The Poverty of Identity Politics

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Mike Harman
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Jun 8 2018 16:26

One more to add to the reading list, just found it today and it's useful: https://libcom.org/library/rethinking-class-recomposition-counterpower

The mentions of 'privilege' and 'intersectionality' are quite superficial (doesn't address the history and differing usages of the terms, you can see this as a reflection of superficial usage by proponents or not).

The discussion about class is a lot more in-depth, class composition/decomposition/recomposition, class as process vs. category, as well as the definition of class struggle. Author appears to be a WSM member. Takes a similar approach to some of the Viewpoint articles on this, but written in 2013.

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Rob Ray
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Jun 8 2018 16:29
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Even where there is an explanation that these are reformist actions there remains a belief that capitalism is as dependent on a range of oppressions as it is on class structure - so fight them all with equal intensity and we should get a revolution!!

I dunno if that's asserted in the texts you've read, but is it here?

Surely the point made by most libertarian communists would be that interlocking oppressions and socially-imposed hierarchies are used to divide the working class and therefore the task of achieving a unified class struggle intrinsically requires that they be expunged as part of the process — ie. it's all part of the same struggle, rather than being, as implied in your post, separate but equally important/separate and one is less important.

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Jun 8 2018 20:16
link wrote:
Much earlier on, MHarman and R Totale asked what I thought about some of the texts on Identity politics and intersectionality that had been posted on this thread. Its taken me a while to respond im afraid but I just wanted to make a few overall comments about them.

Thanks for taking the time to read and respond!

Quote:
The first point I want to make is how noticeable it is that are the texts are by academics. This is despite when identity politics and intersectionality have been criticised, the standard reaction on libcom has been to suggest that the criticisms are of liberal proponents and not radicals like libcomers. I’m quite happy that you should want to dismiss ideas and opinions from labour party hacks, left liberals and so forth but then how can you use liberals to define your politics. Very contradictory

Eh, not read the middle two, and been ages since I read the Rogue/Shannon one, but I really don't think the Robertson one was particularly academic, and she's definitely not actually an academic. Also, are you working off the assumption that academics = liberals? Like, it's good to have a critique of the academic role and everything, but I don't think I would describe EP Thompson as a liberal, for instance.

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My second concern is how none of the authors provide any significant evidence as to how fighting against all oppressions (whether equally or not) leads to revolution. The only evidence provided is based on how oppressions function in bourgeois society (and significantly on how past movements based on identity politics get incorporated into bourgeois society) but not of how the proposals for struggles based on intersectionality can get rid of capitalism. Even where there is an explanation that these are reformist actions there remains a belief that capitalism is as dependent on a range of oppressions as it is on class structure - so fight them all with equal intensity and we should get a revolution!! Frankly so much of what is said about changing society is more assertion and wishful thinking than a clear analysis of society functions under capitalism.

The short answer to that would surely be that as long as the working class is divided, revolution is unlikely, so fighting against divisions in the working class is a vital precondition for revolution?
I mean, do you disagree with this:
"The task at hand is to extend, deepen and radicalise people’s expressed dissatisfactions with life under capitalism in a way that shows the universal character of particularist grievances without falling into historical re-enactment. This requires listening carefully to what people are saying about their lives and experiences."

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Robertson’s text says that identity politics came out of the working class but then identifies the originator of theories of intersectionality as another american academic. (http://www.aapf.org/our-team/).

Eh, isn't that just the standard thing where theorists come up with the theoretical vocabulary to define struggles and movements that already exist? Like, I don't think it's contradictory to say that communism/anarchism came out of the working class, but Marx, Engels, Bakunin, Kropotkin and other poshoes defined a lot of communist and anarchist theory.

Quote:
More surprisingly Robertson viewpoint is purely trotskyist ie “There is nothing to be gained from throwing the identity-politics baby out with the neoliberal bathwater, especially considering how easy it is to show that the vibrant, radical potential of ideas such as intersectionality can never be realised under capitalism.” This also seems to imply a continuity between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ identity politics as ive seen it called on this thread. Robertson’s text was suggested to me remember!

