Managing Race versus Class Palpitations with an Identitarian and/or a Social Democratic Defibrillator
If a self-reflective question that the corporate media’s news and commentary outlets are loathe to ask is: How is the battle for state power between two political factions of the ruling class – dragging the country into an authoritarian order, for which both factions bear responsibility?
Then another side of this question for socialists is: What does an effective strategy to stop encroaching authoritarianism have to do with defanging the ruling class’s identity group weaponizing politics, and moving beyond its analogue in socialists’ organizational and ideological embroilments over race and class?
What ever happened to the time when Occupy Wall Street, and later, Bernie Sanders put a solidaristic view of the 99% and a morally impugning view of the 1% on the top of the country’s state-power contesting agenda?
Those were the days in which a majoritarian base-mobilizing social democratic, socialist politics was widely supported and publicized throughout the country, at least during the time in which the last two presidential Democratic primaries were competitive. And these politics were expressed via a political revolution that was not just about fighting for a working-class to become a force of great consequence, and a multiracial – injustice fighting force through and through. This was a time when the language of this revolution about championing the 99% against the 1% became a contested ‘which side are you on’ identity-politics evoking centerpiece of sustained nationwide campaigns and commons occupying mobilizations.
Fast forward to the current period: Identity-group referencing socialist embroilments between race and class and political elites’ promulgated identity-anchored balkanizations of valorized, oppressed, and privileged inscribed identity groups have contributed to the crowding out of a 99% common-cause evoking socialist and left politics that targets theruling class.
This has taken place in ways that crowd out socialists’ ability to undercut the Left-demonizing thunder of the ultranationalist/economic-nationalist aligned faction of the elites, who in turn aligned with Donald Trump circa 2015 onward (which is to say: socialists’ long-practiced upbraiding of the ruling class has been bombastically-overwhelmed/crowded-out, if not rejiggered by these elites – in the national political conversation; they’ve done this via a billionaires-funded dog-whistle politics; this speaks of a politics of meting out identity-group balkanizing authoritarian blows against the neoliberal-aligned elites/‘globalists’/‘the establishment’/‘crony capitalists’/‘Democrats,’ wherein many a theatricalized blow smashes them against monolithic identity-effigies and capitalist-media dangledcontortions of the left, a.k.a. ‘the extreme left’ and one or another politically correct or woke part of it, so-called).
What does this have to do with combatting authoritarianism – in its neoliberal and ultranationalist shadings – and working through socialists’ race versus class kerfuffles?
One way to work through these embroilments in relation to divesting the ruling class of its authoritarian exploits is for socialists to raise to national prominence once again, a mutually inclusive identity-group brimming, injustice redressing, rainbow of a working-class embracing politics of the 99% versus the 1%. This common cause building challenge is also about integrating a 99% versus the 1% strategic and programmatic politics into all parity, equity, inclusion, and diversity making organizational work.
As to those embroilments: A core message of one side is that slighting antiracism in favor of prioritizing the working-class wide axis of struggle has gone on for too long (as purportedly manifest in Sanders’ 2016 presidential run, in relation to Black Lives Matter and in regard to the endorsement of Sanders by the Democratic Socialists of America/DSA, on the one hand; and in regard to some socialists’ enduring support for putatively racially biased – “class-wide” – universal policies such as Medicare for All, on the other hand).
One reason these politics could be hard to resolve if they were mainly dealt with on the level of race versus class issues is that they are also about organizational power-cooperation imbalances vis-à-vis race and identity. And they are about the generally acknowledged awareness of the enduring paucity of racial inclusion or parity among organized socialists.
Such enduring conditions of power-cooperation balancing and contestation can invite identity-anchored mistrust and partisanship, that in turn brings the more mutually excluding iterations of race and class to the fore (as appears to have happened vis-à-vis a cancelled DSA event in 2020, wherein a lead speaker of a scheduled ‘racial ideology and Covid’ talk, along with “some comrades” in DSA were publicly aligned – as class-reductionism practicing, “reactionary,” and “cowardly” influences, that help to empower the “myth that socialism is for white Bernie Bros and [that] it’s not for all of us”; after additional rebuke-reinforcing developments by an elected body and various groups in DSA, the event wascancelled).
Mutually Excluding Race from Class?
