Economic issues are not separate from “identity” issues

Building the largest possible movement to not only tackle the immense, and intensifying, problems facing humanity and the environment but to overcome these problems is our urgent task. Given the position the Left finds itself in today, serious discussions inevitably include a variety of perspectives, and that is healthy.

But sometimes these discussions can veer too far into an “either/or” dynamic. These debates center on who should be the subject(s) of a mass movement that can begin to reverse the European and North American slide toward the right, a direction that, at least for now, appears to be sweeping across Latin America as well. In the United States, following the shock election of Donald Trump, an “either/or” debate has taken shape in the form of “identity politics” versus “class politics.” But do we really have to pick a side here?

An example of an activist arguing that there has been too much focus in the U.S. on “identity politics,” Bruce Lerro, writing for the Planning Beyond Capitalism web site, argues that both the Democratic Party and the Left ignored working class concerns, catastrophically leaving an opening for a right-wing demagogue like President-elect Trump to fill a vacuum. Critical of what he calls a capitulation to “long-standing liberal ideology [that] all ethnicities and genders will be able to compete for a piece of the capitalist pie,” Professor Lerro writes:

“Calling people into the streets on the basis of attacks on ethnic minorities or anti-Islamic remarks alone ignores the results of the election. It reveals the left’s inadequacy in having next to no influence over all the working class people who voted for Trump as well as the 47% of the people who didn’t bother to vote at all. It continues the same 45 year history of identity politics which has failed to make things better for its constituents, except for all upper middle class minorities and women in law and university professors who benefit most from identity politics and who moralistically preside over politically correct vocabulary.”

It is true that liberal ideology tends to fight for the ability of minorities and women to be able to obtain elite jobs as ends to themselves rather than orient toward a larger struggle against systemic inequality and oppression. Leaving capitalism untouched leaves behind all but a handful of people who ascend to elite jobs. Barack Obama’s eight years as U.S. president didn’t end racism, did it? Nor would have a successful Hillary Clinton campaign have brought an end to sexism. A movement serious about change fights structural discrimination; it doesn’t fight for a few individuals to have a career.

Black Lives Matter takes the streets of New York City

Black Lives Matter takes the streets of New York City

But to say this is not to deny that racism, sexism and other social ills have to be fought head-on. So even a focus on class issues does not mean ignoring these issues, Professor Lerro writes:

“In criticizing identity politics I am not proposing that race and gender issues should not be discussed or that they don’t matter. My criticism of identity politics is that it has historically excluded social class. From an anti-capitalist and socialist perspective, race and gender are most importantly discussed at the location where capitalists produce surplus labor — on the job. So where there is white privilege over wages or the quality of jobs offered, this issue should be discussed openly by workers in and out of a union setting. At the same time, when we are organizing against capitalism and developing a socialist political practice, race and gender issues as they affect socialist organizing, need to be confronted. But the further away discussions of race and gender get from social class, the workplace and efforts to organize against capitalism and for socialism, the more they becomes discussions for liberals — not socialists.”

Racism and sexism in our own movements

Racism and sexism, however, are found outside the workplace, and have not been eradicated from social struggles. Certainly there can not be any going back to the open sexism of 1960s movements. There was a prominent demonstration of that era in which no women were invited to speak, and a group of women in response confronted men organizing the event about this, insisting that their demands be included. In response, one of the men told them that there was already a women’s resolution, which was simply a general plea for peace. Demanding that issues specific to women’s oppression be included, the male activist not only refused further discussion, but actually patted Shulamith Firestone, soon to be the author of The Dialectic of Sex, on the head!

Such degrading behavior would not be tolerated in a Left movement today, but it can hardly be argued that sexism (or racism) has been overcome once and for all in Left movements, never mind in larger society. The days when a Left movement can tell a member of an oppressed group to “wait your turn, it’ll all be better after we have the revolution,” really should be behind us.

Even after a revolution, these issues have to be worked on. Women, for example, made serious advances in the 20th century’s socialist revolutions but never sufficient advances, and there was often backsliding. The Sandinistas banned the display of women’s bodies in commercial advertising after coming to power in Nicaragua, but near the end of their first 11 years in power sponsored a beauty contest, nor did they legalize abortion. No woman sat on the Sandinistas’ highest body, the nine-member National Directorate, during those 11 years despite their fighting in large numbers, and even commanding, during the hard struggle against the Somoza dictatorship. No woman ever sat on the Politburo during the Soviet Union’s 74-year history.

Working people are oppressed, but not all to the same degree

The world’s advanced capitalist countries are far from a revolution, so all the more is it necessary to seriously make structural discrimination a component part of Left struggles, without forgetting the class dimension any such struggle must contain. In a typically thoughtful article in CounterPunch, Henry Giroux, while not losing sight of class issues, and the overall repression of working people under neoliberal regimes, refused to downplay the extra repression that rains down on minority communities. He wrote:

“Large segments of the American public, especially minorities of class and color, have been written out of politics over what they view as a failed state and the inability of the basic machinery of government to serve their interests. As market mentalities and moralities tighten their grip on all aspects of society, democratic institutions and public spheres are being downsized, if not altogether disappearing.

As these institutions vanish—from public schools to health care centers– there is also a serious erosion of the discourses of community, justice, equality, public values, and the common good. With the election of Donald Trump, the savagery of neoliberalism has been intensified with the emergence at the highest levels of power of a toxic mix of anti-intellectualism, religious fundamentalism, nativism, and a renewed notion of American exceptionalism.”

Professor Giroux argues against a focus on what he calls “single-issue movements” but not in the sense of dismissing liberation movements based on specific oppressions, but rather argues for a joining together of struggles through drawing the connections among various social movements. He writes:

“Central to viable notion of ideological and structural transformation is a refusal of the mainstream politics of disconnect. In its place is a plea for broader social movements and a more comprehensive understanding of politics in order to connect the dots between, for instance, police brutality and mass incarceration, on the one hand, and the diverse crises producing massive poverty, the destruction of the welfare state, and the assaults on the environment, workers, young people and women. …

Crucial to rethinking the space and meaning of the political imaginary is the need to reach across specific identities and to move beyond around single-issue movements and their specific agendas. This is not a matter of dismissing such movements, but creating new alliances that allow them to become stronger in the fight to not only succeed in advancing their specific concerns but also enlarging the possibility of developing a radical democracy that benefits not just specific but general interests.”

Economic issues aren’t separate from other issues

All working people are exploited under capitalism. It would be the height of folly to sideline this fundamental commonality. But the levels of exploitation, and the intensity of direct oppression, varies widely and it would be folly to ignore this as well. Those subject to higher (often far higher) levels of discrimination have every right to focus on their own emancipation, and those in more privileged positions have an obligation to support those emancipations. Further, the perpetuation of class oppression central to capitalism depends on deep divisions within the working class, not only in terms of setting different groups at each other’s throats but in providing relatively better pay and conditions to some so that the more privileged set themselves apart from the less privileged, reinforcing hierarchies that maintain divisions among working peoples.

Therefore it is self-defeating to attempt to downplay racial, sexual and other divisions in an effort to “concentrate” on economic issues, as if these are somehow separate from other issues. In a very thoughtful essay dealing with the roles of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in dampening activism and propping up the system they purport to critique, Sophia Burns goes on to argue that no fight against capitalist exploitation can succeed without women and People of Color playing central roles. If they are playing central roles, then the fight for their specific emancipations is central to the struggle.

