Who needs identity politics?

Alas, dear friends, it is late in the night and I’m buggered if I can recall what trail of sorry links lead me to the posts upon which I am to unleash my wrath.

It’s yet another spin-off of the cultural clusterfuck that is Nationhood Speech Der Zweite; specifically, the response by Chris Trotter entitled “The Liberal Left: Who Needs You?” Our special surprise guest is a commenter going by the name of John Pagani, apparently an adviser to The Speechmaker Himself, assuming anyone is honest about their identities on the interwebz these days (she says, writing under a pseudonym).

First things first, there’s the casual dismissal of all and sundry who thought that maybe explicitly modelling a speech after the Don Brash/Orewa mold might not be entirely kosher:

Their reflexive condemnation of anyone who dares to hold Maori politicians to the same standards as Pakeha betrays an arrogant unwillingness to accept the ethical norms of their own society. These people have become the fervent champions of an indigenous culture they can never truly join because, fundamentally, they despise their own.

On the “same standard” bollocks, see my previous post.  Idiot/Savant notes well in the comments,

Be honest, Chris. The word you’re looking for is “self-hating Pakeha”. Or maybe “race-traitor”.

Disclaimer: I am so white it’s ridiculous.  I don’t say I’m “proud to be white” because HOLY CRAP with the instant supremacist associations.  Also, you know, taking pride in the identity of an ethnicity which has categorically dumped on basically every other ethnicity over the past several centuries?  Not so much my thing.

But I am white.  My cultural points of reference are white and Western and English-speaking.  And there’s a big fucking difference between acknowledging that white people have seriously fucked up on the race relations/not committing genocide front and “despising [my] own [culture].”

But I guess it makes it much easier to ignore people’s objections when you can say “oh they just suffer from too much liberal white guilt” – and when you’re happy to forget the fact that we have quite a bit to be guilty about.  Throwing in that whole “too arrogant to accept basic ethics” line is a nice touch, too.

Fuck that, though, I’ve covered it already – point is, Chris Trotter is my least favourite kind of leftie: the one who thinks being a leftie makes him automatically open-minded and understanding of privilege and power dynamics and oppression, but clings happily to the notion that every single bad thing in the world comes down to nothing more than class.

Side note: Trotter responds to I/S’ comment with:

If the cap fits,Comrade …


Anyway, point is:  identity politics.  Ah, yes, those trifling matters that get in the way of real class struggle.  Can’t think why “objects to “identity politics”” is a phrase instantly associated in my mind with white heterosexual males who happen to have a few leftwing ideas, but oh well …

Along with hassling the ZOMG LIBERAL LEFT for having no power or influence “beyond the blogosphere” (whereas Chris totes has influence ’cause they wheel him out to sing The Red Flag on election nights for a laugh) there’s a few nice jabs at we Liberal Lefties:

Those faint-hearted liberals who can’t stand the heat should get out of the kitchen.

They have no understanding of, nor empathy for, the hopes and fears of ordinary people.

The truth of the matter is, liberal leftists have been preaching to themselves for so long they no longer appreciate how few people give a tinker’s cuss what they say.

And then there’s allegedly-John-Pagani in the comments:

It’s about connecting with things that matter to people and making politics work for people, instead of instructing people in what’s good for them and inventing fabrications about the people the left represents.

And that’s frankly where I get right fucking pissed off.

Because apparently, the Liberal Left just don’t understand ordinary people.  We don’t care about things that matter to people, we just want to instruct them because we’re bossy britches.  Fuck, I’m stunned no one managed to insert a nanny/evil headmistress/other authoritarian-woman-figure-who-kills-our-fun-but-is-not-a-Helen-Clark-reference-AT-ALL into the discourse.

Why is the second “people” in both italics and bold up there?  Because when two guys get in a huddle and start slanging against the Liberal Left and the evil distraction of identity politics, and whinge about how we need to think about ordinary people, I think we can make a few very good guesses as to the kind of people they’re talking about.

And I’ll give you a hint:  it ain’t you or me, assuming you are not a middle class white heterosexual cisgendered currently able bodied male.

Because here’s what matters to me:

It matters to me that I not be passed over for a job or a promotion because I’m a woman who’ll obviously just leave to have babies.

It matters to me that I have the right to be paid the same as a man for doing the same work.

It matters to me that gay men and women can have their relationships recognised by the state just like every two-in-three-chance-of-divorce hetero couple.

It matters to me that people of colour not get pulled over by the cops because brown people shouldn’t be driving expensive cars, or are obviously on drugs because they’re brown, or not be played by white people in movies about their lives.

