THE ORIGIN OF ‘IDENTITY POLITICS’ & ‘POLITICAL CORRECTNESS’
Not Consideration for Minorities but Hatred Towards the Mass of Ordinary People; Specifically ‘the Workers’ — Tracing the Roots of Why and How it Arose and Developed Reveals the Greatest Political Fraud in History
[An edited version appears in The Quarterly Review as ‘Dworkin’s Dangerous Idea: Steve Moxon Deconstructs Identity Politics’.http://www.quarterly-review.org/?p=2954]. More fully, it appears as part of Moxon SP (2014) Partner violence as female-specific in aetiology. New Male Studies 3(3) 69-93]
Steve Moxon, 2014-2020. Sheffield, UK. email@example.com
Published here on the stevemoxon.co.uk website, initially on August 17, 2014, subsequently updated, notably in 2020; ongoing.
A Creative Commons copyright applies.
‘Identity politics’ — often or even usually dubbed ‘political correctness’, though it’s not the same thing, having a different, parallel origin; PC is the mode of enforcement of ‘identity politics’, as in speech codes and cancel culture — is the result of a political-Left major backlash against the mass of ordinary people (in Europe and ‘the West’), beginning in the 1920s, in the wake of the persistent failure of Marxist theory to be realised in European ‘revolution’ or any real change through democracy. In shifting the blame away from Marxist theory and its adherents, and on to those the theory had prescribed and predicted would have been the beneficiaries — the workers (if only they had responded accordingly) — then the cognitive-dissonance within the political-left mindset caused by this crisis to an extent was salved. [It is NOT at all the same as what the Left mistakenly term ‘the politics of identity’ to tag the new movements against the elite, on the false assumption that they are essentially nationalistic and ‘white backlash’. Trump and Brexit triumphed because the general populace have come to realise that the government-media-education elite has an unwarranted profound contempt for if not hatred towards them; and, therefore hardly is liable to act in their interests.]
The intellectual rationalisation was to build on false notions of Engels (co-author with Marx of The Communist Manifesto) that ‘capitalism’ created the family and ‘false consciousness’, by theorising mechanisms of how ‘the workers’ were somehow prevented from revolting. This was by invoking Freud’s now comprehensively discredited notion of ‘repression’, first to attempt to explain a supposed impact on ‘the workers’ of ‘capitalism’ acting within the context of the family. With most workers (the group considered the principal ‘agents of social change’ in a ‘revolution’) being male, then the theoreticians had in mind the male as ‘head’ of the family. It was a simple extension in political-Left imagination for ‘the worker’ to change from being the putative conduit of the impact of ‘capitalism’ to its embodiment, leaving by default women to be deemed a replacement supposed ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ ‘group’. The false notion of ‘repression’ was also considered in a wider sense to produce ‘false consciousness’ in the ‘proletariat’, supposedly obscuring what was in their own best interests.
This implausible and unfalsifiable non-scientific nonsense mainly festered within academia until circa 1968 the New Left in the USA, spurred by, indeed aping the Chinese ‘cultural revolution’, co-opted a movement which, though having nothing do do with the Left, appeared to be akin to the revolutionary activity predicted by Marxism: US ‘civil rights’. This added to the ‘new oppressed’ another category, which like that of women could be envisaged as an inversion of a retrospective stereotype of ‘the worker’. In the wake of the similarly seeming revolutionary Stonewall riots of 1969, the ‘gay rights’ lobby also was co-opted (again, despite having had nothing to do with the Left) to further add by inversion to the abstract demonised aspects of ‘the worker’, thereafter retrospectively stereotyped as male plus ‘white’ plus heterosexual.
This prizing into the role of being emblematic of Marxist struggle naturally rendered the specific conflicts more generalisable, allowing expansion into more widely encompassing categories. US Afro-Americans, in being championed as the ‘ethnic minority’ supposed warriors of the Left thereby meant anyone generically of an ‘ethnic minority’ was deemed to belong to the club. Likewise, ‘gays’ became generic ‘homosexuals’. The problem thereby arose of false identification. The category non-white / ethnic minority includes such as migrant Indians and Chinese, who by no criteria are ‘disadvantaged’ or ‘oppressed’. Likewise lesbians drawn into the category homosexual. As for women, by objective, non-ideological analysis, women are privileged, as they are bound to be with the female being the limiting factor in reproduction. As has been regularly pointed out, Western middle-class women are the most privileged large ‘group’ in history. The ‘groups’ are far too heterogeneous to be in reality ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’, providing a window on the sophistry and origin of this politics as other than it purports.
The strands of the ‘new oppressed’ naturally combined as a new (neo-Marxist) conceptualisation to account for these political shifts after the fact, which came to be termed identity politics (or more pejoratively though actually more accurately, cultural Marxism). The deemed ‘groups’ replacing ‘the workers’ subsequently were not only expanded in their scope but added to — by the disabled, the elderly, trans-sexuals, the obese … . Again, all are abstractions rather than groups per se. This relentless expansion and then the use and abuse of these mis-identifications of under-privilege by educated individuals belonging to one or more of the categories, has been dubbed ‘the oppression olympics’, making ‘identity politics’ a gravy train for the already privileged, serving actually to substantially increase inequality. Worse still, it is an instrument of oppression against the very ‘group’ perennially disadvantaged and the victim of prejudice, which formerly had been identified as worthy of the liberation Marxism promised: the vast majority of (necessarily lower-status) men — ‘the workers’. This was the whole point of the political development, of course.
The pretence to egalitarianism is perfect cover for what actually is ‘identity politics’: the very perennial and ubiquitous elitist-separatism (status-grabbing) the political-Left ethos (supposedly) is to attack, and which Left zealots vehemently deny exists in themselves. Leftist bigotry betrays either unusually high status-seeking motivation or particularly deep frustration in the quest for status, which is ‘projected’ on to everyone else, who actually have normal levels of motivation to achieve status and manage to ride the ups and downs of life without requiring such dysfunctional ideation. The Left’s egalitarianism is a feint for selfishly pursuing the very opposite. If everyone else is held at a uniformly low status, Leftists thereby become ‘the chosen few’. Transparently, this is an ideology in the wake — a residue — of Christianity. A quasi-religion of supposed inevitable progress towards ‘the promised land’, rendered a utopia of equality-of-outcome. The high priests of this faith — the social justice warriors — are the ‘saved’ striving to convert the rest of us on the promise of entry to ‘heaven’. This represents a continuation of secularisation: a shift in religiosity from envisaging a ‘god’ as being in man’s image, through the humanist deification of mankind, to worship of a supposed dynamic of teleological social change (Marxism). ‘Identity politics’, in being profoundly not what it pretends to be and so deeply entrenched across the whole and every facet of the establishment in Anglophone nations especially and to a large extent in ‘the West’ generally, can properly be regarded as the greatest political fraud in history.
[The text is fully open-access: a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported License applies from the publication date of August 17, 2014, which grants full permission to reproduce, in part or whole, for all (including commercial) uses, on the condition of properly and fully attributing authorship to Steve Moxon.]
The ideology that came to be termed ‘identity politics’ has an origin and development in a re-shaping of Marxist ‘theory’ well documented in scholarship (herein outlined), not least in great detail by Marxist scholars themselves. This has long been generally recognised, though is still often denied by some on the Left, misrepresenting all investigation as ‘conspiracy theory’ (as inevitably re-edited by fanatics in the unwittingly amusing Wiki entries re these politics), in classic ‘projection’. It is, rather, dismissing all scholarship as collectively misguided according to some systematic bias that is the ‘conspiracy theory’ here. Even the existence of the politics had been written off by some as already as dead as the Marxism that had spawned it, being kept alive, supposedly, mostly in the imagination of some supposed conservative counter ideology. This was argued even by the usually highly perceptive commentator on matters cultural, Robert Hughes , in his book, The Culture of Complaint, but he was commenting over 25 years ago now, and evidently prematurely. The very opposite has proved the case. ‘Identity politics’ all too apparently has grown to be accepted and predominant everywhere – not least among conservative politicians (whole parties, such as the Conservative Party in the UK) and across the whole of government administration. It is now so all-pervasive and deep-seated as to be a totalitarian quasi-religion. Critique of ‘identity politics’ in the early 1990s had been mocked in the UK media (most notably in the UK on the TV satirical puppet show, Spitting Image) by the repetition ad nauseum of the jibe, ‘it’s political-correctness gone mad!’ This rather neatly illustrated, though, that those against ‘PC’ had a point. Spitting Image‘s catch-phrase was at best elite ‘hip’ condescension, if not veiled denunciation in terms of sexism, racism, etc. It was to take the claims in ‘identity politics’ to be self-evident and no exaggeration, with criticism of it denounced as inventing a new ‘red peril’.
