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twittersectionalists and the commodification of dissent

5 Apr

I have hesitated for a while before writing this post, partly because I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to put and how I could put this without offending people, partly – to be honest – because I was quite nervous about what would the response be given the way that I have seen people react to criticisms of this topic in the past. Partly because I am quite wary of focusing so much attention on a clique for whom ‘starting a hashtag’ (ie writing something on Twitter) is a pinnacle of political achievement rather than the other more important work that organizations such as Boycott Workfare and Disabled People Against Cuts are doing.

But I was finally prompted to write this by a few things. If you are sad enough to spend lots of time on Twitter you may have noticed a campaign called CancelColbert about a comedian who had taken the piss out of Daniel Snyder, the proprietor of a sports team in the USA called ‘redskins’ (which has been accepted to be a racist term for quite some time) trying to claim that he wasn’t racist, setting up a charitable foundation for Native Americans and likening this to someone saying ‘the Chingchong Dingdong foundation for sensitivity to orientals’ wasn’t racist towards Chinese people.

‘CancelColbert’ claimed that he was racist even though his intentions had been satirical – although Suey Park, the person who started the campaign later backtracked and claimed her campaign had been satirical.

It may have been insensitive but in any case it was the way that Suey Park went about it that I found most revealing – as well as the things that she didn’t mention and did not criticize, some more aspects of which I will get to later.

Shortly after this campaign started she gave an interview to the Huffington Post which I have linked to below. I suggest that you watch the whole thing. Towards the end the interviewer came across as a bit of a dick – talking over her and calling her stupid which to my mind just helped her argument that her critics were just privileged white liberals. But it is what she said at the start that was quite revealing – expressing outrage that someone could compare this type of racism against native Americans to orientalism.

I don’t see a problem with comparing the two because they both clearly need to be opposed. What exactly is the problem with saying that the two types of racism are both wrong and if someone says that so and so isn’t racist it’s like someone saying that something really obviously racist is racist? An example – last year a couple of mates of mine were turned away from a bar because ‘they looked like pikeys’. What is the problem with turning round and saying ‘that’s like refusing to serve someone at a pub because they look like a Jew’ or ‘that’s like not serving someone because they’re black’. There is clearly no problem with it at all, even if the person saying it is a privileged white man.

As a class we are facing huge attacks on our living standards which threaten gains won a century ago in the social wage and in working conditions. We have people in work going to food banks. We have people being forced to choose between eating and heating their homes, we have vulnerable people starving to death because of the collapse of what little ‘safety net’ still existed because of the actions of Tory and Labour governments. In the USA 80% of adults are close to the poverty line. There are attacks on education and proposals to lengthen the school day so that parents are forced to work longer.

Inevitably in such situations the extreme right is capitalizing on the desperate situation, especially in mainland Europe and the mainstream parties while preaching tolerance and hysteria against parties like ukip are carrying out racist and anti immigrant policies like keeping kids in detention centers run by G4S and deporting students about to do exams. Sexism and racism of all kinds are making a comeback and attacks on disabled people are up, not helped by the increasing stigmatization and social isolation created by government policies – Tory and lib dems despite how they now try to distance themselves from each other.

In such situations it has never been more essential to resist any sort of attack and any attempt to create divisions.

In any case it is notable that Park who is quite happy to go on about ‘creating a hashtag’ and helping stuff trend (ie retweeting/posting stuff on Twitter, big fucking deal, plainly the next Che Guevara) is friendly with the vile openly racist and islamophobic Michelle Malkin.


Malkin was quite happy to put her name to oppose a memorial to the flight 93 highjacking because it would feature a crescent shaped row of trees and OMFG A CRESCENT IS A SYMBOL OF ISLAM SO THIS MEMORIAL IS SECRETLY A MEMORIAL TO THE TERRORISTS BECAUSE LIKE ALL MUSLIMS ARE TERRORISTS. In several posts on twitter Park praises Malkin describing her as ‘reasonable’ (I wonder what many Muslim people, or Japanese people whose internment during world war 2 she regards as justified, would reckon about that?) And they frequently retweet each others posts attacking ‘liberals’ and so on.

Suey Park is from Lake Zurich, a suburb of Chicago where the median household income is $110k, compared to $57k for Chicago and $51k for the US as a whole – makes you think doesn’t it?

