left conservatism, BRC, entrenched identities

Wojtek Sokolowski sokol at jhu.edu
Tue Jun 23 07:51:44 PDT 1998

Because of the new limits in the number of postings, I am addresing several missives from Doyle Saylor, Micael Eisenscher, Charles Brown, Lou Proyect, and Justin Schwartz here.

At 10:46 AM 6/22/98 -0800, Doyle Saylor wrote:
> Please listen to what I say here, when you equate psychotherapy with
>"middle class" preoccupation with the psyche and symbols of
>psychological suffering, I would hope you understand that you are
>talking about people who have disabilities. Mental illness is not just

I reply (WS): There is a difference between legitimate use of psychotherapy to treat clearly identifiable mental disorders, and the abuse of psychothreapy to enforce conformity to the status quo.

By definition, the goal of psychotherapy is to help an individual adopt to a social environment. If the misadaptation is caused by the mulfunctioning of an individula's psyche - psychotherapy might be a legitimate and beneficial technique to help such a person. However, if the misadaptation is cause by the malfunctioning of the social environment, psychotherapy is nothing more but a reactionary trick to stiffle opposition and prevent social change. It is just telling a person "accept things as they are, and learn how to adapt to that."

There is a connection between US of A having zillions forms of therapy and only two political parties, barely distinguishable from one another. There was a big fuss when the Soviets tried to label their dissidents as 'mentally ill.' Ironically, individual therapy is _the_ American response to social problems.

At 08:49 PM 6/22/98 -0700, Michael Eisenscher wrote:
>If you want to make an argument against the BRC, at least do so based on an
>honest presentation of facts. It has been observed by more than one person
>on this list (myself included based on direct familial participation) that
>no whites were excluded. Do you know otherwise? If not, why continue to
>set up this straw provocative and misleading argument?

I reply (WS): As I already stated, I have no problems with efforts aiming primarily at organizing a single ethnic group (which may or may not be an effective strategy, but that is a different point). I was objecting to the reported exclusion of other groups. Now you are telling me that no such exclusions occurred. Well, I was relying on reports of others so I cannot tell either way, it is the word of one person against another. So I have no other choice but to suspend any judgment on this issue.

At 03:43 PM 6/22/98 -0400, Charles Brown wrote:
>Charles replies: Yes, comrade, I think you are missing a proletarian
internationalist theory of self-determination of oppressed nations and nationalities. Sort of elementary stuff, kind of Leninist affirmative action, recognition of the difference and even opposition between great power chauvinism and oppressed nation unification, self-determination, and self-liberation. You are treating an asymetry symetrically. This is an error of the same type as the U.S. Supreme Court "reverse discrimination" doctrine which underlies the outlawing of affirmative action in the name of equality. Oh pernicious denial of racism. In other words, your criticism/self-criticism is sadly lacking .

I reply (WS): I am aware of the connection between nationalism, liberation from the colonial oppression, and the Left - but I am simply not swayed by those arguments. I think nationalism might have been an important force against colonial domination of Africa in 1950s and 1960s, but today it is a reactionary force - Rwanda is a case in point.

The same thing happened in Eastern Europe, cf. Yugoslavia. Tito was a nationalist in a 'good" sense of the word - using nationalism to mobilise resistance against fascist aggression, but also to overcome local nationalisms (Serb, Croat, etc.) - but in the end nationalism was the force that destroyed Tito's magnum opus - socialist Yugoslavia.

So with that experience, I think the Left should be much more cautious playing the nationalist card again.

At 02:07 PM 6/22/98 -0400, Louis Proyect wrote:
>This is an abstraction. Real politics involves contradictions. For example,
>for women to meet men as equal partners in the radical movement, it was
>necessary for them to segregate themselves and form all women's groups that
>were closed to men. Once they achieved a higher level of self-confidence,
>unity was possible on a higher plane.

I reply (WS): Perhaps. But we should also weight the short-term political expediency versus long-term consequences - cf. the examples of Africa and Yugoslavia I mention above in my reply to Charles Brown. I just happen to belive that longh-term consequences of nationalis, separatism and id politics of this sort bring more harm than any short-term political expediency.

At 08:26 AM 6/23/98 -0400, Justin Schwartz wrote:

>Your defense of identity politics, and attack on its critics, turns on a
>confusion. You argue that since capitalism other oppressions create
>identities of certain sorts, it's just no different from premature
>conservative (genuine conservative, not "left conservative") assertions of
>color blindness to attack a politics based on and oerganized around these
>identities. This is absurd, as can be seen from the following _very close_
>(though not perfect) analogy: capitalism and other oppressions create
>racism, so it would be wrong to oppose racist organization (white identity

I reply (WS): I think it is an excellent point. Obviously, the existing power structure must be taken into account, but not to the point to deny agency of those who happen to be oppressed by the powers that be. An in that context, drawing analogies bewteen different racial identity groups is perfectly legitimate. Being opressed is not an excuse for active reproduction of the system of oppression or its tools.

I might also add that rejecting the role of bourgeoisie and its institutions (e.g. the supreme court) as a force of progress is very un-Marxian. The greatness of Marx's thought was to recognize both strengths and limitations of bourgeois society. Creating and international working class by dismantling pre-modern institutions and divisions of society -- or id politics if you will - was among the strengths. From that perspective, I have no problems with accepting the Supreme Court's views on discrimination, both 'straighforward' and 'reverse' - even though I find the hipocrisy of the conservative cheerleaders of such views nauseating.

Best regards,

Wojtek Sokolowski

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list