Community Legal Advice are not renewing the funding for our highly successful advice line from end of March due to cost cutting measures.
However CLP are setting up their own advice line for Gypsies and Travellers throughout England and Wales on 0121 685 8677.
The service goes live on Monday 27th February 2012.
No Operator Service involved. Get straight through to one of our expert solicitors.
Advice line available Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm. Emergency service available outside these hours.
We take on legal aid cases involving ‘accommodation’ issues e.g. evictions from unauthorised encampments, issues on rented sites (both council and private), homelessness cases, high court planning appeals, planning injunctions, stop notices, direct action cases etc
For a chat about how the service operates and about the work we do please phone us on this new number.
A poster about the service will be sent out as soon as possible.
The Community Law Partnership
Kenan Malik and Hanif Kureishi author of My Beautiful Launderette discussing free speech, identity politics, Islamism, multiculturalism, racism etc. 45mins well spent.
THE KING EDWARD VII, AYLSHAM ROAD, Norwich, Friday 8th and Saturday 9th June 2012.
In response to the recent victimization of Punks in the Aceh province of Indonesia, Norwich’s own punk singer Emma Keevil of HOTWIRED is launching a two day benefit gig to raise enough money to bring Indonesian punk band DISLAW over so they can tour the UK and raise lots of cash for the street punks back home.
In a statement Emma said
“This benefit is to raise enough money to get the band Dislaw here from Indonesia after all the trouble from the police they’ve suffered. By bringing them here they can tour and it will raise awareness of the discrimination punks are receiving in Indonesia.
We are a huge family and we must unite all over the world. We can raise more money when they get here and send back any clothes boots etc that we might not want to replace the stuff the police have taken from the punks arrested.
I have grown to love the boys in this band, they have not only captured my heart but they are a fantastic band you will not be disappointed so please help us make this happen.
Where can you be arrested and brainwashed for listening to music in mixed company? That would be in Indonesia, where the deputy mayor of the Aceh region recently declared “being punk” a crime punishable by arrest.
Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal authorized the arrest and ten-day “reeducation” of sixty-four young people who attended a musical fundraiser in an Aceh park. Their “reeducation” consists of forced incarceration for ten days and having their heads shaved. Also some were hosed down in communal cells.
Illiza told the Jakarta Globe that the punks are guilty of spreading a “new social disease” which in effect undermines the community’s religious practice. However, the only breach of Islamic law that she cited was that men and women had gathered in the same place.
She has also announced her intention to pursue, incarcerate, and “reeducate” another 200 punk rockers in her region.
Tell Banda Aceh deputy mayor Illiza S’aduddin Djamal that punk is not a disease. Tell her to stop punishing punk rockers in her region!”
As a thank you to Hotwired for supporting NCAGs Norwich Justice For Ian Tomlinson Day back in 2010, I’ll be throwing my full weight behind supporting Emma and her endeavors to make this a great success and hope all NCAG members and supporters will take the time to do the same.
The event website can be found here http://punkisnotacrimefest.wordpress.com/
This promises to be one hell of a couple of days!
Rick Dutton, NCAG.
Lightly edited by Libcom.
Currently there is much discussion on how the rise of the far right can be halted. The truthful answer, says Joe Reilly, is that an anti-fascism joined at the hip with multiculturalism cannot do so.
Britain ‘has the highest number of interracial relationships in the world’ according to the Institute for Social and Economic Research. This supremely natural and healthy state of affairs, is however, not due to multiculturalism but in spite of it. For multiculturalist ideology, which believes that ‘culture makes man’ rather than the other way round, sets its face firmly against miscegenation, integration and assimilation – on principle.
“Multiculturalism actually promotes racism. It engenders confusion, resentment and bullying and prevents people developing a shared British identity. This idea should have been dumped long since”, claimed Minette Marrin in a Guardian article on May 29.
Though evidence to support her claim is legion, in the same paper on the same day, Vivek Chaudry a Guardian journalist rather underlined her point, by inverting the Norman Tebbitt ‘cricket test’. He castigated England captain Nasser Hussain for bemoaning the fact that people with origins in the Indian subcontinent continue to support teams from that part of the world rather than England. “My message to Hussain is this. You need to get in touch with your brown side” Chaudrey advised.
Though small, a not insignificant number of journalists are now beginning to publicly ask questions of multiculturalism. Marrin’s though is not a typical liberal view, nor is she a typical Guardian journalist. She is in fact a columnist for The Daily Telegraph, which explains why her article was entitled ‘A view from the right’. But is it? Might it not as easily, or more accurately have been entitled ‘A view from the Left’?
Mainly, what prevents the conservative left assessing the multicultural impact honestly, residual dullness aside, is the fear of being denounced. So instead of properly mocking the Robin Cook ‘chicken tikka’ statement, the conservative left feel under obligation to denounce any misgivings as ‘right wing’, and from that same standpoint feel under obligation to push the agenda toward what it sees as the opposite fundamentalist conclusions, when, and where ever, the opportunity presents itself.
Thus in Oldham, while the British National Party canvass the white working class neighbourhoods, the Socialist Alliance (SA), whose analysis sees the white working class as the sole culprits, nevertheless distributes its propaganda, only in the exclusively non-white areas.
What political purpose, one asks, is served by such tokenism, when if it took its responsibilities at all seriously the SA would have put up candidates against the BNP in the area to begin with? As it is, while the SA ‘intervention’ allowed impeccably white liberals to wear their multicultural heart on their sleeve for a few hours, the BNP went about its business establishing a bridgehead for the local elections in 2002 unhindered. None of this is not to suggest that the SA is politically equipped to win white working class minds. It is merely to point out that it has no ambition to do so. Instead it is perfectly happy to strike a pose, and pronounce on events from a thoroughly partisan, that is to say dishonest, perspective.
Other factors detected within the debris of multiculturalism that is Oldham, are also worth mentioning. First of all, there is the carefully cultivated myth that anti-racism is the preserve of social groups A, and B. Only with ‘education can there be enlightenment’ The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee announced recently. This is so often said, that it is now widely believed among all sections of society, to such an extent that for many, to be properly anti-racist it is necessary to be anti-working class.
Indeed to be properly anti-racist, it may for some, be necessary to instinctively feel ‘anti-white’. “What we now have is a new version of the deserving and undeserving poor – the noble new British working class, who are ethnic, and the thoroughly swinish old working class, who are white”. (Julie Burchill, The Guardian, 5.5.01)
Yet, even a casual glance at the make up of any inner-city community, reveals the conceit of an ‘inherently racist’ white working class to be a lie. It is among the working classes, and statistically, only among the working classes, that interracial relationships thrive. Elsewhere, apart from genially nodding to the man behind the counter in the corner shop, classes A and B contribute nothing to the project they loudly proclaim loyalty to.
On top of that there is the self-serving multicultural pretense that all ethnic communities are homogeneous, and in an ideal world, all would be treated as such.
Not only that, but while some such as ‘Operation Black Vote’ for instance, insist Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sikhs and Hindus, as well as African and those of West Indian and even Chinese descent, must for general electoral convenience you understand, be treated as ‘black’, along side this form of forced integration, other multiculturalists are working just as hard to see the term ‘black’ further sub-divided on the grounds of ethnicity and religion.
