Identity crisis: Leftist anti-wokeness is bullshit

Black Lives Matter supporters and community members march from Minneapolis City

When criticism of ‘identity politics’ is just an argument for class representation under capitalism.

This piece is a response to the wider debates continually raging around identity politics and class. It tackles the writing of Adolph Reed Jr., not because he’s the worst example identity politics critique, but because he’s one of the best.

Adolph Reed Jr.’s critique of identity politics is rooted in an analysis of US capitalism’s response to and co-option of black liberation movements in the ‘70s as a method of demobilisation. He has made extensive investigation into the relationships between race and class, and that ways that a ‘race first’ politics has been used to mediate class struggle in the US.

However by ignoring the class content and revolutionary politics of participants in the ‘60s black liberation movements, Reed ends up at a rejection of revolutionary class struggle as such, in favour of color-blind class representation by union leadership and socialist politicians.

Note: when people talk about ‘identity politics’ they can mean anything from the promotion of individual women and black politicians within the Democratic party, trans bathroom access laws, accountability for sexual abuse, intersectionality, or urban insurrections against police violence. Rather than attempt to limit the definition or use multiple alternatives such as ‘liberal representational identity politics’ vs. ‘communist praxis informed by intersectionality’, this piece will mostly follow Reed in using identity politics to mean one or all of these things at different times, and rely on concrete historical and current examples to delineate.

Reed has been writing critical appraisals of the role of identity politics in American politics for decades. His associate Cedric Johnson’s Revolutionaries to Race Leaders documents the process whereby the radical black movements of the ‘60s were co-opted and demobilised in the ‘70s, leading to a shift by many towards the election of black representatives to local and state governments. John Clegg in the Brooklyn Rail1 discussed the role of black representation in Baltimore via Johnson’s work, in the form of both black police and black local politicians in quelling the protests that followed the police killing of Freddie Gray.

However, Reed goes further than pointing out the importance of the black political class in managing the black working class. Rather, he locates the origins of the black political class in the black liberation struggle itself:

Although black life as a whole has not improved considerably beyond the elimination of racial segregation, in the 1970s certain strata within the black community have actually benefited. This development is a direct outcome of the 1960s activism: of the interplay of the "movement" and the integrative logic of administrative capitalism. And this "gains of the sixties" interpretation cannot spell out what "satisfaction" is because it is itself the ideology of precisely those strata which have benefited from the events of the 1960s within the black community.2

Reed’s examination of this process has led him to reject anti-racist politics as such.3 Instead he argues that class is responsible for maintaining existing racial inequality: hundreds of years of slavery, decades of Jim Crow, redlining etc. have led to a highly racialised US working class. With the advent of ‘color-blind’ policies in the ‘60s and the neo-liberalism’s stripping away of the welfare state and job security in the ‘70s, it is now class that predominantly maintains those racial class divisions by its own logic rather than legalised discrimination:

I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line, one that is entirely consistent with the neoliberal redefinition of equality and democracy. It reflects the social position of those positioned to benefit from the view that the market is a just, effective, or even acceptable system for rewarding talent and virtue and punishing their opposites and that, therefore, removal of “artificial” impediments to its functioning like race and gender will make it even more efficient and just.4

With Obama presiding over increased deportations of immigrants, the militarisation of police forces and the tear gassing and rubber bullets fired in Ferguson and Baltimore, that critique of black representation in electoral politics as improving anything for the black working class remains relevant. The Democratic Party machine and liberal commentariat has often met any policy criticism of Cory Booker and Kemala Harris this year with accusations of racism (the figure of the ‘racist, sexist, Bernie bro’ or ‘alt-left’), even when those criticisms come from black social democrats or communists. So, we can see that this strategy of capital continues, and it has picked up charter schools advocate and Campaign Zero founder Deray McKesson along the way, running for Baltimore Mayor in 2016 and endorsing HIllary Clinton for president. This hasn’t only been limited to the Democratic party either, former Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver made a senate bid as a Republican in 1986.5

Reed is not only critical of the black liberation movement, he’s critical of a politics of identity in general:

The Civil Rights and Black Power movements prefigured the coming of this new age; the feminist photocopy of the black road to nowhere was its farcical re-run.6

As I’ve read more of Reed’s work over the past year or so, and seen the way it’s been deployed in discussions about ‘identity politics’, I’ve noticed significant flaws in both his historical narrative and in the solutions he proposes to overcome the limitations of ‘neo-liberal identity politics’. This is coupled with a dismissal of those he criticises as ‘anti-Marxist’, while his own work is peppered with references to the Frankfurt School and Marcuse.

In crafting an historical narrative from black power to ‘Black Faces in High Places’, Reed does not engage with those elements of the ‘60s movements who were resolutely opposed to such a conclusion and recognised the risks at the time.

Fred Hampton was leader of the Black Panthers in Illinois, and was instrumental in organising the Rainbow Coalition, which included amongst others the Young Patriots and the Young Lords. The intent was to unify struggles based on identity along class lines.

Hampton was assassinated by the Chicago Police force in 1969, but while he was only 21 when he died, he was already very clear that black liberation was tied to the abolition of capitalism:

We don’t think you fight fire with fire best ; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’re stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys like this and reactionary state’s attorneys like Hanrahan with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.7

When asked about Fred Hampton in a recent interview about Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bernie Sanders, Reed focused on the most reactionary elements of black nationalism rather than any exposition of what Hampton’s approach entailed.8

Reed has also dismissed “intersectionality” specifically,9 reducing it to merely campus activism and simply an extension of neo-liberal identity politics, ignoring that it emerged as the work of black feminists addressing specifically the failures of struggles in the ‘60s.

In fact it’s hard or impossible to find examples of Reed talking about Hampton, or the organising of groups like the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement or the League of Revolutionary Black Workers at all. The DRUM emerged from two events, the Detroit uprising of 1967, and the wildcat strike of older Polish women and younger black workers at the Hamtramck Assembly plant. It also occurred in the context of revolutionary groups including the Facing Reality group associated with CLR James (in exile in the UK) and Martin Glaberman, and the Corresponding Publishing Committee associated with Grace Lee Boggs (these had been one group until a split in 1962 and both maintained a presence in Detroit).

League of Revolutionary Black Workers

It may be that this is due to an insufficient engagement with Reed’s work and that he does reference these groups. However their existence and ideas pose significant problems for Reed’s solution to the limitations of liberal identity politics. Their focus on the self-organisation of workers against both the union apparatus and employers, reflecting and influencing Facing Reality’s move towards an explicitly anti-state communist position is in direct opposition to Reed’s hope that ‘the unions’ can be revived in a coalition with a socialist party.

