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Kasama

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August 07, 2007

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anybody know...

What was the racial and sexual breakdown of the conference?

Is SDS a predominantly white group? What regions were most represented or seem to be vital?

Are there any other national or significant local identity-based student groups these days? Black Student Unions, "feminist" projets?

I know Mecha on the West Coast, and their indigenist unity tends to reinforce some of the criticisms made here. Nothing wrong with radical nationalist groups.

Where any kind of "La Raza" stands in for the unity of oppressed people it's not good in the long run.

Please help me if SDS has any unifying statement to pass on.

Saoirse

All due respect to my friends and comrades on this board. the reality of it is so much of what has been written above frankly pissed me off its hard to push it all aside and say I'll just ignore all the snid remarks about "identity politics" and focus on the positive.

And mind you I am not thrilled with you two either.

I'll take on some blue collar LI boys.

JB

Don't focus on the positive, least of all for good feelings.

Is there a better word for "identity politics" that isn't snide? A more accurate way of dealing with the reification of static identity in place of political program and strategy?

That's basically how I use it, and in the broadest sense – I have argued here and elsewhere – that the "original" identity politics is the Marxist-Leninist conception of "the workers".

As in, "what's in it for the workers" as if that is what socialism is about... or by extension national liberation and the fight against various caste systems...

The obvious truth is that the overwhelming problem is "white identity politics", on the larger left (to say nothing about the Trent Lotts of the world).

That doesn't mean these issues haven't played out in a thousand microdramas around the world in destructive and often reactionary ways in the name of the oppressed. Democratic Party constituency politics are a material base for these ideas. They aren't just in people's heads.

--------

Sartre's comments on "seriality", which I linked above – are very much a part of why I think this is so very imporant. Which are not snide, and in essence begin with how bourgeois democracy turns us into a series of "others" that are (and are not) what we are in the world.

So, again – I don't (honestly) know how much this is arguing general student politics backstory, and how much it refers to what is really going down in SDS. That's why I'd defer to the words of Modern P., who was there and thankfully continues to return to the meat on that bone.

Saoirse

I think reactionary nationalism, liberal feminism, and selfish dykes and fags (or, if your straight, how about elitist gays and lesbians) are all welcome alternatives to identity politics.

Look for many years the DP had a better line on L & G (if not BT) rights than most revolutionary communists. That's a fact. So when we look to getting to the root of the problem, who's talking and what line does matter.

r. john

"Look for many years the DP had a better line on L & G (if not BT) rights than most revolutionary communists."

that is both wrong and revealing.

Saoirse

that is both wrong and revealing.

okay, I'll bite. do tell.

JB

Aside – truly, but not entirely wrong. The RCP in this country had a position that called for "homosexuals to be reformed and homosexuality eliminated" up to the turn of the 21st Century.

Considering efforts to "reform and eliminate homosexuals" in the 20th Century – I'd say you can't get worse. You were allowed to be a Democrat if you were gay. For real, R. John – there is no mincing "intentions" with this or really all that much to clarify except how profoundly wrong and damaging that position was.

r. john

"

All due respect to my friends and comrades on this board. the reality of it is so much of what has been written above frankly pissed me off its hard to push it all aside and say I'll just ignore all the snid remarks about "identity politics" and focus on the positive. And mind you I am not thrilled with you two either. I'll take on some blue collar LI boys."

This is a posing of political and ideological questions that (by the nature of the posing) has no solution:

Subjectivity is paramount ("i'm offended, pissed off, tired of dealing with..."), and really what can you say against emotions? They are stated but undebatable.

Political ideas and line are treated as irrelevent -- process and "who people are" is paramount. And since (in this debate) process is NEVER acceptable, and grievances are never resolvable... and so the divisions inevitably destroy the unities.

And "who people are" is defined in the most apriori way (by things that are not transformable, like gender and nationality). so no one can escape the problem by transformation (and can't even escape the endless sniping by groveling).