The aim? To have strict segregation in schools and housing (to begin with), not only for Blacks and Asians but, for Muslims, Hindus, Bangladeshis and so on, ad infinitum, finally ending in racial, cultural and political balkanisation.
Of course, in the midst of this racial engineering, one word is carefully avoided. That is the word ‘class’. For the very good reason that the promotion of cultural diversity is intended to kill off, and replace the idea of social diversity.Yet despite such sleight of hand, that ‘class’ is as big a factor in the sense of alienation experienced by ‘Pakistani’ youth in Glodwick, as it is in the predominately white Fitton Hill is undeniable. For what is striking about their situation, is that unlike many Indians, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi inhabitants of Oldham show little sign of the fabled enterprising spirit, all of Asian origin, are we are told possess.
They came here with nothing, to work in the mills as labourers, and labourers whether in work or not, they largely remain. They have not broken out – or up. Some pious humbugs like Ken Livingstone, will insist that this is entirely due to endemic racism in British society. But if true, how to explain the equally downtrodden white counterparts with whom they are at war? If racism is the root cause, how to explain the inability of ‘Fittonhillites’ to rise out of the ghetto? ‘Oh them, they are you know, just so much white trash’, many a multiculturalist will explain without blushing.
Recently describing for the New Statesman, a visit to Oldham a couple of years ago when he more or less predicted the ‘backlash,’ Darcus Howe uses that very expression, unashamedly, and apparently in ignorance of its American Deep South origins. No matter, his observations make a nonsense of the working assumptions of the ANL/SA, that there is ‘a uniform access to power for all whites, denied to all blacks’.
“For the first time in this country, I had seen people who fitted the American description ‘white trash’. Their homes had a stench of decay: of damp, sweat, and stale food cooked days before. The little picket fences were collapsing. The roofs were leaking and pallid faces staring.” These are the labour aristocracy, benefitting from imperialism and eager to protect their privileges and ill-gotten gains by voting BNP are they?
For a further insight into how skewed mainstream multiculturalism thinking really is, it is necessary only to take stock of the racially loaded invective of the ‘anti-fascist’ visitors to the National Front ‘guest-book’. These startlingly ugly contributions are, bear in mind, should you be tempted to look, all products of a multicultural education of thirty years standing.
In a further tribute to the influence of such teaching, one Asian group, allegedly set up to fight the NF and Combat 18 has chosen for itself the title; ‘Combat 786′. Like Combat ’18′ which represents the A and H in the alphabet, ‘numbers 786′ are The Observer reports, ‘a numerical representation of Allah’. The similarities do not, I suspect, end there.
Meanwhile that the segregationist ‘peace line’ solutions proposed by the BNP, are these days impeccably multiculturalist in tone and delivery is the final irony. ‘In one area’ an Observer article mentions ‘where an alleyway leads from Fitton Hill into an Asian street, the council plans to erect a metal gate to separate the communities’. Remarkably, the metal gate has since been erected in line with the Griffin edict.
How effortlessly euro-nationalism has appropriated the language of multiculturalism to meet its own objectives, also demonstrates just how far the anti-racism of the 1970′s has drifted. Furthermore, the ease and comfort of the euro-nationalist fit, unmasks the lie that multiculturalism is naturally progressive.
In reality it is more trouble than it’s worth. Not to say that people from the Indian subcontinent or anywhere else ought to be compelled to meet the ‘Tebbit cricket test’. But neither should it be demanded of them out of some sense of racial fidelity that they meet the Chaudrey test either. Multiculturalism however, more or less insists they must. And it is largely when the the left promotes or defends multiculturalism’s right to do so, that it becomes a politically dangerous liability, Oldham has exposed it to be.
Like many of the second generation Irish, whose support for the Republic at football is not entirely separate from an antipathy to England, similarly, as the unprovoked attacks of as many as 30 pubs in the Oldham area have illustrated, being pro-Muslim is not always entirely divorced from being anti-white. Clearly, such an ideology does not enhance authentic anti-racism – it subverts it.
Some commentators on the ‘SPIKEONLINE’ website (ex-Living Marxism magazine) have arrived at precisely such conclusions. “There was a time when the left was accused of stirring up race riots. Now it is the the far right that is accused of starting the violence. Where politicians once denounced violent blacks, today they are more likely to denounce violent racists. The establishment no longer relies on traditional British nationalism, but is more likely to talk in the language of anti- racism.”
Continuing in a similar vein another adds: “When every issue and incident is racialised and seen through the prism of race, it is not surprising that people start to see their problems in racial terms. The end result can only be more division and conflict.”
Professor Frank Furedi, one time mentor to the now defunct RCP is sure-footed on this subject at least: “today it is the race relations lobby and particularly New Labour that finds it difficult to avoid the temptation of playing the race card. By treating every routine conflict as racially motivated they are racialising everyday life. This process is as destructive as the old-fashioned racism.”
It is a process he warns that can only end in “Everyday human contact” becoming “recast in racial terms, with the consequence that racism becomes normalised. This confuses and disorients people, breeding a climate of suspicion and mistrust.” A by-product of this racialistion is that “it also trivalises the real experience of racism and distracts from confronting real cases of injustice” he concludes.
Currently there is much discussion on how the rise of the far right can be halted. The truthful answer is that an anti-fascism joined at the hip with multiculturalism cannot do so. Indeed the higher the activity of the likes of the ANL, and now, and even more ridiculously the SA, the more entrenched the respective working class communities will become. Put bluntly, ‘racialising social problems’ is the motive force of both euro-nationalism and multiculturalism alike. For purposes of anti-fascist strategy, if for no more principled reasons, multiculturalism is ‘an idea that should have been dumped long since’.
David Graeber responds to“The Cancer in Occupy,” by Chris Hedges
I am writing this on the premise that you are a well-meaning person who wishes Occupy Wall Street to succeed. I am also writing as someone who was deeply involved in the early stages of planning Occupy in New York.
I am also an anarchist who has participated in many Black Blocs. While I have never personally engaged in acts of property destruction, I have on more than one occasion taken part in Blocs where property damage has occurred. (I have taken part in even more Blocs that did not engage in such tactics. It is a common fallacy that this is what Black Blocs are all about. It isn’t.)
I was hardly the only Black Bloc veteran who took part in planning the initial strategy for Occupy Wall Street. In fact, anarchists like myself were the real core of the group that came up with the idea of occupying Zuccotti Park, the “99%” slogan, the General Assembly process, and, in fact, who collectively decided that we would adopt a strategy of Gandhian non-violence and eschew acts of property damage. Many of us had taken part in Black Blocs. We just didn’t feel that was an appropriate tactic for the situation we were in.
This is why I feel compelled to respond to your statement “The Cancer in Occupy.” This statement is not only factually inaccurate, it is quite literally dangerous. This is the sort of misinformation that really can get people killed. In fact, it is far more likely to do so, in my estimation, than anything done by any black-clad teenager throwing rocks.
Let me just lay out a few initial facts:
- Black Bloc is a tactic, not a group. It is a tactic where activists don masks and black clothing (originally leather jackets in Germany, later, hoodies in America), as a gesture of anonymity, solidarity, and to indicate to others that they are prepared, if the situation calls for it, for militant action. The very nature of the tactic belies the accusation that they are trying to hijack a movement and endanger others. One of the ideas of having a Black Bloc is that everyone who comes to a protest should know where the people likely to engage in militant action are, and thus easily be able to avoid it if that’s what they wish to do.
