This contribution offers some observations with regard to political identities in a popular movement largely based in the shantytowns of Durban, South Africa. It seeks to examine, via more than a decade of immersion and research, one instance of how popular organisation and mobilisation has been mediated through shifting political identities. It argues that if discourse professionals on the left are to become effective actors it will be necessary to take popular political identities a lot more seriously, and to enable mutually transformative engagement between theory and actually-existing forms of popular striving and struggle.
This paper explores contemporary Jewish identity-formation and the centrality of official Holocaust memory and Zionism – understood as the ongoing settler-colonial project aiming at the formation and maintenance of a Jewish-exclusivist state in Palestine – to this process. It argues that identity politics within the Jewish community are based on an understanding of identity, which assumes it to be static and individual. In doing so, this political approach reproduces the essentialisation of Jewish communities under the banner of Zionism and official state history. The paper aims to show how this process of identification between Judaism, official Holocaust memory and Zionism has been a state-led process, rooted in the historical development of antisemitism and European colonialism. In order to do so, it builds on a critique of classical Marxist analyses of the Jewish question. It finally proposes a more fluid approach to identity, which understands it as socially constructed, contested, and subject to political contestation.
Its critics call it ‘feminism-as-crime-control’, or ‘Governance Feminism’, diagnosing it as a pernicious form of identity politics. Its advocates call it taking sexual violence seriously – by which they mean wielding the power of the state to ‘punish perpetrators’ and ‘protect vulnerable women’. Both sides agree that this approach follows from the radical feminist analysis of sexual violence most strikingly formulated by Catharine MacKinnon. The aim of this paper is to rethink the Governance Feminism debate by questioning this common presupposition. It asks whether taking MacKinnon’s analysis of sexual violence seriously might, in fact, itself give us reason to be critical of political strategies that embrace the punitive state. By raising this question, this paper aims to persuade radical feminists to listen to critics of carceral politics rather than dismissing them as rape apologists, and critics of carceral politics to listen to radical feminists rather than dismissing them as state apologists.
Critics of ‘identity politics’ tend to assume that any exploration of subjective experience is tantamount to an affirmation of liberal individualism. This essay attempts to counteract this assumption through an analysis of case histories and research publications by twentieth century psychoanalysts and psychologists. Such texts demonstrate the ways in which even the most ephemeral psychological experiences – dreams, fantasies, desires – are bound up with structural forms of oppression. Furthermore, these texts – through processes of abstraction, generalization and classification – indicate ways in which interiorities clash up against externally defined identity categories; oppression is lived but lived experience also exceeds and complicates identity.
In the coming months and years, the left faces a historic juncture. On the one hand, racist violence is on the rise across the West, and the political class seems intent on mobilising both overt and subtle racism. On the other hand, strategies of anti-racist organising, which have developed on both sides of the Atlantic, have reached a theoretical impasse. Now, more than ever, a serious project of historical and intellectual retrieval is necessary. This article interrogates the theoretical limitations of ‘anti-blackness’ as an analysis of racialised oppression. Through the thought of Frantz Fanon and Steve Biko, among others, this paper argues that theories of ‘anti-blackness’, specifically those rooted in Afro-pessimism, are predicated on a theoretical shift away from relational social theory to identitarian essentialism which obscures, rather than illuminates, the processes of racialisation which undergird racial oppression.
In recent years, there has been renewed interest in conceptualising the relationship between oppression and capitalism as well as intense debate over the precise nature of this relationship. No doubt spurred on by the financial crisis, it has become increasingly clear that capitalism, both historically and in the twenty-first century, has had particularly devastating effects for women and people of colour. Intersectionality, which emerged in the late twentieth century as a way of addressing the relationship between race, gender, sexuality and class, has critiqued orthodox Marxism for its inattention to the complex dynamics of various social locations; in turn Marxist thinkers in the twenty-first century have engaged with intersectionality, calling attention to the impoverished notion of class and capitalism on which it relies. As intersectionality constitutes perhaps the most common way that contemporary activists and theorists on the left conceive of identity politics, an analysis of intersectionality’s relationship to Marxism is absolutely crucial for historical materialists to understand and consider. This paper looks at the history of intersectionality’s and Marxism’s critiques of one another in order to ground a synthesis of the two frameworks. It argues that in the twenty-first century, we need a robust, Marxist analysis of capitalism, and that the only robust account of capitalism is one articulated intersectionally, one which treats class, race, gender and sexuality as fundamental to capitalist accumulation.
This paper draws on the cultural-materialist paradigm articulated by Raymond Williams to offer a radical historicisation of identity and identity-politics in capitalist societies. A keywords analysis reveals surprisingly that identity, as it is elaborated in the familiar categories of personal and social identity, is a relatively novel concept in Western thought, politics and culture. The claim is not the standard one that people’s ‘identities’ became more important and apparent in advanced capitalist societies, but that identity itself came to operate as a new and key mechanism for construing, shaping and narrating experiences of selfhood and grouphood in this period. From a cultural-materialist perspective, the emergence and evolution of this idea of identity can only be properly understood in relation to the social contexts of its use, namely, the new contexts of consumption of capitalist societies, and the development of new forms of group-based struggle from the 1960s. What the analysis shows is that it was the commercialisation and politicisation of older essentialist understandings of selfhood and grouphood in these contexts that has given rise to the concepts of personal and social identity as we know them today. By exploring the material conditions that have given rise to the contemporary powerful attachment to ‘identity’, this paper offers a new point of departure from which to pursue many issues of concern to critical theorists and radical activists today, including the conflict over identity politics in radical circles, the historical and social processes behind their development and at least partial co-option, and their relation to neoliberal political-economic formations today.
This special issue responds to ongoing debates around what has been termed ‘identity politics’. We aim to intervene in what are make-or-break questions for the Left today. Specifically, we wish to provoke further interrogative but comradely conversation that works towards breaking-down the wedge between vulgar economism and vulgar culturalism. Critically, we maintain that just as all identity categories are spatially and temporally contingent – socially constructed, yet naturalised – so too is this current bifurcation between ‘class politics’ and ‘identity politics’. Ultimately, we call for an intellectual and organisational embracing of the complexity of identity as it figures in contemporary conditions; being a core organising-principle of capitalism as it functions today, a paradigm that Leftist struggle can be organised through and around – and yet all with a recognition of the necessity of historicising, and ultimately abolishing, these categories along with capitalism itself.