To clarify terms, ‘political correctness’ has often and popularly been the ideology’s tag, used not least by some scholars, but this is rather to confuse the ideology itself with what perhaps is better understood as its surface manifestation, mode of enforcement and expression of its fervency: woke, the seemingly absurd ‘speech codes’ and blanket gratuitous charges of ‘sexism’, ‘racism’ and homophobia [sic] of ubiquitous in the media, politics and the workplace; cancel culture to render anyone who even slightly steps out of line with the new orthodoxy, or can be thus misrepresented, persona non grata. ‘Political correctness’ is a term with a history that although inter-twining with the history of the ideology of ‘identity politics’ is a separate one, with a different and slightly earlier origin: in the need to maintain a strict Party line within the Soviet state after 1917, where it was in use (in more than one near-identical translation) from the 1920s [Ellis 2002]. The Soviet Union’s lasting fame is for its cancel culture of anyone held to be not politically correct being liable to be airbrushed from history: literally, to be disappeared from photographs as well as from society (and into a gulag). The term quite suddenly became prominent in ‘Western’ politics at the turn of the 1990s when ‘identity politics’ started to become predominant. Having escaped the confines of academia, ‘identity politics’ had by then been in the ascendancy for two decades (see below), but this was not the term used popularly to label the phenomenon, as the already available term political correctness usefully denoted the impact of the new politics as ‘speech code’ attempts to enforce acceptance of what seemingly out-of-the blue quite suddenly came to manifest. Moreover, it neatly and distinctively shortened to ‘PC’, which immediately conjures its function of ‘policing’ through its long familiarity as the acronym for police constable. It is agreed by all who have commented on earliest usage in the West that political correctness had been a term current within US New Left circles through the 1970s and 1980s, and not least as a jibe against political excess: an ironic take on its use within the Soviet Union. Yet it is claimed that using PC in any negative way was by ‘the Right’. The latter does not follow from the former. It’s clear that neither the term nor its use was an invention of critics outside of the Left. Both the term and how it was employed was a creation and a practice of the Left’s that was taken up more generally. It is indicative of the extreme sensitivity of the Left to the ‘own goal’ ‘identity politics’ is recognised to be that there is blatant denial even when the position is transparently impossible to uphold. It would seem that here is a case of criticism by your own side being deemed legitimate whereas that by those outside isn’t, in a usual reaction to the damage internal disagreement causes. If even those on your own side are highly critical, that’s an open goal for the opposition proper. Likely it also stems from the Left’s unjustifiable insistence on perspectivism. As with supposedly its being fine for US ‘blacks’ to refer to each other with labels that in the mouths of non-‘blacks’ have long been deemed passé and latterly ‘racist’, apparently political correctness cannot (is not supposed to) be used in a negative way other than by those on the Left.
Note that ‘identity politics’ is entirely different to what has been dubbed ‘the politics of identity’ (or, indeed, even more mischievously in this context, ‘identity politics’ itself) to label or smear what appear deliberately mistaken to be ‘nationalist’ movements, and ‘white backlash’. In fact it’s revolt against the elite for imposing the Left’s ‘identity politics’ — in particular, the widespread if not ubiquitous (accurate) understanding that ‘identity politics’ is cover for attacking ordinary people. The cynical widening by the Left of the applicability of terminology to try to make out that ‘identity politics’ has long been with us as a political-Right phenomenon, evidently is a smokescreen to try to take the sting out of criticism of what has become the main manifestation currently of Left politics. It’s another ‘projection’ of a mirror-image of own position on to those considered opponents, in classic ‘we’re the saints, you’re the devils’ mode. Very few individuals even in the USA focus politically as nationalists (or, vanishingly rarely, ‘white nationalists’): for almost all ordinary people a sense of belonging to a country is merely the furthest extent of possible group identification, and if present at the back of the mind at all, hardly is salient in everyday consideration. Of the very few who may now label themselves ‘ident(it)arian’, it’s as a new subversive ploy, pointedly to oppose ‘identity politics’ on its own terms. Far from nationalism, the main political phenomenon of today is the backlash against the backlash that is ‘identity politics’ / ‘PC’, as so starkly evident both in the election of Trump in the USA and the referendum result for Brexit in the UK. A recent study [Hawkins et al 2018] finds dislike of ‘PC’ is by the overwhelming majority (about 80%) of the US population, and contrary to usual commentary this is across all categories: the young as well as the old, the rich as well as the poor, ‘blacks’ as well as ’whites’ (actually, most especially some ethnic minorities: nearly 90%); and fully two-thirds even of the college educated. Opposition, not only not being some form of nationalism, is not even conservative. Certainly there are more US citizens who are conservative (25%) than progressive (8%), but 66%, fully two-thirds, are “the exhausted majority”, whom the study’s authors found to have no political allegiance; indeed a flexible, open-minded attitude to politics. A UK parallel is provided by the very strong correlation between voting ‘Leave’ in the EU Referendum and several anti-‘PC’ attitudes. Describing as ‘a force for ill’ (as opposed to good) were 78% re feminism, 80% re immigration, 81% against multiculturalism, and 74% negative towards social liberalism [Lord Ashcroft EU Referendum ‘How Did You Vote?’ Poll, June 21-23, 2016]. The disconnection between (‘identity politics’ accepting and disseminating) government and the governed is unprecedented in modern history for nominally democratic societies. It has become apparent to ordinary people generally that ‘identity politics’ / ‘PC’ dubs them literally ‘oppressors’, when if anything this is an inversion of truth. In the past, ordinary people albeit reluctantly have gone along with the social programme of the Left through their support of the economic policies of redistribution against a background of increasing prosperity. The situation today is very different, with not only real wages having consistently fallen for many people (indeed, for most people if government transfers are not included), but both job security and career progression effectively evaporating. Further slicing a shrinking cake gives yet further redistribution the appearance of supporting the feckless at the expense of ‘hard workers’, which the large majority have never accepted. The overall political situation has shifted from the masses refusing to buy the elite’s social programme to one ripe — as is not infrequently pointed out — for trust in government to break down altogether.
It is well understood that the replacement by ‘identity politics’ of what by contrast may be dubbed the former politics of ‘commonality’ was through the realisation that ‘the workers’ were not going to bring about a Marxist ‘revolution’: “the failure of western working classes to carry out their ‘proper’ revolutionary (class) interests”, as Somers & Gibson put it [1994 p54]. Douglas Murray, paraphrasing the analysis in a 1981 Marxism Today article, summed up: “The working classes … had let down their theoreticians and had generally failed to follow the path of progress that had been laid out for them. … the disappointing workers could now be, if not replaced, then at least added to”. According to Cohen [2007 p196], the political-Left “despised the working class for its weakness and treachery, and condemned its members for their greed and obsession with celebrity. In Liberal-left culture the contempt was manifested by the replacement of social democracy by identity politics”. Gitlin  concluded: “In large measure, things fell apart because the center could not hold, for chronologically, the break-up of commonality politics pre-dates the thickening of identity politics”.
This has a long history. A century ago it was already becoming apparent that Marxist ‘theory’ did not work in practice, as evidenced by the absence of predicted revolutionary overthrow of regimes in the advanced ‘capitalist’ societies in western Europe. Adams & Sydie [2001 p395] put it in a nut-shell: “By the 1920s, some Western theorists despaired that this would ever occur. In fact, the 1917 socialist revolution in the semi-feudal Russian state seemed to call into question the original Marxist analysis of the capitalist state”. Marx’s predictions had been turned on their head, and in such a way as to pose major questions for the very basis of the theory. As Robert Hughes eloquently explains: “For the fact is that Marxism lost its main bet at the outset. It wagered its entire claim to historical inevitability on the idea that humankind would divide along the lines of class, not nationality. In this it was wrong. Because the bonds of nationhood were so much stronger than those of class, the Revolution could only be exported in three forms: as direct conquest by Moscow, as in eastern Europe; by the reinvention of ancient, xenophobic authoritarian structures with a ‘Marxist’ veneer, as in Mao’s China; and as a handy form of rhetoric which gave ‘internationalist’ legitimacy to nationalist chieftains, as in Ceaucescu’s Romania, Castro’s Cuba or any number of ephemeral African regimes. But the basic promise of Marxism, an internationale of workers joined as a transnational force by common interests, turned out to be a complete chimera. … Marxism set itself against nationalism, spread by adapting to it, and in the end was laid low by it” [Hughes 1993 p74-75]. The Russian scholar Frank Ellis just as forcefully outlined: “.… The outbreak of World War One is a devastating ideological defeat for the Marxist and later Soviet-Leninist myth of the solidarity of the international working class. Lenin and other Bolsheviks were confident that the workers of the belligerent nations would not kill each other. … the consequences of this ideological defeat proved to be profound and far-reaching … It convinced the post-World-War-One generations of Leftists — Marcuse and Gramsci — that in order to implement their programme in the West, they had to gain control of what one might loosely term as culture” [Ellis 2007 p71].
