The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

Identity Politics May 4, 2005 by RedStar2000

This is, of course, the great "can of worms" in American left politics...and perhaps elsewhere as well. Attempts to discuss it are a "minefield" -- a careless word or two and you can be branded with some very unsavory labels.

Worse, no successful attempt has been made, to my knowledge, to integrate the ideas around identity politics within the Marxist paradigm.

What follows are, at best, some scattered notes that point in the direction (I hope) of a Marxist understanding of this phenomenon.



I'm sorry, but how does having a culture different than the "status quo" mean that someone is a "nutball"?

It does not, of course, nor did I ever suggest it did. You are conflating superstition and culture and suggesting that if I oppose one then I "must be opposing" the other.

That is simply false.


He is simply defending his culture and where he comes from, and I do not see ANYTHING wrong with that.

So if I were to defend Christian fundamentalism and someone criticized that, do you think I should be allowed to "plead culture" in mitigation?

I don't think you or most people here would let me get away with that for a second.


This brings me to discussions I have had with other members of the board on MSN or AIM. In my opinion, this STIGMA or CRITICISM of any type of religion or faith is one of the reasons we do not have many Latin-Americans on this site and why we will continue to not have many.

I think the more logical and practical reason that we have very few Latin Americans on this board is because the vast majority of Latin Americans are not fluent in English and don't have access to the internet. I think a board identical to this one in every respect but written in Spanish would have a great appeal to young radicals in Latin America. Indeed, for all I know, there may already be one or several such boards.

The great majority of people on this board read and write in English as their first language -- and live in North America, the U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

That's a historical accident, to be sure. Had this board been started in French, there'd be a whole different "range" of participants. Or German. Or Spanish.


The majority of Latin-Americans (as well as many other proletarians in the world), believe in some sort of religion or faith because it is HIGHLY embedded in our CULTURE.

Do you think it's not "highly embedded" in American culture? When upwards of 85% of the population tell poll-takers that they "believe in God"? And 75% "believe in the devil"?

The fortunate Europeans have mostly abandoned that crap (only 10-15% are believers outside of Poland and Ireland). Even Spain and Greece are substantially more rational about this than Americans.

What you're really suggesting, it seems to me, is that we "shouldn't be so hostile" to superstitious ideas and practices because it "makes people uncomfortable".

Everything connected with a revolutionary transformation of society is going to "make people uncomfortable".

"Revolution is not a dinner party" -- you know who said that.

On this occasion, he was right.


Shunning people who have some sort of belief, means we will shun the majority of Latin Americans, which is not progressive in the slightest.

Around 5/6ths of the world still groans under the chains of superstition...but that will change or nothing will change.

It's not a matter of "shunning" believers...but neither is it a matter of throwing one's arms around them and giving them a big wet kiss.

To me, it is a matter of trust...I don't trust superstitious people -- there is "no telling" what they might do "when the spirit moves them".

Much more often than not, it's something really bad.


As progressive as our community TRIES to be, how are we going to incite the proletariat around the world (who are mostly people of color) when our community does not represent them, having such few people of color in itself.

Revolutionary ideas have no "color"...but they do require a specific language to be communicated. Had Marx never been translated into English, I would be entirely ignorant of his ideas.

If Latin Americans (or other people from all over the world) who read English come across ideas on this board that they think are useful, they are completely free to translate them into the local language and circulate them among the people there. Something is always "lost" in translation, but most of it gets through.

Also, in the U.S., people of color are drastically under-represented on the internet as a whole...but that too will change. Five or ten years from now, there will be many more people of color on line...and on this board.


Latin-Americans will never feel 100% accepted...

No one ever feels "100% accepted" in any human interaction of any kind.


...but I have to admit, that the majority of those who hold this criticism are of European descent, and even though I am an atheist myself, as a person of color, I feel as though my people are put aside.

Well, I'm sorry you feel that way, but what would you have me or other "Europeans" do? Is hostility to superstition "a white thing" that people of color "will never understand"?

Some people of color are quite happy to torture and murder other people of color on religious grounds -- should us "white folks" just accept that as "part of your culture"?



There is a very white and male bias in our forum and it shows when these sorts of things come up, or when you dismiss racism and sexism, which is how capitalism and the class system is effecting minorities and women, as "identity politics".

I do not see hostility to superstition as evidence for a "white male bias" on this forum.