If we look at Reed’s interventions in practical politics, he’s been a member of the Interim National Council of the Labor Party, and more recently was involved in the ‘Labor for Bernie’ campaign, here’s him talking about why he got involved:

What appealed to me about the Sanders campaign in general is that I obviously like the stuff that he is saying [...] it in some way is that it became a vehicle for bringing together the people in the labor movement, people with standing and who represent stuff in the labor movement who are themselves ready to try to, once again, push in a direction of creating some independent working class politics.

There is a Labor Party connection. You probably already may have seen that National Nurses United endorsed Sanders. I mean they were part of the Labor Party. The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union is on board. He was a Labor Party guy before he was president. Mark Dimonstein who is the president of the American Postal Workers Union is also a Labor Party activist. There are enough people around with that sort of commitment to building a working class politics.

The Labor for Bernie thing is bringing it together. There is a list of more than 30,000 trade unionists who have signed up for Labor for Bernie. [...]
What a lot of people, especially young people, don’t get is that unless you’re covered by a union contract, the only rights that you have on the job are rights against discrimination. But enforcement of anti-discrimination law is so weak at this point that you may as well say that the only rights that you have on the job are connected with a union contract. 10

The scrutiny and attention to detail that Reed applies to the recuperation of black struggle is unfortunately nowhere to be seen when he starts talking about trade unions or Bernie Sanders. A reckoning with the legacy of DRUM and the LRBW would require confronting that rather than simply an organisation of black workers in a union, they had to fight against both their union (with an entirely white leadership) and their employers.

This isn’t an isolated historical pattern, but is replicated throughout the history of the labour movement both in the US and internationally. Glaberman’s Wartime Strikes shows the struggles of factory workers against the no strike contracts that unions pledged during WWII. Jeremy Brecher’s Strike documents just how many of the mass strikes in US history were wildcat actions against the remonstrations of union leadership from the 1877 railway strike to the post war strike wave.

The IWW since its founding has engaged in ‘solidarity unionism', often organising black and migrant workers when they were excluded from the mainstream trade union movement, and focusing on extracting concessions from employers via the direct action of workers whether or not there was a union contract. IWW Local 8 on the Philadelphia docks was one of the earliest examples. What Reed proposes as a return to class politics reveals itself instead to be a revival of the institutions of trade unions themselves, in a coalition to support socialist electoral candidates. This again ignores the history both of socialist electoral candidates in general, but even the specific history of Bernie Sanders presiding over gentrification and rent increases in Burlington in the ‘80s.

What we see then, is a blaming of ‘identity politics’ for the failures of the struggles of the ‘60s, resulting in black representation in politics as a new form of control. Reed makes no equivalent argument for class politics, even though the histories of struggle and recuperation in the labor movement are very similar.

Rather than ‘identity politics’ as such, I’d locate these failures instead in a politics of ‘representation’ and a focus on the role of workers within rather than against capitalism. Reed locates identity politics as the cause, and representation as the symptom, rather than looking at the role of representation (in union leaderships, party vanguards and yes electoralism) as a consistent theme in the defeat of class movements.

When asked about the mistakes of the Black Panthers, former Panther and anarchist Lorenzo Kom'boa Ervin said the following:

I would start at the structure of the organisation. One of the things that always sticks out in my mind is how the BPP failed in terms of the leadership question. The leadership was not accountable to the membership. After it became obvious that Huey Newton was clearly disabled [to put it kindly - suffering from mental paranoia not helped by heavy amounts of cocaine and an overdose of power] we weren't able to remove him.
I think this whole question of cadre organisations as opposed to broad based structures - cadres are just the arms and eyes and ears of the leadership of the structures. Organisations should be broader based; based in and controlled by the community. I guess I'm more in favour of some of the SNCC politics. If you could merge the two and have a broad based organisation with a politically focused and militant stand I think that you've got a chance to build a mass movement and stave off repression.11

Ervin says today as Hampton might have at the time, “there can be autonomy on the one hand (certainly for the black struggle and the women's struggle) - and at the same time there can be class unity”. Autonomous organising based on identity and collective struggle based on class are both foregrounded here, with the criticism located in a lack of accountability in revolutionary organisations and insufficient attention given to either ‘identity politics’ or ‘class’ as causes of division rather than attempts to reconcile the two.


Robin D. G. Kelley discussed the inseparability of identity and class in 1997, in an essay which anticipates much of the discussions of the past 20 years and which you should engage with in its entirety:

I don't know how many times I've been told, "Don't attack them, they're on our side!" [...]The Gitlin/Tomasky group makes the grave error of rendering movements struggling around issues of race, gender, and sexuality as inherently narrow and particularistic. The failure to conceive of these social movements as essential to the emancipation of the whole remains the fundamental stumbling block to building a deep and lasting class-based politics.12

It’s at this point we turn to Reed’s accusation of anti-Marxism:

I’ve been struck by the level of visceral and vitriolic anti-Marxism I’ve seen from this strain of defenders of antiracism as a politics. It’s not clear to me what drives it because it takes the form of snide dismissals than direct arguments. Moreover, the dismissals typically include empty acknowledgment that “of course we should oppose capitalism,” whatever that might mean. In any event, the tenor of this anti-Marxism is reminiscent of those right-wing discourses, many of which masqueraded as liberal, in which only invoking the word “Marxism” was sufficient to dismiss an opposing argument or position.13

We don’t need to defend ‘anti-racist politics’ as ‘Marxist’, our role here is neither to litigate what ‘anti-racist politics’ or ‘Marxism’ are, but to locate struggles based on race and gender firmly within the history of the class struggle.

However, since we risk being lumped into that category of ‘anti-Marxist’ or even ‘neo-liberal intersectional identitarian’, we can look at Marx’s own writing to locate how he considered class relationships:

Even the very early Marx and Engels in 1845 located the proletariat not as a social category to be better represented as a competing interest under capitalism, but one side of a social relationship which must abolish both capital and itself as a class:

The proletariat, on the contrary, is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, private property, which determines its existence, and which makes it proletariat. It is the negative side of the antithesis, its restlessness within its very self, dissolved and self-dissolving private property.14

Much later, in the Critique of the Gotha Programme,15 Marx was intensely critical of the Lassallean substitution of the programme of proletarian self-abolition with one for the redistribution of goods under capitalism within the nation state:

[..] only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
I have dealt more at length with the "undiminished" proceeds of labor, on the one hand, and with "equal right" and "fair distribution", on the other, in order to show what a crime it is to attempt, on the one hand, to force on our Party again, as dogmas, ideas which in a certain period had some meaning but have now become obsolete verbal rubbish, while again perverting, on the other, the realistic outlook, which it cost so much effort to instill into the Party but which has now taken root in it, by means of ideological nonsense about right and other trash so common among the democrats and French socialists.
[..]
Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?