- Black Blocs do not represent any specific ideological, or for that matter anti-ideological position. Black Blocs have tended in the past to be made up primarily of anarchists but most contain participants whose politics vary from Maoism to Social Democracy. They are not united by ideology, or lack of ideology, but merely a common feeling that creating a bloc of people with explicitly revolutionary politics and ready to confront the forces of the order through more militant tactics if required, is, on the particular occasion when they assemble, a useful thing to do. It follows one can no more speak of “Black Bloc Anarchists,” as a group with an identifiable ideology, than one can speak of “Sign-Carrying Anarchists” or “Mic-Checking Anarchists.”
- Even if you must select a tiny, ultra-radical minority within the Black Bloc and pretend their views are representative of anyone who ever put on a hoodie, you could at least be up-to-date about it. It was back in 1999 that people used to pretend “the Black Bloc” was made up of nihilistic primitivist followers of John Zerzan opposed to all forms of organization. Nowadays, the preferred approach is to pretend “the Black Bloc” is made up of nihilistic insurrectionary followers of The Invisible Committee, opposed to all forms of organization. Both are absurd slurs. Yours is also 12 years out of date.
- Your comment about Black Bloc’ers hating the Zapatistas is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen. Sure, if you dig around, you can find someone saying almost anything. But I’m guessing that, despite the ideological diversity, if you took a poll of participants in the average Black Bloc and asked what political movement in the world inspired them the most, the EZLN would get about 80% of the vote. In fact I’d be willing to wager that at least a third of participants in the average Black Bloc are wearing or carrying at least one item of Zapatista paraphernalia. (Have you ever actually talked to someone who has taken part in a Black Bloc? Or just to people who dislike them?)
- “Diversity of tactics” is not a “Black Bloc” idea. The original GA in Tompkins Square Park that planned the original occupation, if I remember, adopted the principle of diversity of tactics (at least it was discussed in a very approving fashion), at the same time as we all also concurred that a Gandhian approach would be the best way to go. This is not a contradiction: “diversity of tactics” means leaving such matters up to individual conscience, rather than imposing a code on anyone. Partly,this is because imposing such a code invariably backfires. In practice, it means some groups break off in indignation and do even more militant things than they would have otherwise, without coordinating with anyone else—as happened, for instance, in Seattle. The results are usually disastrous. After the fiasco at Seattle of watching some activists actively turning others over to police—we quickly decided we needed to ensure this never happened again. What we found was that if we declared “we shall all be in solidarity with one another. We will not turn in fellow protestors to the police. We will treat you as brothers and sisters. But we expect you to do the same to us”—then, those who might be disposed to more militant tactics will act in solidarity as well, either by not engaging in militant actions at all for fear they will endanger others (as in many later Global Justice Actions, where Black Blocs merely helped protect the lockdowns, or in Zuccotti Park, where mostly people didn’t bloc up at all) or doing so in ways that run the least risk of endangering fellow activists.
All this however is secondary. Mainly I am writing as an appeal to conscience. Your conscience, since clearly you are a sincere and well-meaning person who wishes this movement to succeed. I beg you: Please consider what I am saying. Please bear in mind as I say this that I am not a crazy nihilist, but a reasonable person who is one (if just one) of the original authors of the Gandhian strategy OWS adopted—as well as a student of social movements, who has spent many years both participating in such movements, and trying to understand their history and dynamics.
I am appealing to you because I really do believe the kind of statement you made is profoundly dangerous.
The reason I say this is because, whatever your intentions, it is very hard to read your statement as anything but an appeal to violence. After all, what are you basically saying about what you call “Black Bloc anarchists”?
- they are not part of us
- they are consciously malevolent in their intentions
- they are violent
- they cannot be reasoned with
- they are all the same
- they wish to destroy us
- they are a cancer that must be excised
Surely you must recognize, if laid out in this fashion, that this is precisely the sort of language and argument that, historically, has been invoked by those encouraging one group of people to physically attack, ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another—in fact, the sort of language and argument that is almost never invoked in any other circumstance. After all, if a group is made up exclusively of violent fanatics who cannot be reasoned with, intent on our destruction, what else can we really do? This is the language of violence in its purest form. Far more than “fuck the police.” To see this kind of language employed by someone who claims to be speaking in the name of non-violence is genuinely extraordinary. I recognize that you’ve managed to find certain peculiar fringe elements in anarchism saying some pretty extreme things, it’s not hard to do, especially since such people are much easier to find on the internet than in real life, but it would be difficult to come up with any “Black Bloc anarchist” making a statement as extreme as this.
Even if you did not intend this statement as a call to violence, which I suspect you did not, how can you honestly believe that many will not read it as such?
photo | via In my experience, when I point this sort of thing out, the first reaction I normally get from pacifists is along the lines of “what are you talking about? Of course I’m not in favor of attacking anyone! I am non-violent! I am merely calling for non-violently confronting such elements and excluding them from the group!” The problem is that in practice this is almost never what actually happens. Time after time, what it has actually meant in practice is either (a) turning fellow activists over to the police, i.e., turning them over to people with weapons who will physically assault, shackle, and imprison them, or (b) actual physical activist-on-activist assault. Such things have happened. There have been physical assaults by activists on other activists, and, to my knowledge, they have never been perpetrated by anyone in Black Bloc, but invariably by purported pacifists against those who dare to pull a hood over their heads or a bandana over their faces, or, simply, against anarchists who adopt tactics someone else thinks are going too far. (Not I should note even potentially violent tactics. During one 15-minute period in Occupy Austin, I was threatened first with arrest, then with assault, by fellow campers because I was expressing verbal solidarity with, and then standing in passive resistance beside, a small group of anarchists who were raising what was considered to be an unauthorized tent.)
This situation often produces extraordinary ironies. In Seattle, the only incidents of actual physical assault by protestors on other individuals were not attacks on the police, since these did not occur at all, but attacks by “pacifists” on Black Bloc’ers engaged in acts of property damage. Since the Black Bloc’ers had collectively agreed on a strict policy of non-violence (which they defined as never doing anything to harm another living being), they uniformly refused to strike back. In many recent occupations, self-appointed “Peace Police” have manhandled activists who showed up to marches in black clothing and hoodies, ripped their masks off, shoved and kicked them: always, without the victims themselves having engaged in any act of violence, always, with the victims refusing, on moral grounds, to shove or kick back.
The kind of rhetoric you are engaging in, if it disseminates widely, will ensure this kind of violence becomes much, much more severe.
Perhaps you do not believe me, or do not believe these events to be particularly significant. If so, let me put the matter in a larger historical context.
