“The Enduring Solidarity of Whiteness” (the bargain at the foundation of class is between Mr Rich White Man and Mr Poor White Man)
All these attacks of Ta-Nehisi Coates for supporting reparations are poor and problematic. It’s driven by campaign politics, of course, as the whining is coming from Sanders supporters. Yet the attacks are old-school rude, too. Doug Henwood egging on Adolph Reed in a recent discussion is particularly shit. Adolph Reed believes intersectional class struggle serves neoliberalism, which is a garbage claim.* And Cedric Johnson’s “open letter” in Jacobin is shit, too. Coates handled that quite well, I think. The title of his response to the open letter is in my title above. I don’t think I need to be jumping in this debate, but I do think the attacks are on behalf of an old (van)guard from within the left that for some reason believes it can compose class struggle without recognizing that workers are socially different. Black poverty is different than white poverty. We can recognize this in class struggle without straining credulity with a structural insistence that class is primary while race (or sex and gender because patriarchy) is secondary.
*Reed’s worry, when not being an asshole, seems reasonable. He is worried about mystification. Marxism is supposed to be that which demystifies. Reed believes dialectical materialism can demystify race as a social relation. And perhaps it can. I don’t think Coates would disagree. Reed would argue he believes struggle should be focused on material conditions rather than social constructs. Again, I don’t think Coates would disagree.
It’s not about ideas and concepts. It’s about organization and conditions. That’s the basic gist of the Marxist argument against identity politics. We have seen this debate repeatedly play out on tumblr and reddit, with orthodox Marxists supporting something akin to Reed’s claim. Remember Mark Fisher’s attempt to decry identity politics in Jacobin?
In the end, though, I find the claim weak. I don’t believe the Fishers and Reeds in organized class struggle actually are interested in antiracist, feminist Marxism at all. For them, the pejorative phrase “identity politics” is a convenient/efficient means to round up bad subjects within leftist discourse and action and punish them for stepping out of line.
It’s a means to organize from without. In other words, it’s a means for members of elite institutions and for individuals who find themselves leaders to justify a stasis within social organization that, fortunately for them, preserves their statuses while condemning new “liberal” elements within struggle that challenge orthodoxy and hierarchy. I’ve seen this as a problem, particularly with the way black people and women are treated, since the mid90s. So, I’m keen to fight it. Authentic cooperation would permit social difference in class struggle.