The Poverty of Identity Politics

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Rob Ray
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May 28 2018 15:42

So you're not in fact going to make any effort to be precise about what it is you're critiquing then. What a waste of everyone's fucking time.

Mike Harman
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May 28 2018 15:43
Noa Rodman wrote:
Rob Ray wrote:
How about rather than clinging onto the term for the sake of convenience you use a bit more precision.

We use "class struggle" for convenience's sake, although the word "class" is just a classification/category/type of something. Like a class B model of a car, or class X of chemical, etc.. Or third grade class in a school (whence the room is called class-room). One can just as well speak about the "category struggle" or the "type struggle".

You mean like when people talk about strikes, wildcat strikes, general strikes, mass strikes, industrial unions, trade unions, syndicalist unions, anarcho-syndicalist unions, informal workplace groups, political-economic organisations, specific organisations, the party, rank and filism, riots, rent strikes, blockades, the abolition of work, work refusal, sabotage, value theory of labour/labour theory of value, taylorism, fordism, post-fordism, the social wage, auto-reduction. Yeah people are really pressed when you ask for specific examples of class struggle it's such a problem on this website.

P.S. Answer Fleur's question.

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May 28 2018 16:04
Rob Ray wrote:
So you're not in fact going to make any effort to be precise about what it is you're critiquing then.

I understand the demand for precision, and I agree: let's all strive to be as precise as possible. However, I myself am not particularly familiar with the daily life in the anarchist groups. I understand they are relatively small. And like I said, I don't think they are the target of even the rightwing/mainstream rants about IP (since going into such specifics would be uninteresting for the general public).

Quote:
You mean like when people talk about strikes, wildcat strikes, [...]

One can compose a similar list of rather well-known terms/theories/practices related to identity politics in general (some of which have been mentioned on this thread).

ticking_fool
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May 28 2018 16:12

So, you haven't the first idea what you're talking about, but decided to sound off anyway?

Fleur
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May 28 2018 16:21

No, it doesn't need to be reformulated, it was very straightforward and simple. Answer my question, Noa.

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May 28 2018 16:31
jura wrote:
BTW, I think I disagree here to some extent. I think that sooner or later, class struggle oriented organizing among migrants, non-whites, women etc. has to confront other varieties of organizing in these sectors, spontaneous or formal, around the same concerns. For example, migrants may form useful networks based on their traditions, religion or national identities. These networks can be helpful, they can provide protection from oppression, self-help or even organize offensive struggles, but they also often involve horrible patriarchal hierarchies or nationalism (and hence stifle class unity etc.). They can sometimes be transformed into something else, but it does involve some effort, or even internal struggle. Similarly with race or gender: facts such as that there simply is no "black community", that Theresa May's interests differ from the interests of the cashier or the nurse, have to be confronted sooner or later by any successful effort at class based intersectional organizing. So I think there we do actually compete with "anti-oppression organizing" in the form of, e.g., the more reformist/pro-Democratic Party wing of BLM (and I think the bougies realize this!).

I think we're in agreement here (at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I think Who Is Oakland? was a great examination of what those conflicts can look like in practice). But just to add, it's also the case that any effort at class-based organising will also tend, sooner or later, to run into conflicts with class-based organisations like trade unions, social democratic parties, Leninist groups and so on. But no-one would think because of that that they had to announce that they were "against class politics" or whatever. Anyway, thank you for being precise and thoughtful in your posting.

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May 28 2018 16:37
Noa Rodman wrote:
I understand the demand for precision, and I agree: let's all strive to be as precise as possible. However, I myself am not particularly familiar with the daily life in the anarchist groups. I understand they are relatively small. And like I said, I don't think they are the target of even the rightwing/mainstream rants about IP (since going into such specifics would be uninteresting for the general public).

In case you missed it, this was the original post that started this discussion, the very conversation that is happening right now:

link wrote:
Today’s so-called anarchists and libertarians have fallen in to this morass of identity politics demonstrating a wishful thinking for revolution. In fact all they do is continue the trend of reformist politician since the middle of the 19th century who maybe correctly identify evils in society but seem to think that fighting them means changing laws and social morality. Today’s identity politics fail to recognise see that it’s the actions of their antecedents that have led to the behaviours they condemn today because they continue the same type of activity as though is progressive!! As a result we see the vicious squabbles between the radical feminists of 1960s/70s with those of today without recognising they are in fact part of the same movement - reformist bourgeois feminism – nor that they actually demonstrate the impossibility of them truly uniting to fight an oppressive system.