The matter of "identity politics" is a whole different "can of worms"...and perhaps there should be a thread on it.

Marx and Engels clearly implied that until people identified themselves primarily (exclusively?) as "workers" that emancipation would be impossible.

No doubt this was an over-simplification (and perhaps understandable in the intellectual climate of Europe at the time).

But trying to figure out when "identity politics" makes sense and when it doesn't has turned out to be an extremely complicated problem thus far.

Personally, I'm very much in favor of self-determination for people of color, women, oppressed nations, etc. up to the point where they "self-determine" something clearly reactionary.

Then, I "draw the line".


Religion is the only way poor people are able to stomach a reactionary viewpoint because they tell us " god says it" and god is all we often feel we really have.

And yet there are poor people, even people of color, who see through that fraud. That's true, isn't it?

Have they "turned white" or turned rational?

When someone feels that "god is all they have", they are living a lie.

If I tell them that it is a lie, that does indeed make them "uncomfortable" means they would then have to look at their social reality with a clear eye -- and we both know they're not going to like what they see.

But how else does the struggle for emancipation begin or proceed without clear eyes?

How can you free yourself from external bondage while remaining in mental bondage???

I think it was James Joyce who said, "first, kill the priest in your head."


But going as far as alienating people because of their religious beliefs is not productive at all.

I don't think it's avoidable -- unless it's never discussed at all.

That is, you can be "friends" with a long as you don't disagree with him -- and the same is true with someone who holds any reactionary idea.

But as soon as the subject arises, no matter how much you "sugar-coat" your view, you are going to alienate the hell out of the reactionary. No matter what you say (if you are truthful), it will be perceived as an attack.


This is not a political party with a strict party line.

No one said it is or should be.


Some revolutionary leftists do have religious beliefs just like some of you can't seem to shake your reactionary white male biased viewpoints no matter how many books you read.

I think the proposition that "revolutionary leftists" can still have "religious beliefs" is false.

As to "reactionary white male biased viewpoints", I think that is unfair if applied to most of the long-time members of the board. On the other hand, newbies bring a lot of ideological "baggage" with them when they come to this board...that does have to be struggled against.


You know, I had a feeling that those posts were going to make some people question me but I really didn't think it would come from you Redstar. I have to admit that I am surprised. And you even called me a nutball....

You shouldn't have been "surprised" that it was me...I visit that particular sub-forum with some frequency and was practically certain to see your posts.

I called you a nutball because you expressed nutball ideas.

Not simply that gods exist, but that they take "possession" of humans...including yourself, right?

How would you expect a rational person to react to such a claim?

Oh, that's really cool!

It's not.
First posted at RevLeft on January 9, 2005


That sounds like a capitalist saying , "Well, we exploit, but we don't coerce, 100% equality can never be achieved, get it!?"

Capitalists do coerce, of course...and the coercion is especially brutal against people of color.

But the statement about the impossibility of 100% equality is true.

If you stop and think about it, you know that 100% is not a measurement that is ever achieved regarding anything in nature or in social reality.


So you are now assuming that is "part of their culture?"

You are misreading (deliberately?) my statement. One of my critics said that religion is "highly embedded" in Latin American culture...and that she feels that we "Europeans" are pushing Latin Americans aside by being hostile to superstition.

I am saying that superstition is reactionary...regardless of its cultural "importance".


Some morons entrenched in capitalism would equivalently say that all leftists "are living a lie" and are fucking utopians.

And they do...all the time.

So what?


It is one of the core and fundamental arguments of Marxism to stress living in and smelling the secular reality as of foremost importance, but if we exclude people who are religious, who doesn't affect our "movement" to a dangerous extent + believes and pledges to bring forth the movement, do we really need to chuck them out?

As I explained, this is not about restriction/banning and I have made no proposal to that effect.

But in the "larger sense" of your question, I am very dubious about your suggestion that people's superstitious beliefs "don't affect" their politics.

I don't think that human minds are "water-tight compartments"...what you think about one thing will inevitably affect and be affected by what you think about all things.

We are not "bits and pieces" just thrown together at random...though it may sometimes seem that way, especially when one is still young.


Stop holding onto theories, and get on with the reality.

No, that never happens. If you don't discuss theory consciously then you will act on theories unconsciously...and probably very bad theories at that.