Conversely, these matters are about coming to terms with – why a 99% versus the 1% national political and programmatic stance for socialists is less compatible to the ruling class’s drift towards authoritarianism than a politics that emphasizes more mutually excluding identity-evoking conceptions of the working-class (a conception of authoritarianism – and its interacting neoliberal/liberal and ultranationalist dimensions – will be offered later).
Such an ideologically fortified mutually excluding notion can be observed in a statement by Joe Evica of the Tempest Collective, that was part of a multi-caucus panel of DSA members on “Putting the Break in the Dirty Break” (from the Democratic Party), held in 2020, to wit:
[W]hat sort of binds us together as a collective is a commitment to a shared project of socialism from below; so essentially just the idea that working-class self-emancipation is going to come from the working-class, not from any other social force in society.
In respect to ideologically fortified mutually excluding notions of the working-class and oppressed identity groups – one can note the ending clause: “working-class self-emancipation is going to come from the working-class, not from any other social force in society.” That in itself, seems rather exclusionary (if not problematically tautological vis-à-vis the mutual fortification of the exclusiveness of this articulation of the working-class, wherein it’s asserted three times within the ending clause; twice explicitly, and once as a ‘social force’).
By only focusing on one large-scale social grouping moreover, as to what social forces are, this statement implicitly hones-in on large-scale social groupings. And because it excludes all other social forces/groupings from the valued self-emancipatory role for workers (as the clause “not from any other social force” does), it implicitly excludes them. As such, they are mutually constituted in an insinuated in-group, out-group relationship, regarding workers’ self-emancipation.
Because this exclusion is produced mostly through insinuation and in addition, it expresses a positive organization purpose-asserting role of a larger grouping/collective of people (as in the statement “what sort of binds us together…”), it could be difficult to pin the assertion of a problematic mutual exclusion on anyone who supports this iteration of the working-class.
Another related reason for the difficulty of challenging the balkanizing dynamics of this iteration, is that it’s valorously insinuated rather than acknowledged – as a highly unrealized (e.g., singularly self-emancipating) ideal/ideal-type. As such, it seems free-standing, which is to say, abstractly unengaged in any mutual exclusions. It’s as if this autonomous – assumedly billions strong – working-class is a revolutionary power cudgel (with its liberatory working-class knowledge stored up inside) that socialists, along with all workers can heroically wield against the repressive forces of the world.
Overall, such characterizations would not appear to be problematic in the abstract way they are presented. They become problematic however, in relation to working through the diffusely unhelpful role of such expressions, vis-à-vis countering encroaching authoritarian politics by also redressing socialists’ race-class embroilments.
This speaks of exclusions that can be ‘brought to the surface’ in socialist politics and organizational matters via such race-class impugning questions as: ‘how are antiracist social forces any less essential for working-class (self-)emancipation?’
One conclusion: Resolving these matters could provoke a proverbial house of mirrors. This speaks of a sometimes-incendiary attention-grabbing politics wherein socialists who employ the more mutually excluding versions of class or racial identities talk past, if not against each other (as in labeling each other as race or class reductionists). Such practices can take them further away from focusing on types of identity engaging politics that would be more effective in redressing their race-class embroilments by also countering the ruling class’s drift into authoritarian governance.
Sharing Identity Group Freedom and Equality Struggles with the 99%
The strategy offered here is about bringing a 99% versus the 1% (the oligarchs/the elites/the ruling class) politics – to the top of socialists’ national political, programmatic, and parity-making agenda (where in turn it would be integrated into other top priority stances, including the socialist commitment to working-class liberation).
Put in more detailed identitarian terms: This strategy is about a moral and ideological politics wherein socialists call for plurally-equally sharing amongst themselves as well as with everyone inscribed into the 99%, something that’s widely understood as politically, if not also empathetically vital. This entails sharing the unity-evoking, freedom-seeking, and equality-aspiring side – of the pride/shame or morally-valorous/morally-compromised attributions, that in present day politics (and in relation to culture-war politics) are all but unexceptionally ascribed to every large-scale identity group – such as Republicans versus Democrats – but the 99%/the masses/ordinary people/the rest of us.