This method, this politics is simply destructive. It can't lead to change because it isn't interested in macro-change. It is focused on the petty dynamics of the now, and it is rooted in "jostling for position" not changing the world.

and the logic of these politics is always to divide (yet again), to drag any process (yet again) from its goals to its processes, to raise the petty over the lofty, to take common interests and parse them into petty (and often invented) grievances.

Perhaps there is such a thing as ""white identity politics, on the larger left" -- but for even JB to casually state that (as if it is a given, a universal, and inherently a major problem) is remarkable.

I have seen countless movements, conventions, meetings, and real hopes dragged down into this kind of pettiness.

Identity politics is repulsive to most people for obvious reasons. It has no hopes for a new world, and doesn't even really consider one. It is really about "ME writ large, and you writ very very small." And that is why the comparison to zionism is appropriate.

Saoirse

I will concide that WWP has had the most consistent and comprehesive understanding of LGBT issues. On the ground I think it has been a more mixed affair but they've certainly been more consistently active in LGBT fights and movements. Running a far second, the anarchist scene, after that...the DP.

Altho WWP may or may not be rev. communist they do have better politics than the DP.

Saoirse

wow. I am sorry to have missed a chance to respond R. John. Don't really know what to say. I will cede the board but not the struggle.

JB

By "damaging" I mean to the people it closeted and forced into lonely lives, to the ostensibly revolutionary forces it wed to a grotesquely reactionary position against the current of people outside the party, to the social movements that wrote off communism exactly because they knew the history of bedroom police in socialist countries – and so on.

Civil rights is a "better" position than having cops arrest, detain and "reform" people for not being heterosexual. That's what that position would have been in practice: State-regulated gay bashing under a (goddamned) red flag.

Oh god – tangents and blogs!

r. john

the RCP for all the problems we are familiar with had, in their 1981 program a full "bill of rights" for gay people -- opposition to discrimination in employment, housing etc. And opposition to gay bashing.

there were problems (again, as we know and should never sidestep), but to say the Democratic party had a better position is ridiculous and wrong.

Even today they can't support gay marriage.

As lenin once said to opponents "Lie if you have to, but don't overdo it."

And on the history of the gay question and the great communist shortfalls in theory and practice, the lying has always been overdone.

Saoirse

Well. I will say this somehow its okay for you to call "identity politics" whatever that may or may not be petty. Imply whatever with your "wrong and revealing" remark and yet I can't be pissed off. Or say, that's just passive-aggressive.

Again there have been so many wrong, problematic things said in this debate that I dont have the patience to engage. Frankly I have my own petty identity politics surivial issues to keep me busy at this stage of the game.

JB

Reform homosexuals and eliminate homosexuality.

Very straight-forward, and that "bill of rights" was frankly bullshit when that party expected to create a one-party government (them) that wouldn't even allow two men who kissed to join... simply on that basis.

That's some strange conception of democratic rights.

Sorry to tangent on this – but, from the names I recognize participating here, several of us were veterans of that argument, and in my case it fundamentally marked my political direction from a fairly young age.

r. john

I also want to add that (in my experience) there is nothing more arrogant and impervious to discussion than identity politics. Its followers are practitioners of the politics of threat and ultimatums -- the endless gripe backed by the constant threat of "bringing down the temple."

They are not interested in your ideas or proposals. Don't want to hear what you have to say about their methods or dogmas.

they are simply arrogant, and (like fundamentalists) convinced that any sign of disagreement (and critical thinking) simply confirms that you are a fucking asshole.

Saoirse

I will also say I never mentioned the RCP's politics in this debate nor was I even thinking about them. But to say in 1981 the RCP had better politics on the "homosexual" question or gay people than the DP isn't funny. its sad. In my personal (groan) experience most members of the RCP couldn't look me in the eye when talking about Lesbian and Gay people. Never mind the choice words (politics) the RCP mapped on to transsexual and transgender women and men.