What is missing from the discussions about identity and oppression libcom is any awareness of the distinction between bourgeois and working class movements and any application of a class analysis to such movements.

I know you have some impressive skills for creative interpretation, but I think that particular post is very clearly talking about anarchists and libertarians.

Quote:
One can compose a similar list of rather well-known terms/theories/practices related to identity politics in general (some of which have been mentioned on this thread).

That's literally what Fleur - and numerous other people by this point - was asking you to do this entire time. If one can do that, then is one just unwilling to or what?

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May 28 2018 16:42
R Totale wrote:
But just to add, it's also the case that any effort at class-based organising will also tend, sooner or later, to run into conflicts with class-based organisations like trade unions, social democratic parties, Leninist groups and so on. But no-one would think because of that that they had to announce that they were "against class politics" or whatever.

That's a great point. I think the analogy between trade unions (as an agent of "class struggle" or organizing in the narrow, economic sense) and some NGOs and various grassroots efforts (as agents of "anti-oppression struggle") is really useful. There is a communist critique of trade unions that does not focus on the personal failings ("betrayals") of their leadership etc., but on their structural role in certain forms of capitalism, their integration into the state and their exclusively economic focus. I think a critique that is parallel to that can (and should) be made of certain kinds of anti-oppression organizing (although I think such organizations are much less powerful and integrated than trade unions). That Oakland piece you mentioned does that pretty well, I think.

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May 28 2018 19:07
Mike Harman wrote:
So I'm not sure that's a derail. If we look at recent accounts of "what's wrong with the left" such as Kill All Normies, Nagle doesn't talk about people being HIV positive, but she does talk about 'spoonies' and more generally the tendency of people to talk on social media about invisible, hard to diagnose illnesses.
.....
From that Buzzfeed article, Greg Owen disclosed that he'd becoming HIV positive online (is this a "cult of suffering, weakness and vulnerability"? If not why is it different to talking about chronic pain online?) was a catalyst in a bunch of sexual health clinics, a few doctors, and Owen himself taking some (mild but effective) direct action to bypass the NHS commissioning process. Seems like the opposite of a 'cult of suffering, vulnerability and weakness' to me  but presumably people shouldn't discuss illness online because it's too weird.

I get you, this isn't a bad example after all. My conclusions are different though. Greg Owen hasn't, to my knowledge, referred to himself as a spoonie. It seems to me that he recognises his HIV status as something that's shaped him, but I doesn't seem to have become his identity (in fact the correct way to refer to people who are HIV+ is "people living with HIV" I believe, rather than a term that implies someone living with HIV is a particular category of person). I don't think the term spoonie is useful in this regard. It's origins make it about identifying yourself as someone with limited capacity (as opposed to everyone else, who presumably has unlimited capacity). No matter how debilitated I feel by my illness it's not a term I can see myself using.

Nagle's obviously a dick and I wouldn't be surprised if she considers any discussion of illness at all to be "a cult of suffering, weakness, and vulnerability".

But in this case, as with all other "identity politics", I'd make a distinction between what you experience/do/enjoy/feel/etc and who you are. Approaching politics from the perspective of categorising ourselves and other people into identities first, and expecting commonality of experience to emerge from that, is arse backwards imo.

An example springs to mind as we're talking about HIV, there's a project here (nothing revolutionary or even really political, but I hope you see why I'm using this example) called Mesmac which has the aim of reducing the transmission of STDs amongst men who have sex with men. It's specifically aimed at "men who have sex with men" and not at "gay men", because celibate gay men, for example, aren't their concern, whereas self-identified straight men who have sex with men, for example, are. The organisation is experienced enough and clear enough in their practical aims to know that focusing on identity will be a hindrance to them.

I've made the case for this repeatedly when organising with other sex workers too, that many of our colleagues do sex work but don't identify as sex workers, and that focusing on our working conditions makes more sense than trying to foster "whore pride" (not a term I've just made up, actually a thing).

Mike Harman
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May 28 2018 17:32
Konsequent wrote:
I don't think the term spoonie is useful in this regard. It's origins make it about identifying yourself as something with limited capacity (as opposed to everyone else, who presumably has unlimited capacity). No matter how debilitated I feel by my illness it's not a term I can see myself using.

So I'm not exactly familiar with what spoonie discourse actually looks like, but how would you apply this to Disabled People Against Cuts? https://dpac.uk.net/

There are two other mentions of disability in KAN:

KAN wrote:
The main preoccupation of this new culture (the right named them SJWs and snowflakes, let’s call it Tumblr-liberalism) was gender fluidity and providing a safe space to explore other concerns like mental ill-health, physical disability, race, cultural identity and ‘intersectionality’ – the now standard academic term for recognition of multiple varieties of intersecting marginalizations and oppressions.

