Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Identify Yourself


The relationship between so called 'identity politics' and libertarian socialism within the anarchist movement is not as clear as it needs to be. Even in the 'libertarian' and the 'socialism' we have two elements for which the relationship between them needs to be made as clear as possible.

Two theories that don't work

1. There is more than one distinct revolution[s] to work towards. These can be pursued separately.

This fails because even if it was practical to attempt to rile people up into rebelling against each source of authority separately the first 'revolution' in any order would be ruined by the fact that the others had not yet been completed. It also fails to take seriously enough the fact that systems of hierarchy are linked.

  • If we work towards libertarianism without simultaneously working towards socialism and social equality we risk bringing about anarcho-capitalism or a society based on the patriarchal family (or similar). 
  • If we work towards social equality without simultaneously working towards socialism and libertarianism we could risk bringing about the assimilation of oppressed 'identities' into capitalism through them becoming just another marketing target audience (like having expensive t-shits declaring the wearer to be a feminist etc.) or assimilated into the hierarchy of the capitalist enterprise or the state (like having a female prime minister that claims to be feminist and also says she'd drop nuclear bombs on enemy nations even if hundreds of thousands of innocent people were killed). 
  • If we work towards socialism without simultaneously working towards libertarianism and social equality we could risk creating an authoritarian version of socialism (which would be crap whether it descended into state-capitalism or not) or a socialism which maintained existing social hierarchy and left white, straight males with disproportionate decision making power at the expense of everyone else. 

2. The existence of the state and of social hierarchy flow from economic sources therefore anti-capitalist action is the only thing worth concentrating on.

Conversely, as opposed to the heresy above, this one fails by not giving enough credence to the fact that social hierarchy and political power really are distinct forms of domination which could and have existed separately from capitalism and are equally destructive. Social equality and libertarianism cannot be relegated to mere symptoms and the fight for them cannot be relegated to simply an optional extra or a recruiting ground to get people interested in the 'real' struggle. Anarchists who are most strongly influenced by Marxism often fall for this one - we sometimes describe them as being 'workerist'. They fail to convince many oppressed groups that they are truly on their side.

An Anarchist Creed

Anarchists aren't the first group to have had to wrestle with a trinitarian problem. So, rather than re-invent the wheel I present to you the Anarchist Creed (based on the Athenasian Creed of the 5th/6th century).

We oppose one hierarchy in trinity, and trinity in unity; neither confounding the sources; nor dividing the essence. For there is one source of the state; another of the capitalist system; and another of the bigotry. But the hierarchy of the state, of the capitalist system, and of the bigotry, is all one; the destruction equal.

There is no easy way to get around our problem without resorting to a statement like this. 
[This is not intended to imply any relation to the actual Christian theology of the Trinity (obviously), it's purely coincidental that the solution for both can be stated in a similar way]. 

Identity politics and anarchism

Identity politics should be understood by anarchists in a positive and joined up way, accepting the complexity and the unity of aspects of hierarchy as different groups face them and attempt to dismantle them. 
Identities do mater and therefore identity politics matter. 

The relation to libertarian socialism can be found partly in different starting points they put people in, in relation to the dominant system (i.e. defending a better way of life against it, being in a position where there is a residue of a better way worth reviving against it or not having actually been assimilated into it and therefore feeling pre-disposed against it in some way). 

Identity politics also relates to libertarian socialism in that the oppression people experience that is particular to their identity is a form of hierarchy which is both related to and distinct from both the state and capitalism. It's worth understanding how they are linked and promoting that understanding and it is also worth appreciating that they also matter independently in equal seriousness. I.e. there is nothing more right or wrong in saying that capitalism is just used as a way to maintain social hierarchy than saying that social hierarchy is just used as a way to maintain capitalism - and therefore there is not really any point in talking about which is the original sin that led to all the rest.

Example 1 (defence): Consider the position of the people of West Papua. Both the state and capitalism are alien to their culture and therefore to their identities, most have not internalised either as being valid or desirable (I won't comment on social hierarchy within their society because I don't know enough to talk about it). This means that they actually have something worth defending - i.e. talking about revolution to them is meaningless, specifically on account of their cultural identity and personal experience. Talking to them about defending their way of life against these invading hierarchical social structures is much more relevant and shows you've actually grappled with the situation.

Example 2 (revival): Many modern day Celtic people (people from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany and the Isle of Man - especially in areas where their languages and a distinct identity is still present) have been largely assimilated into the nearby English or French dominant social structures. Their previous social arrangements were far more egalitarian - almost to the point of being anarchist. Through language loss (which has a huge impact on culture and society) and the creeping in of exploitative models of land tenure and hierarchical political structures there is less and less within these societies left worth defending (which is why left-nationalism doesn't work). Despite this though there is a sense that capitalism and statism are not very Celtic and a residue of anti-authoritarianism built into their identity. Talking to Celtic people about a revolution in the same way as you would for a working class English person (who in many cases is having to do more work to understand their identity in relation to the ruling class because it is less obvious to them) is less relevant than talking about a revival of ways of life that have been largely lost to the (resented) English/ French ruling class' imposed ways.

Example 3 (assimilation?): In the UK, if you take the entire non-ruling class (you'll see why I'm not using the term 'working class' in a moment) and add up all the women, all the ethnic minorities and all the LBGTQ people you've got a clear majority. In fact women alone are in the majority. The capitalist-statist system does not have room to assimilate all these people on an equal footing (not that equal assimilation within capitalism is any kind of a goal anyway). If everyone were treated equally there would be no one left for the ruling class to scapegoat and no one to carry out the bulk of unpaid work. Both have proved necessary for this system to function. Therefore the system is already seen as somewhat alien and hostile to the people who are left out due to these identities. But if all you can talk about is how in a factory... (you start with factories too, don't lie)... in a factory the boss appropriates the surplus product and pays the wage labourer only enough to survive while keeping the profit etc. etc. you are making assumptions that aren't true because you haven't understood that the identity of the majority of people isn't based solely on their relationship to the means of production. While there are ways to show how it is linked, and these are valid, this doesn't mean that it's just a symptom of the 'real' problem.