Inevitably a theme these people return to again and again is to go on about how class based politics is outdated, and relegate the social relations of capitalism to simply being ‘classism’ ie prejudice based on accent, clothing and other characteristics associated with the ‘working class’. Rather than the conflict between classes being essential to capitalism and wage labour, exploitation and the profits and inherited wealth of the ruling class being intrinsic to the entire system, now its just sidestepped and rather than forming the basis of economic relations in the world it would be fine if there were some more people with northern accents in boardrooms.

It’s a perspective on class struggle which by their own terms is always relegated to a lesser status anyway, resulting in a situation where Michelle Obama can be regarded as more ‘oppressed’ than say an unemployed steelworker who happens to be white.


New Statesman
contributing editor Laurie Penny, described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘the loudest and most controversial female voice on the radical left’ for example has recently been attacking the left about how bitter they are about successful women who are too focused on their careers.

This is someone who like many of the so-called ‘dissent entrepreneurs‘ has taken advantage of the growing trend towards the professionalisation of politics and the opportunities presented in the wake of various protest movements – occupy Wall street being one of them – to build a personal brand, to make money out of a veneer of radicalism.

She was quite happy to address the horny handed toilers at the Oxford Union and describe herself as a ‘revolutionary socialist’ but who nonetheless by her own admission was part of the ‘top 10% of society’ – Laurie having gone to the prestigious Brighton College and then to Oxford University, this is depressingly accurate. The fact that she has nothing but good things to say about privatization advocate, New Labour shill and former head of Wellington College Anthony Seldon makes it very clear where her class interests lie.

These people are not part of the left in any sense. In this context it is not surprising that any idea of fighting the ultimate discrimination and the entire system of social relations based on exploitation of the working class becomes relegated to merely being ‘classism’ which presumably someone like Alan Sugar could still experience today for not having been to Eton. It is quite easy to imagine HR departments adopting this sort of stuff in large companies in a way that seems politically correct but doesn’t actually change anything to do with the way the company operates, except to make the devisers of the policy feel good about themselves.

Take her mate Molly Crabapple, one of the fellow members of the so-called ‘commentariat’ and illustrator of her books, sneering at the suggestion that Venezuelan opposition is in any way backed by the USA and selling her paintings of revolutions she wasn’t involved in for $10000, telling everyone we need to ‘monetize our hotness’ and if we didnt know how we were ‘dumb’, while claiming we don’t live under real capitalism!

image

According to Molly (trigger warning: capitalism)

    I am an entrepreneur. I fucking love entrepreneurship. But society as it is now cannot function if most people are entrepreneurs.  Entrepreneurs need employees.  They need infrastructure.  They need people to assemble their iphones. To condemn people, as I sometimes see done, to severe financial fuckery, for being the average working stiffs who make the world run, is privileged bullshit I can’t stomach. We ALL have a common cause in fighting the corrupt, anti-competitive oligarchy in power.

This isn’t about whether you wear designer shoes or hate the smell of weed or can’t stand fucking hippies and their drum circles.  Its about whether you support an anti-capitalist fuedal-lord grifter class that privatizes their profits but socializes their losses

How about ‘anarcho-parliamentarians‘ selling ‘e-revolution’?

There’s another aspect to this though – the whole idea of ‘cultural appropriation’. As I have written about in previous posts by attempting to establish a hierarchy of oppression privilege theory ends up doing the opposite of what was intended – undermining solidarity by encouraging ‘activists’ who are from the world of academia and understand the terminology being used, which is so often used as a way to exclude people – to compete with each other over who is more oppressed, ‘call out’ people for being privileged etc – without a thought to what happens outside their bubble like someone writing on Twitter is the most important thing in the world.

One of the ways in which this theory has taken a more unpleasant direction is that of ‘cultural appropriation’. Anything from belly dancing to wearing dreadlocks to having a beard to English people celebrating St Patrick’s Day could be viewed as an example of ‘cultural appropriation’ and therefore an example of colonialism and racism.

The rationale for not doing things is that it is ‘taking someone else’s culture without permission’. The worrying thing about this is that it promotes an essentialist view of culture as something that ‘belongs’ to a particular people that is fixed and that other people who are not from that culture need to ask permission (from who?) Before adopting it. People have been accused of ‘stealing’ styles of art, literature, food etc from other cultures – a view of the nature of culture that you would expect to see from a different side of the political spectrum.

In this piece called ‘why I still can’t stand white belly dancers‘ the author essentially accuses anyone who goes belly dancing for fun without her permission of racism and of taking something that is not theirs. But belly dancing spread across Europe via Turkey and the Balkans and the Arab world hundreds of years ago and it is no surprise that people should have adopted it. People go belly dancing for the same reason they go to salsa or any other type of dancing – to have fun. Expecting the culture not to change and declaring that only certain races of people can take part in certain things displays a disturbing view.