The cognitive-dissonance [Festinger 1957, & eg, Tavris & Aronson 2007] unfulfilled prediction must have produced within the mindset of ‘Western’-culture intelligentsia could only persist and grow with the continued complete failure across several decades of a political-Left ethos anywhere to effect real change in its own terms. This became especially pointed with the unprecedented rapid implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the de facto capitulation to a rampant ‘capitalist’ model by the People’s Republic of China. All that remained in the East was the ultra-Stalinist regime in North Korea to serve as a reminder of just how appalling a Marxist revolution in practice is likely to be: a clearly non-exportable instance of supposed ‘world communism’; effectively an irrelevance. Likewise, in the West, Cuba, the sole persistent vestige of the ‘communist’ world, with the disappearance of Soviet support was exposed as a state-impoverished museum-piece which functions at all only through turning a blind eye to mass entrepreneurial activity. These inescapable realities still further intensified cognitive-dissonance, and by a quantum leap given their startlingly fast emergence in what was a huge political watershed. The former dissident Soviet, Vladimir Bukovsky  points out that the Soviet demise coincides in date with the almost as sudden emergence in the West of the notion of ‘political correctness’, in a transferring of essentially the same ideology.
The long recognised psychological phenomenon of cognitive dissonance as it applies here and how it was and is salved, echoes (the philosopher) ”… Žižek’s theories of how ideological systems, especially authoritarian ideological systems, work in psychological terms at the level of the individual. Žižek identifies a bias towards ‘saving the phenomena’, upholding the system, even if one can recognise that it is signally failing to reach its goals, and indeed, looks highly unlikely ever to do so. … a rather desperate ‘consensus’ among many of the populace as a coping mechanism” [Sim 2012 p 207]. Hughes  calls it “post-Marxist system-saving” [p 75] that “answers a deep need, if only the need to rationalize failure” [p 71]. The phenomenon has both individual and collective aspects. With the cognitively-dissonant mindset here being in common across a large group (the bulk of Western intelligentsia), then it functions as an in-group marker and the basis of groupthink, thereby becoming still more strongly driven, receiving so much investment that any intrusion of reality into the ideology is ever more strongly denied. And the intrusion of reality would be great, given that ideology is in essence a highly partial view of reality emphasising a particular dimension over others, which inevitably is exposed as a mismatch with reality, obliging further ratcheting up of the ideology to try to transcend what becomes a vicious circle. The only way this can be achieved is to assert an internal consistency to the exclusion of contact with reality in a tautological loop. The ideology becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy [Bottici & Challand 2006], that in groups is subject to a ‘synergistic accumulative effect’ [Madon et al 2004]. Seemingly with no end, the prospect is, of course, of a catastrophic implosion when finally it arrives. In the meantime, however, the stress on the belief system can lead to ‘shifting the goal posts’, with superficial changes over time perhaps to the extent of transmogrifying the whole ideology in effect to subvert itself – potentially so far as even to adopt an opposing position, if this can be passed off either as not incompatible or as the position actually held all along. All of this is in the service of saving face.
To try to salve their cognitive-dissonance adherents to an ideology admit neither their own gullibility nor the falsity of the ideology and instead blame others. In this way the failure of the ideology can be regarded and misrepresented as merely temporary, and the final reckoning postponed apparently indefinitely. In the present case, those blamed – the fall guys, as it were – were those perceived to have ‘let the side down’: ‘the workers’ (the ‘proletariat’). Collectively intended to benefit from the predicted Marxist ‘revolution’ (or, at least, by the furthering of ‘the progressive project’), ‘the workers’ had been designated the ‘agents of social change’, but, as already highlighted, they had not responded actively in this regard (as is discussed by many on the Left, as well as those on the Right such as Raehn [2004, 1997]).
The first attempts to explain this failure to act according to prescription and prediction were by Marxian academics beginning in 1921 in Frankfurt with the founding of the famous or infamous Institute für Sozialforschung — the Institute for Social Research — and then (to escape Hitler) New York [see eg, Jay 1973, Lind 2004, 1997]. This cohort of theorists became known as the Frankfurt School, devising ‘Critical Theory’ to try “to explain what is wrong with current social reality … (with the aim of) identifying and overcoming all the circumstances that limit human freedom” [Bohman 2005]. What is meant, of course, is problematising or ascribing all things negative (real or imagined) to ‘capitalism’. As part of this explanatory effort was developed a fantasy aetiology of worker non-revolt in terms of Freud’s psychoanalysis, which, though now comprehensively discredited [eg, Webster 1995, Loftus & Ketcham 1994], at the time was the only framework in psychology available, psychology at that time being really part of the humanities and not even embryonic as a science. Freudianism is as unfalsifiable as is Marxism, and therefore is in no sense science, and has long been superseded and abandoned by academic psychologists. As pointedly stated in the entry for the Frankfurt School in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy [Farr 2019], “psychoanalysis was an essential theoretical tool for the Frankfurt School from the beginning”. Readings and mis-readings of Freud persisted over the decades in being central to all manifestations of a neo-Marxism, including for all of the ‘post-structuralists’, not least Foucault [Zaretsky 1994]. Consequently, as Freudian-Marxist ‘theory’ took firm hold across academia and ‘trickled down’ via the graduate professions to society at large through the enormous expansion in student numbers, from the 1950s onwards there was a correspondingly huge explosion in its popularity — as most notably in the books of Erich Fromm. These and related books 1970s students considered essential reading (for myself included: Fromm’s The Art of Loving was my most well-thumbed book of the time). Those 1970s students of course became those inhabiting the higher echelons of institutions, and consequently, as Cohen [2007 p375] points out, “strange ideas that began in the universities were everywhere a generation later”.
The central ‘theory’ was a development of the anti-family rhetoric of nineteenth century socialists taken up and further radicalised by Marx and particularly Engels [Weikart 1994, Engels 1884, Marx & Engels 1848] to conceptualise the family as an aberration, created, it was imagined, by ‘capitalism’ in order somehow to render ‘the workers’ psychologically dysfunctional [Cerulo 1979]. Theory was developed during the 1930s in the Frankfurt School’s series of Studies on Authority and the Family. The two leading original Frankfurt School figures, Horkheimer and Adorno “found that under state capitalism the patriarchal bourgeois family was the foundation for the authoritarian personality. The oedipal conflict, involving the rejection of the mother in favour of the father’s authority, was the means for the child to accept the authority of society” [Adams & Sydie p409]. This is of course profoundly false in all respects. In particular, the notion of the oedipal complex is now known to be as ridiculous as common-sense would indicate. The Frankfurt School figure who did most work on the family was Fromm, who had trained as a psychoanalyst and had taken up and run with the now roundly discredited hypothesis that all societies prehistorically were ‘matriarchies’; the corollary being that ‘patriarchal’ societies are historical rather than biologically based, and thereby potentially blameable on ‘capitalism’. Any study of biology would reveal this to be false: the family has clear homologues throughout the animal kingdom, and therefore clearly is phylogenetically ancient. In any case, study of the very few extant traditional societies that are ‘matriarchal’ has shown that property is handed down through men, not women; just as in all other societies. [This stems from male mate value being genetic quality, as denoted by male status, which in turn is indicated by possession of or control over resources. By contrast, female mate value is fertility (egg viability), as indicated by youthfulness and developmental stability (which we compute as beauty). Consequently, property is of value to males but not to females; hence traditionally inheritance invariably is down the male line only, even if families are deemed to be headed by senior females rather than by senior males.]
Fromm considered the family was “the medium through which society or the social class stamps its specific structure on the child, and hence the adult. The family is the psychological agency of society” [Fromm 1978 p483]. The overall direction of the Frankfurt School’s efforts are summed up by Adams & Sydie in their major work on sociological theory thus: “The psychoanalytic focus on the family was important to critical theory because it was through the family that society put its stamp on the individual personality. Specifically, it was through the family that society reproduced the class structure” [2001 p403]. As well as citing the oedipal conflict, the key mechanism borrowed from Freud is the now equally discredited, non-scientific concept of ‘repression’. This is the supposed burying within the supposedly inaccessible ‘unconscious’ mind (the id), of mentality concerning what is core (deeply instinctual) motivation but which causes problems for the ‘conscious’ mind, requiring the exercise of restraint (by the super ego). There are no such entities of mind, of course, and the ‘theory’ is vague, in any case changing over time, as well as being unfalsifiable. Freud’s ideation put in more colloquial terms is that what at root the individual would like to do comes up against other considerations that change the best way to achieve it. Famously, Freud was thinking of sex. But for a male to engage in courtship sequences instead of demanding and immediately initiating sex at any and every juncture is hardy to suffer oppression or repression or whatever you wish to call it. It’s to be realistic, and much more likely to achieve desired outcomes by ‘going round the houses’, as it were, avoiding inter-personal conflict and necessary social regulation, all of which is in everyone’s interests, individually as well as collectively.