So what passes for self-identified ‘Marxism’ is unfortunately often rooted in this warmed-over Lassallean social democracy rather than Marx’s own ideas. The split is not in electoralism as such, but is rooted as a conception class politics as the relative strength of the working class as a social category (literally, ‘social class’) competing for the management of capitalist production, rather than a struggle for the abolition of capital. This isn’t a new or theoretical argument, it’s been one of the fundamental splits in the workers movement, whether the KAPD’s and AAUE council communism and the FAUD’s anarcho-syndicalism in opposition to the SPD, or Correspondence Publishing Committee’s (forerunner to Facing Reality) formation after the split from the SWP.

Back to Reed:

One of our concerns is, or should be, the tendency among a strain of exuberant leftists to proclaim programmatically diffuse coalitions and subordinate the class program to counter-solidaristic identity politics.
I think we should build on the more visionary aspects of the program, e.g., the demand for free public higher education, decommodified health care, etc and the vital fight to stop the TPP, and yes of course against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc and also against neoliberal policing and the constantly expanding public/private carceral apparatus, which we have to understand and insist that others also understand is a class issue.
[...]
How is it “economic reductionism” to campaign on a program that seeks to unite the broad working class around concerns shared throughout the class across race, gender, and other lines? Ironically, in American politics now we have a Left for which any reference to political economy can be castigated as “economic reductionism.”

Here we see the fundamental limitation of this ‘Marxism’. Rather than the opposition of the working class to capital, it’s instead an opposition of a ‘class’ politics based on liberal social welfare against an ‘identitarian’ politics based on anti-discrimination and diversity. It pits redistribution against recognition.16 We don’t want either recognition or redistribution within capitalism (equally, won’t work against them since they can sometimes reduce harm in the short term), but instead revolutionary class struggle resulting in a fundamental re-organisation of society, so reject this dichotomy altogether.

While Reed correctly locates legislation on both workers and civil rights as the end-result of ‘social movements’ rather than electoral activity as such, he’s quick to dismiss any activity that isn’t located in a recognisable left institution. This ignores that many of the concessions to the civil rights movement came after the urban insurrections as much as the formal organisations and marches:

This sort of politics is also, as we’ve seen at least since Black Power, a hustler’s paradise. And all the millennial versions of New Age-y bullshit about leaderlessness and structurelessness obscure the fact that absence of organizational mechanisms of accountability enable anyone to say anything, or deny anything said, in the name of the “movement.”
Overestimation of the political significance of protest and a related, all too familiar problem of confusing militancy and radicalism contribute to exaggerating the significance of eruptions like those associated with BLM. Militancy is a posture; radicalism is linked to program for social transformation, and protests do not necessarily challenge power relations at all.17

This is not the dichotomy of class and identity we’re presented with if we look at the actual history of class struggle, rather than broad appeals to ‘Marxism’ and ‘historical materialism’. What we see instead is the struggles of workers going beyond and even against the institutions that would seek to represent them, whether political parties or unions, often as reactions to divisions based on race or gender. The struggles of black and women workers against racism and misogyny were not simply for ‘equal opportunity’ within capitalism but often to address structural inequality and abuse within both unions and revolutionary organisations themselves, whether the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement or the Mujeres Libres during the Spanish Civil War. Eldridge Cleaver was both an unaccountable leader of the Black Panthers who bragged about raping women, and later a Republican candidate for senate on a pro-life ticket. Is it too much identity politics or too little to blame for that consistent misogyny?


In this framework, both ‘liberal identity politics’ and ‘class politics’ have resulted in a further integration into capitalism and the promotion of representatives and institutions, whether black politicians or trade unions against the still racialised working class. We therefore need to look at class struggle, not as an affirmation of the working class within capitalism, but as the abolition of the working class and capital. This means recognising not only the co-option of struggles against discrimination into capitalism, but also the co-option of the ‘workers movement’ into the management of capitalism against workers and maintaining divisions based on ascribed identities, whether enforcing colour bars in professions, or recently both AFL-CIO president Trumka’s and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s support for stricter immigration controls. Capital therefore not only reproduces race and gender divisions through class, but in turn those divisions undermine movements against capital and class - not the actions of those working to undo racism and misogyny but in the abstract appeals to ‘unity’ that obscure real divisions and power imbalances along lines of race, gender, social class, disability etc. which must be confronted if they’re to be overcome. We should not oppose black representation with class representation, but oppose self-organised class struggle to both.

In practical terms, while we may be opposed to wage labour and the state, we’re often fighting defensive battles - against wage theft or cuts to services. How do we reconcile opposition to wage labour with fights for higher wages, or opposition to the state with fights to protect social housing? How do we link these day-to-day struggles with the large scale mobilisations such as Ferguson in 2014 or the protests against the ‘Muslim Ban’ in 2017?

The IWW and its General Defense Committees, solidarity networks such as SeaSol and the model proposed by Fighting for Ourselves by SolFed in the UK offer a way to link disparate defensive struggles over wage theft, evictions, ICE deportations, community self-defense against far-right groups and the police into a unitary organisation opposed to wage labour and capital. Groups such as Project Salvage have focused on tackling misogyny and abuse within activist groups much as their predecessors in the Black Panthers and Mujeres Libres had to before them.

In this way, struggling around ‘particular’ issues which don’t affect all workers (equally, or at all), can be a condition of unifying struggles. This can be seen time and time again, with sexual violence driving people out of movements as perpetrators are protected by party and trade union hierarchies, or influential figures in more informal movements. While the accusations of ‘divisiveness’ and ‘identity politics’ are invariably hurled at those challenging sexual violence, it is the violence itself which blocks unifying struggles. Racism often plays a similar role, and in this way anti-racist efforts - understood in terms of self-organised class struggle - can be a necessary condition of class unity, rather than an inevitable step towards black representation and neoliberal managerialism. Autonomous struggles often emerge when these efforts are blocked, in an attempt to circumvent the blockage. The aforementioned example of DRUM in Detroit is a clear example.