Taken to its extreme it leads to the view that white people ‘don’t have an excuse‘ to be homeless, because they’re all so fucking privileged.

Here’s a video of an English woman teaching Irish dancing to Indian people. Who’s appropriating who here and how do we stop it?

And don’t even get me started on the mohican hairdo debate.

The majority of people on the extreme right declare that they only want to preserve their culture and race. They have another term for people who ‘appropriate’ other cultures – they call them race traitors. In fact, during the 1930s and 40s, the Nazis accused the Jews of ‘plagiarizing‘ their culture from the Germans and simply copying their traditions from other cultures, and for example, forbade Jews from performing works by German composers and from having German flags outside their houses.

More recently groups like Bloc Identitaire in France have taken a similar line saying that white people are oppressed and their culture is appropriated. Far right websites are full of comments decrying black people’s involvement in classical and heavy metal music – wrong skin color so they shouldn’t even be doing it. They’re not going belly dancing or wearing beards or eating all that multi culti food. Presumably they’re fine because they’re not trying to ‘appropriate’ anything.

You might ask why would you even care about such irrelevances – the majority of this ‘debate’ involves people firmly ensconced in their bubble with no interest in, or connection to, working class concerns – Laurie Penny the so called revolutionary socialist won’t even have the NUJ recognized at her own workplace – and thinking that reposting stuff on Twitter and ‘calling people out’ is ‘activism’ but to be honest it is what many people who are getting involved in left politics for the first time will encounter and it can end up doing one of two things – put you off the left for life or turn you into a complete dick, or both.

In addition the professionalisation of politics exemplified by the ‘dissent entrepreneurs’ is an extremely dangerous trend and one that ultimately ends up benefiting very privileged people who are familiar with identity politics theory and the language and culture of ‘activism’ – already in the states there are internship programmes for which having been an ‘activist’ is required – the ultimate cooption of dissent.

Saying that this is a problem and saying that the ultimate discrimination is economic, that fighting for day to day improvements in people’s lives and the possibility of something better is not like being some sort of dinosaur who claims that ‘homosexuality is a bourgeois deviation’ and it’s just fine for people to be sexist and racist until after the revolution. All these things are class issues and at a time when we are facing huge attacks on our living standards throughout the world why don’t we focus on collective solidarity and what unites rather than divides us. And kick out opportunists who see our struggles as a business opportunity.

“Jewsplaining”

31 Jul

has there ever been a political movement so divorced from reality, and so completely up its own arse as “intersectionality”?

Now it seems, “Jewsplaining” is actually a thing. people are arguing that being Jewish is a “privilege” in the same way that being white or being a man supposedly always is with no regard to economic circumstances, no regard to anything else.

It seems that now we have to fight “Jewish privilege”.

really? really?

Let me be very clear here, when I say intersectionality is up its arse. I am NOT saying that opposing racism and sexism are not important or that from time to time people shouldn’t look at themselves and examine what “privileges” lead them to think the things they do. But Marxism opposes intersectionality. Marxism does not just say that “classism” is just another “oppression” based on what your accent is or how your dress or what your parents did. It is not just about rich people treating working class people badly, not being “allies“, needing to go to back of the “progressive stack” and needing to “check their privilege”. There are two main classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Capitalism is based upon the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, rather than try and make capitalism “nicer” (which is what intersectionality basically is) we should have the “revolutionary watchword – abolition of the wages system!” Today, it sounds a bit like what you might read in the pages of “Workers’ Girder” but it’s true. Capitalism cannot be made “nicer” or “more representative”. Is it any better to have for example a gay boss who treats you like shit than a straight one? The economic system depends on the position of the w/c as an exploited class. But that position also gives it its potential to be a revolutionary class, not just passive victims.

I am NOT saying that this means that working class people are all the same or have exactly the same conditions (it’s this that has given certain wealthy Guardianistas the license to compare their economic position, which while they might be selling their labour value, essentially got there because of the social capital which comes from being in a wealthy family, with those of working class people far lower down the socio-economic scale – witness Laurie Penny’s attempts to claim that she is a “precariously employed young person” and so on. I am also not saying, as some in the “vanguard parties” have done, that their supposed emphasis on the primacy of class means that “women’s issues” are just that, some sort of “bourgeois deviation” not relevant to the rest of the class, and that women and to some extent ethnic minorities exist outside of it whatsoever and are simply not important compared to the burning issues of how many monopolies to nationalise, whether their latest union lash-up has “socialism” in the title, how to deal with “dogmatists” and “autonomism” and how many hours in the general strike to call for without being “ultra-left”. These conditions are what enabled Comrade Delta and many others to get away with what they did for so long. Sexism is a class issue. Racism is a class issue. Homophobia is a class issue. They all affect members of the working class both with people’s attitudes and with institutional discrimination and “divide and rule”.