We live in a capitalist world...which means that nearly all of the ideas that we are normally aware of are capitalist or at least have a pro-capitalist bias. If we fail to critically examine all the aspects of "what everybody knows", then we will end up moving in a capitalist direction despite our good intentions to the contrary.


Ever thought of this kind of strong-hold on to the theory but without empirical observance are why we leftists never get our heads above the water??

There are many reasons for the failures of the revolutionary left in the last century...but hostility to superstition is not one of them. The Leninist tradition was remarkably tolerant of religion, both in and out of power.


Sounds familiar to the "you are with "us" or you are with "them" know who I'm referring to.

This observation has been raised before...but I'm at a loss to understand why it's regarded as a sound rebuttal by leftists.

When Bush said that, he was (for perhaps the only time in his life) telling the simple truth.

You are either with the ruling class or against it...and everything it stands for.

Of course you can change sides...and we do all we can to encourage people to do exactly that.

But there really is no such thing as being partly pro-capitalist and partly pro-communist. That's not a real option. People who believe that they are in that "position" will, sooner or later, have to make a clear and unmistakable move in one direction or the other. It will probably govern the direction of the rest of their lives.


This is also the historical problem of all politics. Bipolarity and Exclusivity!

Well, that's one point of view. I think the "basic problem" of all politics is lack of clarity.

Theoretical fuzziness about both means and ends has, I think, caused more defeats for the left than all the guns of the ruling class put together.
First posted at RevLeft on January 9, 2005


The thing we ought to do is find compromises [rather] than to polarise and magnify our differences.

Again, that's a point of view. I don't think it's a very good one...though there may be occasions when it's temporarily useful.

There's no reasonable "compromise" between anti-fascism and fascism, or between anti-sexism and sexism, or between...a whole lot of things like that. When people try to do that anyway, the result is always a mess.


Religion is a primordial belief/practice before capitalism.

Indeed it goes all the way back to the very dawn of class society.

Which, in my view, makes it all the more pernicious and dangerous to our project of achieving an enduring classless society.

If religion were allowed to prosper after the revolution, how long would it take them, do you imagine, to resume their usual practices...starting by dividing humanity into the "saved" and the "damned"?
First posted at RevLeft on January 9, 2005


...if this logic goes, all democratic socialists have to be booted out, since they are advocating an intermediate and incremental approach in shrugging off the capitalist modus operandi of the society (where the state and the market co-exists for some time). You see my point?

Yes I do...but as noted, a temporary compromise may be useful.

It is useful to argue with "market socialists" (actually a more descriptive term than "democratic socialists") so that people will learn why those are bad ideas.

Years from now, that may no longer be necessary...people will understand that the revolutionary alternative inherently means a sharp attack on the market system immediately following the revolution.

At some point when the line has been clearly drawn between the revolutionary option(s) and all other options, then one moves on.

We are obviously a long way from that now, I agree. Consequently, I don't call for restrictions/bannings except for those for whom the line has already been drawn.

What is taking place constantly, whether we are conscious of it or not, is a class struggle in ideas that's a reflection of the class struggle in the material world.

Further, it may well be the case that the class struggle in ideas must be won before the material class struggle can be won.

It's a fact of history that the rising capitalist class did a real wrecking job on feudal ideology long before capitalists came to wield political power.

In other words, the working class must be fully conscious of what it wants to do and why before revolution "makes sense".

It's no good saying that "a general rebellion" will take place and we (the revolutionary minority) will "impose" our "advanced consciousness" on the outcome.

That's been tried...and it didn't work.

So that means that, like it or not, we have to win some ideological battles before the revolution can take place with a decent chance to really win.

And there's no way to win a battle of ideas if you decline to fight.
First posted at RevLeft on January 9, 2005

It's a good illustration of what's called identity politics.

We all have many "social identities" -- we're "part" of many social structures.

In the area of sexual identity alone, for example: male, female, gay male, gay female, trans-sexual, transvestite, dominant, submissive, and probably many others.

Geographic identities: city and region born and raised in, city and region that you now live in, country that you are a citizen of, country that you wish you could be a citizen of, etc.

Education: schools attended, networks of fellow graduates.

Ethnic/cultural/linguistic: many alternatives.

Economic: trade or profession, union, consumer, etc.

Family: mother, father, child, aunt, uncle, etc.

Political: voter, conscripted or volunteer soldier, cop, politician, etc.

And there are probably others that I didn't think of.

