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Sun Dec 8, 2019, 01:23 PM

 

"Socialism, Universalism and Anti-Anti-Racism"

Yes, this is relevant to the primaries and other discussions being had in this forum: https://www.leftvoice.org/socialism-universalism-and-anti-anti-racism.

Today that need is greater than ever and for reasons few could have predicted. In the guise of a critique of identity politics, it has become increasingly common, and widely acceptable, not simply to ignore these struggles or merely pay lip service to their importance, while ignoring them in practice, but to denounce them as “particularistic” and narrow, undertaken only to secure benefits and privileges for a minority of the population (exactly as the recent teacher strikes have been depicted as the “selfish” and even greedy actions of those unwilling to put the needs of students above their own). A quarantine is imposed on the fight against specific racist practices and their effects and after-effects through the application of the label of “identity politics,” as if specifically anti-racist action were a kind of pathogen that, if left unchecked, could pose a serious risk to the class struggle. The unshakeable faith of those who believe that economic reforms will make racism disappear and who see the self-organization of the specially oppressed as divisive and an obstacle to achieving these reforms, is only part of the problem. A critical analysis of the anti-anti-racist tendency (and its enablers) requires a brief examination of the two histories at work here: the history of what we will call economism in the socialist and Communist movements and the history of the concept of identity politics.

The history of the name, identity politics, is a history, as both Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor and Asad Haider have shown, whose complexity remains hidden behind its current use as a term of depreciation. When the Combahee River Collective (CRC) introduced the notion of identity politics in the seventies, the idea of identity they invoked was fundamentally distinct from the identity that is portable and easily transferable, an identity that one can “assume” (or set aside) at will, or that, at the extreme, can be stolen in an act of identity theft. Perhaps most importantly, the concept of identity as they understood it was also distinct from the notion of identity as a consciousness of oneself (or a collective conscious of itself), a mere representation of the experience that conferred a particular “personal identity” on an individual or a collective identity on a group. The identity to which the CRC’s statement referred was the identity attributed to and imposed on individuals, above all, by the state, composed not simply of a proper name, but also of the historically variable means of identification (e.g., nationality, race and gender) that render individuals identifiable and accountable by locating them in relation to a set of social and political coordinates. There is nothing immaterial about this identity; it is realized through apparatuses, practices, and rituals and is as material as class relations (we might think of the “identification” that the police demand when they stop us). It has a history, in fact, a history inseparable from the existence of classes and that developed directly or indirectly in response to property forms characteristic of the capitalist mode of production and, through a complex of struggles, became “interlocked” with class in ways that profoundly affect both the life chances of individuals and the concrete character of class struggles.

For the CRC, understanding political identity as a node in a network of multiple identities imposed and resisted by different apparatuses and practices, allowed them to map the terrain on which they were compelled to carry out their struggle. And a war, a real war, not an imaginary war of position between two clearly demarcated camps, but a war fought on multiple fronts, requires constant maneuver, as well as a constant accumulation of forces through alliances based on the exploitation of every conflict, contradiction and antagonism available, in order not to be decimated by a more powerful enemy. This was, for Lenin, one of the most important lessons of 1917: the idea of a “pure” class struggle whose strategy and tactics could be decided a priori was a myth whose effect would be to disarm the revolutionary forces. The forgetting of this lesson and an inability to translate it into the terms of the present have ensured that the attempts to demonstrate the power and originality of the CRC’s analysis of identity have had little resonance. The phrase “identity politics,” now serves to perpetuate the myth of a pure class politics that must be defended against the particularism of the struggles against special oppression, as if any demands other than those that, in theory, will “lift all boats,” (and thus not address the specificity of oppression) can only undermine the class struggle. The category of “identity politics” is the means by which anti-anti-racism trivializes and, worse, dematerializes the very real practices that constitute race and racism in order to convince those most affected that their oppression is somehow less real or essential than class exploitation and can only be addressed through future economic transformation. The fact that such arguments have proven remarkably ineffective has only had the effect of assuring those who do not face special oppression that the struggles against it, and those who wage them, can be safely ignored.