If I understand your argument, it seems to come down to this:
- OWS has been successful because it has followed a Gandhian strategy of showing how, even in the face of strictly non-violent opposition, the state will respond with illegal violence
- Black Bloc elements who do not act according to principles of Gandhian non-violence are destroying the movement because they provide retroactive justification for state repression, especially in the eyes of the media
- Therefore, the Black Bloc elements must be somehow rooted out
As one of the authors of the original Gandhian strategy,I can recall how well aware we were, when we framed this strategy, that we were taking an enormous risk. Gandhian strategies have not historically worked in the US; in fact, they haven’t really worked on a mass scale since the civil rights movement. This is because the US media is simply constitutionally incapable of reporting acts of police repression as “violence.” (One reason the civil rights movement was an exception is so many Americans at the time didn’t view the Deep South as part of the same country.) Many of the young men and women who formed the famous Black Bloc in Seattle were in fact eco-activists who had been involved in tree-sits and forest defense lock-downs that operated on purely Gandhian principles—only to find that in the US of the 1990s, non-violent protestors could be brutalized, tortured (have pepper spray directly rubbed in their eyes) or even killed, without serious objection from the national media. So they turned to other tactics. We knew all this. We decided it was worth the risk.
However, we are also aware that when the repression begins, some will break ranks and respond with greater militancy. Even if this doesn’t happen in a systematic and organized fashion, some violent acts will take place. You write that Black Bloc’ers smashed up a “locally owned coffee shop”; I doubted this when I read it, since most Black Blocs agree on a strict policy of not damaging owner-operated enterprises, and I now find in Susie Cagle’s response to your article that, in fact, it was a chain coffee shop, and the property destruction was carried out by someone not in black. But still, you’re right: A few such incidents will inevitably occur.
The question is how one responds.
If the police decide to attack a group of protestors, they will claim to have been provoked, and the media will repeat whatever the police say, no matter how implausible, as the basic initial facts of what happened. This will happen whether or not anyone at the protest does anything that can be remotely described as violence. Many police claims will be obviously ridiculous – as at the recent Oakland march where police accused participants of throwing “improvised explosive devices”—but no matter how many times the police lie about such matters, the national media will still report their claims as true, and it will be up to protestors to provide evidence to the contrary. Sometimes, with the help of social media, we can demonstrate that particular police attacks were absolutely unjustified, as with the famous Tony Bologna pepper-spray incident. But we cannot by definition prove all police attacks were unjustified, even all attacks at one particular march; it’s simply physically impossible to film every thing that happens from every possible angle all the time. Therefore we can expect that whatever we do, the media will dutifully report “protestors engaged in clashes with police” rather than “police attacked non-violent protestors.” What’s more, when someone does throw back a tear-gas canister, or toss a bottle, or even spray-paint something, we can assume that act will be employed as retroactive justification for whatever police violence occurred before the act took place.
All this will be true whether or not a Black Bloc is present.
If the moral question is “is it defensible to threaten physical harm against those who do no direct harm to others,” one might say the pragmatic, tactical question is, “even if it were somehow possible to create a Peace Police capable of preventing any act that could even be interpreted as ‘violent’ by the corporate media, by anyone at or near a protest, no matter what the provocation, would it have any meaningful effect?” That is, would it create a situation where the police would feel they couldn’t use arbitrary force against non-violent protestors? The example of Zuccotti Park, where we achieved pretty consistent non-violence, suggests this is profoundly unlikely. And perhaps most importantly at all, even if it were somehow possible to create some kind of Peace Police that would prevent anyone under gas attack from so much as tossing a bottle, so that we could justly claim that no one had done anything to warrant the sort of attack that police have routinely brought, would the marginally better media coverage we would thus obtain really be worth the cost in freedom and democracy that would inevitably follow from creating such an internal police force to begin with?
These are not hypothetical questions. Every major movement of mass non-violent civil disobedience has had to grapple with them in one form or another. How inclusive should you be with those who have different ideas about what tactics are appropriate? What do you do about those who go beyond what most people consider acceptable limits? What do you do when the government and its media allies hold up their actions as justification—even retroactive justification—for violent and repressive acts?
Successful movements have understood that it’s absolutely essential not to fall into the trap set out by the authorities and spend one’s time condemning and attempting to police other activists. One makes one’s own principles clear. One expresses what solidarity one can with others who share the same struggle, and if one cannot, tries one’s best to ignore or avoid them, but above all, one keeps the focus on the actual source of violence, without doing or saying anything that might seem to justify that violence because of tactical disagreements you have with fellow activists.
I remember my surprise and amusement, the first time I met activists from the April 6 Youth Movement from Egypt, when the issue of non-violence came up. “Of course we were non-violent,” said one of the original organizers, a young man of liberal politics who actually worked at a bank. “No one ever used firearms, or anything like that. We never did anything more militant than throwing rocks!”
Here was a man who understood what it takes to win a non-violent revolution! He knew that if the police start aiming teargas canisters directly at people’s heads, beating them with truncheons, arresting and torturing people, and you have thousands of protestors, then some of them will fight back. There’s no way to absolutely prevent this. The appropriate response is to keep reminding everyone of the violence of the state authorities, and never, ever, start writing long denunciations of fellow activists, claiming they are part of an insane fanatic malevolent cabal. (Even though I am quite sure that if a hypothetical Egyptian activist had wanted to make a case that, say, violent Salafis, or even Trotskyists, were trying to subvert the revolution, and adopted standards of evidence as broad as yours , looking around for inflammatory statements wherever they could find them and pretending they were typical of everyone who threw a rock, they could easily have made a case.) This is why most of us are aware that Mubarak’s regime attacked non-violent protestors, and are not aware that many responded by throwing rocks.
Egyptian activists, in other words, understood what playing into the hands of the police really means.
Actually, why limit ourselves to Egypt? Since we are talking about Gandhian tactics here, why not consider the case of Gandhi himself? He had to deal with what to say about people who went much further than rock-throwing (even though Egyptians throwing rocks at police were already going much further than any US Black Bloc has.) Gandhi was part of a very broad anti-colonial movement that included elements that actually were using firearms, in fact, elements engaged in outright terrorism. He first began to frame his own strategy of mass non-violent civil resistance in response to a debate over the act of an Indian nationalist who walked into the office of a British official and shot him five times in the face, killing him instantly. Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer. This was a man who was trying to do the right thing, to act against an historical injustice, but did it in the wrong way because he was “drunk with a mad idea.”
Over the course of the next 40 years, Gandhi and his movement were regularly denounced in the media, just as non-violent anarchists are also always denounced in the media (and I might remark here that while not an anarchist himself, Gandhi was strongly influenced by anarchists like Kropotkin and Tolstoy), as a mere front for more violent, terroristic elements, with whom he was said to be secretly collaborating. He was regularly challenged to prove his non-violent credentials by assisting the authorities in suppressing such elements. Here Gandhi remained resolute. It is always morally superior, he insisted, to oppose injustice through non-violent means than through violent means. However, to oppose injustice through violent means is still morally superior to not doing anything to oppose injustice at all.
And Gandhi was talking about people who were blowing up trains, or assassinating government officials. Not damaging windows or spray-painting rude things about the police.
By Kenan Malik from his blog Pandaemonium.
By next Monday William Hague and Phillip Hammond could be behind bars. In December, the Court of Appeal ruled that the foreign and defence secretaries had by February 20th to produce before the court a Pakistani rice merchant, Yunus Rahmatullah; if they did not, then the court would ‘be moved to commit you to prison for your contempt in not obeying the said writ’.