Outlandish theorising about the family culminated in another book popular in the 1970s: The Death of the Family by David Cooper , who, with RD Laing, belonged to a school calling itself ‘existential psychiatry’, which advanced the falsehood that schizophrenia is acquired as a result of nuclear family dynamics — a denial of genetics (studies in the 1960s had clearly demonstrated heritability, not an environmental cause from individual nuclear family milieu). Cooper considered the family so toxic that abolishing it would remove all need for mental health facilities. The book is astonishing rabid nonsense it is hard to believe was written in recent times, in which it is claimed [p 150] “all murders are family murders, either within a literal family or in family-replica situations”, and there is described [p1] “the secret suicide pact conducted by the bourgeois family unit” functioning as “an ideological conditioning device” within ‘capitalist’ society. Going beyond even abolishing the family, in ‘Critical Theory’ an arcane development termed ‘the critique of value’ “aims at the abolition of the masculine and feminine alike” [Robinson 2018]. It became a Frankfurt School aim to eliminate what were seen as the mere ‘roles’ of the mother and father, so that, it was envisaged, all distinction between masculinity and femininity would disappear, taking with it the ‘patriarchy’ [sic] supposedly the foundation of ‘capitalism’ [eg, Raehn 1996].
The upshot of this development of theory — that was of course the basis of why theory developed in this direction — was that as the head of the family, the man (husband/father) was held to be the incarnation of ‘oppression’ from which the woman (wife/mother) needed to be ‘liberated’. Consequently, ‘the workers’, hitherto considered ‘the agents of change’ and the group destined to be ‘liberated’, could and indeed should be jettisoned. Absolving a refashioned Marxism of its core concern and sense of responsibility for working men, this allowed their replacement in Marxian imagination by … non-men: women, heralding the ‘feminist Marxism’ we see today [Kellner 1991], and the centrality to neo-Marxism of ‘third-wave’ feminism. This sort of development is a very long way from Marxism as formerly conceived. Marxism per se came to be supplanted by a theory of culturally based personal relations [Burston 1991], popularised later most notably by Marcuse , the most famous figure of the ‘Frankfurt School’ (who became ‘the guru of the New Left’), though there were several others.
Freud’s conceptualisation of ‘repression’ as concerning sexuality was extended by the Frankfurt School to encompass pleasure, indeed motivation in general, as this could be used to explain the alienation Marx had outlined and why it persisted, thereby to (mis-)represent life under ‘capitalism’ as ‘non-authentic’ — a supposed prison of non-reality from which everyone naturally would wish to abscond. Again, the prompting of this was by way of building on the legacy of Engels: his further, related notion of ‘false consciousness’. [The term was first recorded in an 1893 letter from Engels to Franz Mehring.] Cohen [2007 p158] sums up that: “The Marxists of the early twentieth century took it up to explain away the discomfiting fact that the workers of the most advanced societies were not organising social revolutions as Marx had insisted they would.” Cohen elaborates [p374]: “To explain the catastrophic collapse of their hopes they have revived the false consciousness conspiracy theory, which has been present in socialist thought since the early defeats at the turn of the twentieth century, and given it an astonishing prominence. They hold that the masses rejected the Left because brainwashing media corporations ‘manufactured consent’ for globalisation”. This transparently paranoid, weak ‘conspiracy theory’ — representing a wilful refusal to accept the very basis of marketing in reflecting people’s actual needs and desires — led Marcuse to claim that “… higher standard of living … had obscured the distinction between the real and the immediate interest of the ruled” [1969 p24], going so far as to baldly assert: “the general will is always wrong” [1969 p9]. It’s familiar still today (albeit less in favour than it was), being that it is presentable in vague sociological terms in the wake of sociology eclipsing psychoanalysis as the popular pseudo-science from the late 1960s/ early 1970s. The incorporation of Freud’s bogus ‘repression’ notion to posit a thin conceptualisation of psychological ‘brainwashing’ became less plausible – not least in its being in the narrow context of the family, from which confines anyway it was taken that everyone was escaping – and it gave way to a nebulous pan-societal conceptualisation of a sociological kind of ‘brainwashing’. Both are highly implausible (even as to mechanism, let alone efficacy), but the latter appeared less so than the former. It is lost on the Left that the notion of a society-wide ‘false consciousness’ created by an economically dominant group is precisely the basis of the Nazi notion of ‘Jewish conspiracy’ (as Cohen points out [2007 p375]).
A further, equally fatal problem with a conception of psychological impact of ‘capitalism’, Freudian or otherwise, is that ‘capitalism’ has no inherent agency, so hardly can have psychogenic force. It’s simply trade of a complicated form. Neither does it exclude as beneficiaries mere employees. The ‘surplus’ problematised in Marxism in fact is the basis of the market value of any labour, with benefits from better organisation and/or technology provided by the entrepreneur adding value sufficient to confer the extra competitiveness in the market pertaining so as to make the job viable. In other words, ‘surplus’ necessarily is of genuinely mutual advantage for all of the parties, including even unskilled workers. Any skew in allocation of ‘surplus’ to the entrepreneur away from the employee invariably is very heavily restricted not only by the need to pay at least market wages, but also by the imposition of various fees and taxes by authorities to reflect the contribution to the enterprise of infrastructure. There is no untrammelled exploitation in developed societies, so there is no such thing as opposite poles of ‘capitalism’ and socialism. Indeed, the economic development resulting from ever more efficient trading (notably through automation) is well down the road effectively to absolving most people from burdensome work or even any work at all, with universal basic income now an actively discussed possibility. Schumpeter, the famous economist, claimed that in a sense socialism is a normal evolution of capitalism (with the real problem being then that socialism begets fascism) [Rickards 2016 p235-240, Schumpeter 2008]. Schumpeter explains that the entrepreneur always remains, so actually the complex trading — capitalism — also remains, at least in state form. He sees ‘capitalism’ as a destructive force squeezing out the middle-classes as elites ‘buy off’ workers. Again, then, ‘capitalism’ turns out to be in the workers interests. As a bogeyman it is a chimera, so hardly the likely origin of ‘repression’ / ‘false consciousness’ as the Frankfurt School theorised, even if there were a feasible mechanism, which anyway there is not.
Notions of ‘repression’ and ‘false consciousness’ were enough of a dressing-up of a volte-face from eulogising to blaming ‘the workers’ to prevent it appearing too transparently to be holding ‘the workers’ directly culpable, and it was also sufficient a departure from orthodox Marxism that its origin in Marxism was hidden, thereby aiding its acceptance. This would have been important in the USA crucible of these politics when in the aftermath of McCarthyism the political-Left was obliged to present itself differently. With purging of ‘communists’ having proved resoundingly popular with the American working-classes, a far sharper sense of an ‘us and them’ vis-á-vis ‘the workers’ was experienced by the US political-Left, reinforcing its antipathy. By the late 1960s, the working class “has become a conservative, even counter-revolutionary force”, Marcuse [1969 p25] declared. The Left’s antipathy extended even to those who had come up through ‘the workers’ to legitimately act on their behalf. Marcuse [1969 p 67] summed up: “Among the New Left, a strong revulsion against traditional politics prevails: against the whole network of parties, committees, and pressure groups on all levels”. But on the previous page, Marcuse had ‘projected’ this in the long familiar manner of the Left, to transfer the antipathy on to those whom the Left subjected to it: “opposition meets with all but pathological hatred on the part of the so-called ‘community’, including large sections of organised labour”.
The replacement of ‘the workers’ by ‘women’ was the core of what became ‘identity politics’, though not until other ‘groups’ had been deemed to join the fray, so it was not known as such until the early 1970s [Knouse 2009], if not a little later if the claim is true that the first written mention of the term was in 1977 by some black feminists calling themselves ‘the Combahee River Collective’. As Hobsbawn points out , even in the late 1960s there was no entry at all under ‘identity’ in the International Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences. This is for the very good reason that until this time there was no multiplicity of ‘identity’ labelled as ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’. The decisive development to spur such a complete change in political discourse was the co-option by the ‘New Left’ of a movement with which it had no connection at all: the civil rights movement. Though enjoying ubiquitous support within black communities – to the point often of various forms of extremism – it featured virtually nil endorsement of socialism (and even in the rare exceptions, any endorsement was equivocal) [Gross & Levitt 1998 p31]. As necessarily a broad church to encompass blacks generically and so as not to carry political baggage creating additional ‘white’ opposition, ‘black’ civil rights had to be a mainstream non-partisan affair. The ‘New Left’ arose out of it in the sense of aping it [Weinburg 1990]. As with any fervent ideology, a hallmark of the political-Left is interpreting anything and everything in its own ideological terms to claim as a manifestation of the ideology and its prophecy – jumping on a bandwagon, so to speak; to hijack it. Put simply (here by Marcuse), “The fact is that at present in the United States the black population appears as the ‘most natural’ force of rebellion … Class conflicts are being superseded or blotted out by race conflicts … (because through) monopolistic imperialism … even the exploited white population in the metropoles (become its) partners and beneficiaries” [Marcuse 1969 p62-63].
