On Identitarianism: A Defense of a Strawman

For this is how things are: the diminution and leveling of European man constitutes our greatest danger, for the sight of him makes us weary. — We can see nothing today that wants to grow greater, we suspect that things will continue to go down, down, to become thinner, more good-natured, more prudent, more comfortable, more mediocre, more indifferent, more Chinese, more Christian — there is no doubt that man is getting “better” all the time. (Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals [1])

To remove the strong by means of a strong people brings weakness; to remove the strong by means of a weak people brings strength. (“The Elimination of Strength”, The Book of Lord Shang [2])

The universal has been blunted by difference, language games have overthrown universal reason, and solidarity has been betrayed by individualism: a common, severe doxa in our age of austerity. At the root of this threefold betrayal is the principle of identity which has allegedly overtaken the rightful primacy of class. The interventions made by Mark Fisher’s Exiting the Vampire Castle, Jodi Dean’s Comrades, and Michael Rectenwald’s What’s Wrong With Identity Politics (and Intersectionality Theory)? (itself a response to the first) are together just one more manifestation of this line of thought that can claim endorsement from influential intellectual figures such as Badiou [3] and Žižek [4], but clearly reflects a wider anxiety beyond academia. [5] What is called “identity politics”, so the narrative runs, have sabotaged “the Left” by sowing discord through moralizing and individualizing discourses about victimization that distract from the real business of confronting the structures of capitalism. The creation of the radically new has been stunted by the protection of static communitarian niches, and socialist unity has given way to hyper-refined bickering about discourse.

What confuses the debate from the beginning is the mystifying lack of a specific target. The paucity of details within all of the pieces (there is much talk about internet politics, considering the absence of links) preemptively sabotages any response. More importantly, those who practice “identity politics”, on or off the internet, rarely if ever describe what they do as “identity politics”: such people often make some claim to belonging to universalistic traditions like liberalism, anarchism, or Marxism. It is a term that seems to be exclusively used in a contemptuous sense by those who oppose it. Nor was the term used by any of the alleged founders of this trend during the radicalism of the ’60s or ’70s. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

“Identity politics” can draw on intellectual precursors from Mary Wollstonecraft to Frantz Fanon, writing that actually uses this specific phrase, with all its contemporary baggage, is limited almost exclusively to the last twenty years. Thus it was barely as intellectuals started to systematically outline and defend the philosophical underpinnings of identity politics that we [intellectuals] simultaneously began to challenge them. [6]

In other words, the term was the product of the ’80s or ’90s, of the era of the long Restoration, in which the right was seeking to roll back revolutionary gains in all fronts. It bears the suspicious mark of a reactionary misreading of a political phenomena, as opposed to being any type of fair, let alone neutral, description.

The second factor is that these attacks are always qualified by statements that dismissing “identity politics” is not the same as siding against the various identity groups struggling for rights and dignity. This has the same (lack of) convincingness as the arguments of those who assent to the capitalist-imperialist cliches about the tyranny, corruption, and barbarism of the periphery, who proclaim that solidarity with those under attack by the colonizers is at least just as bad as supporting the colonizers themselves, while in the end saying they are still personally opposed to imperialism. In both cases, one can imagine a person sincerely holding such an opinion. But their arguments rob one of any positive reason for caring for the struggles of the oppressed in question, who are separated from us on a lower tier of the epistemic hierarchy. They are trapped in their irredeemably particularistic settings, while We, liberated from identity and place, look on in clinical detachment. At the same time, these nuances, whether they amount to anything or not, must be acknowledged in any fair reply.

The most powerful ideas are those which can co-opt even their critics, or at least can smuggle past their main assumptions unmolested. Many of the responses to Fisher’s piece have sought to engage with it on the level of its Gothic metaphorical language, or have ceded that the author has valid concerns, but take things too far. The vampires are in another castle, if only the author should read this or that, etc. The de-valuation of certain concepts by the anti-identitarian camp is not put in question. In the end, no one wants to be the monster at the end. This makes it all the more necessary, following Malcolm Bull, to “read like a loser”, as if we were members of the loathed vampiric identitarian Trojan Horse allegedly in our midst. This would mean taking up the tainted concepts — ressentiment, individuality, identity — and seek to re-appropriate them as positive for their own sake, and not merely by sufferance.

