Identity crisis: Leftist anti-wokeness is bullshit

Black Lives Matter supporters and community members march from Minneapolis City

When criticism of ‘identity politics’ is just an argument for class representation under capitalism.

This piece is a response to the wider debates continually raging around identity politics and class. It tackles the writing of Adolph Reed Jr., not because he’s the worst example identity politics critique, but because he’s one of the best.

Adolph Reed Jr.’s critique of identity politics is rooted in an analysis of US capitalism’s response to and co-option of black liberation movements in the ‘70s as a method of demobilisation. He has made extensive investigation into the relationships between race and class, and that ways that a ‘race first’ politics has been used to mediate class struggle in the US.

However by ignoring the class content and revolutionary politics of participants in the ‘60s black liberation movements, Reed ends up at a rejection of revolutionary class struggle as such, in favour of color-blind class representation by union leadership and socialist politicians.

Note: when people talk about ‘identity politics’ they can mean anything from the promotion of individual women and black politicians within the Democratic party, trans bathroom access laws, accountability for sexual abuse, intersectionality, or urban insurrections against police violence. Rather than attempt to limit the definition or use multiple alternatives such as ‘liberal representational identity politics’ vs. ‘communist praxis informed by intersectionality’, this piece will mostly follow Reed in using identity politics to mean one or all of these things at different times, and rely on concrete historical and current examples to delineate.

Reed has been writing critical appraisals of the role of identity politics in American politics for decades. His associate Cedric Johnson’s Revolutionaries to Race Leaders documents the process whereby the radical black movements of the ‘60s were co-opted and demobilised in the ‘70s, leading to a shift by many towards the election of black representatives to local and state governments. John Clegg in the Brooklyn Rail1 discussed the role of black representation in Baltimore via Johnson’s work, in the form of both black police and black local politicians in quelling the protests that followed the police killing of Freddie Gray.

However, Reed goes further than pointing out the importance of the black political class in managing the black working class. Rather, he locates the origins of the black political class in the black liberation struggle itself:

Although black life as a whole has not improved considerably beyond the elimination of racial segregation, in the 1970s certain strata within the black community have actually benefited. This development is a direct outcome of the 1960s activism: of the interplay of the "movement" and the integrative logic of administrative capitalism. And this "gains of the sixties" interpretation cannot spell out what "satisfaction" is because it is itself the ideology of precisely those strata which have benefited from the events of the 1960s within the black community.2

Reed’s examination of this process has led him to reject anti-racist politics as such.3 Instead he argues that class is responsible for maintaining existing racial inequality: hundreds of years of slavery, decades of Jim Crow, redlining etc. have led to a highly racialised US working class. With the advent of ‘color-blind’ policies in the ‘60s and the neo-liberalism’s stripping away of the welfare state and job security in the ‘70s, it is now class that predominantly maintains those racial class divisions by its own logic rather than legalised discrimination:

I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of “artificial” impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.4

With Obama presiding over increased deportations of immigrants, the militarisation of police forces and the tear gassing and rubber bullets fired in Ferguson and Baltimore, that critique of black representation in electoral politics as improving anything for the black working class remains relevant. The Democratic Party machine and liberal commentariat has often met any policy criticism of Cory Booker and Kemala Harris this year with accusations of racism (the figure of the ‘racist, sexist, Bernie bro’ or ‘alt-left’), even when those criticisms come from black social democrats or communists. So, we can see that this strategy of capital continues, and it has picked up charter schools advocate and Campaign Zero founder Deray McKesson along the way, running for Baltimore Mayor in 2016 and endorsing HIllary Clinton for president. This hasn’t only been limited to the Democratic party either, former Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver made a senate bid as a Republican in 1986.5

Reed is not only critical of the black liberation movement, he’s critical of a politics of identity in general:

The Civil Rights and Black Power movements prefigured the coming of this new age; the feminist photocopy of the black road to nowhere was its farcical re-run.6

As I’ve read more of Reed’s work over the past year or so, and seen the way it’s been deployed in discussions about ‘identity politics’, I’ve noticed significant flaws in both his historical narrative and in the solutions he proposes to overcome the limitations of ‘neo-liberal identity politics’. This is coupled with a dismissal of those he criticises as ‘anti-Marxist’, while his own work is peppered with references to the Frankfurt School and Marcuse.

In crafting an historical narrative from black power to ‘Black Faces in High Places’, Reed does not engage with those elements of the ‘60s movements who were resolutely opposed to such a conclusion and recognised the risks at the time.

Fred Hampton was leader of the Black Panthers in Illinois, and was instrumental in organising the Rainbow Coalition, which included amongst others the Young Patriots and the Young Lords. The intent was to unify struggles based on identity along class lines.

Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago Police force in 1969, but while he was only 21 when he died, he was already very clear that black liberation was tied to the abolition of capitalism:

We don’t think you fight fire with fire best ; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’re stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like Hanrahan with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.7

When asked about Fred Hampton in a recent interview about Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bernie Sanders, Reed focused on the most reactionary elements of black nationalism rather than any exposition of what Hampton’s approach entailed.8

Reed has also dismissed “intersectionality” specifically,9 reducing it to merely campus activism and simply an extension of neo-liberal identity politics, ignoring that it emerged as the work of black feminists addressing specifically the failures of struggles in the ‘60s.

In fact it’s hard or impossible to find examples of Reed talking about Hampton, or the organising of groups like the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement or the League of Revolutionary Black Workers at all. The DRUM emerged from two events, the Detroit uprising of 1967, and the wildcat strike of older Polish women and younger black workers at the Hamtramck Assembly plant. It also occurred in the context of revolutionary groups including the Facing Reality group associated with CLR James (in exile in the UK) and Martin Glaberman, and the Corresponding Publishing Committee associated with Grace Lee Boggs (these had been one group until a split in 1962 and both maintained a presence in Detroit).

League of Revolutionary Black Workers

It may be that this is due to an insufficient engagement with Reed’s work and that he does reference these groups. However their existence and ideas pose significant problems for Reed’s solution to the limitations of liberal identity politics. Their focus on the self-organisation of workers against both the union apparatus and employers, reflecting and influencing Facing Reality’s move towards an explicitly anti-state communist position is in direct opposition to Reed’s hope that ‘the unions’ can be revived in a coalition with a socialist party.

If we look at Reed’s interventions in practical politics, he’s been a member of the Interim National Council of the Labor Party, and more recently was involved in the ‘Labor for Bernie’ campaign, here’s him talking about why he got involved:

What appealed to me about the Sanders campaign in general is that I obviously like the stuff that he is saying [...] it in some way is that it became a vehicle for bringing together the people in the labor movement, people with standing and who represent stuff in the labor movement who are themselves ready to try to, once again, push in a direction of creating some independent working class politics.

There is a Labor Party connection. You probably already may have seen that National Nurses United endorsed Sanders. I mean they were part of the Labor Party. The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union is on board. He was a Labor Party guy before he was president. Mark Dimonstein who is the president of the American Postal Workers Union is also a Labor Party activist. There are enough people around with that sort of commitment to building a working class politics.

The Labor for Bernie thing is bringing it together. There is a list of more than 30,000 trade unionists who have signed up for Labor for Bernie. [...]
What a lot of people, especially young people, don’t get is that unless you’re covered by a union contract, the only rights that you have on the job are rights against discrimination. But enforcement of anti-discrimination law is so weak at this point that you may as well say that the only rights that you have on the job are connected with a union contract. 10

The scrutiny and attention to detail that Reed applies to the recuperation of black struggle is unfortunately nowhere to be seen when he starts talking about trade unions or Bernie Sanders. A reckoning with the legacy of DRUM and the LRBW would require confronting that rather than simply an organisation of black workers in a union, they had to fight against both their union (with an entirely white leadership) and their employers.

