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Identity Politics and the left.


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Does identity politics do the left wing any favours?

 

Just throwing this out there about this after reading an article earlier. I fall on the side of sorting out class differences will sort everything out. 

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38 minutes ago, Merzbow said:

Have you watched this by any chance? Ignore the joker shit, she's taking the piss.

 

I haven't. I'll give it a view though. 

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There's a bit of a divide on the Left (unsurprisingly), especially amongst POC (and yes, I hate using this wanky Yank term, as much as I hate using BAME), as to whether or not identity politics is damaging or not. 

Was the article you read the one about Adolph Reed? https://ncrc.org/the-new-york-times-a-black-marxist-scholar-wanted-to-talk-about-race-it-ignited-a-fury/

He makes powerful points, and they are without doubt worth taking into account when discussing the various civil rights movements. It's important to bear in mind that many of the notable figures in the movement, such as Mandela, Malcolm X, MLK, etc., often have their historical links with socialism and socialist organisations erased whenever they're talked about - most of the time because those discussing them are either Liberals or soft Right who want to be seen to be acknowledging their contributions while downplaying their actual political viewpoints that criticise the system that these commentators espouse.

The problem for me, however, is that there is enough historical precedent to suggest that, even when all-out revolution occurs, there are still people left behind or excluded from the new paradigms. The French Revolution was a key case in point: when news of the revolution reached Haiti, many of the slaves there cast off their chains in anticipation, only to be told that the great declaration of liberté, egalité et fraternité didn't include them. In fact, Haiti had to go into full-scale revolt to get its freedom, and the "reparations" they had to pay France for the loss of "their" land was only paid in full a few years ago, a couple of centuries later, with the country a basket-case riven with poverty. Women didn't get much of a better deal, either.

Of course, there is the argument that the French Revolution was a bourgeois one, and therefore not truly "Left" (although I'd argue that, with world politics the way it was at the time, it was probably about as left a movement was going to get in Europe), but there are other examples. Homosexuals, for example, were still no less criminalised in the Soviet Union and Cuba than they were in the West. And the union movement in many Western countries has had extensive, systemic problems with racism. James Baldwin, amongst other black commentators talked about how black people in America weren't welcome in unions there, and I know from numerous people in the UK union movement, including my mum, that racial discrimination tribunals occur with depressing frequency.

The overall impression I get when reading or viewing material from left-wing POC is that, whilst there is confidence that things would in all probability be better if there was a true paradigm shift to eliminate class, history has given them enough reason be wary and say "Well, we're not going to abandon the discourse on identity yet; we need to keep the Left honest".

The Black Socialists of America (who have an excellent website with resources for anyone who wants to read about socialism in general, not just for black people: https://blacksocialists.us/) make a very good case rather succinctly:

 

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I don't disagree with Carbomb, though would point out that really what the Black Socialists come down to there is "capitalism is the problem", and not a million miles away from Butchi's "sorting out class differences will sort everything out".

I think identity is important - if only because we have to recognise that, for all they use it as a pejorative, the right-wing play identity politics more than anyone, and you need to know what they're bringing to the conversation. Class and economics underpin everything, but I think the danger is in the risk of leaving out minority voices that may have other concerns outside of that which can be solved economically - as we all know, racism and prejudice aren't rational, so don't always fit neatly into boxes marked "problem" and "solution".

A lot of this comes down to the idea of the "End Of History"; that after the collapse of the USSR, the economic battle had been "won", and Capitalism was here to stay with no significant leftist alternative, and that meant that the focus of the nominal left moved on to social progressivism above and beyond economic reform. I think any Left of the 21st Century should be attempting to marry the two - a socialist state and economic reform doesn't necessarily lead magically to the kind of progressive wins that the last few decades have seen, in terms of gay marriage, anti-discrimination laws and so on. But what it can do is allow for community organisation that then can work towards tackling social issues. They need to go hand-in-hand.

 

Going back to the right wing using identity politics, they've played an absolute blinder by redefining "working class" as a cultural identity rather than an economic reality. You can see landlords, property owners and businessmen interviewed in the newspaper as representing "working class views" because they're white and have the right accent, while recent immigrants, ethnic minorities and others who find themselves in the lowest economic brackets and at greatest risk of poverty are never factored into either right wing or liberal authentocrat moralising about "the working class". When politicians and commentariat talk about "the working class" they're almost invariably leaving out the unspoken word "white", and I think it's important that all of this be address and reconfigured into a genuinely leftist world-view, rather than playing into the hands of those who want to play white working class against immigrant or ethnic minority working class. And I think a progressive identity politics working hand-in-hand with class politics is more likely to tackle that narrative than just pretending it doesn't exist.

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1 hour ago, BomberPat said:

I don't disagree with Carbomb, though would point out that really what the Black Socialists come down to there is "capitalism is the problem", and not a million miles away from Butchi's "sorting out class differences will sort everything out".

Oh, I agree that capitalism is definitely the problem, and I believe a true solution will involve a genuine, system-wide change. I'm just pointing out that many black socialists, or socialists of any ethnicity, still have discourses on identity because they've experienced enough or learned enough about history to tell them it's never a given - as you go on to say in your next paragraph, racism and prejudice aren't rational. That kind of hatred is something that gets inculcated over a long period of time, to the point where it becomes cultural, and we ignore the influence of culture at our risk.

Also, more than from the right, the real danger is from those on the left for whom identity has been a blind spot. We've seen enough of that over the years, with, as mentioned above, the problems with racism in trade unions, the likes of George Galloway being rape apologists and Ken Livingstone spouting anti-semitic tripe. There needs to be more discipline.

Edited by Carbomb
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A very interesting topic and a good one for the left the get to grips with rather than the conversation devolving into shouting and reprimanding (Though I suppose being on the left this is our go to stance!)

I think one of the biggest issues is the perception of identity politics and what it is. It gets caught up in the whole culture war bollocks that seems to rage every 6 months or so, where people cry for a meritocracy in the belief that people are just being given roles or positions who are unqualified because they fill a quota. I think that's partly down to the media/right wing narrative and the use of language from corporations.

I'm probably not making myself clear here and I apologise for that. Its quite an issue to wade through.

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4 hours ago, Carbomb said:

Also, more than from the right, the real danger is from those on the left for whom identity has been a blind spot. We've seen enough of that over the years, with, as mentioned above, the problems with racism in trade unions, the likes of George Galloway being rape apologists and Ken Livingstone spouting anti-semitic tripe. There needs to be more discipline.

Yeah, I think there's a significant blindspot where being on the left makes people see themselves as "the good guys", and actively anti-racist. And if you think you're the good guy, and that the other lot are the racists, it's very easy to brush off criticism with "I'm not a racist, they're what racists look like", rather than allowing for self-examination. I think that's a different issue to how the right weaponise identity politics for, as Factotum said, culture war bollocks.

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