It is from the time of this co-option that ‘identity politics’ dates [Kauffman 1990]; many considering that the movement was incorporated into the Left in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968, though more pertinently this was also the year of the major turning-point in political-Left politics generally with the seeming near-revolution in France. At the same time in the USA there was the sustained violence between student demonstrators and the army at the Chicago US Democratic Convention. Both the French and US agitations took their lead from the onset of the Chinese ‘cultural revolution’ at this time. These were parallel developments in that evidently the Chinese too had found that Marxism as an economic theory did not work, and that a draconian cultural revolution was required. Likewise, the ‘sixty-eighters’ in Paris were inspired by the then hugely popular French Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s ‘critique of everyday life’, that the consumer society (‘capitalism’) had commodified (‘colonised’) every aspect of life, creating a cultural more than a merely economic problem. The background to the Paris revolt was an electoral pact by socialists and communists, triggering students to ape their Chinese counterparts, but Lefebre’s ‘critique’ was too theoretically nebulous to lead to coherent demands, and consequently the usual splits among Left protestors ensued (not that they were not there from the outset, in that the French communists remained orthodox Marxist), and there were sizeable counter-demonstrations. The Paris students lacked a big issue on which to focus. By contrast, the US student movement aped Maoism as it became militantly extremist in the nation-wide huge opposition to the compulsory draft for the ‘anti-communist’ Vietnam war.
Vibrant US student radicalisation functioned as a melting-pot to facilitate incorporation of not just different strands of the Left but movements hitherto entirely separate, to be brought under the umbrella of what was more widely the ‘counterculture’. A movement famously setting itself against ‘middle-class’ norms, this was not a rebellion against parents — which was the dynamic of a near generation before, when the young were newly prosperous and the culture was widely perceived to be stultifying. It was an attack on the aspiration by ‘the workers’ to become anything else, when the goal of ordinary people was very much economic advancement (‘the American dream’). ‘Civil rights’, as the first great ‘single-issue’ campaign, served not least to provide an acceptable cloak for the Left to avoid provoking a resurgence of McCarthyism. The major social upheaval of ‘civil rights’ with its large-scale and widespread rioting was easily the nearest thing in then recent US history to look like the promised Marxist ‘revolution’, and obviously was just the practical application the ‘theory’ was seeking. Moreover, the protagonists (black Americans) were eminently separable from the now despised ‘workers’ per se, in being presentable as a new ‘group’ from outside of the former fray of ‘boss’ versus ‘worker’.
This accident of history served to add ‘black’ to ‘woman’ as ‘the new oppressed’ without any intellectual shift or any cerebral effort at all: it was on a ‘gut’ level, so to speak; implicit rather than explicit cognition. With African-Americans taken to be emblematic of Marxist revolt, ‘civil rights’ naturally thereby came to be seen not as the specific conflict it is but generalisable, allowing an expansion of those deemed to be part of ‘the struggle’, making for a more widely encompassing category. Black came to denote anyone and everyone of an ethnic minority. ‘The worker’ in effect was retrospectively stereotyped as both ‘man’ and ‘white’. An obvious problem here is that a blanket designation of ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ across ethnic-minority generically cannot square with the fact that many ethnic groups are far from ‘disadvantaged’ let alone ‘oppressed’ – some (eg, Chinese, Indian) actually out-performing ‘whites’ in all key measures. Nevertheless, the supposed new ‘agents of social change’ / ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ thus grew from women to also include all ethnic minorities. It is only with the knowledge of how this developed that sense can be made of why ethnicity is held above the myriad other possible differences that could be utilised as in-group markers, when in fact there is nothing inherent in ethnicity as an in-group marker to produce inter-group prejudice that is particularly more pernicious. Indeed, the worst inter-communal conflicts nominally between different ethnicities usually are between different cultural heritages with no discernable ‘racial’ differences of any kind – and what (non-ethnic) differences there are can be minimal; the lack of contrast actually fuelling the intensity of conflict, such is the need for groups to feel distinguished from each other. Furthermore, ethnic prejudice is anything but restricted to or even predominantly ‘white’ on ‘black’: inter-ethnic (eg, ‘black’ on Asian) and ethnic-on-‘white’ ‘racism’ can be, often is and may usually be the greater problem; and a negative attitude to a certain ethnicity does not imply a similar attitude to other ethnicities. The specific US experience, given the highly divisive politics in the wake of the American Civil War over the basis of the Southern US economy in African slavery, does not translate to elsewhere; notably not to Europe – as was starkly evidenced in the experience of World War II ‘black’ American GIs stationed in England in how they were favourably received by locals, who sided with them when discriminated against. ‘Racial divides’ in European ‘white’ host countries are the result not of mutual antipathy but affiliative forces, principally within migrant enclaves and secondarily within the ‘host’ community; in both cases being through in-group ‘love’, not out-group ‘hate’ [Yamagashi & Mifune 2009].
Given the template of a successful incorporation of another political movement, then naturally it follows that the next cause generating nationally prominent protest similarly would be ripe for co-option. The opportunity arrived the very next year with the 1969 ‘gay’ Stonewall riots (and similar in several other US cities). Perhaps even more than with ‘civil rights’, the homosexual movement had little to do with the Left, being notably politically conservative as a pointed strategy to gain mainstream acceptance. It was known as the homophile movement up to the end of the 1960s, before being dubbed ‘gay liberation’. It’s co-option again prompted in effect a retrospective stereotyping of ‘the worker’ by contrast as ‘heterosexual’. And just as ‘black American’ was broadened generically to ‘ethnic minority’, so ‘gay’ was broadened generically to ‘homosexual’ – to also include lesbians. This anyway was bound to ensue given that women were already an identified new class of ‘the oppressed’. Thus, lesbians were added even though the draconian criminal discrimination and associated harassment by police had been a problem only for male homosexuals, who were the ones raising a grievance. Female homosexuals merely hung on their coat-tails, not having themselves a basis for grievance as a discriminated-against, ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’ ‘group’. Indeed, lesbians had been so uninvolved in ‘gay liberation’ groups that they claimed were so completely dominated by gays, they formed a separate grouping just for lesbians. ‘Homophobic’ [sic] bullying is fully part of group male (but not female) socialisation [Pascoe 2013], and consequently is a problem suffered far more by males [Poteat & Rivers 2010]; a disparity which would be even more marked if mere rumour-spreading was taken out of consideration, with this — rather than direct confrontation — accounting for the great bulk of what female manifestation there is [Minton 2014]. Males in any case are more visible as homosexuals, in that male homosexuality, it is generally agreed, is roughly twice as prevalent as female; and ‘gay’ behaviour can contrast markedly with that of male heterosexuals (whereas heterosexual female intra-sexual behaviour is often physically close, resembling in some respects the behaviour of female homosexual intimates).
What everyone has missed is that it was not homosexuality per se that had led to a ‘disadvantage’ and severe discrimination, but being male: the combination of being male and exhibiting an extreme difference (differences between males being amplified in male dominance contest, with such an extreme difference as a same-sex preference sending a male to the bottom of the hierarchy, and rendering him a candidate for the unusual occurrence for males of exclusion from the in-group) [Moxon 2019]. This calls into question not just the identification of ‘homosexuality’ generically as a ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ category, but it prompts checking of the presumption that women constitute such a category. And the conclusion upon examining all issues male/female is that not the female but the male is clearly the more ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’ sex [see Moxon 2008, 2012 for summaries: this is a topic far beyond the scope of the present text]. This anyway has to be more than a mere suspicion given the bogus basis on which women came to be regarded as ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’, merely as a forced replacement for ‘the workers’.
In the bringing together of these disparate strands of sex, ‘race’ and sexual orientation there was not just insulation from further McCarthyism, but a much-desired restoration of the lost sense of universalism of the political-Left ethos, now possible through demonising ‘the worker’. Robert Hughes sees this as a bizarre attempt to reconstruct culture, indeed to pose a supposed force equal to the natuonalism that had destroyed Marxism: “… what’s left of the Left would like to endow ordinary internal differences within a society — of gender, race and sexual pattern — with the inflated character of nationhood, as though they not only embodied cultural differences but actually constituted whole ‘cultures’ in their own right. ‘Queer nation’, indeed” [Hughes 1993 p75]. As Gitlin pointed out , ‘identity politics’ is a “spurious unity”, and that “whatever universalism now remains is based not so much on a common humanity as on a common enemy – the notorious White Male”.
From then on, anyone ‘belonging’ to a ‘group’ according to any of the inversions of one or more of the now supposed hallmarks of ‘the worker’ as male / ‘white’ / heterosexual, was deemed automatically to belong to the newly identified ‘vanguard’ of ‘agents of social change’, and deserving of automatic protection and definition as ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’. These three abstracted generic groupings of ‘woman’, ‘ethnic-minority’ and ‘homosexual’, naturally were considered additive in conferring ‘victim’ status, so that a permutation of two out of the three — or, best of all, the full house — was a trump card in what has been dubbed ‘intersectionality’. Given the ‘gravy train’ this spawned, then just as would be expected, further extensions again in effect by inverting ‘the worker’ retrospective stereotype have since been made. Added were the disabled and the elderly; trans-sexuals, and even the obese – but on such dubious grounds as to reveal further the incoherent basis of ‘identity politics’ other than as a protracted gitation against ‘the workers’.
