Today I read yet another article by a faux-leftist neoliberal waxing poetic about how a “New Left” is being born because of the Trump presidency and the Women’s March and it will be a bigger, better Left that actually does something and there will be movement! and resistance! and unity! and blah, blah, blah. I’m not going to link to it because you don’t even need to read it. You’ve read it plenty of times already. Every time the Left loses there is another article like this that says we are going to learn from our past mistakes and we are going to do better and next time we will win. And it includes all the liberal/leftist buzzwords du jour. This one was no different.
The Left doesn’t actually get “reborn” every time a right-wing politician wins or every time someone creates a hashtag or writes a thinkpiece. The people who value equality, social justice and the environment value these things all the time, regardless of who is in power or what is happening. The same people will just continue with what they were doing. There is no magical rising of the phoenix from the ashes, it’s just business as usual. (Or maybe I should say ‘anti-business’ as usual.)
No one who has been in power since I’ve been alive has been on the Left. The true Left was systematically destroyed decades ago, and what has existed since then has mostly been a feeble attempt to make capitalism slightly friendlier, without actually overthrowing it. Some people would argue that this actually serves capitalism, because as long as it’s the “slightly friendlier” version or as long as people believe it is, we all remain complacent and don’t take any radical action against it. (And by the way, only people in rich countries are in a position to think that capitalism can be at all friendlier. We aren’t the ones working in sweatshops that collapse while we’re in them or have suicide nets surrounding them.)
Leftists who write thinkpieces like to act as though we need something new to invigorate leftism. Some new movement or idea or new hashtag or slogan. But we don’t need anything new, what we need is something quite old. We need class consciousness, material analysis, and direct action. What passes for the Left these days is neoliberalism, but that is not what the Left is.
Faux-left thinkpieces lately have been calling for more “intersectionality” and this would be a good thing if they actually meant intersectionality. This word used to refer to an analysis of women’s oppression that took into account how race and class intersected to affect how different groups of women are oppressed. This was a necessary analysis since white women’s and upper class women’s experiences don’t represent everyone else’s but this group has historically gotten the most attention within feminism. However, the concept of intersectionality has been twisted to the point of being unrecognizable. The way it is being used today is effectively a call to include the interests of pimps and of men with a sexual fetish for cross-dressing to be centered within feminism. This is obviously anti-feminist, but because the pimp lobby and the autogynephile rights lobby have cloaked themselves in apparently-feminist outfits and no one can be bothered to do any actual research or thinking, they just play right along.
After the women’s march last weekend, neoliberal faux-leftists started claiming that the references to female body parts at the women’s march meant that we are not “intersectional” enough. What this means is that women are not supposed to talk about our oppression as women anymore, because this upsets men who wish they were women, and their views have to be included in feminism in order to make it “intersectional.” Telling women we cannot talk about our oppression as women is not intersectionality, it’s anti-feminism.
President Shitface has already “signed an executive order banning international NGOs from providing abortion services or offering information about abortions if they receive US funding.” This type of anti-abortion policy affects those of us who are biologically female, regardless of how we identify. Female biology matters, and those who have it are considered second-class citizens in a patriarchy. Transgender politics may seem “intersectional” by liberals, but they obscure the reality of sex-based oppression on which the feminist movement is based.
The way to rebuild the broken left is not to dig ourselves farther into the hole of neoliberal bullshit, it’s to get back to our roots. The left is the political position that brings us class consciousness. Women are a class of people oppressed because of our sex, and that is fundamental to understanding feminism. The working class are a class of people oppressed by capitalism, and this is fundamental in understanding the labor movement. We shouldn’t include the interests of men in feminism any more than we should include the interests of the rich in the labor movement.
Neoliberal politics where everyone is an individual agent choosing choices is a pro-capitalist ideology—this is the ideology that prevents class consciousness from developing and promotes consumer spending. This is not the Left, it is a backlash against the Left. The new identity politics where anyone can “identify” as anything they want is not a material analysis of oppression, it’s a way of obscuring the material analysis of oppression. It’s useful for people to name where they are socially located in a system of oppression: by their sex, race, class, sexual orientation, or disability status, because these social locations have material consequences that we can measure. But when people start “identifying as” something other than what they actually are that is a misuse of identity politics and a misunderstanding of how oppression works.
More neoliberal bullshit will keep moving us backwards. The faux left has nothing to offer oppressed people, it only has something to offer people who enjoy taking on “identities” and who like bashing feminists. The way to fix the left is to go old-school. We have the exact same task in front of us that we’ve always had. We have to teach class consciousness and material analysis of oppression, we have to educate about the effects of climate change and end stage capitalism, we have to take power away from the powerful and end capitalism and imperialism. We have to create a human society with positive values that is sustainable and doesn’t rely on fossil fuels. This has been the task of the Left for decades already. (Ideally, of course, it should be the task of all humans, since we’re all going down when our ship sinks, even the rich.)
It’s an overwhelmingly huge task to end capitalism, and maybe that’s why we are sitting around doing stupid stuff like having “pronoun circles,” because that makes us feel like we’re doing something, even though we’re too overwhelmed to do what we are actually supposed to be doing. Any impossibly large task has to be broken down into smaller tasks in order to be achievable. It also requires large numbers of people on board. People who care about social justice and the environment should organize task forces to solve achievable goals, and should do what they are capable of within a larger culture of resistance.
The faux-leftists calling for more “intersectionality” in the neoliberal sense as a way to improve the Left are embarrassingly off the mark. Neoliberalism is what’s holding us back from doing what we need to do. It’s what we need to get rid of in order to move forward.