Continuing the Slave Revolt

It is argued that we need to combat the general spirit of pathology and depression that is allegedly working against the advancement of revolution, free of all merely particularistic burdens, towards the wonder of the future. Strength, health, “sexiness”, and laughter are to be affirmed, while what disturbs this happy equilibrium is to exorcised as the work of parasites and outsiders working in bad faith, as the doubly evil vestiges of a Christian past (or perhaps just of Stalin and the Chinese Cultural Revolution). At bottom is the self-defeating poison of ressentiment, the envious tearing down and demonization of the allegedly more privileged and professionally successful.

Behind this position (explicitly in Fisher, implicitly and not disputed in the other two authors) is a Nietzschean narrative of the millennia long struggle between slave morality and master morality outlined in On the Genealogy of Morals. But there are at least two misreadings of Nietzsche at work here. For one thing, Christianity is made out to be the lone ancient bugbear who invented “all the infernal strategies, dark pathologies and psychological torture instruments” (Fisher) when in the original text it was the obstinate Jews who, “with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good = noble = powerful = beautiful = happy = beloved of God).” The founding of Christianity itself was in fact, for Nietzsche, merely a part of the “truly great politics of vengeance, a far-sighted, underground, slowly expropriating, and premeditated revenge” of the Jewish race, consumed by its envy against fitter, more “noble” peoples. By moving the malignant origin of ressentiment to a safer target, the reader is distracted from the stench of 19th-century style anti-Semitism that hangs over the text, and the very unambiguous understanding of history as conspiracy and race war that this form of bigotry is enmeshed with. Second, no one seems to bother, when invoking the tropes about the need to restore strength and renounce “priestly” habits, to consider how these ideas are integrally related for Nietzsche to his openly partisan stance on the class war. The reason why Nietzsche despises what Fisher calls “the priesthood of bad conscience”, old and new, is because it is complicit in “the slave revolt in morality: that revolt which has a history of two thousand years behind it and which we no longer see because it — has been victorious.” In other words, the “Judaic” slave morality is connected, in On the Genealogy of Morality, with the coming of democracy and socialism, and that is why, in Nietzsche’s view, it needs to be stopped. Some socialists, then, seem be in the odd position of insisting on reading Nietzsche backwards, and counseling the abandonment of the great revaluation of values in favor of the weak that has guided past milestones in emancipation for the masses in order to add more “force” and “confidence” to the revolutions to come. Self-defeatingly, it seems we are advised to imitate the cheerful aristocratic natures that in every age have had to face down the unnatural strength of the sad faced and the sickly (a.k.a. the oppressed).

If the writers had not overidentified with the authorial voice of Nietzsche, they would have noticed, first that it’s not the weakness of “slave morality” that is actually repugnant to him, but its power. The real scandal that disturbs all of Nietzsche’s writings was that by the 19th century European, indeed global, civilization had been apparently conquered by the ideals of the lower classes, whether through the Gospel of the churches, the political maxims of the French Revolution, or the “philistinism” of Anglo-Saxon liberalism. He was certainly not concerned by the practical ineffectiveness of this or that radical scene; on the contrary. Second, they would have noticed that Nietzsche, who grasped his enemies better than many of his admirers, recognized that, far from being merely stagnant, ressentiment had a great (if deleterious) creative power, and this was its strength. Slave morality was victorious everywhere because it transformed poverty, infirmity, and mental “pathology” into something that gave value to the lives of the “unexceptional” majority, and made them into lethal enemies of the various noble castes that Nietzsche eulogizes. It is the “reactive” vengefulness of the oppressed that transformed their lack of temporal advantages into a claim for dignity in the eyes of God, right in the sight of the law, and, ultimately, into an exculpatory justification for revolutionary action. Third, any reading of Nietzsche will notice that while slave morality may have its roots in vindictiveness, and this is how it expresses itself towards enemies, real and perceived, that is not its final result. Both in On the Genealogy of Morals and elsewhere, the ultimate result of this all this endless tearing down by the chandalas is the general spread of a “mediocre” and “plebeian” spirit, infected with such vices as undiscriminating good naturedness, longing for peace, love of equality, and hatred of tyranny. In other words, what one would think would be desirable human characteristics in any future post-capitalist society. This is the fundamental reason for Nietzsche’s distaste for ressentiment, not the unconvincing contempt for revenge by a man who was nothing if not a great hater himself. In a levelling society which no longer respected domination for its own sake, but valued mutual aid and tranquility, any potentially aristocratic soul would be softly suffocated to death before it even had time to know itself. For someone profoundly committed to elitism, to the point of believing it to be necessary for “life” itself to thrive, this would indeed be the abomination of abominations, the worst of all possible futures. But it is puzzling that anyone claiming to work for the advancement of a more democratic and socialist future would share Nietzsche’s anxieties at this prospect. If anything, it is wanting to follow what he approves of at all that should fill us with concern, not the possibility that we may be approximating his histrionic racist caricatures of popular power.

