of specically discriminating against black women. However, because not all women
(i.e. white women) had been red, nor all black people (i.e. black men), the claim was
rejected. Hence, the court did not recognize the particular ways in which black women
were marginalized, and instead assumed that the “black women’s position is essentially
commensurable with black men and/or white women” (original emphasis; 250).
Not all experiences of oppression and exploitation are similar, shared, or
equally aecting everyone. The problem with a mobilization strategy that assumes a
certain minimum level of commonality, Bohrer claims, is that it can only recognize
“the ways oppression and exploitation aect all of ‘us’” (259). Understanding solidarity
as an expression of shared situation then quickly becomes what she calls a “politics
of the lowest common denominator” (251). Instead of a politics that only requires
action when ‘everyone’ is aected, Bohrer proposes a “coalitional politics” (253) where
solidarity is constructed through both dierence and relation. Arguably, one would not
need to form a coalition at all if everybody already shared the same position. The value
of a coalition lies in its capacity to relate to one another, despite certain dierences that
may exist between communities. A relational solidarity is therefore capable of truly
mobilizing a transformational power:
Capitalism thus links us together, in a tie that binds us, often painfully, in relation
to one another. This moment of relation is the true ground of solidarity. […]
Solidarity is thus the name for arming the dierences that exploitation and
oppression produce within and between us; it is also the name for recognizing
that every time I ght against anyone’s oppression or exploitation, I ght against
my own, I ght against everyone’s (259).
With this plea Bohrer concludes her inspiring book. To stand in solidarity means to rec-
ognize that there are dierent experiences of oppression and exploitation, of silencing and
marginalization. It is the realization that we are all aected by capitalist structures of dom-
ination, but in particular and distinct ways. Solidarity, Bohrer writes, is about “mobilizing
1472021, issue 2
the transformational power of dierential communities” (260). Understanding that various
groups and communities have dierent strengths can help us gain a more complex and
complete understanding of what might be possible. By putting Marxism and intersection-
ality into a conversation Bohrer begins a dialogue that might oer a deeper understanding
of capitalisms structures of oppression and exploitation. In doing so she charts a creative and
exciting path for an anti-capitalist politics.
Marxism and Intersectionality provides an insightful and varied overview of texts, con-
cepts, and thinkers. Even though the reader is exposed to a sometimes overwhelming
amount of information, the book is incredibly easy to follow. Bohrer harnesses insights
from ‘both sides’ at every step of the way. She is therefore, while making her own argu-
ments, in dialogue with a tremendous range of thinkers and their positions. In general I
believe that Bohrer accurately examines the two traditions, and successfully undermines
a number of caricatures, which certainly invites further discussion. In doing so the book
succeeds in clearing a path that begins to move beyond the stalemate. Since Bohrer is
not interested in constructing an “uber-theory” (23), the relationship between Marxism
and intersectionality is one of (theoretical) coalition too.
The book makes an interesting case for why these two traditions should further
engage with each other, and hopefully this will be the start of a much longer and
stimulating conversation. The book is especially interesting for those academics and
activists who are concerned with thinking and articulating new opportunities for an
anti-capitalist politics. For those who are already well-acquainted with Marxist theory
or with intersectional thinking, or with both, the content of some sections in the rst
and second part might already be familiar; the third part, however, is unquestionably
appealing to anyone who wants to unsettle the structures of domination.
Lorde, Audre. 2018. Zami: A New Spelling of My
Name. London: Penguin Classics.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. 1989. “Demarginalizing the
Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist
Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine,
Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. The
University of Chicago Legal Forum (1989): 139-67.
Janneke Toonders is enrolled in the Research
Master in Philosophy at the Radboud University
in Nijmegen. She specializes in social and political
philosophy, with a focus on topics such as post-
Marxism, (symbolic) political representation and