JB

Or to be difficult...

When I speak of "white identity politics" and R. John expresses surprise... is this not a perfect example?

Banning homosexuality DEMANDS hetero-normativity. So we can be "complicated" in heterosexuality, but supposedly uniform in any "deviant" sexuality.

Applied to nationality, it is the essence of white supremacy. Applied to sexuality, it is profoundly patriarchal and reactionary (in theory and practice).

By treating the dominant as the "normal", it stigmatizes and directly and really oppresses the "abnormal".

It is the normalized ideology of domination, of whatever type, that creates the perceived need for identity fixation – as defense and health mechanism, regardless of its merits as solution.

In other words, it's not for nothing that the "workers movement" as organized labor fought for the Asian exclusion acts, ran lynchmobs against blacks, etc. It wasn't the Chinese workers "huddling together and eating inscrutable dishes" that generated a "white backlash" in the 19th Century – it was a treasonous compact between white workers and white capital to put real privilege ahead of proletarian solidarity.

This is real. Defining of our political fabric – and must be dealt with. I'm just saying ID politics won't do that. But pretending racism is the problem of those who call it out is just bananas.

JB

Before this (completely) devolves into another fascinating round of ripping apart the RCPs reactionary sexual politics in the 1980s... I wanted to quote what Max said regarding these workshops in the article that started this thread.... (my own guilt, lol, about the diversions hereby noted).

There were five or six hour-long caucus sessions back to back on; people of color/white allies, LGBTQ/straight allies, working class/class privileged, women & trans caucus/male allies, high school caucus/older allies. On the one hand it was good to see SDS take seriously the need for oppressed groups within the organization to self organize their own spaces. This convention would set an important precedent for the future and it was clear that caucusing would play an integral role in future gatherings.

Doesn't sound like ID politics uber-alles... It's also funny that the author, who notes his own skepticism about these kinds of things was actually drafted to run one...

So before we get too far lost arguing about ID politics and the chauvinisms of privilege – let's try to keep it as grounded in what is happening as possible.

Shadow-boxing be gone!

r. john

JB:

the issue is not defending the RCP position, but the comparison to the democratic party.

Be simply materialist: What was the DP position on gay rights (including today gay marriage), and what was the position of the RCP.

the argument that the establishment liberals have had a better position on sexuality (what about abortion? what about parental consent? what about birth control for kids and a fight for sex education?)

It romanticizes the Democratic Party position (which at a national level is not even liberal in the NYC sense). And it takes (as your remark does) the theoretical error of the RCP and confuses it with their actual political stance on gay rights (which was to support equality overall and explicitly).

And it would be a "side trip" except that it is in the nature of "identity politics" to always consider "the rest of the left" as "as much of the problem" as the reactionaries and imperialists.

To casually imply that revolutioanry communists are a bigger problem for gay peole than the imperialist Democratic party is wrong on many levels (and not just the textual way I'm approaching it). And it is part and parcel of a kind of thinking that always allows the followers of IDENTITY POLITICS to assume that the destruction of any left project is not that big a problem or error.

If the left is as soaked with reactionary ideology as the rest of society, if leftists are as racist, sexist and homophobic as the rest of society -- then shattering the projects of these hypocrites is not wrong, it is a positive good. And what better way to spend a bitter life than to haunt the left as stalkers, show up at conventions and meetings, to turn the spearhead of hostility at each other and at our project, and then leave (once again) feeling superior, offended and really self-righteously pissed off.

The argument that the revolutionaries are worse than the imperialists on key issues is not true, and is part and parcel of a larger line (which is poisonous in so many potent ways)

Really this utterly self-absorbed and destructive nonsense needs to be exposed and opposed... not tip-toed around with gentle steps and kid gloves.