Now, which or which mixture of all this do you "identify with" most closely?

When you say to yourself, "I am _____", what do you fill in that line with?

What would make you feel most outraged and deprived if you "lost it" or had it taken from you? Or if it were attacked in a savage and ruthless fashion with the intent to utterly destroy it?

It's a pretty complicated question and doesn't have any "easy answers".

You can see that this particular woman is a "lesbian separatist" -- that is her primary identity and that is what forms her political outlook and shapes her political analysis.

Thus she has both adopted and helped to formulate an outlook that places her identity at the center. The further you get from that center, the less she's interested.

And, of course, the less others (who have their own identities) are interested in her.

Now comes the tricky part. If one wants to "change the world" on a major scale, it stands to reason that one would want to appeal to as many "identities" as would be consistent with the kind of changes one wants.

Marginal identities would be of little assistance -- there are not and never will be enough lesbian separatists to have a coherent and measurable effect on large societies...even if all gay women adopted a separatist perspective. (I'm assuming that about 1 to 2% of all women are gay...about the same percentage as for men.)

It was the hypothesis of Marx that the identity of "exploited worker" would come to represent the vast majority of the human species...and that on this basis, a massive transformation of society would be practical.

How important Marx's hypothesis really is can be illustrated with a "thought experiment".

Let us suppose that there are about 65,000,000 gay women (including female children) alive on earth at this moment...and all of them are spontaneously transferred to an earth-like planet in orbit around a distant star (along with, of course, the necessary technology to reproduce their numbers without male assistance).

What kind of society would they build? If Marx was right, it would be a class society...possibly a despotism based on slavery or serfdom, possibly a capitalist society, and maybe even (for a while) a socialist society before devolving back into capitalism.

What they could not do is establish an anarchist/communist society -- the technological base would not be there to support that...and it would take a long time to accumulate enough women engineers and technicians to create that base -- though eventually they would.

They would have a proletarian revolution (all female) and overthrow an exploitative ruling class (also all female).

Thus, in the Marxist paradigm, the identities of "exploited worker" and "exploiter" are more fundamental than even sexual identity.

Of course, we have to keep in mind the possibility that Marx could have been wrong...that sexual, ethnic/cultural, nationalist, religious, etc. identities are really "more fundamental" than "exploited worker" or "exploiter". Indeed, that's a common refrain of bourgeois historians and "identity ideologues" these days.

This woman's primitivist fantasies (see her thread in the Religion subforum) are irrelevant to all this; nothing of what she envisions the future to be like is even remotely possible.

But there is and will be a struggle over identity...who we really are and what is our place in the world.

There's no getting around that.
First posted at RevLeft on January 25, 2005

In fact, I think we should consciously stop using the word "race" altogether...except in polemics against racists, of course.

I've been "training myself" to use the expression "the human species" in place of "the human race".

And to regard, say, African-Americans as an "ethnic/cultural group"...instead of a "race".

Cappies enjoy making fun of the left's "obsession with terminology"...and I don't begrudge it to them one bit.

When we "name things" more accurately, we change (over time) the perception of reality itself...and in a more accurate direction.

I think in this and many other ways, it is we who will have the last laugh.
First posted at RevLeft on February 12, 2005


Race is a [social] construct, but it still exists. It's a modern form of caste.

It certainly is a social construct and always has been. But what do we gain by continuing to verbally "legitimize" it? To act "as if" it were "real" even though it does not reflect biological reality?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there is a small but growing number of people who identify themselves as "bi-racial" (the option of more than two "races" is not yet offered).

An analysis based on the parallels with caste might have been fruitful in 1900 or even 1950...does it still make sense now?

Will it make any sense at all in 2050?

As I said in my initial post, the word is still useful in polemics against racists.

First posted at RevLeft on February 15, 2005


Many, like myself, believe that any part of the United States that seceded from the Union would be more in line with Marxist views. But I do not see how this could come about without a fight from the United States Armed Forces.

Yes, in this limited example, you are right...Aztlan would have to fight a guerrilla war of independence which could only be won by making it too costly for the United States to hold on to the occupied territory.

There is zero chance that the American Empire would peacefully acquiesce to the loss of a sizable chunk of "its" territory.

Unless...the war was timed to coincide with a period of tremendous domestic upheaval in which the U.S. armed forces were already committed to other tasks.