Class unity against capitalism cannot come from abstract appeals to it, which more often than not are attempts to create a constituency for a policy platform or specific party grouping. Instead, unity must be constructed from the heterogenous movements against capital and the state. Rather than relegating movements against police and border violence, cuts to domestic violence services, trans access to healthcare as ‘identity politics’ we should instead recognise these as essential to a movement against capitalism. The support that both the Sanders and Corbyn campaigns gave to the police and border controls is not just an accident or disappointing policy misstep, but essential to a project that is based on administration of capital via the state.

Note:

Uday Jain’s recently published White Marxism, a Critique of Jacobin Magazine identifies a strand of anti-ID politics arguments promoted in the magazine from figures such as Vivek Chibber, Walter Benn Michaels, Nivedita Majumdar, and Adolph Reed. This reminded me of some critical reading I’d done of Reed earlier this year. However while Jain deals mostly with the racial politics of these arguments, my main criticism of Reed had been his understanding of class, which doesn’t seem to have much to do with either Marx or the history of class struggle. Since this had only been expressed in a couple of twitter threads, it was time to write it up finally after several months. This piece is not a direct response to Jain's article at all.

Lead photograph by Tony Webster

Posted By

Mike Harman
Aug 22 2017 16:31

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  • Reed makes no equivalent argument for class politics, even though the histories of struggle and recuperation in the labor movement are very similar.

    Mike Harman

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Comments

Mike Harman
Aug 25 2017 06:20
Pennoid wrote:
He's not 'ignoring them' he's making an argument about what resulted from their collapse. You're right he doesn't cite DRUM and others when asked about nationalist politics; why would he cite the positive class elements of a set of people in the discussion of the historical and logical consequences to nationalist politics held by the same group?

My contention is the reason he doesn't is because the class politics of those movements are incompatible with Reed's own approach to class - because they were constituted against both the unions and employers, whereas Reed is very clear he sees the representation of workers by unions as the path to greater class equality. So yes, why would he talk about something that undermines his own thesis, including the idea that all the radical movements of the late '60s were based on nationalism (as opposed to direct action by workers at the point of production)?

For a further account of how things developed post '60s we could look at the 1974 wildcat at Dodge/Chrysler, in a pamphlet that's very critical both of the Marxist-Leninist/Maoist groups and the union:

Dodge Wildcat pamphlet wrote:
The union's activities were equally blatant; far from taking the workers' grievances before the law when the company failed to comply with its contractual obligations, the UAW called in the local police to eject striking workers from their own union hall when they attempted to keep it open for a strike meeting.
[...]
The attempts to organize workers into unions, transform unions, and assume leadership of these "mass organizations", as leninists refer to them, have failed miserably. What they fail (or refuse) to see about trade unions is exactly what they fail (refuse) to see about themselves; the corruption of leadership power is not due to its abuse by those who hold it; the leadership power is itself the abuse. The dominion of one man over another is inherently corrupt, because, in every instance, leadership serves its own interests.

Pennoid wrote:
A final point: Your citation number thirteen is incorrect. That quote is from a separate article or interview. What it cites is actually an essay from which the following quote derives (And this is important for understanding Reed's positive conception of Race, which violates the author's claim that reed "rejects" antiracism):

Fixed the citation, trying to figure out now what I was planning to quote from that piece.

Adolph Reed wrote:
"Even the New Deal embedded premises of racial and gender hierarchy in its most fundamental policy initiatives. The longer-term implications of the two-tiered system of social
benefits thus created persist to the present day. This extensive history illustrates that, as Marxist
theorist Harry Chang observed in the 1970s, racial formation has always been an aspect of
class formation, as a “social condition of production.” Race has been a constitutive element
in a capitalist social dynamic in which “social types (instead of persons) figure as basic units of
economic and political management.”6 Chang perceptively analogized race to what Marx
described as the fetish character of money. Marx, he noted, described money as “the officiating
object (or subject as an object) in the reification of a relation called value” and as a
“function-turned-into-an-object.” Race is similarly a function—a relation of hierarchy rooted
in the capitalist division of labor—turned into an object.7 “Money seeks gold to objectify itself—
gold does not cry out to be money.” Similarly, “the cutting edge of racial determinations of persons
is a social ‘imposition’ on nature,” which on its own yields no such categories.8"

Yes he's good on this stuff, which is why I wrote the blog post about him and not some of the people making similar arguments who don't have useful insights, what's disappointing is the way it's applied.

Spikymike
Aug 25 2017 14:12

I haven't read Adolph Reed's work and cannot therefor really comment on how valid Mike Harman's critique is but on a first reading of his critique agreed with some of the more positive points Mike raised whilst still having an uneasy feeling that there was a fault line in it somewhere that I couldn't put my finger on. I mean I wasn't aware that Kolinko's approach for instance was derived from any kind of 'Intersectionalist theory'. So Mike just for my benefit in continuing to follow this discussion - if I say that it seems to me that a 'pro-revolutionary' politics must be critical (rather than just dismissive) of all 'identity politics' including 'working class identity politics' where each separate identity within the working class and equally a claimed positive working class identity are taken as the primary basis for organising - how far from your approach is that - would that in fact still be 'a communist praxis informed by intersectionality' or what? Don't mean this to distract from the more detailed arguments between those more familiar with Reed's work but I'm struggling a bit with some of the more nuanced differences of opinion! If all that is confusing it's because I'm still confused by this discussion.

Steven.
Aug 25 2017 15:02
Spikymike wrote:
if I say that it seems to me that a 'pro-revolutionary' politics must be critical (rather than just dismissive) of all 'identity politics' including 'working class identity politics' where each separate identity within the working class and equally a claimed positive working class identity are taken as the primary basis for organising

I would agree that this sort of "identity politics" is worth criticising. However there is a real problem that some people denounce any mention of any type of discrimination other than class as "identity politics". The recent denunciations of those defending survivors of sexual violence within the left as "identity politicians" is one such example.

Mike Harman
Aug 25 2017 15:45

I mean I wasn't aware that Kolinko's approach for instance was derived from any kind of 'Intersectionalist theory'.

As far as I know they're not, but it's discussing seriously how workplaces reproduce gender and race divisions on a micro-level - 'women in marketing, blokes in IT' for example in a single workplace - and how struggles sometimes overcome those divisions and sometimes reinforce them. http://www.thecyberhood.net/documents/papers/wilson08.pdf was an interesting study on this. As Steven. says increasingly any discussion of issues like this is getting dismissed as 'identity politics'. Probably ten+ years ago on here I was also dismissing 'identity politics' (of the liberal representational sort) without nearly enough thought, but then seeing it deployed more and more against actual concrete organising, I realised something not very good was going on at all.