Of course, not taking most of what Nietzsche say seriously is to be expected in this particular context. Since those seeking to appropriate the Nietzschean critique identify as leftists, and are seeking to sway leftists, they can’t take his disdain for the demos to its logical conclusion and divide humanity into two separate species. They are concerned about upholding the dignity of the universal, after all. Instead, they have chosen to summon up such an untrustworthy (if culturally respected) devil for more trivial causes. These authors want to use against their (vaguely defined) enemies the moral psychology of Nietzsche, as if that can be neatly separated from his wider historical vision and political beliefs. Their opponents can be explained away as weak minded, envious, and fetishists of their own victimhood, while they themselves are justified by their hardheadedness and evident lack of suffering. By doing so, they are primarily seeking to insulate some, most notably certain makers of opinions (academic and media personalities) from snarky one-liners and criticism from the rest, in the name of an alleged unity of purpose:

But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance. [7]

Instead of morality, with its interplay of habit, personal judgment, and the acknowledgment of shared rules, we are asked to accept the cliqueness of etiquette. Instead of taking on the risk of criticism that making statements in a public sphere implies, we are asked to retreat into the coziness of merely personal relations. Political discourse is to be made less demotic and more like the insular community of gentlemen that Nietzsche preferred, who could afford equality amongst themselves, as long as the distinction between the truly free insiders and naturally servile outsiders was maintained. Thus, the critique which demanded a new collectivity seems in the end itself to stumble on the problem of compartmentalization that it sought to transcend; and instead of going “beyond good and evil” towards a new communist mentality, it resurrects, for narrow purposes, very dubious and threadbare aristocratic prejudices.

The “Excessive” Proliferation of Agents

Against contemporary individuality, a three-fold case is made: first that it is bourgeois in character, a by-product of post-Fordist, postmodern capitalism; second, that is a epistemologically handicapped category, since it can’t think in terms of the functioning of the system as a whole; and third, that it undermines the proper solidarity that should exist between comrades in the common struggle against capitalism.

Against the first objection it must be emphasised that the bourgeois have never, except in the region of rhetoric, been about promoting individuality as such, but only the individuality of people like themselves, or rather, how they think themselves to be. It has always been guarded as a privilege for the few to have, and the many to lack by default. The masses are the masses because, from the perspective of the ruling class, they can be treated as an impersonal aggregate of bodies to be managed, not as being made up of finite beings with “personalities” like themselves. The pretensions to uniqueness of the bourgeoisie is grounded on most people being represented as tending towards the condition of the invisible, the monster, or the instrumentum vocale. That some whose exploitation and oppression was previously accepted as natural now must be acknowledged as having individualities too, in theory equal with their social betters, is an embarrassing reversal of ruling class power. The pathos of distance between masters and the rest is harder to maintain when one needs to accommodate, if only for the sake of appearance, groups who could have been easily shrugged a few decades ago. And if more “constituencies” have to be pleased, the bourgeois model of “decisive” and “effective” leadership becomes more and more frustratingly elusive, as a particularly celebrated/infamous ideologue recently lamented:

The decision system has become too porous — too democratic — for its own good, giving too many actors the means to stifle adjustments in public policy. We need stronger mechanisms to force collective decisions but, because of the judicialization of government and the outsized role of interest groups, we are unlikely to acquire such mechanisms short of a systemic crisis. [8]

This process of expanding individual right that is, from one perspective, one of co-option and embourgeoisement is from another a victory for the previously marginalized and a limitation on the future power of maneuver for the capitalist class as a whole. Therefore, the spread of the concept of individuality, as a contradictory phenomena, can’t be one-sidedly denounced, but must be understood and appreciated dialectically.