To me, that's talking about the importance of distinguishing between "good" and "bad" identity politics.

Quote:
Admittedly the clearest text is one I found in the Libcom library by Shannon and Rogue who again are professional academics but do self-identity as anarchists (im not sure what sort tho) .

Shannon appears to be an academic, but are you sure about Rogue? This article seems to suggest they went from supermarket work to getting a job in a call centre. Oh, and they did this interview about their work with Black Rose Federation, if you want to know more about their politics.

Quote:
It does provide an interesting history on the development of intersectionality out of the ‘personal is political’ ideas of the 60s but it still offers no answer to distinguishing between reformist activity that sounds like a good idea and activity that can lead to revolution.

I am not saying that recognising oppression is not constructive and that you/we should not be helping oppressed individuals and groups but I do think it important to ask where is the evidence that a revolution against capitalism can come out of it.

I mean, I don't think any of us can claim to have the Definitive Answer about where revolution can actually come from - I haven't overthrown capitalism and neither have you, so none of us have that much cause to be cocky. But like, surely a revolutionary movement that is relevant to more people will be more likely to succeed than one that's relevant to less people? I guess I'm struggling to see where the point of disagreement is here. Let's go back to that famous bit from As We See It:
Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self -activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others - even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

Would you agree with that? IMO, some activities, some of the time, that get described as identity politics, intersectionality or whatever, fall into the "meaningful action" category, and not all of them are in the "sterile action" category. Do you agree there? And if so, then where exactly is the beef?

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Jun 8 2018 19:39

Nobody is suggesting that a revolution can come out of it although a revolution would not be very desirable if it didn’t address all hierarchies and all forms of oppression.

Mike Harman
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Jun 8 2018 21:08
link wrote:
http://libcom.org/library/intersectionality-identity-politics-class

The first point I want to make is how noticeable it is that are the texts are by academics.

This one isn't by an academic, their twitter profile describes them as an 'electronica producer' and it looks like they might be a WSM member.

fwiw this is one of the only texts you mentioned I've read in the past year or so, but it does look given R Totale addressed the other two, like you've listed 5 articles, two of which are on historical materialism and by academics, and the other three probably aren't by academics, and said they're all by academics?

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jef costello
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Jun 9 2018 18:26

Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains. You will have to ignore the everyday oppression many of you face until after the chains have gone. I'm not sure if that means your chains come off later or if you have extras, but either way we are not interested in doing anything about it or even hearing about it. Common front!

Does it matter about pink pound? It just proves that you don't exist until you are a market. Also for a pink pound to exist there has to have been enough militant work to make homosexuality legal and homosexuals visible enough to target. So it could be a term of denigration or it could be capital now trying to sell shit to people it was crushing not so long before. Personally it just sounds like another crappy buzzword from marketing literature or that pads out newspaper articles. I remember as a kid it was supposed to be about equality, but again was posited on the idea that gay men would form couples and not have kids and then buy shit.

I thought the question of gay marriage had been solved.If you are against marriage in general then campaign against marriage, not gay marriage. Otherwise if straight people have a right then gay people should have it. As should trans people. I don't think anyone should be working in telesales as it is pointless and soul-destroying, but if a telesales company was discriminating against gays then I would be on the side of the people suffering the discrimination. If it's something that you are morally against, for example joining the military then you can leave it to someone else to do that fight. I am anti-military and anti-police so while I would support the right of gay people to not be discriminated against when joining or being in those institutions I wouldn't be fighting for it, I'd much rather see those institutions gone.

All property is theft, but anarchists didn't ignore laws preventing women from owning it. There was a direct need for economic and social liberation. Marriage might be a dead-end institution but it does have advantages, such as being next of kin if you loved one is hurt, or keeping the tenancy where you live, or claiming their pension if they die.

Spikymike
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Jun 10 2018 15:13

Of course anarchists and communists don't have to be actively against everything that we criticise but neither do we have to be at the forefront of reform campaigns who's practical result, and for some at least purpose, is the modernisation and stabilisation of capitalism. The accumulation of supposedly 'progressive' reforms is never guaranteed and provides no automatic transition to a full and free human community. Never give up on the necessity of ruthless criticism.