The disabled suffer neither discrimination nor any prevailing negative attitude towards them (if anything the contrary): they simply have a hard life, irrespective of how they may be treated. The absence of provision such as ramps to public buildings cannot constitute discrimination, because this would be special treatment, not equitability. Indeed, it could be argued that disabled-access denudes the lives of disabled people, in that in becoming less reliant on others they have still less social interaction, when the lack of this perhaps is the key difficulty in most disabled persons’ lives. The elderly likewise necessarily have a harder life, through being physically incapable of some tasks which formerly they carried out with ease; but this is an inevitability for everyone that no form of intervention can reverse or significantly ameliorate. There is compensation in usually being relatively in a good financial position, and without the onus of having to go to work to sustain it: the elderly commonly are better-off than when they were younger, and without the large expenses of younger life. They are hardly ‘disadvantaged’. Far from being in receipt of any discrimination or opprobrium, the elderly usually are at worst ignored, and likely to be afforded genuine consideration. [The real phenomenon of age discrimination in employment impacts only on ‘the workers’, of course: it cannot apply to those over retirement age.] The only sense that can be made of the inclusion within ‘identity politics’ of both the disabled and the elderly is that they are non-‘workers’ (if not thus by definition, they are only unusually in employment).
Trans-sexuals are rare enough (roughly one in 20,000 pooled across sex) as to be effectively an irrelevance, but from the perspective of the basis of ‘identity politics’ their inclusion is an extension of the homosexuality category in that they revive the mantra of ‘homophobia’ [sic], and may be thought to challenge male-female dichotomy, along the lines of ‘non-essentialist’ feminist complaint, and the goal as outlined above; but they do not. ‘Trans-sexual‘ is a misnomer in that these individuals simply wish for their somatic sex to match what they strongly feel their sex to be (their ‘brain sex’, as it were), which usually they accomplish through surgery. [The only actual ‘cross-sex’ individuals are those possessing an extra sex chromosome: this is the ‘intersex’ condition, which is vanishingly rare.] Just as for homosexuality, only males suffer any significant ‘disadvantage’. Male-to-female (but not, or much less so, female-to-male) trans-sexuals are those enduring opprobrium [eg, Nagoshi et al 2019, Wang-Jones et al 2018] and this is because they are regarded as being essentially and irredeemably male (the impact of testosterone being irreversible in key aspects of physical appearance), whereas female-to-male trans-sexuals are considered to be females exhibiting gender [sic] flexibility. Opprobrium is most notably from (feminist) lesbians, who are at the core of ‘identity politics’ activism, and naturally this would be falsely ‘projected’ on to males as supposedly a generic prejudice. As with homosexuals, the quality attracting any ‘oppression’ is maleness, not trans-sexuality per se. Again, this is obscured in that most trans-sexuals are male – that is, male-to-female: one in 10,000, as against one in 30,000 female-to-male (according to recent APA figures averaged across studies).
The obese constitute an obviously spurious category within ‘identity politics’, in that being fat is not fixed and irreversible, being hardly an inescapable condition, and one which is rarely acquired without complicity – a failure to make a better lifestyle choice. That obesity is a ‘serious’ addition to the ‘identity politics’ cannon is shown by the actual academic ‘discipline’ of ‘fat studies’. It might be thought that sense is made of this in terms of the ‘non-workers’ basis of ‘identity politics’ categorisation, in that non-working, sedentary very-low-income lifestyles are particularly associated with sugar-rich poor diets driving obesity; but the emergence of ‘fat studies’ was not (or not primarily) a pragmatic inclusion given the very high incidence of obesity in the USA. It arose as a subsidiary of ‘women’s studies’. It would seem more pertinent that lesbians – as previously pointed out, the keenest activists within ‘identity politics’ – are more than twice as likely to be obese as heterosexual women [Boehmer, Bowen & Bauer 2007]. ‘Valourising’ the obese would be in line with the extreme-feminist notion that a female should not be judged according to her attractiveness (the female-mate-value criterion of fertility) – notwithstanding that there is no issue raised about correspondingly judging a male in terms of male attractiveness (the male-mate-value criterion of status or stature). [This may drive obesity in extreme-feminists, though for lesbians it may be based in not having to face the mate-choice criteria of males, leaving them freer to eschew the usual female concern with weight.]
The several abstracted faux groups, in entering political centre stage displaced ‘class’, because with ‘the workers’ now considered collectively persona non grata, then being ‘working class’ was no longer recognised as a disadvantage. Class distinction was jettisoned from the neo-Marxist ‘progressive project’. The upshot is that a woman who is highly-educated, upper-middle-class and/or belonging to a high-achieving ethnic minority (such as Indian or Chinese), and/or is (or declares herself to be) ‘lesbian’, is eligible for various forms of state and employer assistance through ‘positive action’ (an unwritten but effective quota system). By contrast, an ‘underclass’ ‘white’ male from a poor family background with neither a job nor the educational qualifications needed to acquire one, is not only offered no assistance but is actively considered an ‘oppressor’ of all those (apart from other males) far better placed than is he.
Given that Marxian ideological belief has always been in terms of a ‘power’ [sic] struggle between one bloc and another within society — formerly the ‘bourgeoisie’ versus the ‘proletariat’ — such that the ‘powerless’ [sic] are set to overthrow the ‘powerful’ [sic]; then it was not a large adjustment to re-envision the underlying dynamic of society as conflict between a more abstract but still supposedly dominant ‘group’ of generically men – anyone male / ‘white’ / heterosexual / non-disabled / non-elderly / non-obese – as the one with ‘power’ [sic], against the one without, being a cobbled-together melange of abstractions – supposedly generically women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, trans-sexuals, the disabled, the elderly and the obese. Indeed, the adjustment has been seamless, as would be expected from the benefits accruing in terms of saving face. With reality held to result from whichever ‘group’ is deemed to hold ‘power’ [sic] [Green 2006], then it follows in internally-consistent imagination that reality is changeable in the mere assertion that a ‘powerless‘ [sic] ‘group’ somehow is set to take the place of a ‘powerful’ [sic] ‘group’. This self-fulfilling prophecy is the imperative driving ‘identity politics’ that has come to be dubbed ‘political correctness’, with its draconian fervency and focus on empty forms of words as if they have inherent efficacy.
In the absence of any external validity to ‘identity politics’ reasoning, there was the need for a novel intellectual underpinning, which was supplied in the confused strands of philosophy grouped together as ‘postmodernism’ (a term that did not share an earlier origin with that denoting a reversion to traditional or classical style in art), that in more concrete guise has a firm grip of the humanities and social sciences in the various forms of ‘cultural studies’ / ‘critical studies’ / ‘theory’. The incoherence of theory in ‘postmodernism’ is ascribed, in an excoriating analysis by Gross & Levitt [1998, 71-92], to its being “more a matter of attitude and emotional tonality” [p71]. This is just as would be expected of what is an attempt to obscure the sophistry of ‘identity politics’. At root ‘postmodernism’ is a taking-the-ball-home defensive ruse; a simple declaration that any and every criticism of ‘identity politics’ is inadmissible. As is widely and well understood, the ‘postmodernist’ stance is that any text is held to have no significant surface (ostensible) meaning, but an actual meaning supposedly specific to local context: meaning is said to be ‘situated’. This is the ‘identity politics’ contention that given everything concerns ‘power’ relations, then all depends on someone’s vantage point in respect of these — in terms of their own ‘oppressed’ status. Whilst all individuals from one particular ‘oppressed’ ‘group’ perspective (eg, ethnic-minority female) are deemed to have an identical experience espoused in the same ‘narrative’, these particular perspectives are sanctified as being entirely opaque to anyone else with a different perspective, even if from what might be considered a parallel one in ‘power’ relations (eg, ethnic-minority ‘gay’), let alone from a non-‘oppressed’ angle, which in any case is held not to be worthy of taking into account. The perspective of a ‘group’ ‘narrative’ is considered to be trapped in the sub-text, rendering it decipherable only through the special technique of ‘deconstruction’.