Against the second accusation, it can certainly be ceded that while no worthwhile critique of capitalism can end in the immediacy of individuality, none can begin without it, if only because the perspective that apprehends totality is not from nowhere, but from a place that is already thrown in media res within the motion of the whole. And because of the complexity of the capitalist system, those starting points will be many and diverse. Further, a perception of the social whole in which the subject works outward from his or her own particular experiences will generally be more adequate that one that simply invokes an a priori notion of totality. By thinking upon the concrete ways one is out of joint with the system, and refusing resignation from this state of disjunction, the true contours of the system are made clearer than if one just mechanically invokes “the class struggle” as an explanatory key. As Adorno (no friend of bourgeois individualism) expressed it in Negative Dialectics:

Experience and consistency enable the individual to see in the universal a truth that the universal as blindly prevailing power conceals from itself and others. The reigning consensus puts the universal in the right because of the mere form of universality. Universality, itself a concept, comes thus to be conceptless and inimical to reflection; for the mind to perceive and to name that side of it is the first condition of resistance and a modest beginning of practice. [9]

Finally, it said that bringing up individuals and their differences between one another is inherently inimical and divisive. We need to focus more on “impersonal structures” of economic power instead of seeking to criticize the actions of others. There is at the very least a performative contradiction at work here, if not outright hypocrisy. All three articles under discussion appeal to the readers to change their minds in a specific way (“get over yourselves, stop condemning”) but at the time they say that individual behavior is not “really” important, not something one should get excited about and write 2500+ words on. Further, while speculating on the perhaps less than exalted motivations of those “who emerges out of the left as someone exciting, someone to hear and read” or noting that academic and millionaire actors may not themselves be workers is to risk witch hunts, questioning the background and intellectual genealogy of others (such as accusations against opponents as being “petite bourgeois” in class background, or linking talk of privilege to a “Stalinist” model of politics) is apparently acceptable. In order to stop people from obsessing about the behavior of others, we must vigorously seek to persuade them to alter their own behavior. In seeking to end discord and shame, both must apparently be multiplied, but against different sorts of people. Thus the authors’ own struggles against the vampire castle of “identity politics” admits the rationality at work in those they accuse of being so naive as to get angry at other people who perpetuate injustice, as opposed to the “the real enemy” of capitalism, who seems to float, mysteriously, above the actions of actual human beings.

This incoherence in action, in turn, is based on a theoretical reification, a process its proponents often decry. For when the appeal is made to impersonal structure, they speak as if structures were not made up and reproduced daily by individual agents. Without the continued co-operation by actions, words, and thought of human beings, the systemic oppression and exploitation would not exist. No misogyny without misogynists, no racism without racists, no capitalism without capitalists. If any privileged agents that act as bearers of the sustaining practices of the system lack the confidence to act because of fear of popular power, that is one more multiplying factor for the contradictions of the system as a whole. Hence the perennial interest of the ruling class in propaganda and coercion. The strength of those presently at the top and the weakness of those presently at the bottom must constantly be reaffirmed, while the wavering middle strata must be taught to identify with the former, not the latter. Revolutionary theory and praxis, by contrast, seeks to do the opposite, by analogous methods of persuasion and force. To act, then, as if changing structures does not require engaging with individuals is deeply disingenuous. Intellectually, this leads to the reproduction of a stultifying dichotomy between structure and agency. On the level of praxis, it simply blocks debate and self-criticism with the chimera of an unearned sense of togetherness.

