Exiting the Vampire Castle

by Mark Fisher on November 22, 2013

This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics. Exhausted through overwork, incapable of productive activity, I found myself drifting through social networks, feeling my depression and exhaustion increasing.

‘Left-wing’ Twitter can often be a miserable, dispiriting zone. Earlier this year, there were some high-profile twitterstorms, in which particular left-identifying figures were ‘called out’ and condemned. What these figures had said was sometimes objectionable; but nevertheless, the way in which they were personally vilified and hounded left a horrible residue: the stench of bad conscience and witch-hunting moralism. The reason I didn’t speak out on any of these incidents, I’m ashamed to say, was fear. The bullies were in another part of the playground. I didn’t want to attract their attention to me.

The open savagery of these exchanges was accompanied by something  more pervasive, and for that reason perhaps more debilitating: an atmosphere of snarky resentment. The most frequent object of this resentment is Owen Jones, and the attacks on Jones – the person most responsible for raising class consciousness in the UK in the last few years – were one of the reasons I was so dejected. If this is what happens to a left-winger who is actually succeeding in taking the struggle to the centre ground of British life, why would anyone want to follow him into the mainstream? Is the only way to avoid this drip-feed of abuse to remain in a position of impotent marginality?

One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.

Then there was Russell Brand. I’ve long been an admirer of Brand – one of the few big-name comedians on the current scene to come from a working class background. Over the last few years, there has been a gradual but remorseless embourgeoisement of television comedy, with preposterous ultra-posh nincompoop Michael McIntyre and a dreary drizzle of bland graduate chancers dominating the stage.

The day before Brand’s now famous interview with Jeremy Paxman was broadcast on Newsnight, I had seen Brand’s stand-up show the Messiah Complex in Ipswich. The show was defiantly pro-immigrant, pro-communist, anti-homophobic, saturated with working class intelligence and not afraid to show it, and queer in the way that popular culture used to be (i.e. nothing to do with the sour-faced identitarian piety foisted upon us by moralisers on the post-structuralist ‘left’). Malcolm X, Che, politics as a psychedelic dismantling of existing reality: this was communism as something cool, sexy and proletarian, instead of a finger-wagging sermon.

The next night, it was clear that Brand’s appearance had produced a moment of splitting. For some of us, Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous; I couldn’t remember the last time a person from a working class background had been given the space to so consummately destroy a class ‘superior’ using intelligence and reason. This wasn’t Johnny Rotten swearing at Bill Grundy – an act of antagonism which confirmed rather than challenged class stereotypes. Brand had outwitted Paxman – and the use of humour was what separated Brand from the dourness of so much ‘leftism’. Brand makes people feel good about themselves; whereas the moralising left specialises in making people feed bad, and is not happy until their heads are bent in guilt and self-loathing.

The moralising left quickly ensured that the story was not about Brand’s extraordinary breach of the bland conventions of mainstream media ‘debate’, nor about his claim that revolution was going to happen. (This last claim could only be heard by the cloth-eared petit-bourgeois narcissistic ‘left’ as Brand saying that he wanted to lead the revolution – something that they responded to with typical resentment: ‘I don’t need a jumped-up celebrity to lead me‘.) For the moralisers, the dominant story was to be about Brand’s personal conduct – specifically his sexism. In the febrile McCarthyite atmosphere fermented by the moralising left, remarks that could be construed as sexist mean that Brand is a sexist, which also meant that he is a misogynist. Cut and dried, finished, condemned.

It is right that Brand, like any of us, should answer for his behaviour and the language that he uses. But such questioning should take place in an atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the first instance – although when Brand was questioned about sexism by Mehdi Hasan, he displayed exactly the kind of good-humoured humility that was entirely lacking in the stony faces of those who had judged him. “I don’t think I’m sexist, But I remember my grandmother, the loveliest person I‘ve ever known, but she was racist, but I don’t think she knew. I don’t know if I have some cultural hangover, I know that I have a great love of proletariat linguistics, like ‘darling’ and ‘bird’, so if women think I’m sexist they’re in a better position to judge than I am, so I’ll work on that.”