Hague and Hammond will not, of course, be sent down. But the Rahmatullah case does reveal, yet again, the lawlessness of the war on terror. The story begins in February 2004, when Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali, a fellow merchant, disappeared on a business trip to Iran. They were held incommunicado for nearly a year before their families learned that they had been seized by British forces in Iraq and then turned over to the Americans who had renditioned them to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. There they have been held for the past eight years beyond the rule of law and in conditions far worse than those at Guantánamo Bay. No charges have been filed against them, and both the British and American governments have refused to provide any hearing or account for their continued detention.
Last year, the human rights organization Reprieve sought a writ of habeas corpus in the British courts on behalf of Rahmatullah. A similar writ was placed before US courts on behalf of Amanatullah Ali. The British government argued that habeas corpus did not apply because British forces no longer held the prisoner. The American government claimed that habeas corpus did not apply because American courts had no authority over the Bagram base, as it was in a war zone, forgetting to add that the base is used by America to prosecute that war and that the men had been deliberately flown into that war zone by US forces. In December, however, the British Court of Appeal granted the writ and demanded that Hague and Hammmond produce Rahmatullah.
The Rahmatullah case is the latest in a series of revelations which expose the ugly underbelly of the war on terror. Last month it was revealed that British spies had helped rendition Libyan dissidents to Colonel Gadaffi. Earlier this month President Assad released from prison Abu Musab al-Suri, the alleged ‘mastermind’ of the 7/7 bombings. What was he doing in Assad’s jail in the first place? He had been renditioned there by British and American forces. Last week details emerged of a secret British detention centre in Iraq, codenamed H1, deliberately designed to be beyond the law.
When Barack Obama came to power in 2009, many expected a transformation in the war on terror. Obama promised to close down Guantánamo Bay, revise Bush’s tactics and ensure that US policy conformed to national law and human rights. So taken was the world by Obama’s promises that in 2009, barely having got his feet under the Oval Office desk, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yet, over the past four years, not only has he failed to close down Guantánamo but he has extended Bush’s assault on rights and liberties. In December, Obama signed off on the National Defense Authorization Act which allows forindefinite military detention. He has maintained the policy of extraordinary rendition (a euphemism for kidnapping) and of secret prisons across the globe. He has intensified the use of drones, and of their use in a programme of extra-judicial killings, including of US citizens, such as the Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, the alleged leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninusla, who was killed by a drone in Yemen last September. He has also endorsed the right of the government to strip citizens of legal protections based on its sole discretion. He has introduced warrantless searches of everything from business documents to library records.
George Bush, Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, insisted on being able to eavesdrop on anyone, or to detain them, purely on his authority without judicial warrant. Obama has asserted his right not merely to eavesdrop or detain but ‘even to kill citizens without due process’. As the former CIA chiefMichael Hayden recently observed about the al-Awlaki assassination, ‘We needed a court order to eavesdrop on him but we didn’t need a court order to kill him.’ But perhaps it is not so surprising. For, as Michael A Cohen wrote inForeign Policy, for all his liberal credentials, and all his disparaging of Bush’s tactics, before he came to power ‘Obama’s loudest public pledge when it came to terrorism was not to do less, but rather more’. In his first major foreign policy speech in July 2008, Obama insisted that ‘We need more troops, more helicopters, more satellites, more Predator drones in the Afghan border region. And we must make it clear that if Pakistan cannot or will not act, we will take out high-level terrorist targets like bin Laden if we have them in our sights.’ And perhaps, as I wrote at the time, Obama’s Peace Prize was fitting given the sordid history of the award.
What has changed in the Obama years is not so much US policy as liberal opinion. A poll in the Washington Post last week showed broad support for Obama’s war. Seventy per cent of Americans approve of Obama’s decision to keep open Guantánamo Bay. More than four in five endorse the use of drones and almost two in three find acceptable the extra-judicial killings of US citizens. These are extraordinary numbers for such a controversial policy. As Michael Hayden observed of the US programme of assassinations, ‘Right now,there isn’t a government on the planet that agrees with our legal rationale for these operations, except for Afghanistan and maybe Israel.’
Even more striking has been the support for these policies among liberals. Fifty-eight per cent of Democrats now endorse assassinations of US citizens. Even among those who define themselves as liberals, 55 per cent support such killings. As for the decision to maintain Guantánamo Bay, 67 per cent of moderate or conservative Democrats and 53 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats support it.
Obama strode to power promising ‘Change you can believe in’. But that change has come not to policy, but to perception. The major impact of Obama’s presidency has been to make legitimate that which had previously been seen, and not just by liberals, as scandalous. Take attitudes to Guantánamo Bay. As the US Advocacy Centre for Equality and Democracy shows, until Obama came to power, support for the prison had steadily fallenover the previous decade. In 2003, when memories of 9/11 were still raw, 65 per cent of Americans supported its use. By 2006 that figure had fallen to 57 per cent. In June 2009, shortly after Obama had entered the White House, more Americans thought it should be closed down than wanted it kept open: 48 per cent wanted rid of it, 40 per cent supported its continued use. Today, 70 per cent want to keep it. In other words, after nearly four years of the Obama presidency, more people support Guantánamo than they did even in the aftermath of 9/11. This is not so much ‘change you can believe in’ as ‘change in what you believe’.
Neither William Hague nor Phillip Hammond will find themselves locked up next Monday. Both Yunus Rahmatullah and Amanatullah Ali almost certainly will – as they have been for the past eight years. What, in the midst of a network of secret prisons, a programme of worldwide abduction, and a policy of extra-judicial assassinations, has really been renditioned in the war on terror is the sense of justice.
The article below appeared on squaremile.com
“Anarchist’s Call to Occupy Hester’s Garden”
It seems that Stephen Hester’s bowing to public and political pressure to refuse his bonus was not enough to satisfy those who believe that anything less than burning bankers on a pyre is too good for them.
Hester’s country home of Broughton Grange, Oxfordshire is due to be opened up to the public to raise money for charity, and in his blog, the founder of the newspaper ‘Class War’, Ian Bone, calls on his followers to “BRING THE CLASS WAR TO THE RICH APRIL 29th.”
With so much enthusiasm he can barely control the caps lock button, Bone writes: “Stephen Hester’s 350 acre country mansion is BROUGHTON GRANGE at Broughton near Banbury in Oxfordshire. The next OPEN DAY there is on APRIL 29th – when for a mere £6 you can marvel at Stephen’s good luck and shake hands with one of his eight gardners [sic]…….no doubt the scullery maid will also be present. Soooooo……CLASS WAR are urging as many people as possible to come on the open day and chuck a few more quid into Hester’s maw. Fun and games assured. BE THERE – BEST FUN SINCE HENLEY. Our French comrades will be visiting his ski lodge at Verbier on the same day.”
Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable to keep badgering a man who played no part in RBS’ downfall and has refused two bonus packages in his time as CEO as he raises money for charity. So occupy his garden.
But why stop there? How about breaking into his house and cutting the crotch out of all of his trousers, like some bunny-boiling ex-girlfriend? Perhaps an equally constructive gesture such as setting fire to his sofa cushions?
After all, he deserves it, doesn’t he?
We fancy a day out….
Interesting article by Joan D. Mandle of Colgate University author of ’Can we wear our pearls and still be feminists?’
Second Wave Feminism
One of the best known and most important political slogans of the early Women’s Liberation Movement in which I was involved in the middle 1960s claimed that “the personal is political.” That phrase was honed in reaction to struggles within the 1960s social movements out of which the Women’s Liberation Movement first emerged. It captured the insight that many of what were thought to be personal problems possessed social and political causes, were widely shared among women , and could only be resolved by social and political change.
