Love Did Not Trump Hate (So it’s Time to Smash the State)

Boston Protest
Thousands march in Boston to protest a white supremacist “free speech” rally, on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017. The tiny group of far-right hatemongers received full police protection and dispersed early.

Following the repugnant, white supremacist carnage in Charlottesville, Virginia, author and Princeton professor, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, wrote an article for Jacobin magazine succinctly titled, “No More Charlottesvilles.”

Taylor calls the violence that erupted on Aug. 12, “the predictable outcome of the Republican Party’s racist agenda and Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency.”

“More than providing a platform for Trump’s racist hate speech,” she writes, “the Republican Party has boosted his political agenda—an agenda that has imbued the racist right with the confidence that they can succeed in their campaign of terrorizing, marginalizing, and even killing those who stand in their way. This includes black and brown people as well as the white antiracists who challenge them. We are all in their crosshairs.”

Our organizing in the wake of Charlottesville—where 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, was murdered when a young neo-Nazi drove his car into a crowd of protesters—should be based on solidarity. It should be rooted in the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

The dismissive, ultra-left identity-politics which have become endemic among the left in recent years, will not defeat the far right. We absolutely must continue to support the most vulnerable people within our ranks—especially those that have historically been the primary targets of white supremacists’ wrath, like African-Americans, Jews, LGBT folks, and people with disabilities.

But let’s be clear: The fascists are coming for all of us.

Nor will abstract sentiments of “love” and “decency” be sufficient to fight the right. The members of the so-called “alt-right” are not the disadvantaged, ignorant poor the media portray them as. Most of them are middle to upper-middle class, college educated, and voted for Trump precisely because of his quasi-white nationalist leanings. They are not the uneducated, easily swayed victims of “bad ideas.” They understand perfectly well the hate and intolerance they represent.

As one young neo-Nazi candidly told the Washington Post in an online video, “I’m here because our republican values are, number one: standing up for local, white identity. Our identity is under threat [sic]. Number two: the free-market. And number three: killing Jews.”

Don’t get me wrong: I am all for love, and I do not doubt the noble intentions of liberals who advocate we “fight hate with love.” But it will take more than just “love” and good intentions to send the white supremacists packing. It will take organization and a clear, unambiguous political orientation.

The fact is, love did not “trump hate.” So now it’s time to smash the state.

Fortunately, activists on the left seem to be getting the message. People have an intense desire to fight back against the rising far right—especially in the wake of the events in Charlottesville. They want to know how they can contribute to the left-wing resistance. And they are hungry for serious politics to help guide them in this fight.

This desire for real politics over empty, if well-intended, sloganeering was evident at a post-Charlottesville rally in Portland, Maine, the Sunday following the vile “Unite the Right” rally.

Though poorly organized, and hastily thrown together at the last minute, the rally nonetheless drew a crowd of over 400 people. The first few speakers echoed the familiar liberal themes of showing “tolerance” and “understanding” for those we “disagree with”—as if the threat posed by the alt-right is little more than a mere “disagreement.”

Three speakers in, Caitrin Smith, a Portland resident and member of the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) offered a rousing, politically charged speech that not only received raucous applause from the audience, but also served to shift the tone of the remainder of the rally.

“What happened [Aug. 12] is deplorable!” said Smith. “And we are here today to say to these Nazis, ‘Not today!’, ‘Not tomorrow!’, ‘Not ever!'”

She continued:

… The rulers of this country have always relied on oppression and exploitation to drive working people into submission, to maintain their power. Yesterday’s events cannot be examined without an excavation of this history. … We must dismantle the organization of the right with the organization of the left.

Afterwards, a number of people stopped by our ISO “merch booth,” and signed up for our mailing list or bought copies of our monthly newspaper, the Socialist Worker. Our weekly meeting the following Wednesday had about double the typical number of attendees.

A week later, between 15,000-30,000 anti-fascist protesters marched in Boston in opposition to a “free speech” rally held by a tiny group of white supremacists. The Boston march included contingents of ISO branches from Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New York, and Boston, as well as members of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), and Socialist Alternative.