The rejection of conceptions of race as a meaningful marker of human genetic diversity that once served to justify existing social and legal inequalities has produced (and not simply in the US) a series of contradictory effects. Far from leading to the disappearance of racism, the invalidation of race as a biological concept furnished the basis for a refusal to acknowledge the historical and social reality of race and the legal, but increasingly customary and informal, modes of exclusion and oppression tied to this reality. Indeed, it gave rise to the apologetic position that race, having no natural existence, was little more than an unstable, fictional construction governed by individual initiative, or even the pursuit of individual interest through an entrepreneurial manipulation of race.

At this point, we might pause for a moment to ask how racism came to be so completely dematerialized as to be relegated to the status of ideas (“prejudices”) or consciousness, and declared so transitory that to make anti-racism a central part of a strategy for socialist transformation could appear to be a mistaking of the contingent for the necessary and the inessential for the essential. The explanation that the denial of the centrality of racism (or more accurately, the centrality of the interlocking of racial oppression and capitalist exploitation) is yet another ruse of a white supremacy, a domination that works all the more effectively when it operates invisibly and inaudibly, is not sufficient. The question we must all face is how the Left in the US could trivialize and minimize the effects of racism at the very moment of a resurgence of openly white supremacist and neo-fascist movements whose ideas have conquered a place in public discourse. And to argue that these movements, whose mass base is unlike anything seen since the 1930s, are not really fascist or that their activists, if treated with respect and instructed as to their material interests, can be won to socialism, despite their repeatedly demonstrated commitment to violent racism, Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, is simply another way of denying that organized racism has grown enormously in the last few years and poses a danger to those who are the objects of their hatred, including Marxists. It is indeed possible for the Left to reduce the threat they represent and even to reach a part of their periphery, but only if and when the relationship of forces shifts in favor of anti-racist and anti-fascist movements which the Left must help build. The more powerful the white nationalist movements become, they more they are able to attract and hold adherents. To justify abstention from anti-racist action by arguing that winning universal health care will make neo-Nazis, militias and neo-fascist street-fighting organizations suddenly disappear is precisely an example of that simplified version of Marxism, responsible for a great many of the disasters and betrayals of the past century, we have called economism.


Much more at the link.
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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Sun Dec 8, 2019, 01:47 PM

1. Another excerpt that points to the problem with the "only through a class lens" approach:

 

Here, those who face violent state repression on a scale unknown to white workers (or Leftists) and who dare to mobilize against this repression become infiltrators who seek to “play up” identity to neutralize a purely economic program. What is the effect of such a position? It leaves the significant part of the working class that is African-American and Latinx (who are projected to be fifty percent of the working class under the age of 54 within ten years) to fight police killings, mass incarceration and deportation on their own, and instructs the most exploited, the poorest and those who daily face an array of threats unique to them, to set aside their demands so as not to alienate those who, however marginally, are better off in nearly every measurable way.


Sure, classism and racism are intertwined. Few would dispute that. But, like with a Venn diagram, there is also a vital need to understand the way in which class consciousness is insufficient.
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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Sun Dec 8, 2019, 04:55 PM

2. Socialism is an economic theory - period.

 

Stalin was a socialist!
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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Sun Dec 8, 2019, 06:56 PM

3. Good article, but such a complex argument shouldn't be needed.

 

It's very simple. If a large group of your potential voters feel like your policies do nothing for them, you can't really expect their support. And the fact that racism blocks black Americans from reaping any benefits of economic policy improvements means policy proposals must be seen to address that basic fact first. And the candidate must be trusted by the black community to deliver - which is probably a harder lift than just scratching out some policies that sound good.
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Response to MH1 (Reply #3)

Mon Dec 9, 2019, 10:10 AM

4. Wealth inequality isn't used to justify racism. Racism is used to justify wealth inequality.

 

Until we prioritize the reduction of racism, wealth inequality will persist.

The ruling class doesn't say, "Let's maintain wealth inequality so that we can maintain systemic racism." They maintain systemic racism in order to maintain wealth inequality.
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