2016 was the year of the great right-wing surge. The UK referendum that resulted in a narrow Leave vote and the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States have been cited – endlessly – as proof of the triumph of right-wing, xenophobic nationalism. Certainly, the traditional left on both sides of the Atlantic has been experiencing a crisis of confidence in recent years.
I’ve read this analysis, or something like it, many times since the 2015 UK general election. A lot of people predicted a Miliband Labour government, a Labour/SNP alliance or a continuation of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition under Cameron and Clegg. What no-one really expected was a Tory-majority government. Following this shock, the 2016 referendum result was a real kick in the teeth to some people who loudly proclaim their liberalism and left-wing credentials.
I think the real problem began in the 1990s when identity politics came to dominate “left-wing” discourse. The so-called left became obsessed with the rights of (and wrongs suffered by) ever smaller minorities. Mainstream left-wing thought was increasingly pushed aside in favour of “isms” and “phobias.” Identity politics has become ever more shrill and dictatorial, nitpicking over words and sniffing out heresy with the diligence of any Spanish Inquisitor.
As you can tell, I dislike identity politics and, this is the key point, I’m not even sure that it is left-wing.
Let’s return to the father of modern socialism. In the first section of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx wrote that “the history of all hitherto existing society in the history of class struggles.” Marx wanted ordinary people to unite against those who oppress them. Identity politics serves only to divide ordinary people. Vladimir Lenin (challenging Cicero) asked “who stands to gain?” from any given situation. And by gain, he meant “who is making money?” from this division. The answer can only be that the chief gainers from the division sown by identity politics are the rich.
Who gains when ordinary working people are divided by something as superficial as skin colour? Who gains by appealing to national chauvinism? Who gains with a call for religious solidarity? Who gains when the language is debased to accommodate ever more bizarre and arbitrary distinctions so that the average person is afraid to express any thoughts lest they fall foul of the latest “ism”? Who gains? Only the rich.
Black Lives Matters activists are fond of this quote from President Lyndon Johnson…
“If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best coloured man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Johnson said that in the 1960s. Change the word “white” to “Muslim” and “black” to Christian” (or vice versa if you prefer) and it’s 2017. Who gains? Only the rich.
You can go back to the 1890s. Tom Watson was a Georgia Congressman who was the vice-presidential candidate of the Populist party…
“Now the People’s Party says to these two men, ‘You are kept apart that you may be separately fleeced of your earnings. You are made to hate each other because upon that hatred is rested the keystone of the arch of financial despotism which enslaves you both. You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both…’”
Again, racial division only helps the rich.
I’ve concentrated on race thus far but I could make the same points by using any of the other groups designated by the apostles of identity politics as eternal “victims.”
Some “third wave” feminists have certainly embraced identity politics but it hasn’t stopped their class-based hostility to ordinary working people. Harriet Harman spent years, decades even, condemning the sexual exploitation of young women in British newspapers. Her particular bugbear is Page 3 of The Sun. And yet, this “feminist” thinks it is fine for the multi-talentless Kardashian women to exploit their bodies for financial gain. So, a privately-educated, upper middle class lawyer defends the privileged daughters of a rich lawyer for doing exactly what she has spent years condemning working class Page 3 girls for doing. No, the Kardashians are “brave” and “pioneering” – apparently. Does she really think those working class Page 3 girls were being forced against their will to pose? This is not left-wing. This is class hatred, pure and simple.
Whilst we are on the subject of arrogant lawyers who hate the working class whilst pocketing vast salaries as Labour MPs, what about Emily Thornberry (aka Lady Nudgee)? Thornberry is easily the stupidest person in British politics today, and that’s up against some pretty stiff competition. When she is not accusing interviewers of sexism for asking her questions about the department she is allegedly shadowing, Thornberry is expressing her class hatred. How dare some working class oik fly the flag of his home country on his horrible little house? And he has a white van – the dreadful peasant probably gets his hands dirty whilst performing some ghastly proletarian job. What’s the world coming to when the plebs don’t know their place anymore?
Class not identity. Ordinary people together against the pedlars of identity politics who only seek to divide the workers in the interests of the bosses.
You will notice also that all the apostles of identity politics are doing extremely well out of the current economic system, thank you very much. It’s easy to care about the toileting arrangements of transgender battery hens* when you are minted!
*This is hyperbole. I made it up, just like Fleet Street’s finest do.