Identity Politics

Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Thu Aug 10 11:37:24 MDT 1995

At 1:03 AM 8/10/95, LeoCasey at wrote:

>The dirty secret of the category "identity politics" is, I believe, the
>ultimate insight that class identities, like all other forms of identity, are
>not a pre-given reflection of economic relations, but a discursive

Of course everything human is constructed and interpreted. But some
categories are more constructed and interpreted than others. Race is a very
very slippery category, as is nationality. (Obviously gender, miracles of
scalpels and hormones aside, isn't.) But the fundamental test of working
class status - if you don't work for pay, how soon is it before you starve?
- is pretty damn unforgiving.

Somewhere Donald Barthelme wrote about taking his IRS auditor to lunch.
Over the meal, Barthelme told her project was just another system of
discourse, that taxes and laws and even money were all just discursive
systems. Her response was: "yeah but my system of discourse has subpoena

>What is less objective or material about the experiences of sexist
>oppression, from rape and sexual harassment to disparate pay and job
>discrimination? What is less objective or material about the experiences of
>racist oppression, from street violence to de facto segregation?

Are you saying that class-oriented Marxists are indifferent to or ignorant
of these? Puh-leeze, man.

>Moreover, in facing the reality that so many Americans chose to identify
>themselves as middle class when they would seem to us to fit into poor and
>working class categories, exactly how does it help us to conclude that they
>have false consciousness? Does it not make much sense to try to understand
>the discursive source and power of that identity? Certainly, numerous
>generations of Marxists intsructing them on their "false consciousness"
>hasn't taken us very far.

Again, are you saying that class-oriented Marxists are unaware of this?
This rhetorical trick of attributing ludicrous views to your opponents and
then offering painfully obvious refutations of them is getting tiresome.

Anyway, here are some hard numbers:

>Date: Thu, 20 Jul 1995 18:48:20 -0400
>Reply-To: por at
>Originator: por at
>Sender: por at
>Precedence: bulk
>To: Multiple recipients of list <por at>
>Subject: class
>Status: RO
>from latest ABC NEWS poll demos:
>When asked, most people say that they belong to either the middle class or
>the working class. if you had to make a choice, would you call yourself
>           All
>Middle      45
>Working     54
>No Opin      1

I still want to hear what the political implications of "deconstructing"
the category "worker" are. Does it mean that class-based politics are
impossible? Or does it just help us understand the difficulties of building
such a politics, as if we weren't aware of them all along?



Doug Henwood
[dhenwood at]
Left Business Observer
250 W 85 St
New York NY 10024-3217
+1-212-874-4020 voice
+1-212-874-3137 fax

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