“What is a herring?”
“It is a whale that survived into communism.”
— Soviet joke
For some time now, online and in print, Mark Fisher has devoted his trenchant intellectual powers to one of the most confounding, acrimonious, depressing and pressing problems of our moment: the problem of Left-wing immobilization. In his key work, Capitalist Realism, Fisher undertakes an intervention into the recent history of the radical cognitive mapping of capitalism, particularly with regards to the work of Frederic Jameson, to which Fisher’s book aims to be both inheritor and interlocutor. Seeking to redirect the heavy apparatus of critique away from simply accounting for capital’s astonishing contemporary power – usually through the form of lengthy expositions upon the micro-political and bio-political machinations of a presiding ideological miasma dubbed neoliberalism – Fisher instead wishes to attend to the conspiracy of silence amongst critique’s practitioners with regard to the fruitlessness of the critique of capital itself, its socially-scripted destiny not to matter. To insist that such critique is kettled by capital is not new, of course, and it is not purely a product of a radical sobriety about the contemporary situation. As the abiding liberal anti-communism of one of its most influential contemporary advocates, Bruno Latour, overtly illustrates, it is most regularly directly looped to the defense of the (capitalist) politician, which stands, again and again, at the horizon of its notions of the possible.
Yet, if capitalist realism can be understood as requiring exactly this type of enlightened false consciousness about the outmodedness of critique from its house intellectuals, if its alternative model of change functions like a Mandelbrot set exactly because it is grounded axiomatically in the sheer fatality of the status quo, the problem of the critique of capital’s actual social irrelevance nonetheless remains. Enter here an enduring hyper-Left meta-critique of the inefficacy of contemporary critique, which looks for that irrelevance in the institutional infrastructure and class relations of the Left itself, especially with regard to the academy. In this hyper-Left (or, in Fisher’s parlance, neo-anarchist) analytic*, the function of the Left intellectual strata is not so much to purvey bourgeois ideology in any overt or covert way whatsoever – for the manifest ideological commitments of academics will range from avowedly and sincerely radical democratic (meaning, if not programmatically anti-capitalist, then unapologetically anti-inequality) to coherently and committedly Marxist. On the contrary, the systemic task of this strata is, rather, to philologise the political in a manner which riddles it stupid not only with disciplinarily silo-ed intellectual illiterates and narrowly well-read canonical ideological recalcitrants, endlessly squabbling with one another over this or that theoretical hitch, but which also sees it as its cardinal intellectual duty to itself to keep the hypothetical meaningfulness of such squabbles next to entirely inaccessible within the terms of social life, which, today, has nothing remotely approaching the pratiki which so defined the classical transformative interface between the Left intelligentsia and workers’ movements. At the same time, the hyper-Left critique points out that this intellectual strata, through its absorption into liberal-democratic socialization procedures, has also emptied out the academy itself as a zone which can incubate the sort of laudable fanaticism which allowed the student politics of the New Left to evolve into a movement which could combine with other social forces and set off, if often fecklessly with regard to its ultimate ends, a roiling transformation of the cultural stability of the relationship between liberalism and radicalism — a legacy with which we continue to live today. Because so much of what passes for radicalism in the Left and in academy today amounts to variously more or less sophisticated calls for the re-establishment of some new variant of an old “entente” between liberalism and the Left, especially under the rubric of “fronts”, the Left-academic complex participates in the constant re-recommendation of a formula for political progressiveness which can no longer apply. This, in sum, is its real social function in the present for the hyper-Left, and nothing but stasis can be expected from it. Any prospective resurgence of a real revolutionary movement, dim in prospect though it seems, will therefore have to arise away from, and even militantly against, the Left-academic complex, not out of anti-intellectualism, or in revolt against the pursuit of communism through complicated theory, but precisely out of the defense of revolutionary intellectual acuity against the annexation of conceptual difficulty to the administrationism of liberal-democracy – in what Pierre Rosanvallon (advocating it) finds to be its new triad of legitimacies – “impartiality, reflexivity, proximity” – and out of recognition of the colonization of consciousness that comes with the class curricula of the education process, through which one has to become versed enough in the syntax of contemporary political philology to competently critique it, without caricature, one’s self.
However, it is at exactly at this point that the hyper-Left critique runs into an integral dilemma which inheres in the fact it, too, practices its meta-critique in conditions under which the critique of capital, even as meta-critque, does not function. The enduring bind of this variant of critical consciousness about Left-wing social stasis, then, is that it reifies, time and again, the act of elucidating the hypocrisies of Left-wing intellectuals through reducing those hypocrisies to what it takes to be their real social functions. In this, it is engaging not so much in old-style positivist economism exactly as in a form of class-oriented ideological fatalism about real social functions themselves – a fatalism, passed off as realist analysis, which, basically, sums up capitalist realism in a phrase. From this standpoint, what stands out above all in regards to the Left is a presiding degeneracy, solipsism, and cupidity, all the more poisonous for the lettered, persuasive, radical-theoretical educational lacquering of its quackery and hackery – but there’s almost no way to quarantine the charge from extending through to the hyper-Left itself, of locating a like determinism in their own real social function. The very capacity of the hyper-Left to conduct a meta-critique of the Left as an intellectual strata but not to be able to do better than it thus effectively reimposes the conspiracy of silence about the fruitlessness of the critique of capital with regards to this meta-critique’s own enlightenedness. For the hyper-Left is no more on the cusp of overturning the socially scripted destiny to which capitalist realism has apparently consigned it than the Left itself. And given that it, too, recuses itself from responsibility for actually problem-solving ideological questions, rather than aggravating them; and given that it insists, on principle, that it has no obligation to devise new models and practical but consciously revolutionary-minded vehicles for possible collective action suited to this epoch, the hyper-Left, alongside the Left intellectual strata, squanders the socially-won resources, now rapidly fading, which have lent to the Left intelligentsia the degree of freedom that it has had to practice radical intellectual research on behalf of the logic of revolution.
It is here that we come back to Capitalist Realism for what made Fisher, anything but a ‘neo-anarchist’, markedly different in his attention to the fruitlessness of the critique of capital was that he was not particularly interested in critiquing the practice of emancipatory critique itself, of devising a theory of complicity in which the Left, as an intellectual strata, is constitutionally unable, due to the tautological fact of it being the Left intelligentsia, to alter social relations for the better. Rather, for Fisher, the Left is only as real in its social position as the wider ideological and institutional context that has overwhelmed its standing antagonism with the real state of society. Put another way, the very reason the Left can continue to practice critique incisively, if ineffectually, is due to the fact that it isn’t simply tethered in any way to structural control protocols for capitalist democracy at the level of its ideas, but conducts its thought from a space in which, to put it bluntly, it is safe so long as ideas are all it has to offer. Indeed, even though the hyper-Left critique of the Left largely rejects the idea that the Left is, in fact, by and large, incisive in its critiques, this doesn’t prevent the same point being applied to “neo-anarchism” itself, as the hyper-Left critique cannot but presume that incisiveness still remains possible within respects to itself, begging the question about how it can be so incisive, about what special relation to social reality it possesses which situates it, in its real social position, in a fundamentally different quadrant, with more capacity for emancipatory clarity, than the Left it critiques. Regardless of where one locates the intellectual acuity of the Left, or whether one, locating it not on the Left strata at all, locates it in one’s own hyper-Left position, the point is that the acuity, wherever it resides, simply won’t register on the social field. This, therefore, requires not postulating that the Left is interchangeable or innately commensurable with the social field that currently exists, but trying to elucidate the apparent imperviousness of the social field itself to Left-wing ideology of any authentic sort, no matter how strategically moderate or reformist or anti-elite and radical. This is the task that Capitalist Realism takes up.