There are two competing, highly disparate theories on the left when it comes to confronting these white supremacists.

Liberals and establishment figures in the Democratic Party argue we do nothing at all—just ignore the racist and hope they go away. Protesting, liberals argue, merely grants the far right the attention it seeks. Thus, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh spent the days leading up to the Aug. 19, Boston protest attempting to dissuade activists from taking part in the march.

But ignoring these hate groups does not cause them to go away. Quite the reverse, the lack of a visible opposition to their racist, xenophobic views tends to leave the right further emboldened, allowing their malicious cancer to grow.

On the other hand, far left groups like the Black Bloc and Antifa (short for “anti-fascist”) seek to confront the right in physical confrontations. These confrontations inevitably end in defeat—and arrest—for the leftists. The police have historically acted as the default bodyguards for the KKK and white supremacist groups. This makes for a decidedly unfair fight. Additionally, engaging the right in fist-fights only feeds in to the media narrative that they are “persecuted” by the violent, free-speech-hating liberals.

Neither of these approaches is an effective strategy for fighting the right.

Instead, we should confront them by peacefully, yet forcefully mobilizing in far greater numbers (as we did in Boston) and drowning out their disgusting message with one of our own. Our message must hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s immigrant and minority scapegoating a convenient narrative for why their own standards of living have declined.

“Now is the time to overcome the fear that the fascists want us to feel,” wrote the editors of Socialist Worker, in an Aug. 15 op-ed following the Charlottesville attack, “and organize demonstrations with overwhelming numbers–to stop this cancer now, before it can grow into something far more threatening. That means organizing broad protests open to everyone affected by this threat–which is just about everyone–to prove the far right is a tiny minority.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

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Say Yes to Socialism

Klein in Conversation
Authors Michelle Alexander, Naomi Klein, and Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor (left to right) in conversation at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, on May 9, 2017. Photo from Haymarket Books.

One of the lessons that has become increasingly clear for those of us on the left since Donald Trump’s election is that it is not enough to simply be against Trump. We must also stand for something. We must put forward a radical yet convincing alternative for how society could be organized—an alternative rooted in Marxism that speaks to working-class Americans’ economic grievances as well as their aspirations for equality and social justice.

In other words, we should not merely settle for impeaching Trump (though I am completely down with that goal). We must dismantle the entire racist, sexist, xenophobic capitalist system that gave rise to Trump and his swamp monster administration of billionaires and bigots.

Liberals and leftists have largely neglected this second part of the equation—articulating what we are for—in recent decades.  And, in many respects, the Democrats’ 2016 election loss was a reflection of that neglect. Bernie Sanders received some 13 million votes in the Democratic primary not only because his democratic-socialist ideas are extremely popular among voters. But his success is also due to the fact that he actively campaigned for something—a vision of a better, more equitable and sustainable future for working-class people.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, campaigned on the vapid, decidedly uninspiring idea that America is “already great.” Her electoral platform was essentially a continuation of Barack Obama’s neoliberal, warmongering agenda. And as dire as things are now with the Predator-in-Chief in the White House, we cannot delude ourselves about the shortcomings and missed opportunities of the last eight years under Obama.

“The alternative is socialism,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism. “Shorn of the baggage that socialism never asked to carry, it is an attractive idea. It is not a dream concocted in the head of a utopian thinker: It was born in the collective action of workers themselves…”

This is the central argument of Naomi Klein’s latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

The book is, as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s blurb on the back states, “an urgent intervention” by one of the most prominent and intellectually sophisticated voices on the left. And it is an argument that is clearly resonating with readers: No Is Not Enough is a New York Times bestseller, and the first book by Chicago-based publisher, Haymarket Books, to achieve such status.

Klein’s latest book—which she admits to urgently banging out in a few months as opposed to the five years she typically spends researching and writing—is in many ways a synthesis of her previous material—No Logo (1999), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), and This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

Klein views Trump as the inevitable outcome of all the late-stage capitalist trends she documents in those previous works. In fact, Trump is, Klein argues, a monstrous amalgamation of those capitalist developments, “sewn together out of the body parts of all of these and many other dangerous trends.”