From Nullity to Identity

Finally, at the heart of this critique is the attack on the concept of identity itself:

Similarly, identity, like an occupation, is a trap, because it curtails human potential and bars workers from participation in the social totality as fully developing individuals. Identities are reified social categories from which we should emerge, not within which we should be compelled to remain… It aims to liberate identity groups (or members thereof) qua identity groups (or individuals), rather than aiming to liberate them from identity itself. [10]

But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group. [7]

Which begs the question, as eloquently articulated by Linda Martín Alcoff:

Why assume that giving any prerogative to the parent/community/society or the discourse/episteme/socius is in every case and necessarily, psychically pernicious and enabling only at the cost of a more profound subordination? Why assume that if I am culturally, ethnically, sexually identifiable that this is a process akin to Kafka’s nightmarish torture machines in the penal colony? [11]

The dismissive understanding of identity as trap parrots the position of its alleged opponents and simply gives it a negative meaning: one can’t be [X] and be anything more than that at the same time; one can’t be [X] and understand anyone who is not [X] or anything else beyond being [X], because others’ human experiences are so opaque, and yours to them. Instead of actually thinking of identity as fluid, or that our feelings are translatable to others, as they claim to, these authors assume the opposite is the case in order to demand the renunciation of identities altogether as the precondition for emancipatory struggle.

If identities are indeed fluid, they can hypothetically be cultivated and educated beyond any narcissistic cul-de-sac they may have arrived at, and there would be no reason for an antagonistic contradiction between them and socialist politics. But instead, they are to be liquidated, because they “bar participation in the social totality.” It is unclear how this is the case, or what this means in practice. If it refers to the exclusion suffered on account of being a certain identity, then it would be the fault of systemic oppression, not the identities themselves. The former should be the proper focus of attack. If this argument is not referring to discriminatory treatment, then it seems to have the unfortunate implication that (for some unexplained reason) being-black, being-Palestinian, being-a-woman, etc., is incompatible with full participation in society. The fascists, apparently were right in their intuitions, just wrong in execution. While reactionaries wish to “return” society to a unity purified of difference centered around some national volk, the socialists of this type wants to push society forward to a unity without difference, centered around either a return to a retro-proletarian identity preserved by T.V. stars or… je ne sais quoi. Both visions offer the consoling (to some) thought that, someday, all opaqueness will be abolished, and we will be free from the task of having to deal with any strangers in our midst. The language and the means may differ, but the aim is the same, the annihilation of all particular identities within an unsegmented collective.

Such views run into the grave problem that they contradict how radical politics has in fact unfolded, both in the core and the periphery. Either a great deal of what is conventionally considered revolutionary history has to be rejected, or it must be gravely misinterpreted. The former option is openly taken by Rectenwald. The latter one is taken by Fisher, who at one point cites the example of Malcolm X and Che Guevara as authentically communist examples of “a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality.” But the lives of both of these figures reveals a quite different dialectic than the liquidationist paradigm Fisher holds up. Malcolm X thinking moved towards revolutionary universalism by fidelity to two particular experiences — that of being black in America, and being a follower of Islam — neither of which were static identities, but developed over time along with his overall political vision. Nor would the trajectory of Che Guevara make any sense without his loyalties to an interconnected family of patrias — Argentina, Cuba, Latin America as a whole — and his sympathies for the plight of those throughout the world who were dispossessed of a homeland of their own by imperialism. In neither case was the particular simply shed to reveal the “real” core of truth beneath all of the contingencies. What they wanted and who they were were inseparably intertwined. For both men, the abstract forms of political emancipation were given content by a concern to live out specific identities to the end, identities which in turn which were given a heightened meaning and intensity by being forced to acknowledge and search for what fell outside of themselves. And, pace Rectenwald, they were allowed to develop as very distinct individuals precisely because they took up as an ethical task the burden of bearing not one, but several, predications.