Her discussion merits being quoted at length. Writing in The North Star, she argues:

“There’s an implicit notion that members of more privileged groups (men, whites, straights, etc) do not meaningfully stand to benefit from doing away with racism, sexism, etc. That underlies the moralistic connotations of ‘allyship’ — you support struggles in which you yourself have no personal stake, because that’s what an ethical person would do. Now, if you’re middle-class, that assumption is basically true. You aren’t part of the ruling class, but you have a degree of security, comfort, and control over your life. If you’re middle-class and white male, then pro-male or pro-white inequalities are pretty unambiguously good for you. So, the only reason you’d oppose them would have to be ethics, not self-interest.

But the working class has neither power nor security under capitalism. The fact that different parts of the working class are treated comparatively better or worse along racial, gender, etc lines does not change the fact that the whole class is exploited, oppressed, and ultimately powerless. However, white workers, male workers, and straight workers could not possibly defeat the ruling class alone. After all, it’s the middle class that is disproportionately white, male, etc — the working class has more people of color, women, and social minorities in general than other classes do. White men are only around 1/3 of the total US population, and an even smaller portion of the working class. So, because racism, sexism, etc exist within the class system and (combined together) directly oppress the large bulk of the working class, no working-class politics that rejects or ignores them has the ability to succeed. They’re components of the operation of the class system in practice, serving both to allow extra-high exploitation of female and non-white workers and to undercut the political potential of the class as a whole, which deepens all workers’ exploitation.

Racism and sexism are components of capitalism, and all ‘capitalism’ means is the exploitation by business owners of everyone else. So, when a white male worker understands capitalism as a class system that exploits the class of which he is part, it’s only through externally-imposed propaganda that he’s convinced that he has no stake in getting rid of racism and sexism. Economics is not a separate issue floating alongside others. Nothing that exists in capitalism is outside of capitalism.”

From the standpoint of the relationship to the means of production, white-collar middle class employees, as commonly defined, are of the same class as a blue-collar assembly-line laborer. Both are exploited economically in the same way, being paid a small fraction of the value of they produce. Nonetheless, it is indisputable that such middle-class workers (even if more properly understood as a strata within a working class that includes the vast majority of humanity) are privileged compared to other workers, and that their composition will be more heavily weighted toward dominant racial, ethnic or other groups in a given capitalist society, with the nastier and lower-paid jobs disproportionally held by disadvantaged groups.

Struggles against chauvinism are not an adjunct

The pervasive propaganda that denies that capitalism is exploitative or even refuses to acknowledge the different opportunities among different groups “is not a class-free worldview, but rather a worldview that’s natural for the middle class and that gets promoted because it serves the ruling class,” Ms. Burns writes. Thus, she argues, a false opposition is created between economics and other issues.

“Of course, because sexist and racist ideas receive the massive institutional sponsorship they do, working-class whites do have deep-seated racist notions and working-class men are often profoundly chauvinistic. The struggle against such beliefs and practices, even (in fact, especially) when they manifest within the working class, is not an adjunct to class struggle. It’s a central and necessary part of it. But when activist nonprofits and their supporters use an exaggerated account of working-class bigotry to dismiss working-class politics and a class struggle worldview entirely, they aren’t benevolently defending the marginalized. They are playing a useful role for the system that brings bigotry and privilege into being.

Neighborhood and workplace organizing, inside the working class and outside of the activist subculture, must include breaking down racism and sexism, within the class and everywhere else. But the self-interest of each part of a class is in the ultimate self-interest of the entire class. Even white male workers have a material stake in abolishing white and male privilege, despite the fact that it’s a long-term interest that isn’t acknowledged by mainstream ideas. Middle-class white men, of course, do not have that same stake. If a socialist movement is healthy, it’s not a middle-class affair.”

Let’s take this discussion a step further. Should we even use the term “identity politics”? Susan Cox, speaking on the Joy of Resistance: Multicultural Feminist Radio program on December 4, argued that being female is not an identity but rather is a material reality, and one of the most foundational realities that define the world’s social organization. She pointed out that women’s unpaid domestic labor props up the entire capitalist economic system. Defining feminism as a movement with a goal of global resistance wrenches it from the idea that it is an individualistic, lifestyle choice.

Further discussing this issue in an article in Feminist Current, Ms. Cox wrote:

“One would think being half of the damn population would make us more than some minor, divisive concern.

Women’s issues have been labelled “identity politics” for decades in order to belittle the feminist cause as politically unsubstantial/unimportant. In fact, the term first became prominent in American academia during its anti-Marxist ’80s in order to describe women as a fragmented group of individuals, rather than a class of persons with common class interests.”

It is reasonable to dispute the use of the term “class” in this context, but it should be indisputable that women face a particular oppression, one that although predating capitalism has long been an essential prop for maintaining capitalism. Racism is also necessary to maintain capitalism, and thus fighting it can never be an adjunct to a broad struggle for a better world.

Dismissing all those who voted for Donald Trump as bigots, “deplorables” or ignorant is not only simplistic and mistaken, it is bad practice. Some who voted for him can be described in such terms, but plenty voted for him, however mistakenly, out of a belief that he would bring back their jobs and because he represented, in their minds, “change.” Some Trump voters previously voted for Barack Obama — such folks can hardly be described as racists. Similarly, in France, many now supporting the National Front formerly supported the Socialist Party or the Communist Party. The United Kingdom Independence Party, however ridiculous we might find its name, is peeling off supporters from Labour.

Again, those trends do not mean there is no racism in such movements; that plenty of such exists is obvious. But economic insecurity is driving the rise of far right movements on more than one continent. Establishment politics has failed working people, and working people, including those without higher education, know it. They live it. At the same time, the far right movements that are gaining support among working people tap into the racism, nationalism, sexism and anti-Semitism that both exists within working classes (reflecting the whole of society) and is an inculcated weapon of division launched by elites who have every interest in our not uniting.

To “choose” between class politics and identity politics is a false choice. We are defeating ourselves if we decide to separate interrelated struggles and then debate which is the “proper” one. A multitude of tactics are just as necessary as fighting on multiple fronts, taking on the multiplicity of interconnected issues.

58 comments on “Economic issues are not separate from “identity” issues

  1. […] Economic Issues are Not Separate from “Identity” Issues Pete Dolack (2017) […]

    • aquifer1 says:

      Having read the article, which i thought was excellent, and all the comments thus far, I get the distinct impression that the argument re capitalism v Identity politics is not over – I comment here now because it is a subject I have given a great deal of thought to in several areas over the years.

      My main mantra “all things are connected” – I do believe that “identity politics” using the current identities mentioned here are divisive, check – I also believe that “class identities” are divisive – (oops,) any identity that stops short of a fundamental identity as a “human being” is bound to run afoul of some “lesser” identity. As I am a white, professional, female – I only check one of the boxes – “bad” that I am “white” and a professional, aka a member of the “bourgeoisie” – so neither “side” will accept me – I dare to say things like “all lives matter” – apparently a cardinal sin, and critique the BLM, NOT for the movement itself, which is justified but for the name – words do matter – and when one qualifies or describes just whose lives matter, some folks are left out – if Black lives matter, and i am white, does my life count – if they had just included the word “Too” at the end, that would have helped considerably . So the Left wound up with an “identity politics” that left one identity out – white folks, especially if they were “cis” – and that’s a lot of people – all available to be picked up by – folks like Trump. “Intersectionality” seems to me a rather convoluted, confusing attempt a solving the problem, especially when every time you turn around another subdivided “identity” is added to the alphabet soup.

