"Like ideology, the concept of the proletariat, so prominent in The Communist Manifesto, could also be jettisoned. (…) By the 1980s, the center of radical activity had moved away from working-class organizations and toward what came to be called the ‘new social movements.' Problems of race, gender, and sexuality were generating the most self-conscious, committed, and consequential political subjects". (Bruce Robbins explaining the wisdom of Étienne Balibar's New Left-style idiosyncratic "Marxism")
To say that since 2015 there have been many ruffled feathers among the American trendy Left is an understatement. Feathers weren't just ruffled, they have flown.
I'm talking about one of those debates which not for surreal are less heated. Outrage, hissy fits galore: heroic revolutionary battles fought online. Precisely the kind of thing the upper-middle class New Age-leftish intellectuals find irresistible. It seemingly dies out, just to reignite spontaneously a little later. Its details are unimportant here, suffice it to say it involves the words "transgender" and "transracialism", plus a TV celebrity. I quickly add that I have no dog in that hunt, as they say. Instead I adopt Crooked Timber's cautious approach in the latest round of the Fight of the Century.
This is an early contribution to that debate (we'll return to it soon). It appeared a year and a half before the 2016 US elections. A general summation of the latest brouhaha, which began last April …
Adolph Reed Jr wrote that early article. It seems to be a last-ditch attempt to inject some sanity into the discussion our "comrades" were having. Two years later, it's evident he utterly failed; worse, from what I've read, since then the marginal product of the discussion fell steeply. Reed's article contributed, as far as I can tell, the only valuable insight in that debate:
"[I]s ever clearer and ever more important to note, race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class."A quibble: neoliberalism, whatever it might be, may have adopted race politics, but race politics is not its child, it's the New Left's. The New Left did not cause the decline of the Left, but it makes its recovery impossible. It's not just that you make of yourselves a laughing stock, is that the enemies of the people take advantage of that.
I never met Marx, but -- against your hopes -- I suspect that if he rose from his grave and saw the New Left travesty, he wouldn't last long. I won't spell out the critique to Balibar and Robbins implicit in this story. A simple term is enough: herding cats.
In order to be even-handed, however, I shall acknowledge the merit I found in the New Left's position: Robbins was right on two accounts. First, these new social movements are indeed committed; a two year commitment to psychotic meaninglessness is something. Second, it's time to commit the New Left to oblivion.
Speaking of herding cats,
It seems the Australian Muslim community has learned how easy it is to cross the New Left and wisely decided to keep a low profile. The whole point behind the Coalition's insistence on having a public debate on same-sex marriage was precisely to isolate the Muslim community.
The question now is should a community's inclusion in society be contingent upon it not crossing the New Left's line?