Saturday, 4 March 2017

Guest Post: Socialism and Identity Politics - Dr Simeon Scott

Bradford academic, Labour Party and Momentum member Dr Simeon Scott on where social class sits in socialist thinking on intersectionality as the party faces the future.

The politics of identity is much discussed by the corporate media, persuading workers to look inwards, encouraging us to feel proud of being British or a Christian. Seemingly, such media would rather this than workers discussing the relationship between the 2008 banking collapse and cuts in government spending or whether Britain should be selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Similarly, the liberal corporate media encourage us to support the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the workplace and elsewhere. Citing bullying, harassment, discrimination and victimisation, this media, some career politicians, and some employers raise issues of race, ethnicity, gender, disability and religion.

At first sight, as socialists, we should respond by pointing out that we have no problem with any of these identity issues and indeed give our full support to the clauses of the Equality Act of 2010. But, on reflection things are not quite so simple. For example, some feminists have misgivings concerning the rights of transgender men who, whether by drugs or surgery, want to become, and be fully accepted as, women. Surely, we should support the right of these feminists to voice their opinions. As socialists, we need to be aware that the codes of conduct in the Act were drawn up with little or no input by the working class people to whom they mainly apply. We need to go further and note that the clauses of this Act do not protect workers who are discriminated against because they are active in their union or who speak out on low pay, zero-hours contracts and other equality issues. Similarly, the Act does not protect workers who blow the whistle on the excessive salaries, bonuses, tax avoidance schemes and unethical practices of their employers. In other words, the corporate media, employers and others are highly selective in their choices concerning equality, with the rights of those forced to sell their labour given short shrift. Whilst the corporate media give some coverage to the excessive abuse of workers’ rights, such as the cases of J. D. Sports or Sports Direct, there are no media calls to introduce legislation to end wage labour full stop. As one socialist writer explained: “the politics of identity replaced class in political and social struggles”.

During the period of colonial rule in India and elsewhere, British capitalists used religious, racial and ethnic identity as a divide and rule strategy. Currently, millions of people in former European colonies are still suffering the horrific residues of this strategy. Yet, this same strategy is being used in Britain today: workers are discouraged from uniting along class lines. Encouraging working class people to identify with a religious label, by sending their kids to a faith school for instance, will tend to make them more politically and socially conservative. This makes such people less likely to join with those of other faiths or none and engage in the day to day struggles of wage workers. Both David Cameron and Tony Blair have openly encouraged this trend and in 2007 New Labour were exposed by Channel 4 News for funding mosques which regularly invited Saudi-trained firebrand speakers to promote their hatred of homosexuals, rejection of women’s rights and much else. Similarly, the multiculturalist agenda, despite its initial promise for socialists, proved to be a means of promoting both a ghettoised mode of thinking and a small business culture based on selling ethnic food, clothing and music. In the Labour Party, the introduction of black and women’s sections encouraged ambitious well educated people to leave class politics and enter the well rewarded wheeler dealing world of career politics.

With regard to the issue of gender, obviously we support women’s rights. Again, however, we must join with Sylvia Pankhurst and distance ourselves from middle class feminism. Whilst some women managers and executives have broken through the glass ceiling, they have merely become agents for the exploitation of male and female workers. Middle class feminism has done little or nothing to end the gender pay gap, or help the increasing number of working class women doing part time, zero-hour or minimum wage jobs. Such feminists have tended to turn a blind eye to the plight of women who find themselves obliged to accept ‘traditional’ roles in the religious communities promoted by the major political parties. Ms Pankhurst was more productive in promoting cooking, nursery and housework projects to alleviate working class women from the housework which disproportionately falls upon them.

There exists a growing tendency in the Labour Party, including its Momentum faction, and the trade unions for uncritical support for identity issues. Neologisms from the politically correct lexicon are freely used in proposals to “root out Islamophobia” or “defend LGBT rights”. The problem is the way in which these issues are framed prevents democratic discussion. Rather than persuading workers to one-sidedly identify themselves with their parents’ religion, for instance, we should encourage all workers to become involved in the full range of social and political activities that are a prerequisite for ending the money/wage labour system that is the hallmark of global capitalism. As one young man from Bradford, Javaad Alipoor, argued: “no one ever talks about class, no one ever talks about capitalism, no one ever talks about working class access to the world… we don’t have any politics”. Javaad could have been talking about activists, including Corbyn supporters, inside the Labour Party and unions. Rather than mocking political correctness, however, let us determine our policies on the rights of all peoples on our terms, rather than passively accepting those of employers, career politicians and the media. We do not exist to feel good about seeming to take the moral high ground; rather we are the movement dedicated to ending the capitalist mode of production.

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