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Beyond Neoliberal Identity Politics

Last year,  Daniel Denvir insightfully described Hilary Clinton’s political strategy as “peak neoliberalism, where a distorted version of identity politics is used to defend an oligarchy and a national security state, celebrating diversity in the management of exploitation and warfare” (emphasis added).

This “peak” neoliberal identity politics (NIP) is a great weapon on the hands of the privileged capitalist Few and their mass-murderous global empire. It was central to the Barack Obama phenomenon and presidency. And it is very much alive and kicking atop the corporate Democratic Party and its various media allies more than half a year after Mrs. Clinton’s humiliating defeat.

It works like this. You couldn’t stand and vote even just “lesser evil”-style for the lying neoliberal warmonger (LNW) Hillary Clinton, the vicious tool and ally of the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, empire, and white supremacy?

Well, NIP says, that just proves that you are a sexist. You’ve got a gender problem. You just can’t deal with women in positions of authority.

Same to you if you dared to note the grotesque imperialism of Hillary’s good and fellow Russia-hating friend Madeline Albright, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State.  Albright is the revolting imperial operative who told CBS that the murder of half a million Iraqi children (girls included) by U.S.-imposed economic sanctions was “a price worth paying” for the advance of U.S. foreign policy objectives. (Albright also said that there’s “a special place in Hell” for young women who didn’t vote for the LNW last year).

Same if you don’t do cartwheels over the participation of female U.S. pilots in the bombing of Afghan villagers.

Never mind all the women and girls included among the countless U.S. and world citizens harmed and menaced by neoliberal and imperial agenda that Mrs. Clinton has advanced no less fervently and viciously than her epic woman-abusing husband.

Never mind that fact that many feminist and progressive women could not stomach the corporatism and militarism of Hillary Clinton and backed Bernie Sanders (along with men who were absurdly shamed as “Berniebros” by the Hillary campaign) in the Democratic presidential primaries? Or that you voted for a woman (Jill Stein) for president.

No, NIP says. you hated on Hillary because you don’t believe in women’s rights.

You criticized the first Black U.S. president’s captivity and service to the aforementioned unelected dictatorships and you refused to jump on board his fake-progressive hopey-changey train?  You denounced Obama’s relentless and dedicated service to the rich and powerful? You, didn’t support Obama’s drone-bombing of Muslim women and children with a not-so targeted assassination program Noam Chomsky rightly called “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times”?

Well, NIP huffs, that just shows what a racist you are.  You must have a problem with Black people in positions of authority.

Never mind the many millions, nay billions of people of color who were harmed and menaced by the neoliberal and imperial agenda that Obama advanced no less fervently and viciously than the Clintons.  Never mind your warnings and observations on the many-sided disaster that the Obama phenomenon and presidency was (and still is) for the cause of Black equality. Or the fact that many Black Americans dissented from the sickening notion that putting a technically Black face in the nation’s top symbolic high place was a solution to racism’s persistent presence at the heart of American life.

Concerned about the downward pressure that African and Mexican immigrants can have on wages and union bargaining power in your local labor market?

Well, NIP sneers, that just shows what a nativist, white-nationalist FOX News-watching racist you are.

Never mind local employers’ gleeful exploitation of immigrant labor as a low-wage and working class-dividing windfall – or your own efforts to fight for immigrant rights and the inclusion of immigrants in struggles for improved working and living conditions.

Worried about how the influx of rich students from China is helping inflate college and university tuition costs, helping price working-class U.S. kids out of higher education in the U.S.? Find the conspicuous consumption and single-minded business orientation of many of these Chinese students distasteful?

NIP thinks that just shows that you are a racist nativist who secretly wants to bring back the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

Never mind how much you have written, said, and/or done about and against the ruthless, neo-Dickensian exploitation of the Chinese proletariat – the source of the wealth that makes it possible for upper-echelon Chinese families to send their only children to U.S. universities.

Dare to note that the massive influx of women into the U.S. job market during and since the 1970s has helped the employer class suppress hourly wages and contributed to a crisis in working class family life?