In the l960s social movements – the Civil Rights Movement, the movement against the War in Vietnam, and the student movement which called for more student rights and decision-making power on college campuses – women were central actors. Within all these movements, however, women activists were denied the recognition and the responsibility that they deserved and that they had earned. Despite their commitment and contributions, they were all too often refused leadership positions, treated as second class citizens, told to make coffee, and put on display as sex objects. By the middle 1960s many of these women began to react to and organize around the strong contradiction within social movements which fought for self-determination and equality and yet which denied these same basic rights within their own ranks. First in the civil rights movement, with a statement written by Mary King and Casey Hayden, and soon afterward and more frequently in the anti-war movement, SDS, and other social movements, women radicals began to demand equity and respect as activists.
The reaction of many of their male and female comrades seems predictable in retrospect, but was shocking and demoralizing at the time. Women’s claims were met with derision, ridicule, and the political argument that they were worrying about “personal” issues and in this way draining movement effectiveness in fighting the “political” injustices of racism and imperialism. How could women be so selfish, it was asked, to focus on their personal disgruntlement when black people were denied voting privileges in Mississippi, peasants were being napalmed in Vietnam, and students were treated as numbers in large faceless bureaucratic universities?
Movement women had no shortage of responses to these objections, but the one that became a mantra of the new women’s movement emerging out of these struggles was the claim that personal lives – relationships with friends, lovers, political comrades – were not personal at all but characterized by power and fraught with political meaning. Women argued that assumptions that they were followers and men leaders, that women naturally were “better” with children and men “better” at organizing, that women should type and men should discuss issues – that all these assumptions were deeply political, denying women not only equality within progressive movements, but even more basically the freedom to choose for themselves what they could and should think and do. When most men and some of the women involved within the 60s movements refused to listen, many women left the movement to, as they put it at the time, “organize around our own oppression.” They began a liberation movement dedicated to eliminating the ways in which women were constrained and harmed by sexist assumptions and behavior.
By and large the early women’s movement, emerging from a political critique of what was defined as “personal” both in progressive movements and in the wider society, pressed for the removal of the social barriers and obstacles that had constrained women’s choices. This was true with respect to a wide range of issues including reproductive choice, educational and occupational options, legal rights, as well as sexual orientation and personal relationships. The movement was intent on achieving social justice which it defined as providing women and men with similar opportunities to grow, develop, express, and exercise their potential as people. The political analysis underlying this vision of personal fulfillment asserted that elimination of the sexism which pervaded political and social institutional arrangements and attitudes was the best way of ensuring that every one, regardless of sex, would have the ability to exercise personal freedom.
Successes were many during those early years. The decades of the 60s and 70s were in fact characterized by enormous change in the range of behavior and choices open to women in our society. Consciousness was raised, and attitudes of both men and women underwent significant change concerning women’s capabilities and rights, while the notion of equality between the sexes gained increased legitimacy. Change was especially rapid in the law during those years. Indeed, Jane Mansbridge notes that had the ERA been passed in l982, its effect would have been largely symbolic because almost all sex-differentiated (sexist) laws which such an amendment would have changed had already been altered by that time.
The social and political changes effected by the early women’s movement thus were in the service of a sex-neutral model of society. In this, each individual would be afforded an equal opportunity to shape her or his own life regardless of sex. The notion of gender difference was deemphasized by a movement focused on equality, as women sought to gain the right to fully participate in all aspects of society. Differences between women and men, which had consistently been a central ideological and behavioral component of limiting women to a separate stereotyped “feminine” sphere, came under attack. The personal fact of one’s sex became an arena of political struggle, as increasing numbers of feminists challenged the prevailing ideology that sex and gender were legitimate constraints on the right to self-determination. Political justice demanded that gender make no difference. Expectations were high that women would achieve the freedom they had been denied and that sexism would be defeated.
But in the 1980s much of this changed. The country as a whole became more conservative in all areas of political life, as the Right, with Ronald Reagan as its standard bearer, launched what Susan Faludi has referred to as a “Blacklash” against the progressive changes of the previous decades. As the gains of the women’s movement began to slow, many feminists became discouraged with the continuation of sexist attitudes and behavior. The gap between incomes for women and men narrowed but remained stubbornly persistent, abortion rights came under renewed attack, and awareness of and concern about the extent of harassment and violence against women increased. This latter ironically reflected the Women’s Movement’s earlier success, for due to its efforts behavior previously regarded as legally unproblematic, such as sexual harassment at work or marital and date rape, was criminalized, and increased reporting of violence occurred. In addition, growing numbers of women found themselves doing what Arlie Hochschild has called the “Second Shift” – working at full time jobs during the day and a second job at home as they continued to assume most or all of the burden of home and child care in their families. Finally, even though the 1970s were the heyday of the Movement, increasing numbers of young girls at that time were being raised in poverty because their single mothers’ former husbands or lovers contributed nothing to support them, were becoming painfully aware of the dangers of abuse, rape, and sexual harassment, and were discouraged by their mothers struggles with the double burden of work and family care. As these girls matured into young women in the 1980s, many were far from convinced that the women’s movement had liberated anybody. All of these problems affecting women seemed to fly in the face of feminism’s promises and expectations of equality, and some women, discouraged with the pace of change and the persistence of sexism, reacted by retreating from claims for equality and from demands for social change.
But as the 1980s progressed, it was not only feminists who were experiencing disillusionment and increasing pessimism. In an era when the conservative politics of Reaganism were dominant, the tragedy was that no compelling alternative progressive world-view was being constructed. A vision of a society of fairness and justice was not offered to counter the conservative hegemony, and the attainment of an egalitarian society seemed less and less possible.
Out of this situation there emerged what has been called identity politics, a politics that stresses strong collective group identities as the basis of political analysis and action. As political engagement with the society as a whole was increasingly perceived to have produced insufficient progress or solutions, and in the absence of a compelling model of a society worth struggling for, many progressives retreated into a focus on their own “self” and into specific cultural and ideological identity groups which made rights, status, and privilege claims on the basis of a victimized identity. These groups included ethnic minorities such as African-Americans, Asian- Americans, Native Americans, religious groups, lesbian women and gay men, deaf and other disabled people. The desire to gain sympathy on the basis of a tarnished identity was sometimes taken to absurd lengths, as for example when privileged white men pronounced themselves victims based on their alleged oppression by women and especially by feminists. Indeed in the last decade there has been an explosion of groups vying with one another for social recognition of their oppression and respect for it. This has been especially exaggerated on college campuses where young people have divided into any number of separate identity groups.
Identity politics is centered on the idea that activism involves groups’ turning inward and stressing separatism, strong collective identities, and political goals focused on psychological and personal self-esteem. Jeffrey Escofier, writing about the gay movement, defines identity politics in the following fashion:
“The politics of identity is a kind of cultural politics. It relies on the development of a culture that is able to create new and affirmative conceptions of the self, to articulate collective identities, and to forge a sense of group loyalty. Identity politics – very much like nationalism – requires the development of rigid definitions of the boundaries between those who have particular collective identities and those who do not.”