Brand’s intervention was not a bid for leadership; it was an inspiration, a call to arms. And I for one was inspired. Where a few months before, I would have stayed silent as the PoshLeft moralisers subjected Brand to their kangaroo courts and character assassinations – with ‘evidence’ usually gleaned from the right-wing press, always available to lend a hand – this time I was prepared to take them on. The response to Brand quickly became as significant as the Paxman exchange itself. As Laura Oldfield Ford pointed out, this was a clarifying moment. And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.

Class consciousness is fragile and fleeting. The petit bourgeoisie which dominates the academy and the culture industry has all kinds of subtle deflections and pre-emptions which prevent the topic even coming up, and then, if it does come up, they make one think it is a terrible impertinence, a breach of etiquette, to raise it. I’ve been speaking now at left-wing, anti-capitalist events for years, but I’ve rarely talked – or been asked to talk – about class in public.

But, once class had re-appeared, it was impossible not to see it everywhere in the response to the Brand affair. Brand was quickly judged and-or questioned by at least three ex-private school people on the left. Others told us that Brand couldn’t really be working class, because he was a millionaire. It’s alarming how many ‘leftists’ seemed to fundamentally agree with the drift behind Paxman’s question: ‘What gives this working class person the authority to speak?’ It’s also alarming, actually distressing, that they seem to think that working class people should remain in poverty, obscurity and impotence lest they lose their ‘authenticity’.

Someone passed me a post written about Brand on Facebook. I don’t know the individual who wrote it, and I wouldn’t wish to name them. What’s important is that the post was symptomatic of a set of snobbish and condescending attitudes that it is apparently alright to exhibit while still classifying oneself as left wing. The whole tone was horrifyingly high-handed, as if they were a schoolteacher marking a child’s work, or a psychiatrist assessing a patient. Brand, apparently, is ‘clearly extremely unstable … one bad relationship or career knockback away from collapsing back into drug addiction or worse.’ Although the person claims that they ‘really quite like [Brand]’, it perhaps never occurs to them that one of the reasons that Brand might be ‘unstable’ is just this sort of patronising faux-transcendent ‘assessment’ from the ‘left’ bourgeoisie. There’s also a shocking but revealing aside where the individual casually refers to Brand’s ‘patchy education [and] the often wince-inducing vocab slips characteristic of the auto-didact’ – which, this individual generously says, ‘I have no problem with at all’ – how very good of them! This isn’t some colonial bureaucrat writing about his attempts to teach some ‘natives’ the English language in the nineteenth century, or a Victorian schoolmaster at some private institution describing a scholarship boy, it’s a ‘leftist’ writing a few weeks ago.

Where to go from here? It is first of all necessary to identify the features of the discourses and the desires which have led us to this grim and demoralising pass, where class has disappeared, but moralism is everywhere, where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent – and not because we are terrorised by the right, but because we have allowed bourgeois modes of subjectivity to contaminate our movement. I think there are two libidinal-discursive configurations which have brought this situation about. They call themselves left wing, but – as the Brand episode has made clear – they are many ways a sign that the left – defined as an agent in a class struggle – has all but disappeared.

Inside the Vampires’ Castle

The first configuration is what I came to call the Vampires’ Castle. The Vampires’ Castle specialises in propagating guilt. It is driven by a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd. The danger in attacking the Vampires’ Castle is that it can look as if – and it will do everything it can to reinforce this thought – that one is also attacking the struggles against racism, sexism, heterosexism. But, far from being the only legitimate expression of such struggles, the Vampires’ Castle is best understood as a bourgeois-liberal perversion and appropriation of the energy of these movements. The Vampires’ Castle was born the moment when the struggle not to be defined by identitarian categories became the quest to have ‘identities’ recognised by a bourgeois big Other.