This isn’t an isolated historical pattern, but is replicated throughout the history of the labour movement both in the US and internationally. Glaberman’s Wartime Strikes shows the struggles of factory workers against the no strike contracts that unions pledged during WWII. Jeremy Brecher’s Strike documents just how many of the mass strikes in US history were wildcat actions against the remonstrations of union leadership from the 1877 railway strike to the post war strike wave.

The IWW since its founding has engaged in ‘solidarity unionism', often organising black and migrant workers when they were excluded from the mainstream trade union movement, and focusing on extracting concessions from employers via the direct action of workers whether or not there was a union contract. IWW Local 8 on the Philadelphia docks was one of the earliest examples. What Reed proposes as a return to class politics reveals itself instead to be a revival of the institutions of trade unions themselves, in a coalition to support socialist electoral candidates. This again ignores the history both of socialist electoral candidates in general, but even the specific history of Bernie Sanders presiding over gentrification and rent increases in Burlington in the ‘80s.

What we see then, is a blaming of ‘identity politics’ for the failures of the struggles of the ‘60s, resulting in black representation in politics as a new form of control. Reed makes no equivalent argument for class politics, even though the histories of struggle and recuperation in the labor movement are very similar.

Rather than ‘identity politics’ as such, I’d locate these failures instead in a politics of ‘representation’ and a focus on the role of workers within rather than against capitalism. Reed locates identity politics as the cause, and representation as the symptom, rather than looking at the role of representation (in union leaderships, party vanguards and yes electoralism) as a consistent theme in the defeat of class movements.

When asked about the mistakes of the Black Panthers, former Panther and anarchist Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin said the following:

I would start at the structure of the organisation. One of the things that always sticks out in my mind is how the BPP failed in terms of the leadership question. The leadership was not accountable to the membership. After it became obvious that Huey Newton was clearly disabled [to put it kindly - suffering from mental paranoia not helped by heavy amounts of cocaine and an overdose of power] we weren't able to remove him.
I think this whole question of cadre organisations as opposed to broad based structures - cadres are just the arms and eyes and ears of the leadership of the structures. Organisations should be broader based; based in and controlled by the community. I guess I'm more in favour of some of the SNCC politics. If you could merge the two and have a broad based organisation with a politically focused and militant stand I think that you've got a chance to build a mass movement and stave off repression.11

Ervin says today as Hampton might have at the time, “there can be autonomy on the one hand (certainly for the black struggle and the women's struggle) - and at the same time there can be class unity”. Autonomous organising based on identity and collective struggle based on class are both foregrounded here, with the criticism located in a lack of accountability in revolutionary organisations and insufficient attention given to either ‘identity politics’ or ‘class’ as causes of division rather than attempts to reconcile the two.


Robin D. G. Kelley discussed the inseparability of identity and class in 1997, in an essay which anticipates much of the discussions of the past 20 years and which you should engage with in its entirety:

I don't know how many times I've been told, "Don't attack them, they're on our side!" [...]The Gitlin/Tomasky group makes the grave error of rendering movements struggling around issues of race, gender, and sexuality as inherently narrow and particularistic. The failure to conceive of these social movements as essential to the emancipation of the whole remains the fundamental stumbling block to building a deep and lasting class-based politics.12

It’s at this point we turn to Reed’s accusation of anti-Marxism:

I’ve been struck by the level of visceral and vitriolic anti-Marxism I’ve seen from this strain of defenders of antiracism as a politics. It’s not clear to me what drives it because it takes the form of snide dismissals than direct arguments. Moreover, the dismissals typically include empty acknowledgment that “of course we should oppose capitalism,” whatever that might mean. In any event, the tenor of this anti-Marxism is reminiscent of those right-wing discourses, many of which masqueraded as liberal, in which only invoking the word “Marxism” was sufficient to dismiss an opposing argument or position.13

We don’t need to defend ‘anti-racist politics’ as ‘Marxist’, our role here is neither to litigate what ‘anti-racist politics’ or ‘Marxism’ are, but to locate struggles based on race and gender firmly within the history of the class struggle.

However, since we risk being lumped into that category of ‘anti-Marxist’ or even ‘neo-liberal intersectional identitarian’, we can look at Marx’s own writing to locate how he considered class relationships:

Even the very early Marx and Engels in 1845 located the proletariat not as a social category to be better represented as a competing interest under capitalism, but one side of a social relationship which must abolish both capital and itself as a class:

The proletariat, on the contrary, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, private property, which determines its existence, and which makes it proletariat. It is the negative side of the antithesis, its restlessness within its very self, dissolved and self-dissolving private property.14

Much later, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme,15 Marx was intensely critical of the Lassallean substitution of the programme of proletarian self-abolition with one for the redistribution of goods under capitalism within the nation state:

[..] only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
I have dealt more at length with the "undiminished" proceeds of labor, on the one hand, and with "equal right" and "fair distribution", on the other, in order to show what a crime it is to attempt, on the one hand, to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook, which it cost so much effort to instill into the Party but which has now taken root in it, by means of ideological nonsense about right and other trash so common among the democrats and French socialists.
[..]
Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?

So what passes for self-identified ‘Marxism’ is unfortunately often rooted in this warmed-over Lassallean social democracy rather than Marx’s own ideas. The split is not in electoralism as such, but is rooted as a conception class politics as the relative strength of the working class as a social category (literally, ‘social class’) competing for the management of capitalist production, rather than a struggle for the abolition of capital. This isn’t a new or theoretical argument, it’s been one of the fundamental splits in the workers movement, whether the KAPD’s and AAUE council communism and the FAUD’s anarcho-syndicalism in opposition to the SPD, or Correspondence Publishing Committee’s (forerunner to Facing Reality) formation after the split from the SWP.

Back to Reed:

One of our concerns is, or should be, the tendency among a strain of exuberant leftists to proclaim programmatically diffuse coalitions and subordinate the class program to counter-solidaristic identity politics.
I think we should build on the more visionary aspects of the program, e.g., the demand for free public higher education, decommodified health care, etc and the vital fight to stop the TPP, and yes of course against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc and also against neoliberal policing and the constantly expanding public/private carceral apparatus, which we have to understand and insist that others also understand is a class issue.
[...]
How is it “economic reductionism” to campaign on a program that seeks to unite the broad working class around concerns shared throughout the class across race, gender, and other lines? Ironically, in American politics now we have a Left for which any reference to political economy can be castigated as “economic reductionism.”

Here we see the fundamental limitation of this ‘Marxism’. Rather than the opposition of the working class to capital, it’s instead an opposition of a ‘class’ politics based on liberal social welfare against an ‘identitarian’ politics based on anti-discrimination and diversity. It pits redistribution against recognition.16 We don’t want either recognition or redistribution within capitalism (equally, won’t work against them since they can sometimes reduce harm in the short term), but instead revolutionary class struggle resulting in a fundamental re-organisation of society, so reject this dichotomy altogether.

