I was alerted to this website by Pete Dolack who wrote a critique of an article entitled "Economic issues are not separate from 'identity' issues" posted on the Planning Beyond Capitalism website because (in his opinion) it failed to promote both identity politics as well as class politics. Because I, too, have been critical of identity politics which has thoroughly dominated the American left since the Vietnam War, I have some criticisms of Dolack's critique.
First of all, the author was arguing that identity politics within capitalism can never be a successful strategy to overturn the system. I totally agree. And, he never said in the article that he was against the issues promoted by identity politics--it's just that they are not revolutionary. I totally agree.
In criticizing identity politics I am not proposing that race and gender issues should not be discussed or that they don’t matter.Capitalism is the issue for our times; and if we don't overturn its existence, we humans along with many other species will stop existing. It is quite literally a matter of life or death for humans.
Political agents of the capitalist ruling class certainly recognized this flaw in identity politics. They encouraged it simply because it was not revolutionary, and it offered an excellent way of diverting left political energies away from class politics that so threatened their rule during the 1930s. (They even fund websites that pretend to be "activists" such as Democracy Now! and The Nation, but actually function as political gatekeepers for the ruling class.)
It is part of a long-standing liberal ideology that spans over a century to promise that under capitalism all ethnicities and genders will be able to compete for a piece of the capitalist pie. Gradually we are told that with education and an expanding economy capitalism will welcome all. After the 1960’s liberals gave up on supporting their color blind ideology, and have been sliding to the right ever since. The New Left, never having taken their own working class very seriously, happily took over race and gender inequalities that should have been the domain of liberals. For 45 years leftists, instead of developing and expanding a socialist program, simply took over the New Deal program that the old liberals abandoned.This is precisely why they promoted the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for president. And mostly middle class left activists were suckered into promoting exclusively identity politics because it was more "respectable", and that is because the middle class in general are always concerned about being respectable in the eyes of the capitalist class.
The extent to which identity politics still governs the liberal and social democratic left, the answer is because Obama, after all, is an African-American president. From the point of view of identity politics, what more can we ask for? He is the first African-American president. For identity politics advocates, the fact that Obama is a Harvard lawyer is no reason to be cynical of his true class interests. Rather, we should be impressed with his credentials.
But as soon as a rich white male is elected, these crypto New Leftists at last gladly see a familiar target. People pour into the streets.As activists, either we are serious about the overthrow of capitalism because it is the root of most of the evils we experience today, or we think the system is basically fine (it can be tinkered with and fixed), and that we should concentrate on other issues. But the latter should not pretend otherwise as they often do.