It isn’t my purpose to review and explicate Fisher’s book here, to articulate what I think is indispensable about it and what I find off-base. Of immediate importance to this post is simply to argue that the social field is the main focus of the book, even as its main subject, though largely off-stage, is the problem of the powerlessness of Left critique. In deploying the charismatic and highly mimetic phrase of “capitalist realism”, Fisher endeavours to show the ontologization of capitalist politics as integrated not only to certain organizational structures and forms, which he elucidates mainly through a tour of their manifestations – market bureaucratic protocols, culturally contrarian precorporation of the radical contrary, psycho-pharmacological triage, and so on – but also as bound up with an elaborate regime of emancipatory communicative aesthetics that both are capitalism’s reality, what it really gives to people, as well as entirely fictive, indicative of what it never actually supplies. For Fisher, the situation of capitalist production within these aesthetics, as well as the invitation of social actors into accounting for their identities and desires in these terms, has confounded the dynamics which have historically situated the Left, clearly and transparently, against social conservatism. It is not so much that the Left is seen as politically or ideologically conservative – on the contrary, it is not even a sure thing that political conservatism in itself is viewed as undesirable in this context where capital stands aesthetically on the side of emancipation, as the very production of capitalism in this spirit of a life-subsuming aesthetic freedom has moved in tandem with the transition of neoconservative political doctrines into the space of social support and stability – but that the Left is understood to be committed to a politics of socioeconomic restriction in its confrontation with capitalism, which means, even when its ideologies coincide with the views of a majority, it appears not to represent their desires. Into this context then, we must insert Fisher’s most recent thought piece, which is, first and foremost, an impassioned intervention on the failure of the Left intelligentsia’s communicative aesthetics. To be sure, this is exactly why Russell Brand forms the pivot point he does for Fisher. It is in the capacity Brand demonstrated in his interview with Jeremy Paxman to communicate clearly the desires of the proletariat as both emancipatory and irreconcilably proletarian, as libidinally deregulated but also as conditioned by, and unfulfillable, by capital, which, for Fisher, is exactly what the Left intelligentsia cannot – or, moreover, does not want or ever intend to – do.
The trouble is, however, in levelling what I take to be a quite apposite j’accuse, Fisher’s article also opens out into a denunciation of the Left as an intellectual strata, the very kind of denunciation he so deftly sidestepped in Capitalist Realism by turning his attention to the generic state of immobilization which inflicts the social field itself. To be clear, the problem that arises is not so much that Fisher has decided to reverse gears and to denounce the Left intelligentsia as engaged in a peculiarly antagonistic class project to labour politics after all. To this extent, I agree. Unfortunately, a reckoning with the Left intelligentsia (in which I count, of course) on account of its class investments is not able to be avoided, if we really intend to get anywhere with regards to the absence, in post-70s capital, of any meaningful social force of labour. Where Fisher errs, however, is in his decision to pin the antithetical class content he now perceives back to “identitarianism”, as though this were in any way an apostatical move, in the process actually avoiding accurately and exhaustively elucidating the dynamics of what he (with an eye, as always, to this issue of the communicative aesthetic) perspicaciously identifies as the Vampire’s Castle. Perhaps it’s no great surprise that an article which doesn’t take many pains to delimit its equation of identity politics with class privilege – nor believes that it ought to – will be read as a reactionary turn on Fisher’s part. And I do believe that the way it wrestles with the real dilemma presented by bigotries in popular leaderships or figures of aesthetic traction which emerge in the mainstream is wholly inadequate, a point best encapsulated by the barbed, mordant point made by nothingiseverlost at Cautiously Pessimistic that it is not really in the ambit of those concerned with Russell Brand’s gender politics “to pop round to Russell Brand’s house for lunch and quiz him on his understanding of feminism” so as to refrain from offering a faultline in solidarity in public. Indeed, even if we took Fisher on his own terms here, we have little sense of what exactly this quiet questioning is meant to achieve should it find that an admired articulator of Left-wing ideas actually wishes to be a political racist, a political sexist, a political transphobe, or able-ist, or heterosexist, simultaneously? Fisher’s means of circumnavigating this problem is by accrediting it purely to a drive to essentialize on the part of the VC. “Notice the tactics,” he writes. “X has made a remark/ has behaved in a particular way – these remarks/ this behaviour might be construed as transphobic/ sexist etc. So far, OK. But it’s the next move which is the kicker. X then becomes defined as a transphobe/ sexist etc. Their whole identity becomes defined by one ill-judged remark or behavioural slip.” Leaving aside the issue that it’s not at all the case that persons criticized are criticized for a lone remark or slip, but an ongoing behavioural structure or set of political beliefs (as was the case with, say, George Galloway or Julian Assange), the real problem here is the incapacity to really accept that an instance of sexism occurring simultaneously with an moment of stirring appeals to proletarian class consciousness might legitimately impair or even deaden the relevance for many who would otherwise be its audience, i.e. women with enough gender consciousness to see from the start they’re being directed to the pretty ladies’ line, regardless of whether it’s done in the form of a charming, self-deprecating compliment about desire and politics. Is the angst about identity politics, then, perhaps that it forces straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men to experience something of the ubiquitous double-mindedness and the constant broad perspective that women, queers, trans* persons, people of colour, and the disabled seem to have to constantly exert in the presence of figures which ostensibly denote class solidarity? Likewise, does the support for anti-identity-political figures who are women, queers, trans* persons, people of colour, and the disabled involve a deliberate disarticulation of their interests in the name of the fully compensatory emancipation they are assured is offered by class? These questions go wholly unanswered. Nor do they even need to be asked once it’s determined in advance that identity politics serves nothing other than the reproduction of the class superiority of its practitioners.
