Commie Dad, a popular personality on communist Twitter, recently wrote a piece entitled Marxism, Identity Politics, and Worker’s Power, in which he set out to rebut the charges, common as Marxism reemerges as a recognised intellectual trend in the English-speaking world, that Marxism fails to account for anything except class. This is admirable and important work, and, for reasons aforementioned, part of a growing genre by Marxists of varying stripes to defend Marks Baba from charges of “brocialism”.
It should go without saying that I more or less endorse the contents of the piece. Indeed, taken as a “universal” there is relatively little to criticise, but what little there is to criticise is much more important given its positioning within the particular context of the US left, which has been robbed of a sturdy theoretical backbone for some time.
Let us begin then with a point of agreement and then launch into where I think the piece could stand to improve. Dad Commie writes that “Proponents of identity politics often see the working class as exclusively white and male, but this is far from the case.” Having spoken to a great many progressives in the US, I can say that this is indeed the preoccupation. In the shadow of the Trump victory, there is a pressure which even I feel to discuss US politics in a dichotomy between understanding “the working class” that voted for Trump, and “identity politics”, practically implying that Black America is more elite than white America in class terms! Scarcely any visitor to the United States can hold this illusion for even a moment, but the rhetoric at present is indeed such among those born here that one would think the toilers of the United States were mostly white men.
But as I said, it is obvious they are not. During a conversation with another Turkish friend doing her PhD here recently, the subject of my revolutionary politics came up. She is a self-described bourgeois and not predisposed to sympathy for revolutionaries, although we are nonetheless very close, and the circumstances back in the memleket have a strong unifying effect. She was saying, only partially ironically, that circumstances in the US are rapidly beginning to resemble those in Turkey, and that I had better “make a revolution somewhere fast”, lest we remain caught between multiple countries rapidly descending towards the “state of nature”. I responded that I remained hopeful for Turkey for various reasons, but that “there’s no reason to have any hope for the US”. She responded that any communist revolution in the US would have to rely entirely on Black people, as “there aren’t any white workers anyway”.
My friend was obviously not speaking in a literal sense, but there is some truth behind this. No matter how the rhetoric among US citizens might be, it is a fairly obvious fact that the deeper one descends into the proletarian masses in the US, the blacker the faces one sees are. Naturally, we should ask ourselves why this is. The easy answer, which is not entirely untrue, is that the bourgeoisie in the United States has been effective in “dividing” the workers. But as Dad Commie himself responds: “Marxists would not be arguing that workers must be united if we did not think there was anything dividing them in the first place.”
But what is this division? Is it merely one of “race”? Certainly this is the term to which Commie Dad returns again and again in discussing the most salient contradiction of US society, that between “Black and White America”, dating back to slavery. But as slavery ended decades ago, why is this gap, both in social treatment and in economic class, still so real? Are people in the US simply that racist? Readers want to say “yes”, instinctively, but this does not really account for the really massive amounts of integration which do exist among many groups which were historically second-tier toilers in the United States, such as the Chinese. Further, in many countries in the Americas one finds historical racial-caste systems similar to the one in the US, by which the further up the social ladder one climbs the whiter the faces one sees are. But in countries like Mexico or Brazil, the sharp division between black and white has at least been blurred with a large “mixed” middle section of the society, a phenomenon which is conspicuously absent in the US (see my forthcoming thoughts on my time in Atlanta).
The real explanation for this sharp division, and what links “Black America” to other oppressed peoples, mostly “of colour”, in the United States, is their relationship to US imperialism. What seems missing in Commie Dad’s piece, which correctly understands the proletariat as divided into many identities which are themselves part of the proletarian struggle and not opposed to it, is mention of nation.
Now to be fair, Commie Dad does mention national liberation as one of the reasons we find Lenin to be an exemplary figure of 20th century history. Commie Dad does not explicitly deny the existence of nations in the US, and indeed mentions in passing the Black Liberation Movement (although as is perhaps the norm in the US, mentions the BPP to the exclusion of the BLA). But it is important we not merely allow for the existence of nations, but put national questions at the centre of our practice, particularly in an imperialist country like the United States.
So when Commie Dad goes on to say that racist ideology helps reinforce divisions between two groups, I don’t disagree. But the fact that Afro-Americans and Yankees are able to be so effectively divided does lead one to believe the problem is more than “skin deep”. As he himself mentions, there is a long history starting from the slave trade that accounts for the divisions. But the point is that over the course of this history, the divisions became real not only in terms of their material basis in privileges or relationship to the means of production, but also in terms of territory, language, levels of bourgeois exploitation (i.e., the existence of a separate black bourgeoisie), in short, the political, cultural, historical, and economic building blocks of a nation. It is not merely that racism is ideologically strong, but that in the US context, the racialised division is strong enough to have actually passed over from quantity into quality and become something else entirely: national oppression, wherein more or less the entire Afro-American nation, including much of the Afro-American bourgeoisie, is oppressed and exploited by the imperialist Yankee bourgeoisie.
I wish to state again that I liked and agreed with Commie Dad’s piece, and I presume he won’t even disagree with much of what I say here. This is the most comradely of criticisms, intended to bring into sharper focus a central issue to US politics specifically because, as he put it: “Marxism must [fight all] oppressions on their own terms.”
Recommended reading: the works of Harry Haywood, “Settlers” by J. Sakai, “Free The Afro-American Nation” by the Afro-American Liberation League and the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective (M-L), 1982, and if you can read Turkish or have a friend who can translate for you: Trump’un seçim zaferi-1: Siyah Amerika ve Cumhuriyetçiler, by me.
Also, for those of you willing to write to Boxholder, 607 Boylston St., Lower Level Box 464, Boston, MA, 02116 to order a book, “Toward Victorious Afro-American National Liberation”, by Ray O. Light