And here quoting Gitlin:

KAN wrote:
Gitlin’s critique of identity politics emerged when SDS was destroyed through internal divisions over universal goals and identity politics. He argued that the relativism of radicals would bring about the ‘twilight of common dreams’ arguing that: ‘The cant of identity underlies identity politics which proposes to deduce a position, a tradition, a deep truth, or a way of life from a fact of birth, physiognomy, national origin, sex or physical disability.

Unless I missed one, spoonies is the only concrete example given (apart from "able-bodied people who identify as disabled people to such an extent that they seek medical assistance in blinding, amputating or otherwise injuring themselves to become the disabled person they identify as") so I do think it's a stand-in for any discussion/organisation around illness or disability in this case. I don't think there's any link between Owen and spoonies except the 'social media discussion of illness' bit fwiw.

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May 28 2018 18:21
R Totale wrote:
In case you missed it, this was the original post that started this discussion, the very conversation that is happening right now:
link wrote:
..

I know you have some impressive skills for creative interpretation, but I think that particular post is very clearly talking about anarchists and libertarians.

If you want Link to be more specific, and if Link is really so worried about anarchists (rather than say start some conversation here), perhaps you can invite him to participate in your activities and he can see it up close for himself and decide to criticise it or not. Personally I don't care so much what anarchists do (sorry, not everything is about you), but the general point about identity politics on the left stands.

Quote:
That's literally what Fleur - and numerous other people by this point - was asking you to do this entire time. If one can do that, then is one just unwilling to or what?

No, it wasn't. She asked specifically about IP that is ruining the anarchist movement.

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May 28 2018 18:46

OK Noa, what specifically is it about identity politics which is spoiling the left? Sufficiently reformulated for you?

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May 28 2018 19:05

Like I said, we went through this routine before with Mike on the Rectenwald thread. When asked, I gave some examples of critique of identity politics (e.g. the 1987 piece by Jenny Bourne). Then there came a whole lot of sophist nonsense from Mike, like that the critique could be also made of trade unions, etc. so it's not really about identity politics, blah blah.
In between, here's another meme:

I don't particularly like the movie (like why did he become schizophrenic?), but let's imagine if it was remade with women instead beating each other up in the fight club? Would it still work, and would watching women beating each other up not be misogynist?

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May 28 2018 19:06
Mike Harman wrote:
So I'm not exactly familiar with what spoonie discourse actually looks like, but how would you apply this to Disabled People Against Cuts? https://dpac.uk.net/

DPAC seem to do cool stuff. I believe they also use a social model of disability, in that they focus on the hurdles created by a society that doesn't account for variance, and work on collectively overcoming those hurdles with direct action. As such "disabled people" means "people disabled by society" not "people who are inherently less able".

Spoonie discourse, from what I've seen, seems to be more support-group-ish at best, and rather being-supportive-by-making-excuses-for-each-other at worst. I think I sound like a dick. I've definitely felt iller myself by focusing on how ill I was, by which I don't mean "they should just pull themselves together". Just sometimes some online communities end up with people doing each other more harm than good. It might well not be a spoonie thing though. I might have just seen some parts of it that put me off and I wasn't surprised because it's kind of what I expect from language that appears to essentialise experiences.

I really didn't want to be justifying KAN at all. As I say, I think Nagle will see a "cult of suffering, vulnerability and weakness" where ever there's anything she doesn't like, much like when they say "identity politics" some people really just mean "any anti-oppression politics I don't like".

Tbh I was just taking the opportunity to stick the boot in to identity politics, as it looks like a fun sport that everyone here is enjoying. Though I'm trying to be specific about what I'm attacking, a lot of which might be familiar to some as politics of affirmation (as opposed to politics of negation).

I think there's more than a coincidental correlation between organisations/campaigns who's language and analysis seem to have an identity as their starting point and activities that do little of practical use, as well as between those that have a particular grievance or oppression as their starting point, and activities that improve the lives of working class people.

But I've made hasty judgements before and assumed that some group was going to be a waste of time because on first appearances they seemed to fall into the former category, when looking at what they did it was actually really useful. I think this was very much in spite of their essentialism though.

Fleur
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May 28 2018 19:21

But Noa, I'm not asking Mike anything. I'm asking you what your problem with identity politics is and not a critique written by someone else 31 years ago.

