Laurie Penny had an interesting wee exchange the other day with Mark Crispin Miller. When on asking him why the panel called to discuss Occupy Wall Street was made up of middle aged white males, he responded with reference oto a theory that studies into gender and race had been funded by the CIA as a diversion tactic to stop the student movement of the 60s properly analysing the economic and class base of society.
Identity politics and class politics have long been uneasy bedfellows, with issues of race and gender rearing their heads at inopportune moments. Identity politics is a strange animal, although it is possible to change gender, and racial perception may differ depending on circumstance, your gender and race are pretty much fixed and declared to the world – as such they operate as a perspective from which you see the world – you identify with “people like me”, and how “people like me” should be; gender and race inform that identification. Over and above that you also identify “people like them”, and how “people like me” relate to “people like them”.
Class on the other hand is a different animal – related to the means of production it regulates social interaction, not on the basis of identity but on the basis of explicit power, because you own the means of production, you have power over its deployment and the uses to which it is put. The means of production is a means of gaining resources and as you accumulate resources you accumulate power. A good capitalist deploys their power explicitly to increase it – as such it is dynamic. While the American Dream is half nightmare half hallucination, there is potential movement within a class situation that is not possible within an identity situation.
Identity politics are important to class narrative, as they demonstrate to the 92% of the world that are not white males that it is not simply a question of shifting up and down a spectrum of power, but that unjustified and unjustifiable power is in and of itself a problem. It is not just a question of making the world more fair or more meritorious, but that power hangs onto power by the virtue that it already has it. The white males of Miller’s panel were invited there because they were people he knew, people he liked, people he thought were worth listening to, people that looked like him.
Racism and sexism shores up the class structure – it allows labour to be extracted at a greater rate from women and people of colour, by virtues of the narratives that swirl in the ether – that domestic labour is natural for women – the fact that it benefits males is simply a happy coincidence; that people of colour require direction and control from the West to adequately exploit their country’s resources, their cut for providing such direction and control unquestionable.
Racism and sexism are not neutral discourses within class analysis but active supporters, their manifestations changing according to the best method of exploitation. Women of colour experience a dualism of gendered racialised stories told of them – where it is more productive for them to be providing domestic labour so that male labour can be more actively exploited, their domestic role is romanticised as a cultural role; where it can be more productively deployed in active labour, their gendering disregarded; where an increase in manpower is required, they become the means of reproduction, to be owned by those requiring it.
Reproductive rights: abortion, contraception, sterilisation, eugenics, surrogate motherhood and egg harvesting dont exist merely as stand alone feminist issues, but sit squarely within the the capitalist system in which we live which balances the need for female labour with the need for replacement labour. Similarly indigenous rights: protection of land, beliefs, culture, heritage, language and knowledge are not simply issues of racial justice in some abstract sense, but are active areas of conflict over which the capitalist efficiency and deployment of resources are fought. The aim of class warfare is not to win, but to declare the game a bogey – issues of race and gender illustrate how the class system actively subverts the needs of people for the benefit of capital and as such can point a way ahead to its destruction.
I have no idea if the CIA did fund studies into gender and race as a means of destabilising the student movement of the 60s. Its certainly possible – the CIA of the time certainly explored a whole heap of ways of undermining the threats to capitalism that it saw growing and the left of the time was sexist and racist enough for it to work. The lesson to be learned however is not that identity politics is a diversion from the class struggle, but that it is integral to it. If the class struggle can be thrown off course by it being pointed out that 92% of the class are being marginalised within it, then its not a revolution, its a change of management. And maybe, just maybe, if issues of gender and race were taken seriously in the first place, we could foil these dastardly CIA plots beofre they got off the ground.