This 99% versus the 1% prioritizing strategy sets up a ‘which side are you on’ identity-axis-shifting challenge (and leverage/wedge strategy) stage left, as well as for socialists: When faced with a vote on such priority-setting matters at a socialist convention for instance, the challenge that could be put on the table could effectively back the advocates of the more mutually excluding iterations of large-scale identity groups – into a moral-political dilemma. As such it couldput under a moral microscope the shame–insinuating, people-to-people identity-group bifurcating problems with inordinately morally cordoning off particular large-scale identity groups from each other; this, rather than figuring out how to preponderantly pluralistically share identity-oriented freedom and equality struggles together, if not as one – along with solidarity-appealing policy-sharing syntheses – across all large-scale identity group manifestations.
This priority-addition speaks of shifting away from emphasizing non-99% oriented – siloed equality and freedom struggle-sharing exclusions in identity-group referencing politics and policies (and as per the culture war milieu, moving away from such populist pejoratives as the ‘white Bernie Bros’ slight or being derogatorily called a Karen).
Such siloed equality and freedom struggle-sharing exclusions are, in turn, indicative of a politics wherein being privileged by race for instance – based on the long-term beneficial material impacts of white supremacy in relation to one’s white identity – is the morally compromised yin to the yang of the putatively valorous large-scale (oppressed) identity-group standing ascribed to people associated with black, indigenous, and people of color group identities (ditto regarding being privileged by being ascribed to a putatively socialist-averse version of the middle-class or some segment of it –– e.g., the petit bourgeoisie, ‘white-collar’ workers, if not the professional–managerial class –– in relation to the working-class). Large-scale identity groups as such often number in the tens of millions of people, if not more.
This shift in priorities would focus such moral impugnation on the comparatively small-scale group of the 1% (along with any other anti-99% politicos and small-scale identity-ascribed groupings such as self-described active – white supremacists and ultranationalists).
The point here is not that these privilege-oppressed identity-oriented expressions – or a more mutually excluding framing of the working-class – can ultimately be proven to be less persuasive or morally compelling than more mutually inclusive alternatives.
Rather it’s that a shift towards an identity-group brimming 99% politics could more effectively move socialists away from shaming people based on large-scale identity groups, towards expressing more political solidarity with, if not political generosity towards all large-scale identity groups, in common cause against the 1%.
This in turn (and taking a cue from the Sanders campaigns), could help move socialists towards a comparatively more effective majoritarian and base-building framework for beating back the ruling class’s identity-weaponizing drift into authoritarian governance.
Policy Generosity for the 99%
These 1%-impugning politics can also be effectively employed to call on socialists who emphasize the more mutually excluding identity group stances to express the generosity and solidarity of giving up a bit of one’s identity-anchored freedom and equality struggle-sharing politics – in programmatic forms.
This could transpire via a shift away from (i.e., a relative prioritization-lowering of) the more mutually excluding which-side-are-you-on oriented identity-specified policies such as reparations, in favor of emphasizing the which-side-are-you-on oriented 99%-friendly majority supported universal policies such as Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and a livable wage (what’s more, owing to social movement struggles – universal policies, including those that provide person-by-person equalizing resources for health care, education, childcare, food nutrition, and housing for instance, are not currently crafted to discriminate against people by race; if such affronts happen, activism to end such discrimination can be waged to remediate these cases).
Such a shift suggests moral and political benefits, to the effect that expressing the solidarity and generosity of giving up a bit politically (e.g., priority-wise), can also be about getting more in the process (not the least of which could yield a more effective politics if not larger solidaristic coalitions, to counter racism, exploitation, and oppression, e.g., through universal programs).
This shift can also be considered in terms of its material and economically-engaged dimensions. Comparatively speaking, this strategy emphasizes a more mutually inclusive identity-group oriented socialist politics, whose universal programmatic basis if implemented could secure material (if not comradeship-inspiring) uplift for the 99% (which can draw down the material conditions, biting inequality, and impoverishment that help the elites divert the anger of the masses against the 1% – to almost every effigy-drawn identity group imaginable).
This also speaks of a politics that can draw down the material conditions of inequality and poverty that help the ruling class legislate – authoritarianism-in-the-neighborhoods forms of militarized policing.
