Class Versus Identity: Can’t Do Both

It’s astonishing class-versus-identity even became a debate.

In a nice world, doing both would never have been an issue.

This is apparently not a nice world.

Obviously this started in the 1960s, with the increasing super-abundance of post-war American capitalism.  This created the material conditions for a growing consumerist liberal upper-middle class who could afford to care about things other than money.

Over the next forty years they continuously ruined and destroyed the “Left,” permeating, barraging, and flooding every sector of activism, social media, and academia with complete horseshit.

The “Left” no longer even means what it once meant.  The Old Left was primarily about class, and the New Left became primarily about identity.

This is why Bernie Sanders gets mistaken for a centrist.

…or is it a mistake?

On economics, he is far to the left of everyone else in mainstream politics.

On culture, he’s fairly progressive, but manages to find ways of communicating that appeal to both the traditionalists and modernists of the country.

Given that Left vs. Right is now more about the Culture War than the Class War, it could be said that class politics and even socialism no longer belong to the “Left.”

That’s funny, because class and socialism are what started the Left.  Oh well.

It seems redistribution is simply its own political axis, which the majority of both cultural conservatives and cultural progressives support.

Maybe Bernie really is a centrist, in terms of how he expresses himself on cultural issues.

Maybe democratic socialism itself is now no longer part of the “Left,” but a third camp.

Democratic socialism has always been the third camp of capitalism vs. Stalinism; now it is the third camp of the American Left vs. Right culture war axis.

Push Comes to Shove: Competition Over Organizing Resources

In theory, you can do anything and everything immediately.

In practice, absolutely not.

We don’t just live in a society (self, other, multiple others).  We also live in a material universe, or at least a convincing illusion of one.

In a material universe, you can’t do whatever and expect results.

You have to do specific things already proven to get specific results.

The current escalation and acceleration of wealth inequality and artificial scarcity have left people under so much stress and time-pressure that organizing is getting harder and harder.

We are forced to become extremely choosy in what we do.

Money, time, energy, volunteer hours, attention, speaking time, listening time: all of these are limited resources, and they are all needed for political organizing.

People don’t understand that mental focus, itself, is a scarce resource.  The mind is not infinite.  The brain has limited brain chemicals, and after too much bullshit communication, it literally shuts down and disregards input.

To really work on something, your headspace needs to be centered on it.

How many different things can your headspace really be centered on?  The research on “multi-tasking” indicates humans can really only do one thing at a time with any effectiveness.

Walking the Tightrope: Culture War Neutrality

paul krugman compass axes compared.jpg

The emerging political reality is that most people in the USA support redistribution, but the system keeps us from getting it.

Paradoxically, the American majority is also culturally conservative, despite supporting redistribution.

However, it’s also true that, of the roughly 80% of the population whom supports redistribution, it is cut right down the middle between cultural progressivism and cultural conservatism.

Finding the correct orientation to navigate the mess is a true Goldilocks situation.

krugman sjw.jpg

Too ultraleft…

krugman reactionary left.jpg

Too reactionary…

krugman redistribution.jpg

Ahhh, just right.

In reality, both the cultural conservatism and the cultural liberalism end up primarily being opposite forms of identity politics.

This means that class and identity concerns not only don’t reinforce in practice, but are in fact actively opposed.

If you cater to ultraleft prefigurative culture, including identity politics, then you alienate the conservative working class.

If you cater to bigotry or racism, then you alienate the progressive working class.

You literally can’t win without an alliance of both.

If you cater to one, you alienate the other.

Neither is the captive population…

…both are.

They are both captive to each other.

The only way for humanity to be free, to even survive the climate crisis, is for radicals to pursue redistribution while studiously avoiding the culture war.

Only then, once we have politico-economic power over institutions and resources, will we be able to make any material changes whatsoever to the position of the oppressed, or handle other urgent social issues like climate.

Until then, raising those issues literally decreases the likeliness they will be addressed.

That may seem counter-intuitive, but it checks out.  Life comes at you fast.

What would really liberate the oppressed?

  • Radical restructuring of police which will never be permitted under capitalism
  • Universal housing as a right
  • Extreme and direct quantitative redistribution, ie. reparations for slavery/capitalism
  • Guaranteed full employment, or some other strong source of income
  • High-payment UBI
  • Collective ownership of the workplace for permanent income equality

Identity politics will accomplish literally none of these.  In practice, it obstructs them all.

Horseshoes and Straight Lines: Redirecting the Polarization

horseshoe theory.jpg

We live in a time of polarization, but a lot of that is culture war.

It’s true, the economic struggle is heating up, but it paradoxically seems to create national unity.

For some reason, it seems like identity divisions create cultural instability, but class struggle seems to bring social stability.  Both the Left and Right identify with redistribution, and both would benefit from it.

Redistribution takes the energy out of the culture war.  We’d all be less agitated if our economic situations were more secure.

It’s good that there is a safety valve, because if we keep this culture war shit going, America will shatter, and not in the right way.

Not at the level of the power structure.  At the level of infrastructure.

Maybe you edgelords want to burn the place, but I live here, and I’m disabled.  Chill.  Save the nukes for the Unification Wars.