While Reed correctly locates legislation on both workers and civil rights as the end-result of ‘social movements’ rather than electoral activity as such, he’s quick to dismiss any activity that isn’t located in a recognisable left institution. This ignores that many of the concessions to the civil rights movement came after the urban insurrections as much as the formal organisations and marches:

This sort of politics is also, as we’ve seen at least since Black Power, a hustler’s paradise. And all the millennial versions of New Age-y bullshit about leaderlessness and structurelessness obscure the fact that absence of organizational mechanisms of accountability enable anyone to say anything, or deny anything said, in the name of the “movement.”
Overestimation of the political significance of protest and a related, all too familiar problem of confusing militancy and radicalism contribute to exaggerating the significance of eruptions like those associated with BLM. Militancy is a posture; radicalism is linked to program for social transformation, and protests do not necessarily challenge power relations at all.17

This is not the dichotomy of class and identity we’re presented with if we look at the actual history of class struggle, rather than broad appeals to ‘Marxism’ and ‘historical materialism’. What we see instead is the struggles of workers going beyond and even against the institutions that would seek to represent them, whether political parties or unions, often as reactions to divisions based on race or gender. The struggles of black and women workers against racism and misogyny were not simply for ‘equal opportunity’ within capitalism but often to address structural inequality and abuse within both unions and revolutionary organisations themselves, whether the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement or the Mujeres Libres during the Spanish Civil War. Eldridge Cleaver was both an unaccountable leader of the Black Panthers who bragged about raping women, and later a Republican candidate for senate on a pro-life ticket. Is it too much identity politics or too little to blame for that consistent misogyny?


In this framework, both ‘liberal identity politics’ and ‘class politics’ have resulted in a further integration into capitalism and the promotion of representatives and institutions, whether black politicians or trade unions against the still racialised working class. We therefore need to look at class struggle, not as an affirmation of the working class within capitalism, but as the abolition of the working class and capital. This means recognising not only the co-option of struggles against discrimination into capitalism, but also the co-option of the ‘workers movement’ into the management of capitalism against workers and maintaining divisions based on ascribed identities, whether enforcing colour bars in professions, or recently both AFL-CIO president Trumka’s and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for stricter immigration controls. Capital therefore not only reproduces race and gender divisions through class, but in turn those divisions undermine movements against capital and class - not the actions of those working to undo racism and misogyny but in the abstract appeals to ‘unity’ that obscure real divisions and power imbalances along lines of race, gender, social class, disability etc. which must be confronted if they’re to be overcome. We should not oppose black representation with class representation, but oppose self-organised class struggle to both.

In practical terms, while we may be opposed to wage labour and the state, we’re often fighting defensive battles - against wage theft or cuts to services. How do we reconcile opposition to wage labour with fights for higher wages, or opposition to the state with fights to protect social housing? How do we link these day-to-day struggles with the large scale mobilisations such as Ferguson in 2014 or the protests against the ‘Muslim Ban’ in 2017?

The IWW and its General Defense Committees, solidarity networks such as SeaSol and the model proposed by Fighting for Ourselves by SolFed in the UK offer a way to link disparate defensive struggles over wage theft, evictions, ICE deportations, community self-defense against far-right groups and the police into a unitary organisation opposed to wage labour and capital. Groups such as Project Salvage have focused on tackling misogyny and abuse within activist groups much as their predecessors in the Black Panthers and Mujeres Libres had to before them.

In this way, struggling around ‘particular’ issues which don’t affect all workers (equally, or at all), can be a condition of unifying struggles. This can be seen time and time again, with sexual violence driving people out of movements as perpetrators are protected by party and trade union hierarchies, or influential figures in more informal movements. While the accusations of ‘divisiveness’ and ‘identity politics’ are invariably hurled at those challenging sexual violence, it is the violence itself which blocks unifying struggles. Racism often plays a similar role, and in this way anti-racist efforts - understood in terms of self-organised class struggle - can be a necessary condition of class unity, rather than an inevitable step towards black representation and neoliberal managerialism. Autonomous struggles often emerge when these efforts are blocked, in an attempt to circumvent the blockage. The aforementioned example of DRUM in Detroit is a clear example.

Class unity against capitalism cannot come from abstract appeals to it, which more often than not are attempts to create a constituency for a policy platform or specific party grouping. Instead, unity must be constructed from the heterogenous movements against capital and the state. Rather than relegating movements against police and border violence, cuts to domestic violence services, trans access to healthcare as ‘identity politics’ we should instead recognise these as essential to a movement against capitalism. The support that both the Sanders and Corbyn campaigns gave to the police and border controls is not just an accident or disappointing policy misstep, but essential to a project that is based on administration of capital via the state.

Note:

Uday Jain’s recently published White Marxism, a Critique of Jacobin Magazine identifies a strand of anti-ID politics arguments promoted in the magazine from figures such as Vivek Chibber, Walter Benn Michaels, Nivedita Majumdar, and Adolph Reed. This reminded me of some critical reading I’d done of Reed earlier this year. However while Jain deals mostly with the racial politics of these arguments, my main criticism of Reed had been his understanding of class, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with either Marx or the history of class struggle. Since this had only been expressed in a couple of twitter threads, it was time to write it up finally after several months. This piece is not a direct response to Jain's article at all.

Lead photograph by Tony Webster

Posted By

Mike Harman
Aug 22 2017 16:31

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  • Reed makes no equivalent argument for class politics, even though the histories of struggle and recuperation in the labor movement are very similar.

    Mike Harman

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Comments

Steven.
Aug 22 2017 18:04

Great piece. This is a particularly good point:

Quote:
The scrutiny and attention to detail that Reed applies to the recuperation of black struggle is unfortunately nowhere to be seen when he starts talking about trade unions or Bernie Sanders.

Even more so than the civil rights and black power movements, trade union officials and Parliamentary "socialists" have been entirely recuperated by the capitalist system. This is more obvious in Europe, where "socialist" parties have run much of it for much of the last 100 years, but should also be apparent in the US, which has a long enough history of (white) union officials and radicals being sucked into the Democratic party machine and turning against their previous constituencies.

gram negative
Aug 22 2017 19:51

Thank you for this! I can't believe I keep seeing references online to Mark Fisher's Exiting the Vampires' Castle from years ago, and your critique of Reed et al. is very relevant to Fisher as well (though Fisher lacks Reed's precision and insight). The vociferous critique of identity politics oftens covers for an endorsement of the same old failed socdem/trade union politics.

WillShetterly
Aug 24 2017 04:40

I give you credit for addressing Reed, but your ideological filter is keeping you from seeing many things. Here's a hasty response:

1. When Reed says, "I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line..." he's pointing to a truth: The class system provides a structure for racism. In the US today, we do not have a racial system that's separate from the class system as existed during Jim Crow or in apartheid South Africa. Instead, racism affects Americans within the class system like an extra weight that some members must bear.

2. The Black Panthers were working in the black community, but they rejected identity politics while fighting racism, just as Malcolm X did after he left the Nation of Islam. For example:

“Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.” — Bobby Seale, co-founder Black Panther Party

And here's the Hampton quote with the parts that don't fit your thesis:

“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.” —Fred Hampton

3. You say, "Reed has also dismissed “intersectionality” specifically, reducing it to merely campus activism and simply an extension of neo-liberal identity politics, ignoring that it emerged as the work of black feminists addressing specifically the failures of struggles in the ‘60s."

"Intersectionality" was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw who, like her mentor Derrick Bell, was trying to address a social problem while rejecting the anti-capitalism of people like King and Malcolm X. She is a bourgeois black feminist who has not said anything in support of socialism that I've been able to find. Why any socialist would think the concepts of the bourgeoisie are good when they come from its black members, I have not a clue, and yet some do.

You might ask yourself why neoliberals love Crenshaw's approach. David Harvey has the answer in his book on neoliberalism:

"Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them." —David Harvey

Khawaga
Aug 23 2017 18:45
Quote:
"Intersectionality" was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw who, like her mentor Derrick Bell, was trying to address a social problem while rejecting the anti-capitalism of people like King and Malcolm X. She is a bourgeois black feminist who has not said anything in support of socialism that I've been able to find. Why any socialist would think the concepts of the bourgeoisie are good when they come from its black members, I have not a clue, and yet some do.

While I have my critiques of liberal intersectionality and its ontological foundation, this is just an ad hominem. Intersectionality has clearly taken on a life of its own after Crenshaw and means many things to different people. In short, this argument is not an argument, but a logical fallacy.