I quite frequently write on this blog about anti-semitism and sexism. Why? Because I have experienced these prejudices (not least from leftists) and they affect my life. I am not however under any illusions that either can be overcome without the abolition of capitalism or that we can just struggle alone. Sexism to take one example is always going to affect working class women more, because of patriarchal attitudes and low-paid work and usually having to still be the caregiver for the children, not being able to afford childcare, being less able economically to escape their situation, fewer job prospects and having to simply put up with it, whereas wealthier women can frequently just buy their way out of it. Many women stay with abusive partners because they simply cannot afford to leave them, a situation which is getting worse with attacks on wages and benefits, and women are frequently paid less for doing the same jobs, as well as often having to come home and do huge amounts of unpaid housework. It is laughable to pretend that the experiences of some of my mates with sexism and the experiences of someone like Theresa May are the same simply because they are women, even if they have “white privilege”.

I just read this bizarre article where the author is pillorying herself for “gentrifying the neighbourhood” because she is white and saying that by being white, she is “triggering other people’s pain”. I find such stuff deeply concerning to be honest. By having a go at herself like this how is she helping? Is she helping to prevent racism? Quite plainly not. Mindless self-flagellation does not help you recognise and understand the position of those less fortunate than yourself. It is not just patronising, it is verging on “noble savage” territory that elevates their position in society beyond any individual characteristics. These people are laughed at behind their backs. For God’s sake stop embarrassing yourself, stop thinking about yourself and everyone in racial terms. Go out and meet some normal people ffs.

But anyway …  now we get this. Proof that with this stuff, without a proper class struggle perspective, without any sort of analysis beyond “look at me, I’m trying so hard to examine my own privilege” while making the non-privileged bit parts in your own drama while you “deconstruct” your identity, or “look at us and how oppressed we are” your politics can rapidly go into the sewer. You can say goodbye to any form of common struggle if you haven’t got the right “intersections”. And the sad thing they probably think this kind of saying “fuck you” regardless of circumstances to white people is progressive and that it’s going to help in some way.

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“Jews were not considered white at the time of the Holocaust. Now with their status as white, they’re oppression is something we are supposed to “never forget,” while slavery and the continued genocide against people of color all over the world is something we’re supposed to “get over” and we’re supposed to “stop using the race card.” For reparations of the Holocaust, the Jews got an entire country. Brown people, meanwhile, can barely even get equal opportunity standards at jobs and colleges without people rushing to call it reverse racist, meanwhile our country pays for the bombing of Palestinian children in order to protect Israel for the Jews. Why? Because they consider the Jews white and they consider the Palestinians POC.

Antisemitism is definitely a thing, but there’s a reason why it’s called antisemitism and not racism, and that’s because Jews are considered white and, for the most part, benefit from white privilege.

Edit: Also, you ever notice how white Jews only bring up the Holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression? Woooow, it’s almost like the Holocaust doesn’t even affect them in their daily lives and they’re only using the murder of 11 million people (brown people included) to try and silence POC.

Wow.

So wait a minute – “white Jews only bring up the holocaust when brown people are talking about our oppression”? The other week I was at a holocaust memorial service. I didn’t see much silencing going on there or people trying to shut up anyone else, just people remembering their dead relatives or being there for religious reasons. In fact, in my experience it’s often mentioned at these types of events that just as the Jews were the victims of prejudice, we should not turn a blind eye to or be racist or otherwise prejudiced ourselves. And nobody ever tells Jews to “get over” the holocaust, or that anti-semitism doesn’t exist any more, do they? No capitalists ever promote anti-semitism, use the “chic” of Nazism or use anti-semitic imagery in order to sell their shit products.

And of course attacking all white people is a great way to stop racism isn’t it, just as saying “kill all men” is a great way to stop sexism.