For all this, however, the barrage of criticisms of Fisher’s article have resoundingly failed to engage the region of truth in the concerns which drive it. Wittingly or not, they are trying to bury a provocation which I would argue we need to linger on: namely, the prospect that there is actually more continuity than divergence between the denigrating, shaming, micro-aggressive, contrarian, sectionally chauvinistic subjectivity of the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male and the culture of calling out of this subjectivity, and that this commonality, in which vexatious behavior structures constellate, has everything to do with class content. In his article, Fisher rightly gestures at the strange absence of class privilege from discussion of all manner of other privileges which occurs in what we might call, for the sake of a shorthand, call-out discourse. The subjectivity at its centre is only rarely precisely and properly placed in class terms. To a good degree, that’s because identity-based oppression appears to traverse the class antagonism: “whiteness”, for example, denotes an internally differentiated but nonetheless unitary identity position which bonds working-class and ruling class. But in this very disappearance of class from the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male subjective-structure (hereafter, S.A.W.C.M.), the problem of having a shared class with this subjectivity is, with troubling tenacity, simply not extended to encompass the position from which it is being addressed by its female, non-white, queer, trans* and disabled critics.
I should say, for clarity’s sake, that we are talking here strictly about a particular cultural enactment of radical, difference-based political speech, agendas, and analyses, in terms which act to erase class as a point of routine reference, and not the radical literature of difference itself, nor the full spectrum of its political activities. If anyone, for instance, really believes that intersectional analysis, in and of itself, simply suppresses class from its conceptual trajectory, they’ve not grappled sufficiently with the literature. Any good faith, non-obfuscatory criticism of intersectionalism’s readings of class would need to begin by accounting for the fact it actually has one, an intricate and compelling one, at that, and not by ignorantly declaring it void of any thought on the subject. Too, though it may seem unfathomable to many of the defenders of class that “identitarians” themselves could have conducted seriously illuminating critiques of intersectional literature, one would also need to read through the comprehensive replies and re-conceptualizations they have produced on the subject, particularly with respects to the relationship between class, women, and minorities, as well as the responses these, in turn, have received.* Exasperating as it no doubt is to be sent to the library when one wants simply not to like a thing, it bears reminding fellow Marxists in particular that their own propensity to do exactly the same goddamn thing when it comes to general illiteracy on political economy makes them especially obligated to abide by their own recommendations when it comes to the theoretical work conducted on subjects such as these, upon which they are, by and large, not experts. Allowing for this distinction, then, the erasure of class in the cultural production of call-out discourse should be understood to be about culture and not about unveiling the retrograde ideological truth of difference-based academic paradigms. Fisher’s article fails to make this clear enough – since he does, indeed, attribute the erasure of class to a category, “identitarianism”, amorphous enough to encompass radical scholarship and political organization around the structure and oppression of difference. But a generous reading of his piece can presume that a hatchet job on feminist or critical race or queer, trans, and disability theorist scholarship and organization is not his intent, and that he is, instead, trying to name a specific cathexis of abuse he sees at work in the stuntedness of the Left’s communicative aesthetic as a part of public culture more broadly, particularly when it comes to the subject of difference, an issue separate from the validity of struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and able-ism.
To my mind, it’s for this very reason that Fisher errs so badly when his typological breakdown of the Vampire’s Castle conflates the Left and the academy with a structure of academic cultural capital that belongs to a discourse of calling-out as a type of administration of cultural reach, a discourse that has more purpose and traction in the “progressive” middle-class public sphere than it ever does within the critical dialogues within the academia itself. Call-out discourse often mobilizes academic authority for its actions, and almost certainly involves persons who have had a university education overwhelmingly. But what it is, above all, is a structure of intellectual mediation, a product of communication networks crowding out the progressive public sphere as a site for the commensuration of proletarian and subaltern interests (otherwise known as the development of solidarity), in a system Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. Perhaps the most curious thing about the call-out discourse is that it switches the fruitlessness of the critique of capital into hyperdrive. Claiming to attend conscientiously to all the formations of inter- and intra-class distinction, to struggle to remind us of the crucial negentropy of race, gender, sexuality, body sex, and ability for capital in the capture of social revolutionary forces, the call-out discourse nevertheless asks for a mindfulness it simultaneously seems to know cannot be structurally effected. As C. Derick Varn observes at one point in his wide-ranging response to Fisher, “The recognition of privilege puts the agency in the hands of the oppressing factor and demands of them to acknowledge their failings, despite the fact that privilege is claimed to be a systemic benefit. What does acknowledging privilege even mean in a systemic context? It changes very little other than attitudes.” Indeed. In fact, in terms of the call-out discourse (which I’d distinguish from privilege as a theoretical concept)*, I’d contend it rarely changes even that, for the elaborate systems of psychosocial defense thrown up against this discourse mean that, far from fellow Leftists, let alone people generally, really absorbing the prospect of possessing privilege in any prolonged and tortuous way, they quickly get down to calling out the call-out culture (and thus participating in it, of which more below). All that is, perhaps, ever really made manifest to them by the call-out discourse, then, is a sort of empty méconnaissance of the frustratingly stubborn presence of a set of minoritarian Others, who are then thought to be using their own particularly egregious privilege to self-interestedly denounce privilege.*
The call-out discourse thrives on the myopic logic of the breaking news item, on the regressive structure of the stirred-up scandal. It isn’t fond of contextualizing called-out actions in a way which elicits analytical generosity, but it is quick to demand its own errors and insensitivities be contextualized in such a manner. Its main expressive range is an obnoxious blend of didactic and tabloidy, high-minded hortative homiletics blurring almost seamlessly with a sort of sickened and burnt-out (yet compulsively inexhaustible) sense of prurient “social responsibility”, just-so stories leavened by a beatification of abolitionist moral anger, scot free of any sense of the creative nullification of power possible in the real movement. In its ambit, micro-aggressions – an absolutely indispensable concept through which to understand the fine-grained, capillary depth of oppression (in a way the S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure furiously refuses to acknowledge, time and time again) – lose all contextual proportion, becoming cooked evidence of sweeping endorsements, by those who inflicted them, of the most egregious structures of heterosexist, racial, sexist, cissexist, able-ist persecution and pillage (while the calling-out of the call-out discourse itself depends on exaggerating this in order to refute the entire legitimacy of attending to micro-aggressions altogether). Incoherence, muddle-headedness, stubbornness, in relation to one’s remarks, or a disappointing indifference toward their impact, are not named as such, nor explained for what they are – namely, forms of intellectual imprisonment, which do injustice to the full relevance of critical paradigms – like Marxism – which don’t actually need to be at loggerheads with pedagogies of difference at all. Instead, they are metastasized into egregious indications of a liberation from care, which misappropriates and mangles the intersectional meaning of “privilege” as referring to the insulation from care such imprisonment proffers to the S.A.W.C.M., not its innate structural liberation from relating, the incapacity for care. The language of ineradicable suffering that is the currency of the penological state, the proliferating categorizations of dysfunction and deviancy which belong to contemporary therapy, the responsibilization of the subject that is part and parcel of the privatization of social problems, the social justice entrepreneurialism so necessary to moving products on the market: all of these, and more, form the moral architecture of call-out discourse. Most curious, however, for a discourse which situates itself so emphatically on the Left, is how little class privilege features as a standard basis upon which to be called out (or, more precisely, it is not a standard basis upon which to call people out, at least, for “identitarians”; not so for “anti-identitarian” socialists, who never stop calling out the “divisive identity politics” of the call-out culture on this count and are, in this respect, themselves are a part of that culture, of which, again, I shall add more momentarily). Thus, the ascription of “white” and “male”, in particular, to an oppressive subjective-structure which organizes society around itself is far more common than the assignation of, say, “middle-class”, for “identitarians”. Why, exactly, is the middle-class subjectivity – surely one of the most socially oppressive and economically false subjective-structures at work today – not subject to the same casual nomination practices in call-out culture? If it’s not knowable in the same way as ‘white’ and ‘male’, how come? It isn’t hard to deduce that it’s because any middle-class subjective-structure posited in the same terms as that of “white” and “male” would have to encompass the real social position of the interlocutors of the S.A.W.C.M. themselves.
