It has become clear since the CPGB-ML’s 8th Congress in September that some have been confused about the exact nature of identity politics and why it is we are opposed to it. The use of terms such as ‘LGBT ideology’ has added further confusion: what exactly is it?
First of all we shall deal with the bare bones of the ideology we are pitted against.
In ‘Anarchism or Socialism?’ Comrade Stalin pointed out the petty-bourgeois nature of anarchism, owing to its being founded on the principle condition that the individual must first be emancipated in order to then emancipate the masses. By contrast, we Marxist Leninists hold that the masses must be emancipated before it will be possible to emancipate the individual. The Chinese rendition of the International for example includes a verse that states: “Freedom is merely privilege extended, unless enjoyed by one and all”
This core tenet of anarchism highlights its petty-bourgeois character, and we can see an identical vein of thought running through identity politics. Much like anarchism, identity politics claims a mantle of progressive politics for the oppressed; and much like anarchism, it divides workers along lines determined by the bourgeoisie.
As an example, let us look at the case of black separatism. Black separatism, like all strains of identity politics, deems only its audience – in this case, black people in imperialist countries – to be capable of understanding or entitled to talk about their oppression.
Being the immediate victims of racism, however, does not make them the only victims. As Marx stated in Capital (Volume I): “Labour in the white skin cannot be free if in the black it is branded.” All workers, all victims of capital, are capable, with the help of scientific socialism, of understanding and uniting behind the necessary theory, as well as of implementing the strategy and tactics, of class struggle and class war.
Black separatism does not represent proletarian interests at large, or at all; it represents a minority who hope to do well under the present exploitative conditions. Not only does black separatism deem that only black people are capable of talking about their oppression, it also professes the whole of the white majority to be the exploiters and oppressors of black people. This is clearly anti-proletarian, and devoid of class analysis; instead, it falls into a dualistic dead end, a common current in identity politics, setting black and white proletarians against one another.
Seen in this distorted light, the issue of racism becomes the sole affair of black people; the fact that the fight against racism and oppression is the common cause of all proletarians is forgotten. This dualistic dead end is a painfully common theme amongst the proponents of identity politics, and the approach is strongly endorsed by bourgeois academia because it serves bourgeois interests and keeps the debate about inequality confined to the limits of the present system, under which the problem can, of course, never be solved.
Comrades might well be asking why this has become a problem for our party now? Black separatism has, after all, been around for decades. Our founding members dealt with the issue of black sections in the Socialist Labour Party, and with black separatism in the working-class movement for decades before that. Bourgeois Nationalism or Proletarian Internationalism? by Comrade Harpal Brar quite rightly rails against the black separatism that was infecting the movement back in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
In much the same vein, our late Comrade Iris Cremer said in a speech given in 1972 entitled ‘Feminism – a reactionary ideology’:
“The oppression of women under capitalism is due to the minority capitalist class owning and controlling all the means of social production.
“Various feminism theories, on the other hand, pose:
- men as the enemy;
- women’s biological function as the enemy;
- the family as the enemy; and
- patriarchal society as the enemy.
“These theories have in common the fact that they pose men as the enemy and not the capitalist class, and so can never truly liberate women. Worse than this, they leave the real enemy of women unscathed and even enabled to consolidate its position.
“Since women taking up the demands of the feminists can both lead to the alienation of the movement from working-class women who must be the main driving force in a truly revolutionary women’s movement, and they also lead to the setting of women against men, instead of uniting men and women in the struggle against the ruling class which oppresses the majority of both men and women.” (Marxism and the Emancipation of Women, Chapter 9)
We can again see the same issues with feminism as we have explored with black separatism – namely, the division of workers by setting one group against another in typical dualistic fashion under a supposedly progressive banner. And we can see how this is still being used as a tactic to divide workers.
The current we face today, owing to its recent rebranding, and to its being firmly entrenched in academia, may seem superficially to be a different breed, but it faces us with the same fundamental issues.
It is no coincidence that identity politics have come to dominance in an era of reaction after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the proletarian movement in Britain has been at its lowest ebb, and furthermore, is rearing its head in a time of protracted economic crisis. It is no accident that against this backdrop our bourgeois academics are pushing an ideology that encompasses a list of oppressions which somehow misses class exploitation entirely off the list – or, if our oh-so-wise academics are witty, it might be included in the small print at the very end of said list, and even then it is reduced to the dualistic form of workerism.
This ideology, like a cuckoo, has filled a void that once nested class struggle and scientific socialism. Unfortunately, its academic endorsement has created similar issues for our movement as did the previous state sanctioning of Trotskyism or the ‘New Left’, with whom it shares many similarities. However, unlike its predecessors it need not pay even lip service to the class struggle. It has nevertheless imbued a new generation of university-going ‘radicals’ with a faux progressive ideology quite alien to, and extremely chauvinistic towards, the lower strata of the workers.
And thus, the grandiloquent self-professed intellectuals, who find themselves in ever smaller lefty circles, are greeted with open arms by the trots, revisionists and ‘left’ social democrats who no longer have the taste for class struggle. After all, what better distraction and division for proletarians could the bourgeoisie find for them than an ideology with all the aesthetic of revolutionary politics, but little to no class content, and which is often downright hostile to the proletariat in rhetoric?