      Over the years I have seen a tide of Black empowerment movements surge and wane, like the tides – each time they rise, they seem to have a common theme – predominantly by whites – though i think, if we are honest, there are antagonisms between other “races” as well …. I consider myself a “radical” and much appreciated the critique that pointed out that too often we mistake clipping off the twigs instead of getting to the root – and we wind up attacking the effects, instead of getting to the cause of racism – which then is diagnosed as Capitalism. But, as someone pointed out, racism is older than Capitalism – it is successfully used by Capitalism to divide and conquer – preventing “human beings” from getting together to meet the clearly existential threats we face, not simply to our own species, no matter what color, gender, sexual orientation, etc. we are, not to mention all the other life forms on the planet.

      So my observation with regard to this is – how can we be anti-racist with out being anti-race? For those of us out there who do believe in “science” – science says there are no such thing as separate races as far as humans are concerned – we are all members of one race, we are all fundamentally the same – all with what Maslowe described as a Hierarchy of Needs. So the question is why does this fiction of separate races continue to have such a strong hold? It’s usefulness for Capitalism is clear, but I think there is more to it than that – even non-capitalist societies have elements of racism, and other “isms” – and dare I say it, I don’t think it is only white people who cling to the concept of separate races – what is the attraction ..

      Of course there is the element of “religion” which contributes to it and predates Capitalism – and that is often discussed in separate threads –

      Why can’t we mount a CRT that is critical of the concept of Race? And teach it from the earliest days of our “education”?

      Might as well throw in the kitchen sink and argue that I also think we ought to change our terms of economic discussion – replace Capitalism and Socialism, that, while having ardent adherents on both sides, are fraught with so much baggage that discussions often devolve into what are the “correct” definitions – replace them with simple terms that get to the “heart” of the matter – Greed v Sharing.

      We are running out of time, folks – we ARE, whether we like it or not, all in this together – and, until we act TOGETHER to turn ourselves around – we will continue to wind up fiddling while the planet burns – and, unless we all teleport to another planet that can sustain us – we are screwed, all of us …

      • Greetings, aquifer1. I appreciate your thoughtful contribution to what is an ongoing conversation in many places and will be with us for some time to come.

        Being a professional doesn’t make you a member of the bourgeoisie. Middle class (or petit bourgeois) perhaps. I, too, am a professional if we are judging simply by how we earn a living. But if we are someone who earns a paycheck, even if you are in front of a computer all day, as I am, rather than on an assembly line or doing manual labor, then we are definitely not a member of the bourgeois class. We are working people, as are the overwhelming majority of humanity. Although the bourgeoisie and the comprador who assist them (corporate lawyers would be a good example of the latter) is larger than 1%, the concept of the 99% versus the 1% popularized by Occupy gets to the heart of the matter nicely.

        There are a whole lot of revolutionaries out there who come from petit bourgeois backgrounds, including Marx and Lenin. What we do, our willingness to see the world as it is and do something about it, count much more than what family we were born into.

        The one place where I would have a disagreement is in your assessment of the meaning of Black Lives Matter. As a White person who participated in many BLM marches (and who walked in similar marches for many years before BLM), I understand what the concept of Black Lives Matter is supposed to, and does, mean. What is being raised by that name is the fact that Black lives don’t matter — Black people are killed by police routinely and are heavily discriminated against. We White people simply don’t face those. Our lives already matter. The point of BLM is that Black lives should matter, too. It is by treating Black lives as if they matter that we will achieve the goal of all lives mattering. It is not all exclusive, nor does it any way suggest other lives shouldn’t matter.

        Your final thoughts, that we are running out of time, is one I wish I could disagree with, but unfortunately you are entirely correct.

        • aquifer1 says:

          What BLM is supposed to mean, and does – I have no doubt that it does mean that to Black people – but what does it mean to White people? As i suggested, why not have called it “Black Lives Matter Too” – I am in full agreement that there has been systemic racism for centuries in this country and in others – and we are continually reminded that atrocities are being “disproportionally” meted out to Black people – But the blanket statement that white lives already matter I would take some issue with – the white guy living in a box under a bridge – is his privilege that he has a better grade of cardboard than the black guy living next to him – my point in all this being that there are a lot of white folks out there whose lives don’t matter either in the system we live in. My question has always been, are these wrongs wrong because they are being done “disproportionally” to one group of people or are they wrong because they are being done to ANY human being. Black Lives Matter doesn’t include white lives, but All Lives Matter does include Black lives, and Red ones and Yellow ones – and White ones, but I am called a “racist” when i say it – when I use a phrase that has been the basis for all ethical traditions for ages …. Words matter.

          Of course one could say “What does it matter what it means to White people – who cares what they think – we have been told to care what they think for far too long – now it’s our turn to have our lives matter!” Do we have to take turns? MLK was the one who said that he looked forward to the day when a (man) would be judged by the content of (his) character and not the color of his skin – but still people are judged by the color of their skins, whether Black or White or other …

          I have been told that “race” is a “social construct” – but that “social construct” seems to have a great deal of power over people’s assessment of one another – the ? is do people believe there ARE separate races, do you? As long as people believe this there will inevitably be comparisons that are more than skin deep – and comparisons almost always lead to judgments of “better or worse”. “superior or inferior”, in many areas – I am sorry, but “race” is, at its root, a divisive concept – simply “respecting” other races doesn’t quite get where we need to go to achieve the “solidarity” we desperately need to have a chance of survival .

          One indeed can’t be “colorblind” unless one is actually blind, and deaf – but when color is attached to the concept of “race” as it so often is – then all the connotations that that “construct” carries kick in …

          It’s interesting – I have been expressing these sentiments for some time (decades) and have yet to meet anyone who actually engages with them – I realize, with an increasing desperation, that I am probably fighting a losing battle – but for me, and I would argue for all of us, it’s too important not to.

          We ARE running out of time …. until all of us fundamentally identify ourselves and others as simply human beings, there will be no real chance for empathy – which one can only have with someone we identify with – and without that our alliances will be, essentially, transactional, subject to “changing circumstances” as we have seen as our “identities” change …

          Mother Nature doesn’t care what color or gender or sexual orientation we are, she doesn’t discriminate, she is not racist, nor homophobic, nor misogynist, etc. – She is pretty pissed at all of us, “rightly or wrongly”, whether we are “guilty” or “innocent” – some may suffer sooner, “disproportionally” so, but we are all feeling her wrath …

  2. newtonfinn says:

    “Dismissing all those who voted for Donald Trump as bigots, “deplorables” or ignorant is not only simplistic and mistaken, it is bad practice. Some who voted for him can be described in such terms, but plenty voted for him, however mistakenly, out of a belief that he would bring back their jobs and because he represented, in their minds, ‘change.’”

    Yes, but where’s the balancing language about Hillary Clinton and those who supported her? Until we on the radical left acknowledge, unequivocally, that a vote for Clinton was no more unwise or dangerous than a vote for Trump, we’re going nowhere. While the following article is far too generous toward Trump, it is unsparingly honest about his opponent.

    To the extent that feminism would impel an otherwise leftist voter to back a neoliberal warmonger, identity politics is, indeed, an enemy of revolution. Ditto on race and Obama in 2012.

