Wednesday, August 23, 2017

An unnecessary, incomplete, and probably inept defense of Adolph Reed

The identitarian left has ignored Adolph Reed since 2009 because they believe "lived experience" trumps all and no one can deny that Reed has lived his life as a black man. So they said nothing about him and hoped he would go away.

Inconveniently, he didn't.

So now they're attacking him. In the facile White Marxism: A Critique of Jacobin Magazine, Uday Jain offers examples of the people he tries to damn with the silly concept of "white Marxism": Vivek Chibber, Walter Benn Michaels, Nivedita Majumdar, and Adolph Reed. Of the four, the only one who could be called white is a Jew. Jain relies on the same tactic that neoliberals use to attack fans of Bernie Sanders: Pretend they're all white men and trust their readers will never notice the truth.

Mark Harman's Identity crisis: Leftist anti-wokeness is bullshit is a smarter attack that focuses on Reed. It's long and mistaken, so if you'd rather not read it, here are a few comments I left there that may be useful out of context:
I give you credit for addressing Reed, but your ideological filter is keeping you from seeing many things. Here's a hasty response:

1. When Reed says, "I’m increasingly convinced that a likely reason is that the race line is itself a class line..." he's pointing to a truth: The class system provides a structure for racism. In the US today, we do not have a racial system that's separate from the class system as existed during Jim Crow or in apartheid South Africa. Instead, racism affects Americans within the class system like an extra weight that some members must bear.

2. The Black Panthers were working in the black community, but they rejected identity politics while fighting racism, just as Malcolm X did after he left the Nation of Islam. For example:

“Working class people of all colors must unite against the exploitative, oppressive ruling class. Let me emphasize again — we believe our fight is a class struggle, not a race struggle.” — Bobby Seale, co-founder Black Panther Party

And here's the Hampton quote with the parts that don't fit your thesis:

“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.” —Fred Hampton

3. You say, "Reed has also dismissed “intersectionality” specifically, reducing it to merely campus activism and simply an extension of neo-liberal identity politics, ignoring that it emerged as the work of black feminists addressing specifically the failures of struggles in the ‘60s."

"Intersectionality" was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw who, like her mentor Derrick Bell, was trying to address a social problem while rejecting the anti-capitalism of people like King and Malcolm X. She is a bourgeois black feminist who has not said anything in support of socialism that I've been able to find. Why any socialist would think the concepts of the bourgeoisie are good when they come from its black members, I have not a clue, and yet some do.

You might ask yourself why neoliberals love Crenshaw's approach. David Harvey has the answer in his book on neoliberalism:

"Neoliberal rhetoric, with its foundational emphasis upon individual freedoms, has the power to split off libertarianism, identity politics, multi-culturalism, and eventually narcissistic consumerism from the social forces ranged in pursuit of social justice through the conquest of state power. It has long proved extremely difficult within the US left, for example, to forge the collective discipline required for political action to achieve social justice without offending the desire of political actors for individual freedom and for full recognition and expression of particular identities. Neoliberalism did not create these distinctions, but it could easily exploit, if not foment, them." —David Harvey
One commenter mentioned Mark Fisher, so I added:
Something from Mark Fisher's "Exiting the Vampire Castle" since it was mentioned:

"I’ve noticed a fascinating magical inversion projection-disavowal mechanism whereby the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, as the Vampires’ Castle uses an ultimately liberal understanding of race and gender to obfuscate class."
A commenter called Khawaga insisted my comments about Crenshaw were only ad hominem and noted Marx had a middle-class background, so I said,
The difference is Marx was rejecting his class; Crenshaw was embracing hers.

The brilliance of "intersectionality" is it is effectively disconnectionality: instead of seeing the world in terms of interrelated forms of oppression, it makes each form unique and says they only intersect sometimes. It takes racism in particular from its historical roots in slavery and turns it into a psychological flaw. The result is an ideology that lets the bourgeoisie continue to divide us by race and gender.
A commenter called radicalgraffiti provided a quote from Crenshaw that had a token mention of class. I answered,

Quoting Crenshaw in 2014 does not change the fact that her original conception of intersectionality was limited to race and gender. When I did a little researching, I saw another feminist brought in class about a year later, if I remember correctly.

In my experience, intersectionalists tend to talk about "classism" rather than class, continuing their focus on prejudice rather than economic relationships.
And when Khawaga continued to insist I was engaging in ad hominem, I said,
I am not saying Crenshaw should be ignored because she's bourgeois. I'm saying intersectionality is a bourgeois ideology. When neoliberals like Hillary Clinton cite it, you should suspect it's not a concept that's on our side. It is an approach to justice that focuses on identity proportionality, so to an intersectionalist, if the classes were equally representative, they would be fair. Whereas I would say the problem is not proportionality; it's the existence of a class system that must be ended no matter what form it takes.
The discussion there continues. If I decide to stay in it, I may update this post.