Many progressive activists today have come to base their political analysis on collectively and often ideologically constructed identities which are seen as immutable and all-encompassing. These identities, for many, provide a retreat where they can feel “comfortable” and “safe” from the assaults and insults of the rest of the society. Today it is the case that many of those who profess a radical critique of society nonetheless do not feel able, as activists in the 60s and 70s did, to engage people outside their own self-defined group – either to press for improvement in their disadvantaged status or to join in coalition. Identity politics defines groups as so different from one another, with the gap dividing them so wide and unbridgeable, that interaction is purposeless. Not only is it assumed that working together will inevitably fail to bring progressive change that would benefit any particular group. In addition, identity groups discourage political contact because of their concern that the psychological injury and personal discomfort they believe such contact inevitably entails will harm individuals’ self-esteem and erode their identity.
Identity politics thus is zero-sum: what helps one group is thought inevitably to harm another; what benefits them must hurt me. It is a politics of despair. In the name of advancing the interests of one’s own group, it rejects attempts to educate, pressure, or change the society as a whole, thus accepting the status quo and revealing its essentially conservative nature. Identity politics advocates a retreat into the protection of the self based on the celebration of group identity. It is a politics of defeat and demoralization, of pessimism and selfishness. By seizing as much as possible for one’s self and group, it exposes its complete disregard for the whole from which it has separated – for the rest of the society. Identity politics thus rejects the search for a just and comprehensive solution to social problems.
Feminism and Identity Politics
Like other progressive social movements, feminism has been deeply affected by the growth of identity politics. Within feminism, identity politics has taken two often-related forms which, together, I believe to be hegemonic today. One is generally referred to as difference or essentialist feminism, and the other as victim feminism. Difference feminism emphasizes the unique identity of women as a group, stressing and usually celebrating essential female characteristics which it believes make women different from – indeed even opposite to – men. Victim feminism also assumes that women have a unique identity, but the focus of that identity is women’s victimization on the basis of sex, typically at the hands of men.
In defining difference feminism, Wendy Kaminer has stated that, by suggesting that women differ from men in a myriad of ways, it identifies “feminism with femininity.” In what is perhaps the most influential version of this ideology, popularized in the work of Carol Gilligan, difference feminism emphasizes that women share “a different voice, different moral sensibilities – an ethic of care.” According to Kaminer, this notion of female difference is attractive to feminists and non-feminists alike for a number of reasons. Difference feminism appeals to some feminists, she asserts, because it revalues previously devalued characteristics such as emotionality and social connectedness which women are thought to embody. In declaring female traits superior to those such as aggression and rationality which characterize men, difference feminism seems to reject sexism by turning it on its head. It thus provides a clear group identity for women which stresses the way they are special.
According to Kaminer, difference feminism is also attractive to feminists in another manner. She argues that it allows feminists to be angry at men and challenge their hegemony without worrying that they are giving up their femininity. Because they are socialized to fear the loss of femininity, the advocacy of radical change in gender roles is deeply threatening to many women, including feminists. Difference feminism’s reassertion of the value of femininity helps to assuage these fears and thus seems to make feminism more acceptable. Finally, even some non-feminists are drawn to difference feminism because it legitimates a belief in immutable and natural sex differences, a central tenet of conservative claims for support of the status quo. As noted above, this conservative bias is a pivotal element of difference feminism.
What Naomi Wolf has called victim feminism also reinforces identity politics, for victim feminism also assumes women’s diametrical difference from men as a central component of its view. According to victim feminism, however, what is unique about women’s difference is that they are powerless to affect the victim status by which they are primarily defined. Wolf argues that victim feminism “turns suffering and persecution into a kind of glamour.” The attractiveness of this model is partially due to the fact that feminists understand all too well the discouraging reality that women have been and continue to be victims of sexism, male violence, and discrimination. But victim feminism is attractive to others primarily because it absolves individuals of the political responsibility to act to change their own condition. Its emphasis on personal victimization includes a refusal to hold women in any way responsible for their problems. It thus implies that, as a group, women are helpless in the face of the overwhelming factors which force them to accept – however unhappily – the circumstances in which they find themselves.
Such a view of women resonates with many non-feminists as well because it pictures women as passive and in need of protection, a view consistent with traditionally sexist ideas of women and femininity. And finally, victim feminism is popular because it is consistent with the explosion of self-help programs and talk shows where individuals – disproportionately women – compete for public recognition of their claims to personally victimized status. These shows try – all too successfully – to convince their audiences and even perhaps their guests that exposing personal problems on television is itself a solution to them, in this way delegitimating the serious political changes which many such problems require for their elimination.
The hegemony of identity politics within feminism, in my view, has helped to stymie the growth of a large scale feminist movement which could effectively challenge sexism and create the possibility of justice and fairness in our society. On the one hand identity politics makes the coalitions needed to build a mass movement for social change extremely difficult. With its emphasis on internal group solidarity and personal self-esteem, identity politics divides potential allies from one another. Difference feminism makes the task for example of including men in the struggle against sexism almost impossible, and even trying to change men’s behavior or attitudes is made to seem futile because of the assumption that the sexes share so little. Indeed some difference feminists assert that women and men are so different from one another that they can hardly communicate across sex at all. The phrase “Men don’t get it” too often implies that they “can’t” get it, because, it is argued by difference feminists, only women have the capacity to really understand what other women are talking about. This of course is nonsense without any empirical validity, but identity politics so strongly stresses sex differences that this has come to be the accepted wisdom.
But it is not just coalitions across sex that are assumed to be impossible, but coalitions among women as well. One of the problems with identity politics is that its assumptions can lead to an almost infinite number of smaller and smaller female identity groups. Identity politics puts a premium on valuing and exaggerating differences existing among women as well as those that are cross-sex. This makes large and potentially powerful feminist organizations difficult to sustain. One example of this effect was the problem of fractionalization within the National Women Studies Association (NWSA) some years ago, largely due to the many splits that occurred within its ranks. Identity groups organized within the organization pitting academic women against non-academic, Jewish women against non-Jews, women of color against white women, lesbians against straight women, lesbians of color against white lesbians, mothers against non-mothers and more. Each group focused on its own identity, its own victimization which it set up in competition with others’ claims of victim status, and ins response to which it demanded recognition and concessions from the organization. The center – if it existed – simply could not hold and the organization, which had played a very important role in creating and supporting women’s studies programs on campuses, was wracked by years of conflict from which it has only recently recovered.
Thus, by stressing the characteristics which divide us, the logic of identity politics is that ultimately each individual is her own group. If each individual is different from all others, then to protect herself adequately she needs to be selfish – to ally with no one and to count only on herself to protect her interests. It is obvious that this stance makes it completely impossible to bring together the large numbers of people necessary successfully to press for social change. Coalitions fail to develop or are not even attempted. In this way, identity politics within feminism, as elsewhere, is basically conservative, working against progressive change and supporting the status quo.
The divisions promoted by identity politics are especially pronounced today on college campuses. Not only between male and female students but also among students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, differences are perceived as unbridgeable barriers and victimized status is a badge of honor. It is especially ironic that this separation is occurring at precisely the moment in history when real differences among students are less pronounced than ever in the past. American society is in fact culturally very homogeneous, as almost all young Americans who attend college grow up watching the same television programs, shopping at the same malls, listening to the same music, and eating the same fast food for large portions of their lives. Beginning salaries for students who graduate from elite universities have increasingly become similar by race and sex. But the identity politics which is hegemonic on such elite college campuses emphasizes difference above all else, even when students have trouble actually articulating what, in concrete terms, those significant differences are.
