against 'entrenched identities'

Max Sawicky sawicky at
Thu Jun 25 09:12:56 PDT 1998

Quoth the LBO maven:

<<Much to the impoverishment of Marxism. I'm at a loss to understand why so many Marxists view categories of race, gender, and sexuality as mere "identities," as if they were purely subjective and not socially and materially lived. . . . "

I don't remember anybody saying this. I don't believe it, not that I'm a marxist. I did say I doubted that sexuality was a factor in constructing class, but certainly not race and gender. But in any case I'm not hostile to the thought.

More Doug:

<<When Yoshie proposed a ban on the reckless use of "identity politics" the other day, I thought that was just a bit too strict, but I am going to exercise my moderator's prerogative the next time someone uses it recklessly and ask just what the hell it means. What exactly is identity politics, and who practices it? The agenda of the Black Radical Congress can't be an example; it's anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist (which no doubt reflects the Marxian heritage of lots of the organizers), and not some vulgar race patronage screed. So all you anti-identity politicians - what are you talking about?>>

Near as I can recall, the only one who blasted BRC was Rakesh, who has also criticized so-called left conservatives. I don't have a problem with it, or I should say, them (BRC).

The demand for negative examples is well-taken. Here are a few.

The message of Farrakhan is exhibit A, though as I've mentioned, this must be understood as political in the sense that it drains political energy from its target constituency. In contrast, the IDEA of the Million Man March was a great one. Too bad Farrakhan had it first. It could easily have gone forward without the gratuitous request that women stay home. A friend I mentioned before (white female) went to the MMM, was quite moved, and noted that the folks in the ranks were very disappointed by Farrakhan's speech.

Exhibit B: all minority/gender/sex politicians who frame their message in a rebuke of straight white guys, notwithstanding some obligatory references to the poor. Examples include Al Sharpton and half the folks on this list. Politics is about persuasion and making allies out of strangers and adversaries. ID politics, especially the academic variety, is about raising fences to glorify one's own moral position, if not advance one's academic career.

Exhibit C: all who make an easy equation between marriage and prostitution. Suggested therapy: watch many movies on the 'Lifetime' network. You can disagree, of course, but don't try to get me engaged in an exchange on this. It's too idiotic.

Exhibit D: what used to be called 'cultural nationalists' who colluded in overt police attacks on nationalists and who talked about capitalism, class, and alliances with whites, and functioned as strike-breakers. Amiri Baraka's men, before his marxist turn, assulting picketing teachers in Newark, NJ. Sharpton again, informing on others to the FBI. Farrakhan again, colluding in the assassination of Malcolm X.

The name Alprentice 'Bunchy' Carter mean anything to anybody?

Non-exhibits: George Jackson (who published Soledad Brother close to 1970, not the 50's) produced a withering critique of ID politics. The Panthers and League of Revoluntionary Black Workers (formerly DRUM, mentioned by Louis). The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Etc. etc.

I don't want to produce a treatise on nationalism. Clearly it predates class struggle and can often yield positive results from a class standpoint. I would like to ask, however, just what is meant these days by the term 'self-determination' in the U.S. context. I can understand self-determination for Timor, vis-a-vis Indonesia. What does self-determination for blacks in the U.S. mean? They get North and South Carolina and enjoy the treatment of Puerto Rico? They obtain some kind of parallel state and govern themselves? This is how nationalism get's nutty. Like identity politics.

Get my drift?


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