    • I don’t know any feminist who would, or did, vote for a neoliberal warmonger simply because the warmonger is a woman. Feminists who voted for Clinton did so because they would be less on the defensive. However awful Clinton is, Trump is worse. Clinton wouldn’t be eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood or bringing to power nightmare religious fanatics like Pence. That doesn’t mean Clinton is worthy of a vote — far from it — it simply means that there would be better terrain on which to fight.

      I personally know feminists who are anything but an enemy of revolution but voted for her (reluctantly) because there was enough of a difference for them to do so. I personally did not, and could not, vote for Clinton but I am not going to indulge ideas that a billionaire egomaniac with the attention span of a seven-year-old who intends the swiftest possible dismantling of the past half-century’s social gains and who has a fascistic following is no different than an ordinary establishment figure, even one as detestable as Clinton. Let’s fight our enemies one at a time.

      • socialjism says:

        I know plenty of feminists who like Clinton and think she was awesome. Just watch feminists in the media.

        Anyway, as for “identity politics” when Leninists and the far left at Jacobin Magazine are talking about taking down this bullshit, and Bernie Sanders is denouncing it openly, I see there’s hope for the left to shitchug this nonsense.

        I’m glad I’m not an activist and have never dealt with this shit though

        • If nobody were an activist, then nothing would ever change.

        • iamselma says:

          I agree with you Pete, that this setting up the 2 as being in conflict, when they are inextricably linked, is incorrect. And this video begs the question of what in Trump’s base allowed him to “literally meme his way into the Presidency”. It also begs the question, as have many on the Left, as to why the Right is so damn organized, and was able to mobilize voters with a superior message. The fact is that the Right, since Nixon’s presidency, has drawn upon the vast resources of market research analysis, advertising and PR geniuses, and others, such as right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, has plumbed the American psyche in a very thorough and profound way. “The Selling of the President 1968” was the first book that explored the intersection between advertising, PR, and the GOP’s victory.

          The GOP controls virtually every major advertising and PR firm in the US. All are GOP stalwarts. the GOP has utilized racist imagery for 30 years, in campaigns such as the Willie Horton ad that detonated Mike Dukakis’ 1988 campaign. Is it any wonder that they can mobilize quickly and convince people to choose their message or meme campaign?

          There is one more thing about the GOP’s base, and the voters who elected Trump, and it is the huge elephant in the room that nobody talks about: that is the fact that in addition to the heavy fundamentalist religious indoctrination that fuels the belief systems of people on the Right, there’s the fact that many of them come from military families or have had military training. The discipline, the belief systems, and the comradeship from the trenches, all contribute to the cohesiveness on the Right.

          I’d like to see a greater articulate of these factors in the analysis of the 2016 election.

          I think it would be useful to re-visit and incorporate the critiques of the advertising and PR industries, from Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders” to “Subliminal Seduction”, the “Selling of the President 1968”, “Who Rules America” by Domhoff”, “The Power Elite” by C. Wright Mills, the critiques of the Heritage Foundation, and one of my favorites, from the 90s: “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Public Relations Industry”.

      • newtonfinn says:

        Clinton’s foreign policy HISTORY, as set forth with specificity in the article I cited, was far more dangerous to the future of humanity (and to the entire ecosystem) than Trump’s obnoxious and obscene RHETORIC. Both were utterly atrocious candidates, but painful policy decisions like eliminating Planned Parenthood hardly rise to the level of creating the substantial risk of nuclear holocaust. Does the left now care more about sensitivity than survival? Do we worry more about who sits on the Supreme Court than about innocent people being blown to pieces in the Middle East? So many are lamenting the Trump victory as if he defeated a decent human being rather than a bloodthirsty vampire. If my words are too blunt, here’s a toned-down take on the election that may be more palatable:

        • Clinton wants war against Russia; Trump wants war against China and global nuclear proliferation. So, really, nothing to choose between here. The only reason Trump doesn’t want war against Russia is because he has business interests there and if those interests don’t go well, maybe he’ll want war there, too.

          Given Trump’s astounding ignorance and willingness to provoke anybody who gets under his extremely thin skin, and his cavalier attitude toward nuclear weapons, the chances of a destructive war are higher with Trump than Clinton. Trump is also a global-warming denalist, increasing the possibility that humanity will see the climate spiral out of any control with catastrophic consequences for the entire planet. There are people who are facing losing health care, and may die because of that. That’s life and death, too.

          I certainly understand your antipathy toward Clinton; her miserable neoliberal warmongering record speaks for itself. But we shouldn’t let ourselves get so worked up for hatred for Clinton that we blind ourselves to Trump, who is the most dangerous reactionary we’ve yet seen in the White House.

          This is not about whether Clinton is or is not “a decent human being,” it as about the reality of the administration about to take power. It is a dangerous mistake to make the election a referendum about personalities instead of looking at the world through sober political analysis, and that analysis includes the effects on the day-to-day realities of millions of people.

          • socialjism says:

            I actually like Trump a bit more than Clinton. At least he’s not killing us blue collar workers like the Clintons did

            • Paul D says:

              Now how, exactly, was Clinton killing blue collar workers? Wait until Putzer is Secretary of Labor and he dismantles OSHA and MSHA, and Trump fills the NLRB with union-busters if you want to see workers dying.

              • socialjism says:

                NAFTA. I rest my case

              • Paul D says:

                You do know that all the shutdown of the steel mills and coal mines and related manufacturing industries – and the associated suicides and deaths by alcoholism and the like – occurred during the Reagan recession in the 1980s – 10 years before NAFTA, don’t you?

                At least that was what it was like here in Pittsburgh.

              • Socialjism says:

                You realize the Clinton’s were/are enthusiastic about”free trade” and that NAFTA was a critical blow to labor, while Trump is against such things, at least rhetorically. Hell, he’s actually done positive stuff in that direction. Your mention of reagan is a red herring.

        • iamselma says:

          Newtonfinn writes of what a Clinton presidency would have meant: “It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism. Now that we have, in the words of my friend Kelly Brogan, rejected a wolf in sheep’s clothing in favor of a wolf in wolf’s clothing, that illusion will be impossible to maintain.”

          Actually, it would have meant that those of us fighting her would be able to do so because they had the health insurance that would allow them to maintain their lives to be able to participate in politics; that they would have the Social Security as seniors, to be able to put a roof over their heads and not be at immediate risk for homelessness; that they would not have to worry about being beaten up or killed by a newly energized demographic of virulently racist and homophobic supporters; that they would not have to worry about dying from a back-alley abortion, or during an unwanted childbirth, or having unplanned for children to support instead of getting an education.

          Or as a trans person, worrying about having medical care cut off and being beaten to death; or as a person with HIV or AIDS having their Medicaid or support services cut; or anyone who is poor not being able to afford to eat, because food stamps have been cut.

          You are giving lip service and vastly minimizing the 70 years of life that 4 generations of people have had since the New Deal’s social services safety net was established from the 1930s through the 1960s, and that in order to fight to preserve it, you’ve got to at least have a roof over your head.

          You’re ignoring the fact that Donald Trump’s cabinet is out to destroy every civic institution that made the middle class and a thriving working class originally possible. They’d like to turn the clock back to 1910.