Bizarrely, we must apply opposite logics to different axes of political division.

hexagon political compass

On the socialism-versus-capitalism axis, obviously we choose a polarization, one versus the other.

On identity, we seem forced to go with horseshoe logic.

Too far left or right are both counterproductive.

Leaning either way seems to be counterproductive.

Left and right identitarians both fail to achieve the universalism we need.

Don’t freak out.  We all have both a traditional and modern side.  Get in touch with yourself.  It will help you get in touch with the working class.  Celebrate both your punk and normie side.  Talk to everyone.

Let’s not pretend both wings of the horseshoe are truly equal, but they both derail redistribution.

Thus we need horseshoe theory on identity, and polarization on redistribution and politico-economic restructuring.

Whatever polarization you’re doing, though, remember to chill.  Even polarization can be performed in moderation, or in a moderate style.  Do less of it.  Less agitation, more education and organization.

Political polarization literally polarizes your brain.  It’s making us all bipolar.  It’s best to practice radical politics with a moderate lifestyle to offset this issue.

You may need to contend with bigotry to organize the majority.  In terms of your own actions, you can always do your best to practice nonparticipation in bigotry you see around you, if you don’t feel comfortable challenging it.

It may be all around you, but you don’t have to be part of it.  Just do or say nothing.

Drawing the Line

Instead, focus on class entirely and stop discussing identity as much as humanly possible.

In parliamentary procedure, this is called a “gag order.”  I strongly recommend it.

It’s not unfair.

It saves the majority from having to endlessly re-discuss topics it has already discussed and is sick of.

Some would say this “neutrality” is, in practice, a form of siding with the oppressor.

In reality, it the most materially realistic and therefore most ethical strategy for opposing all oppression in the most effective way possible.

Intrinsic Tilted Balance of the Class Position

We don’t need to be a bunch of cold-hearted sociopaths.

If someone is oppressed, they should have our sympathy.

In reality, a limited amount of identity politics, not in organizing focus, but simply in group interaction, is necessary to even allow a diverse coalition in the room.

Organizing the working class does inevitably involve working with different kinds of people.  The point isn’t to psychologically entrench these differences, but to show how these differences can be bridged by class commonality.

We don’t need to organize around identity issues to have basic interpersonal respect.

Personally, I think we need to find some way to balance and accommodate the interests of both cis-and-transwomen.  It’s ridiculous to pick sides between these groups when your main priority is overthrowing capitalism.  Everyone will argue over what the True Marxism Of Transness is, but it’s undeniable that both groups are materially oppressed.

Another example is the #MeToo movement.  In practice #MeToo has functioned better as a movement than as a logic.  We’ve seen that some accusations are true and some accusations are false.  It’s important that #MeToo existed for the true accusations, but it’s clearly necessary for post-revolutionary society to maintain due process.  It’s totalitarian and unethical for anyone to ask you to automatically believe anything or impose penalties for anything without proof.  It happens, but it’s best to avoid.

If we walk the tightrope, we remember the purpose of our inclusiveness.  We (1) want to be compassionate, why not, (2) need maximum numbers to overthrow capitalism, and (3) only overthrowing capitalism gives us the institutions and resources to truly liberate the oppressed, definitely after overthrowing capitalism, and definitely not before.

Yup, after and not before.  Cause-and-effect historical sequence really puts the libs in a tizzy, but that’s the material reality we inhabit.  We won’t be able to liberate the oppressed until after we overthrow capitalism, because of the material requirements.

Our inclusivity can only go so far.  It must prioritize including the majority.  This means that if a situation is just radically unfamiliar to most people, we can’t moralistically insist on everyone following the ever-evolving speech-and-language-codes of the activist subculture.

Sometimes we just gotta let the people be the people.

Worst case, it’s best to fight the class struggle confrontationally, and the cultural struggle educationally, if at all humanly possible.

Fuck Unity: Maintain the Old Divisions

What’s most laughable to me is that people are trying to use the class-versus-identity debate to create a new Left Unity on the basis of class focus.


We’re adding a new division, not getting rid of old ones.

The old ones are still there.

hexagon political compass

The result is more division, not less.

The differences between democratic socialism and Stalinism are irreconcilable.

Anyone who says Cold War politics are irrelevant is probably an apologist for the Communist Party of China.  Fuck that.  Stalinism is alive in the world’s chief industrial exporter, China.  At least half their economy is still Stalinist.

It’s not an irrelevant issue.  There is revolt in China, and that revolt will only succeed insofar as it refuses to fall for the trap of merely reinstating Stalinism over China’s growing capitalism.

The Chinese revolt will only succeed insofar as it is revolutionary democratic socialist.  “On some basic issues there should be no compromise.” – Gene Sharp, From Dictatorship to Democracy

Class Reductionism?

In reality, probably no one is a pure class reductionist.

People will call you one, though, just for following basic strategic sense.

However, due to resource competition in organizing, in practice an organization will often have to make literally all of its concrete organizing about class issues, in order to have the needed effect on society.

This means that, in organizing terms, picking organizing and campaign priorities may actually require class reductionism at the level of organizing, if not at the level of group interaction.

Wish it could be some other way.

It is what it is.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s