Identity politics in 2017 is, simply defined, politics and praxis that sees class oppression, the material base for the oppression that we face, is seen as just another oppression to be done away with. How, is never said, but usually involves some type of invidualized remedies. The idea of taking class as key link in our analysis and practice is seen as anathema to the identity politician, who usually instead chooses to center their political work, if any is conducted at all, exclusively around issues such as gender or race and exclusively around liberal solutions, never around revolution as violent. Furthermore, a revolutionary analysis that comes to revolutionary conclusions is seen as dangerous for a myriad of reasons, usually because it involves conducting an actual study of revolution as a long process and understanding what it is (a violent overthrow by one class by another) instead of imbibing various lies and myths passed down from the academy in which postmodern identity politics has its basis. This is in no way an attack/criticism on the Black women who laid correct and sharp criticism on the reactionary, racist, misguided and wrong lines taken by the mainstream and even “revolutionary” women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s, dominated by white women. However, the identity politics expressed by many activists today cannot genuinely said to carry on the revolutionary tradition of the Combahee River Collective, the women of the Black Panther Party, the Young Lords, and countless others who developed their analysis and theory through sharp class struggle and actual involvement in actually revolutionary organizations, most of which took influence and guidance from partially or fully Marxist-Leninist led movements and revolutions in China, Latin America, and Africa.
The Combahee River Collective statement reads, in part:
This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression. In the case of Black women this is a particularly repugnant, dangerous, threatening, and therefore revolutionary concept because it is obvious from looking at all the political movements that have preceded us that anyone is more worthy of liberation than ourselves. We reject pedestals, queenhood, and walking ten paces behind. To be recognized as human, levelly human, is enough.
“Our own identity” is the identity of working class, black, colonized, imperialized womanhood. Centering the identity of this super-exploited and super-oppressed group is correct because when it is carried out to its natural conclusion it is obvious that to end the oppression enacted by this patriarchal white supremacist society a revolution is needed. Not a Bernie Sanders fake revolution, but the concrete will of the masses of exploited proletarian and semi-proletarian (lumpenized) Black people and all others exploited and oppressed by this system expressed through the will of a party wielding as its ultimate weapon a people’s army. It’s presumptuous, racist, misogynistic and arrogant to say that these women did not know their Marxism or did not understand how revolution works. They knew enough about how to apply it that they realized that stodgy dogmatism, appealing to labor aristocrats and white housewives, and other non-revolutionary elements at that conjuncture was a hopeless task. This identity politics is radically different from that which we encounter today and that we see weaponized and used against the revolutionary people’s movement by opportunists and reactionaries such as Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and others. When you divorce the ultimate question, the primary contradiction, the material question, which is class, you end up with a depoliticized and toothless mishmash that anybody can pick up and use. The “alt-right” sees itself as a “white identitarian” movement. Al Sharpton and Oprah Winfrey are oppressed, but not like the brothers and sisters in Oakland suffering from gentrification and the accompanying increase of police violence and brutality. Identity does not determine revolutionary qualification. There are revolutionary white people, there are counterrevolutionary white people. There are black exploiters, there are black exploited (mostly exploited). Political stance, political line, class stand and class outlook are the qualifications of a true revolutionary. If your work advances the task of revolution, you are a revolutionary. If your work or your line objectively aids, abets, or assists the enemy, you are engaging in non-revolutionary activity. If you do it non-willingly, you should rectify after criticism. If you do it willingly, you are an enemy. This goes regardless of identity.