This, then, is the basic point to Fisher’s article. Between a call-out culture which does not push back on class privilege in the same manner as it does subjective-structures like whiteness and maleness, and a socialist Left which he feels has failed in its duty to interrogate the class privilege of the call-out culture itself, there has arisen a yawning chasm in attending culturally to the way in which class structures subjectivity from the Left, such that (a) class politics has become the almost exclusive province of the populist reactionary muck-raking of the Right, and (b) it appears as though real straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men and the marginal opponents of the hegemonic S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure share nothing in common, that their alliances can only be coalitional, never amalgamated or enduringly integrated in any dimension, for to do so would automatically re-smother difference. These seem to me legitimate, serious and urgent criticisms. But Fisher’s manner of accounting for this impasse threatens to reduplicate it, enmeshed as it remains in the communicative aesthetic of emancipatory disavowal which underwrites the media structure of call-out culture, as an activity which allures exactly by offering the pleasure, in line with elaborate public enactments of one’s supposedly advanced understanding of privilege, of never having to count one’s self in. Thus, exactly to the extent that he truncates the problem of the reproduction of class privilege on the Left to the practice of “identitarianism”, Fisher misses how it is not so much identity politics, at all, but the denunciation of identity politics that is something like the core hidden curriculum of the Left’s class privilege. In this respect, what has been so instructive about the replies to this article has been the way in which exactly none of them that I have so far read have actually come to a principled defense of identitarianism in itself. Notice that this response from Angela Mitropoulos damns Fisher exactly by insisting that he, too, bowdlerizes class down to a mere identity politics and so traffics in all that’s awful about identitarianism. Or, in other words, identitarianism remains the enemy here. On Facebook, a different variation on this theme played out when a friend of mine came to a qualified defense of Fisher’s article. He dissented from it, in insisting that identity has to be understood as the internal differentiation produced by the capitalist social totality (a point with which I’d agree actually) – thus, acknowledging its intrinsic necessity to a Marxist account of capitalism – only then to argue that the article actually articulates class as a social relation of exploitation, which meant, for this person, that Fisher’s claims that identity political consciousness suppressed class solidarity in and of itself held up because class is a “structure” which supersedes and orders social relations of oppression, while identity is a structured differentiation inside that structure. But identity politics is always already a politics of structure which extends to through to the status of class as that which encapsulates the total logic of the oppressions, not in order to necessarily insist that capitalism, as the mode of production, isn’t singularly stationed with respect to the social totality but, rather granting capitalism is at the center of it, to say that the violent total reproduction of the mode of production is nonetheless not the same thing as the last-instance exploitation of the working class primarily. Exploitation can only function through the displacement of the universality of the working-class via the work of gendering, racializing, sexualizing, sexing, abilitizing, which is what the global division of labour (and its crossing-through of the domestic) is all about. In this way, why Fisher’s article is, indeed, identity political with regards to class is because it actually exposes, both wittingly and unwittingly, through its drawing attention to the matter of class privilege, how deeply the labour question is an identity question, no matter how much we desire to take class out of that equation, situating it purely above the fray of internal differentiations, as that unity toward which all our sections must transcend.
Most bizarrely, though, yet perhaps most tellingly, to the list of those who refuse the mantle of identity politics can also be added those who actually are said to “practice” identity politics: the people who call out racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, cissexism. After all, don’t they do so precisely by insisting that it is the naturalized identity political interests of the white, straight, cis, able-bodied male which impels this type of political activity structurally upon them? Isn’t it the case that the philosophies of matrical difference which inform the intersectional have, nearly a decade ago now, been subject to immanent criticism about their identitarianism from within the philosophies of difference, with an emphasis placed on thinking the intersectional as a queer assemblage? In just this way, “identitarians” are, by and large, insistently anti-identitarian too, in the sense that they perceive “identity politics” to actually be the practice of normal politics, toward which their struggle for real solidarity is an effort to expunge the structuring identity which divides social relations into so many splinters. Ending the subjective-structure of locked identification is the purpose of the other-mindedness of intersectionality and its legatees, but, as often, it comes accompanied with a locked identification in regard to being the opponent of the subjective-structure of locked identification. In short: no one really actually thinks of themselves as the identity politician. That abject practice always lies elsewhere. And because Fisher, unpolemically, doesn’t want to be seen as the identity politician either, he loses what’s provocative in his critique: the very unabashedness with which he forces class into the matrix of call out culture – that is, not by counterpoising class to identitarianism but, rather, by using the terms of identitarianism to insist that complicity in class oppression be considered as a completely legitimate charge which could be leveled against every one of these interlocutory positions in the call-out discourse. Thus, Fisher’s article can be summed up with the axiom that call-out culture is, by necessity and by intention, classist, a term which only makes sense within the realms of identity political claims. The communicative aesthetic of the call-out culture shames those who, though white, though male, though cis, though straight, though able-bodied, having come from working-class backgrounds, struggle to give word to voice when one is told one already has a voice that gets represented all the time, who battle to feel intellectually adequate amid the better (or simply privately) educated who seem not to need to know much about your background because, identity-wise, they already do, who fail to integrate the wounds of class into their assumed status on the Left as the social norm of non-oppressed experience. To be painfully clear, what Fisher is getting at is the very sense in which the above pleas will predictably come over as a familiar pretext for the S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure to be re-centralized. This incapacity for them to register any other way is exactly the sense in which the class division in this subjective-structure is silenced by its interlocutors in the call-out discourse. The more disquieting realisation, then, when one factors in class as a matter of identity political concern, is that the interlocutors of the S.A.W.C.M. subjective-structure often share a fundamental interior unity with that which they reject: this selfsame white, straight, cis, able-bodied, male subject. For, in reality, this oppressor subject is also a classed subject, and, though its class nature doesn’t coincide with the proletariat in any number of respects, it is a subject which the call-out culture has allowed to monopolize the representation of class, only objecting to what it leaves out, not objecting to – and linking the battles against sexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, and transphobia to – the very classism of seeing the working class which happens to be white, straight, cis, able-bodied, and male as participating without any necessary qualification on class grounds in the privilege of the white, straight, cis, able-bodied male oppressor subjective-structure.