“… Trump, extreme as he is, is less an aberration than a logical conclusion—a pastiche of pretty much all the worst trends of the past half century,” she writes.

Trump is the product of powerful systems of thought that rank human life based on race, religion, gender, sexuality, physical appearance, and physical ability—and that have systematically used race as a weapon to advance brutal economic policies since the earliest days of North American colonization and the trans-atlantic slave trade. … Most of all, he is the incarnation of a still-powerful free-market ideological project … that wages war on everything public and commonly held, and imagines corporate CEOs as superheroes who will save humanity.

Klein’s central premise, however, draws heavily from The Shock Doctrine. In that book, Klein traces the history of the right’s frequent exploitation of national “shocks,” whether they come in the form of a natural disaster, an economic crisis, or a terrorist attack.

While citizens are still reeling from the shock or tragedy, right-wing elites seize the opportunity to ram through extreme, free-market policies—measures they never would be able to pass under normal conditions. Under the cover of darkness, when the “normal rules of democracy” do not apply, the right can remake the world per their Chicago School-style, free-market utopian dreams. Schools become privatized, public services are decimated or abolished, entirely, and democracy is traded for a police state.

Klein points to the U.S.-backed 1973 coup in Chile, the fall of the Soviet Union, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the neoliberal gentrifying of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as prime examples of this “shock doctrine.”

Trump’s election, Klein argues, was the ultimate shock—one which we are still recovering from. His whirlwind barrage of executive statements signed within the first few weeks of his presidency, was the ultimate “shock tactic.” It was designed to keep progressives so overwhelmed as to leave them disoriented and demobilized—if not, indeed, demoralized.

And, Klein warns, the worst shocks are likely yet to come.

Indeed, the first half of the book–in which Klein soberly assesses the rapidly narrowing time-frame remaining to avert the most catastrophic impacts of climate change–is quite dire. Klein recalls a recent visit to the Great Barrier Reef, which has been besieged by a record-breaking global bleaching event, due to rising ocean temperatures. Large sections of the Reef are now dead, according to scientists.

“It’s worth underlining how little warming it took to bring about such a radical change,” writes Klein. “Ocean temperatures went up just one degree Celsius higher than the levels to which these incredible species are adapted, and that was enough for a massive die-off. Unlike many other climate change-related events, this wasn’t some dramatic storm or wildfire–just silent, watery death.”

But, as Klein’s own reporting in disaster-affected areas attests, the shock doctrine “can be resisted.” (Emphasis hers.)

Indeed, we have already seen an incredible initial surge of resistance to Trump’s presidency. There was the Women’s March on Washington–the largest single day of protest in U.S. history; the airport strikes against Trump’s Muslim travel ban; and the marches to address climate change and in defense of science, respectively.

And hundreds of activists have been arrested picketing outside their senators’ offices in opposition to the GOP’s barbaric health care replacement bill. (As of this writing, that bill seems to be D.O.A.)

But resistance alone is not enough. As Klein argues, this resistance must be combined with the left’s ability to tell “a different story from the one the shock doctors are peddling, a vision of the world compelling enough to compete head-to-head with theirs.”

“This values-based vision must offer a different path,” she writes, “away from serial shocks—one based on coming together across racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides, rather than being wrenched further apart, and one based on healing the planet rather than unleashing further destabilizing wars and pollution.”

Klein later writes:

“No—to Trump, to France’s Marine Le Pen, to any number of xenophobic and hypernationalist parties on the rise the world over—may be what initially brings millions into the streets. But it is yes that will keep us in that fight.” (Emphasis hers.)

Throughout the book, Klein stresses the “intersectionality” of both class and identity-based forms of oppression–a point I, too, have tried to highlight on this blog. She chastises Clinton’s reliance on empty, “trickle-down feminism,” which, in the words of Sanders, amounted to little more than a rallying cry of, “I’m a woman! Vote for me!”