The identity politics in the form that Communist organizers routinely encounter it has its ideological roots in postmodernism. Of course, postmodernism, along with identity politics, is often overused and misused by many on the left to serve as a stand-in for “things that I don’t like”, and many are not above cynically using identity politics while also opposing it out of the other side of their mouths, particularly white class reductionists who see it opportune to conjure up various myths and lies to serve their own racial interests and position as settlers and residents of an imperialist country, the eater of the lion’s share of the world’s wealth and natural resources, secured at the point of a rifle. Postmodernism teaches people that there is no objective right or objective wrong, that analyzing the world based on the summed up and sharpened experience of class struggle throughout history is folly. It came to prominence in political circles and solidified after the burnout of sixties radicals and the rise of revisionism in the Soviet Union. Marxism-Leninism was seen by many as a dead fossil, a corpse, ignoring the ways in which it is still being used to transform the world. It’s a plaything by and from the elite Western petit-bourgeoisie, sprung from upper crust universities in France and the US. Its class character is not proletarian and postmodern style thinking allowed to run amok in the proletarian movement can accurately be described as a corrosive. You end up led down various blind alleys and dead ends and coming to outright counter-revolutionary conclusions that do nothing to advance the world-historic task of ending the root of our oppression. The white class reductionists and settler opportunists don’t want to struggle with or recognize the objective class division among the proletariat, between higher and lower, black and white, immigrant and non immigrant, despite knowing that it has existed since the beginning of this country. White workers are not the most oppressed workers in this country, very few of them can be said to make up the proletariat, or the class defined as that which has nothing or very little to lose. The proletariat is the Mexican day laborer, the prisoner, the black single mother working 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs. White factory workers making a good salary with benefits will probably call the pigs on you for talking revolution, so right now it’s incorrect to label or treat them as the main revolutionary subject simply because they work for a wage. This does not, however, mean ignore them, because America is declining and imperialism will not eat up the world forever. Fascism appeals to dispossessed settlers of all classes more than Maoism does, like it or not, because settlerism and fascism tend to go hand in hand. A glance at South Africa or Israel will confirm this if you disbelieve. To change this we need to not alienate potential allies and comrades but also to not entertain false delusions or “rely on them” like we do the revolutionary black and brown masses.
On the opposite side, nonwhite/nonmale identity politicians reject class struggle or shove it down to the third or fourth place and raise various bogies and distractions of oftentimes meaningless and ridiculous, if not downright harmful, importance. It does not please me to see more black gay men in high positions in the US military, or to get meaningless representation in meaningless places. That which is useful is that which materially impacts and harms US imperialism, which opposes the continued oppression and exploitation of my people and others, and that which advances objectively the cause of the international proletariat, namely the destruction of the United States, the liberation of internal colonies and oppressed nations held therein, and the advent of the Communist order over the entire world.
Identity politics in the form that many of us have encountered it, of course, is bad. This being said, those that adhere to it, more often than not, aren’t vested in it. Furthermore, the fact that they acknowledge that there is something wrong in the world says quite a bit. Of course, it may be difficult to listen to someone who says that “Marx was a cis white man, we shouldn’t study him”, but nothing is easy. It’s also difficult when we promote revolutionary line and practice in organizing meetings and in lecture halls, but again, nothing is easy. Of course, if someone “cancels” you for criticizing their objectively counterrevolutionary and baseless politics, they’re probably bad apples anyways, but most of the postmodern activists are misled by their time at bourgeois universities. Individualism, arrogance, and other anti-communist things of that nature grow like poisonous weeds. I’m glad, personally, that people take part in what they see as world changing politics, but politics for its own sake instead of the revolution’s sake, the people’s sake, is foolish and oftentimes harmful. We don’t need revolutionary union organizers being called privileged for suggesting that a campaign be launched at a particular shop or revolutionary activists who genuinely love the people and who have a being “dragged” because they’re white or male. Likewise, we don’t need black and brown people being turned off of Communism because some white dogmatist decided that their issues and lives don’t matter. They certainly do matter. But most importantly, they matter because they are mechanisms and creations that were developed by the classes that have held power and exploited us for centuries. Why are we oppressed because we are black? Because the developers of this settler colonial country brought us here as the original proletariat and extracted wealth from us by gun and whip point. To justify this state of affairs, we were written into unpersonhood, objecthood, by the capitalist system. Capitalism brought us here, capitalism exploited us and continues to do so. Why? Because it’s profitable. Think about it and do better.