‘Identity politics’ — a twisted ideology

6 Feb, 2019 at 10:21 | Posted in Politics & Society | 3 Comments



  1. While a lot of what he says here is good, he is overlooking the role of ideology and how that negates good arguments. Science deniers and propaganda are important components. Reason is a laudable goal but humans form beliefs that become part of their survival schema and those beliefs are not usually amenable to reason or facts. I like his position and strive for it myself but sadly not enough people do so. And our education does not always support those kinds of efforts because too often the teachers themselves do not take the message to heart and then cannot translate it into curriculum lessons.

    It is why Dr. Gregory Lester wrote the article (almost 20 years ago) Why Bad Beliefs Don’t Die. In my mind, it supports the writings of Kahneman and others who dispute the rational homo economicus.

  2. While Sam may think he distrusts identity politics of all types, he is a purveyor of a specific type of identity politics. Of course, like everyone else, he doesn’t think his is identity politics

  3. Eric Hobsbawm

    Identity Politics and the Left, Institute of Education, London 2 May 1996.

    “Identity Politics and the Left?What has all this to do with the Left? Identity groups were certainly not central to the Left. Basically, the mass social and political movements of the Left, that is, those inspired by the American and French revolutions and socialism, were indeed coalitions or group alliances, but held together not by aims that were specific to the group, but by great, universal causes through which each group believed its particular aims could be realized: democracy, the Republic, socialism, communism or whatever. Our own Labour Party in its great days was both the party of a class and, among other things, of the minority nations and immigrant communities of mainland Britainians. It was all this, because it was a party of equality and social justice.

    Let us not misunderstand its claim to be essentially class-based. The political labour and socialist movements were not, ever, anywhere, movements essentially confined to the proletariat in the strict Marxist sense. Except perhaps in Britain, they could not have become such vast movements as they did, because in the 1880s and 1890s, when mass labour and socialist parties suddenly appeared on the scene, like fields of bluebells in spring, the industrial working class in most countries was a fairly small minority, and in any case a lot of it remained outside socialist labour organization. Remember that by the time of World War i the social-democrats polled between 30 and 47 per cent of the electorate in countries like Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which were hardly industrialized, as well as in Germany. (The highest percentage of votes ever achieved by the Labour Party in this country, in 1951, was 48 per cent.) Furthermore, the socialist case for the centrality of the workers in their movement was not a sectional case. Trade unions pursued the sectional interests of wage-earners, but one of the reasons why the relations between labour and socialist parties and the unions associated with them, were never without problems, was precisely that the aims of the movement were wider than those of the unions. The socialist argument was not just that most people were ‘workers by hand or brain’ but that the workers were the necessary historic agency for changing society. So, whoever you were, if you wanted the future, you would have to go with the workers’ movement.

    Conversely, when the labour movement became narrowed down to nothing but a pressure-group or a sectional movement of industrial workers, as in 1970s Britain, it lost both the capacity to be the potential centre of a general people’s mobilization and the general hope of the future. Militant ‘economist’ trade unionism antagonized the people not directly involved in it to such an extent that it gave Thatcherite Toryism its most convincing argument—and the justification for turning the traditional ‘one-nation’ Tory Party into a force for waging militant class-war. What is more, this proletarian identity politics not only isolated the working class, but also split it by setting groups of workers against each otSo what does identity politics have to do with the Left? Let me state firmly what should not need restating. The political project of the Left is universalist: it is for all human beings. However we interpret the words, it isn’t liberty for shareholders or blacks, but for everybody. It isn’t equality for all members of the Garrick Club or the handicapped, but for everybody. It is not fraternity only for old Etonians or gays, but for everybody. And identity politics is essentially not for everybody but for the members of a specific group only. This is perfectly evident in the case of ethnic or nationalist movements. Zionist Jewish nationalism, whether we sympathize with it or not, is exclusively about Jews, and hang—or rather bomb—the rest. All nationalisms are. The nationalist claim that they are for everyone’s right to self-determination is bogus.

    That is why the Left cannot base itself on identity politics. It has a wider agenda. For the Left, Ireland was, historically, one, but only one, out of the many exploited, oppressed and victimized sets of human beings for which it fought. For the ira kind of nationalism, the Left was, and is, only one possible ally in the fight for its objectives in certain situations. In others it was ready to bid for the support of Hitler as some of its leaders did during World War ii. And this applies to every group which makes identity politics its foundation, ethnic or otherwise.

    Now the wider agenda of the Left does, of course, mean it supports many identity groups, at least some of the time, and they, in turn look to the Left. Indeed, some of these alliances are so old and so close that the Left is surprised when they come to an end, as people are surprised when marriages break up after a lifetime. In the usa it almost seems against nature that the ‘ethnics’—that is, the groups of poor mass immigrants and their descendants—no longer vote almost automatically for the Democratic Party. It seems almost incredible that a black American could even consider standing for the Presidency of the usa as a Republican (I am thinking of Colin Powell). And yet, the common interest of Irish, Italian, Jewish and black Americans in the Democratic Party did not derive from their particular ethnicities, even though realistic politicians paid their respects to these. What united them was the hunger for equality and social justice, and a programme believed capable of advancing both.

    The Common Interest

    But this is just what so many on the Left have forgotten, as they dive head first into the deep waters of identity politics. Since the 1970s there has been a tendency—an increasing tendency’ to see the Left essentially as a coalition of minority groups and interests: of race, gender, sexual or other cultural preferences and lifestyles, even of economic minorities such as the old getting-your-hands-dirty, industrial working class have now become. This is understandable enough, but it is dangerous, not least because winning majorities is not the same as adding up minorities.

    First, let me repeat: identity groups are about themselves, for themselves, and nobody else. A coalition of such groups that is not held together by a single common set of aims or values, has only an ad hoc unity, rather like states temporarily allied in war against a common enemy. They break up when they are no longer so held together. In any case, as identity groups, they are not committed to the Left as such, but only to get support for their aims wherever they can.” http://banmarchive.org.uk/articles/1996%20annual%20lecture.htm

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