Progressives Are Replacing Class Conflict With Intersectional War

By Emmanuel Sessegnon

Earlier this year, a Gallup poll showed that one in four Americans now support the failed economic system called socialism. Among young people, support is even more pronounced. The trend is grim. In 2010, 68 percent of them viewed capitalism positively. Today only around 45 percent still do, with a slight majority favoring socialism.

Many people attribute this rise to Bernie Sanders. After all, it was his 2016 presidential bid that brought policies like Medicare-For-All and college debt “forgiveness” to the national spotlight. There’s obviously no doubt that he dragged the Democratic party to the left. 

His brand of progressivism, however, is slowly being replaced by that of a self-named group called “The Squad” – four progressive congresswomen who have dominated the headlines in recent months.

Consisting of representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar, this group takes a more intersectional approach to socialism – which is to say that they have embedded identity politics more deeply into their vision than had previously been the case in mainstream socialist doctrine. 

While Bernie continues to rail against the infamous “one percent,” the progressive congresswomen have pushed for the abolition of private health care, vast spending expansions, unrelenting attacks on what remains of free enterprise, as well as the deep politicization of race and gender identity and any other form of biologically based identifiers one can possibly name. 

The Democratic presidential primary seems to reinforce this narrative. Bernie has been falling in the polls since the debates. In his place, Kamala Harris has been quickly rising. Why? Likely because of her clash with Joe Biden on race. When she challenged him for his record of opposing certain desegregation efforts (such as busing), she struck a chord with progressives that helped bury her (relatively) conservative views on economics. 

The new acid test on the left is whether and to what extent their leadership is willing to go beyond class conflict alone to invoke intersectionality as the dominant creed, pitting every conceivable combination of traits against every other. The vision here is wildly ideological, conceptualizing society as a roiling cauldron of confusion and chaos that positions every “marginalized” group mixture as a victim of a ruling class archetype of the privileged (and probably heterosexual) white male. 

For this new generation of intersectional socialists, moreover, it’s not enough to simply be the right skin color. Older democrats like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama largely benefitted as a result of their identity alone. However, with women like the governor of Alabama banning abortion, and Hispanic men like Ted Cruz opposing immigration, the new left has learned to avoid seeing someone as an ally based solely off of their biological identity. 

Ayanna Pressley put it best when she said it like this, “We don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice.” By “brown voice” she of course means a voice advocating for policies she supports. If you’re a brown voice like Kanye West, who committed the cardinal sin of liking Trump, then you are just putting on a “minstrel show

The enemies of Sander’s socialism are the rich. The enemies of the Squad’s socialism are rich white men (and any person of color that doesn’t agree). Therein lies the difference. 

So when Ocasio-Cortez talks about the Green New Deal as a form of racial justice, she isn’t pandering. For her, economics and racial justice are connected. The same is true for the rest of her colleagues. Ilhan Omar put this on the front page of her website: “Join our movement for racial, social, environmental, and economic justice”. 

Not only is their socialism influenced by their intersectionality; their intersectionality is influenced by their socialism. It isn’t a coincidence that the same group of people who hate the rich have begun to dabble in anti-semitism. Both Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been criticized by their fellow democrats for multiple anti-jewish remarks

The intersectional brand of socialism is harder to defeat because it is based almost entirely on emotion. If someone’s arguments are purely economic, then there is some hope that economic data can change their minds. But if their economic views are directly connected to their sense of racial and social justice, changing their mind is almost impossible. This is because the latter are moral issues, which inherently defy objective analysis. I can't look at a graph and know whether or not reparations are “morally correct.”

When viewed this way, one gains insight into why Bernie is somewhat anti-immigration. In an old-school socialist mindset, bringing cheap labor into the country by the millions undercuts american workers and only serves to help the big corporations. To him, the idea of open immigration is nothing but a plot by the Koch Brothers

The socialism of Ocasio-Cortez, on the other hand, embraces immigrants. Her followers see them as victims of American intervention in Latin America, and see taking them in as a form of justice.

Johnathan Haidt, social psychologist and author of The Coddling of the American Mind, gave a brilliant Ted Talk on the moral roots of the two parties. If you have the time, this video is very illuminating.


In case you don’t have time, the video above talks about the importance of one word: fairness. Specifically, it addresses the way in which the word means two very different things to the left and right. The right focuses on fairness related to one’s efforts (if you work hard you deserve to be wealthy). Progressives see fairness as being related to equality of outcomes. They assume that any difference in outcomes between two groups is the result of some form of unfairness. 

With that worldview, it’s obvious that the wage gap is caused by sexism, not differing life choices between men and women. And that reparations for slavery are the right thing to do, no matter how much they cost. And, of course, that third-world poverty isn’t caused by underdevelopment and poor monetary policies, but by capitalism and imperialism. 

This results in proposals that leave economists scratching their heads. The Green New Deal would cost between fifty and ninety trillion dollars. In both Seattle and New York City, experiments with a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage have hurt the same workers those policies claimed to be supporting. Progressive tax and spend policies have failed France so badly that riots broke out in the streets earlier this spring.

But none of this matters to them. As long as their policies are morally correct, advocates for more government tend to ignore the effect that more government brings.

What they don’t understand is that market institutions produce socially optimal outcomes. When the invisible hand of the free market is allowed to operate, competition increases innovation and decreases prices. Since the Industrial Revolution, this process has led to unprecedented prosperity in what is often referred to as the “hockey stick” of human prosperity. 

But with a progressive worldview, this change is hard to see. After all, if income inequality is increasing in much of the industrialized world, and your worldview is based on equality of outcomes, that’s all that matters.

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Emmanuel Sessegnon

Emmanuel Sessegnon is an intern at the American Institute for Economic Research, a writer for The Libertarian Republic, and Young Americans for Liberty's DC State Chair. He is currently studying Political Science at George Washington University.