There was this one dude, Marx or something, that took a lot of concepts from the bourgeoisie; indeed most of his concepts come from them, although he subjected them to critique and injected new content into these concepts. Kinda like how intersectionality has been critiqued and given new content by many different stripes of radicals.

WillShetterly
Aug 23 2017 19:06

Something from Mark Fisher's "Exiting the Vampire Castle" since it was mentioned:

"I’ve noticed a fascinating magical inversion projection-disavowal mechanism whereby the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, as the Vampires’ Castle uses an ultimately liberal understanding of race and gender to obfuscate class."

WillShetterly
Aug 23 2017 19:13

Khawaga,

The difference is Marx was rejecting his class; Crenshaw was embracing hers.

The brilliance of "intersectionality" is it is effectively disconnectionality: instead of seeing the world in terms of interrelated forms of oppression, it makes each form unique and says they only intersect sometimes. It takes racism in particular from its historical roots in slavery and turns it into a psychological flaw. The result is an ideology that lets the bourgeoisie continue to divide us by race and gender.

radicalgraffiti
Aug 23 2017 19:24

is that so?

Quote:
For Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, intersectionality theory came about specifically to address a particular problem. “It’s important to clarify that the term was used to capture the applicability of black feminism to anti-discrimination law,” she says. In the lecture she delivered at the LSE later that evening, she brought up the case of Degraffenreid vs General Motors, in which five black women sued GM on the grounds of race and gender discrimination. “The particular challenge in the law was one that was grounded in the fact that anti-discrimination law looks at race and gender separately,” she says. “The consequence of that is when African American women or any other women of colour experience either compound or overlapping discrimination, the law initially just was not there to come to their defence.”

Quote:
On the charge that intersectionality is not new, she gets philosophical. “Well, a lot of things aren’t new,” she says. “Class is not new and race is not new. And we still continue to contest and talk about it, so what’s so unusual about intersectionality not being new and therefore that’s not a reason to talk about it? Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so obviously it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.” But, she stresses, this has been the project of black feminism since its very inception: drawing attention to the erasures, to the ways that “women of colour are invisible in plain sight”.

http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersect...

Khawaga
Aug 23 2017 19:43
Quote:
The difference is Marx was rejecting his class; Crenshaw was embracing hers.

That's got nothing to do with anything in terms of argumentation. What you are doing with this comment is just to double down on your logical fallacy. Deal with the arguments, not the person.

Quote:
The brilliance of "intersectionality" is it is effectively disconnectionality: instead of seeing the world in terms of interrelated forms of oppression, it makes each form unique and says they only intersect sometimes. It takes racism in particular from its historical roots in slavery and turns it into a psychological flaw. The result is an ideology that lets the bourgeoisie continue to divide us by race and gender.

As I said, I have issues with the ontological basis of (liberal) intersectionality, i.e. precisely that it starts with separated forms of oppressions or identity and then bring them together rather than starting from the basis that these are co-constitutive of each other and are actually inner-related or internally related (your use of the word "interrelated" is therefore incorrect; if something is interrelated they started off as separate. Though I get that you're trying to get at the innerrelation of these phenomena).

While I am sure there are some folks that may reduce racism to a psychological flaw, I've certainly not read any proponent of intersectionality saying that. And it is just lazy to accuse intersectionality of being the culprit of division; that has existed for a long time (you should carefully read the second quote from Crenshaw that radicalgraffiti posted above). Indeed, lots of unionists, leftists and so on never did bother with race or gender to the point of not even considering women and POC as being part of the worker's movement. Intersectionality is as much a reaction to the racism and misogyny of the organized left as it is a product of academia.

Steven.
Aug 23 2017 21:00

Will seems to be doing here exactly what the article criticises. He is saying that some people who talk about intersectionality are liberals, so intersectionality is therefore inherently flawed. However there are plenty of liberals (well, social democrats, but same difference) who talk about class politics in equally bourgeois reformist ways (e.g Bernie Bros, Corbynites etc). However class politics is not inherently flawed as a result.

teh
Aug 23 2017 21:46
Khawaga wrote:
While I have my critiques of liberal intersectionality and its ontological foundation, this is just an ad hominem. Intersectionality has clearly taken on a life of its own after Crenshaw and means many things to different people. In short, this argument is not an argument, but a logical fallacy.

There was this one dude, Marx or something, that took a lot of concepts from the bourgeoisie; indeed most of his concepts come from them, although he subjected them to critique and injected new content into these concepts. Kinda like how intersectionality has been critiqued and given new content by many different stripes of radicals.

Where has intersectionality taken on the a life of its own? It a major ideological component of large parts of the American oligarchy. Nothing concrete that the author advocates - "struggles over wage theft, evictions, ICE deportations, community self-defense against far-right groups and the police.. against police and border violence, cuts to domestic violence services, trans access to healthcare" would be out of place in a speech by any Progressive Democratic Senator (the "abolishing labor" - reads like some millinarian protestant pie-in-the-sky bullshit and is harmless). This is just the more *radical* version of that subset of Anglo liberalism.

Other than its conclusion this article could have appeared on any far-right website. It equates 1960's bolsheviks (and the Frankfurt School ffs) with with American right-liberalism (the American ruling class itself).

Socialism states that the interests of classes are not reconcilable. You cant reconcile that with communalism (as the author suggests via Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin). Hence the authors trick of saying workers want to abolish themselves, as if thats possible without destroying the economic/political system on an international basis. Just another "social relationship" like black-white, as if cross-class identitarians can serve as a vehicle to abolish capital.

The author gives away his game when as hes listing various 60s/70s bolshevik groups as some kind of precursors to the current fake left; he excludes one crucial ingredient: white nationalism. These popular fronts, unlike the author, were seeking to seize power with the help of the socialist states and genocide the domestic political/economic elite to take their place. In order to do that having proles of the racial group making up 70/80% of the population be a part of the front was crucial. Hamptons "Rainbow Coalition" in Chicago included migrants from Appalachia who - completely ahistorically - were dressed up in confederate flag uniforms by the popular front vanguard. Similarly DRUM - a racially separatist organization - called on whites to form their own white version of the union. Theres countless failed projects like that like the "white panther party" and the completely forgotten attempt to set up "white student unions" (only the white supremacist ones are talked about today).

Since the US Democratic party (and its intersectionality organizing project) has nothing to do with bolshevism it doesnt need that last component (though as the author obliquely notes its satellites/official proxies like DSA/Jacobin want to bring it in so as to get a piece of the machines cake for themselves). The party has been in gradual decline since 1968 and at an accelerated one once the family that controlled it for over a generation imploded last election. A minoritarian managerial elite that regiments its ethnic bloc to vote on communal lines in alliance with the parties regional oligarchs is seen as was forward by the dominant sections. The side benefit is that at a time when living standards need to be lowered to restore profitability intersectionality creates the ideological and practical means of doing it by excluding the biggest racial component from their own "rainbow coalition" (educated upper class whites can bandwagon on the anti-ism racket).

The Old Left had its womens sections and anti-colonial platforms. In fact most political tendencies left and right have had such things in one form or another. There is no reason to adhere to or even appropriate one of the dominant political lines of the ruling class for any reason other than to signal ones contentment with the status quo (if only to take the radical rather than moderate course of the status quo).

