Unified Leftist Politics: An Ongoing Investigation

In the wake of the Rachel Dolezal controversy and my critique of Identity Politics I feel it necessary to discuss further the importance for revolutionary praxis of breaking away from sectarian politics. If we are to create a political movement to counter the hegemony of Global Capitalism it must be a unified movement. The problem with Identity Politics is that it fractures the Left into an inordinate number of varying identity groups. This form of politics leaves us with conversations about the comparative degrees of oppression faced by transgendered white women versus gay men or women of color. We are repeatedly left to debate whose victimhood is more legitimate, creating a kind of language turf war wherein the battles are fought within the movement itself over placement in the hierarchy of oppression rather than in developing a unified revolutionary praxis for countering the hegemony of Global Capitalism.

The practical, concrete result this ideological formation has on street level political activism is the dominance of Movementism. Movementism is purely a reactionist enterprise. It tends to take the form of political activism in response to a single issue: the war in Iraq, police brutality, abortion restrictions, voter disenfranchisement, etc. As a result of this disorganization and spontaneous formation there is very little that the organizations formed around these issues can actually accomplish. Their disunity from the rest of the goals of the Left is precisely the reason that they generally fail to achieve their aims. They only appear spontaneously in the wake of an immediate crisis, feeding off the energy of the local populace to fill their ranks. Once that energy dissipates, as it always does when people begin returning to their normal lives, the organization falls apart, slipping back into obscurity.

We need to develop a movement across the left on the basis of a shared political line in opposition to Global Capitalism just as the Bourgeoisie united as a single class in opposition to Feudalism. We must take the various forms of oppression which exist under Capitalism and bring them within a unified politics. Instead of arguing over the hierarchy of oppression we must identify the various expressions of oppressions under Capitalism as anachronisms within the context of a better world and should thus be abolished along with their progenitor, Class Society, the modern formation of which is Capitalism. We need political organizations that live within, and recruit from, their communities around the country, devoted to the daily task that is the construction of revolutionary organizations capable of creating and promoting a revolutionary politics and the concrete strategy for its practical application.

The economic crisis that has brought suffering to so many millions of Americans would have been an excellent opportunity for these organizations to begin their practical efforts toward seizing political power through the established channels were these kinds of organizations being built in the preceding decades. However, Capitalism is yet again in crisis and the Left in America remains utterly impotent to do anything about it. This is not to say that the Left should ignore reformist struggles aimed at incremental improvements. Any reformist legislative campaign that is likely to be enacted and thus likely to improve the lives of millions of Americans, like the expansion of insurance and access to Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, should be supported. But surely that does not mean that reformist struggle should be the only practical political activity of the Left.

The struggle for the overthrow of Capitalism through political revolution should not remain merely an academic, theoretical exercise. We need to develop practical tools for concrete revolutionary praxis all the while incorporating, and focusing, the energy of spontaneous political activism in the wake of crises into our paradigm. When these crises emerge there must exist revolutionary political organizations that the mass of the people can turn to for assistance. And these organizations must exist within and be derived from all the communities, but particularly those communities with the least access to the established avenues of political participation. As Marx correctly concluded the slaves make history, for they have nothing to lose but their chains. Certainly this will be a herculean undertaking.

Nevertheless, if the Left in America wishes to address and solve the many challenges that face not only the country but the planet, with climate change being the most dire, then this sectarianism must not persist. We have spent far too long huddled in our individual corners, fighting our own small, individual battles against attacks on the environment, anti-poverty programs, reproductive rights, voting rights, police brutality, corporate crime, and so on. Without a unified front there can be no long term victory in any of these fights. For there is too much money and power behind the counter-revolutionary forces within our society who desire to see the perpetuation of Class Society in the form of Global Capitalism for it is from the maintenance of the status quo that they benefit. Not to mention those who want to see the achievements of human liberation and progress rolled back. I hope to continue my investigation into this issue by researching the thought of revolutionaries past and present who also struggled with these same concerns.

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Rachel Dolezal and the Problem of Race

The case of Rachel Dolezal is both amusing and frustrating. Frankly, something about this case feels like a set up. It’s emergence onto the national stage at a time when substantive discussions about race, police brutality, systems of oppression, etc. are finally being engaged is suspicious. Almost as thought some reactionary right winger had this card up his sleeve and was only waiting for the right moment to play it. The fact that the life story of the director of the Spokane, Washington office of the NAACP, an unpaid position for Christ’s sake, would become the top national news story in the country would have seemed preposterous a week ago. Regardless, I do not think that this story is entirely a distraction.

While I am sympathetic to the position that whites have appropriated cultural inventions of the African American community there is an underlying philosophy behind these critiques that is troublesome. The reaction of Identity Politics liberals to this case highlights the methodological inconsistency and cul de sac like quality of Identity Politics. The very people criticizing the likes of Rachel Dolezal are avowed defenders of transgendered people. They argue that gender is a social construction. Thus the gender identifications of trans people, being as they are, in opposition to the socially constructed conceptions of gender identity associated with one’s sexual organs, should be supported. Put simply, because gender is not based in any biological reality there is no reason that a person born with male sex organs cannot gender identify as female. They also argue that race is a social construction with no basis in biology; invented to excuse the oppression of one group by another. But because it is somehow a special kind of social construction. and therefore somehow not equivalent to gender, these advocates of Identity Politics claim that Dolezal should be condemned for attempting to appropriate the black experience, misrepresent her identity, deceive her friends, colleagues, students, etc.

These claims are usually derived from the presupposition that the view transgendered people have of their identity is genuine while Dolezal’s is not because she was forced to go to such extreme lengths to distort her true identity in order to deceive everyone around her into believing she was black. She fashioned her hair like your stereotypical black woman, darkened her skin, changed the way she spoke, lied about her parentage, and so on. How can they claim that race is not a biological reality while also arguing Dolezal is white? They seem so invested in an idea they themselves admit is only real in the sense that human beings have been forced to fabricate it! But because so many people are so greatly invested in this notion of race, because they so fervently and genuinely believe in it’s existence, it is transformed, via a kind of racial prestidigitation, into a concrete reality that is also social construction. Dolezal’s critics are not the only ones committed to this conception of race. She seems equally invested in maintaining it, all the while devoting her life to championing equality based on a shared humanity that stands in opposition to claims that race is biological.

Liberal and progressive critics of Dolezal are not the only ones who make the case for some special category for race in America. This has been one of the most important issues for conservatives and right wingers. One can hear it even today in arguments in defense of Southern heritage, and criticism of the welfare state supposedly disproportionately benefiting minorities, with the implicit understanding being that they are inferior to whites and thus undeserving of the social contract; among a multitude of other arguments! So, not only have these so called liberals and progressives adopted such an intellectually ridiculous approach to these issues, they have made common cause with reactionaries! The very same people who must be fought tooth and nail for every inch of social progress. We must reject these conceptions once and for all. There is no legitimate basis for these arguments. These categories are merely the expression of class power by those who rule against those who are ruled. That is all race and gender have ever been, an ideological means to justify the location of a designated group of people within a particular exploitative social relationship. Listening to the critique of Dolezal from the left is very reminiscent of Benjamin Franklin’s complaints that German immigrants not being white enough.