Class Consciousness v. Sectarianism [Was Re: [Marxism] Ronald Reagan's death]

Ian Pace ian at
Sun Jun 6 09:56:07 MDT 2004

----- Original Message ----- 
From: <Waistline2 at>
To: <marxism at>
Sent: Sunday, June 06, 2004 3:52 PM
Subject: Re: [Marxism] Ronald Reagan's death

> In a message dated 6/6/2004 9:28:45 AM Central Standard Time,
lnp3 at
> writes:
> Ian Pace wrote:
> > Totally agree, but it does make me think of what's rather a difficult
> > that I've wrestled with frequently: isn't is possible that the
> > 'personalisation' of political debate, including on the left, owes
> > to some strands of feminist thinking?  I would very much like to think
> > but I fear it is the case.
> <I would prefer to look at it in terms of the deeply entrenched habits of
> social democracy and Stalinism. Through outlets like Dissent and In
> these Times for social democracy and the CPUSA and Committees of
> Correspondence for Stalinism (or neo-Stalinism, to be more accurate),
> you get a steady drumbeat about the need to fight fascism or Bushism or
> Reaganism or what have you. I imagine that the speeches and articles of
> Michael Harrington or Gus Hall will tell you more about this phenomenon
> than Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem. This is not to say that NOW has
> not emerged as a key player in ABB type politics, but this has more to
> do with ties to the Democratic Party than gender issues.>
> Response
> One can of course explain anything on the basis of ideology. Sooner or
> we have to leave the warm womb of ideology and enter the world of combat.
> fact of the matter is that the women's movement has had to fight men and
> abstract configurations or mediating forms.
> Then against at another period of our history workers have had to fight
> - flesh and blood men. During the past period of history enormous section
> black workers have had to fight not abstract personifications of forms of
> mediation but white workers in defense of their lives and jobs.
> The fact of the matter is that in the social process all classes and
> collide and in the initial outbreak bloodletting takes places. This
> bloodletting takes many forms including suicide and a rapid increase in
family abuse,
> wife and child murders primarily by men, as almost a precondition for a
shift -
> transition, outwards to societal structures and then a targeted political
> antagonists.
> I first experienced this process during 1979-1981 economic downturn.
> Even organizations like NOW and their various leaders are in transition as
> class assertions are slowly coming to the fore.
> There is a much deeper question of ideology involved and not so much
> political ideology in the sense of partisan politics on the Marxist scale.
> The subjective side of the revolutionary process by definition passes
> stages. I personally lifed through what at the time was the greatest
> rebellion against the USNA State since the Civil War. I am referring to
Detroit 1967.
> It is not possible to overthrow a society or societal framework when you
> respect and uphold the society laws. The Los Angeles Rebellion of 1992 was
> contemptuous of anything smacking of bourgeois law and order or property
relations and
> the men and women who respect and enforce such laws.
> The real world taught the combatants in the streets a heck of a lot more
> the revolutionaries.  The ideology of combat - not political ideology, is
> always personal and alone sustains the combatants determined to fight to
> death.
> In fact . . . I shall have another toast to the passing of Mr.
> Counterrevolutionary . . . good riddance . . . he represented more than
anyone in my
> lifetime the absolute worst aspects of bourgeois property.
> Melvin P.
This is an issue that is highly important for the Marxist left to address,
and is too often passed over lightly, enabling our opponents a free ride
with regard to public opinion.  All politics that view their sectarian
interests as being of greater importance than class will inevitably end up
supporting the forces of reaction.  To take a few examples:

(1) Zionist nationalism.  When this can command the support of a majority of
Jewish people (I cannot say for sure whether this is the case but suspect
so), then Zionists will always have the upper hand in arguing that those
opposed to Zionism are opposed to the interests and wishes of Jewish people.
To oppose Zionism from the left is more than likely to lead to opposition
from a majority of Jewish people.  If one were to find nowadays that working
class Jewish people are a minority amongst such an ethnic group, there is a
clear conflict between supporting the interests of the working class and the
sectarian interests of Jewish people.

Didactic argument that Zionist nationalists can perpetuate:
(a) The majority of Jewish people support Zionist ideals
(b) The far left are opposed to Zionist ideals
(a) + (b) = The far left are opposed to the majority of Jewish people and
hence are anti-semitic.

(2) Gay consumerism.  When the gay movement is hijacked by bourgeois
elements, as it seems to have been (perhaps because the opinions of more
privileged gay people are of greater interest to the mass media), it becomes
possible to claim consumerism as something intrinsic to gay identity (an
argument heightened by the greater amount of disposable income available to
gay individuals and couples who are less likely to have children).  This
equation of sexual preference with habits of consumption is increasingly
entrenched within mass consciousness - has our fear of becoming at cross
purposes with some gay movements let this pass?

Didactic argument that gay consumerists can perpetuate:
(a) The majority of gay people are the finest consumers, they value and have
refined and perfected the art of consumerism
(b) The far left are opposed to consumerism
(a) + (b) = The far left are opposed to the majority of gay people, and
hence are homophobic.

(3) Feminist individualism and/or exclusive gender determinism.  Another
entrenched position within bourgeois populist feminism, which explains
social processes in terms of the actions of relatively autonomous
individuals, motivated by some innate qualities (perhaps even genetically
determined!); consciousness is thus determined in this way, not constructed
by self-perception in terms of race and class (in terms of gender
consciousness, according to bourgeois feminism the consciousness of a
working-class man is constrained by their masculinity, but that of a
bourgeois woman is entirely autonomous).  Thus the rise of Al Qaida and 9/11
can be explained in terms of the personality imperfections (including such
things as sexual jealousy and repression, described in an arrogant and
imperialistic manner) of a handful of individuals at the top, without having
to even consider the history of US imperial domination of the region and its
resources, and vehement support for Israel - see Jane Corbyn's appalling
book on Al Qaida for an example of this.  Similarly the Iraq war is reduced
to a type of macho game between both sides eager to prove their masculinity;
the history and the economic significance of the region becomes a secondary

Didactic argument that feminist individualists can perpetuate:
(a) The majority of women are most concerned with human beings as
individuals, which they understand and empathise with more strongly than
(b) The far left rejects individualism, believing all people's consciousness
to be at least in part constructed from their socio-economic position (and
other factors), rather than being something innate (and as such relatively
(a) + (b) = The far left are opposed to the majority of women, and hence are

Can be put more didactically:
(a) Women value human beings as individuals
(b) The far left see them not as individuals but as members of social
classes (a typically dehumanising masculine point of view)
(a) + (b) = The far left are opposed to women, or to a female point of view,
hence are misogynistic.

This isn't the line that socialist feminists would take on the whole, of
course, but it is an important strand of feminist thinking which seems to
have gained a much greater mass appeal.

(Apologies if I've been unable to express (3) as clearly and succinctly as
(1) and (2) - it's somewhat more complex but also more fundamental)

To blame all these phenomena on particular centrist/liberal/conservative
ideologies is not enough to counter them.  Liberal elements within the far
left run shy of coming down soundly against all forms of sectarianism in
favour of the working class (who may not necessarily in terms of
actually-existing, empirically determined consciousness oppose the above
ideals, but that is where we all have a part to play in consciousness
raising), and underestimate the extent to which genuine liberals will use
all of this type of propaganda relentlessly against genuine socialists.
Sectarian movements seem always to be taken over by the bourgeois elements
contained within, this needs to be addressed whenever rightfully forming

I'm very interested in any of your thoughts on these issues which have
troubled me for a long time.


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