The side effect of being a systemic opposition (adopting whatever policy emphasis and orientation that the ruling elite takes (why else mention unisex bathrooms, like theyre some novelty, other than to follow lockstep behind whatever parochial American cynical cable-news politics shits out on a given moment), physically attacking the "far right" but not physically attacking and even supporting the left wing of the Democratic party, even though the fascist violence and institutional power of the former pales domestically to not speak of globally to the latter) is that in a time of crisis for the regime (like post-2008) the anti-systemic space will be taken over by others including the far right. It also allows the elite to maintain stability and time/space to rebuild a basis of social rule.

teh
Aug 23 2017 21:49
Steven. wrote:
Will seems to be doing here exactly what the article criticises. He is saying that some people who talk about intersectionality are liberals, so intersectionality is therefore inherently flawed. However there are plenty of liberals (well, social democrats, but same difference) who talk about class politics in equally bourgeois reformist ways (e.g Bernie Bros, Corbynites etc). However class politics is not inherently flawed as a result.

Class politics isnt flawed but social democracy (particularly in the current epoch) is completely flawed. A party having a black caucus isnt necessarily flawed but intersectionality is completely flawed.

teh
Aug 23 2017 22:08
radicalgraffiti wrote:
is that so?

Quote:
For Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, intersectionality theory came about specifically to address a particular problem. “It’s important to clarify that the term was used to capture the applicability of black feminism to anti-discrimination law,” she says. In the lecture she delivered at the LSE later that evening, she brought up the case of Degraffenreid vs General Motors, in which five black women sued GM on the grounds of race and gender discrimination. “The particular challenge in the law was one that was grounded in the fact that anti-discrimination law looks at race and gender separately,” she says. “The consequence of that is when African American women or any other women of colour experience either compound or overlapping discrimination, the law initially just was not there to come to their defence.”

Quote:
On the charge that intersectionality is not new, she gets philosophical. “Well, a lot of things aren’t new,” she says. “Class is not new and race is not new. And we still continue to contest and talk about it, so what’s so unusual about intersectionality not being new and therefore that’s not a reason to talk about it? Intersectionality draws attention to invisibilities that exist in feminism, in anti-racism, in class politics, so obviously it takes a lot of work to consistently challenge ourselves to be attentive to aspects of power that we don’t ourselves experience.” But, she stresses, this has been the project of black feminism since its very inception: drawing attention to the erasures, to the ways that “women of colour are invisible in plain sight”.

http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersect...

This is social, political, and economic liberalism. If you thinks that fine, ok. Why drag the corpse of socialism through this shit? This is the ruling class. These are the people in power. As for Degraffenreid vs General Motors: creating another class of protected minorities with black women having greater standing legally than black men would not have prevented mass layoffs at GM. This is people fighting over crumbs, and in a class system it would have been rich black women whole would have benefited over working class ones (you can look at the wealth/class disparity within blacks as a racial whole post Nixons counter-revolution and extrapolate those tendencies).

teh
Aug 23 2017 22:42

The author chose Reed not because he offers the best criticism of so-called "identity politics" but because him being part of the trade union managerial layer and a supporter of the god-awful Bernie Sanders he makes an easy target.

This bears repeating. What does intersectionality have to do with the Black Panthers and Frankfurt school? This is regurgitation of fascist nonsense (particularly the New Right) who think that communists are in charge of the institutions. The author appropriates others struggles as his own (it reeks of positivism and US nationalism). Hampton and DRUM ( League of Revolutionary Black Workers ) where Maoists running or supporting a popular front program to implement a Maoist program. When Stalin instituted the nationalities law in the 1930's it was in response to the defeat of communism in the centers of global capitalism. It was a means to consolidate gains. Maoists following suit were attempting to substitute the weakness of their politics and the economic backwardness of China to gain power on a minimum of a platform. "Identity politics" were a means to an end. Also these programs failed tremendously. The people who came up with "intersectionality" are from the elite. They are supporters and functionaries of the Democratic party. For them "identity politics" is also a mean but its not for millions of Eurasian peasants, its for their own class. And it is a homicidal vicious class. And Critical Race theories contention that blacks (and later women) have a common interests is belied by the reality of the aftermath of the "civil" rights movement.

radicalgraffiti
Aug 24 2017 00:14
teh wrote:
Khawaga wrote:
While I have my critiques of liberal intersectionality and its ontological foundation, this is just an ad hominem. Intersectionality has clearly taken on a life of its own after Crenshaw and means many things to different people. In short, this argument is not an argument, but a logical fallacy.

There was this one dude, Marx or something, that took a lot of concepts from the bourgeoisie; indeed most of his concepts come from them, although he subjected them to critique and injected new content into these concepts. Kinda like how intersectionality has been critiqued and given new content by many different stripes of radicals.

Where has intersectionality taken on the a life of its own? It a major ideological component of large parts of the American oligarchy.

citation needed

RadBlackLove
Aug 24 2017 00:26

Yooooo. This piece was right on time!
The goalposts of the "identity politics" debate are definitely not anywhere where they should be. Where intersectionality began as a way to put new language in place that could help people navigate multiple oppressions has been taken in by higher ed and other institutions and turned into these representational identity politics that are a huge problem. And what follows is the situation we're in now....where a lot of valid critiques of the mostly white left can and are easily dismissed as liberal identity politics, even when that's not the case. The other goalpost has moved to this point where protest movements built around oppressed identities are seen as synonymous with class struggle.
Your point about Adolph's failure to contend with all relevant viewpoints is important (and I'm super disappointed to learn of his trade union and Bernie analyses......damn.).
We started the African People's Caucus of the IWW studying and learning the very struggles of DRUM, LRBW, Mujeres, George Jackson Brigade, women of the PKK, and the New Afrikan Anarchist positions that developed far after the BPP. We also have done enough political study to understand that black union (especially trade union) "representation" doesn't translate to workers' power. Indeed it can have the exact effect that black police officers, politicians, and professional activists can have which is as a pacifying effect.
We started that caucus knowing that the IWW is a brilliant union with a very checkered radical history, but a union that has trouble diversifying and pulling in people from across the entire working class. That difficulty is a question of strategy- and the growth of the General Defense Committee and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Cmte has created a serious challenge to the IWW- one that is certainly diversifying not only union membership but also organizing campaigns. The new Wobblies' Revolutionary Union Movement (WRUM) caucus came about with a serious critique of the power of the General Executive Board, union decision-making structure, the handling of patriarchal behaviour within the union, and newfound understandings of what issues *everyone* in the working class is dealing with (not just the conditions of the overwhelmingly white rank-and-file within the IWW). With those critiques came a lot of backlash- accusations of pandering to activists or liberals, that we're just 'dividing the union', even the suggestion that we need to just kick the racist individuals out of the union- as if we were talking about some microaggressions instead of an inclusive, possibly archaic organizing strategy. Those of us in APC are working to understand these pitfalls. We don't adhere to liberal identity politics based on representation, but definitely won't go without a solid understanding of our position in the left, in the labor movement, and the development of anti-authoritarian politics that our black elders are helping forge before and alongside us. Thanks again for posting.

WillShetterly
Aug 24 2017 00:39

http://www.newstatesman.com/lifestyle/2014/04/kimberl-crenshaw-intersect...

Quoting Crenshaw in 2014 does not change the fact that her original conception of intersectionality was limited to race and gender. When I did a little researching, I saw another feminist brought in class about a year later, if I remember correctly.

In my experience, intersectionalists tend to talk about "classism" rather than class, continuing their focus on prejudice rather than economic relationships.

WillShetterly
Aug 24 2017 02:11
Khawaga wrote:
Quote:
The difference is Marx was rejecting his class; Crenshaw was embracing hers.

That's got nothing to do with anything in terms of argumentation. What you are doing with this comment is just to double down on your logical fallacy. Deal with the arguments, not the person.