Fwiw, if Fight Club was a film with women doing the fighting it would still be a crap film.

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May 28 2018 19:45

Many years ago there were long threads on libcom about class. Even that wasn't straightforward to work through. Still there's inconsistent usage of the term with identity and sociological class occasionally being mixed in.

To me it was news when I saw people claiming IP as their politics. I'd only ever heard it as a slur before. Never heard the 'accused' accept it (except the fash). Many above express being hesitant to use the term but still defend it vigorously.

Just from the discussions on libcom IP does draw out a lot of very extreme extrapolations. Alf (ICC) was accused of being transphobic for using the wrong terminology when there was no doubt he made a language mistake. In this thread people have insinuated that you are an abuser if you criticise IP. There has been many similar insinuations that you're against minorities organising if you're against IP. This is despite people spelling out plainly that they support it.

Examples like the above are generally part of the stories about IP destroying the world and you can actually find it on libcom. I don't know what this means but it seems like something that comes with the territory. Some of these things look a bit like there could be some reverse triangulation of brexit/alt-right going on. Where language has been appropriated and rejected in response to the enemy and is then used to pin reactionary views on opponents on libcom.

With my understanding of IP Terf ideology is the perfect example. Unfortunately these discussions haven't clarified things to the point where I can say I'm pro IP. I'm still not sure what it means if it not like Terfism. Or are there positive aspects of terf thinking?!

Jura's point about going beyond unions/sectors/race/single issue is good and something probably most agree with? The difference is probably if you think tackling the 'divisions' or doing the 'useful work' is the priority. Examples of good IP has generally been non communist groups that are effective in their communities but not communist.

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May 28 2018 19:54
Cooked wrote:
Just from the discussions on libcom IP does draw out a lot of very extreme extrapolations. Alf (ICC) was accused of being transphobic for using the wrong terminology when there was no doubt he made a language mistake. In this thread people have insinuated that you are an abuser if you criticise IP. There has been many similar insinuations that you're against minorities organising if you're against IP. This is despite people spelling out plainly that they support it.

then why do they start ranting about identity politics and liberalism anytime the subject of minorities organising comes up?

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May 28 2018 20:05
radicalgraffiti wrote:
Cooked wrote:
Just from the discussions on libcom IP does draw out a lot of very extreme extrapolations. Alf (ICC) was accused of being transphobic for using the wrong terminology when there was no doubt he made a language mistake. In this thread people have insinuated that you are an abuser if you criticise IP. There has been many similar insinuations that you're against minorities organising if you're against IP. This is despite people spelling out plainly that they support it.

then why do they start ranting about identity politics and liberalism anytime the subject of minorities organising comes up?

Is that what's been happening? I've completely missed that relationship. If that's really the case things make a bit more sense. But has this happened on libcom by the posters we are debating or just a general thing.

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May 28 2018 20:13

Post #194 really is shockingly stupid Noa.

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May 28 2018 20:29

Involuntarily sprays his tea across the room...

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May 28 2018 20:45

Anyways, at least we know what those at the sharp end should do now - keep schtum and allow yourselves to be shat on until the revolution arrives at last.

radicalgraffiti
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May 28 2018 20:33
Cooked wrote:
radicalgraffiti wrote:
Cooked wrote:
Just from the discussions on libcom IP does draw out a lot of very extreme extrapolations. Alf (ICC) was accused of being transphobic for using the wrong terminology when there was no doubt he made a language mistake. In this thread people have insinuated that you are an abuser if you criticise IP. There has been many similar insinuations that you're against minorities organising if you're against IP. This is despite people spelling out plainly that they support it.

then why do they start ranting about identity politics and liberalism anytime the subject of minorities organising comes up?

Is that what's been happening? I've completely missed that relationship. If that's really the case things make a bit more sense. But has this happened on libcom by the posters we are debating or just a general thing.

i've seen it in real life, but i'm not sure if i could easily find an example on libcom, often threads about "identity politics" are started without context so its impossible to see what initially set them off, but on this thread link who started the thread complaining that

Quote:
Today’s so-called anarchists and libertarians have fallen in to this morass of identity politics demonstrating a wishful thinking for revolution.

stats that their issue is that "identity politics" is about " womens oppressions, mens, black disabled, gay and trans oppressions."
and claims this divides the working class so its not much of an extrapolation to say that there op about "identity politics" was directed at politics about "womens oppressions, mens, black disabled, gay and trans oppressions." (why they put men in there i dont know)

https://libcom.org/forums/theory/poverty-identity-politics-21052018?page...

link wrote:
Contributions in here base themselves on the idea that identity politics is about the workers but It talks about womens oppressions, mens, black disabled, gay and trans oppressions. We are agreed though that we don’t want to support middle class and ruling class, women, men, black, disable gay trans and so forth then what are we left with. If you really mean working class women, men, black, disabled gay and trans etc then what is the common ground??? Working Class!! So support working class struggle and call to unite the working class. Divide the working class and you have no chance of getting rid of capitalism.

