Dworkin’s Dangerous Idea
Steve Moxon deconstructs identity politics
‘Identity politics’ (manifested most obviously as political correctness) is predicated on the realisation that the workers are never going to bring about a Marxist revolution. That Marxist theory did not work in practice was already apparent by the late 1920s in the absence of any European imitation of the Russian Revolution. The cognitive-dissonance that this produced for the Marxist intelligentsia grew over time obliging further ratcheting up of the ideology, which more and more relied on asserting internal consistency to the exclusion of contact with reality. Neither the falsity of the ideology nor gullibility for believing it was admitted but instead face was saved by blaming others. The fall guys here were those perceived to have let the side down: to wit, the workers.
As is well documented, the initial attempts to explain the failure by the proletariat to act according to Marx’s predictions were made by academics working in the late 1920s onwards in Frankfurt and then New York. They devised an aetiology in terms of Freud’s notion of repression, then in vogue, which remained central to all forms of neo-Marxism, including the ‘post-structuralists’ and not least Foucault. Taking firm hold across academia, this theory trickled down via the graduate professions to society at large.
The central theory was a development of the anti-family rhetoric of nineteenth century socialists further radicalised by Marx and particularly Engels, to conceptualise the family not as the evolutionary phenomenon that it clearly is but as an aberration resulting, it was imagined, from capitalism somehow repressing the workers, to the extent that supposedly they become psychologically dysfunctional. Marxism was thus supplemented by a theory of culturally based personal relations, with the aim of eliminating what were seen as the mere roles of mother/father, so that, it was envisaged, all distinction between masculinity and femininity would eventually disappear, taking with it the ‘patriarchy’ supposedly the foundation of capitalism. As the head of the family, the man (husband/father) was held to be the incarnation of oppression from which the woman (wife/mother) needed to be liberated. So it was that the workers, formerly considered the agents of change and the group destined to be liberated, were replaced in Marxian imagination by women, heralding the feminist Marxism we see today. A related notion, false consciousness, is that the populace is brainwashed by capitalists. These notions of repression and false consciousness constituted a complete volte-face: a transition from eulogising to blaming the workers but without holding the workers directly culpable.
Here, then, we have the core of what became identity politics, though it was not known as such until the early 1970s; before which there was no multiplicity of ‘identities’ labelled as disadvantaged/oppressed. As with any fervent ideology, a hallmark of the political-Left is interpreting anything and everything in its own terms. The decisive development was the co-option by neo-Marxist theory of a movement with which it originally had no connection at all: the USA Civil Rights Movement, in the wake of King’s assassination in 1968. The large-scale rioting in 1965 and 1966 that preceded its co-option looked like the promised Marxist revolution and was just the practical application the theory sought. Moreover, the protagonists (black Americans) were eminently separable from the now despised workers per se; presentable as a new group from outside of the former fray of boss versus worker.
This accident of history served to add black to woman as the new oppressed without any intellectual shift: it was made on a gut level; implicit rather than explicit cognition. The worker in effect was retrospectively stereotyped as both man and white. With the inverse of this stereotype of white being not just black American but black – that is, ethnic-minority generically; then so it was that the new agents of social change were extended from women to also include all ethnic minorities. This notwithstanding the fact that many ethnic groups are far from disadvantaged, let alone oppressed – some (e.g. Chinese, Indian) actually out-performing whites in all key measures.
Given the template of this successful co-option, then the next big cause was ripe: the 1969 gay Stonewall riots, again prompting in effect a retrospective stereotyping of the worker by contrast as heterosexual. Just as black American was broadened generically to ethnic minority, so gay was broadened to homosexual – to also include lesbians, despite the fact that unlike male homosexuals, lesbians have only been persecuted in rare historical instances, notably by the Nazis.
In the bringing together of all these disparate strands of sex, race and sexual orientation, there was a restoration of the yearned-for lost sense of universalism of the political-Left ethos, now made possible by demonising the workers. From then on, anyone belonging to a group according to any of the inversions of one or more of the now supposed hallmarks of the worker as male/white/heterosexual was deemed automatically to belong to the newly identified agents of social change, and deserving of unquestioned protection.
The ensuing gravy train spawned further extensions, again in effect by inverting the worker stereotype: the disabled and the elderly, trans-sexuals, and even the obese – but on such dubious grounds as to reveal further the incoherent basis of identity politics other than as a protracted agitation against the workers. For the disabled and the elderly do not experience discrimination: they simply have a hard life that no form of intervention can reverse or significantly ameliorate. The only sense that can be made of their inclusion within identity politics is that they are non-workers. The obese constitute another obviously unjustifiable category within ‘identity politics’, in that being fat is not fixed and irreversible, hardly constituting an inescapable condition. Fat studies arose as a subsidiary of women’s studies. And trans-sexuals, albeit rare and although biologically speaking the term is a misnomer, were duly included in order to challenge the male-female dichotomy.
The several abstracted faux groups, in entering political centre stage displaced class, because with the workers now considered collectively persona non grata, then being working class was no longer recognised as a disadvantage.
In the absence of any external validity to identity politics, a novel intellectual underpinning was needed, which was supplied by postmodernism. An attempt to obscure the sophistry of identity politics, at root postmodernism deems any and every criticism of identity politics inadmissible. With any text held to have no significant surface (ostensible) meaning, the actual meaning supposedly is situated in local context. This is the identity politics contention that given that everything concerns power relations then all depends on someone’s vantage point in respect of these relations. This group narrative is considered to be trapped in the sub-text, rendering it decipherable only through the special technique of deconstruction.
The obviously fatal flaw in this reasoning is that the texts of the postmodernists are uniquely deemed to be legitimately understood according to their surface meaning. The irony is that if postmodernist principles were applied to postmodernism itself, then the theory would become apparent as being entirely based in the very principles of power relations it purports to reveal.
Given that Marxian ideological belief has always been in terms of a power struggle between one bloc and another within society – formerly the bourgeoisie versus the proletariat – such that the powerless are destined to overthrow the powerful; then it was not a large adjustment to re-envision the underlying dynamic of society as conflict between a more abstract but still supposedly dominant group of men as the group with power, against the group without it. And just as in classical Marxist theory, a powerless group somehow is set to eventually displace a powerful group. This fallacious and otiose prophecy is evidently the key imperative driving today’s identity politics.
STEVE MOXON is an independent researcher and social scientist, with a particular interest in sex differences. He is the author of The Woman Racket
See his website at stevemoxon.co.uk