Capitalism teaches that workers should think of themselves as individuals.
When we engage in class conscious activism in our workplaces, schools, and neighborhoods, we often find people who will insist they are not members of a class.
Organizers confront this claim a lot. I found this a common confrontation at university, in department meetings, at the bar I worked at for years. I’ve met so many men since high school, year after year, where ever I’ve lived, who will first engage with a complaint. They aren’t like what they propose I’m representing them to be. This is the gist of the anti-socialist claim that we’re all just too selfish for anything but capitalism. The response claims ground for individualism as a pre-requisite for any conversation about social (dis)order. Well, I’m different. I’m my own person. I’m an individual. You accept that or I’m just going to derail the whole thing in five minutes. Why? Freedom, asshole. Free to be me and you’re free to be you. You find liberals and white supremacists making the same argument.
When we engage in criticism of whiteness, white people will immediately disavow racism. “I’m not racist.” (In fact, many people who aren’t white will step in to say it on behalf of white people.) But whiteness is not a pigment. It’s a call to individuality (although one with special privileges and one that composes a social quality as a property.) Consumerist capitalism encourages us to recognize our potential as individuals who work for a living and who make free choices about what to do with our lives, where to and how to work included.
Individuality in capitalism denies class difference without denying upward mobility. It denies racism without denying racialization. (I’m not addressing patriarchy and various normativities, but I can go on.) As individual citizens, we’re supposed to think of ourselves as equivalencies. In the US, Donald Trump can appear as a person who has made his own wealth rather than as an inheritor and as one who has always been afforded legal breaks when making bad business decisions. He hasn’t suffered individual choice. To criticize Trump is to criticize his working class supporters. They see themselves as the same. Nationalism takes all comers, of course, because it permits the non-white citizen to excuse white supremacy in US, for example, because they embrace the racial state apparatus as a necessary part of social life. So, Trump’s supporters aren’t just racist white men. They are increasingly a diverse group of supporters who see their support as a practical means to defeat the woman running against the man. (Well, that last bit is how I see it. I think the hate for Hillary Clinton in the American right wing is a deep-seated misogyny. If they truly didn’t appreciate her policies, they’d be unable to support Trump.)