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Jun 11 2018 15:55
Mike Harman wrote:

This one isn't by an academic, their twitter profile describes them as an 'electronica producer' and it looks like they might be a WSM member.

No longer a member but not an academic unless dropping out of 1st year college damns you forever to that label. And Rogue also isn't a college professor.

TBH in these debates the label 'academic' often gets applied to people on one side of it because they were spotted reading a book once while the other side get to be authentic working class because they watch football even though they are tenured faculty and hang out with government ministers.

Mike Harman
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Jun 11 2018 16:11
Spikymike wrote:
Of course anarchists and communists don't have to be actively against everything that we criticise but neither do we have to be at the forefront of reform campaigns who's practical result, and for some at least purpose, is the modernisation and stabilisation of capitalism. The accumulation of supposedly 'progressive' reforms is never guaranteed and provides no automatic transition to a full and free human community. Never give up on the necessity of ruthless criticism.

I'd absolutely agree with that, but it needs to be ruthless criticism, not contemptuous dismissal and lazy repetition of social democrat (or worse) narratives, and there is far too much of the latter.

A lot of the push back against this very superficial 'anti-idpol critique' rather than being taken as critique in itself, is further dismissed as liberal/reformist, which is extremely disingenuous, especially when it comes from people who will happily cite reformist academics like Adolph Reed to prove how communist/class struggle they are.

birdtiem
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Jun 14 2018 22:07

Not sure why my last post didn't go through

Admin edit: it did, but unpublished now since it's a duplicate

birdtiem
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Jun 14 2018 22:37

Going to try this again!

Mike Harman wrote:
Going to try to answer this one, bear with me because it's not that long since I've become conversant with the dogwhistles.

You might be right that this is a UK/US thing. While there is right wing christian 'trans panic' bathroom laws and similar in the US, I'm not sure there's the same mainstreaming of actual TERFs that there is in the UK, which is all over the national press and TV seemingly daily. 'Left' publications like the Guardian, New Statesman, as well as the Stalinist Morning Star all regularly give platforms to TERFs.

birdtiem wrote:
I also kind of want to not even go here, but I have to ask because I’m at a complete loss how my sexual orientation factors into the assumption about my political views?

An example would be the constant assertion in this article about Linda Bellos that she's a lesbian. Or this article in Feminist Current that insists people are trying to force lesbians to have sex with trans women and calling them bigots if they won't. ( Of course what's actually bigoted is constantly writing articles about this of course, not who they personally choose to have sex with, which most people don't feel it necessary to write thinkpieces about).

So lesbian identity is often weaponised to suggest that trans women are a project of infiltration of women's spaces by men.

Yeah, it seems to be a discourse that is pretty geographically and ‘sociologically’ limited. I’ve tried to do a bit of reading on the internet about it since I drunkenly (with genuine intention, but very, very, very drunkenly) waded into this thread, and – rather than clarifying anything – it has made the whole issue even more impenetrable for me than it was previously, which is really saying something.

In any case, considering that this is an internet discussion forum open to people beyond the seemingly narrow scope of the TERF discourse, it would seem wise to take people in good faith, at least initially, rather than talking about “dog whistles” and slinging accusations that someone must be an undercover TERF on the basis that they’ve expressed objections to this sort of abusive, shouty, self-righteous way of arguing that just makes the entire issue even more opaque and inaccessible than it already is, never mind the insanity of openly treating as suspect that someone would mention being a lesbian in a discussion about identity politics. Maybe you should pause for a second and consider how shocking that is.

The only valuable kernel I can really gather from trying to parse this stuff is that there are different conceptions of what gender is and how it functions, and frankly, I think – in and of itself – this is important and should be discussed openly. I don’t have a hard-and-fast view on this, but I have always tended to understand gender as largely structural and a social imposition limiting what forms of expression and behavior (etc.) are acceptable on the basis of biological sex. ‘Gender identity’ adds another element to this that I am trying to make sense of, but it seems like it should be possible to account for both (all?) of these different manifestations of ‘gender’ without it being either/or, yet all of the discussion I have seen around TERF/anti-TERF whatever seems to present the understanding of gender through the lens of imposed socialization on one hand, and a focus on gender more through the lens of individual identity on the other hand, as mutually exclusive ways of understanding what gender is and how it works. And again, I don’t understand why that should be the case.

sawa
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Jun 15 2018 14:56

If you dont want to be accused of being a TERF sympathiser perhaps don't tone police trans people's responses to opression...