Hence, the need by call-out culture – when called out internally by some other member of a marginal position within the oppression matrix itself: a feminist called out by a queer activist, a male race theorist called out by a white feminist, a white feminist called out by a black feminist or vice versa, and so on and so on, through all the permutations – to dismiss their arguments, through more or less trolling or recondite means, as being proxies of the white, straight, cis, able-bodied, capitalist male subjectivity. With the first appearance of capitalism here, in the denunciation of other criticisms which arise internally, from within the oppression matrix, we encounter just about the only time that class rates mention in the call-out discourse, and find that it is only in order to establish how the S.A.W.C.M. and one’s black, or gay, or female, critic can share interests which should otherwise, by the logic of that discourse, be structurally incommensurable. With this exit-strategy, the “critique” that the call out discourse thus embodies theoretically never has to extend into self-interrogation of one’s own structural class position. But the exit-strategy is also yet another closed loop in the system, for clearly, by this logic, anyone can be subject to this claim that their interests tie back to the S.A.W.C.M. at some vector; any ideological prism on oppression politics – including one’s own Correct and Absolutely Accurate Views – has to be acknowledged as potentially subject to being denounced as secretly invested in the status quo, with no way of you knowing if this charge is correct. There is, effectively, no way to insulate one’s self from the accusation that one is working against the identity interests one claims to represent. Is it so astonishing in such conditions of deranged critical exchange that there presides an incapacity to think through the sincere motives, sound logics, and accurate data of arguments that one doesn’t agree with, and then to actually address them with better arguments? When incommensurable identity claims are fed through the call-out discourse, there’s no responsibility to actually be accountable in devising a new measure of commensuration – in other words, an emancipatory communicative aesthetic. Faced with impasses in solidarity, there’s no sense of an obligation to have to actually solve them. After all, why would one want to solve anything with a racist, a sexist, a transphobe, a heterosexist, an able-ist? Their very intellect is the problem. It’s not a far step then, once this dynamic comes to encompass every expression of prejudice, every stupidity, every recalcitrance and incapacity to change, every insulation from care, as social media and the hyper-archive of the internet enables, to come to the conclusion that nothing simply can be solved. The reasoning becomes inescapable: if perhaps more well-intentioned overall, the Left – beyond one’s own cluster of like-minded comrades, who give one strength – is simply as reactionary as the rest of the social field.
Of course, this isn’t to try and smuggle in any kind of injunction to work for mere compromise, to paper over ideological distinctions under a rubric of “the greater cause”, but rather to say there is little feeling in the Left intelligentsia, by and large, that one’s politics entails a trust to actually participate in intellectually traversing antagonisms, not merely to reproduce them. To say, “let’s not waste time and energy detonating and obstructing other projects on the Left, as though there were so little space in society that a racist or ableist or sexist or homophobic or cissexist Leftist figure or project becoming popular can’t receive our tolerance, or even selective, strategic support of a simultaneously critical order, depending on the depth of its bigotry”, is, under current conditions set by the call-out culture, to engage in the cardinal sin of subjugation-through-prioritization. And, by this, I don’t mean that one is thereby obliged to join the ranks of such a project or refrain from publicising its bigotries loudly and effusively or to give it aid in any concrete way, even on points of agreement, but just perhaps to retain enough overall contextualization in doing so not to treat it as interchangeable with the opposite side of politics, with right-wing Reaction itself, to act in light of its contradictory complexity as a Left phenomenon, to not only think of it as wrong because it is an exclusionary class project but to adjudicate the importance of its class positions against the systematicity of its exclusions (are these exclusions policies? mere expressions? personal practices of exploitation by leaders? abuses and cover-ups in a party? what?), calibrating toleration of its viability and legitimacy to that extent, and only to that extent. After all, can any of us seriously doubt that this dismissal of all structurally privileged, intellectually incoherent or stubbornly oppression-deaf Left politics as simply co-extensive with the interests of capitalism doesn’t factor into the ease with which the capitalist class disperses any viable fragment of class politics that does emerge, or why the capitalist class is so eager to appeal to “conscience” through reification of – and viral deployment of call-outs through – the oppression matrix (that is, to ruthlessly use race (or racism), gender (or sexism), sexuality (or heterosexism), ability (or ableism), and cissexuality (or cissexism) as the ever-ready basis for class political derailment)?
Therefore, what Fisher is trying to do in gifting name to the Vampire’s Castle, I believe, is to hold a mirror to the too often reflectionless intelligence of oppression politics once it is sucked out of the realm of scholarship or ground-level political organization and pumped in to the NGO-mentality-infused, social media-structured, lifestylist-based, advocationism of the call-out culture, where, annexing to itself the imprimatur of that scholarship and that organizing, such politics is able to translate any suggestion there’s a problem with this specific practice of them into yet more confirmation of the shamelessness of the S.A.W.C.M. oppressor subjectivity. The point is simple, and not at all Fisher’s alone: that the oppressor subjectivity, whether oppression political advocates of the call-out discourse like it or not, is no longer going to be only white, only straight, only cis, only able-bodied, and only male from here on in (though nor is it going to be not beholden to that subjective-structure simultaneously). What has happened is that this subjectivity has actually formally democratized – and it is behind this democratic pluralism, in which charismatic representatives and very real interests of minorities can be incorporated, that the S.A.W.C.M. now exerts its presiding and persistent control. Therefore, as identity oppression becomes more and more broken up and divided by class precisely through its incorporation into the terms of formal equality, the refusal to traverse antagonisms which has become so ubiquitous on the Left will increasingly enact moral subjectivities in place of the automatic political subjectivities once possessed by non-working class persons who share oppressed identities. The lingering question, one hopefully not to be combated with an immediate negative reply but pondered over, even if ultimately to be totally abjured, is this: if oppression political Leftists – the ones who practice the politics of difference beyond the call-out culture – care about class politics one iota, what are they going to do about the way the call-out discourse expropriates their communicative aesthetic? Because, as of now, the way in which their concerns are made manifest is dismally failing the production of a society-wide working-class movement which is necessary not most urgently for the white, straight, cis, able-bodied, male, but the majority of each of their own identity constituencies – which reside in that self-same working-class, in a collective body which is classed – bound together with subaltern straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men – alongside being raced, abilitized, sexualized, sexed, gendered. Whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, cissexuality, ability: whatever degree of countermeasure to exploitation they supply, none of these are ever remedies for class inequality. This qualification is intrinsic to capitalism. But it is not something which is much mentioned by the non-thinkers of capital which populate so much of the call-out discourse, claiming, as they do, to really understand the literature on difference that they draw on as their authority, even as they suppress its keen-eyed appreciation for the weaponization of minority difference by capitalist polity.
