Taken for Granted or Left Out (To Katha Pollitt)

Gar W. Lipow lipowg at sprintmail.com
Wed Jun 3 15:07:15 PDT 1998

Date: Wed, 3 Jun 1998 12:20:41 -0500 Yoshie Furuhashi said
> That's because pro-choicers, people of color, queers, and so on are _taken for granted_ as ready-made >progressives or _dismissed_ as 'middle-class' (contradictory as these two thoughts may seem) in the thoughts >of many lbo-talkers. That's why there is no discussion about how to talk + appeal to the working-class >people who fall into one or more of the above categories. The only thing that lbo-talkers have to say about >us is that 'identity politics,' whose political economy they do have yet to theorize, is BAD. No productive >+ constructive discussion. Worse, in some of their minds, we are to be totally _left out_, since our >presence is perceived to be alienating for the 'majority' that exists only in their dreams. (Shades of the >'silent majority' discourse here?)

First a question. Is "identity politics" an inherently (or usually) pejorative term? Is "pluralism" or "diversity" preferable if your intent is supportive?

Secondly -- I think the list seems be divided into two truly horrible camps here.

Those who acknowledge that the actually existing left pays too little attention to working people, seems to want to make up for this by pushing women, minorities, queers, environmentalists and so on to the back of the bus. (Katha, Yoshie, and Carroll have done too good a job of documenting this for me to waste bandwidth repeating the evidence in this post. Besides the position is rather self documenting among some of those who try to deny it.)

But it seems that those who take a more balanced view -- who support all the plural struggles including that of working people seem to deny that left has any particular class bias. There seems to be a position here that the left does not have a classism problem to the same extent that it has a problem with white supremacy, sexism or homophobia. Also, when Katha and Yoshie ask for examples of humorousness, they seem to be denying that lack of humor, or lack of ability to speak in non jargon laden prose is widespread on the left.

To start with it seems there is a general argument on this: We live in a sexist, racist, homophobic, classist society. It would be surpassing if the left, which after all does originate on this planet (however difficult this is to believe sometimes) would be completely free of ANY of these problems. Most left organizations at least acknowledge the danger of their internal organization promoting gender and race bias, and claim to make some attempt at remedying these. I know of no left organization which seriously considers that their organization might have anti-worker bias, and puts programs in place to prevent and remedy it if this happens. Given this, it would not be surpassing if the left organizations had an anti-worker bias at least as great as their other biases.

Some concrete evidence :

1) How many left organizations structure themselves just like corporations -- with boards of directors, CEO's the whole schmear? I would say a working person joining such a group has got think "meet the new boss/same as the old boss".

2) How many of those do not do this, abuse the steering committee process or use other tricks to end up with a small minority of the group making all the decisions? See the last sentence of 1.

3) I noticed that the working class/coordinator distinction I made was pretty uncontroversial on the list. At least people who have not hesitated to argue with other points I have raised made no objection. So it seems that we can make the same test for classism that we would for racism or sexism. How many people in positions of power in these organizations are working class? It seems to me that working class faces are even rarer at the top of left organizations than non-white, non-male ones.

4) In terms of sense of humor and the use of accessible language, I will simply say that Katha Pollitts, Doug Henwood, Manning Marables, Patricia Williams are too damn rare on the left. I meet a lot of leftist who speak and write in dense academic jargon. This is much more difficult to prove than the others. If challenged on points 1-3 I could take a random page from the directory of left organizations, or do some other statistical test people on the list agree is fair. I do not know how one can prove or disprove the preponderance of humorlesness.

There is a question that may help on this. How many people with almost no sense of humor do you know? What percent of them are leftist?



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