SpikeyMike wrote:
So Mike just for my benefit in continuing to follow this discussion - if I say that it seems to me that a 'pro-revolutionary' politics must be critical (rather than just dismissive) of all 'identity politics' including 'working class identity politics' where each separate identity within the working class and equally a claimed positive working class identity are taken as the primary basis for organising

hmm I think I'd need you to explain the difference between 'working class identity politics' and 'positive working class identity'. The thing with intersectionality is it's mostly talking about discrimination and oppression, whereas class is about relationships of exploitation. None of this is really about individual claimed identity but how the state and institutions treat individuals differently and pit them against one another - recognising this doesn't mean accepting it

The fact that people on all sides of this discussion tend to use different words interchangeably and to mean different things at different times doesn't help - in the case of the blog post I deliberately didn't even bother trying, since I don't think that's the point here. Some readers here (not you) have ignored that disclaimer at the top of course.

At the most basic level, revolutionary/activist organisations should take allegations of sexual harassment and assault seriously. This is a low bar, but it's one that many groups have failed to pass. Doing this isn't 'divisive' but is in fact a central component in any kind of real unity - failing to address issues leads to massive attrition, burn out and worse.

For an example of just how far back these discussions go, here's Lenin telling Clara Zetkin that German communists shouldn't do sex worker organising, actually tells her to shut it down:

Lenin wrote:
“I have heard some peculiar things on this matter from Russian and German comrades. I must tell you. I was told that a talented woman communist in Hamburg is publishing a paper for prostitutes and that she wants to organise them for the revolutionary fight. Rosa acted and felt as a communist when in an article she championed the cause of the prostitutes who were imprisoned for any transgression of police regulations in carrying on their dreary trade. They are, unfortunately, doubly sacrificed by bourgeois society. First, by its accursed property system, and, secondly, by its accursed moral hypocrisy. That is obvious. Only he who is brutal or short-sighted can forget it. But still, that is not at all the same thing as considering prostitutes – how shall I put it? – to be a special revolutionary militant section, as organising them and publishing a factory paper for them. Aren’t there really any other working women in Germany to organise, for whom a paper can be issued, who must be drawn into your struggles? The other is only a diseased excrescence. It reminds me of the literary fashion of painting every prostitute as a sweet Madonna. The origin of that was healthy, too: social sympathy, rebellion against the virtuous hypocrisy of the respectable bourgeois. But the healthy part became corrupted and degenerate.

“Besides, the question of prostitutes will give rise to many serious problems here. Take them back to productive work, bring them into the social economy. That is what we must do. But it is difficult and a complicated task to carry out in the present conditions of our economic life and in all the prevailing circumstances. There you have one aspect of the women’s problem which, after the seizure of power by the proletariat, looms large before us and demands a practical solution. It will give us a great deal of work here in Soviet Russia. But to go back to your position in Germany. The Party must not in any circumstances calmly stand by and watch such mischievous conduct on the part of its members. It creates confusion and divides the forces. And you yourself, what have you done against it?”

https://www.marxists.org/archive/zetkin/1920/lenin/zetkin1.htm

"creates confusion and divides the forces" sounds familiar doesn't it? Obviously doesn't occur to Lenin that excluding prostitutes from organising and outreach efforts might be divisive in itself by keeping them marginalised from more general efforts.

Spikymike
Jan 29 2018 16:53

Mike, Thanks, Just quickly, my use of the term ''positive'' above in relation to 'working class identity'' was just referring to that crude left criticism that ends up positing it against other 'identities' on much the same basis as some liberal intersectionalist arguments who in turn talk about class only in terms of an equivalent 'oppression' ie as 'classism'. Of course I subscribe to a class analysis and a pro-revolutionary ambition towards the self-abolition of the working class which I think you referred to in your opening text. Might have some disagreements with other aspects of your conclusions in terms of what the actually revolutionary anti-capitalist potential is in much of the 'equality's' agenda in capitalism but not sure - that's another discussion.
Edit: Forgot to reference this earlier text; https://libcom.org/library/non-identity-negation-identitarianism-affirma... or just search 'identity communist movements negation of social relations'. (edit. The original text easier to find here: https://thecharnelhouse.org/2016/06/01/non-identity-and-negation-identit...)

WillShetterly
Aug 26 2017 00:23

Mike, I'm thinking about your recent answers and trying to decide whether to address them. It may be that our basic takes on universality vs identity are simply too far apart, for all that we can agree, I hope, that both matter.

For now, I'm wondering about this: "there is a real problem that some people denounce any mention of any type of discrimination other than class as "identity politics"."

Who are you thinking of? That's certainly not Reed's take. For me, whenever there's a question that neoliberals address exclusively in identity terms, the first step is to factor in class. If it then turns out that people of different identities within a class are treated the same, the problem is class. If there are differences, then the problem is identity.

Biffard Misqueegan
Aug 26 2017 01:02

Reed is a social democrat. The scope of his perspective straitjacketed by that. Like many academic leftists he offers some useful observations and many reformist conclusions. But those unfortunate conclusions dont necessarily make the useful observations null and void.

I think the ideological ambiguity of the terms "identity politics" and "intersectional politics" is a bigger problem than some think. Class struggle intersectionalism, for lack of a better term ('communist praxis informed by intersectionality'), is a microscopic perspective compared liberal identity politics/intersectionalism. Furthermore, it is so divergent from liberal identity politics in both analysis and goals that it confounds me why it's advocates are so invested in retaining and defending such value laden terms. And at times it seems as tho many class struggle interectionalists get really defensive when liberal identity politics are critiqued.

WillShetterly
Aug 26 2017 05:12

Biffard, I also don't understand why socialists would keep the name if they're trying to address something other than Crenshaw's original liberal take.

For me, the biggest problem with the intersectional model is that it says the different kinds of oppression are unique and they only sometimes intersect. That model may have some value when talking about sexism because it appears to predate the class system. As Engels noted: "In an old unpublished manuscript, written by Marx and myself in 1846, I find the words: “The first division of labor is that between man and woman for the propagation of children.” And today I can add: The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male."

But intersectionality is a worthless model when talking about race, a concept born in slavery and promoted in English around 1680 to divide us. With race, we're no longer dealing with intersectional things; we're dealing with interrelated ones.

Steven.
Aug 26 2017 09:14
Biffard Misqueegan wrote:
Class struggle intersectionalism, for lack of a better term ('communist praxis informed by intersectionality'), is a microscopic perspective compared liberal identity politics/intersectionalism. Furthermore, it is so divergent from liberal identity politics in both analysis and goals that it confounds me why it's advocates are so invested in retaining and defending such value laden terms. And at times it seems as tho many class struggle interectionalists get really defensive when liberal identity politics are critiqued.