Where Fisher’s critique goes right off the rails, though, is when it feels free to contradict itself and implicitly postulate that class struggle does, indeed, provided a remedy to identity inequality if one is in the upper class. That’s to say, it evinces the assumption that the possession of class power actually can effectively compensate for the structure of oppression, if historically oppressed people rise into its upper echelons. In this, it recollects the (quite varying) projects of Adolph Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, for whom also the structural violence of identity differentiation along lines of race, gender, sexuality, body sex, and ability, seems, in different ways in each of their accounts, to somehow lose structure, become a merely performative identity of residual, if real, prejudice (the relation to structure of which is never really delineated), once it rises above the working-class line. From this view, a structural reimbursement enters into action upon one’s joining the bourgeoisie, petit or haute, as the exploitational dimensions of racial, gendered, sexual, body sex, or disability oppression within the capitalist totality are only able to operate on the proletariat (the pressure of proletarianization is not looked upon as a principle which relates to the entire logic of capital in its totality for this literature), and this reimbursement is what enables domestic elites and the contemporary, global, ruling class to exercise unity across a growing number of different identity interests. Minorities and women in the upper classes can’t be viewed as engaging in any level of authentic representation of ongoing structural violence against them which would be urgently meaningful for a socialist, precisely due to this speculated neutralization of oppression with respects to them as their identity group’s upper-class representatives. Thus, their class privilege converts their victim claims, no matter how sincere they may well seem to the persons in question, into propaganda for the elite to pursue class war under the rubric of human rights for minorities and general inclusive progressiveness. Most importantly, that war is waged against women and the members of these minorities in the lower class above all. Lest it seem as though I’m suggesting that being situated in the upper classes doesn’t fundamentally affect the relationship of women and minorities to the structure of their oppression, then let me make clear that I am not. But the basic contention – without which this view cannot sustain itself – such that this structure is effectively subdued in all serious exploitative dimensions by such incorporation, is bogus, and, in effect, does not accept, whatever it professes, that the structuration of identity is, indeed, structural, that it holds in place across the social totality. To assume that class privilege and the straightforward alleviation of oppression go together betrays, for starters, a startling lack of contemplation about what the history of anti-Semitism has to tell us. And, indeed, I think it’s no coincidence that it is women especially – who perhaps experience this paradox the most intensely – who are routinely denigrated as “liberal” for continuing to articulate grievances of gender despite their possession of class privilege.
For those, then, who might be quick to take away from the negative feminist reactions to this piece a simple reconfirmation that all such reactions signify is the VC, ever the expropriator of feminism, up to its usual nefarious work, it might be worth considering that there might be something else going on here than the shameless imperative to protect a class identity by a bunch of posh, bought-off women (if not for the wince-inducing nature of that thought itself, then at least because there’s no reason to assume that “identitarian” feminists come only, perhaps even mainly, whatever their educational history, from middle class backgrounds). Rather, I feel as though the lopsided gender reaction to this piece is precisely because the article fails to include anti-identitarian socialists within the Vampire’s Castle, where they, too, squarely belong. Here, Fisher’s article reproduces the antagonism whereby Marxists feel free to simply issue declarations of refusal to wrestle with class consciousness as necessarily entailing a structured identity in consciousness – disingenuously insisting that the working class as theorized through the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men of the intelligentsia naturally coincides with the interests of the oppressed, especially those of the oppressed in the working class, even, as, of course, the same doesn’t hold for the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, and able-ism and their intellectual advocates. And thus, it’s also no surprise to observe two things: that, of those who have flocked to this article, out of sincere care about the hypocrisy of the repression of class identity in call-out culture, including myself, most would identify themselves as socialists, even as the majority of these self-same endorsers have also been straight, able-bodied, white, cis, men, who, by all reactions I’ve so far seen, don’t have any intention or desire to think through their own class politics as part and parcel of their own particularly insidious role within this call-out culture: namely, the self-appointed duty, reserved to themselves, to call-out calling-out and thus preserve their special monopoly, against “identity politics”, over being leaders of the class.
To insist that Marxists, as leaders of the class, need to be ‘tribunes of the oppressed’ is fine enough, so far as it goes, and better than being told the oppressed can simply be represented by the interests of the class, without differentiation. However, the implication of the Leninist motto, in addition to arrogating the status of class tribune to Marxists exclusively, also cannot but carry the inference that the oppressed are not acting as their own tribunes properly if (a) they are not Marxists, or (b) they are not exempting class from the field of oppression and arguing that it belongs solely and exclusively to the realm of exploitation, which defines the entire field. The lack of autonomy this ultimately admits to oppression divisions – as well as the way it refuses to consider that what makes class distinct may be that it features twice, once, as classism, at the oppression level, in suppressing and asserting the political identity of labour, then again, as the intrinsically class nature of all the oppressions, including this lower level of class identity, at the totality defined by exploitation, in producing value and reproducing the capitalist character of the social as a whole – means that it annexes class, time and again, to a particular subjective profile of a predictable sort. The foreseeability of this is exasperating, and it largely has to do with the refusal for non-oppressed identity groups to adopt the self-awareness of understanding themselves as structurally practicing identity groups when they practice politics, whether they like it or not. It is exactly for this reason that it is simply not good enough to be inclusive through recognizing minorities in the power structures of struggle yet not cede the majority of the apparatus of leadership to oppressed identity groups. It is precisely why it is not good enough to claim familiarity with the literature of difference while displaying ongoing citational ignorance of that literature and an absence of an evolving relation to it. It is absolutely why it is not good enough to emphasize and re-emphasize comradeship without detailed, simultaneous dialogues on how to circumvent the inequality of egalitarianism that will deterministically undergird this solidarity in practice. And again and again, all rhetoric of the first order comes with none of the commitment to the painstaking labour of the second. Is it any shock that many women and minorities would look away?