No Is Not Enough is an excellent addition to the growing cannon of “anti-Trump resistance” literature. At a time when much of the initial opposition to Trump has subsided, and many progressives have seemingly resigned themselves to voting for Democrats in 2018 (or, perhaps worse, pinning their hopes on the overblown, unverified allegations of “Russiagate” leading to Trump’s impeachment), Klein offers us a road-map for how to resist both Trump and the capitalist system that spawned him.

This will require, she argues, the left reclaiming its tradition of “dream[ing] big, out loud, in public–explosions of utopian imagination.”

Klein writes:

With unleashed white supremacy and misogyny, with the world teetering on the edge of ecological collapse, with the very last vestiges of the public sphere set to be devoured by capital, it’s clear that we need to do more than draw a line in the sand and say “no more.” Yes, we need to do that and we need to chart a credible and inspiring path to a different future. And that future cannot simply be where we were before Trump came along … It has to be somewhere we have never been before.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Comrades Converge on Chicago for Annual Socialism Conference

Socialism Conference Pic

CHICAGO- At least 2,000 activists converged at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago for the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) annual Socialism Conference from July 6-9. The four-day conference consists of talks, debates, discussions, and entertainment for dedicated socialists, people interested in socialism or those just hoping to learn more about revolutionary theory.

This year’s conference featured talks ranging from “privilege” theory, the politics of food sovereignty, why we need a revolutionary left, the history of the Combahee River Collective, and the lessons from the Russian Revolution.

(The Russian Revolution featured prominently in this year’s conference, as 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of the 1917 workers’ uprising.)

Notable speakers included actor, John Cusack; comedian, Hari Kondabolu; actor/playwright, Wallace Shawn; and “Socialism” regular, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! Additionally, Jacobin magazine sponsored a series of talks, including a debate on the efficacy of the left “using” the Democratic Party to get socialists elected to office.

“Socialism 2017” also boasted the largest attendance in the conference’s history. Attendees were no doubt motivated by Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency as so many Americans have been since his election last fall.

Feminist activist, Angela Davis, perhaps best summed up the urgent need to resist Trump and the racist, sexist, capitalist system that spawned him at the history-making Women’s March on Washington, back in January.

“The next fourteen hundred and fifty-nine days of the Trump administration,” said Davis, “will be fourteen hundred and fifty-nine days of resistance. Resistance on the ground. Resistance in the classrooms. Resistance on the job. Resistance in our art and in our music. This is just the beginning.”

And, judging from the record turnout at this year’s Socialism Conference, Americans—particularly young ones—are heeding Davis’s words.

Indeed, a fierce atmosphere of urgency permeated the conference compared to last year’s. Last year at this time, speakers and attendees had more or less resigned themselves to four more years of neoliberal Clintonism. How wrong we all were…

Trump’s election has emboldened far-right white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Islamophobes. Incidents of hate crimes against immigrants, Muslims, and people of color rose precipitously since 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Much of this spike in violence occurred in the ten days following Trump’s election.

Thus, this year’s conference theme: “Fight the Right. Build the Left.”

This was my second year attending Socialism Conference. I joined 15 other comrades from the Portland, Maine branch of the ISO.

Author and Princeton University professor of African American Studies, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, gave the opening address—a speech the right prevented her from delivering earlier this year. Taylor was forced to cut short the book tour for her best-selling, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation back in May, after a Fox News hit-piece inspired an onslaught of vicious, racist, and downright frightening death-threats from right-wing bigots.

“Hey nigger,” one such punctuation-less email opened, “keep talking down the President of the United States we will try you in federal court for hate crimes and have you lynched” [sic]. Another was more direct: “If Trump is what you say, you are a dirty ass coon dyke cunt. Just saying … Cunt.”

(Yet “liberal” media outlets, including the New York Times, insist it is the left in general–and Sen. Bernie Sanders, in particular–that is responsible for spreading the hateful, violent rhetoric that pervades contemporary political discourse. The Times flat out blamed Sanders for Republican Rep. Steve Scalise’s shooting, last month.)

Taylor’s talk drew on the inherent, though often overlooked, interrelation of racism and capitalism—how one form of oppression necessitates the other.

“Racism is the central divide between ordinary people in this country,” she said, “and without a struggle against it, it will be impossible to organize any coherent movement for anything.

