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Tag: sexism

The Aggressiveness of Vulnerability

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by P. Roufos

Trump has been president for over a year now but the arguments over what led to his victory are far from settled. Many sought to explain the surprising results with an age-old idea about a part of America historically resistant to “progress.” The notion that the “white working-class” is responsible for Trump allowed pro-market fanatics like J. D. Vance to gain visibility through his attempt to re-instate the bankrupt American Dream, while also permitting liberals to feel justified in their (also age-old) contempt for the poor. Other commentators put structural issues of the voting system (such as the Electoral College and the popular vote) in the spotlight. A few tried to zero in on the Democratic Party itself, tacitly recognizing the possibility that its failure might have something to do with its own choices and policies. The most comical explanation of all, Russian interference, remains mind-numbingly popular within liberal outlets. But for a certain period, another approach was also captivating those eager to understand the “impossible presidency”. According to this view, Trump’s rise to power was significantly assisted by the emerging alt-Right (“alternative Right”) and its prolific online presence. Angela Nagle’s book, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (Zero Books, 2017) was one of the first to attempt to contextualize this approach.

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Privilege Theory’s Critique of Marxism

by Jehu 2014

1.    Privilege theory as a critique of Marxism from within Marxismsadwhiteguy

Privilege theory was custom made for post-war Marxism because, basically, with the just dawning realization that the class struggle appears to have all but disappeared in society in the post-war period, they don’t have much of anything else to discuss when it comes to politics.

Privilege theory has its roots in a self-critique within mid-60s Marxism that communists were neglecting the extent to which racism divided the working class. These critics argued the communists themselves marginalized or altogether ignored the surging black liberation movement and the movements of other oppressed strata within American society. However, the view of these critics of Marxism was, in large part, itself infected with many of the same naive conceptions of the working class in particular and class society as a whole as infected the thinking of the more “orthodox” Marxists.

The “white blindspot” critique assumed the working class was not  already divided by its material conditions of existence, but because the capitalist created and employed racism to divide it. As I will show, the false implication underlying the original argument was that absent racism, the working class would be united. The error is not unique to the “white blindspot” theorists: it pervades the Marxist praxis in the post-war period. This is the sort of argument that demonstrates Marxism’s complete lack of understanding of class society. The argument here is critical to both the critique of Marxism and of privilege theory because the assumption (implicit or explicit) made by Marxists on both sides is that the working class is capable of overcoming its divisions short of complete social emancipation.  On the other hand, the growing influence of privilege theory among activists demonstrates the working class is anything but united and likely cannot be united within its present material conditions.

The conflict over privilege theory can be summed up in two (admittedly simplistic) arguments:

1. With the overthrow of capitalism, racism, sexism and all forms of oppression will be done away with.

and

2. Racism, sexism and other forms of privilege cannot be ended simply by overthrowing capitalism.

At the outset, I am not going to say both sides are wrong in their characterization of the conflicts and divisions within the working class. I just want to assert that the notion of working class unity runs into some very thorny theoretical question based on a less naive grasp of how classes are constituted in bourgeois society. In historical materialism, all classes in bourgeois society have the same characteristics: First, their common material conditions of existence are independent of the members of the class. Second, absent a conflict with another class, the members of a class are on hostile terms with each other.

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Passing for Politics

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by Asad Haider

Today’s politics of identity — the epoch of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and privilege-checking — was already the subject of debate in a 1964 exchange between Amiri Baraka, then still known as LeRoi Jones, and Philip Roth. It began with Roth’s negative review of Jones’s The Dutchman, along with James Baldwin’s Blues for Mister Charlie, in The New York Review of Books. The Dutchman had presented a theatrical allegory of the failures of liberal integrationism, and the seductive treachery of the white world. Roth’s dismissive review displays no real understanding of the political critique at work in the play; nevertheless, the line that became the real point of contention contains a kernel of insight. This was Roth’s speculation that Baraka, then Jones, wrote The Dutchman for a white audience, “not so that they should be moved to pity or to fear, but to humiliation and self-hatred.” Jones retorted in a vicious letter that, “The main rot in the minds of ‘academic’ liberals like yourself, is that you take your own distortion of the world to be somehow more profound than the cracker’s.”