Yet, again, to stop at this point, with this deconstruction of what goes so wildly wrong about Fisher’s piece, would be to end by placing the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male back in the Vampire’s Castle and restoring it to the unfalsifiable status of its self-certified slayers in the call-out discourse. It would be to implicitly re-endorse the also exasperating refusal of identity political tribunes of oppressed groups to possess the self-awareness of understanding themselves as perfectly able to practice the oppression of the general capacity to form a much-needed labour identity (otherwise known as “the working-class subject”). Finding a way out from the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male subjective-structure’s stranglehold and moving beyond the acid bath of its infinite, irresolvable interrogation through the call-out discourse doesn’t have to mean turning away from identitarianism, as Fisher thinks (thus, in the last instance, revalorizing the S.A.W.C.M. and blunting his critique). More than that: it can’t throw out identity in this way. Identitarianism is fundamental to the fact that class identity is deeply anchored in a non-inclusive politics of identity itself, and it will exist as long as that politics exists. But it does mean the call-out culture (and the metadiscourse of calling-out calling-out which is at the heart of that culture) does need to be attacked more ruthlessly and meticulously in its mediating-manifestation for the class project it is, thinking it and the S.A.W.C.M. together, in a manner which reveals their shared class interests, even when they are in utter antagonism on all the other identity vectors. This is especially applicable when the call-out culture tries to insulate itself from critique of its behavior as an artifact of class privilege by making out that only it can articulate the real total interests of its sector of oppressed minorities in the lower classes, due to shared identity — as if class to race, to gender, to sexuality, to sex, to ability (like race, like gender, like sexuality, like sex, like ability, to class itself) were not a Heisenberg principle which interfered with the accuracy of the identification through the very medium of its measurement. Simply stated, there is a single structure which underlies both the “anti-identitarian socialist” and the “classless identitarian” positions in call-out discourse, no matter how antithetical they appear to one another. Perhaps situating this culture materially, as a structure of the media and of intellectual mediation, at an intersection of class and advocacy, as a practice of academic capital not at all necessarily coincident with either Marxism or the pedagogies of difference produced by the Left intelligentsia but only with their bracketing, will enable us to begin to disentangle ourselves from the production of inertia and internal blame this call-out culture induces, without, at the same time, mistaking the embrace of libidinal affirmationism as necessary for revolutionary-minded progress, a logic, as some of Sara Ahmed’s most recent work so wisely shows, which has always been structured against the unhappy tidings and willful relations of the feminist killjoy. If a refusal to identify with the class similarity across identity positions is intrinsic to the shared class identity of the Left intelligentsia involved in the call-out discourse, then the answer is not to declare war on that intelligentsia, as satisfying as that may be, but to begin to think about the specific structures, not overwhelmingly ontological, which culturally endorse, for their own purposes, such intellectual irreconcilability between “identitarianism” and ye olde “class struggle”. It is such a set of structures, neither reducible to the interests of the straight, able-bodied, white, cis, male subjective-structure alone nor for one second separate from those interests, such structures of class, which, in their own right, alongside the structures of race, of gender, of sexuality, of cissexuality, and of ability, must be struggled back against collectively. And which a good many “identitarians”, still waiting for their anti-identitarian counterparts to come join them, stand ready and willing to do.
* The phrase “hyper-Left” is used specifically to connote an underlying unity between it and the Left that it criticizes, a qualitative difference in pitch and trajectory, but not ultimately in kind. This is because, like the Left, it too wishes to assert a positive Left-wing identity in the form of an emancipatory social majority. What separates it, however, from the Left as such, is its presiding concern for anti-authoritarianism. Closely associated with the academic authority of Deleuze in Anglo-European intellectual milieus, but as deeply evident in strands as diverse as horizontalidad, continental Maoism, Third Worldist delinking theory, and decoloniality literatures, what defines the hyper-Left most clearly is a radicalization and intensification of the principle of abolitionist opposition to the arche in revolutionary theory and praxis. Most anarchism thus falls within its perimeters, but by no means all, just as not all who practice it would consider themselves anarchists (indeed, may even be highly hostile to anarchism as a political project). Nonetheless, it is primarily a social anarchist-influenced and oriented critique of the Left (against a Left which is understood as social democratic, evolutionary socialist, or revolutionary Leninist Marxist in the main) which is being addressed in this post. It ought not to be confused with the left communist – or ultra-Left – critique of the Left, which is a very different beast, and not covered here.↩
* Perhaps the most important, recent interrogation of the uses of “intersectionality” as a means to truncate, rather than engage, the breadth of work of “identitarians” can be found in Sharon Holland’s absolutely excellent book, The Erotic Life of Racism. Most interestingly, for the purposes of this context, is precisely that Holland’s focus, when discussing intersectionality, is explicitly on how queer, feminist, and anti-racist theory – the dread castle keep of “identity” – has itself, through its own internal criticisms of “identity”, displaced, and not dispelled, its presence, through displanting it on to the abjectly “moralistic” and supposedly ever critically “delayed” figure of the black.female.queer. In the process, it has worked to reproduce the relations through which the black.female.queer is rendered “vestibular to culture” (in Hortense Spillers’ phrase). As Holland writes, in a way which this anti-identitarian socialist criticism would consider impossible, “The prohibition against calling out the disenfranchised (especially the black disenfranchised)…is still fully ingrained in neoliberal thought.” She adds, however: “Nevertheless,… it is clear from the faculty meeting to the blog entry that white subjects have been more inclined to critique black subjects, even though such critiques are usually salted with the same kinds of bad analogy, historical sedimentation and outright racist invective that I have critiqued elsewhere in this project.” (70) Despite a quite severe post-70s capitalist prohibition against criticism of the pedagogies of difference, evolving out of a “progressive” liberal class shibboleth in respects to maintaining the integrity of the new “inclusive” capitalism’s theater of identity-mindedness, the inclination to criticize, dispel, and suppress the intrusive thoughts of the black.female.queer as such has not diminished much at all within the radical, anti-capitalist Left intelligentsia. Rather, now mobilizing the prohibition it purportedly criticizes in order to help avoid familiarizing itself with the actual plurality of positions that “identitarians” hold, that inclination has derived renewed legitimacy from the critique of “identitarianism” itself, which, falsely, again and again, situates on its opposite side the identity politics which it and the prohibition together reinscribe upon “identitarians”, exactly in order to critique the disenfranchised safely – by marking them as actually-not-really disenfranchised, as “liberals” simply on account of being “identitarians” – and to accomplish this through the supposedly “risky” gesture of critiquing “identity” itself. In this way, “anti-identitarianism”, especially of the socialist universalist kind, re-enacts the very racialization, gendering, sexualization, cisgendering, ablitization, that it insists is neither its manifest purpose nor its unconscious desire. This, in other words, is exactly how the oppression of difference works as a social structure which continues to encompass the Left intelligentsia. To fold the internally intersectionally riven pedagogies of difference into the logic of “identitarianism” is thus a move which reifies them in regards to the distribution of a possession of a marginal identity across any number of disagreeing subjectivities already within it who, entirely compatibly with their antagonistic political philosophies, nonetheless continue to identify with it as a salient method of understanding their historical condition. Put another way, an identification with “blackness” or “feminism” or “queerness” is not progressive in and of itself (certainly not anymore), but a socialism which comes at the expense of such an identification