Inclusion, Parity, and Equity for Socialist Organizations in Common Cause with the 99%
Expanding beyond an identity-by-identity group, person-by-person – non-99% framed – organizational inclusion politics, to a 99%-oriented person-by-person inclusion politics, could translate into the following development for socialists: all organizational processes that for instance, determine positions of influence, power, representation, and inclusion could also be about prioritizing 99% identity-tethered programs and common-cause building politics that socialists’ stand-for.
This speaks of a shift wherein moving reparations – or the advocacy and administrative rule-bound production in universities of safe spaces per mutually excluding identity criteria, for instance – to a top socialist priority-position, can be comparatively weighed as to how effectively it will disempower the identity-weaponizing authoritarian encroaching politics of the ruling class, by also redressing socialists’ race-class/identity-group embroilments. The obverse side of this challenge is this: if socialists don’t work to effectively stop the elites’ motion into authoritarian governance what type of life will everyone have to constitute inclusion and parity in?
To make these parity-engaging matters more about what socialists stand for vis-à-vis what can most effectively disempower the ruling class and large-scale identity-group polarizations – also implicates a softening of the lines of what constitutes identity differences, parity, and inclusion.
In this sense, a 99%-emphasizing diversity and parity making strategy could entail an expansion in identity-referencing politics as to who is valorized and why (e.g., for what programmatic and identitarian reasons) and who is or is not shamed (or de-prioritized), and why.
This could mean that the lines of what constitutes valorous identities within and beyond socialist organizations could be openly mediated through more than a an insinuated, if not an explicit (mutually-excluding) identitarian lens. This is also to observe that everyone in the 99% has intersecting oppressions and privileges they can speak of, for instance.
Coincidentally, if socialists moved further in organizational inclusion-making processes vis-à-vis this 99% prioritizing stance, they could also effectively wield a principle-based lever of moral suasion to bring to parity – people identified as working-class and oppressed. In this framing of these matters, parity-making moves could be explicitly based on what particular working-class or oppressed identified socialists stand for – i.e., because of their prioritization of universal programs and 99%-championing socialist politics – rather than just based on who they are vis-à-vis more siloed identity group ascriptions. Such a shift entails a more capacious trust-building, if not a more generous solidarity-extending read of who people are.
Put in perspective in respect to organizational matters: there is already a substantial portion of democratic socialists supporting the prioritization of universal program-oriented strategies. What’s relatively unique/additive about the strategy outlined here is that it links those prevailing strategies to a shift away from, if not a defusing of existing race-class embroilments. It does this moreover, through diversity, inclusion, parity, and equity making expansions for socialists. And it adds a morally compelling, ideological, and solidarity-engaging identitarian basis to make such a disparity-redressing, common-cause expanding shift (vis-à-vis a called for embrace of the universal programmatic substance of this 99%-prioritizing shift, for instance). This identity-oriented expansion could also embody an effective moral lever/wedge-strategy for organizational, base-building, and ideological change, stage left.
Austerity for the 99% and Creeping Authoritarianism
One jumping off point for explaining why the ruling class’s exploitation of identity groups is part of encroaching authoritarian politics has to do with the social, economic, political, cultural, and ecological impact of almost half a century of government legislated austerity that’s levied against the vast majority of people in the country (which can also be effectively framed as – austerity for the 99%).
As such, it’s about the political elites’ work of laying the floorboards for popular rage against the 1%, based on decades of 99%-unfriendly policy making. This speaks of legislative regimens wherein the elites of both parties have unrepentantly privatized and dehumanized – the social managing, democracy maintaining, and social provisioning functions of governance. These austerity politics have been constituted moreover, through the servicing of the ruling class by the political elites – of both parties – with bailouts as needed, state power access up the wazoo, tax cuts to die for, privatizations and subsidies galore, and a militarily and ecologically exploitable planet as their sandbox (which begs the question: what is more undemocratic/authoritarian, than an empire-engaging militarized and extractive foreign policy).
As to a layered initial sense of authoritarianism (in relation to how austerity provides its floorboards): the Oxford Reference notes, “it is possible to be authoritarian in some spheres while being more liberal in others.” Additionally, the Encyclopedia Britannica says that: “Authoritarianism, [is the] principle of blind submission to authority as opposed to individual freedom of thought and action.”
These definitions suggest that authoritarianism can be conceived on a continuum, from partial to more totalizing realizations. What’s more, because the first definition says nothing of what authoritarianism means, the second definition provides something of that substance.