And surely this has also been the case with the radicalization of people who never achieved the celebrity of those two men. The mere abstract hope in a completely alien future that we cannot even yet imagine is rarely sufficient to make the leap towards resistance. Nor is it always a concern for wages and workplace conditions that forces one to think in terms of revolution as opposed to resignation or incremental reform. Often, it is the seizure of a name, of some fragments of experience, memory, and desire, and the refusal to surrender them up, that forces otherwise mute and dumb atomized individuals to confront the totality that encircles them. What was formerly passively accepted destiny become then a means for self-creation and the construction of new polities. This process can take on many idiosyncratic forms. What are usually called “identities” simply give public and political form to some of the more common manifestations of this phenomena, reflecting where the major objective contradictions of the system are located (race, gender, nationality, etc.). While the sources for this subjectivation are different, all function by the integration of revolutionary principles into our lives as social animals who feel, love, remember, and hope, as well as think. With the entrance of identities, the rejection of capitalism becomes no longer just about the prospect of economic improvement, but the recovery and transformation of ourselves.

Nor does this emotional investment isolate us, or at least necessarily isolate us. Once we have come to the conclusion we have been wronged by capitalism, it becomes easier to conceive that others may have suffered as well. The world that may have presented itself as one more or less happy whole of essentially identical people now begins to tell multiple tales of tragedy, struggle, and occasional victory. And these stories, like the oppressions they wrestle with, are connected through history by the chains of necessity. The belonging that spectacle, humanitarianism, and legal equality failed to provide is now supplemented by counter-narratives and networks of resistance that speak of a clefted universalism that is yet to come. Ultimately, what was wanted only for one’s own sake, in seeking to realize itself, becomes the basis for a general sympathy with others.

Taking a Step Back

It is instructive to compare the critiques of “identitarianism” being discussed here with Postmodernism Today: A Brief Introduction, published around the mid-2000s by pro-Naxalite publishing outfit by an author going under the name of Siraj. It has similar concerns about the divisiveness of the many recent theories arising out of post-structuralism. But despite arising from a political movement currently struggling in far more desperate circumstances than any of us involved in this exchange will likely ever face, the piece is careful to avoid certain excesses when attacking the discourses it considers “postmodern”. For one thing, the article sets itself clearly against Nietzsche, who is dubbed both “the guru of post-modernists/post-structuralists” and “Hitler’s philosophical guru.” Further, the text refuses to cede to their opponents’ bourgeois understanding of difference in terms of a hopeless zero sum game of subordination:

While preaching discourses in a society based on power, Post-Modernists conveniently avoid delving deeper into the facts that difference does not invariably mean bossing or domination and that a society can move forward having many differences, some are open to change with fundamental changes in a society. [12]

From this Naxalite perspective, the critics of “identity politics” would seem to have succumbed to the errors of the ideologies they believe themselves to be fighting against. They have assented to the idea that difference necessitates the empowerment of one group over another, and thus make a fatal confrontation between difference and collectivity inevitable:

This, however, does not preclude the conscious efforts on the part of revolutionaries from the beginning to address various types of domination and exploitation while spearheading the attack against the principal forms of exploitation and domination. This was one of the crucial theoretical mistakes of the C.P.I. and C.P.I.(M) leadership: to shelve struggles against caste system and such other questions with the fond hope that a socialist society shall automatically erase them from the Indian society. Such a fatalistic approach based on Discourse is clearly anti-Marxist, and hence harmful to the revolutionary struggle. It only poses a question whose post-modernist solution is embedded in anarchy, passivity and also running away from the actual struggle against any type of domination. [12]

Thus, exclusive focus on class is not only bad theory and bad practice, but dialectically a twin to the deviations towards postmodern bourgeois idealism that it is notionally opposite. It creates the conditions for such errors to find an audience by ignoring intractable problems, and brings about the actual anarchy that they seek to avoid by a myopic focus on economic exploitation. By holding fast to a Maoist understanding of there being (potentially) non-antagonistic contradictions among “the people” as well as the antagonistic contradictions between the exploited and exploiter, Siraj is able to articulate what is wrong with bourgeois ideologies without denying difference its place or ceding ground to the reactionary, psychologizing thought of Nietzsche. “Totalitarian” Marxist-Leninist dogmatism thus proves more sound in its political instincts regarding this issue than those who would pride themselves on their anti-Stalinism and magnanimous lack of authoritarian tendencies.

Conclusion: Which Transvaluation of Values will Win?