The obvious fatal flaw in this thin reasoning is that there is no reflexivity in the ‘theory’ in respect of the texts of the ‘postmodernists’ themselves. Their own texts uniquely are deemed to be legitimately understood according to their surface meaning; so that within this ‘discipline’, where it is held that no text is ‘privileged’ over any other, necessarily a complete exception is made for texts concerning the ‘theory’ itself; otherwise the ‘theories’ of ‘postmodernism’ (and its subsidiaries re ‘deconstruction’) could not exist. The irony is that if ‘postmodernist’ principles were applied to ‘postmodernism’ itself, then the ‘theory’ would become apparent as being entirely based in the very principles of ‘power’ relations it purports to reveal. A tautology, the ‘theory’ is without foundation. ‘Postmodernism’ is naked special pleading, amounting to a claim that there is a magic unavailable to the uninitiated, which is practised by a priesthood of the political-Left. This is raw elitist-separatism: the very attitude and behaviour that a political-Left ethos purports to be fighting against and deems immoral.By way of an absurd extension of the circularity in ‘postmodernism’: with language being deemed to convey nothing but ‘power’ relations, by an elementary failure of logic, conversely ‘power’ is regarded as nothing more than language; and from this is deduced that all that is needed is a change in language to bring about a wholly new set of ‘power’ relations. This is a flimsy dressing-up of the self-fulfilling prophecy in ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’. Language is an explicit communication form with no access to the vast bulk of cognition, which is implicit (non-conscious); and therefore it cannot possibly be of the nature ascribed to it by ‘postmodernists’. The refusal to be ‘found out’ on this score is, of course, through denial that there is a scientific way of acquiring knowledge about implicit psychology; but this is an argument no less circular than is everything in ‘postmodernism’. Gross & Levitt [1998 p75] sum up: “American postmodernism is often accused, with considerable justice, of being little more than mimicry of a few European thinkers, mostly French, who rose to prominence in the midst of the bewilderment afflicting intellectual life when the proto-revolutionary struggles in the late sixties in France, Germany and Italy fizzled out without having produced any real impact on bourgeois society.” In other words, ‘postmodernism’ sprang from the very same place as did ‘identity politics’ — its symbiotic twin; or, rather, its offspring.
In the transition to ‘identity politics’, the quintessential form of ‘oppression’ [sic] in Marxian imagination changed with the family replacing the workplace as the putative key locus of conflict; transferring from ‘the boss’ lording it over ‘the worker’ to the man ‘dominating’ the woman. This was a politics in line with pro-female/ anti-male natural prejudice, easy to get a handle on, and which mobilised in particular women hitherto sidelined in the UK in local political party associations, as it did people in general in these bodies – with anti-‘racism’ joining feminism in the new thrust of politics to fragment into related but ‘single issue’ campaigning — in the wake of the poor position of political-Left parties electorally after the 1970s. So the politics readily hit ‘the pavement’ where once it was mostly confined to universities.
The belief system was most apparent within the social work profession [McLaughlin 2005]. Political-Left-minded individuals seeking escape from work in commerce found not only a shelter in the burgeoning state, but a niche where they were able to act according to ‘identity politics’ principles. Social work became a locus of problematising social issues, most especially intimate-partner violence [IPV], which was ripe for portraying as the supposed exemplification of male/female ‘power’ [sic] relations in the only portion of IPV that anyone is concerned about – that by males against females. As IPV in the female-to-male direction contributes significantly to undermining the neo-Marxist rationalisation of why ‘the revolution’ never materialised, then the occurrence and concept of ‘non-gendered’ [sic] IPV, [see eg, Dutton & Nichols 2005], never mind the reality of greater female perpetration [Moxon 2011, 2020 in press) had to be resolutely denied whatever the strength of the evidence.
Facets of human psychology are fertile ground for this ideology to take hold and become entrenched. From the core biological principle that the female is the ‘limiting factor’ in reproduction: whereas she is treated as being privileged, prejudices evolved against the male through both the differential allocation of reproduction within male hierarchy [Moxon 2009] (and ‘policing’ associated with this) and, obviously, the close scrutiny of males by females to exclude most males in their mate choices. Further reinforcement comes from the self-serving utility of the contemporary political-philosophical mindset in salving cognitive-dissonance (and providing within-group status gains, not least through driving in-group-/out-group competition). All of this works on the level of implicit as well as or rather than explicit cognition, given that the stronger the motivation the more implicit we might expect to be the associated cognition [Di Conza et al 2006].
The ideology of ‘identity politics’ was so readily accepted not least because it is a recapitulation of ideation from Christianity, where the future is deemed inevitable in ending in ‘the promised land’. Social development is taken to be teleological: as if ‘pulled’ towards a ‘utopia’ of equality-of-outcome. This is a secular religion, transferring the notion of a ‘god’ from being in man’s image, via the humanistic deification of mankind, to worship of a supposed mechanism of social development, which is in no way scientific; merely an assumption that it is akin to a mode of reasoning – the ‘dialectic’ purported by Marxism. After Rousseau, the individual is taken to be in essence ‘good’, but contaminated by ‘capitalism’. The contamination is regarded as superficial yet irredeemable without the assistance of the ideology — and guidance by ‘the chosen few’ (social justice warriors) potentially to lead everyone to heaven whilst leaving others in purgatory or hell. That such secular ideology is very much a residue of Christian thinking is outlined at length by the philosopher John Gray [Gray 2007], who cites (neo-)Marxism as being the apotheosis of humanist political-philosophies, which all spring from an ostensible opposition to religion, that actually itself is a still more entrenched religiosity. A new quasi-religion, it seems to be as pathological as the closely related former quasi-religious ‘revisionist’ Marxisms as espoused by Stalin and Hitler (see below). Bukovsky  warns that just as the ideological progenitor of (what he terms) ‘political correctness’ imprisoned him as a Soviet dissident simply for not being an active supporter, so it will be in the ‘West’; the ideology building unstoppably from excess to ever greater excess as adherents to the ideology refuse ever to admit they are wrong.
In sum, it is no surprise that what began as a desperate rearguard notion in academic political-Left circles to attempt to save face, has evolved over many decades into a mainstream ‘given’, with supporting notions, such as the previously prevailing theory of intimate-partner violence, resolutely data-proof. This is notwithstanding ‘identity politics’ notions as to who is ‘oppressed’ / ‘disadvantaged’ and why, having no objective plausibility and being deeply at odds with perennial common-sense from any vantage outside of the ideology itself.
With the long development of ‘identity politics’ over almost a century, its origin had been lost sight of, and some commentators still lazily assume that it arose in the wake of well-intentioned championing of women, ethnic minorities and gays; rather than this championing being instrumental in attacking ‘the workers’. Others imagine that it is merely some result of the experience of modernity; but this is merely to cite symptoms of the cynicism behind which ‘identity politics’ plays no small part. Commonly credited is post-colonial guilt, even though this hardly squares with the emergence of ‘identity politics’ initially in the USA rather than in the ex-colonial power that is England, nor the centrality of women rather than or alongside ethnicity; and in any case it would be a moral sensibility rather too rarefied to account for the emotive intensity of the politics. Also suggested is an absence of meaning [Furedi 2013], as if this had not been a major issue at the time of Marx and before; or simply a feeling of anonymity [Calhoun 1994], which, again, does not explain the fervency of the politics when a more resigned or a diffuse political stance would be expected, as in ‘existentialism’.
Based on his mistaken analysis, Calhoun argues retrospectively that nationalist movements should be subsumed under the ‘identity politics’ umbrella, and that therefore ‘identity politics’ is nothing new; but nationalism could not better exemplify the politics of ‘commonality’. Nationalist movements both contemporary and historical are instances of perennial assertions of in-grouping at the most obvious fully autonomous level of social organisation. This reality was the basis of the early-20th century nationalist revolutions as pragmatic modifications of Marxian ‘internationalism’. As such they do share roots with ‘identity politics’ in that this too is a pragmatic modification of Marxian ‘theory’. Indeed, on this basis, ‘identity politics’ or ‘political correctness’ could be dubbed ‘fascist’, as a use of that label to better reflect what actually it is. Stalin engineered “socialism in one country” for Russia in the 1920s to try to keep at bay the rest of Europe in the wake of the failure there of early attempts at ‘proletarian’ revolt. This exactly paralleled the shift in position by leading socialist Mussolini (he was the editor of the newspaper of the Italian socialists) a few years before, at the outbreak of World War One. Mussolini and many others “had come to see Italy’s problems as being nationally specific, which could not be addressed in the orthodox univeral Marxist terms of capitalist crisis and class conflict. Italy’s unique problems of under-development and national disunity were brought into sharp focus by the country’s mobilisation for war. The issue was … the chronic alienation of state and society … an unrepresentative parliamentary system and a corrupt and unproductive liberal political class” [Morgan 2004]. ‘Fascism’ was ‘national socialism’, as explicitly labelled in the German copying of the Italian model: a Marxian splintering, not a political-Right manifestation. Revolution overthrowing elites in favour of the masses (however merely ostensibly it may be) was hardly any form of conservatism. Neither was ‘fascism’ ‘racist’: the ‘racism’ of the Nazis was not shared in Italy. Germany was an only recently unified collection of small states, and therefore anyway precarious, never mind the extremely severe stresses of defeat in the First World War, unpayable reparations, occupation by French (including many African) troops, unprecedented economic depression and complete currency collapse. Thus was fueled the contemporary mythologising of an ancient German race and the ‘stab in the back’ sentiment that the First World War was lost because of a capitalist club that was internationalist and essentially non-German, in industrial leaders being typically Jewish. Not only did this produce an especially forceful anti-capitalism, but also to a fierce anti-Bolshevism through that movement likewise being considered a feint to further international Jewish aspirations, given the leading Russian revolutionaries again were Jewish. The Nazis indeed were famously anti-communist, meaning anti-Bolshevik: opposed to Russian empire building masquerading as international liberation. That ‘fascism’ is the bogeyman of Marxism/socialism is through the former being derived from the latter, leaving little to distinguish them, which on the political-Left famously leads to fierce internecine conflict. All nationalism – whether emerging as a bastardisation of Marxist ‘theory’ or otherwise – clearly is in essence a politics of commonality, whereas ‘identity politics’ concerns sub-division of society into abstract categories to constitute faux ‘groups’ in supposed opposition to the ‘group’ with ‘power’.