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May 28 2018 20:34

Amidst that stunning embarrassing rant, this bit particularly stands out:

Quote:
The LGBT activists co-operate with the HR department at my workplace to impose queer ideology on all of us.

What does imposing "queer ideology" on you involve?

radicalgraffiti
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May 28 2018 20:42
Craftwork wrote:
The politics of identity are fundamentally statist, reformist, NGO-centred and really quite authoritarian.

Why? Because for the majority of these people, concrete political action takes the form of working with the State, to ensure that their agenda and ideology are enforced over society using state power.

really? that sounds terible! but who are "these people" exactly?

Craftwork wrote:
The LGBT activists co-operate with the HR department at my workplace to impose queer ideology on all of us.

Queer ideology! my god

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May 28 2018 20:49
Craftwork wrote:
The LGBT activists co-operate with the HR department at my workplace to impose queer ideology on all of us.

Could you explain what exactly that looks like?

Quote:
Here's a perfect example - some young fool advocating statist language policing, perhaps the likes of Fleur and Mike Harman can explain how they reconcile their anarchist "principles" with this authoritarian, statist/reformist nonsense.

No offense but I cba spending a quarter of an hour watching a video of some chumps on the television, could you summarise what it is that they're advocating?

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May 28 2018 20:50
Craftwork wrote:
Communism nowadays is polluted by the ideological slurry of the academy - poststructuralism, postcolonialism, feminism, queer theory, etc. These academic-centred, poststructuralist-influenced "queer" or "anti-racist" activists are less concerned with the fight against the real mechanisms of oppression than they are with struggle at the symbolic level, around discourse, language, speech, statues, etc.

would you said it was becoming degenerate?

Craftwork wrote:
- Why should anarchists/communists, whose goal is the revolutionary overthrow of the state and capitalism, speak of ‘rights’ or 'reforms' (which are elements of the state)?

why would anarchists/communists use common language as if they are people who live in the world?

Craftwork wrote:
- Existing categories (race, gender, sexuality, ...) aren’t fixed eternals, they’re historical contingencies, changing in tandem with changes in the social relations (i.e. of how the conditions of life are produced and reproduced). Communism is “a unitary critique of the world” (SI, ‘On the Poverty of Student Life’), it recognises the existence of different forms of oppression, but it knows that these are simply different aspects of a totality. Communist revolution is an attack on the totality of social relations, it therefore engenders an attack on all those relations (i.e. gender, racial, ...) that are constitutive of identity-based oppressions. To speak of the ‘liberation’ of this or that ‘oppressed’ group is to assume that what we are in this society will endure into the next society.

imagine if things didn't magically change on the day of the revolution and not only that it was possible to change things now. how absurd

Craftwork wrote:
- The capitalist Left mimics the division of labour found in class society, in the form of a multitude of single-issue campaigns – one group whittles away at gender oppression, the other on race issues, refugees, animals, …, and so on, like elements of a shopping-list to be checked-off, one by one. This is often shrouded in an NGO-style moralist language of popular appeal, rather than the language of class interests and struggle. By diffracting the revolutionary subject (the working-class) into a multitude of identities, it enables the State to micro-manage the grievances of the working-class, to deal with these grievances particularly, separately and incrementally, in a half-hearted and cynical manner, ripe for manipulation. This is the trap of reformism, which “lives off separation by the accumulation of demands in parallel spheres, never calling the spheres themselves into question” (Dauve).

- But oppression is mostly the work of the State – its laws (e.g. regulating gender), its borders, cops and prisons – all these institutions constitute the dominant sources of oppression in society. It follows that if we are interested in combating the real mechanisms of oppression (i.e. beyond symbolic, liberal concerns around statues) then only the revolutionary overthrow of the state will suffice – this is achieved by proletarians self-organising, operating and identifying as the revolutionary class of capitalist society, whose supreme interest is the destruction of the state and capitalist mode of production. Class consciousness must assert itself above the various particular interests on the basis of region, sector or identity, that hamper its maturation.

what if the process of fighting apparently different oppressions could unite people against this common enemy the state, almost like how fighting different bosses can unite the workers again capitalism

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