… It is no mystery why socialism is no longer a dirty word in the United States. It is no mystery why thirteen million people voted for an open socialist—Bernie Sanders—in this country. Not only is this an indictment of capitalism’s failures, but it is also an expressed desire for a better way. We want real democracy, where the people who create the wealth in this society are entitled to have a say in how it is distributed. We want real freedom—freedom from racism, imprisonment, borders, detention, and second-class personhood.

Taylor later joined fellow ISO-er, Sharon Smith and Professor Barbara Ransby for a panel discussion with Barbara Smith and Demita Frazier—founding members of the Combahee River Collective. The panel reflected on the 40-year anniversary of the Collective’s founding, which presented a radical understanding of the intersectional relationship between the struggles against sexism, racism, and homophobia.

The Combahee River Collective’s 1977 statement reads:

We are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.

The authors went on:

“As Black women, we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.”

Other talks examined the best strategies for fighting the resurgent white-supremacist, “alt-right,” which has brazenly mounted marches and rallies in even in the “bluest” of states in recent weeks.

College campuses, likewise, have seen an influx of high-profile right-wing figures invited to speak since Trump’s election. College presidents and administrators bend over backwards to allow provocative right-wing celebrities like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to spew their hate-filled diatribes on campus because of “free speech” … or something… (But remember: Conservative college students are a persecuted minority at “liberal” universities, with no outlet whatsoever for their right-wing views.)

When confronted with protesting these campus speakers or right-wing rallies, those on the left are typically presented with two disparate options:

The liberal-left and Democratic Party’s position is to do nothing at all, claiming counter-protests only grant these conservative groups the attention they seek. They urge progressives, instead, to simply ignore the KKK marches in hopes, presumably, that they will just go away.

The approach of far-left groups like the anarchist, Black Bloc and “Antifa” (short for “Anti-fascist”) meanwhile, is the complete opposite. They seek to fight the right by literally beating the crap out of them in physical confrontations.

But both of these strategies have proven ineffective at counteracting the far-right.

Ignoring these groups does not cause them to go away. Quite the reverse, the lack of a visible opposition to their racist, xenophobic views tends to leave the right further emboldened, convincing them their views are more widely accepted than they actually are.

And, while I am all for punching fascists in the face, Captain America-style, this is often precisely what these right-wing demonstrators want. It inadvertently feeds into their public image as “persecuted” by the mean, free-speech-hating liberals. Additionally, these far-right groups traditionally have the backing–whether tacit, or explicit–of the police, the National Guard, and ex-military contractor thugs (like the kind deployed in Standing Rock, last winter).

In other words, these people–many of whom have recently returned from military deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan–are trained fighters. They can crush scrawny, unarmed leftists like you and me with little effort.

Thus, leftists need to devise an effective middle-ground strategy that peacefully (yet forcefully) confronts the far-right by drowning out their repugnant message with our own–one that is delivered in far greater numbers. Our goal should be to hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s convenient immigrant and minority scapegoating an attractive narrative for why their own living standards have gone down.

“The left must seek … to educate a new generation about the need to challenge the far right through mass mobilization,” writes Socialist Worker‘s Eric Ruder. “This has to include education about struggles of the past, such as fighting fascism in Germany, as well as debates and discussions about strategy and tactics in the here and now.”

“And of course,” Ruder adds, “it means attempting to mobilize the largest possible response anywhere and everywhere” the right rears its ugly head.

Our branch members left conference feeling rejuvenated after a particularly difficult six months. We returned to Maine recommitted to the fight for building a broad, all-inclusive working-class left to overthrow capitalism and build a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable society.

As Karl Marx famously wrote:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Failure of Identity Politics

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham, star of the HBO series, “Girls,” shows off her support for Hillary Clinton with a dress emblazoned with the Democratic presidential candidate’s first name.

I maintain, as I have previously argued on this site, that one of the greatest obstacles to developing a mass, diverse working-class movement to fight not only the Trump regime, but also the system that spawned it in the first place, remains the scourge of identity politics.