In other words, a revolutionary period.

My own opinion is that there is nothing "sacred" about the borders of the United States (or any other presently existing nation-state).

If the oppressed ethnic/cultural groups within the American Empire desire to form independent nations in the course of the revolutionary process in North America, I have no problem with that.

For that matter, breaking up the "super-states" after the revolution would have, I think, more favorable than unfavorable consequences...the general rule of history appears to be that "the bigger the country, the smaller the citizen".

But when you hint that Aztlan would be "more in line with Marxist views", that is, to say the least, speculative.

And behind it looms the spectre of "identity politics".

Do we have any reason to believe that certain ethnic/cultural groups are "naturally inclined" to "a more Marxist view?"

Would a "Republic of Aztlan" or a "Republic of New Africa" necessarily be "more socialist" or "more communist" than the "white, Anglo" remnants of the Empire?

Unless the people who want to see the birth of Aztlan independence also want to see the birth of socialism or even communism -- and are prepared to openly advocate that -- then the result might well be a capitalist Aztlan...with all the dire consequences that would ensue.

"Identity politics" still has a class basis.
First posted at RevLeft on February 19, 2005

Although Quebec is a fairly straight-forward situation -- a Republic of Quebec would clearly be a viable nation-state -- it does open up a real "can of worms" with regard to the United States.

The biggest difficulty with ethnic/cultural "nationalism" in the U.S. is that it mostly doesn't exist.

And even if it did, the next problem would be drawing borders that "made sense".

So at this point, when lefties speak of "internal colonies" in the U.S., they are speaking metaphorically. One can point to "parallels" between the experiences of ethnic/cultural minorities here and real colonies/neo-colonies abroad...but thus far those parallels have yet to generate the kind of national consciousness characteristic of, for example, Quebec itself.

That doesn't rule out the possibility, of course, that such national consciousness might not develop in the future. In theory, a Mexican majority in much of the American southwest could someday demand an independent republic or a re-unification with Mexico itself.

But I see little sign of that in the immediate future.
First posted at RevLeft on March 9, 2005


It's not about borders - the CP back in the 30s made an obvious crude error by projecting borders for an independent Black country - it's about uniting working people by making it clear that the revolutionary workers of the oppressing nation have no intent of retaining oppressed nations by force.

See, this is a good example of what I meant by metaphor.

It's proposed that there are "oppressed nations" within the borders of the United States.

But unlike real oppressed nations, these "metaphysical nations" have no borders (not even hypothetical ones) and no consciousness of being "oppressed as a nation".

What we do have in the U.S. is a capitalist state apparatus with a long history of oppressing ethnic/cultural minorities in order to divide the working class. We likewise have a long history of racist ideology.

An abstract commitment to "national self-determination" doesn't mean anything in the context of a complete lack of "national consciousness".

What does mean something is a concrete commitment to fighting the practical "racism of everyday life" that permeates the United States.

There is, of course, nothing "sacred" about the borders of the United States or even its existence in its present form...but that's a question that, so far, is "not on history's agenda".

The "crude error" of the CPUSA was not in trying to "draw borders" for a hypothetical Black Nation; it was, instead, their effort to posit a "nation" where none existed...then or now.
First posted at RevLeft on March 9, 2005


Sisterhood is Powerful was revolutionary in every sense: social, cultural, economic and philosophical. Nothing was sacred and debates about where power lay, whom to organize, what kinds of allegiances needed to be built and plenty of other nitty-gritty from a diversity of perspectives read as sharp today as 30 years ago.

I think that's one answer to your question; the "new" feminism you seek is in a dusty book on a library shelf.

Awaiting the possible curiosity of some dissatisfied young women who've grown bored with the watery gruel that (mostly) passes for feminism in the present.

Or perhaps some young feminist is writing at this very moment an altogether fresh critique of patriarchy and its it might be attacked in a more vigorous and successful way.

Or what a revolutionary feminist movement would look like, what it would do, how it would function, etc.

In a way, asking why [specific oppressed group] isn't "more revolutionary" in the present period is somewhat futile. They will become more revolutionary when objective and subjective conditions converge to make revolution seem like the sensible option.

Only if you are a member of that [specific oppressed group] do you have any real leverage; then you can say "why aren't we more revolutionary, dammit!"

And answers, good or bad, must be forthcoming.
First posted at NYC IndyMedia on March 27, 2005
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