That said, the ultranationalist aligned elites are leaning into more open forms of authoritarian politics and governance – as in their current state-by-state legislative manipulation of democratic access, voting laws, and the use of politicalostracization of elected opponents – which they are crafting in balkanizing self-serving forms.
As to the combination of authoritarian and (neo)liberal processes in a given social provisioning part of what government funds, produces, regulates, runs, and/or supervises, one can think of armed guards stationed in schools. In this respect, a relatively recent study found that “in 2015-16, 43% of schools had armed security personnel” (nor is it a stretch to imagine the further militarization of grade schools, given the horror of spree-killings of students, as some teachers opt for gun training, and if legislatively sanctioned, take up the opportunity to possess guns in classrooms).
Also, in relation to the ‘mixed’ definition, there’s the matter of how austerity for the masses is constituted by the move of the political elites to usher in humanly inhospitable bureaucracy-suffused – money-centric and service-constricting regimens (that are often capitalist-emulating or capitalist-engaging, and union busting oriented).
It is in this context that many people experience the person-to-person authoritarian (in-all-but-name) paywall of no-compromise – pay or go home social provisioning regimes.
Students who drop out of college for instance, because they can no longer afford to extend their debt to unpayable levels, will, if they want to continue their education, come up against a rigid bureaucratic paywall. It’s constituted moreover, by the university, Federal and state governments (and is also manifest in community colleges), banks, and debt collecting companies, among different interacting and money-collection enforcing institutions. It’s also experienced in countless no-compromise person-to-person money-focused encounters through the college bursar’s/registrar’s office. This speaks of a human needs-exploiting power phalanx that institution-by-institution, disabuses everyone of going to college with no tuition fees.
Mixed forms of liberal and authoritarian processes are produced today in neoliberal austerity rationalized forms in hospitals, national parks, public transportation systems, public water systems (as in Flint Michigan and JacksonMississippi), and most every social provisioning part of what local, state, and federal governments do to sustain the fabric of society (on the national level moreover, the fiscal conservative dogma that ‘the money’s just not there,’ and ‘prudent governmental management calls for belt tightening,’ has long been the go to 99%-rebuffing ideology propounded by the elites of both parties; this, even as the quantitative easing/excessive printing of trillions of dollars – circa 2007-2009 and 2020-2022 for the ‘too big to fail’ banks/corporations – exposed the hypocrisy of that dogma).
It’s in this context that a mass, anti-establishment social rage has built over decades and is now being expressed at the voting booths, the place that the 99% has a smidgeon of state power-controlling say so. This not only speaks of a motivating dynamic driving the masses-based groundswell of the Sanders’ campaigns. It also pertains to the base of millions of people, stage right, who are enthused about finding that person, persons, and party apparatus that will democratically take an authoritarian pickaxe to the neoliberal aligned elites (and ‘everything they touch,’ as in valorized oppressed identity-groups).
As to responding to their ultranationalist alter-egos: neoliberal aligned politicians find themselves in a democratic pickle:
They’ve engaged large-scale identity-group dividing politics that move attention away from impugning their own complicity in taking the country into austerity riven divide-and-conquer conditions of misery (with valorized large-scale social justice, gender, and social movement identity groupings here, and deplorables and ‘semi-fascist MAGA Republicans’ there).They’ve done this moreover, with the message that they’re the true foes of the authoritarian threat emanating from the Republican Party. Then they turn around and treat populist right and left-wing attacks on their wing of the ruling class as fodder for directly and/or indirectly censoring such voices. Such acts are undertaken by these elites, not the least because their previous strategies – such as emphasizing their stellar moral-character, or making hollow promises for societal betterment, sans taking on themselves – are no longer cutting it.
How Socialists’ Crowd Out a Solidaristic 99% Engaging Politics
This begs the question: How do the more mutually excluding engagements of identity group politics by socialists intersect with ruling class fomented identity politics?
For one thing, when appreciable numbers of people in both factions of the battling elites, as well as socialists in both mutually excluding race-class oriented milieus are ungenerous to each other in analogous ways – with large-scale identity group mutual exclusions serving as a lever of power and cooperation shifting moves amongst them – the opposing politics of the 99% against the 1% gets crowded out (and as per the ruling class factions, bombastically, institutionally, and financially drowned out).