Roth’s The Human Stain, written during the reign of our first “first black president” (you have to wonder if Toni Morrison regrets saying that), illuminates the distance between 1964 and 2016. Here Roth presents a biography that moves from the personal costs of segregation to the contradictions of liberal multiculturalism. Coleman Silk, a light-skinned black professor of classics — like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which provoked the trigger warning debate at Columbia — spends a lifetime passing for white. Yet in ’90s America it is not the black identity which destroys his life and reputation, but the somehow ontologically irrefutable accusation of anti-black racism.

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Identity Politics: A Zero-Sum Game

by Walter Benn Michaels New Labor Forum (November 6, 2010).

The current hard times have been harder on some people than on others, harder on the poor—obviously—than on the rich; but harder also on blacks and Hispanics than on whites. As of this writing, the unemployment rate for blacks is at 15.6 percent, and for Hispanics it’s at 12.7 percent. For white people, it’s 9.3 percent. 1

Of course, the vast majority of the unemployed are white. But it’s the disparity in rates, not in absolute numbers, that tends to get foregrounded, since that disparity functions not only as a measure of suffering but also, in William A. Garity’s concise summary, as “an index of discrimination in our society.” 2

And it’s the ongoing fact of discrimination that motivates our ongoing interest in identity politics. As long as inequality is apportioned by identity, we will be concerned with identity.

This is obviously both inevitable and appropriate. But it is also—and almost as obviously—irrelevant to a left politics, or even to the goal of reducing unemployment, as we can see just by imagining what it would be like if we finally did manage to get rid of discrimination. Suppose, for example, that unemployment for whites and for Asian-Americans were to rise to 10 percent while for blacks and Hispanics it fell to 10 percent. Or suppose that unemployment for everyone went to 15 percent. In both cases, we would have eliminated the racial disparity in unemployment rates, but in neither case would we have eliminated any unemployment. And we don’t even need hypotheticals to make the point. About three quarters of the job losers in the current recession have been men, which means that the numbers of men and women in the workforce are now roughly equal. So, from the standpoint of gender equity, the recession has actually been a good thing. It’s as if, unable to create more jobs for women, we’d hit upon the strategy of eliminating lots of the jobs for men—another victory for feminism and for anti-discrimination since, from the standpoint of anti-discrimination, the question of how many people are unemployed is completely irrelevant. What matters is only that, however many there are, their unemployment is properly proportioned.

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Towards a materialist approach to the racial question

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a response to Indigènes de la République

The following text, a critique of the Parti des Indigènes de la République by three of its former members, originally appeared in the French journal Vacarme. A radical anti-colonial party, Parti des Indigènes came to wide attention among the English-speaking Left for their sharp critiques of secularism and racism on the French Left following the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2015. While they seem to have attained great respect from certain sectors of the Left, the translator of this document believes such respect is mistaken; that PIR’s identitarian politics seeks an alliance with the identitarian far-right of Le Pen, Dieudonné, and Soral; and that such an approach to politics poses a great threat to the Left.

Secondarily, this document provides a much-needed insight into the problem of antisemitism. Following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the media hysterically speculated that Europe was on the verge of a pogrom, to be carried out by its numerous Muslim immigrants; Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu took up the hysteria, calling for French Jews to emigrate. The backlash among certain leftists, whom the present translator otherwise respects, was perhaps equally hysterical. Some questioned whether antisemitism was even extant in contemporary Europe; others seemed to blame antisemitic acts on crimes of the Israeli state, rather than the perpetrators. As this document’s analysis shows, antisemitism is not only a threat against Jews, but against any movement of the working class.

Towards a materialist approach to the racial question: a response to INDIGÈNES DE LA RÉPUBLIQUE

by Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb & Léa Nicolas-Teboul

[translation by puyraveau]

Les Indigènes de la République have helped to shed light on racism within the Left, supported by the racism of French society at large. But are they also prisoners of racism? We propose a systematic analysis of the forces exercised upon the most precarious: a critique of the erasure of race and gender; while escaping the identitarian project of the extreme right; remaining anchored in critique of political economy.