I am not saying Crenshaw should be ignored because she's bourgeois. I'm saying intersectionality is a bourgeois ideology. When neoliberals like Hillary Clinton cite it, you should suspect it's not a concept that's on our side. It is an approach to justice that focuses on identity proportionality, so to an intersectionalist, if the classes were equally representative, they would be fair. Whereas I would say the problem is not proportionality; it's the existence of a class system that must be ended no matter what form it takes.

radicalgraffiti
Aug 24 2017 02:34
WillShetterly wrote:
Khawaga wrote:
Quote:
The difference is Marx was rejecting his class; Crenshaw was embracing hers.

That's got nothing to do with anything in terms of argumentation. What you are doing with this comment is just to double down on your logical fallacy. Deal with the arguments, not the person.

I am not saying Crenshaw should be ignored because she's bourgeois. I'm saying intersectionality is a bourgeois ideology. When neoliberals like Hillary Clinton cite it, you should suspect it's not a concept that's on our side. It is an approach to justice that focuses on identity proportionality, so to an intersectionalist, if the classes were equally representative, they would be fair. Whereas I would say the problem is not proportionality; it's the existence of a class system that must be ended no matter what form it takes.

capitalists talk about the working class, capitalists call themselfs socialists communists or anarchists

Khawaga
Aug 24 2017 02:40

Tripling down on the logical fallacies, though this time guilt by association. In other words, you're not really providing any arguments WillShitterly.

Mike Harman
Aug 24 2017 03:10
teh wrote:
Other than its conclusion this article could have appeared on any far-right website. It equates 1960's bolsheviks (and the Frankfurt School ffs) with with American right-liberalism (the American ruling class itself).

Amazing. In fact if you read a bit closer, you'd notice it's Reed who does this, by tracing 'Black Power' to people like Corey Booker, not me. There are footnotes too if you don't want to rely on the quotes.

teh wrote:
the authors trick of saying workers want to abolish themselves, as if thats possible without destroying the economic/political system on an international basis.

That's exactly what the article argues for, in opposition to a conquest of capitalist institutions like political parties and trade unions on the behalf of 'workers'.

teh wrote:
The author gives away his game when as hes listing various 60s/70s bolshevik groups as some kind of precursors to the current fake left;

I listed a handful of groups in Detroit, the Panthers, and the Mujeres Libres who were anarcho-syndicalists.

DRUM was created out of a wildcat strike that was initiated by older women Polish workers (quickly joined by black workers who went on to create the organisation). At one point they had 3,000 workers on a mass picket outside the plant. Calling a mass rank-and-file union organisation that was organising multiple wildcat strikes 'bolshevik' is a bit of a broad brush.

Similarly, I talked about Facing Reality. This came from the same political milieu as Socialism ou Barbarie in France (Castoriadis contributed to the book that preceded the group), and Solidarity UK (Brinton et al). Martin Glaberman was the main figure in Facing Reality in Detroit and was an auto worker for decades. Their politics came out of a break with Trotskyism in the '50s, it ended up specifically libertarian socialist or councilist - completely opposed to the Leninist conception of the party. Either you don't know this, in which case that's excusable but you've been missing out, or you're just throwing epithets around.

It's true that the Boggs's Correspondence Publishing Committee were Maoist at this time, that's why there was a split in 1962 with the Facing Reality group...

teh wrote:
Hamptons "Rainbow Coalition" in Chicago included migrants from Appalachia who - completely ahistorically - were dressed up in confederate flag uniforms by the popular front vanguard.

The Young Patriots got older and rejected this imagery later on. Hampton didn't get an opportunity to grow up past 21. The point of including these groups was not to propose them as exemplars, but as imperfect attempts to organise on a class basis from within groups that Reed dismisses as separatist.

For the record, the group here that I have specific political agreement with is Facing Reality which is one of my favourite groups from that period. DRUM were a workers organisation rather than a political group as such but very interesting.

I didn't talk about the Panthers because I love them, but because they're the example Reed constantly uses as a precursor (and in fact the cause of) neoliberal identity politics.

Quote:
Similarly DRUM - a racially separatist organization - called on whites to form their own white version of the union.

Do you have a source for this call? There was the Chrysler Revolutionary Union Movement which Glaberman mentions and was indeed started by white workers although this site says it was a black organisation (since Glaberman was there I'd trust him first, although he doesn't say whether or not CRUM included black workers later on).

What you ignore is the racial separatism of the UAW itself - it was organising against integration of black workers in the '30s, white workers were going on strike specifically against black integration during WWII, this is only 23 years before the period we're talking about. Once again, this is looking at responses to racism and boss collobration within workplace organising, then blaming them for racism and liberal collaborationism, rather than blaming the racist and collaborationist union hierarchy that was actually responsible.

Mike Harman
Aug 24 2017 03:18
teh wrote:
The author chose Reed not because he offers the best criticism of so-called "identity politics" but because him being part of the trade union managerial layer and a supporter of the god-awful Bernie Sanders he makes an easy target.

If you have a better example, please go ahead and suggest one, unless it's supposed to be you?

WillShetterly wrote:
Quoting Crenshaw in 2014 does not change the fact that her original conception of intersectionality was limited to race and gender. When I did a little researching, I saw another feminist brought in class about a year later, if I remember correctly.

In my experience, intersectionalists tend to talk about "classism" rather than class, continuing their focus on prejudice rather than economic relationships.

This ignores the attempts by anarchists to engage with it or more practically, it's use as an epithet by people like Reed who haven't actually engaged with it and use it to describe all kinds of anti-racist or feminist organising including that done within radical groups. There are unfortunately a lot of 'Marxists' and socialists who are fixated on sociological conceptions of social class rather than communism too - which shows that just the self-ascribed labels people use aren't necessarily responsible for those analytical limitations.

Mike Harman
Aug 24 2017 03:26
WillShetterly wrote:
I give you credit for addressing Reed, but your ideological filter is keeping you from seeing many things. Here's a hasty response:

1. When Reed says, "I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line..." he's pointing to a truth: The class system provides a structure for racism. In the US today, we do not have a racial system that's separate from the class system as existed during Jim Crow or in apartheid South Africa. Instead, racism affects Americans within the class system like an extra weight that some members must wear.

2. The Black Panthers were working in the black community, but they rejected identity politics while fighting racism, just as Malcolm X did after he left the Nation of Islam. For example:

“Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.” — Bobby Seale, co-founder Black Panther Party

And here's the Hampton quote with the parts that don't fit your thesis:

“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.” —Fred Hampton

I'm confused by this comment. This is exactly the point that I'm making? Reed dismisses these groups as based on 'identity' when they were actually focused on class. He has to do that, in order to then substitute 'labor' (as in the trade union hierarchy) for class.

David Harvey wrote:
Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power.

I haven't read the Harvey book, but this looks like yet another bait and switch where he has a go at neo-liberalism in order to try to create a constituency for 'the conquest of state power' - i.e. running the capitalist state on 'socialist' lines rather than an actual communist politics.

Pennoid
Aug 24 2017 03:31

I was disappointed with this article. Rather than deal with the substantive issues Reed raises, you pin to him a ‘representational’ politics (which could apply to anyone, even members of the IWW) that then resorts to the old trick of leftist-movementism that Reed has actually criticized pretty accurately in the past.
The problem here is a conception of what being radical means. For the movementists, radical behavior is a set of individual moral norms which govern the pursuits of the activist. Radical is a commitment to a set of abstract principles (the neverending list of ‘antis’) which, far more than any concrete success, set someone up as a comrade.
Reed’s central critique which you’ve *missed completely* is that programmatic politics based on institutions actually build the kinds of movements which advance class struggle. Reed does not argue against revolution and Reed does not dismiss the efforts of the more class struggle and integrationist elements of the 1960’s. But he does acknowledge that those movements lost. DRUM lost. MLK was murdered and his movement fractured. Same with Hampton. And as some historians have argued, in periods where programmatic integrationist politics flounder, Garveyist black nationalist/capitalism politics spring up (a fantasy).
This combined with the class interests of black-petit bourgeois has led to a kind of race politics based on ridiculous obviation of the fundamental connection between race and class, eschews programmatic politics (a politician's dream come true) and actively works to undermine class unity:

“The contemporary discourse of “antiracism” is focused much more on taxonomy than politics. It emphasizes the name by which we should call some strains of inequality—whether they should be broadly recognized as evidence of “racism”— over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them. And, no, neither “overcoming racism” nor “rejecting whiteness” qualifies as such a step any more than does waiting for the “revolution” or urging God’s heavenly intervention. If organizing a rally against racism seems at present to be a more substantive political act than attending a prayer vigil for world peace, that’s only because contemporary antiracist activists understand themselves to be employing the same tactics and pursuing the same ends as their predecessors in the period of high insurgency in the struggle against racial segregation.