The laughably simplistic analysis of the Middle East in the name of “opposing racism” which both ends up repeating anti-semitic stereotypes about Jews and power and – well, talking absolute shit – completely ignores the role of US capital and the fact that the US’s support of Israel is neither to do with “guilt” over the holocaust, wanting to “protect Israel for the Jews” or considering Jews white.  The US government is quite happy to turn a blind eye to antisemitism when it is politically and economically worth doing. Leaving beside the fact that these views simply don’t make sense outside of the context of the US (actually, they don’t make sense at all) in countries where the dominant social prejudices are simply not against “people of colour” (leaving aside parts of Europe where prejudices against Muslims, Roma or Jews all with the same skin colour are the dominant social prejudice, what about Northern Ireland? Or Kosovo – would a black American soldier or NGO worker living there really be any more “privileged” than Serbs in an Albanian area or Albanians in a Serbian area? And aren’t divide and rule arguments encouraged by nationalist politicians about who’s the most “privileged” rather than uniting on a class basis against bosses and landlords partially responsible for what’s happening there anyway?)

I have been working as a temp administrator in a private school which mostly caters to rich international students, many of whom want to go and study at Oxford or Cambridge University afterwards. So about two months ago, the guy who teaches Arabic came into the office. This guy is originally from Palestine. He started talking about how many “rich Arabs” there are in Israel and the Middle East who would like to come and study in the UK, he then started talking about how he is running a business not a charity and he doesn’t want any students “whose parents are teachers or clerks in the bank”. I asked him where he was from, he said Israel, I asked whether that was Israel or Palestine. My manager who is from Ukraine then said “oh that’s a complicated subject”, she then starts talking about how “the Jews” own most Ukrainian businesses and how 70% of the politicians in Ukraine are Jewish.

Who is the most privileged here? I have a feeling it could be me, because I am white and Jewish and English is my native language, even though I am an agency worker, have few rights, and earning far less than they are. While I’ve been working there, I have heard other anti-working class and racist remarks from the managers, including about “lazy” English people and how the genes of people in the West have “degenerated” because of their lazy lifestyles. Oddly enough, these “privileges” haven’t meant that I was able to get rid of my managers or that I am in a better economic position than they are!

On the flipside of course, there is the perception of Jews on some sections of the liberal left as being some magical, special “breed”, noble savage shit along the lines of Julie Burchill, which is not anti-semitic but is deeply patronising and irritating, especially when it is tied to a political agenda (either opposing it, or supporting it) about Israel.

Some of the reactions by Jews to the “Jewsplaining” stuff are also fairly disturbing and the language used about “gentiles” (really??) disturbingly reminiscent of campaigns to stop people from “marrying out” and prevent “assimilation” (ie stop the “calamity” of Jews marrying non-Jews, as if marrying a non-Jew means you automatically stop being culturally Jewish or even following the religion. Without this “calamity” I wouldn’t be here). We get diatribes against “tumblr goyim” and people saying that “gentile is a privilege”. Would the idea that “gentile is a privilege” apply to working-class Palestinians in Gaza? Because that’s where this idiocy leads straight back to. Implicit support for the president of the US based on the fact he is black. Implicit support for the Israeli state based on it being a “Jewish state” or implicit support for other Middle Eastern states based on their leaders being Muslim and not white. Implicit support for Thatcher based on the fact she was a woman.

Or even to a situation like my family – some of my non-Jewish family members have still experienced anti-semitism based on our surname and the fact there are Jewish people in the family. It is telling that so much of this stuff doesn’t actually challenge capitalism but sees their priorities solely in terms of how diverse a “project” is or how many ethnic minorities or women are in “leading positions”. Capitalism lives on but this time on lines which merely seem more open and diverse. Is the “pink pound” for example really any less desirable than the ordinary pound to business? Do openly gay people not serve as members of the Tory party, despite their tradition of disgusting homophobia which continues with policies on housing benefit for example making it more difficult for working-class gay people with unsupportive families to leave home? Just because this stuff disadvantages someone it does not make everyone else better off as a result – racism, homophobia, sexism etc impede our ability as a class to struggle effectively whether we are directly affected by it or not.

While often well-intentioned privilege theory only helps reinforce these divisions. If you care about actually fighting this stuff rather than establishing a “hierarchy of oppression” become a communist.

Transitional demands

28 Jul

I just read a great quote which expresses very well one of the reasons I stopped being a trotskyist:

“[The transitional approach is] akin to trying to persuade someone who believes the Earth to be flat that it is in fact a sphere by first convincing them that it is a cube. The terrible irony here is that such ‘credible’ demands are utterly impossible to achieve under capitalism and do not even articulate the need for socialism. They are truly transitional to nothing; save sowing illusions.”

The rest of the article is worth reading as well.