There has been wide discussion within academia that it is difficult to understand the nature of ‘identity politics’, but this is as would be expected of a system of thought which is not what it purports to be. Calhoun [1994 p29] reveals ‘identity politics’ to only ostensibly concern actual ‘oppression’ / ‘disadvantage’, when he asks: “… rather than being surprised by the prevalence of identity politics and seeking to explain it, should we not consider whether it is more remarkable and at least as much in need of explanation that many people fail to take up projects of transforming shared identities or the treatment afforded them?” The reason is that the identities in ‘identity politics’ do not arise within ‘groups’ themselves but are conferred according to what can be posited in opposition to ‘the workers’. Thus are ignored actually ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ categories wholly or mainly comprising males, whilst included are those not in reality comprising the ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’; and inasmuch as ‘groups’ in any way are, as they purport, indeed ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’, this is overturned either through being stretched in their inclusiveness beyond credulity (as with ‘ethnic minority’) or narrowed to the point of absurdity (as with the minuscule minority that is trans-sexual).
Another window on ‘identity politics’ as being not what it seems is a fatal contradiction that is the major criticism in academic discourse today, highlighted by many, perhaps first by Gitlin : “For all the talk about the social construction of knowledge, identity politics de facto seems to slide towards the premise that social groups have essential identities. At the outer limit, those who set out to explode a fixed definition of humanity end by fixing their definitions of blacks and women”. The paradox is that the insistent political demand that all individuals are the same – not least so as to establish entitlement to equal treatment – itself negates the very purported non-equivalence that supposedly establishes any need that there may be for redress in the first place. And if instead it is held that there are major differences – as those on the ‘essentialist’ side of the debate contend — then equality would be better realised not by providing treatments that are the same, but by ones that are accordingly different. Yet, the firm belief that all is socially constructed pretends no difference that is not an arbitrary and merely temporary playing out of ‘power’ interactions, which equal treatment is intended (supposedly in time) to nullify. The circle of ‘reasoning’ is vicious. The feminist core of ‘identity politics’ is a mess of self-contradiction in just this manner: simultaneously holding that women and men are quintessentially different whilst insisting that they are exactly the same. Recognised generally by theorists of feminism as a serious and seemingly intractable problem, it is the source of long-standing internecine fractious debate showing little sign of diminishing.
These distinct absences of internal consistency in the ‘theory’ are the direct consequence of its origination and development as an attempt to hide uncomfortable truths within academic political-Left politics; not to address issues in the real world. That it is hopelessly contradictory, in the end is beside the point to the ideologues, who rely on the contradictions to keep their juggled clubs in the air (so to speak); but the lack even of internal (let alone external) consistency is a confirmation of the non-sustainability of ‘identity politics’ ‘theory’, contributing to what inevitably, as for any and every ideology, is its eventual demise. Yet there is the distinct possibility that this may not arrive until after ‘identity politics’ (or however else it is tagged, and whatever else to which it morphs) has grown unstoppably to become yet another recapitulation of ‘the terror’. It’s now well on the way, with the totalitarianism continuing to ratchet upwards. ‘Identity politics’ is now so entrenched across ‘Western’ society that it has a life of its own well beyond the latter-day now quite intense critique of it from within the academia that spawned it. Such critique does not, however, extend to uncovering the actual origin and function of the ideology, indicating that this is just another phase in the endless attempted face-saving by the political-Left intelligentsia. Indeed, it’s often falsely claimed that the basis of ‘identity politics’ is ‘white guilt’, but this is to mistake a mere contribution to how this extremism could manage to take hold with its roots. In any case, inasmuch as ‘white guilt’ may exist in the minds of anyone other than Left political activists themselves, it’s a USA sentiment, in the wake of the still recent civil rights rapprochement. It does not explain how ‘identity politics’ spread out from the USA to Britain and elsewhere. Putting forward the notion of ‘white guilt’ to account for ‘identity politics’ is further attempt to salve cognitive dissonance: this time not over the failure of Marxian political philosophy per se, but the crude, indefensible attempts to deal with it and explain it away that is ‘identity politics’. It’s second-order salving of cognitive dissonance, if you will. A convenient ploy to cover the unpalatable actual basis of ‘identity politics’.
Cited more widely has been ‘Western guilt’ in the wake of the West’s longstanding unchallenged and unchallengable supremacy, affording the luxury of critical self-examination. This is thought of as perversely hedonistic self-flagellation, which indeed it is, but drilling further down it’s status-envy by those in the West who elevate in their own minds their own (low) status, or justify their own lack of status, as being their high-minded refusal to strive for what they denigrate as the too-easily, inappropriately or (even) oppressively achieved; that thereby are deemed empty achievements. This was picked up by Professor of Organisational Behaviour, Howard Shwartz, in relation to ‘postmodernism’. He points out that “when the idea of an objective external world is lost, the idea of achievement, of earning love on the basis of good work, no longer has meaning. Individuals who have had status in the past … come to be seen as having acquired their status illegitimately. The idea of gaining status through achievement comes to be seen as a smoke-screen for theft.” Thus, Shwartz expands, it is argued that those with status deserve to have their power destroyed: “Those who have had status are thus redefined as having stolen love from those of low status”. [Schwartz 1997] This is less the product of ‘postmodernism’ than its basis, of course. ‘Postmodernism’ is a tool to try to legitimise just what it falsely purports to decry: ‘stealing love’, as Shwartz eloquently puts it. A core problem for the Left here is a radical failure to understand competition. A good grasp of biology would banish the notion that competition is antithetical to cooperation. The reality is that competition is instrumental to cooperation. A sentiment of emptiness in achievement, again inasmuch as it is at large beyond Left political activists themselves, clearly is soil in which ‘identity politics’ could easily take root and grow. It would seem to be just the soil and not the plant nor the seed. However, although it is not any proximal basis of ‘identity politics’, it does look like its ultimate foundation. Is not unusual status-striving — elitist-separatism — the heart of the political Left mindset?
Underlying the more proximal explanations of ‘identity politics’ and ‘postmodernism’, ultimately are the wellsprings of politics in general: what might be termed ‘competitive altruism’ masking perennial universal status-striving. Bidding for social pre-eminence is a combination of trying to acquire rank within society and also to be part of a pre-eminent in-group – one that is almost as separate from society as it is at its apex. Elitist-separatism. Implicitly (that is, beneath any conscious awareness, or in only dim awareness) this is what the political-Left foundationally, if unwittingly, is concerned with achieving. Through the ideological conceptualising of society in terms of cooperation, with any competition considered aberrational, those with a political-Left ethos are left peculiarly blind to their own competitiveness. Indeed, their ideology is very much a displaced expression of it, and explains the peculiarly vehement bigotry of its adherents, and why supposed ‘proletarian’ revolution invariably produced a tyranny, and one that is actually directed towards the ‘proletariat’, not by it. The politics espoused of egalitarianism is a competitive-altruistic feint to assist the otherwise standard status-grab. Functioning to deny the legitimacy of any rival elitist-separatists and their ethos, it dupes not only others aspiring though as yet failing to be part of an elite, but precludes even self-awareness of their own elitist-separatist aspirations by political-Left adherents themselves. It is in respect of this, ultimately, that are deployed the intense and protracted attempts to salve cognitive-dissonance so prominent a part of political-Left experience. The great paradox here is that in their strident efforts somehow to transcend human nature, the political-Left confirm its reality. Any such philosophically illiterate notion that we can ever ‘transcend’ ourselves is unlikely again to so easily hold sway, given the insulation to such a self-evidently foolish idea the political-Left in the end inadvertently looks set to gift us. A related, supreme irony is that the very charge made against ‘the workers’ of a psychological dysfunctionality in supposedly not being able to see what is in their own best interests, boomerangs back on political-Left adherents as actually their myopia in respect of the psychology of their own ethos. It is not even the case that Neo-Marxism/ ‘identity politics’/ ‘political correctness’/ ‘postmodernism’ is the kind of altruism that really is disguised self-interest: it’s the antithesis of altruism. In the service of its own ends, the political-Left ethos adopted a deception designed to fail to identify the actually ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’, expressly so as to make their condition still worse, as a form of revenge on those regarded as ungrateful for past efforts made on their behalf (though not that anyway these efforts were other than ‘competitive altruism’). It is hard to think of a political fraud as great (as deep, wide, successful and sustained) as this in history, or even to devise one in mischievous imagination.
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