Sunday, May 22, 2022

Misidentity (2021)

Pamphlet Review from the November 2021 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Politics of Division. An Engagement with Identity Politics. Anarchist Communist Group. ACG/Stormy Petrel, 2021. 26pp.

The introduction to this short pamphlet states: ‘We want to create a society in which exploitation is abolished and all resources are held in common. We also struggle for a society without a State and in which no group oppresses another: a society without hierarchies. We envisage a society of co-operation, mutual aid, equality and freedom.’ This clear expression of the Anarchist Communist Group’s aim mirrors very closely the kind of society we seek to see established. We are also in agreement with what ACG have to say about the system we currently live under, capitalism, in which ‘only a few own and control the earth’s resources’ and the vast majority (ie, the working class) ‘need to sell their labour power in order to survive’, with the explanation that they ‘use the term working class to include all those of us who cannot live on the proceeds of their property or capital’.

And the point of this pamphlet is to explain how, if progress is to be made towards establishing that completely new society, the common interest of that vast majority must override the divisions and diversions that are constantly arising within it associated with race, gender, disability or any other type of so-called ‘identity politics’. It gives a readable account of how capitalism has, in its development, used those divisions to its advantage and how, even today, ‘identity politics sets us against each other’ and divides us as a class. It points out how ‘cultural diversity’ is used to divert attention from the shared working-class issue of wage slavery and insecurity and to divide workers from one another, when, in a different kind of cooperative, materially secure, tolerant society, diversity between different people or peoples would be a cause for interest and celebration among everyone. The pamphlet sums up the situation well: ‘Class is the fundamental division in our society, not because it is more important in terms of affecting people’s lives than oppressions such as racism or sexism, but because it is the one thing that unites us into a potential revolutionary movement.’

It follows from this that it is in the interest of the class of wage and salary workers (ie, the vast majority of us) to be as free as possible to spread the idea of a revolutionary change of society, not to be hampered by fear of the kind of censorship that seeks to silence discussion in case it may offend a certain identity group. This is an argument summed up in a section of the pamphlet entitled ‘Identity politics kills freedom of expression and suppresses debate’, which then however goes on to say that ‘a more effective approach is to support the self-organisation of oppressed groups into autonomous groups’. And it is here, in its closing pages, that the pamphlet somewhat loses its way.

Its attempt to argue that ‘autonomous groups’ are less of a diversion from the united interests of workers than identity groups, because the latter focus ‘only on the oppression of the group’, while in the former ‘there is no anti-capitalist perspective that may see other workers as the enemy’ is far from convincing, drifting as it does into discussion of how these autonomous groups might go about influencing, for example, trade unions or the operation of professions, such as the legal one. A far cry this from the earlier call for ‘a completely new society’.

This drift into a focus on relatively minor details of how the capitalist system operates flows, one suspects, from a refusal, endemic among anarchists (even those who share our ambition of a stateless, world society without frontiers, without leaders and led, without money and buying and selling, and based on free access to all goods and services), to contemplate using parliament and the ballot box as democratic revolutionary instruments. The fact is that, as socialists, we cannot reasonably see any other way of achieving the end that both we and many anarcho-communists envisage and we fear that the anarcho-communist rejection of the ballot box marks them out as a tendency which misunderstands an important element of how capitalism works and thus removes credibility from their arguments about how socialism (or anarcho-communism) can be achieved. Our basic point is that the ballot box is a sort of genie that has been let out of the bottle and, though currently used to run and bolster capitalism, once socialist consciousness is widespread, it cannot be put back in but instead can be the tool for getting rid of capitalism, ‘legally’ so to speak.
Howard Moss

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