In terms of your first point, yes it is correct that class struggle intersectionalism is a "microscopic perspective" compared with the liberal one. However it is also true that "socialism" and "communism", in their true sense, are "miniscule" compared with the Social Democratic and state capitalist variants. But they are worth defending. I would say the same point applies.

In terms of who this is addressed at, I think it is worth mentioning the following. I run the Working Class History Facebook page. Often if we post something about an LGBTQ rights campaign, or the fight for women's suffrage, or a civil rights/antiracist fight some people (always white men) comment "What's this got to do with the working class/class struggle?"

Sometimes the more "radical" ones try to double down when you try to explain with them. For the fight for women's suffrage, for example, they turn round and say that the suffragettes supported World War I. Now while it is true that some suffragettes did support the war (many didn't of course), you could also make exactly the same argument about the unions, as they lined up behind the war as well. However no one ever extends the same argument to union activities before the war.

Spikymike
Aug 27 2017 15:45

Steven, Not sure about ''no one'' - The UK 'Wildcat' group Mark 2 might be the exception to your last comment regarding the pre-World War One trade unions as here: https://libcom.org/library/good-old-fashioned-trade-unionism-wildcat, though I don't endorse it in it's entirety myself - more anarchist than Marxist perhaps.

Steven.
Aug 27 2017 17:53
Spikymike wrote:
Steven, Not sure about ''no one'' - The UK 'Wildcat' group Mark 2 might be the exception to your last comment regarding the pre-World War One trade unions as here: https://libcom.org/library/good-old-fashioned-trade-unionism-wildcat, though I don't endorse it in it's entirety myself - more anarchist than Marxist perhaps.

hi, yes that may be true. However what I was specifically referring to was commenters on the working class history page

Mike Harman
Aug 28 2017 13:40

@SpikeyMike I'm not keen on Ross Wolfe generally, he does a lot of false-equivalences in that post for example (i.e. the section on 'right identitarians' which accepts the far right's own narrative for their development as opposed to simply a rebranding of much older white supremacist/fascists movements). However he references this even older post from our very own Joseph Kay: http://libcom.org/blog/the-politics-affirmation-or-politics-negation-181.... That post was from nine (!) years ago but is trying to grapple with similar things. Not sure if JK ever got to the follow-up post.

For an example we can take struggles for higher wages. These are affirmative in the sense they're trying to improve the position of workers within capitalism, but we know that literally everything ends up being this unless it's generalised and extended to the point of a mass strike. On the other hand, wage rises are an immediate material improvement, and struggles for them can extend to a critique of the process of production in general, prepare workers for future struggles etc.

Having a critique of the limitations of struggles higher wages doesn't mean rejecting/dismissing struggles for higher wages in general, rather we would look at the way that unions will co-opt things into a demand for union representation, the way management can make higher wages conditional on productivity, or the way multiple grievances get whittled down to just higher wages because it's easily negotiable compared to issues around the organisation of work, leaving the latter unresolved.

So the struggle for higher wages is neither inherently communist nor inherently co-opted into capitalism, there's the potential for both.

The question then, why not take the same approach to the riot at Compton's Cafeteria and Stonewall? These were riots against police violence. In 2017 we have UKIP, the Conservative Party, police, MI5 all trying to either join Pride marches as participants and/or doing marketing campaigns every year - this is the very definition of 'neoliberal identity politics' where the Stonewall charity names MI5 the top LGBT employer and MI5 tries to use Alan Turing, the person they persecuted, was chemically castrated etc. as someone to 'follow in the footsteps of'.

Meanwhile those same organisations deporting LGBT asylum seekers, and arresting people who protest their presence at Pride. In what sense is it useful to look at an anti-police riot and MI5 diversity recruitment campaigns as the same thing? As both inherently neo-liberal?

Instead, we can also look at a consistent line of opposition to the police from the LGBT community - just because many have abandoned it, doesn't mean it isn't there, as last weekend's arrest shows.

A developed opposition to the police means understanding their role in protecting private property, and against disorder (as opposed to crime) which does and can lead people to a critique of capitalism as a whole. People also reach a critique of capitalism as a whole from climate change and many other things other than their experiences of wage labour. For us the question should be how to link these things to a totalised critique rather than a foreshortened one - examples would be Out of the Woods on Naomi Klein https://thenewinquiry.com/klein-vs-klein/ and (ahem) me on the 99% https://libcom.org/blog/ive-got-99-problems-class-analysis-aint-one-0203...

Similarly, who is it that is actually opposing the co-option of pride and the way that the police and MI5 are trying to use identity politics for pinkwashing? Is it social democrats - whether Danny Fetonte the police union organiser just elected to the DSA NPC? Or Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for higher police spending? Or precisely the LGBT activists being derided as 'identitarians'?

On unions - yes there are people who make the point about even early unions support for capitalism (Brecher in strike does this to at least some extent too), but these are the same people who would have a critique of 'workerism' - i.e. https://libcom.org/library/workerism-wildcat-uk. The point that both Steven. and me are making with this, is that the vast majority of people who have a critique of 'identity politics' have no equivalent critique of unions or even of left politicians like Bernie Sanders. In the case of someone like Reed, I think this expresses his actual, social democratic, politics. However when communists critique identity politics but leave out the wider context of representation of workers under capitalism, by omission it can have exactly the same effect. It either needs to be done extremely carefully, or not at all IMO.

Steven. wrote:
In terms of your first point, yes it is correct that class struggle intersectionalism is a "microscopic perspective" compared with the liberal one. However it is also true that "socialism" and "communism", in their true sense, are "miniscule" compared with the Social Democratic and state capitalist variants. But they are worth defending. I would say the same point applies.

Yes, exactly. And by defending these things we provide a route for people feeling their way around these issues without years of anarchist/communist theoretical and historical background to find a way in, rather than just writing them off.

WillShetterly wrote:
But intersectionality is a worthless model when talking about race, a concept born in slavery and promoted in English around 1680 to divide us. With race, we're no longer dealing with intersectional things; we're dealing with interrelated ones.

Except again people don't necessarily refer to the specific theory when they say intersectionality, whether referring to it positively or negatively. Since Steven mentioned the suffragettes let's use that. In the US the suffragettes' "votes for women" wasn't in the main remotely interested in whether black women could vote, or as often actively excluded them (Francis Willard and others). Full voting rights didn't exist until decades after later, and voter suppression still exists today. Modern accounts of the suffragettes often exclude this from the account too - such as when people lined up for photos at the grave of an open white supremacist after voting for Hillary Clinton. That kind of feminism that's entirely limited in the position of middle-class white women in society is often categorised as 'non-intersectional'. Obviously you had people like Emma Goldman and Sylvia Pankhurst who were critical of the entire system of parliamentary politics and wether there was any point in extending voting rights at all, but that doesn't preclude they way that a universalist campaign turns out to have been fucking racist in practice.

