Sunday, December 2, 2007

Politics on Campus

Rahel Aima has written a really great piece for The Eye and we missed it somehow. Here it is in case you missed it as well.

Rahel addresses one of the fundamental tensions on campus which often remains largely submerged. The feeling among many that "white leftists" privilege class analysis while ignoring the reality of white privilege, while the more marxist oriented activists feel that "identity politics" can be charged with emotionalism, factionalism, and superficiality. As Rahel points out, this was one of the major tensions in the New Left, and for any viable left today, it is a problematic that needs to be worked out. Lucha, as an organization that has both an orientation towards the issues of a specific ethnic group (Latinos) and a strong emphasis on class analysis, capitalism, and imperialism has held this very tension within it as an organization. Better than we have ourselves, Rahel speaks to the reasons we decided to organize el participante.

Rahel's article ends with the note that when out on the streets, it doesn't matter what the beliefs or identities of our fellow protesters might be. While this is true, and sectarianism has been a destructive curse upon the left, this point cannot go too far and reveals latent weaknesses within the left as a movement. Ideas, political philosophy, and ideology matter - ignoring our differences will only exacerbate the tensions. This is not a project that involves imposing ideological discipline and unity, but rather a self-conscious, serious, realistic debate about the ideas, identities, strengths and weaknesses of the left - as campus activists and as human beings. At a time when the left seems to be in a historic retreat, it is necessary, as Perry Anderson has written in the New Left Review to call a "spade a spade, rather than falling in with well-meaning cant or self-deception on the Left. The spirit of the Enlightenment rather than the Evangelicals is what is most needed today."


Anonymous said...

I disagree with Rahel's assertion that this current split between ethnic and racial identity politics and "white leftist" class analysis maps directly to a similar situation in the 60's.

Class consciousness has been declining in America over the past 30 years, and at the same time there has been a rise in ethnic and racial "identity politics."

Historian Joshua Freeman brilliantly observes this trend play out in his book WORKING-CLASS NEW YORK. Throughout most of the twentieth century, Labor Day in New York was celebrated with a huge Labor Parade down Fifth Avenue. In the 1990's, however, the growing popularity of the West Indian Carnival in Brooklyn on the same day continued to draw workers away from the Labor Day Parade. Eventually, the city Mayor started attending the Carnival over the Parade, and the parade was later moved to a different date when people would actually come.

The dichotomy between class analysis and "identity politics" is not a permanent one set in stone from time immemorial; it can and should be softened.

Anonymous said...

The problem with identity politics is not that it priveleges nationality over class, but that it priveleges subjectivity over objectivity. That, in my opinion, is the real dichotomy present in the left. The subjectivists and post-modernists argue that in order to know something you must have experienced it and that any kind of systemic generalities somehow invalidate the individual and their experience(s). Obviously, this does not exactly allow much room for collective political action. Because there is no basis for collective action in a world in which all of our experiences hold the same value, people retreat away from politics and retreat away from challenging power. Thus we have seen the left neuter itself. When the Black Panthers spoke of challenging power they meant something very physical, challenging the power of police, attempting to seize political power, establishing material economic power for their communities, etc. Nowadays, challenging power usually means reading Lacan or writing a dissertation on some aspect of identity politics. Obviously, times have changed and the left is far much more worse off because of it.