So, sadly, and inevitably, identity politics have been brought into our midst once more. The marriage of this bourgeois-academic socio-analytical framework with a progressive aesthetic is a huge handicap to our movement. It is quite understandable that many students will join us on the left with such bourgeois prejudices, but equally understandable is that we must root out the rot, for identity politics (or their indistinguishable variants such as ‘intersectionalism’) are incompatible with dialectical and historical materialism – lacking in dialectics, materialism, or historical understanding, and thus in scientific method.
This was evidenced at our congress when a comrade listed various figures to prove that LGBT people suffer a special and entrenched oppression under capitalism. One such figure stated that a high proportion of homeless people happen to be LGBT.
Aside from the fact that sadly the parameters of this study were not given (where did the figures come from? were these young people made homeless specifically because they are LGBT?), what conclusion does such a statistic lead us to? Does there need to be a demand for special laws to be put in place protecting LGBT people from being made homeless? The answer to the problem is the same as for all homeless people; all workers – universal housing, jobs, education and healthcare should be a right, and are in the common interest of the entire proletariat.
This small example highlights the problem with trying to understand an obviously proletarian issue through the fog of identity politics. The same can be said for ‘ableism’. As far as Marxists are concerned, rights and dignity for the disabled is a proletarian issue. Of course we do not decry the struggle of the disabled to improve their material conditions; to fight for greater accessibility to public places and public health, or for access to improved communication and meaningful work.
But we cannot help but point out that this is a class issue. A proletarian cannot afford to be afflicted or born with a disability without risk of falling into wretched conditions. By contrast, a member of the bourgeois class may be afflicted with paraplegia as a result of polio and win a record four presidential elections, as did Franklin D Roosevelt in the USA.
By contrast, our ‘intersectionalist’ opponents would have us believe, in their typical dualistic fashion, that all able-bodied and minded people are somehow the ‘oppressors’ of those who suffer with either a physical or a mental disability. Once more, their fake solutions pit workers against one other and leave the capitalists unscathed.
Now we come to the question of LGBT ideology, which has so confused some comrades within and without the party. ‘LGBT ideology’ is a term we have created, in the absence of a universally recognised name, to apply to those who endorse and proselytise the ideology of identity politics, as elaborated above, to LGBT people, separating their material interests from those of the proletariat at large.
It is our view that LGBT people in Britain suffer from prejudice (a contradiction amongst the masses) as opposed to oppression by the bourgeois state. Once again, the peddlers of identity politics raise this question from one of fighting against such prejudice to an overarching dualism: lesbians, gays and bisexuals, they assert, must be ‘emancipated’ from the ‘oppression’ of heterosexuals, while transsexuals must be emancipated from ‘cis’-gendered people.
This approach enlightens no-one, and is a million miles away from imbuing LGBT workers with an understanding of their duty to unite with the rest of the proletariat.
These examples encapsulate the misleading sophistry of identity politics, their divisive character, and their bourgeois class content. Their forms are legion. Fundamentally, their greatest flaw is that they refuse to analyse social and economic life through the paradigm of class struggle.
Devoid of the context of class exploitation, which is the primary contradiction in capitalist society, and thus failing to frame all other contradictions within this context, identity politics are impotent to offer any real solutions to the issues at hand, merely dividing those who should be uniting. They thus stand in complete contradiction with Marxism Leninism.
Many a self-professed Marxist Leninist will try to marry Marxism Leninism with intersectionalism (the current brand name of identity politics, as endorsed by bourgeois academia). Many of these comrades are subjectively invested in their identities; many have been exposed to identity politics at university or elsewhere before coming to Marxism Leninism, and have brought this liberalism with them.
It is understandable therefore, that some may perceive the subordination of their identities to the class struggle (the fundamental contradiction) as being somehow repellent. Further confusion arises, as mentioned above, because these various contradictions do not appear to be equal.
This is an unfortunate and typical case of language being used unscientifically – the concept of ‘oppression’ is pasted onto every contradiction in our society by identity politics, whilst Marxism Leninism uses such terminology with precise scientific intent. And so many a fresh-faced Marxist Leninist is alarmed to learn that they suffer not from oppression but from prejudice – a contradiction amongst the masses – or (as with ableism) from a class issue, and these comrades cannot help but feel offended by the apparent downgrading of their personal and subjective experience.
To find themselves subject to demands common to the entire proletariat seems a let-down after having had their separate struggles elevated to the pinnacle of importance. Such comrades allow their personal prejudices to lead them into the role of modern-day Bundists, with their Marxism clutched in one hand, and their liberalism clutched in the other.
Our message to these comrades is clear: bourgeois society and the bourgeois state have in the imperialist nations afforded the greatest extent of personal freedoms and liberties for the individual that is possible in economic and social life under capitalism – at the expense of and off the backs of the great toiling masses of the globe. We are quite clear that the collective emancipation of the masses is a prerequisite for the true emancipation of the individual; it is now for us to organise the proletarian masses of all strata and sections under the flag of socialism, under the banner of proletarian internationalism, in the common interest of all working peoples.