You can argue that when people highlight issues like this, and use 'intersectionality' to describe it, that it's either an incomplete framework or they're not applying what you understand to be the actual theory but something else, but simply dismissing the act of highlighting discrepancies, the failures of colour-blindness and similar as neo-liberal is missing the point - and as noted it can result in undermining efforts to address racism and sexism within class struggle organisations.

Yet another example, the Southern Rail dispute in the UK recently - all the publicity for Southern Rail was around the safety issues or lack of them in regards to removing conductors from trains when closing doors. So you had the employer and the media trying to paint the strike as purely sectional for 'jobs' against the interests of passengers.

What they tried to sweep under the rug was that removing conductors would also remove all assistance for disabled passengers on the rail network, meaning that 'turn up and go' for disabled passengers would disappear, and they'd have to book in advance. To the extent that this aspect of the strike was understood, it allowed strikers to make links with passenger groups to combine in opposition to the employer, undermining the usual attempts to divide workers and consumers. There was an aspect of this with the safety stuff too, but people can understand wheelchair accessibility and the presence of actual people in emergency situations like fires, better than technical arguments around health and safety of door closing methods.

Spikymike
Aug 28 2017 15:10

Thanks Mike. Ah yes the holy grail of ''..how to link these things to a totalised critique...'' Unfortunately I'm not convinced that many of the small competing groups in our milieu (let alone the Left more generally) either have an adequate grasp of the material links between these ''things'' (there are a lot of assumptions made) or are very effective in their assumed specialised role in imparting a ''totalised critique'', often instead just turning up at protests on the assumption that all will be transparent with their mere presence and a few slogans! In some ways the linked discussions on libcom are potentially more effective, but then only to the self-selected few.

Biffard Misqueegan
Aug 30 2017 02:48

Utilizing the methodology of identity politics (irony), I think there's a disparity of experiences between the North American left and the UK left. The 'class analysis' left was obliterated in NA to an extent it never was in the UK. Liberal identity politics was the dominant ideology of the NA left decades before it took hold in Europe. The effort to get any sort of class struggle perspective interjected into the discourse of the NA left has been an extreme uphill battle.

Perhaps the UK experience has been an inverse of this situation to some degree, because the notion of having a flood of Joe Blow facebook users arguing 'what does LGBT have to do with class?' is quite hard for me to imagine seeing on a NA leftist facebook page.

Steven.
Aug 30 2017 14:08
Biffard Misqueegan wrote:

Perhaps the UK experience has been an inverse of this situation to some degree, because the notion of having a flood of Joe Blow facebook users arguing 'what does LGBT have to do with class?' is quite hard for me to imagine seeing on a NA leftist facebook page.

most of the fans of the WCH Facebook page are American. But TBH I don't know what nationality the people saying that were, so it may be a moot point

Pennoid
Aug 30 2017 19:23

A central claim - that Reed is a class-reductionist 'colorblind' social dem is refuted in the first two paragraphs of this text:

Quote:
A Marxist perspective can be most helpful for understanding race and racism insofar as it perceives capitalism dialectically, as a social totality that includes modes of production, relations
of production, and the pragmatically evolving ensemble of institutions and ideologies that
lubricate and propel its reproduction. From this perspective, Marxism’s most important contribution
to making sense of race and racism in the United States may be demystification. A historical
materialist perspective should stress that “race”—which includes “racism,” as one is
unthinkable without the other—is a historically specific ideology that emerged, took shape, and
has evolved as a constitutive element within a definite set of social relations anchored to a particular system of production.
Race is a taxonomy of ascriptive difference, that is, an ideology that constructs populations
as groups and sorts them into hierarchies of capacity, civic worth, and desert based on “natural”
or essential characteristics attributed to them. Ideologies of ascriptive difference help to
stabilize a social order by legitimizing its hierarchies of wealth, power, and privilege, including
its social division of labor, as the natural order of things.

https://libcom.org/files/Marx,%20Race%20and%20Neoliberalism%20-%20Adolph%20Reed.pdf

Sharkfinn
Aug 31 2017 21:39
Quote:
One of our concerns is, or should be, the tendency among a strain of exuberant leftists to proclaim programmatically diffuse coalitions and subordinate the class program to counter-solidaristic identity politics.

I think we should build on the more visionary aspects of the program, e.g., the demand for free public higher education, decommodified health care, etc and the vital fight to stop the TPP, and yes of course against discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc and also against neoliberal policing and the constantly expanding public/private carceral apparatus, which we have to understand and insist that others also understand is a class issue.

I fail to understand how this is supposed to be Lassallean. Public education and partially decommodiefied health care are fairly common achievements in industrial countries. The reason why Reed is talking about them is because US is desperately lacking behind in these compared to most countries with a similar level of economic development, and that's also linked to racial inequality.

I find this line of argument confusing. On the one had it criticizes Reed for being workerist (trying to affirm the power of the working class instead of abolishing its condition as the working class), but then it also accuses him of not giving enough brownie points to the workerist potential of the 1960s identity based movements. Having a social democratic strategy itself doesn’t imply necessarily Lassallean political program, and being a reformist doesn’t automatically devalue Reed's academic and political output. Rainbow coalition politics Maoist and Leninist influenced groups were trying to create never amounted to much in practice. There is no reason to cuddle failed revolutionary movements. The fact that these groups had some victories doesn’t mean that they didn’t have underlying problems that are linked to their later decline.

The article doesn’t defend being “woke” as a political strategy, so why is it “bullshit” to criticize those shallow forms of online liberalism? - Because reformists do it? Reeds argument in a nutshell would be that “race” based “oppression” is mostly driven by structural discrimination at the heart of capitalism (linked to specific historical contingencies of course), so being “woke” or organising along identitarian lines is unlikely do anything about it, because the whole framework of the “race problem” (mass incarceration, police violence, unemployment) is a class issue to such a large extend. Identity is not a good category for understanding most “oppressions” intersectionality is claiming to explain.