      • iamselma says:

        Re: your recap of misogyny in the 1960s left: not only was there that famous incident, but many others, where women did not get to participate in analysis or speak at demonstrations. There was an unwritten rule that as a woman, your analysis or speaking style was not as forceful, sharp, or effective as that of your male comrades. Or that they would reject you as partners were you to take a leadership position. That certainly impacted me, when I ceded the podium to my college boyfriend at age 17, after organizing a citywide rally against the Anti-ballistic missile system, and had researched the issue fairly thoroughly. At the last minute, I felt that I had nothing to say, and that no one would listen to me.

        The women who were leaders in the 1960s were often marginalized or ignored, and many have been ignored by those who wrote the history of that era. It came as a shock to me to read in the NY Times book review section about 12 years ago, a review of the biography of Dr. Pauli Murray, a black feminist who was an out lesbian in the 1940s, who graduated from Hunter College around the same time as my mother, whose brilliant legal work made her one of the architects of the civil rights era. Thurgood Marshall referred to her 1950 book on racism and the law to be the “bible” of the civil rights movement. She was a co-founder of NOW and was a major speaker at civil rights demonstrations.;

        Yet, despite her prominence, I don’t remember reading a single word about her life until that NY Times book review.

        I remember reading about Eldridge Cleaver’s treatment of Kathleen Cleaver, as well as other sexism in the Black Panther movement. There was also the use of women as decoys in demonstrations (“chicks up front”), or Stokely Carmichael’s famous quote, that “A woman’s place in revolutionary struggle is on her back”, a quote that said boyfriend adored repeating to me at regular intervals. Women’s role in the revolution was to provide the revolutionary equivalent of the adoring housewife and supportive companion, and source of comfort in the struggle. I’m glad that women said “fuck that shit” and took to the streets in 1970, and began to form consciousness-raising groups.

        Had we not done that, nothing would have changed. One thing that women realized, was how little emotional intelligence or understanding there was in the white male leadership or individually, in relationships. This manifested itself not only in personal relationships, but in the very ways men expressed themselves, or responded to women expressing ourselves. Our awareness of power dynamics and emotions was very different from theirs, as well as our sense of process. It’s now 40 years after Second Wave feminism, and according to many women I speak to in their 20s and 30s women are still having to reinvent the wheel.

  3. socialjism says:

    “No woman ever sat on the Politburo during the Soviet Union’s 74-year history.”

    I think this is like bitching about Antila the Hun’s fashion sense. Talk about messed up priorities, lol

  4. Alcuin says:

    I think the whole point of Professor Lerro’s essay was to say that the emphasis on identity politics for the last 50 or so years has been a huge distraction that has blunted whatever power the Left may have had at one time to eliminate capitalism. The turning point for the working class was when the union bosses sold out and refused to engage in a battle to defeat the Taft-Hartley Act, which you wrote about a long time ago. It isn’t a “choice” between identity politics or “class politics.” It is simply time to turn away from identity politics and unite in a struggle against capitalism. It is time for the Left to cut its ties to Liberals of all stripes, because Liberals are strong proponents of capitalism, too. I have long had a problem with the victimization meme so popular among Leftists – it’s all the fault of the capitalists. That victimization meme conveniently removes any blame from Leftists for their being capitalists, too. It’s all their fault!! No, it’s our fault, too, and the sooner we admit that, the better off we all are.

    As Walt Kelly famously had Pogo say: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” And as Henry David Thoreau wrote, “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Liberals and almost all Leftists, particularly those engaged in identity politics, are hacking at the branches of evil instead of striking at the root.

    • socialjism says:

      How dare you say my non conformist intersectional transhuman queer artificial anti binary non gender gender identity is a distraction!

      • Paul D says:

        Only clueless academics cloistered away on U. campuses and liberal yuppies gentrified upscale neighborhoods talk like that.

        Here on the streets, there is only racism and anti-racism, and of course, the savage assaults and murders of transgender people of any race, and those who protect the transgender people at considerable risk to themselves.

    • newtonfinn says:

      Extrapolating from your remarks, I would say that politics, in the usual sense of compromising to form coalitions, is initially antithetical to revolution, be it violent or nonviolent. If one is to sacrifice one’s life, or at least one’s comfort and security, for a cause, then that cause better damn well be the right one. Thus, the radical left must be focused like a laser on the proper diagnosis of our social devolution and its effective cure. Overall, this web site has done an admirable job in pursuing that end, and its author deserves our gratitude and respect. But sometimes a corrective is in order in even the best of efforts, as it is IMO with regard to this latest post.

      It’s preferable that the truth about our situation be embraced by a few than that the many flail about in pseudo-rebellion, which, in Thoreau’s metaphor, merely trims some ugly branches from the poisonous tree of global capitalism. Revolution, unlike a coup, cannot come without some sort of mass movement, but even more fundamental is that the movement be made in the right direction. If losing the support of those wedded to identity politics is the price the radical left must pay for speaking the truth as we see it, that’s a price worth paying. In light of the liberal hysteria and Russophobia triggered by one pathetic presidential candidate losing to another, I fear the loss of wisdom and courage on the left much more than the loss of popularity.

      • Alcuin says:

        I’ve never been one for vanguardism. The “truth about our situation” must be embraced by many, not just a few. It is my hope that those who embrace identity politics will climb down out of the tree and begin to look at what is in the ground. It wouldn’t hurt those of us on the Left to revisit Marx’s writings on the base and the superstructure and the dialectical relationship between them.

      • Revolution, unlike a coup, cannot come without some sort of mass movement, but even more fundamental is that the movement be made in the right direction.” Newton, you’ve summarized here the necessity of what must needs to be done very well. And we must have the courage to risk near-term unpopularity to be able to put ourselves on the road to long-term, permanent change.

        But if there are people (women, African-Americans, immigrants, others) who are oppressed, and that no revolution is going to be made without full participation of these oppressed peoples, then how are we to say to them “Wait you turn; we don’t have time for that.” We have to struggle for everyone’s liberation in the here and now, not in some mythical future.

        Alcuin argues that “it’s time to turn away from identity politics and unite in a struggle against capitalism.” We certainly should unite in a struggle against capitalism; we have no alternative if we are serious about creating a better world. What I am arguing is that these are not mutually exclusive. A struggle against capitalism includes struggle against the oppressions that arise and continue to exist within capitalism. These do not magically go away in a post-capitalist society; the record on that is quite clear.

        We are going to have to learn to effectively integrate these struggles, just as we are finally learning to integrate environmentalism in anti-capitalist work. We wouldn’t argue that clean air and stopping global warming are “distractions” — these are products of capitalism. So is discrimination against women, people of color, immigrants and others. These can, and must be, components of the struggle for a better world.

        • socialjism says:

          Lol if you need “full participation” then don’t demonize entire sectors with your feminist gooble-de-gook

  5. Ron Horn says:

    First of all, the author was arguing that identity politics within capitalism can never be a successful strategy to overturn the system. I totally agree. And, he never said in the article that he was against the issues promoted by identity politics–it’s just that they are not revolutionary. I totally agree.

    “In criticizing identity politics I am not proposing that race and gender issues should not be discussed or that they don’t matter.”

    Capitalism is the issue for our times; and if we don’t overturn its existence, we humans along with many other species will stop existing. It is quite literally a matter of life or death.

    Political agents of the capitalist ruling class certainly recognized this flaw in identity politics. They encouraged it simply because it was not revolutionary, and it offered an excellent way of diverting left political energies away from class politics that so threatened their rule during the 1930s.