with the subjectivization of difference is reactionary in a way which makes even non-progressive identifications with “blackness” or “feminism” or “queerness” seem progressive. Worse, the denunciation of identifications which run afoul of one’s own critical paradigm as, ipso facto, on side with capitalism is a move unfortunately common to “anti-identitarian” socialists and identitarian critics of “intersectionalists” alike, itself exposing a structurally shared petit-bourgeois-ideological class project of intellectual mediation that is parsed out between them (a project that is synonymous with its raced, gendered, sexed, sexualized, and able-ized biases). The assiduous adjudication of conflicting bodies of evidence about systems of oppression, the complex integration of a previously excluded consideration as to what constitutes a marginalized group’s interests into analysis, the breakthrough discovery of a lost basis for commensuration of seemingly collidingly opposed identity interests or the bedeviling interjection of a new or forgotten incommensurability between differences that has been – in the interests of unity – socially, institutionally, and intellectually repressed: these discrete, difficult, and crucial acts of pedagogy, which are necessarily part of an ongoing process of intellection that derives from and must be used to inform the real movement, are derailed, over and over, by the arrogated claim, made by “identitarians” and anti-identitarian socialists both, to have in their possession a simply more authentic intellectual representation of the oppressed object in its totality. Occurring as this does across the identity/solidarity antagonism, it reduplicates the bind it alleges that it wishes to be rid of, in the form of the hidden assurance that it can ultimately answer all its critics by leveling the (at times accurate, at times inaccurate) charge that they are engaged in “racism”, “sexism”, “heterosexism”, “cissexism”, “ableism” – that is, the programmatic, political reproduction of oppression privilege – or, on the other hand, that their intellectual project is manifestly “bourgeois” – that is, engaged in the programmatic, political reproduction of capital. In this, we can spy a silent harmony between the defence of universalism and the practice of universalism’s critique, for both require, prior to determining the truth of any of their adversaries’ statements, either the structuring idea of the innate non-universalizablity (“idealism”) of their “identitarian” opponents, or the intrinsic non-de-universalizability (“materialism”) of their own “anti-universal” thought. Because of this, the critique of “identitarianism” by radicals, like the critique by liberals of Marxism itself as something which intrinsically suppresses pedagogies of difference, rests at a juncture of epistemologically self-satisfied refusal, a shared juncture, where to know one critique disciplinarily demands incapacity to know the other. Given the way in which the Marxist critique of political economy is constantly subjected to the most howling misrepresentations by persons with the highest degree of educational qualification, one would think that there would be a greater degree of intellectual sensitivity to ensuring that other paradigms were dealt with as though they were the product, collectively, of people who can think, that entire fields which devote themselves explicitly to the critique of inequality, inclusive of class, were not reduced to the straightforward status of schilling for capital. Here, the problem of the Left intelligentsia’s incapacity to communicate meaningfully with itself does, indeed, rest on the kind of intellectual subjectivity that the disciplinarity of the university as an arm of the bourgeois state (inclusive of the merely enhanced disciplinarity of so-called “interdisciplinarity”) produces. The maintenance of privilege – inclusive of class privilege – at the level of the Left intelligentsia is also the maintenance of a non-collaborative intellectual praxis, a monopoly over the right to position one’s self at the leading edge of radicalism in its totality, to not just be a piece of the revolutionary puzzle, learning from and mindful of the indispensable intellect of structurally displaced others, whatever calls for “inclusion” are formally introduced as a means to be ‘representative’. And in such a context of institutionally trained irresponsibility toward cultivating comprehensive, solidary thinking in trust of the integrity of differently-minded comrades; in the shadow of a dominant critical space where “Marxism” becomes a totem for the subsumption of all thought under its special claim to be able to think the totality alone and on its own, and where “difference” becomes a totem of the refusal of any totality whatsoever to be thought upon, it’s perhaps no grounds for astonishment, as a historian once wrote about the intellectual climate of the 1930s, that dogma would be rampant while certainty is elusive.↩
* I’d disagree with Derick that the emphasis on recognition in privilege theory itself has no effect on anything but attitudes. For the point of acknowledging privilege in a systemic context is about more than attitudes, it is about seeing the system. In short: it is not about mindfulness but consciousness. It seems strange to assume that recognition of privilege requires any other reaction than acting in acknowledgement that one has been directed to see something, even if only to look at it and offer reasons in response – not argued over the pointing out of privilege, but in engagement with it – as to why one feels there is an error at work in the ascription of something to a state of white, or male, or gender, or cissexual, or able-bodied, privilege, when it doesn’t seem, on rational grounds, to belong to that order. That penitence and shame are simply presumed to be the desired response to this activity, simply because this is the response which “anti-identitarians” project is wanted out of them, is especially instructive in this light, as it says far more about the psychological intimacy of systemic privilege, experienced personally, by those who find themselves, haplessly, possessing it than it does about the agenda of those who, pointing it out, except that they expect that they are speaking to comrades who can acknowledge it, and maybe try to ameliorate it, without it following on that their potential incapacity to do so indicates some kind of betrayal of their political principle. Reaction sets in at the point where the wall of privilege is not opened for discussion in its difficulty to remove, but walled off again in a realm of suppressed silence, passive-aggressive persistence, proud reclamation of it as a “right” (which, when we get some working-class victories under our belt again, will finally be democratized and extended to you). The doubts I have (along with those of many other “identitarians”, not only anti-identitarian socialists) about the discursive act of pointing out privilege follow Derick’s in wondering whether it is really sufficiently radical in even being able to force enough basic consciousness of its sheer immensity as a structure, let alone overcoming that structure through its nominations, but the ease with which this would serve as an only too eagerly welcomed opportunity to dismiss the critical investigation of privilege under the sign of its uselessness suspiciously mirrors the logic which finds that the critique of capital must be discontinued because it is, purportedly, a fruitless practice today, even at the level of ideas. Thus, too often, what we’re effectively told is: in order to overcome capitalist realism, and restart its critique, we must embrace oppression realism, and close down its critique! If I were to warrant a guess at what affect on the personal level is ideally looked for in the unpacking of privilege, however, it would not be self-stigmatization at all, but a sense, possibly unpleasant, of feeling the remove of an insulation from care – so, a self-estrangement – combined with a heuristic (not a law) of self-sensitization, for future situations, in line with the anarchist ethic: “Whenever you are given power, disperse it.”↩
* The sheer egregiousness assigned to the particular displays of privilege associated with “identitarianism” slots into a familiar history for women and queers, and reveals something crucial about the difference-based inequality at work in the possession of privilege itself. As Sara Ahmed notes in relation to her upcoming book, Willful Subjects: “One specific thing I am noticing again and again is how some individuals become accused of self-advancement (that they work on identity x because they want to advance their own cause). The point that is missed is the point that we are making: social/institutional/inherited privilege is a way of not having to advance your own cause, become your cause is already the general cause. You don’t have to assert yourself to exist. This is why historically feminists and queers are often described as selfish, self-promotional, willful, etc.” This doesn’t alleviate the questioning of that privilege as privilege. But it absolutely demands a context in which it is thought with the requisite degree of acuity about the norm against which it – yes, even today, especially today – works, and, against its will, as it is made to cease in its willfulness, comes to work for.↩