It matters to me that people with disabilities can travel on aeroplanes, and get into buildings, and pass exams at school (look out for that incredibly-expletive-filled-post tomorrow!) and go shopping without worrying some bastard’s going to throw them out for having a hearing dog.

It matters to me that trans people shouldn’t have to worry about being murdered because someone else feels they have the right to judge what defines a man or a woman.

It matters to me that people should be able to practise their faith without fear of persecution, and that people not-of-faith should be able to say so without harassment.

But fuck all that! That’s just identity politics!  That’s just me assuming that the way people identify, the way society wants to identify them, the assumptions others feel free to make about you because of your identity or assumed identity, might actually affect people!  It might actually rate a bit higher on their List Of Things That Pissed Me Off Today:

  1. Harassed on bus by guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.
  2. First question asked at job interview: “Do you have kids?”
  3. Threatened with sexual violence by blog commenter.
  4. Still alienated from means of production.

Come on, guys, the big important thing is obviously class struggle!  We can’t possibly let the things that affect women and people of colour and people with disabilities and trans people and people who ignore the gender binary and people whose identities are not the default white het cis male – who, in fact, by being not-white-het-cis-males, actually have the audacity to have identities – get in the way of the greater good!

And if we have to throw Maori under the bus to achieve our [white het cis male] worker’s utopia, then so be it.

To borrow a line from the bikers’ rally at Parliament, I can only ask, though: who’s next?

Other readingNo Right Turn, Lew at Kiwipolitico.


  1. Keir

    would it be cheeky to point out that both the job interview thing and the equal pay thing are perfectly respectable class issues arising out of your relationship to the means of production, especially according to the system of meaning that uses the idea of the means of production?

  2. QoT

    @Kowalski: No … that’s his pseudonym.

    @Keir: It wouldn’t be “cheeky”, so much as missing the point. Women can get screwed over by assumptions about their reproduction and abilities no matter what their class, because they are women. My pissiness at people whinging about “identity politics” muddying the Pure Class Struggle Waters is in no small part due to the fact that those whingers do not want to address “the job interview thing” or “the equal pay thing” because they do not consider those things important, and because those things are put down to being problems of identity – as though, if only women and people of colour and people with disabilities &c would just forget their petty little worries and focus on the Real Class Struggle, everything would be solved.

    Whereas I happen to live in a world where the feminist movement of the 70s grew in parts out of leftist women getting a bit fucking sick of being asked to make the tea while the men were talking.

  3. Keir

    Women can get screwed over by assumptions about their reproduction and abilities no matter what their class, because they are women.

    Yes. This is true. It is also true that women’s relationship to the means of production is a pretty important part of that.

    Fair enough Trotter’s an idiot. Still, the materialist conception of history is a pretty useful thing to hold onto, especially given that a great deal of feminism is a class struggle (as Marx observes somewhere, much as I hate to say it).

  4. QoT

    Thing is, Keir, I’m not the person/people advocating that there’s a black-and-white choice between class struggle and identity politics – compared to Chris Trotter who seems to think that these petty things like pay parity and anti-discrimination laws are getting in the way of the real problems in society.

    As I said in my post, that’s a pretty easy position to hold when you’re a white heterosexual male.

  5. Keir

    Well, no, you’re the person saying that pay equity is to be contrasted and defined against alienation from the means of production; I would say that pay equity is an issue arising basically from alienation from the means of production.

  6. QoT

    Nothing of the sort, Keir. Trotter is the person (and not the only one) who has decided that “identity politics” are somehow separate and ignorable issues that detract from class struggle. Pay equity’s relationship to Marxist themes is an interesting discussion, but explicitly not the one that’s being had when we’ve got people contrasting “identity politics” against “what matters to ordinary people”.

  7. Keir

    Well yes that’s exactly what you said here:
    1. Harassed on bus by guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.
    2. First question asked at job interview: “Do you have kids?”
    3. Threatened with sexual violence by blog commenter.
    4. Still alienated from means of production.

    Given that the items are obviously exclusive of each other, I can see no other viable reading.

    Unless every time you say `class struggle’ you mean `trotter’s version of the class struggle &c’ but at that point I think you have to start signalling that one pretty strongly.

    I don’t care about Trotter, he’s a lost cause and the best thing to do is tell him he’s a sectarian idiot and he should play nice or Fuck Off, but that doesn’t mean anti-Trotter arguments can’t also be wrong.

    • QoT

      @Keir: The list is illustrative of the differing priorities a person may have who isn’t blessed with Trotter’s maleness. Trotter is able to whinge that “identity” politics have stolen the show because his identity – white, hetero, male – is such a default in our society that the entire notion of something other than your position on the socioeconomic scale meaning anything is an alien one. Nothing “obviously exclusive of each other” at all.