    “It is part of a long-standing liberal ideology that spans over a century to promise that under capitalism all ethnicities and genders will be able to compete for a piece of the capitalist pie. Gradually we are told that with education and an expanding economy capitalism will welcome all. After the 1960’s liberals gave up on supporting their color blind ideology, and have been sliding to the right ever since. The New Left, never having taken their own working class very seriously, happily took over race and gender inequalities that should have been the domain of liberals. For 45 years leftists, instead of developing and expanding a socialist program, simply took over the New Deal program that the old liberals abandoned.”

    This is precisely why they promoted the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for president. And mostly middle class left activists were suckered into promoting exclusively identity politic because it was more “respectable” because the middle class in general are always concerned about being respectable in the eyes of the capitalist class.

    “The extent to which identity politics still governs the liberal and social democratic left, the answer is because Obama, after all, is an African-American president. From the point of view of identity politics, what more can we ask for? He is the first African-American president. For identity politics advocates, the fact that Obama is a Harvard lawyer is no reason to be cynical of his true class interests. Rather, we should be impressed with his credentials.

    “But as soon as a rich white male is elected, these crypto New Leftists at last gladly see a familiar target. People pour into the streets.”

    As activists, either we are serious about the overthrow of capitalism because it is the root of most of the evils we experience today, or we think the system is just fine, and that we should concentrate on other issues. But the latter should not pretend otherwise as they often do.

  6. Paul D says:

    All this talk of “identity politics” seems to be conflating the post-modernist babble on campuses with plain old-fashioned anti-racism. As a reality check, anyone who thinks that racism is not central to economic relations in the US need to get off their university campus and take, say, a bus or the RTA line eastward from downtown Cleveland, across a broad blighted area, then through the leafy and affluent Case Western U area, then into blighted and dirt-poor east Cleveland, then further no into the leafy and affluent and pure-white Coventry Road and Shaker Heights, and watch the changes in the dominant skin color. Also while downtown, watch the variations of skin color with occupation as indicated by attire.

    The color of poverty in the USA is black, period. I live in western Pennsylvania and spend a lot of time on my job in West Virginia. I have yet to meet a white Appalachian Trump voter who is close to the level of poverty of a black person in Pittsburgh’s Homewood, East Cleveland, Baltimore and many other many other places. We need to fight that.

    • Alcuin says:

      No, we need to fight capitalism. Slavery is a product of capitalism. There were more than a few very sophisticated and advanced cultures in the southern part of the continent of Africa before capitalism introduced a particularly vicious type of slavery, the product of which was racism. “All this talk about ‘identity politics'” is about separating the results of capitalism from the causes of those results.

      • Paul D says:

        Tell a poor black USAn that all we need to do is fight capitalism.

        Seriously! Please go to your nearest blighted neighborhood, and tell the first black person you meet that racism is not important and that black people need to stop their complaining and fight capitalism like the white leftists tell them to.

    • newtonfinn says:

      Couldn’t agree more. But it’s the capitalist system that perpetuates black poverty, as it perpetuates poverty in general, by means of increasing scarcity, debt, exploitation, etc., so as to render so many people superfluous–especially those who suffered, and still suffer, the ultimate exploitation of slavery. Replace that profit-oriented system with one where people and planet are the new bottom line, not profit, and blacks along with the rest of humanity will prosper. THAT should be our goal, not making bigoted white people think or feel differently about black people. The same goes for all forms of bigotry and prejudice.

      We should be revolutionaries, not shrinks. The strength and beauty of the Black Power Movement, as it evolved out of the Civil Rights Movement, was that black people no longer were seeking subjective white acceptance or approval. They wanted agency and autonomy and, frankly, couldn’t care less about whether white people liked them or not. And they also knew that they could not be given agency or autonomy by whites; they had to claim it for themselves.

      By the way, I’m reading a most unusual, insightful book that was a public sensation at the end of the 19th Century, but has since faded into forgetfulness. It’s a utopian novel called “Looking Backward,” and I highly recommend it to my sisters and brothers who follow Systemic Disorder. Not a bad blueprint here to ponder, update, and build upon.

      • Paul D says:

        No. Racism and the resulting discrimination in hiring, housing, education and law enforcement leads to black poverty. Even the worker collectives running some future socialist syatem in the USA can, and probably would, engage in racial discrimination.

        • Alcuin says:

          And there is no connection whatsoever between racism and capitalism?

          • Paul D says:

            I don’t see any connection, if by connection you mean a causal connection.

            Capitalism, in its seemingly infinite ability to take advantage of every natural and social resource, has used and continues to use racism to its advantage, but to say that racism is a product of capitalism is like saying that millions-year old copper ore deposits in Utah are the product of the Kennecott Mining Corporation. One way predates the other.

  7. iamselma says:

    There are a lot of people on the Left who believe that part of the working class who voted for Trump did so merely out of a desire for “change” and because he promised them jobs. That line also notes the demographics of the white electorate who voted for Trump as having included many Obama supporters, who voted for him because of his platform of “change”.

    What the takeaway seems to be here is that any candidate promising “change” is something that the majority of white voters will elect, irrespective of the fact that the “change” that Trump is promising is the antithesis of the “change” that Obama was promising during his campaign. So I have come down on the side of not buying this rationale, because any group of people who are that ignorant and that fickle are not making informed choices, and are responding as consumers in the marketplace with ADD who pick whatever is shiny and new.

    I feel that the Left does this because of a Marxist analysis that fails to take into account the vast body of research on the impact of television, mass communications, advertising, public relations, and the manipulation of public opinion. You can’t have it both ways- acknowledge that the dumbing down of Americans is in fact a very real thing, and then claim that the people who have been dumbed-down have in fact made choices coming from a valid perspective.

    I read an article in NY Magazine right after the election, that presented an in-depth portrait of 10 white women who voted for Trump, and it was staggering to see their reasoning (or lack of it). They strung together completely unrelated things as cause and effect. They seemed to have minimal knowledge of foreign affairs, the economy, or basic issues. They made their choices based on a feeling about Trump as a strong leader, based upon his presentation and his speeches. They should not be let off the hook when those speeches were virulently racist, misogynistic, nativist, racist, and also staggeringly ignorant about the basic facts of our economy, our government, our foreign policy, and the environment.

    They voted for a candidate whose henchmen routinely beat up and ejected people of color protesting at his rallies. It was not possible to hide from Trump’s racism. It was also not possible to deny that Trump openly mocked a disabled NY Times reporter in conduct so unbecoming a candidate for office that it should have kept him from running for dog-catcher.

    Trump’s appeal was to anti-intellectualism just as strongly as was Spiro Agnew’s emanations. Anyone here remember “An effete corps of impudent snobs”? That was the working class base that Agnew appealed to as Nixon’s bulldog, and it’s the same base that Bush appealed to and now Trump.

    These are people who are brainwashed by decades of advertising, by parents who grew up in the conformist ’50s, who were in turn brainwashed by advertising, and who if they had a labor organizing past in their family, have in many cases, turned away or rejected that past.

    I think it is also inaccurate to say that all of Trump’s support, or the majority of it, came from the white working class in the Rust Belt. That is true, but he got a substantial percentage of support from white people in the suburbs as well as from the Orthodox Jewish community in NYC, which is solidly middle class.

    Trump’s own team acknowledged that they were appealing to the “low information voter”. People can be manipulated when all they ever know is the information they see on Fox News, and the heavily redacted education they receive in most of our country’s public schools, and most certainly in private religious schools, where any scent of radicalism or skeptical analysis by teachers is quickly weeded out.