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Jun 15 2018 16:50

Birdtiem: you might find this useful as a short introduction to how some trans people's sense of gender fits with a broader critique of gender as a social structure: https://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/jamrat-mason-hackney-pride-speech/amp/

In general, I suppose that most people's consciousness is characterised by some level of acceptance of liberal capitalist commonsense, and I suppose that's probably true for most trans people as well, but certainly in my experience the majority of anarchist/communist trans or genderqueer people are deeply critical of gender as a social structure. This is one of the reasons the term "gender critical feminist" as a polite way of saying "trans exclusionary" does my head in, because my experience politically radical trans and non-binary people are among the most gender critical people you could ever hope to meet.

Anyway, it's not a perfect analogy, because comparisons are always tricky, but one comparison might be the way that wage labour is both the system of exploitation where capital sucks the life out of us *and* the thing that allows most of us to survive. The relevance here is that no-one, even the most laughably crude caricature of a communist, would respond to workers trying to keep their jobs and avoid redundancies by saying "you brainwashed slaves of capitalism, why are you fighting to keep being exploited, don't you know work is bad?" But that seems to be about the level that a lot of "gender critical feminist" commentary on trans people and gender is at - except it's worse than that, because cis men and cis women performing the gender roles that they feel most comfortable with don't tend to attract the same kind of criticism for "upholding sexist stereotypes" and so on.
Anyway, that's my garbled thoughts on the subject, hope they're of some help.

birdtiem
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Jun 16 2018 06:09
R Totale wrote:
Birdtiem: you might find this useful as a short introduction to how some trans people's sense of gender fits with a broader critique of gender as a social structure: https://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/09/08/jamrat-mason-hackney-pride-speech/amp/

This is good, but isn't anything that I hadn't already heard and nothing for the most part, that I can't get behind (although I do think the need to describe the oppression that trans people as a whole face as 'exactly like the sexism that cis-women face, but a hundred times worse' (paraphrasing) is not necessarily accurate or helpful). It doesn't really clarify anything about the TERF/anti-TERF stuff and the violence that seems to be going on on both sides (which, for the record, I am not at all opposed to class violence, but this seems very much like subcultural politico violence, because the working class is just not even remotely mobilized in that way at this time) Still, it is a good piece and will probably be useful to others.

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Jun 16 2018 08:43
britneye16aw wrote:
admin: abusive comment removed. This is a warning to that poster

What an odd comment. Is your hobby just going through the internet looking for any discussion where anyone uses any specialist language so you can post that?

birdtiem wrote:
This is good, but isn't anything that I hadn't already heard and nothing for the most part, that I can't get behind (although I do think the need to describe the oppression that trans people as a whole face as 'exactly like the sexism that cis-women face, but a hundred times worse' (paraphrasing) is not necessarily accurate or helpful). It doesn't really clarify anything about the TERF/anti-TERF stuff and the violence that seems to be going on on both sides (which, for the record, I am not at all opposed to class violence, but this seems very much like subcultural politico violence, because the working class is just not even remotely mobilized in that way at this time) Still, it is a good piece and will probably be useful to others.