Reed’s problem with identity politics is that it’s used to push politics away from the underlying economic problems, into a realm of representational “equalities” and problems of individual prejudice. Another point is how the bourgeoisie is structurally able to set itself up as the leaders of these movements, and smuggle in its own intersectional interests above all else. Essentialising discourses contribute to this, as they make structural problems appear as ethnic. Criticising anti-racist politics in the US doesn’t deny existence of racism, the point is to find a way to fight racism in a way that works. Reed is not calling for unity in the expense of fighting racism, he’s calling for universalist demands for changing the underlying conditions that cause racism.

Being more “woke” about discrimination and bad behaviour within leftist subcultures is a good development. These tiny groupings to tend to be demographically so male dominated, that it’s a considerable gain, that the issue of confronting sexism within the movement is taken seriously. But this is a completely different issue from the dynamics Reed is criticising. I’m not sure why the author is bringing it up, since I don’t remember Reed ever saying that fighting discrimination within the movement is dividing anything.

I can understand why people would be concerned about this issue, - it’s perfectly legitimate considering the history of the movement, but it’s a conceptual mistake to think that this is related to the kind of identity politics Reed is criticising.

Mike Harman
Aug 31 2017 23:58

Short on time, so an incomplete reply to the last two comments:

Sharkfinn wrote:
I find this line of argument confusing. On the one had it criticizes Reed for being workerist (trying to affirm the power of the working class instead of abolishing its condition as the working class), but then it also accuses him of not giving enough brownie points to the workerist potential of the 1960s identity based movements.

That's not quite what I argue here - he's treating all of the late '60s movements as 'identity based' whereas Detroit was wildcat strikes in car factories. This is not an argument about the relative class content of Farrakhan, it's about whether Farrakhan should be lumped in with Detroit car workers. You can say 'but he doesn't talk about those things' - and that's exactly my point - everything gets lumped together where there have always been competing tendencies. One aspect stands in for everything going on at the time.

Sharkfinn wrote:
Having a social democratic strategy itself doesn’t imply necessarily Lassallean political program, and being a reformist doesn’t automatically devalue Reed's academic and political output.

This is an assertion, but there's no argument. The basic split between Lassalle and Marx, is that Lassalle wanted to conquer the state and use it for the interests of workers, Marx and Engels wanted to abolish it - both of these positions are often mis-labeled as 'Marxist'.

When someone is saying things like "There is no millenarian moment, no objective moment of the crash." or "Fourth International and other fantasists", then tells people to vote for Bernie, that indicates one side of this particular split.

pennoid wrote:
A central claim - that Reed is a class-reductionist 'colorblind' social dem is refuted in the first two paragraphs of this text:

His analysis of the problem firmly locates the interrelatedness of race and class, and is useful as I've pointed out. The solution he proposes for this is color blind social democratic class-reductionism, where all of the insight of his analysis is not remotely applied to the trade union or electoral apparatus.

Sharkfinn wrote:
Being more “woke” about discrimination and bad behaviour within leftist subcultures is a good development. These tiny groupings to tend to be demographically so male dominated, that it’s a considerable gain, that the issue of confronting sexism within the movement is taken seriously. But this is a completely different issue from the dynamics Reed is criticising. I’m not sure why the author is bringing it up, since I don’t remember Reed ever saying that fighting discrimination within the movement is dividing anything.

I've not been able to find a case of him addressing it at all. However let's take the Combahee River Collective statement, as one of the first explicit mentions of 'identity politics' as such:

From that statement:

CRC wrote:
A Black feminist presence has evolved most obviously in connection with the second wave of the American women's movement beginning in the late 1960s. Black, other Third World, and working women have been involved in the feminist movement from its start, but both outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism within the movement itself have served to obscure our participation.
[...]
Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and I970s. Many of us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives Were greatly affected and changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.

This is specifically pointing out that they decided to create an organisation of black women as a response to the combination of both racism and sexism in '60s movements and their disillusionment with them. Again, this aspect is entirely omitted from Reed's history of the development of 'identity politics'. I bring this up precisely because he's spent decades talking about 'identity politics' and 'identitarians' without addressing this (at least not in any visible way).

Reed also massively objected to Black Lives Matter interruptions during the Sanders campaign (calling all criticism of Sanders on police issues an attack from the right based on neoliberal racial politics), while Sanders was calling the police a socialist institution and expressed some support for police unions as ensuring decent jobs. While I don't consider Sanders a comrade, Reed clearly does, but the response to criticism over attitudes to policing is to double down on 'jobs programs' from both. How you view this depends partly on whether you see BLM (movement in general, not organisation(s) specifically) as primarily an anti-police movement or a pro-black one, there are elements of both, but abolition of the police and prison system is not a racial demand but a class one.

Pennoid
Sep 1 2017 02:21

No, his solution isn't color blind social democratic politics and you've adduced no citations of reeds work to support the claim.

He argues that the programmatic politics of the new deal or the civil rights movement were more effective than movementism and he is (arguably) correct. He has a weak critique of the labor liberalism problem, but then again so does most of the left.

Hieronymous
Sep 1 2017 06:15

Mike, I only read your piece and none of the comments -- yet.

It's excellent, spot on, and totally appropriate for the historical period we're currently living through.

Thanks for writing it.

Steven.
Sep 1 2017 10:02

Just a quick comment about the mention of Black Lives Matter. I think it definitely makes more sense as a class movement than a race one. For example BLM activists also made a big deal about police killings of white working class people, whereas the "all lives matter" crowd basically didn't give a shit.

Sharkfinn
Sep 2 2017 09:32
Mike Harman wrote:
Short on time, so an incomplete reply to the last two comments:

Sharkfinn wrote:
Having a social democratic strategy itself doesn’t imply necessarily Lassallean political program, and being a reformist doesn’t automatically devalue Reed's academic and political output.

This is an assertion, but there's no argument. The basic split between Lassalle and Marx, is that Lassalle wanted to conquer the state and use it for the interests of workers, Marx and Engels wanted to abolish it - both of these positions are often mis-labeled as 'Marxist'.

When someone is saying things like "There is no millenarian moment, no objective moment of the crash." or "Fourth International and other fantasists", then tells people to vote for Bernie, that indicates one side of this particular split.

Lassalle believed in the "iron law of wages" and that workers cooperatives had to be subsidised by the state to be an improvement to worker's lives - a belief based on 19th century economics. What Engels means by "wither", is a matter of a more compex debate, but it did not mean immidiate abolishment. Marx believed in stages and pursued party politics, and how that relates to modern day politics is another matter. Reed doesn't hold any 19th century German labour party beliefs. If you want to call him reformist Ok, but maybe then just use the word.

Reed solution might be insufficient, but that doesn't devalue his underlying argument about the problem. Those are two different things.