This view, however, is mistaken. The postwar activism that reached its crescendo in the South as the “civil rights movement” wasn’t a movement against a generic “racism;” it was specifically and explicitly directed toward full citizenship rights for black Americans and against the system of racial segregation that defined a specific regime of explicitly racial subordination in the South. The 1940s March on Washington Movement was also directed against specific targets, like employment discrimination in defense production. Black Power era and post-Black Power era struggles similarly focused on combating specific inequalities and pursuing specific goals like the effective exercise of voting rights and specific programs of redistribution.”

To restate; programmatic politics, the pursuit of concrete and specific rights and gains through the vehicle of membership led institutions, is the way forward for issues facing the working class, including issues pertaining to racism and sexism.
Unfortunately this is lost on the contemporary anarchists tinged with liberalism. The ‘anti-representation/mediation’ movementism has to falsely read back things into the history of socialism, anarchism, and communism. Much like the author does with ‘solidarity unionism’, in order to claim some legitimacy from this past tradition. The problem is that the tradition, if studied in detail, supports Reed’s fundamental point.
The I.W.W. paid it’s officers and staff wages. They employed organizers and took a principled approach to contracts/agreements to employers, though there were competing ideas in the organization at the time.
Debs promulgated a Kautsky inspired programmatic socialism allied (if only briefly in a formal fashion) with the IWW’s industrial unionsim (this makes him a left kautskyan like Luxemburg, Pannekoek and Lenin. Recall, Kautsky’s politics up to WW1 were essentially that the program was the set of necessary changes that would *functionally* bring the working class into power; that is, form a working class type of self-government to then reorganize the economy and transition to socialism).
So it’s difficult, for the two reasons, to read this as much of a rejection of Reed’s descriptions. At one point the author complains that Reed only focuses on the negative aspects of the BPP, then in another, their same misogyny is cited as part of their lack of commitment to intersectionalism, feminism, or whatever ideological remedy the author might prescribe! Reed makes essentially the same point, that black nationalist politics require the abandonment of class politics (we know this from history, from Garveyism articulated among parts of Local 8 workers, especially after the ILA and the Government smashed the union and worked to foster racial resentment). So Reed is wrong for criticizing the lack of the black nationalists commitment to class politics, but the author is permitted to criticize their misogyny? What gives?
A final note; autonomy is a near meaningless terms as employed. What does it mean for a movement to be autonomous? A people? A group? A body? It means for them to be *unaccountable*. Certainly a class unified and making collective decisions needs accountability among subordinate parts. Certainly on the other hand, non-whites don't have to answer to anybody when it comes to democratic rights (to vote, assemble, etc.). But this conflict often presents itself as some either-or choice, that we must pick autonomy or assimilation.
But we do not. There are rights to which humans should not have to be accountable to another human in their exercise. We call these often civil rights or democratic rights; speech, voting, assembly, etc. It’s this scope of rights we aim to expand in our pursuit of working class power. E.g. the right to housing, healthcare, and food; or the abolition rent, private healthcare, and in general, the wage condition. Workers need institutions; not movementism.

Mike Harman
Aug 24 2017 03:46
RadBlackLove wrote:
We started the African People's Caucus of the IWW studying and learning the very struggles of DRUM, LRBW, Mujeres, George Jackson Brigade, women of the PKK, and the New Afrikan Anarchist positions that developed far after the BPP. We also have done enough political study to understand that black union (especially trade union) "representation" doesn't translate to workers' power. Indeed it can have the exact effect that black police officers, politicians, and professional activists can have which is as a pacifying effect.

We started that caucus knowing that the IWW is a brilliant union with a very checkered radical history, but a union that has trouble diversifying and pulling in people from across the entire working class. That difficulty is a question of strategy- and the growth of the General Defense Committee and Incarcerated Workers Organizing Cmte has created a serious challenge to the IWW- one that is certainly diversifying not only union membership but also organizing campaigns. The new Wobblies' Revolutionary Union Movement (WRUM) caucus came about with a serious critique of the power of the General Executive Board, union decision-making structure, the handling of patriarchal behaviour within the union, and newfound understandings of what issues *everyone* in the working class is dealing with (not just the conditions of the overwhelmingly white rank-and-file within the IWW). With those critiques came a lot of backlash- accusations of pandering to activists or liberals, that we're just 'dividing the union', even the suggestion that we need to just kick the racist individuals out of the union- as if we were talking about some microaggressions instead of an inclusive, possibly archaic organizing strategy. Those of us in APC are working to understand these pitfalls. We don't adhere to liberal identity politics based on representation, but definitely won't go without a solid understanding of our position in the left, in the labor movement, and the development of anti-authoritarian politics that our black elders are helping forge before and alongside us.

Thanks for posting this, this is exactly the sort of concrete organising and education work that I'm trying to pull people back into a discussion of, too much of the discourse on this stuff is just not engaging with any of this at all - either the history or the current practice.

Mike Harman
Aug 24 2017 04:00
Pennoid wrote:
So Reed is wrong for criticizing the lack of the black nationalists commitment to class politics, but the author is permitted to criticize their misogyny? What gives?

This is a mis-reading. He generally excludes the class politics of some groups from his discussion or ignores the existence of the most workplace-based groups altogether. There were black separatist groups in the '60s, but he constantly brings those up to the exclusion of groups like DRUM which don't get a mention to support his argument.

Misogyny is a feature of many left groups, and abuse is enabled by unaccountable group structures (the WRP in the '80s under Healy, the SWP comrade delta rape cover-up this decade are prominent examples, although it happens in informal activist groups too). We've seen several supposed revolutionary groups completely implode by protecting sexual harassers in their own ranks - and attempts by women to deal with institutional sexual abuse is often derided as separatist, splitting, 'identity politics' etc.

Pennoid
Aug 24 2017 04:27

He's not 'ignoring them' he's making an argument about what resulted from their collapse. You're right he doesn't cite DRUM and others when asked about nationalist politics; why would he cite the positive class elements of a set of people in the discussion of the historical and logical consequences to nationalist politics held by the same group? Would you rather he have not commented on the negative aspects of nationalist politics? Or do you think nationalist politics have a relevant revolutionary content?

'Identity politics' is a persistently moving target. 'Intersectionality' is a bit easier to pinpoint, and pinpoint it Reed does in various pieces. It's a set of ideas about disparate and discrete identity categories and forms of oppression that are seen to intersect. Now this is so general as to be pretty useless. Yeah. Some people put up with more bullshit than others. What does that tell us about how each 'set' of bullshit functions and interacts with other bundles of bullshit?

However, the 'theory' hasn't translated into any sort of successful class politics and puts forward little in the way of explaining how it could. The author of the op simply argues that it "came out of" some legitimate place or group of people. Authorship is not a reliable measure of the validity of a set of claims about the world or predictions about outcomes.