(And arguing this is not, as several have pointed out, to argue against all kinds of productive caucuses per se, or to oppose the righteous, principled and constantly necessary struggle against reactionary influences "on the left.")

max

Good to see all the discussion (although i wish these things did not *always* have to go off on RCP/WWP tangents). So much to respond to, unfortunately im on the road for two weeks with no internet access so it will have to wait for a while.

One quick comment though to the 'lack of politics' comment that Chris made -- its partly just because i tried to get this piece out at 1am a few hours before my flight because i knew it would not happen for about a month later if i didnt.

Looking back over it there was a whole section on politics and a heading called 'anarchists, communists, and the other...' that i unfortunately was not able to finish and so decided to leave out. Plenty to analyze in terms of the politics, but i will leave that to others, this was primarily to give folks a sense of what the convention was like.

One quick response to the diversity level(s) -- I would say approx 40-50% women, with many in leadership positions in terms of their roles in helping to pull together the convention, the action camps and internal discussions etc.

People of color was probably 10-15%. There seemed to be a good representation of working class students and people that attended primarily state or community colleges. Also (and all of this is just from general observation and discussions) good LGBTQ representation. But the most strides over this past year were definitely made in terms of female leadership development, something which seemed very unlikely when I attending an SDS conference in April 2006 and the audience was literally 90-95% male.

Kazembe

I think at some point I want to write an essay rooting radicial left politics within the context of race in this country. Not only in terms of policy, but also as spectacle.

During the Moscow show trials in the 1930s, there were similar events going on in the CPUSA, trials over "white chavuism." In the most part, the CP was dealing with a very real issue, but the way thet dealt with it, propped up a political agenda (In this case, Stalinism)

In the same vein, the famed SDS convention in 1969, when the Black Panthers were ushered in by the Weather faction as a moral counterweight to the PL faction.

Today, race (and by extension gender) is either a moral weight or contained through caucuses.

White people feel safe that business will not be disrupted as long as their "representation". Representation is the illusion of power and if we dig deep to who is really pulling strings, it ain't the people who have the most at the stake.


So, I agree with Jed's points about the need for an internationalist perspective. For me, it's taken a lot of personal experience and struggle to come to this position. I want to be in a situation where we are no longer bound by by our roles in history.

Though, one caveat. I'm not arguing for a race neutral internationalism. The internationalist perspective must be rooted in the key demand for self-determination. The absence of key communist/socialist writing on the oppression of Black folks, Native Americans, women, queers, etc.,alongside conscious organizing in these sectors has lead to a growth of said ID politics.

"Plenty to analyze in terms of the politics, but i will leave that to others..."

Please don't!

Saoirse

I also want to add that (in my experience) there is nothing more arrogant and impervious to discussion than identity politics. Its followers are practitioners of the politics of threat and ultimatums -- the endless gripe backed by the constant threat of "bringing down the temple."

They are not interested in your ideas or proposals. Don't want to hear what you have to say about their methods or dogmas.

they are simply arrogant, and (like fundamentalists) convinced that any sign of disagreement (and critical thinking) simply confirms that you are a fucking asshole.

**********
Sorry to bring this all back to me but since there are only 3 people talking here I will assume these remarks are indeed direct toward me.

I am not sure at what point all things politically devolved so far. It certainly wasnt my intent by putting myself into my politics. Been there, done that. I will concede again and we can all debate what this means I find this thread and discuss especially the later portion deeply disappointing.

As a leftist who has played in some forms a leading role in lgbt politics are certain points in their life as well as in non-queer left mvmts, and found both wanting. this discussion unfortunately hasnt moved my thinking fwd. peace.

Modern P.

Whatever issues you have with past organizations are your issues, JB. Let Saigons be Saigons on that one.

The issue with identity politics cannot be phrased as, "It makes [white/hetero/men] uncomfortable." That's a just plain chauvinist formulation, and for all the jibber jabber about how this or that group demanding to be listened to just needs to "grow the fuck up", if it makes privileged folk uncomfortable to discuss an articulated position given in a spirit of respect they need to grow up.