    Another phenomenon that proves my point are the “person in the street” interviews that Jay Leno used to broadcast on his show, where most white people who were obviously middle class, if not prosperous working class, did not know basic questions about American history that used to be known by the average 4th grader. I’m referring to them not knowing whether FDR was President during the Civil War, not knowing who freed the slaves, and many more facts.

    As long as these “low information voters” continue to obtain their information from Fox News and advertising, as well as the mythology conveyed in TV and film, they will continue to vote against their own best interests. Any voter has the ability to access a politician’s position on a wide range of issues. All you need to do is to check with groups such as Americans for Democratic Action, or People for the American Way, which publish lists of where politicians stand on the issues.

    Of course, that educational role used to be fulfilled far more by unions and union culture, and now is gone from the lives of millions of American workers. I would wager that the average radical leftist worker during the 1930s was more educated and aware than the average American with a college degree in the 2000s. The nature of media and advertising has shaped 3 generations of Americans, and produced the made consumerist society we now have.

    Even when Trump’s supporters receive the inevitable bucket of ice water on their heads, they are going to be lacking the perspective, the facts, and the ability to think critically that would give most of them to have a handle on their situation. Many will understand that they are being screwed, but everything surrounding them and informing them will tell them that the solution is to blame the weakest and most vulnerable scapegoats.

    • Alcuin says:

      Your last paragraph is a killer. Your statement that there is a lack of Marxist analysis of the role of “the impact of television, mass communications, advertising, public relations” is very interesting – I had not thought of that but the dialectical relationship between the base and the superstructure should certainly lead to that kind of analysis. I’m of the opinion (and I’d love to be proven wrong!) that an awful lot of Marxist analysis is stuck in a worldview whose basis has long since disappeared. The tools are there but they are not being used. This whole issue of “identity politics” should be a rich vein to exploit for Marxists, but it does not seem to be happening. Instead, we are treated to the same old tired story from 75 years ago. But prove me wrong, please!! Anyone! And once I’ve been proven to be wrong, why is it that so many people, on the left and the right, still don’t get it? It seems as though we are destined to see a superstructure which destroys the material basis for life in its greedy and selfish goal of the accumulation of surplus value. Rome is burning and the proles are captivated by how high the flames are.

  8. newtonfinn says:

    I agree with a good part of what you say, but there’s a contrary viewpoint with more than a grain of truth in it. In my 60-plus years of awareness of social issues, I can’t remember a candidate who was more vilified in the MSM (and in much of the alternative and social media, as well), than Donald Trump. Similarly, all the big guns of the status quo designed to shape public opinion in the UK were blasting away relentlessly at Brexit. Yet, these plutocratic opinion shapers were unable to get through to vast number of voters this time around, both here and in Britain. For what are surely a large variety of reasons, these voters rejected the immense pressure put upon them and went precisely in the opposite direction. Condemn the motivations of many of them if you will (with ample justification), but both Brexit and Trump have loosened what heretofore had been the stranglehold of the communication system of global neoliberal capitalism. To me, that is, pregnant with possibility for radicals of both right and left–the decisive end of “the end of history.”

  9. iamselma says:

    Rebecca Solnit just posted this on Facebook, and I like the points that it makes:

    • Alcuin says:

      I loved this:

      “You can stop explaining the white working class rural conservative Christian farming folk, hot-takers and self-justifiers. Instead, why don’t you explain liberalism to them? Why don’t you explain that jobs are drying up and communities are dying not because of abortion and same-sex marriage but because of Republican economic policies that have favored the wealthy, most of whom live in cities, including a certain president-elect they voted for who took advantage of those very policies in order to stay rich? Ultimately, though, it won’t matter. Because despite every fucking word to the contrary, the real problem is that those who voted for Trump are racist. They are sexist. They are Islamophobic. They are ignorant.

      “The whole thrust of these “let’s learn about the yokels” articles is to imply that there are real Americans and there are coastal elites. Sorry, motherfuckers. We’re all Americans. And if I have to suffer under your stupid, you have to hear about our smarts.”

      “Republican economic policies” = policies that promote capitalism. I don’t think, though, that calling Trumpists racist, sexist and Islamophobic helps matters. The ruling class has always been very good indeed at dividing and conquering. When we “liberals” utter such epithets it doesn’t do anything to unite all of us in a struggle against capitalism. Neither does yelling at such people that “if I have to suffer under your stupid, you have to hear about our smarts.” I don’t deny that it feels good to vent, but venting at Trumpists is like standing in the rain without an umbrella and thinking you’ll stay dry. Not very smart.

      • socialjism says:

        Isn’t that what Bernie Sanders is doing?

        • Alcuin says:

          What is Bernie doing besides being a sheep dog to herd alleged Leftists into Hillary’s camp? Sanders is no socialist – he’s a garden variety neoliberal. He’s just not as bellicose as Clinton. He’s a greenwashing capitalist.

          • socialjism says:

            Uh you mean like effectively challenging the leadership of the party after the Clintons were essentially kicked out and leading an active progressive movement? If that’s “neoliberal”, then the term has lost all meaning. [Remainder of comment deleted due to personal attack on another commenter]

            • Socialjism, let’s watch the personal insults. Keep the debate on issues and ideas, not on personally attacking other readers. Personal attacks are verboten here, period. This is not right-wing talk radio.

  10. […] were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people.”  Or as Pete Dolack put it, “liberal ideology tends to fight for the ability of minorities and women to be able to […]

  11. troutsky says:

    I was just reading a piece about ML King and it strikes me his personal political growth mirrors some of what is being discussed. After all the struggle around race he realized toward the end of his life that you can’t vote yourself the white man’s wealth or productive property. And that even the “dream” of black middle-class life forced you into complicity with an empire bombing poor people in SE Asia. Because of this developing structural analysis he lost the support of LBJ and the black moderates who were fine with capitalism (and mostly still are). And he lost his life.

    As for class being the basis for revolutionary agency, what class-belonging/consciousness does a black women who works as a nurse but owns two rentals and a modest portfolio of stocks have? Or the white janitor who has a small on-line business he runs from home? Obviously is not an egalitarian ownership society, but capitalism is dynamic and has responded to the old synthesis.

    I believe the one issue which could possibly unite these two around an anti-capitalist critique is climate change. Explaining how the profound failure of the energy market (task of the Left) has created an existential crisis threatening their progeny will help them transcend identity and see the true ideological adversary. I think this is what Naomi Klein was getting at with the title: This Changes Everything. As in Every Orthodoxy, materialist, idealist, naturalist. This is not a rejection of the abstract or of “isms” , but a re-thinking of the playbook. Anyway, that’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

    • newtonfinn says:

      While Charles Eisenstein is working on a new book about the issue, which will flesh out what I’m about to say in much greater depth and detail, let me chime in with my own misgivings about the overwhelming emphasis, currently so prevalent on the left, on the issue of climate change, an emphasis which has IMHO become almost a form of religion. If in reading this opening sentence you are already beginning to damn me, that’s Exhibit A of my position. The vast majority of us leftists are not climate scientists nor scientists of any kind. Climate science itself is in its infancy. While many of the climate and other scientists in the “denial” category are funded in whole or part by the fossil fuel industry (and thus should be taken with more than a grain of salt), there are a number of scientists of sterling reputation and accomplishment who question the so-called consensus view. I say this after spending a great deal of time reading about this issue, so if I’m mistaken, it’s not from lack of information but lack of judgment. Here’s some of the scientific voices who give me pause.