The privilege I certainly enjoy as a white male consists in part in my not being aware of my ethnicity and my gender, and it is a sobering and revelatory experience to occasionally be made aware of these blind-spots. But, rather than seeking a world in which everyone achieves freedom from identitarian classification, the Vampires’ Castle seeks to corral people back into identi-camps, where they are forever defined in the terms set by dominant power, crippled by self-consciousness and isolated by a logic of solipsism which insists that we cannot understand one another unless we belong to the same identity group.

I’ve noticed a fascinating magical inversion projection-disavowal mechanism whereby the sheer mention of class is now automatically treated as if that means one is trying to downgrade the importance of race and gender. In fact, the exact opposite is the case, as the Vampires’ Castle uses an ultimately liberal understanding of race and gender to obfuscate class.  In all of the absurd and traumatic twitterstorms about privilege earlier this year it was noticeable that the discussion of class privilege was entirely absent.  The task, as ever, remains the articulation of class, gender and race  – but the founding move of the Vampires’ Castle is the dis-articulation of class from other categories.

The problem that the Vampires’ Castle was set up to solve is this: how do you hold immense wealth and power while also appearing as a victim, marginal and oppositional? The solution was already there – in the Christian Church. So the VC has recourse to all the infernal strategies, dark pathologies and psychological torture instruments Christianity invented, and which Nietzsche described in The Genealogy of Morals. This priesthood of bad conscience, this nest of pious guilt-mongers, is exactly what Nietzsche predicted when he said that something worse than Christianity was already on the way. Now, here it is …

The Vampires’ Castle feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups – the more ‘marginal’ the better – into academic capital. The most lauded figures in the Vampires’ Castle are those who have spotted a new market in suffering – those who can find a group more oppressed and subjugated than any previously exploited will find themselves promoted through the ranks very quickly.

The first law of the Vampires’ Castle is: individualise and privatise everything. While in theory it claims to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour. Some of these working class types are not terribly well brought up, and can be very rude at times. Remember: condemning individuals is always more important than paying attention to impersonal structures. The actual ruling class propagates ideologies of individualism, while tending to act as a class. (Many of what we call ‘conspiracies’ are the ruling class showing class solidarity.) The VC, as dupe-servants of the ruling class, does the opposite: it pays lip service to ‘solidarity’ and ‘collectivity’, while always acting as if the individualist categories imposed by power really hold. Because they are petit-bourgeois to the core, the members of the Vampires’ Castle are intensely competitive, but this is repressed in the passive aggressive manner typical of the bourgeoisie. What holds them together is not solidarity, but mutual fear – the fear that they will be the next one to be outed, exposed, condemned.

The second law of the Vampires’ Castle is: make thought and action appear very, very difficult. There must be no lightness, and certainly no humour. Humour isn’t serious, by definition, right? Thought is hard work, for people with posh voices and furrowed brows. Where there is confidence, introduce scepticism. Say: don’t be hasty, we have to think more deeply about this. Remember: having convictions is oppressive, and might lead to gulags.

The third law of the Vampires’ Castle is: propagate as much guilt as you can. The more guilt the better. People must feel bad: it is a sign that they understand the gravity of things. It’s OK to be class-privileged if you feel guilty about privilege and make others in a subordinate class position to you feel guilty too. You do some good works for the poor, too, right?

The fourth law of the Vampires’ Castle is: essentialize. While fluidity of identity, pluarity and multiplicity are always claimed on behalf of the VC members – partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged or bourgeois-assimilationist background – the enemy is always to be essentialized. Since the desires animating the VC are in large part priests’ desires to excommunicate and condemn, there has to be a strong distinction between Good and Evil, with the latter essentialized. Notice the tactics. 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. Once the VC has mustered its witch-hunt, the victim (often from a working class background, and not schooled in the passive aggressive etiquette of the bourgeoisie) can reliably be goaded into losing their temper, further securing their position as pariah/ latest to be consumed in feeding frenzy.