The point here is that it not only gets crowded out by the ruling class’s identitarian battles. It gets crowded out by passionate freedom and equality struggle asserting politics among socialists, regarding race versus class matters.
Not only does this suggest a bad recipe for building organizational solidarity against the exploits of the elites. It also crowds out the prioritization of, let alone debates about a 99% common-cause building strategy that could more effectively triangulate both factions of the oligarchic-phalanx against each other in relation to the rest of us.
The Political Elites and the Left-Dividing Weaponizing of a Racialized Working-Class
As to one of the ways these exclusivist politics play into the hands of the elites vis-à-vis their identity-weaponizing drift into an authoritarian order: After the 2016 election of Trump, the neoliberal aligned punditocracy took an identity-politics splitting ax to left and socialist oriented mutual exclusion rich versions of the working-class. Consciously or not, they tied a racialized articulation (and polarization) of the working-class to (voting for) Trump.
To this day these pundits routinely embed blinkered forms of the white working-class, white (male) voters without college degrees, and the like – in quantitative, survey, and polling oriented analytics. They do this in ways that few, if any discuss what the label ‘white working-class,’ let alone a multi-racial working class, has to do with challenging and ending capitalist exploitation.
Consequently, their bosses were fine with such news reportage and money-making fare (empowering many a pundit to go about their neoliberal aligned elites-serving business of explicating as per this racialized working-class variable, where, by geographic location, this grouping of people were, who voted for Trump and and/or where millions in this grouping who voted for Barack Obama, crossed the line to Trump).
The ultranationalist aligned elites appear unfazed by any assertion that they had won the white working-class because of racism. Which is to say, this impugnation of Trump’s bigotry regarding race, class, and whiteness was turned on its head – to those voters that mattered to him – via his insistence that he was anything but racist (and by extension that Trump voters were anything but racist). This stance was augmented with pro-working-class sounding slap-backs – as when Trump threatened auto company executives with a 35% tariff if they didn’t move auto manufacturing jobs based in Mexico back to the United States.
The elites’ exploitative danse-macabre around the working-class also speaks of intensifying a ‘vote for the lesser of two-evils’ conundrum, which turned many a left-inflected polity, voter, and pundit against each other, to the effect of: vote for a working-class hostile ‘globalist,’ or help a bigot inspiring, white(-racist) working class friendly authoritarian take the presidency.
The neoliberal aligned media’s focus on the white working-class helped turn people against each other in other ways. A left divide on these matters was implicated for instance, in the contrast between two positions on the white working-class narrative. In this respect, there’s the title of a 2016 article in The Root by Kirsten West Savali: “‘[The] White Working Class’ Narrative Is Nothing but a Racist Dog Whistle.” (italics added) This can be contrasted – regarding what it insinuates about divisions within social justice and left polities – vis-à-vis Bernie Sanders’ narrative about his life, to wit: “I come from the white working class, and I am deeply humiliated that the Democratic Party cannot talk to the people where I came from.”
The Making and Unmaking of Political Identity Groups
As to whether the 99% is more or less of an identity group than other large-scale groups:
One strategic implication is that like other political identity groups as ideologies, the projection of unity/common cause is often strategically overstated by its proponents vis-à-vis its mutually excluding qualities and partisanships.
Not unlike other large-scale identity groups, the 99% gains its political identity group-defining traction in part because of its mutually excluded out-group: which is to say that if the ruling class weren’t a source of mass populist rage, the 99% would not catch the political imagination as it has.
As to another indication of its present ideological cachet (in addition to the lasting impact of Occupy, and Sanders’ ongoing politics), one can find increasing numbers of national figures of the ultranationalist bent, Tucker Carlson comes to mind, routinely disparaging the ruling class by name.
A socialist move to prioritize a common-cause evoking identity of the 99% versus the 1% in national programmatic politics and parity-making matters may raise the challenge among socialists that certain large-scale people-agglomerating identity groups – such as anti-abortion Republicans – should not be included in the 99%. The point however is that this is not a strategy to build a united front composed of everyone in the 99%. And because it’s a democratic and ideological (identity solidarity-appealing) strategy, differences as such could be respected – and adjudicated at the polls for instance – for the greater good of disempowering the ruling class.