I am not at all surprised that it is a Brit who notes that aggressive identity politics has pushed economic justice out of the political spotlight.
I would argue that some political factions, most notably the Clinton political machine, have done so deliberately, because it allows them to check the “right” boxes while still aligning themselves with what Theodore Roosevelt called the “Malefactors of Wealth”.
People like Wal-Mart (Hillary was a member of its board for years) and Goldman Sachs (Hillary’s speeches, and they funded her son-in-law’s hedge fund) are Hillary’s peeps, because they all agree that focusing on identity politics, as opposed to the the increasingly ferocious war on the average American worker or the financialization of our economy, is a good thing:
The rise of identity politics means that the personal is commonly understood to be political. Being a radical today relates as much to who you are as to what you think. Class struggle, at one time the raison d’être of the socialist movement, has been usurped on the left by the personal grievances of women, gays and ethnic minorities.
Identity politics was an understandable response to some of the injustices of the twentieth century. Despite the loftiness of much left-wing rhetoric, sexism, racism and homophobia have never successfully been eliminated from socialist politics for the simple reason that these movements reflect the societies in which they were conceived. It was often made apparent to women in particular that the priorities for leftists lay strictly within the class framework.
It would be wrong to imply that today this dynamic has been turned on its head. One can still find sexism, racism and homophobia on the left as easily as one can find it in wider society. In an article for Slate about the US Democratic primaries, Michelle Goldberg wrote in late 2015 about a cultural phenomenon of so-called ‘Bernie Bros’ – male supporters of US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who ‘seem to believe that their class politics exempt them from taking sexism seriously’.
Ultimately, though, the left should seek to move beyond identity politics for the simple reason that it is compatible with neo-liberal economics. Identity politics can co-exist with the corporate boss who makes more money in a week than his cleaner takes home in a year – as long as the chances of being the boss are assigned proportionally among different ethnic groups, sexualities and genders. Individual winners and losers remain as remote from each other as ever; they are simply sorted in direct proportion to their numbers in society. The ultimate aim of identity politics is to ‘tune up’ the elite rather than to abolish it.
Class politics must certainly evolve with the times – at the very least it should take account of the legitimate grievances of people who feel marginalised for reasons other than their class. However, liberal identity politics is increasingly a zero-sum game in which white men must invariably lose out so that women, ethnic minorities and LGBT individuals can prosper. With no account for the impact of class, this will simply give rise to another injustice, or at the very least, compound an existing one.
I think that the author, James Bloodworth, undersells the deliberate nature of this transformation.
When one looks at the professional class, doctors, lawyers, and (most significantly) college professors, the top 2-5%, this focus on identity politics benefits them.
While they have not benefited to the degree of the top 1% of 1%, they have benefited, and now it’s easier to for them to find inexpensive domestic help.