Identity politics addresses some problems, but reinforces others
If you ask the average American what it means to be a part of the left-wing, you will receive a myriad of answers – to vote Democrat, to not vote at all, or to throw bricks through Starbucks’ windows. But the majority will be sure of one thing: it means the a rmation of all personal identities, whether that concerns the addition of a third type of bathroom or cultural parades and celebrations.
This is in stark contrast to definitions of the past. Only in the 21st century has the idea of personal identity so dominated the discourse of the left. Before, while dialogue did acknowledge the existence of issues surrounding race, gender, and nationality, it was predominantly in regard to the universal struggle that linked all of them.
The Young Lords, Black Panthers, and Feminist groups of the 60’s and 70’s were all united in their critique of not only the policies of the standing government, but also of the material conditions giving rise to those policies. That is, the rationality inherent to the economic system of capitalism and the class con ict maintained by its structures.
Today, the collectivity previously gained by the left of the past has been eroded away. In its place has come the atomization of emancipatory political groups, as the failure to focus on their common interest has led towards the exacerbation of differences. The environmental damage and devastating social implications of the system a ect everyone, but the efforts people on the left today make are founded on the interest of parts of the whole. It is only by chance that they nd themselves upon issues that are universal in nature as it is not in the fundamental character of such leftist groups to pursue such struggles other than for charity which surely would not suffice for the class struggle. This plays into the hands of the ruling class, as the divided masses have a reduced potential to challenge them as they pursue their class interests. By denying the impact of capitalism, these groups lose their radical character and fall into the logic of liberalism – that the project today is to construct “capitalism with a human face,” a society in which black and white men and women may be equally exploiters and exploited.
There is a great di erence between the con icts stemming from identity and those of class. Identity politics is the politics of coexistence – it is the project to recognize the other and tolerate him/her. The scope of identity politics, therefore, ends at universal acceptance of iden- tities within the existing framework of society. For this reason, it cannot incorporate class into its analysis; for it is not a solution to the class antagonism for workers to be fully recognized as workers nor for capitalists to be fully capitalists. Each form of oppression has its necessary response.
While this might mean incorporating previously marginalized identities into mainstream culture for is- sues regarding oppression based on identity (as it were for the Irish, and the LGBTQ+ and black movements today), it does not mean it should be applied to all of society’s problems. No one would question how ludicrous it would sound to propose that serfs and kings settle their dispute by coming to a mutual understanding and ac- cepting each other for who they are thereafter – still serfs and kings in their day-to-day practices, but more sensi- tive members of society nonetheless.
It is by no accident that class issues have been removed from the discourse on the left, or that identity issues have been emphasized. As such practices are useful to the ruling class, it should come as no surprise that they have been extensively involved in procuring such tendencies on the left.
Gloria Steinem, for example, was directly on CIA payroll when she was identi ed by corporate media sources as the leader of the U.S. women’s movement, without having any prior experience in feminist groups or campaigns. She, along with agents in infiltrating black community groups, aimed to convince women to split o into their own organizations throughout the 70’s. The ultimate result of the ruling class in uencing the discourse of the left sees that things that would alleviate people’s economic conditions are not brought to the table. The ruling class has changed what it means to be radical in such a way that one can consider themselves left-wing and a proponent of liberation without a critical
opinion on employment, healthcare, and education. To claim that these are not important aspects of one’s life, or are less important than the recognition of identity, is absolutely false.
To be clear, none of this is to say that it is wrong to create identity groups, and pursue the emancipation of genders or races from whatever oppression faces them. What must be realized is that these groups go only so far in attracting the public and creating a liberating movement. Many heterosexual white people today in the United States are upset with the acts of expression enjoyed by many previously marginalized groups. This is not out of hatred for the other, but jealousy. The culture of the average white American is nonexistent – or rather, out of their hand. It is commercialized, appropriated by the corporate media, and turned into a commodity. The identitarian left is already on the path to this commodi- cation. One can blatantly see corporations and mainstream politicians supporting the LGBTQ+ movement, among others. What future do these present movements seek but contribution to the cultural depression already prevalent with American society?
Proper leftist programs ought to be constructed by public. The people need organizations that facilitate an acknowledgment of the shared experience of oppression as an element in the overall struggle to create a universal emancipatory collective. The working class lives in a so- ciety founded on the exploitation of their labor, wherein the rationality of capital decides how to sell its products back. The demands of pro t, the need for growth, has dehumanized the economic system and thus the lived experience of the average person. It is necessary for the left today to emphasize the struggles that bind all of us, and not those that might drive us apart.