The focus of attention within the context of identity politics becomes building solidarity and loyalty within one’s own group. The outcome divides students from one another. Female students of different ethnic groups, for example, come to see themselves as having nothing in common with one another, and to compete over their relative degree of victimization. Feminist women of color, for example, on many campuses including Colgate’s separate from white feminists, and take as a major task the goal of criticizing and creating guilt in white women students for their alleged racist attitudes. Similarly, within groups of women of color the same process occurs, with different ethnic groups dividing off and emphasizing the large differences among them. On other campuses, it is lesbian women who claim an especially oppressed status and, stressing their differences from straight women, critique the attitudes and behavior of heterosexual women towards them. Regardless of the merit of any particular critique, this model of identity politics effectively divides from one another those who could be allies in facing the many real problems – of poverty, violence, reproductive control, and work/ family conflicts – that women share when facing the world outside the university. Though in fact female college students share large numbers of issues around which they could build an inclusive movement to attack sexist behavior and attitudes, they turn inward, reinforcing their own feelings of victimization and loyalty, and typically turn outward only to attack one another.
In addition to dividing potential allies from one another, identity politics’ dominance of feminism creates other obstacles to effective struggles for social change. Its focus on personal identity produces a kind of a-political narcissism. Its attempt is to redefine politics as the attempt to know and assert “who I am” as part of a specifically narrow group. The notion that politics should involve responsibility toward others as well as toward oneself and toward whatever one defines as one’s “own group” has been lost. The assertion of one’s selfhood, concern with one’s own self-esteem, as well as group loyalty become ends, the primary goals of political expression. In addition to its inward-looking focus, the strong emphasis on group loyalty characteristic of identity politics creates exaggerated emotional dependence on the group and consequently enormous pressure towards conformity and away from dissenting or independent thought. Stephen Carter, in his Confessions of An Affirmative Action Baby, exposes the damage done to independent and creative individual thinking that such a situation produces, again especially on college campuses. This exaggerated loyalty, then, also serves as an obstacle to the creation of an inclusive and thoughtful feminist politics.
The Future of Feminism
So where do we go from here? It is no doubt clear from my presentation today that my own politics are in strong contrast to identity politics. For a successful progressive politics to emerge again in our society, I believe that we need to create a political atmosphere where the zero-sum model of group competition gives way to coalitions among progressive groups to work on specific social problems; where personal issues of identity and self-esteem do not stymie individuals and groups’ abilities to act politically; and where a unifying vision of fairness and social justice replaces the pessimistic focus on difference.
For those of you who agree with me, we have a difficult but important task in front of us. Difficult especially now as we see in so many parts of the world from Kosovo to Rwanda the strength of identity politics in the form of nationalism – whether organized on religious, or cultural, or regional grounds – as a rallying cry for the most inhumane acts of violence among neighbors. Our task, then, does seem to run counter to a deep-seated tendency for human beings to react with fear and even hatred to differences, whether those differences are real, socially created, or imagined. For those of you who believe as I do, our task is to convince individuals and groups mired in the search for and affirmation of difference and victimization that it is in their interests to alter the sources of their victimization by joining with others to create a just society for all. This is not to say that individual or group conflicts will or can completely disappear. There are legitimate conflicts of interest in any society. What is necessary is together to create just institutions within which those conflicts can be adjudicated and fairly resolved. Indeed we must recognize that the only possible solution to the legitimate problems and conflicts groups face is such a broad movement for social justice.
For feminism, these issues presently constitute a crisis of definition, as well as a choice about how to proceed. In Fire With Fire, Naomi Wolf offers a number of different definitions of feminism. Two however seem particularly instructive in the present context. In one portion of the book she advocates a definition of feminism that focuses on difference, on “more for women,” including anything as feminist that “makes women stronger in ways that each woman is entitled to define for herself” and allowing that a woman is a feminist if she “respects herself” and is “operating at her full speed.” This identity and difference-oriented definition is one direction in which feminism may continue to go. Feminists in this view would include Phyllis Schlafly and Margaret Thatcher for surely they respect themselves and believe they have defined ways to make women stronger. This brand of feminism would focus on getting more for women regardless of the implication for others and would advocate the use of their newly attained power for good or evil, as they individually decide. For reasons outlined in this paper, I reject this view.
In the same book, however, Wolf proposes another definition of feminism. Here she emphasizes feminism’s essence as a movement for a socially more just society. This then is the other possible direction that feminism today could take, reaching out to others who share a commitment to a just and egalitarian society and building the coalitions necessary to exercise the power to move in that direction. Concrete examples of such possibilities abound. Poor women, especially the young who cannot afford abortions, could join with middle class pro-choice advocates in pressing for the federal funding necessary if all women are to have real reproductive control. The crisis in day care – both its inadequate availability and quality – has the potential to unite working parents of all ethnicities and social classes. Issues such as rape, battering, and sexual harassment cut across class and race and age, pointing the way to broad-based coalitions of women and men who are outraged by these crimes. And the continued low-pay, dead end, and sex stereotyped jobs in which women find themselves could be addressed as part of the broader fight for better education and higher paying jobs in the American economy as a whole, as feminists join with unions and other advocates of higher incomes for working people.
These and other issues have the potential of combining the political influence of disparate groups which can agree on specific issues and are willing to work together to effect concrete change in the functioning of our laws and institutions. As we look to our future, we also need to be cognizant of our past. In the early 1960s when the Second Wave of feminism began, the women’s movement was separate, but at the same time part of a larger number of groups – Civil Rights, anti-war, New Left, student groups – committed to and optimistic about constructing a more just society for all. These earliest feminists understood that women’s personal problems had social origins and that they thus required political solutions, necessarily involving the entire society. If today we focus only on ourselves, our differences, and on our own victimization, we risk repeating the mistake made by feminism in the later l960s and early 1970s. At that time, some feminist activists began using small consciousness raising groups in a therapeutic fashion, as a way of focusing primarily on their own personal problems. Discouraged about the extent of sexism they had uncovered and demoralized by seeing themselves as its victims, they turned inward, preoccupied with the personally damaging effects of sexism. They abandoned consciousness raising groups as a way of linking themselves with others, as a way of connecting personal issues to political activism in the wider society. Isolated from larger struggles for social justice, most consciousness raising groups collapsed within a very short number of years.
Today’s identity politics, both in the form of difference and victim feminism, poses a similar danger to a successful struggle to overcome sexism. The personal in these contexts is not political, primarily because it involves separation from political engagement with others in society. Rather it accepts the pessimistic – ultimately conservative – view that victimization is not amenable to change through political struggle. It accepts the notion that difference between women and men makes coalition impossible and sexism inevitable. In contrast, we need to affirm the early women’s movements’ insight that the personal – sexism in personal relationships, the tragedy of sexual violence or abuse, the division of housework within families, or the poverty that women disproportionately experience – can be an important factor in creating a politics of engagement. By so doing, we can join with others to construct a vision and politics that promises real democratic participation, self-determination, and egalitarian justice for all.