If you trace Reed's influence for his conceptions of race the derive in part out of Robert Allen (iirc) and Harry Chang (iirc). The latter attempted to dig through a dialectical deconstruction of race categories; what their logic implied for those attempting to apply them, with the elementary acceptance the social basis of race as a basic premise.

Most liberal race politics explicitly or implicitly reject the social basis of race; they have to cleave to some race essentialism to justify some form of 'authentic' community which is in turn often a necessary component of the justification for 'autonomy' as a matter of absolute principle. Stalinist politics at best; straight up reactionary nationalism at worst. This dovetails nicely with most of the right who greet the idea of authenticity policing and discrete racial communities with glee.

A final point: Your citation number thirteen is incorrect. That quote is from a separate article or interview. What it cites is actually an essay from which the following quote derives (And this is important for understanding Reed's positive conception of Race, which violates the author's claim that reed "rejects" antiracism):

Quote:
"Even the New Deal embedded premises of racial and gender hierarchy in its most fundamental policy initiatives. The longer-term implications of the two-tiered system of social
benefits thus created persist to the present day. This extensive history illustrates that, as Marxist
theorist Harry Chang observed in the 1970s, racial formation has always been an aspect of
class formation, as a “social condition of production.” Race has been a constitutive element
in a capitalist social dynamic in which “social types (instead of persons) figure as basic units of
economic and political management.”6 Chang perceptively analogized race to what Marx
described as the fetish character of money. Marx, he noted, described money as “the officiating
object (or subject as an object) in the reification of a relation called value” and as a
“function-turned-into-an-object.” Race is similarly a function—a relation of hierarchy rooted
in the capitalist division of labor—turned into an object.7 “Money seeks gold to objectify itself—
gold does not cry out to be money.” Similarly, “the cutting edge of racial determinations of persons
is a social ‘imposition’ on nature,” which on its own yields no such categories.8"

https://libcom.org/files/Marx,%20Race%20and%20Neoliberalism%20-%20Adolph%20Reed.pdf

WillShetterly
Aug 24 2017 04:35

Mike, I suspect you're misreading Reed's take on the Panthers. You quoted him saying, "The Civil Rights and Black Power movements prefigured the coming of this new age; the feminist photocopy of the black road to nowhere was its farcical re-run." That's not necessarily a judgement of the Panthers. It's talking about the Black Power movement in general and pointing to the roots of contemporary left-identitarianism.

But I grant he may have meant what you inferred. The Panthers said and did some admirable things as well as some not-at-all admirable things and ended up nowhere. Do you have anything else by Reed that criticizes the Panthers?

Mike Harman
Aug 25 2017 04:47
WillShetterly wrote:
But I grant he may have meant what you inferred. The Panthers said and did some admirable things as well as some not-at-all admirable things and ended up nowhere. Do you have anything else by Reed that criticizes the Panthers?

The issue I have with it isn't that it's critical - all in favour of people being critical of past movements and most of the stuff we host on the site about the Panthers is critical in one way or another - it's that it's dismissive. He specifically goes against the '"revolutionary" turn' in the late '60s seeing this as responsible for the integration of particular figures into neoliberalism later on while failing to engage with elements that weren't co-opted (although they might still have been short-lived or faded out, but that's hardly unique).

Here's a couple more quotes:

Quote:
Yet the tendency toward exceptionalism has exerted a continuing influence on the Left’s approach to the black population. Exaltation of an idealized view of black folk life and its alleged organicism— most distinctive prior to the "revolutionary" turn during the civil rights era—connects with New Left counterculturists’ imagery of blacks as the embodiment of a more visceral and authentic humanity, with the Students for a Democratic Society’s facile identification with the Black Panther Party and the "Third Worldist" mythology of the black-revolutionary-as-urban-guerrilla, and with more recent ingenuousness concerning the rise of black officialdom....
... [p. 119]

http://www.autodidactproject.org/quote/reedjess.html

Quote:
Another revealing datum regarding the imagery of an unbroken history of racist denigration of black “bodies” stretching back at least to 1619 as explanation of the current racial disparity in police killings is that, as Mike Males has shown, police killings of black men under 25 years of age declined 79% between 1968 and 2011, and 61% for men over 25 during that same period.6 Nor is that quite surprising. The victories won by the civil rights movement were real, as were the entailments of the Voting Rights Act. Things were generally worse with respect to everyday police terror in inner-city black neighborhoods than they are now. One of the few of the Black Panthers’ slogans that wasn’t simply empty hyperbole was their characterization of the role of police as an “occupying army” in black communities. (When I first saw The Battle of Algiers in the late 1960s, I felt an instant shock of recognition, a sense that I’d lived some of the film.) Racial transition in local government and deepening incorporation of minority political interests into local governing coalitions had a moderating effect on police brutality in black communities.

(emphasis added)
http://nonsite.org/editorial/how-racial-disparity-does-not-help-make-sen...

Mike Harman
Aug 25 2017 05:31
WillShetterly wrote:
I am not saying Crenshaw should be ignored because she's bourgeois. I'm saying intersectionality is a bourgeois ideology. When neoliberals like Hillary Clinton cite it, you should suspect it's not a concept that's on our side.

Better stop talking about socialism then, given Bernie Sanders thinks the military and police are socialist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDRxbQlpqmo / https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/01/democratic-socialism-government-berni... "When you go to your public library, when you call your fire department or the police department, what do you think you’re calling? These are socialist institutions." I think people called the USSR communist too at some point?

The ruling class (and plenty of academic interlocutors) are constantly twisting the meaning of words to try to fit them into the management of capitalism (or alternatively as bogeymen), but the fact that they do this doesn't give you an excuse to dismiss them this lazily and selectively.

Quote:
It is an approach to justice that focuses on identity proportionality, so to an intersectionalist, if the classes were equally representative, they would be fair.

You're going to run out of straw building all those strawmen. Some people use it like that, some people use it in a way more analogous to class composition - i.e. an analysis of the divisions within the working class that are an obstacle to unity.

From that post:

Kolinko wrote:
A formal notion of class does not reach very far. That reveals itself when we look at the composition of work-force on the shop-floor. We could state that foremen, team-leaders or managers are also "wage- labourers" and therefore exploited, but nearly every struggle has to enforce itself against these "little bosses". The (hierarchical) division of labour of the social production process is the foundation for racist and sexist divisions within the working class. So on the one hand capital divides workers, but on the other hand it brings together workers of every skin-colour, gender, nationality etc. in the process of production. Whether divisions between workers are questioned or fortified is generally decided in struggles. Factories, specific sectors etc. with a "colourful" composition are especially decisive in this process.

For a concrete example from this week here's a wildcat strike at a Target store in Virginia. A general manager variously sexually harassed, racially discriminated against and mis-gendered employees, prevented them from taking sick leave or missing work when snowed in, resulting in strike action. They picketed yesterday and got some picket-line support from one other workplace, and interest in organising at a further one.

One of the testimonials on the strike website talks about this manager repeatedly altering their personnel record to untick a checkbox identifying them as trans (which would then protect them from some workplace discrimination). Did this result in a purely sectional approach from that trans person to their own identity status, or did in fact lead to a unity at that workplace combining with the albeit different experiences of other workers there? It doesn't matter whether the people at that workplace talk about intersectionality or not, it's whether an analysis of structural discrimination and the way it plays out in different situations can inform a revolutionary class politics in concrete organising (either at a specific workplace or within organisations).

Quote:
Whereas I would say the problem is not proportionality; it's the existence of a class system that must be ended no matter what form it takes.

Agreed on that, so let's be very wary of analysis which claims to talk about the class system, shows no actual interest in ending it, and shits on those who are trying to analyze some of the previous failures.

Black Badger
Aug 25 2017 06:10