I was offering it specifically as a response to you saying "I have always tended to understand gender as largely structural and a social imposition limiting what forms of expression and behavior (etc.) are acceptable on the basis of biological sex. ‘Gender identity’ adds another element to this that I am trying to make sense of, but it seems like it should be possible to account for both (all?) of these different manifestations of ‘gender’ without it being either/or, yet all of the discussion I have seen around TERF/anti-TERF whatever seems to present the understanding of gender through the lens of imposed socialization on one hand, and a focus on gender more through the lens of individual identity on the other hand, as mutually exclusive ways of understanding what gender is and how it works."
So, off the top of my head, that was the first piece I could think of that talks about gender as an oppressive social structure in a way that fits it into a trans framework/from a trans perspective. I have to admit that I've never actually read Gender Nihilism, but I get the impression that it does some of the same stuff. So I was mainly offering it as a way of pointing out that I don't think the distinction between understanding as gender as a social structure vs individual identity is where the conflict is coming from, and that pieces like that one can, in my opinion, do what you asked for in terms of "accounting for different manifestations of gender without being either/or".
I agree that it absolutely doesn't say much about current TERF/anti-TERF stuff, not least because it's nearly a decade old by now so can't be expected to say that much about current controversies. When you say "I am not at all opposed to class violence, but this seems very much like subcultural politico violence" - well, yeah, exactly, if you're looking for someone to say it's exactly like Cable Street or whatever I don't think you'll find many takers. As far as I can tell, it seems to be mostly a situation where some subcultural politicos make a habit of going to politico events and offering positions that are antagonistic to trans people and then get a hostile response, I don't know how much else there is to say about that. What I would absolutely disagree with is the attempts of some on the TERF side to present it as a situation where there are, like, rampaging mobs of trans people trying to shut down anyone who dares to ask questions about gender.

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Jun 16 2018 12:52
britneye16aw wrote:
R Totale wrote:
In general, I suppose that most people's consciousness is characterised by some level of acceptance of liberal capitalist commonsense, and I suppose that's probably true for most trans people as well, but certainly in my experience the majority of anarchist/communist trans or genderqueer people are deeply critical of gender as a social structure. This is one of the reasons the term "gender critical feminist" as a polite way of saying "trans exclusionary" does my head in, because my experience politically radical trans and non-binary people are among the most gender critical people you could ever hope to meet.

What a bunch of gibberish. What kind of language is this? Do you talk like this to your friends at school?

The first sentence says that most peoples thoughts on a subject are shaped by the "common sense" consensus on that subject. This includes the subject of gender. While some anarchists who are trans or genderqueer will still have ideas about gender that conform to the "common sense" understanding of gender, the majority of them have developed ideas that are different from the "common sense" ideas, and so could be said to be "critical".

The second sentence says that this is one reason why the poster doesn't think the term "gender critical feminst" makes sense to describe anti-trans feminists.

According to this site, thats roughly halved the "reading grade" from 23 to 12, which equates to 17/18 years old. Hopefully you find it easier to understand now and can fully contribute to the discussion. If you've any more questions, please don't hesitate to ask/angrily accuse everyone of talking gibberish and being in school.

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Jun 16 2018 19:39
R Totale wrote:
The relevance here is that no-one, even the most laughably crude caricature of a communist, would respond to workers trying to keep their jobs and avoid redundancies by saying "you brainwashed slaves of capitalism, why are you fighting to keep being exploited, don't you know work is bad?"

You obviously haven't met some of the crude caricature communists that I have.

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Jun 16 2018 19:42

Uncreative, I once read a post by you where you said you're not funny. Clearly you have a problem with reality perception, Please get that checked out.

Jason Cortez
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Jun 18 2018 20:07

Is Craft Work the Jordan Peterson of communism?? Can we expect a book any day now called '12 Rules For A Worker' and a pronucement about how they would rather get the sack than be civil?
highlights including 'tidy up your desk' and 'make friends with people who hate the same people as you'

birdtiem
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Jun 18 2018 22:56
R Totale wrote:
So, off the top of my head, that was the first piece I could think of that talks about gender as an oppressive social structure in a way that fits it into a trans framework/from a trans perspective. I have to admit that I've never actually read Gender Nihilism, but I get the impression that it does some of the same stuff. So I was mainly offering it as a way of pointing out that I don't think the distinction between understanding as gender as a social structure vs individual identity is where the conflict is coming from, and that pieces like that one can, in my opinion, do what you asked for in terms of "accounting for different manifestations of gender without being either/or"

Thanks for the clarification (I think I initially misunderstood which part of my post that link was meant to address).

Spikymike
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Jun 19 2018 06:55

Jason pops in to garner 11 up votes from all the other 'liberal reformists' - I mean you have to laugh at that one! Has this huge supposedly 'discussion' thread run it's tired course now - time for the admins to lock it up with the others?

