Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 6, 2018

Chris Hedges and Identity Politics

Filed under: Workerism — louisproyect @ 11:26 pm

One can only hope, maybe even pray, that the well-intentioned Chris Hedges knew very little about the Socialist Equality Party when he participated in a webinar with cult leader David North on January 25th that drew statements of support from the feckless Putinites John Pilger and Julian Assange. The webinar was devoted to a discussion of “Organizing Resistance to Internet Censorship” that grew out of the SEP’s campaign against the new Google algorithms that cut down on the number of “hits” that its website got. The campaign made it sound as if they were being singled out because of their threat to American capitalism whereas other left websites were affected as well.

Over on Truthdig that still has mud on its face for publishing Daniel Lazare’s Assadist propaganda, you can now read an article by Hedges titled “The Bankruptcy of the American Left” that takes the side of North’s super-sectarian sect-cult on “identity politics”. He found himself in complete agreement with this comment by the cult leader:

We totally reject the narrative that the working class is racist. I think this has been the narrative pushed by the pseudo-left, middle-class groups who are drunk on identity politics, which have a vested interest in constantly distracting people from the essential class differences that exist in the society. Dividing everyone up on the basis of race, gender, sexual preference fails to address the major problem.

Hedges also recommends the writings of the Boston College sociologist Charles Derber:

The left offers no broad critique of the political economy of capitalism. It’s largely an identity-politics party. It focuses on reforms for blacks and women and so forth. But it doesn’t offer a contextual analysis within capitalism.

As an example of the bankruptcy of identity politics, Derber mentions gay people wanting to “fight in the military” since this amounts to “legitimating the American empire”. He asks, “If you were living in Nazi Germany, would you say I want the right of a gay person to fight in combat with the Nazi soldiers?” I suppose that you might as well have denounced civil rights activists demanding equal rights for African-Americans in the military as well, or at least making sure that if they became soldiers that their duties be limited to non-combat roles such as washing dishes or ironing an officer’s uniform, as was once a common practice.

Much of this conversation about the left and identity politics is driven by policy wonks in the Democratic Party who blamed Hillary Clinton for the party’s loss in 2016. Chief among them is Columbia professor Mark Lilla who described BLM as a “textbook example of how not to build solidarity.” You also get a Marxist version of this from Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed.

Hedges has had a stick up his ass about identity politics and multiculturalism for some time. In November 2015, he wrote a screed that hailed Russell Jacoby’s “The End of Utopia”. Jacoby, according to Hedges, says that the call by multiculturalists for inclusion within the power structure does nothing to challenge the deadly “monoculturalism” of corporatism. This, of course, is exactly what Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed argue as well.

Probably the most rancid example of this political philosophy can be found in Todd Gitlin’s 1995 “The Twilight of Common Dreams” that complained about how multiculturalism (ie, uppity women, gays and Blacks) alienates blue collar workers from voting Democrat. In 1997, Gitlin and the late Bogan Denitch spoke together at a plenary session at the Socialist Scholars Conference denouncing “identity politics”. I encourage you to read Jesse Lemisch’s “Angry White Men on the Left” for a brilliantly lacerating take on the two:

GITLIN HAS RECENTLY MOVED FROM THE SOCIOLOGY DEPARTMENT at Berkeley to become Professor of Culture, Journalism and Sociology at New York University. His arrival in New York City seems to have given added strength and legitimacy to a pre-existing condition: a straight male backlash among New York left intellectuals. This was especially clear in the presentation by Bogdan Denitch, the conference organizer, who spoke along with Gitlin in the session on identity politics.

In his introduction to the conference program, Denitch had written, “We must learn to effectively confront the splintering politics of identity…” Speaking alongside Gitlin, it seemed that Denitch (who had arrived at the same conclusions on his own) had nonetheless been freed from a great burden, now that prestigious validation had been given to the attack on most kinds of feminism, gay liberation and black self-organization. In a truculent and martyred spirit, he dragged out the old Lasch-ian vocabulary with its condemnation of “self-indulgence” (as if those who organize themselves on any basis other than class are frivolous, irresponsible and destructive). To a sprinkling of applause from other angries in the audience, Denitch announced, “we don’t care if you are gay; we want to know whether you are a left gay!” And he was positively ferocious about some unspecified excesses by feminists which seemed to have been performed directly on his person. Whatever it was, I felt sorry for him and the obvious resultant trauma. As more of this kind of belligerence appears within its ranks, DSA is going to have to figure out where it stands.

People new to Marxist politics like Chris Hedges probably have no idea what kind of background David North has. He was a member of the Workers League in the USA that was the satellite of Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party in England that in its prime had enough clout to recruit Vanessa Redgrave.