      You can tell Trotter to do whatever you like but please do not imply that I “have to” do anything just because you say so.

  8. Keir

    That might be what you meant, but it really really isn’t what you said. When you have an ranked list and an item appears twice, then either it isn’t ranked (or is otherwise degenerate) or the item is supposedly different; given your list is clearly ranked &c &c.

    And, er, if I say `you must signal before turning’ I don’t mean that you must signal because I say so, and it would be utter nonsense to say I was implying so.

    • QoT

      An item appears twice? Are you high, or still clinging to the notion that a woman being asked about having children in a job interview has anything to do with her class status – or at the very least, has more to do with class than sex?

  9. Keir

    It has to do with her class status as a woman; in particular, with the way that women are alienated from the means of production*, and broadly with the way that people in general are alienated from the means of production.

    And even if I concede the class point, the means of production point still stands; these are largely issues about control of the means of production.

    They aren’t like the issue of gay marriage, which isn’t a class or means-of-production issue — beyond general class privilege letting well-off gay people do stuff not-so-well-off people can’t — they are issues which really do come back to the control of the means of production, or at least historical materialist concerns.

    *Because there is a good case that the gender division of labour is the ur-class issue, as either Marx or Engels (or both) says somewhere.

  10. Lew

    Keir, defining ‘class’ as including gender redefines the term somewhat beyond usefulness, and (again) subjugates gender to class, which the the very point of the post.


  11. Keir

    I don’t think it does tho’, because one could say that class forms a component of gender, without being committed to class explaining all gender issues (or even most). So one could say that the treatment of women’s work at home is a class issue, and a gender issue, while access to contraception is a gender issue without being a class issue, if that makes sense?

    (I mean, compare to black Americans; a great deal of the problems they face are class issues arising out of being the enslaved-class, but that shouldn’t be read as saying that race is just class, or that a class analysis is sufficient. But it is probably true that a class analysis is a necessary part of that.)

  12. Lew

    Keir, I see what you’re saying about black Americans, but that’s a pretty specific sort of case and I don’t think it applies to other minorities such as women or (most) indigenous groups.

    I can see how some of the specifics of gender interaction can be class-bound (for instance: working-class women being expected to cook/clean/etc while more wealthier women have help to do it for them, to take a crude example), but the general, structural disparities between women and men cross class boundaries to a very large extent, and improvements to class status don’t necessarily relieve women of their gendered burdens (that is to say: wealthy women may not have to cook/clean, but they may still be effectively prevented from pursuing a career; may suffer greater risks of sexual or domestic abuse; are expected to adhere to many other feminine norms in the same ways as working-class women, etc.)

    I just don’t see how lumping the two (thoroughly different) problem sets in together is anything other than self-serving for male workers, in that it gets them more bodies in behind their cause. without requiring them to differentiate that cause in service of the specific needs of those bodies.


  13. Keir

    But take household cleaning: there’s a class based element where the class of the husband/family is important, but there’s a class based element where woman as a a group have a different relationship to the means of production than men do as a group.

    Which is a class thing, or at least a `means of production’/materialist thing.

  14. Lew


    A ‘means of production’ discrepancy enforced predominantly by men regardless of their class status; or to put it another way, enforced as much by working-class men as by those in charged of the means of production.

    And what of the other gendered burdens? How are they more a function of class than of gender?


  15. Keir

    They aren’t, and I shouldn’t say they weren’t.

    But of course working class men, while not controlling the means of production, have a relationship to them which is different from that of women. Also the role of housework, which is clearly a class (in this sense) issue. (This bit is slightly fuzzy and requires fast talking, but I dare say it could be cobbled together better.)

  16. QoT

    Thanks for picking up my slack, Lew – bloody internet bloody Telecom etc etc.

    I think a big problem for me with your argument, Keir, is that there’s a substantial history of the Left saying “look, your problems and your problems and your problems can all be seen in terms of class! We can all do this together!” … and then when the chips are down and nonwhite nonmales say “what about this issue?” it gets pushed to the side and downgraded as “not that important”.

    Especially in the context of Chris Trotter’s writings – this was in fact my basic concern: “yay, the Left can be the Left again [barring critique from posters like Lew who think that Goff’s speech signifies nothing of the sort] without those nasty women and gays and darkies getting in the way of the real issues.”

    I have a lot of time for Engels’ ideas about women as a class and the socialization of housework/childcare as being an ultimate end for communist societies. I just don’t think that’s an argument Trotter et al have much time for.

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