This political orientation, along with its associated practices of “privilege-checking,” and “calling out,” has rendered the left atomized, devoid of a concrete political vision, and largely incapable of joining together in solidarity. Indeed, even that word, “solidarity,” is quite threatening to practitioners of identity and privilege-politics, who regard it as a sort of “whitewashing” of real inequities in race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The absence of a clearly articulated class-oriented approach to social justice, combined with a generally low-level of class-struggle (recent resistance to Trump’s election, notwithstanding), has allowed the nebulous, postmodernist dictates of identity politics to fill the void. As a result, in places like Portland, Maine the framework of identity politics has become the default orientation of left-wing groups.

According to liberal identitarians all white people are inherently—and perhaps, irredeemably—racist, simply by nature of being white. And no amount of education, enlightenment, commitment to social justice, or personal growth can alter a “privileged” white person’s racist, prejudiced views. Thus, identity politics casts White People or even just “whiteness” as the enemy of the oppressed, rather than the structural racism intentionally perpetuated by the wealthy elite.

As the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass observed of the twisted genius of the capitalist ruling class in pitting white workers against black workers, “The slaveholders, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, laboring white man against the blacks, succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” Douglass adds, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

Proponents of identity politics, likewise, insist Donald Trump was elected president based purely on racism—and nothing more. They point to exit-poll data suggesting a majority of white voters—including a majority of white women—voted for Trump.

But this data is misleading. A majority of white Americans did not vote for Trump. A majority of the whites who voted did. This is a crucial distinction. Nearly 50 percent of eligible voters stayed home on Election Day or were barred from voting.

And, while racism no doubt played some role in Trump’s election, many of the working-class whites who voted for him did so out of legitimate economic grievances. As Jacobin’s Adaner Usmani puts it, “All Klansmen are Trump supporters, but all Trump supporters are not Klansmen.” It is crucial those of us on the left understand this if we are to have any hope of winning some of those working-class Trump supporters–many of whom voted for Barack Obama, at least once–to our side.

This is in no way meant to diminish the very real and insidious role of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and ableism in Trump’s electoral victory. It is merely to acknowledge that his ascension is more complicated to explain—his supporters’ motivations more complex and often contradictory—than the easy scapegoat of “racism” suggests.

Furthermore, it was the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ Electoral College which handed Trump the presidency—not the voters. If we lived in an actual democracy, where candidates were elected based on the popular vote (or, for that matter, if we had more than two candidates to choose from), then Hillary Clinton would currently be sitting in the White House.

But proponents of identity politics conveniently overlook all of these nuances, preferring a simplistic (and decidedly cynical) understanding of society and human nature as governed by nothing more than fear, hatred, and naked self-interest.

As such, Maine activist and blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, claims in a recent post on her “Black Girl in Maine” blog that a “fear of the declining value of whiteness is what brought us Trump.”

Stewart-Bouley goes on to admonish her white readers that people of color do not need their “white guilt” in anti-racist activism, only to then proceed to remind them that “racism is largely a white problem.” Sure seems like a guilt-trip to me.

But rather than explaining how white leftists can be better “allies” in the fight against racism, Stewart-Bouley echoes the familiar identitarian doctrine that black and white activists conduct their work in separate circles. This, she explains, is so white people can “have a space [of their own] to work out the kinks on their journey without harming me and other POC [People of Color].”

This insistence of separate spaces for black and white activists flows from the identitarian concept that it is “not the job” of oppressed people to educate others. White progressives, in other words, must “do the work” of educating themselves.

“Seriously, I am not Oprah or Mammy,” Stewart-Bouley writes, “and for my own well-being, I want people to know what they don’t know and work on it without being expected to have their hand held by me while they do it.”

As someone who has worked (albeit, briefly) in education, I can assure you: Dismissively telling students to “go educate yourselves,” with no additional guidance or direction from the teacher, is a surefire way to ensure the majority of them do not take the class seriously, spend the semester slacking off, and ultimately fail the course. And, when it comes to eradicating racism, and building a viable, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-ethnic working-class movement, failure, as they say, is not an option.