From the dead refugees of the Mediterranean, to the Baltimore riots, to the events of everyday metropolitan life, we are constantly drawn back to the question of race. It seems necessary to propose an analysis of the foundations of racism, which will not be merely a shallow response to current events.

Today, we observe mounting Islamophobia and antisemitism. These two are a pair – in a context where social segregation is becoming stronger, and the logic of all-against-all becomes uncontrollable, we must work to think of these things in conjunction. That means to reject the logic of competition between different racial oppressions; but also to examine Islamophobia and antisemitism together in all their specificity. And in all this, the general context – growing social violence, a hardening of class segmentation, and effects of structural racism (in housing, work, and so on). It is harder and harder for the poor, and for those who are the most precarious (racial minorities and women).

With the [Charlie Hebdo] attacks in January, the left was hit with its own denial of the issue of racism. It made a specialty of denouncing the victimization, and of dismissing racism as a massive structural phenomenon. Institutional feminists’ obsession with the veil functioned as a spotlight on the racism of a Left clinging to an abstract and aggressive universalism.

This was why we were enthusiasts of the great work of exposing the racism of the Republican left – a project in which the Parti des Indigènes de la République has participated since 2004. There are many of us who worked to undermine this “respectable” racism, under which the indigènes were never truly equal. [1] If the Left was never explicitly against racialized people, its arguments were dismissive of the great values meant to emancipate them. An entire history of the condescension and paternalism of the French Left remains to be written. Such a history would note the way discourse of class was used to stratify the hierarchies of the workers’ movement itself.

Nevertheless, it seems to us that PIR is slipping. Riding the gathering wave of identitarianism, it proposes a systematic cultural, almost ethnocentric, reading of social phenomena. This leads to the adoption of dangerous positions on antisemitism, gender, and homosexuality. It essentializes the famous “Indigènes sociaux,” the subaltern it aims to represent. It is as if the racialized working class, who face the most violent racism, are being instrumentalized in a political strategy which basically plays in the arena of the White left and à la mode radical intellectuals.

For us, descendants of Muslim and Jewish Algerians, to lead the critique of the PIR, just as we led the critique of the Left, is a matter of self-defense. We believe we have nothing to win from a political operation which subsumes all questions under that of race. For us, not only the question of race, but also those of political economy, and the social relations of sex, are the order of the day.

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Organizing and Identity: Intersections, Eviscerations and Individuality

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This essay will annoy, piss-off, and bring denunciations from some of my friends and colleagues. That’s fine. One of the things that politically engaged people who are striving for substantial structural social change fail to do is to identify those things which make success difficult. And that starts by looking at ourselves.

I am a white, male, heterosexual, meat-eating, butter-slathering, well-off, whiskey-drinking, cigarette-smoking, elderly professional. Many people looking at that description would assume that I am either a racist insurance salesman thrill-riding with police as an auxiliary cop in Oklahoma, or a corporate shill tea-bagging at a Koch brother’s fundraiser and wreaking environmental carnage. More gentle and refined folks might give me the benefit of the doubt. They might picture me as someone wearing a tweed sport jacket, with the obligatory leather elbow patches, smoking a pipe, adjusting my suspenders and musing over some arcane text while ignoring the ravages of racism, sexism, imperialism and capitalism that grant me the privilege of a comfortable but relatively useless life. In fact, many people who know me marvel that I am not precisely that. After all it is my assigned role in life and only a psychopath would not protect the advantages and privileges bestowed on him.

The point is that my identity and my individual choices are irrelevant to advancing the cause of substantial structural social change, which incidentally I happen to support by any means necessary. Excessive attention to differences, individualism and lifestyle choices dilute any comprehensive approach to changing economic, political and social reality in the United States and the world. As Jock Young pointed out, in late modernity we all struggle with ontological insecurity. That’s not an accident. That very social structure many of us wish to change makes ontological insecurity inevitable. In fact, ontological insecurity is a valuable weapon in their fight to maintain power and control. If they can divide society by race, gender, food choice, sexual preference or any other “difference” they can slow down and impede organizational efforts to get rid of them.

