IDENTITY POLITICS AGAIN

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Tue Apr 18 18:15:13 MDT 1995


I am rather puzzled by what Mr. Mostern's latest post on identity
politics has to do with my views.  I am sure you will put all his
moral energy to good use.  I have time only for a few comments.

1.  I don't know how old you think I am or what generation I
belong to, but you are right; I don't think very highly of young
people as I see them today.  Times change, and I am at least old
enough to see the culture of dehumanization at work.
Dehumanization is an insidious thing, because the people subjected
to it don't see they are losing their humanity day by day.

2.  The confusion and silliness of your whole paragraph on left
and right wing hiphop, Ellington and Hooker doesn't have much to
do with my aesthetic philosophy, which has little to do with the
politicization of music anyway.  I don't think I ever claimed that
John Lee Hooker, Sarah Vaughan, or any other musician is
revolutionary, surely not in the way that you or most leftist
creeps would define it.

3.  What gets you and your generation through your day makes my
stomach turn, but we will see what you amount to.  I wish you the
best of luck.  As for you and your black radical friends, well, do
you think the subculture of American radicalism is going to lead
the next spontaneous mass upsurge?  The American left is a
subculture and has adapted its impotence to a subcultural
existence.  Is it going to matter to anybody what this subculture
thinks important?  As to broad popularity of cultural forms, does
anybody think the culture of hate is going to lead anywhere?  You
may be an honorary soul brother, Mr. Mostern, but have you ever
raised black children and experienced personally the obstacle that
this so-called hiphop culture presents to their maturation?  Do
you have any black male teenagers in your household or have you
ever had?  Do you think being a subcultural groupie is an adequate
basis for judging the depth of the problem that confronts us?

4.  I agree with you about the rollback of the status of blacks.
Clearly, the genocide against blacks that many feared in the 60s
is becoming a reality now.

5.  Re your remark: "We cannot stop seeing race as cutting through
the heart of U.S. class situations."  I agree with you 100%!  Did
I ever claim otherwise?  If that were not so, racism would not be
so integral a part of the ruling class counter-insurgency that has
prevailed since Nixon's southern strategy to Reagan's and Bush's
vicious racist policies to Newt's neo-Nazi ambitions.  And you can
be sure that identity politics will be exploited to the max to
exploit social fragmentation and confuse the class struggle that
lies ahead.  One must see beyond one's nose to confront the
fragmentation and irrationality pervading our culture.  We need a
vision of where to go, and taking our direction from a bunch of
snotty ignorant teenagers with minimal life experience and a sick
set of values is no guide for revolution.  People suffered and
people were angry before you were born; this is not news.

------------------------

Since I lack time to get into a detailed analysis of the
class-race nexus, I can only include excerpts from a private
exchange that took place earlier.  The angle brackets that follow
introduce quotes from someone else's communication to me.

>If you are suggesting class analysis involves a violence of
>abstraction while race is a concrete real experience (Stuart
>hall: "race is the modality through which class is
>experienced"), I disagree with you.

I am suggesting no such thing.  Please don't put words in my
mouth.  You are forcing me to get into an extensive analysis of
something I lack the time for, but know that all these abstract
discussions of dialectics, abstraction, etc. are not merely
academic, but bear upon the turnkey of the American political
situation, the race-class nexus.  I find it very difficult to
explain in abstract terms the dialectical interconnections between
class, race, sex, etc., but intuitively I can see the whole thing
at a glance in any given situation.

Nationalists are always accusing Marxists of abstract class
schematism that always subordinates specific struggles, such as
the black struggle against racism, to an abstract class solidarity
which in effect means white (male) workers.  This is a lie, but
one can see how the lie might be plausible.  I am not saying this
was exactly how the CPUSA treated race in the 1930s; the violence
of abstraction is much more subtle in that case and involves the
bureaucratic methods of the CP and its own existence and general
approach to human beings as social abstractions (which doesn't
change even with the recognition of the 'national question'), but
that is another story.  The point is that analysis must reproduce
the concrete, starting with the decisive abstract general
relations of class society and showing how everything, including
non-class issues, fits into that.

I can't vouch for Stuart Hall's claims regarding black Brits, but
even in the USA with the kind of institutionalized racism that
Britain never knew on its own shores, class is experienced as
directly and concretely as race.  Sometimes race is the violence
of abstraction.  Or to put it in the parlance of the last
conversation I heard on this topic from black working class
persons: A: "The richer get richer and the poor get poorer"; B:
"That's fo' damn sho'".

[And now here are some comments on Washington DC, whose unique
demographic and political-structural characteristics make for a
different situation than, say, Mr. Giuliani's reign of terror.]

When one is working on certain bread and butter issues, people are
quite conscious of their lack of power in relation to
institutionalized power.  And remember, while most of the abuse by
private firms that is perpetrated here involve white-owned
businesses (some which is racist, some purely class based), the
unresponsive, corrupt city bureaucracy is entirely black, as are
the gatekeepers of community based power.  Many black workers are
very class conscious and skeptical of their own bourgeoisie and
petty bourgeoisie, but there is a learned passivity and apathy and
lack of structural alternatives for self-assertion, so most of the
time people, the poorer ones most of all, take whatever crap is
dished out to them.  But the conversations I have had with many of
these people would surprise you: they are very conscious of class
differences in the black community.  Yes, the politics of race
works here, as is evidenced by the desperate illiterates, the
uncivil servants, and the ambitious petty bourgeois get whitey
opportunists who put Marion Barry back in office.  But don't be
naive enough to think that all black people think that way.  And
let us not forget the generation gap and the decline of morals
among the young, males especially.  Don't get me started on the
influence of the preachers.  Now one could take a detailed look at
the correlation of forces and the ultimate logic of the impact of
the nationalist gangsters, but this is one topic I am very
hesitant to discuss in public.

---------------

I certainly do not downplay the significance of race; this social
division will destroy American society; I have no doubt of that.
We could say of the USA what Marx said about the British: the
oppression of the Irish is the key to the subordination of the
English masses.  There is no question about this.  Indeed, persons
will experience themselves through all the given social categories
at once and indivisibly.  Sometimes they will see themselves
abstractly through some of these categories; certainly race is a
key one; who could doubt it?  However, 'identity politics' is more
than just collective identification or collective action, which is
not the subject of my argument; it is a form of social
mystification as well as increasingly sophisticated market
segmentation.  The cynical sublation of the culture of protest by
big business (reflecting the success and then defeat of the 1960s)
is the only thing that is new to add to the presentation of the
problem by Richard Wright 55 years ago.  And Richard Wright warned
his naive white radical friends repeatedly: "Negroes can be
fascists too."


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