identity politics

Kenny Mostern kennym at
Sun Apr 16 17:50:17 MDT 1995

I know, from substantial experience, that I'm going to be one of the only
people on a marxism list to defend a notion of identity politics.  (Then
again--and perhaps this would surprise many of you--I'd be essentially
the only person on a postcolonialism or a postmodernism list to defend a
notion of identity
politics.  I'm always amazed by terms which have so many enemies, who
themselves differ on so many points.)

I have an elaborate argument which I cannot recreate here at this time,
but is the heart of my dissertation.  What I will say here, now, is
merely this:

(1)  Marxism is an identity politics.  It posits a group, the "working
class", gives an elaborate historical argument concerning why this group
will come into self-conscious existence at a determinate historical
moment, and posits that only this group is capable of finally overturning
capitalism.  Obviously this is a caricature.  But it is necessary to
begin with the notion that this is the basic form of other identity
politics arguments (not all--I'm making no claims, at the moment, for
those which posit biological bases to identity, which are of little
interest and historically less common than those which don't).

(2)  Identity politics is a determinate fact.  There are, and have been,
right and left wing identity politics movements; these have arisen out of
concrete distinctions within the social and indeed the socioeconomic
system, distinctions which, at least arguably (I can't defend this here),
are coterminous with the socioeconomic system.  They therefore address
real needs of concrete individuals, who cannot be separated from their
determinate groups except through a dialectical overturning--not at all
unlike the working class, though at a different level of social analysis.

(3)  There is no question that the bourgouisie of the dominated identity
positions routinely uses identity politics to its own ends.  Big
surprise.  And not terribly different to the white male (or any
other) leftists who dismiss everyone who, not being as wonderful as
themselves, is still caught within identity positions which are "false".

(4)  Theory, art, friendship, love, social relationships which require
*work*:  these things potentially get us out of the absolute distinctions
which identity tends to imply.  Good.  Let's keep doing them.  None of these
things are the totality of our social existence.  In numerous contexts
our social practices require the recognition of our own identities and
the privileges or oppressions which they imply.  Indeed some of us
actually try to build our theories, arts, friendships, etc. out of such a
recognition, rather than imagine that we ever reach the potential of
dissolving all distinctions.

(And Ralph, inasmuch as I have any idea what he's for, I'm quite certain
this is Gilroy's political position.)

Not for identity; not for politics; but for a complicated leftist practice
based on the interaction between the two.


Kenny Mostern
UC-Berkeley Ethnic Studies Graduate Group

Against:  racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, militarism
For:  the truth--and the funk!

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