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Intersections and race

Racism isn’t a disease. It isn’t a psychological disorder. It isn’t a cultural identity. Racism, simply put is a form of oppression. Racism is one of many forms of oppression which interact to create pervasive systems of discrimination and, more importantly, powerful systems of social control. Racism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, immigration status and other categories of social exclusion are not simply personal problems, although they have deeply personal ramifications. Racism is one of many very powerful weapons used in society to achieve three goals:

First, it is used to justify economic and political policies which protect and reinforce power. Demonizing, dehumanizing, objectifying and socially excluding people is an ideological weapon used by those in power to divide us, dominate us, and make structural conditions that would otherwise be recognized by any thinking person as cruel, barbaric and insane, seem normal and reasonable. Simply put, it is a weapon that rationalizes the horrific and the unacceptable.

Second, racism is used to create economic conditions where some people, particularly women and socially constructed racial groups, are easier to exploit. Social exclusion creates a situation where wages and salaries can be depressed and entire social groups can be forced to accept menial, servile and dehumanizing work.

Third, racism, sexism, homophobia and the rest are effective tools of division. Those most disadvantaged and oppressed in society can be manipulated into patterns of distrust, hatred and discrimination. They also can, and often do, give a sense of power to whites, men, heterosexuals, and “citizens” which prevents those most disadvantaged and exploited in society from working together to confront the real sources of their problems.

In the United States our socially constructed definitions of race and ethnicity are constantly changing and adapting to the needs of power. Racism in all its forms has been a remarkably adaptable device used throughout our history to justify the mistreatment and dehumanization of millions of people. Of course the obvious examples are slavery and genocide. The enslavement of African-Americans was absolutely vital to the growth of the American economy. It buttressed agricultural production in the South and industrial production in the North where the products of slavery were manufactured into commercial goods. It provided enormous revenues from foreign trade and tariffs and excised taxes to fund the state. “Manifest destiny” and the occupation of the North American continent was achieved by genocide and war directed at Native American peoples. The geographical expansion and subsequent resource extraction which fueled the American economy was dependent on barbarism and slaughter. We also sometimes forget the other omnipresent forms of racism and discrimination.

If you remember there was a time in this country when whites hated white people. The white puritans of the Plymouth Colony threw out other white puritans! A system of exploited labor requires that someone, even if they look just like us and think just like us, must be dehumanized and vilified to justify their lack of privilege. The Irish were brought to the new world in indentured servitude to work the fields and build the cities. They were vilified as Papist drunks and housed in the most horrifying ghettos. Italian immigrants necessary to the shrimp and fishing industries were denounced as criminals. East European Jewish immigrants were blamed for prostitution even though the sex trade was well established as long ago as the Plymouth colony. The Chinese were brought here to build the railroads and then denounced as drug fiends. Mexicans, both in the 1930s and today are imported by labor leasing companies and consigned to the most demeaning labor, particularly in agriculture, and then blamed for the horrors of marijuana.

From the first Puritan settlers who eviscerated the Pequot tribe and the import of African slaves to today’s disingenuous and phony “war on terrorism,” racism and social exclusion has been a powerful weapon to justify violent and repressive policies at home and abroad, to create a compliant and divided populace, and to offer privilege and advantage to some at the expense of others. The point of all of this has been to reinforce and protect the economic, political and social power of the ruling elite.

The question is, of course, what do we do about all of this? Liberal reformists tell us that the answer is to extend some privileges to others while making certain their own privileges are not in any way inconvenienced. “Equality” sounds good. But if society is to pursue equality someone has to give something up to get there. It is populism at its worst. “Equality” is, in fact, a highly desirable goal. Fighting for equality can bring people together. It can expose the structural inequities of the system. It is positive; it is progressive and offers the opportunity to bring people together. But, it’s not enough.

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