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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Identity Politics - Capitalism in Action! (2005)

I'm not going to spend time explaining Australian capitalism or how it adversely affects the ordinary working person; this is something that most people involved in some form of "alternative politics" already seem to understand. But what is lacking is a proper theoretical understanding of the role that identity, or social group-based, politics actually plays within capitalism.
Australian capitalism uses division to maintain itself. It tries very hard to split us into opposing groups based on gender, ethnicity, sexuality, etc. It attempts division at every level, separating states and regions with football matches, and even individuals on the basis of mundane arguments such as whether Ford or Holden is better. More recently the Howard Liberal government has engaged in a campaign of division focused on welfare recipients somewhat reminiscent of the Nazi Party's propaganda war on Jewish people during the '30s.
Naturally, whilst we are all opposing each other, and are divided, we are unable to effectively change anything. But just in case we still have a lingering desire to make a change, we are offered recycling and enviro-based pseudo-activism so that we can feel like we are making a change. It is in the best interests of Australian capitalism that we all remain divided by layer upon layer of identity-based differences.
During the arrival of Europeans into this country over successive generations, Australian governments virtually wiped out the Aboriginal people. What remains of the Koori people is a very small percentage of the total Australian population and, as such, they are unable to make any effective change on their own. It is in the interests of Australian capitalism that Kooris have a fierce national identity to separate them from the "white people". The distrust of white liberals and white politicians is something rife within Koori identity politics.
The relationship between men and women in Australia has been severely damaged by the separatist excesses of the bourgeois women's movement in the late 1980s and 1990s. Conveniently, capitalism has thrived on increased divorce rates and the tendency of men and women to live separately, creating new markets for cars for women, home units for single people, etc. Of course, this has lead to a declining birth rate and raised concerns about where the next generation of working drones is going to come from - hence we are now foisted with the 'pro-family' politics of the National-Liberal coalition.
Someone's sexuality is someone's personal feelings. It is not relevant to anyone but the person involved, and those persons they sexually interact with. Australian capitalism seeks to create ghettos of Gay people by inadequately protecting Gays from the homophobic views and attacks of some members of the heterosexual "community". Mainly as a by-product of blunt necessity, a great many Gay people have traditionally been liberally-minded and tended to see beyond the differences in people, thus promoting a better understanding of their own sexuality within a hostile homophobic community. This, of course, is traditionally the enemy of capitalism. To break down the barriers between sexualities or, indeed, to acknowledge that such barriers are simply irrelevant might mean that other barriers between working people might also break down. By encouraging a gay identity as a means of self-protection and as a form of pride in one's self, gay people are encouraged to divide themselves from other workers and spend their lives attaining a capitalism-approved (consuming) "queer" identity.
Identity-based political groups (often for example Trotskyist-type groups) pose a political solution to Australian capitalism in an identical fashion: they follow and assist capitalist ideas. This does not mean that they do this intentionally; for the most part they are well meaning but they are still helping capitalism along.
A great many persons involved in identity politics spend time on the "white" liberal side of Koori identity politics, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Koori indigenous law is completely patriarchal and, in many ways, just as authoritarian as Australian capitalism. Persons involved in this form of politics often follow the "black consciousness" approach, encouraging community amongst indigenous Australians as a separate group.
Bourgeois feminism permeates virtually every left wing group, seeking to establish separate groupings within each of these - a counter culture exclusively for women. This, it is generally claimed, is necessary to counter the patriarchal tendencies of every left wing group (whether they actually exist or not) and a great deal of time is taken up philosophizing about whether such things are taking place and what form they take ... all, of course, reinforcing the division between men and women already fostered by Capitalism.
Sexual politics are often a regular feature of identity-based solutions. These groups feel that it is important that Gay people have their own exclusive input into the group and form their own sexuality-based grouping. But the approach of Capitalism is to divide us carefully within groups and to maintain tensions between us. Otherwise, we might try and see past our differences (and as human beings they will always be numerous), and try to find what we have in common; persons involved in identity-based politics would argue that they are doing just this. However, where they create any division, or exclude certain people solely because of their race, gender or sexuality (i.e. because they are not a koori, not a woman, not gay), they will always work in the interest of Australian capitalism.
So what type of grouping is there that does not divide us in any way? What do we all have in common outside these shallow capitalist-created social groups? All members of the working class work, seek work, or are supported by the benefits of work in order to live (welfare is provided by taxes from Australian workers, students are supported by their working families). All members of the ruling classes control work and contribute nothing to it.
The fact that we subsist on the basis of work as a class is the one thing that we all have in common, whether we are Kooris, men, women, etc., and it is here that we can find the only common ground with which to deal with Australian capitalism.
So why do so many people spend time engaged in the politics of identity? The reasons are varied but by and large I think it is because it is safe to do so. No real change ever takes place and social uprisings such as anti-war movements are very quickly simply ignored by capitalism as they have no solid basis upon which to force real and lasting change. So what if 3 million people march in the streets, tomorrow they will be back home feeling good about themselves, the news services will be able to increase their ratings (i.e., make more money) by reporting it, and it will be forgotten. Of course, if workers in the factories refused to make guns or filled the bullets with flour, or the wharfies refused to load the ships with war toys for Iraq and 3 million people marched in the streets to protect them from the capitalists trying to use force to get their own way, something would change. Providing the strike spread to other industries (it didn't just happen in isolation) and was maintained, Australian capitalism would have no choice but to capitulate. (For that matter if it spread among workers throughout the world there would be no wars at all.)
Of course, nothing like this will ever be possible whilst we continue to accept that identity-based politics is anything but a con job, and that a great many well-meaning political groups are attempting to encourage change in precisely the reverse direction to that which will bring it about. Identity Politics is an approach that is doomed to constant failure. If it wasn't, capitalism wouldn't allow it, and so many bourgeois people, who have a lot to lose by real change, wouldn't be engaged in it.
Without beginning with what we have in common - rather than trying to find it later from "broad coalitions" of groups that are from the start structurally-based on exclusionary and fortress-like ideas - we are simply chasing our tails and John Howard and his mates are laughing their arses off as identity-based groups help capitalism divide working people.


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