The problem of identity politics and its tactics -- race-baiting, guilt-tripping, etc. -- ain't that they make the privileged uncomfortable, it is that they accept the cheap and easy victories for the oppressed.

What would the People of Color Caucus get if it chose to say "Hey you bunch of funky honkies, shut the fuck up" ?

Ten inches of turf. A pat on the head as an exotic pet. Perhaps a promotion in status to white man's chief. Sob stories. Anything other than an actual attempt to have the organization work out the political issue of its stance on white supremacy.

This is why the People of Color Caucus in SDS doesn't race-bait, not because it hurts anyone's feelings, but because what we need and what we are concentrated on is an actual confrontation with the white supremacist power structure -- no more and no less.

r. john

"Sorry to bring this all back to me but since there are only 3 people talking here I will assume these remarks are indeed direct toward me."

Uh, wrong assumption. They were triggered by your remarks and method... but clearly there is a whole current of identity politics (which I am rather familiar with) while (in all fairness) I don't know nearly enough about you or your politics to honestly characterize or engage yet.

In fact, my remarks are not even aimed at identity politics (which is blissfully oblivious to engagement or discussion), but to those who I perceive as endlessly craven and conciliating with behaviors and verdicts that are (i believe) truly poisonous.

We need a multinational movement for radical change. It is a fact that without a chunk of white people engaged (and another chunk neutral) real change cannot happen. This is not an argument for ignoring racism in its many forms -- but it is an argument for resisting the false subjective assumption that all white people are racist.

there is real value in mao's approach of differentiating between contradictions among the people and contradictions between the people and the enemy. And (as you all know) identity politics fundamentally takes contradicitons among the people, and makes them as hostile and divisive as possible. (Just the casual mocking talk of "white boys" etc. is an example of how deeply unprincipled language reflects deeply unprincipled politics.)

* * * * * *

Kazembe writes:

"I think at some point I want to write an essay rooting radicial left politics within the context of race in this country. Not only in terms of policy, but also as spectacle."

Sounds interesting, but if you do, make sure you get your facts straight.

"During the Moscow show trials in the 1930s, there were similar events going on in the CPUSA, trials over 'white chavuism.'"

Actually this is false. the trial of a finnish worker for racism was just after the late twenties (as a result of fight against Lovestonism, and the campaign within the communist movement to adopt a recognision of the oppressed nature of black people.)

The Moscow trials were a decade later.

I.e. the dynamics were separate.

Kaz writes, "In the most part, the CP was dealing with a very real issue, but the way thet dealt with it, propped up a political agenda (In this case, Stalinism)."

I will be interested to learn how one can deal with real issues WITHOUT political agendas. How does that work?

kaz writes: "In the same vein, the famed SDS convention in 1969, when the Black Panthers were ushered in by the Weather faction as a moral counterweight to the PL faction."

I would be very, very curious how these two events are "in the same vein." The Black Panthers were supported within SDS because they were playing a truly vanguard role -- in putting revolution on the political agenda for the first time in American history.

PLP was despised because their mechanical and reductionist thinking led them to announce that "all nationalism is reactionary" (within a world where raging national liberation struggles were the cutting edge -- and the target of massive U.S. attack).

Today, race (and by extension gender) is either a moral weight or contained through caucuses.

Some day explain to me this concept of "moral counterweight" -- and why you can't just say "the Revolutionary Youth Movement forces in SDS politically supported the Panthers, and opposed PLP in large part because of their newly minted hostility toward national liberation and Black liberation."

In other words, here too I'm curious how this "moral counterweight" is different from politics, and from the real issues that faced them all.

Surely you can't be saying that supporting the Panthers was a gimmick in a struggle that was really over some "political agenda" disconnected to revolution and black liberation? And if so, on what possible basis do you assert that?

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