Telling people to “educate yourself” or just “Google it” in response to legitimate questions about unfamiliar phrases, jargon, or histories, merely reproduces “neoliberal atomization,” as one of my comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) phrased it in a recent internal document. That is, “sit by yourself in front of a computer and figure it out alone.” And this is to say nothing of the generally contemptuous tone of telling people, “It’s not my job to educate you!”

Part of being a revolutionary means being willing to educate, discuss and patiently debate with others—even those who may not be as radical as you are. Reading, studying, and debating collectively are indispensable components to building a sense of solidarity, and coalescing around a unified, cohesive political orientation.

Contrary to the dictates of identity politics, just because an individual does not personally experience a particular form of oppression does not mean he or she has no interest in fighting to end that oppression. Indeed, the system of capitalism—a system that is inherently exploitative— oppresses all workers to some degree. The ruling class has its proverbial thumb on all workers—though it presses down with greater force on some particularly oppressed workers (African Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities), than others.

But all workers have an interest in cutting off the bourgeois thumb (if not, indeed, the entire hand it is a part of) and dismantling the system that keeps us all down.

As socialist author, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in her 2016 book, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation:

Solidarity is standing in unity with people even if you have not personally experienced their particular oppression[.] The reality is that as long as capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. But there are moments of struggle when the mutual interests of workers are laid bare, and when the suspicion is finally turned in the other direction—at the plutocrats who live well while the rest of us suffer.

While the inclusion of more people of color, women, and gays in the corporate and political arena is certainly a welcome trend, the folly of multiculturalism is in viewing this diversity alone as a form of progress. The fact is, one can be gay, black, female, or trans and still be part of the bourgeoisie. Take figures like Caitlyn Jenner, Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey, or warmonger “feminist,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example.

As left-wing professor Adolph Reed, Jr. writes in a stinging rebuke of liberal identity politics:

[A] society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

None of this is to suggest that class is “more important” than race or other aspects of identity. Rather, as Karl Marx observed, class and race are inextricably intertwined.

“In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in Volume One of Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

The left must rekindle the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Only through solidarity—through a shared sense of class-struggle among workers of all genders, gender-identities, races, and sexual orientations—can we hope to fight the right, rebuild the left, and win nothing less than the self-emancipation of the working class.

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Thanks for reading!

 

Beyond Identity Politics: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

identity-politics

If there is a lesson to be gleaned from the wreckage of the 2016 presidential election, it is that the left needs to move beyond the narrow limits of identity politics and embrace a broad, class-based orientation of solidarity.

Hillary Clinton’s empty appeals to a corporate faux feminism failed to win over struggling working-class voters—including, ironically, at least 50 percent of white women who cast ballots for Donald Trump despite his repugnant history as a misogynist sexual predator.  And brow-beating women and Bernie Sanders supporters (“Bernie Bros”) by claiming, as Madeline Albright did, that there is a “special place in hell” for sisters who did not fall in line behind Clinton, did not help matters.

Even Sanders seems to understand the dead-end that is identity politics. During a recent stop in Boston on his current book tour/post-election-pick-me-up rally, Sanders urged progressives to “move beyond identity politics.”

“It’s not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!'” Sanders told the audience. “No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

It is safe to say identity politics—along with Clintonian neoliberalism—died on Nov. 8. And I for one say good riddance.

But before explaining why I view the death of ID politics as a good thing, it is worth explaining what, exactly, is meant by “identity politics,” as there seems to be some confusion among leftists over the term itself.

Contrary to the argument put forward by Marcus H. Johnson in a recent story for The Establishment, identity politics are not the same thing as civil rights. Nor, for that matter, is Johnson’s oversimplified definition of identity politics as encompassing the “political interests of women, minorities and other marginalized groups in American politics,” completely accurate.

(Indeed, it is striking how poorly informed Johnson’s entire liberal article is, to the point where he lumps Sanders–a New Deal Democrat, essentially–into something called the “alt-left.”)