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Jun 19 2018 10:42

Sign of the times, innit. Disagree with an aspect of the lately dominant anti oppression politics and you suddenly get likened to some alt right bell end or even a white supremacist.

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Jun 19 2018 11:45
Serge Forward wrote:
Sign of the times, innit. Disagree with an aspect of the lately dominant anti oppression politics and you suddenly get likened to some alt right bell end or even a white supremacist.

??????????? Craftwork's comments in this thread were based largely on language and concepts popularised by right wing theorists and reactionary ideologues. But hey why bother acknowledging that when we can play wounded martyrs by downplaying all that.

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Jun 19 2018 12:08

State of the modern anarchist movement, can't even go on a hysterical rant about queer ideology being imposed on you bc you were asked to respect pronouns, without people liking a comment likening you to someone who became famous for the same.

Fleur
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Jun 19 2018 12:10

Jordan Peterson was catapulted to international fame by his vocal objection to identity politics in the form of refusing to refer to a trans person by their preferred pronouns, in the work place. And Craftwork? You can't really complain about your opinion on something being unjustly compared to that of right wingers when it's actually identical.

There's a difference between "You are a fascist!"
and "You're opinion on this is shared by right wingers." However it seems that there are some people who like to interpret the latter as the first. This makes it actually impossible to have a conversation, what with all the martyrdom of being unjustly called a fascist wafting around. Apparently you can't actually bring up prevailing ideologies of the far right which have permuated mainstream popular opinion, and by extrapolation some areas of anarchism, because to some people that's just unacceptable. Bad form Jason, pointing out that Craftwork's position on identity politics and trans rights in the work place is identical to Jordan Peterson's. It might make someone feel uncomfortable.

Edit:cross posted with R & FB.

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Jun 19 2018 12:44

And round we go again.

radicalgraffiti
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Jun 19 2018 12:56

have you tried just not saying exactly the same stuff as fascists? i general find that reduces people the amount of people pointing out i'm saying the same things as fascists

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Jun 19 2018 13:48

Pretty sure we are just going to lock this thread, however I do really want to know what the actual views of Serge and Craftwork are. As Serge is happy to make snarky comments but actually not say what he really thinks, and Craftwork made his initial post, then refused to reply to any questions from multiple users, including myself, about it.

Serge Forward wrote:
And round we go again.

So Serge, two very straightforward yes or no questions here: do you think that people should refer to trans people in the pronouns that they prefer?

And do you think that it should be allowed for trans people to be discriminated against at work?

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Jun 19 2018 13:59

I know this thread is more about the variations of TERF reaction on the far left in the UK but..

1) There's absolutely nothing inherently wrong with identity politics. It's required for minority groups to gain rights, equality and address historical and contemporary wrongs either in society or within organizations. This shouldn't be that difficult to understand. Anarchists have written about the tyranny of the majority and stuff like that for ages. I doubt many people, other than conservative apologists, would say that things like segregation, suffrage and various other necessary civil rights could have been done by just waiting on the dominant group to change their mind voluntarily and without outside influence.

2) Any complaining about identity politics (within at least a US context) that doesn't immediately and primarily acknowledge white, heterosexual cismale identity politics is suspicious to me. That is the dominant form and the kind that historically and currently is one of the primary obstacles to class politics. Not even acknowledging it as a form is parroting and strengthening that form of identity politics, as well as right-wing talking points. The more I see this kind of thing done, the more I view the Anglo far left as having not much to offer me at best, and at worst on the same spectrum as the Anglo far right.

3) It might be worth trying to seperate 'identity politics' from 'Identitarianism'. I recently saw someone advance this separation and I thought it was worth thinking about more.

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Jun 19 2018 13:59

Given Jason'e profile identity as 'liberal reformist' I thought I was making a jovial reference to their belated attempt to revitalise this overlong threadbare discussion with their reference to some libcom favourite hate figures - my failure it seems, so please refer all your complaints to the libcom human resources department who have the authority to remove individuals that complainants find irritating.