      But while I’m not certain that human action is causing what will soon be catastrophic climate change, I firmly believe two other things: (1) that we are polluting and plundering our precious, beautiful planet to a dangerous and obscene extent, causing rampant species extinction and threatening ecocide; and (2) while we have begun to learn more about ecology and other life sciences, what we still don’t know dwarfs what we do. So yes, I’m all for reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses, but I’m also for doing all in our power to save species, oceans, reefs, rivers, lakes, groundwater, soil, seeds, mountains, forests, wetlands, grasslands, etc. etc. etc. Indeed, I would wager that if we took this more balanced approach to reducing environmental damage, we’d find that symptoms like global warming would ameliorate, as the overall health of the earth improved and the resilience of life rebounded beyond expectation.

      However, if we put all of our eggs in the basket of climate change, and it turns out that this particular issue is not the standalone monster we thought it was, or if we go to ineffective war against it like we did with poverty and drugs and terrorism, haven’t we both wasted valuable and limited time and perhaps weakened, if not undermined, the larger environmental movement (which you are quite correct in citing as the most effective anti-capitalist weapon, along with being an ultimate matter of life and death)? Many, probably most, who read this website will disagree with me (even violently), but we all might want to stop and consider, if only for a moment, what Eisenstein is pondering and in the process of writing:

      I look forward to reading reactions to this post but have no interest in another internet argument, having learned the hard way that they usually go nowhere. So as far as this comment is concerned, thanks for reading my two cents, I’ll read yours, and over and out.

      • Alcuin says:

        That’s an interesting comment, newtonfinn. I would respond by saying that I think your position of being in favor of “reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses, but I’m also for doing all in our power to save species, oceans, reefs, rivers, lakes, groundwater, soil, seeds, mountains, forests, wetlands, grasslands, etc. etc. etc.” is an anti-capitalist statement that is in keeping with Charles Eisenstein’s thought that climate change is a symptomatic fever. Eisenstein’s writing, it seems to me, is in the same vein as that of Naomi Klein. Capitalists see climate change as an opportunity to profit from while Eisenstein and Klein are calling for a new way to view the world.

        Wikipedia is not a credible source for citation and if the article on the scientific assessment of climate change is read critically, its weaknesses will become obvious.

        To tie your comment back into the original theme of Systemic Disorder’s post, climate change is yet another example of identity politics. Only a razor focus on the damage that capitalism has done, across the board, will suffice. We need to tie everything back to capitalism and not get distracted by identity politics. Once Eisenstein’s “symptomatic fever” is addressed and cured, all the symptoms, by definition, will disappear.

        I believe that both Klein and Eisenstein would agree with me when I say that capitalism will not work without commodification. Commodifying life and everything on the planet is how we have arrived at our present situation. Only by adopting a new view will we have a chance for survival. That new view is an anti-capitalist stance that asks how humanity can exist by being separated from Nature, a view that arose simultaneously with Modernity.

      • I would share Alucin’s critiques of Newton’s statement on global warming, and so won’t add to it. But assuming the Wikipedia list is accurate (and I’ve found in fields in which I have knowledge Wikipedia tends to be full of inaccuracies), I note there is precisely one climatologist (who’s retired) on the entire list of dissident scientists. There is also one “retired research professor of environmental science” who is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute — rather a conflict of interest!

        I also see Willie Soon, listed as an “astrophysicist,” on the list. Soon was the subject of a New York Times report a few years ago — he accepted more than $1 million from petroleum and coal companies to produce what he called “deliverables” supposedly debunking global warming, and not disclosing his financial sources when submitting his biased “reports” to journals. The very epitome of junk science.

        Scientists in other fields don’t count. I have to point out that 97 percent of climate scientists (as opposed to “meteorologists” who simply predict tomorrow’s weather) concur that humans cause global warming. Many among the other three percent, I’d wager, are on energy-company or other corporate payrolls. Capitalism is the cause of global warming and it can’t be stopped under capitalism, as I’ve argued before. Moreover, it seems that putting a halt to ecocide is inseparable from a reversal of global warming.

        In reading the link to Charles Eisenstein that Newton provided, I can see readily that he is a serious thinker, someone trying to tie together the multitude of environmental problems humanity faces. In defense of this approach, he writes:

        “I see the world careening further and further out of balance and I want to do something about it. It hurts, what is happening to the horseshoe crabs, to the Amazon, to the rhinos, the mangroves, the sea grass, the tuna, the Monarch butterflies. … Oh, but we don’t need the Monarchs as long as we stop emitting carbon dioxide, right? A pity for them, but we’ll be fine. Right? Right? Wrong. But that is what the carbon narrative suggests, and that is how it tends to shift environmental priorities. In the mentality of carbon accounting, you could pave over the last Monarch wintering ground, and as long as you offset the loss by planting a forest somewhere else, you could claim zero impact.”

        I don’t see the typical climate activist isolating in the way that Eisenstein suggests here. Certainly the sort of isolation he is critiquing would be a wrong approach. But is he perhaps critiquing a chimera? I can’t say with certainty; I would have to assume that he has encountered this critiqued attitude sufficiently that has become a motivating factor for him. He says his book

        “is using climate as a window onto a process of change that encompasses everything. A typical book on climate change says, ‘Here is what is happening and here is what we should do about it.’ This book is different. It will visit that place, yes. It will go into some nuts-and-bolts about things like seagrass sequestration capacity and regenerative agriculture, even about greenhouse gas emissions, but it will disassemble these threads and use them to weave a much broader tapestry that includes the accelerating transformation of consciousness, society, and the mythology of civilization.”

        In his book, he writes, he intends to encompass a broad spectrum of ideas:

        “Some of these are ‘on the map’ of conventional environmentalism, suggesting a shift of focus, strategy, languaging, and tactics. Some of the responses, though, are entirely off the spectrum of what we know as ecological activism. My hope is that you will find yourself on that tapestry, and realize your passion for, let us say, local food, prison reform, racial justice, or herbal medicine is part of the healing of the climate.”

        I would argue that overcoming capitalism is essential to solving these problems, but on the other hands we have to find ways of solving them right now. So all these struggles are inter-related and not neatly separable. It is impossible for me to know what this book will say, but I find this intriguing enough to be on the lookout for it when it is published.

        • socialjism says:

          It’s true that an overwhelming amount of climate scientists (btw, I don’t get your dig against meteorology, which is actually a valid science, ya know) agree that climate change is happening, they don’t agree on what the effects and severity of it will be. I’m very much a climate change affects skeptic, if that’s a term.

          • Not a dig at all. Meteorology is a personal interest of mine and I’m something of an amateur meteorologist. But it is often confused with climate science, a different branch of study.

            A lot of, I suspect most, television meteorologists have no degree in that field, must less in climate science, so they are not qualified to contradict scientists who specialize in climatology. Neither am I. They, and you and I, can give opinions, but people who do not have expertise in a field can’t properly be cited as “dissident scientists” equal to those in the field.

          • aquifer1 says:

            Writing 5 years after this post, I wonder if socialjism has changed his/her mind – in fact all the effects/severity of CC that have been predicted with increasing frequency for decades, actually, are now proving not only to be correct but in fact more severe, widespread, and frequent than earlier predicted – and you don’t need to be a meteorologist to “notice” ….

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