Rather, ID politics—which has its roots in academic postmodernism and, as such, is decidedly anti-Marxist in nature—suggests that not only do all members of an oppressed group share the same interests, but that only those members have a stake in ending that oppression. Identity politics argues, furthermore, that all whites benefit materially from racism and, as a result, have no interest in uniting in solidarity with black Americans to end racism—or sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

(A more ultra-leftist strain of ID politics goes even further, suggesting that all whites are racist, or all men are sexist, simply by virtue of being white or male.)

To be certain, as a white male, I can only imagine the hardships of enduring racism or sexism on a daily basis. I can never fully understand the lived experience of a black person in this country with its long, savage history of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.

But just because an individual does not personally experience a particular form of oppression does mean he or she has no interest in fighting to end that oppression. Indeed, the system of capitalism oppresses all workers in some fashion through exploitation, wage-theft, income inequality, and surplus labor extraction.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in her recent book, From Black Lives Matter to Black Liberation:

Solidarity is standing in unity with people even when you have not personally experienced their particular oppression[.] The reality is that as long as capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. But there are moments of struggle when the mutual interests of workers are laid bare, and when the suspicion is finally turned in the other direction—at the plutocrats who live well while the rest of us suffer.

For too long now, the left has defined itself by what Chris Hedges calls the “boutique activism” of identity politics, multiculturalism, and political correctness. While these well-intentioned trends no doubt have called much needed attention to the previously ignored histories and narratives of traditionally oppressed groups, they have come at the expense of structural critiques of the capitalist system that causes this oppression in the first place.

As a result, the left has become atomized, disoriented, and rendered all but ineffective. Where the left once stood firmly opposed to war, empire, and economic inequality, it now agonizes over who has more “privilege.” Multiculturalism has become an end in of itself.

As Hedges argues in his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class, “Making sure people of diverse races or sexual orientations appear on television shows or in advertisements merely widens the circle of new consumers. Multiculturalism is an appeal that pleads with the corporate power structure for inclusion.”

While the inclusion of more people of color, women, and gays in the corporate and political arena is certainly a welcome trend, the folly of multiculturalism is in viewing this diversity alone as a form of progress. The fact is, one can be gay, black, female, or trans and still be part of the bourgeoisie. Take figures like Caitlyn Jenner, Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey, or warmonger “feminist,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example.

Consider, furthermore, that black Americans have lost ground in every economic category eight years after the election of the nation’s first African American president. This is because Barack Obama has done virtually nothing for the black working class. He promptly bailed out the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks, while leaving Main Street to further drown in debt, low-wage jobs, lay-offs, and home foreclosures.

Understand that in critiquing identity politics, I am in no way attempting to downplay the struggle of marginalized groups. Indeed, socialists are often accused of emphasizing the importance of class over race, gender or gender identity. (Curiously, liberal identitarians are rarely accused of the converse–ignoring or diminishing class.)

In fact, Marx himself correctly understood the complex interconnectedness of race and class. “In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in volume one of Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Marx understood racism as an inseparable byproduct of capitalism. Bourgeois capitalists intentionally stoke divisions of racism, sexism, “ableism” and the like in order to keep members of the working class fighting among themselves rather than turning their ire toward the capitalist system itself and the wealthy elites who profit from it.

But the contemporary left is disconnected from a Marxist analysis of society rooted in class struggle. Sanders’ campaign did a lot to renew interest in socialism particularly among young people–even if his central message was ultimately undercut by his unwavering commitment to the capitalist Democratic Party.

But we still have a long way to go to create a robust, organized socialist movement to counteract both the shallow superficiality of identity politics and the newly emboldened racist right. The sooner the left jettisons this academic trend–as well as its torturous unwavering commitment to the Democratic Party–the better.

Are there groups that will endure greater threats and forms of oppression under the incoming Trump administration…? Without a doubt.

But rather than limiting our focus to only those particular groups (immigrants, women, Muslims) while sneering at those who seemingly may not face as direct or immediate danger, “This isn’t about you!”, our motto should be the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” And let’s not kid ourselves: All working-class Americans–black, white, gay, straight, female, male, trans, disabled–are going to get viciously screwed in the coming years.

Only when workers unite and fight can we hope to obtain our freedom. Now is the time for solidarity. Now is the time for socialism.