We should support whatever the enemy opposes and oppose whatever the enemy supports. (Mao Tse-Tung)

We crumbled apart
and crumbled into one again.
(From “Irish” by Paul Celan)

Every intellectual trend and every political epoch undergoes a backlash, and this backlash in turn divide into competing claimants. Within first world radical politics, struggling to define itself in the aftermath of neoliberalism and the unsuccessful oppositional politics that accompanied it, there can be discerned two distinct camps seeking to project their diagnosis of the current malaise, and the solution required.

For one side, whose position Fisher and the rest have helped articulate, what is lacking and needed, is greater homogeneity and discipline. The Left, since the ’60s has been corrupted and bogged down by allowing in so much diversity; what is needed is contraction into a body capable of decisive and effective management of itself. Nietzchean affect is to be combined, incongruously, with a certain type of grey universalism, the slick ambience of aristocratic irrationalism married to the cult of the rationalized undifferentiated social totality to come. Just as the metropolitan revolutionaries of the late 18th-century and 19th-century took over the muscular colonial archetype of Hercules as a mythic model, these proudly Spartan futurists and post-Leninist Lacanians seem to intend to take over the harsher models of ruling class power in order to make an opposition that is more adult, grand, and martial:

We have to be connected, solidary, and strong. [13]

But against this there is the (perhaps less articulate) consensus that holds that what is called “identitarianism” or “multiculturalism”, far from being overwhelmingly dominant, is the route that has never been more than half-heartedly pursued; and that what is sometimes called “slave morality” — the urge to level, “herd instinct”, and contempt for strength — have always characterized the advancement of freedom. It is the further integration of the peoples in their rage that promises the disintegration of capital; it is this that bourgeoisie have always feared and sought to frustrate, not flattering celebrations of their own preferred self-image or demonization of the rudeness of the mob. The ruling class are fine with hiding behind abstract totality, as long as it is kept from being excessively saturated by the multitude, who want many things, not all of which can be satisfied at once under the present global regime. What they fear is not the reign of the universal itself, but the universal being forced to expand, in multiple directions, by the demands for inclusion by previously subordinate particulars, who have always known the collective better than the collective has known itself. Thus, instead of looking to imitate the sleek homogeneity of the powers that be, true solidarity should grow of the differences and negativity that already exist, will exist, and will triumph, regardless of ineffectual cries of “peace!” where there is no peace. Instead of seeking to paint the hegemonic prejudices of capitalism red, the great inversion of values must again be repeated. What has been considered the most contemptible, weak, and diseased has thus far proved the most dangerous to the ruling class. What is most contemptible, weak, and diseased must therefore be multiplied.

  1. Friedrich Nietzsche, 1887. On the Genealogy of Morals. [web] 

  2. Shang Yang, 3rd century BC. The Book of Lord Shang. [web] 

  3. Alain Badiou, 2002. Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil

  4. Slavoj Zizek, 2007. The Culturalization of Politics. [web] 

  5. This article does not consider Eve Mitchell’s piece [14] on intersectionality because, while objections may be raised to it, the overall thrust of argument — “liberation must include both the particular and the universal”, “struggling as women but also as humans” — seems substantially different from the other three, and closer my own understanding of the matter, despite the differences in ultimate conclusions. Similarly, JMP’s piece [15] comes from a MLM angle that is distinct from the tendency being dealt with here. 

  6. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Identity Politics [web] 

  7. Mark Fisher, 2013. Exiting the Vampire Castle. [web] 

  8. Francis Fukuyama, 2013. The Decay of American Political Institutions. The American Interest. [web] 

  9. Theodor W. Adorno, 1966. Negative Dialectics

  10. Michael Rectenwald, 2013. What’s Wrong With Identity Politics (and Intersectionality Theory)? [web] 

  11. Linda Martín Alcoff, 2000. Who’s Afraid of Identity Politics? [web] 

  12. Siraj, 2006. Post-modernism Today: A Brief Introduction. People’s March: Voice of the Indian Revolution. [web] 

  13. Jodi Dean, 2013. Comrades. [web] 

  14. Eve Mitchell, 2013. I am a woman and a human: a Marxist feminist critique of intersectionality theory. [web] 

  15. Joshua Moufawad-Paul, 2013. 10 Theses on Identity Politics. [web]