We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up
Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Identity Politics and Class Struggle
For some time I have attacked the limitations of identity politics (see this, and this) as a strategy encouraged by the capitalist ruling class to divert political resistance to their rule onto fairly harmless activities. Although in one article I tried to argue that I wasn't opposed to identity politics--indeed, I wrote that we all benefited from it--but it simply wasn't revolutionary. This post by Kelley gives a much more vigorous defense of identity politics that has modified my views on the subject.
Historically the capitalists have frequently used identity politics as a method to divide workers. For example, when I lived in Hawaii for five years in the 1970s, I learned the history of the big plantation owners that were engaged in sugar cane farming and sugar refining and how they learned to effectively pit one nationality of workers against others by playing them off against each other. They imported workers from numerous countries: Japan, China, Portugal, the Philippines, etc., and encouraged them to fight each other for favorable treatment by the owners. That still occurs, but nowadays more frequently capitalists prefer to keep politically active people engaged in identity politics.
However engagement in identity politics can be very revolutionary if it serves to eliminate competition or adversarial relations between social identities so that the ruling class can no longer use it as a tool to divide us. I remember with some embarrassment in my past political activities that men thoroughly dominated anti-Vietnam War organizations. And for similar reasons, no African-Americans or Latinos participated. The activism was largely an all white, male dominated affair. There is still work to be done on social identity issues and I support such activities, but we also need to work together on class-based politics because that is the only way we will overcome the class-based theft of our creativity and hard work and the destruction of our planet.
While consciously pursuing revolutionary class politics we also need to be aware of the marked tendency of upper-middle class professionals to identify with the ruling capitalist class. Such people are very active on the web to suppress revolutionary thinking. They do this consciously to serve their masters in the ruling class or unconsciously because their political views are compromised due to the fear of losing their comfortable lifestyle. I've specifically targeted the issue in this post, to some extent in this post, and this is illustrated in the following post for today.