Healy was expelled from his own party in 1985 after it was revealed that he was a sexual predator. In Chapter 11 of Bob Pitt’s “The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy”, we get the picture of someone who might be described as the Harvey Weinstein of the left, capitalizing on his cult status rather than the promise to an actress of getting a role in a Quentin Tarantino movie:

What was the character of this sexual abuse? It was later stated that the women Healy pressurised into having sexual relations with him ‘mistakenly believed that the revolution – in the form of the “greatest” leader demanded this, the most personal sacrifice of all. They were not coerced … physically, but every pressure was brought to bear on them as revolutionaries’. The situation was ‘not so much rape but … sexual abuse by someone in a position of power and trust’.6 It was, Dave Bruce comments, ‘wholesale sexual corruption in a manner analogous to these religious sects. There’s a very close parallel’.7

David Walsh, North’s film critic at wsws.org, is very upset over the stink women are raising over Weinstein and other sexual predators. He takes particular issue with Ronan Farrow, whose reporting on Weinstein in the New Yorker magazine was quite devastating:

Ronan Farrow, who helped launch the current campaign with his exposé of Harvey Weinstein in the New Yorker, personifies the nexus between middle class moralizing, the Democratic Party and high-level state operations. The son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Farrow began working “in some unspecified capacity” (Politico) for US diplomat (and Democrat) Richard Holbrooke when he was a teenager. At one point, Farrow served as a speechwriter for Holbrooke, who, as the WSWS noted in a 2010 obituary, was “a man steeped in the commission and cover-up of bloody crimes” from Vietnam to the Balkans, Afghanistan, Pakistan and beyond.

So, dear readers, this must mean that all this stuff about Weinstein jerking off into a potted plant while he blocks an actress from leaving his office might lead to a nuclear war or something. (Don’t forget that I told David North that WWIII was not imminent over the fighting in Donetsk. He never forgave me.)

This is how David North’s cult sees all these uppity women complaining about getting fucked over by men like Harvey Weinstein or Gerry Healy for that matter:

The stage is set for an explosion of the class struggle, in the US and around the globe. Every social layer is propelled into motion. The affluent middle class resents those above and fears the working class below. Historically impotent and incapable of reorganizing society in a progressive fashion, this social grouping aspires to changes that “will make the existing society as tolerable and comfortable for themselves as possible.” (Marx)

The #MeToo movement, like Black Lives Matter, emanates from this layer. It represents one portion of the upper-middle class. There are certainly some powerful men who will lose out if this movement has its way. However, they are mere “collateral damage” in the eyes of more farsighted sections of the ruling elite, including leading Democrats, the New York Times, Washington Post, etc., who recognize the value of the sexual misconduct campaign in strengthening identity politics and generally distracting attention from the cancerous social inequality, the danger of dictatorship and the drive to war.

So, here we have it. The dead end of anti-identity politics. If women or blacks complain too much about getting raped or shot by a racist cop, they are “distracting attention from the cancerous social inequality, the danger of dictatorship and the drive to war.” I hope that someone who has Hedges’s ear can warn him that this has nothing to do with the task of overthrowing capitalism and building a new society on full respect for one and all. Marxism has had to deal with this “workerist” crap going back to Karl Marx’s day.

The “orthodox” Marxists like Frederic Sorge were similar to David North while Victoria Woodhull was much more like the feminist or Black Marxists of today. She wrote:

The sexual relation, must be rescued from this insidious form of slavery. Women must rise from their position as ministers to the passions of men to be their equals. Their entire system of education must be changed. They must be trained to be like men, permanent and independent individualities, and not their mere appendages or adjuncts, with them forming but one member of society. They must be the companions of men from choice, never from necessity.

The debate on the left about “identity politics” has to transcend the obsessions of people like Mark Lilla or Walter Benn Michaels. It doesn’t matter if we are building a movement that loses the support of some whites because it defends the right of transgender people to choose the bathroom they are comfortable in or the need for affirmative action in the building trades or wherever it is needed. Unless we are ready to challenge injustice on all fronts, we will never create the vanguard that is so necessary today.

In “What is to be Done”, Lenin wrote:

Why is there not a single political event in Germany that does not add to the authority and prestige of the Social-Democracy? Because Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life; in the matter of Wilhelm’s refusal to endorse a bourgeois progressive as city mayor (our Economists have not managed to educate the Germans to the understanding that such an act is, in fact, a compromise with liberalism!); in the matter of the law against ‘obscene’ publications and pictures; in the matter of governmental influence on the election of professors, etc., etc.

Social-Democracy is always found to be in advance of all the others in furnishing the most revolutionary appraisal of every given event and in championing every protest against tyranny…It intervenes in every sphere and in every question of social and political life. That should be our watchword just as it was Lenin’s in 1903.

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