NIP says that shows what a male chauvinist you are.  You obviously believe that “a woman’s place is in the home.” You must be a sexist who wants to roll back the clock on women’s rights

Never mind your own longstanding support of gender equality within and beyond the workplace.

Worried about recent data showing that white U.S. working class males are undergoing an historic decline in their life expectancy thanks to the collapse of the job market for working class men in the neoliberal era?

That shows NIP that you are a white sexist who only cares about white men.

Never mind your long opposition to sexism, racism, nativism, and other evils.

Find it less than surprising that many working class and rural whites react poorly to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” given the fact that they have been told that their lives don’t matter by neoliberal capitalism over the last four-plus decades?

That just shows that you are a racist who doesn’t understand the special oppression experienced by people of color.

Never mind your long record of denouncing and opposing racism and your defense of the phrase “Black lives matter.”

You don’t support the dangerous U.S.-imperial project of humiliating Russia?

That just shows that you adore great white nationalist strongmen like Vladimir Putin. You secretly want to go back to the good old days of unchallenged white male supremacy.

Never mind your consistent and steadfast criticism of Putin’s neoliberal oligarchy along with his racism and his sexism.

Can’t stand history or sociology (or other humanities or “social science”) professors who focus  on race and/or ethnicity and/or gender and/or sexual orientation and/or religion and/or nationality and/or age and/or ecology to the absurd exclusion of class in the making of history and current events?

That just shows that you are a racist and/or nativist and/or homophobe and/or religious bigot and/or ageist and/or eco-cidalist.

Never mind the centrality of class inequality and power to the development of race/racism, ethnicity/ethnic oppression, gender/sexism, homophobia, age-ism.

Never mind that the environmental crisis is rooted above all in the exterminist madness of capitalist class rule

There’s a name for all this identity-politicized madness in which so many fake-progressive bourgeois liberals are invested: ruling class divide-and-rule.

I am not one of those social democratic and conomistic, class-reductionist sorts who says that any and all identity politics must be forsaken.  No Left worthy of the label should deny or ignore the specific experience and oppression of females, Blacks, Native Americans, Latinos, gays. transgendered people, Muslims, Arabs. Africans, and so on. Discounting the particularities of peoples’ lives and subjugation as they relate to racial, gender, sexual, ethnic, and national identity leads nowhere morally or politically.

What needs to be rejected is the paralyzing and reactionary kind of bourgeois identitarianism to which the dismal, dollar-drenched neoliberal Democratic Party is so deeply attached. As Conor Lynch noted on Salon last fall, “The Clinton campaign tried to make [the 2016] election all about Trump’s hatefulness (‘Love Trumps Hate’) and his ‘basket of deplorables,’ while offering no real vision of progressive and populist change…when those on the left raised legitimate concerns about Clinton’s uninspiring message or her political baggage during and after the primaries, they were ridiculously labeled sexist or racist ‘bros’ by establishment figures (even though some of Clinton’s harshest progressive critics were in fact women and people of color ).”

The left at its best has understood identity in ways opposed to both ruling class divide-and-conquer and class reductionism.  As Louis Proyect reflected last December on Counterpunch:

“While the idea of uniting workers on the basis of their class interests and transcending ethnic, gender and other differences has enormous appeal at first blush, there are no easy ways to implement such an approach given the capitalist system’s innate tendency to create divisions in the working class in order to maintain its grip over the class as a whole… Back to the 1960s…Trotskyist …leaders conceived of the coming American revolution as a kind of united front of different struggles that would come together on a basis of shared class interests. If that is a concession to ‘identity politics,’ I plead guilty A socialist movement that disavows particular Black demands and those of other sectors of the population acting on their own interests on the basis of gender, sexual preference, etc. will inevitably lack the universality it needs to triumph over a unified capitalist class. To state it in dialectical terms, denying the existence of contradictions and refusing to resolve them will only lead to deeper contradictions.”

That’s exactly right. It approaches identity in a way meant to build working class solidarity in opposition to capital whereas NIP is all about dividing the working class in service to capital. Imagine.

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Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

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