Diet Soap Podcast #198: The Joy Beyond Identity

by Pop The Left/Diet Soap on December 13, 2013

The guest this week is the author and radical Mark Fisher. Mark and I discuss his recent essay for the North Star Blog called Exiting the Vampire Castle. The essay takes on the politically correct reaction to the comedian Russell Brand’s recent call for revolution. Many leftists were perhaps overly skeptical of Brand, focusing on gaffes and slips rather than the content of his message (Brand admits to calling women birds, for instance.) Fisher’s essay has caused quite an uproar, especially at the North Star Blog itself. There have been six essays written in response and there has been a split causing some editors to resign in solidarity with Brand and Fisher. My perspective, as always, is that Fisher isn’t Marxist enough, meaning that his version of class isn’t economic enough, or doesn’t focus squarely on the way working people are exploited but describes class on the level of appearance only. Otherwise I find myself agreeing with Fisher.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Wayne Collins December 14, 2013 at 4:56 am

Liberating and refreshing. That’s the first feeling to come to mind after listening to the podcast. It may sound weird to talk of “feeling” in response to an intellectual discussion that reviews a serious problem on the left and in society. But feeling it the right word – because the atmosphere of identity politics and correctness has become so stultifying, so poisonous to critical thought that hearing this discussion brings emotional release. Reaffirms what you know to be true and what you know you are afraid to say. It has come down to that.
What sort of a political opposition movement is it when its publications have to announce on their masthead that they are “an anti-racist, feminist and…oh, yes, socialist” organization? That’s really what it comes down to. The struggles against racism and against sexism, as against homophobia, in this century and for the last fifty years were struggles for civil liberties – not struggles against capitalism. Racism and sexism, once solely beneficial to capitalism are now as detrimental to it as well. Capitalism, in a global world has to and will, if possible, eliminate them. Saying this is not to denigrate the left which led the way for the past century in this opposition. It is simply an acknowledgement that all the ills of the world are not capitalist generated and that capitalism is hardly incapable of self reformation for its own temporary salvation. Nothing has been more clearly demonstrated in the past fifty years.
The very identitarianism and what was called in the podcast “Stalinist liberalism”
are modern instances of an age old phenomenon – sectarianism – albeit on a larger scale. The placing of the individual needs of an individual group, ideology or even political movement above the needs of the class or what Karl Marx so often referred to in the 1840’s as “The Democracy.” And this is why sectarianism has so frequently be called “petty bourgeois” in nature – aggrandizement of a particular group to the exclusion of the many. And has so often been recently found among the liberal intelligentsia and academia. It is a force to advance socially, to gain tenure, achieve an audience, hold a job – whether consciously so intended or not.
I don’t know who Paxman, Brand or Fisher are…I don’t pay much attention to the U.K. on a daily basis, being just another colonial. But the point that one of the speakers made about attacks on individuals rather than on the structures that cause racism or sexism, the tendency to downplay the issue of class are all paralytic to the left is well taken. The mass struggles against racism and sexism have permeated society with at least a surface opposition to them if not genuine opposition to them. It is not a question merely of having – at least in the United States – moved past slavery, poll taxes, overt segregation. We have passed through the era of Ocean Hill – Brownsville, the New York City school war with class against race and the left having to deal with it directly. Labor had to deal with it directly, well before.
It is not that race – in particular – is no longer an issue. It is and will remain so for more than another generation, so long as scarcity and job competition continue. It is that identity politics is becoming the road to embourgeoisment of the left. A cataract that prevents focus on the system of capital as a social relation as the fundamental conflict. What we have instead of a movement is a fragmentation of movements, of viewpoints and programs which are themselves reflections of fragmented consciousness. But it is that fragmentation that enables the system to endure. In short, much of modern political theory and academic discourse tends to support rather than uproot the system. That is an example of pure alienation or false consciousness.
In closing…I do appreciate the Ninth Symphony – even if it is a Weingartner recording. But to end with a ukulele Ode to Joy? Was that Arthur Godfrey? The narrator has no class!


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