The fifth law of the Vampires’ Castle: think like a liberal (because you are one). The VC’s work of constantly stoking up reactive outrage consists of endlessly pointing out the screamingly obvious: capital behaves like capital (it’s not very nice!), repressive state apparatuses are repressive. We must protest!

Neo-anarchy in the UK

The second libidinal formation is neo-anarchism. By neo-anarchists I definitely do not mean anarchists or syndicalists involved in actual workplace organisation, such as the Solidarity Federation. I mean, rather, those who identify as anarchists but whose involvement in politics extends little beyond student protests and occupations, and commenting on Twitter. Like the denizens of the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchists usually come from a petit-bourgeois background, if not from somewhere even more class-privileged.

They are also overwhelmingly young: in their twenties or at most their early thirties, and what informs the neo-anarchist position is a narrow historical horizon. Neo-anarchists have experienced nothing but capitalist realism. By the time the neo-anarchists had come to political consciousness – and many of them have come to political consciousness remarkably recently, given the level of bullish swagger they sometimes display – the Labour Party had become a Blairite shell, implementing neo-liberalism with a small dose of social justice on the side. But the problem with neo-anarchism is that it unthinkingly reflects this historical moment rather than offering any escape from it. It forgets, or perhaps is genuinely unaware of, the Labour Party’s role in nationalising major industries and utilities or founding the National Health Service. Neo-anarchists will assert that ‘parliamentary politics never changed anything’, or the ‘Labour Party was always useless’ while attending protests about the NHS, or retweeting complaints about the dismantling of what remains of the welfare state. There’s a strange implicit rule here: it’s OK to protest against what parliament has done, but it’s not alright to enter into parliament or the mass media to attempt to engineer change from there. Mainstream media is to be disdained, but BBC Question Time is to be watched and moaned about on Twitter. Purism shades into fatalism; better not to be in any way tainted by the corruption of the mainstream, better to uselessly ‘resist’ than to risk getting your hands dirty.

It’s not surprising, then, that so many neo-anarchists come across as depressed. This depression is no doubt reinforced by the anxieties of postgraduate life, since, like the Vampires’ Castle, neo-anarchism has its natural home in universities, and is usually propagated by those studying for postgraduate qualifications, or those who have recently graduated from such study.

What is to be done?

Why have these two configurations come to the fore?  The first reason is that they have been allowed to prosper by capital because they serve its interests. Capital subdued the organised working class by decomposing class consciousness, viciously subjugating trade unions while seducing ‘hard working families’ into identifying with their own narrowly defined interests instead of the interests of the wider class; but why would capital be concerned about a ‘left’ that replaces class politics with a moralising individualism, and that, far from building solidarity, spreads fear and insecurity?

The second reason is what Jodi Dean has called communicative capitalism. It might have been possible to ignore the Vampires’ Castle and the neo-anarchists if it weren’t for capitalist cyberspace. The VC’s pious moralising has been a feature of a certain ‘left’ for many years – but, if one wasn’t a member of this particular church, its sermons could be avoided. Social media means that this is no longer the case, and there is little protection from the  psychic pathologies propagated by these discourses.

So what can we do now? First of all, it is imperative to reject identitarianism, and to recognise that there are no identities, only desires, interests and identifications. Part of the importance of the British Cultural Studies project – as revealed so powerfully and so movingly in John Akomfrah’s installation The Unfinished Conversation (currently in Tate Britain) and his film The Stuart Hall Project – was to have resisted identitarian essentialism. Instead of freezing people into chains of already-existing equivalences, the point was to treat any articulation as provisional and plastic. New articulations can always be created. No-one is essentially anything. Sadly, the right act on this insight more effectively than the left does.  The bourgeois-identitarian left knows how to propagate guilt and conduct a witch hunt, but it doesn’t know how to make converts. But that, after all, is not the point. The aim is not to popularise a leftist position, or to win people over to it, but to remain in a position of elite superiority, but now with class superiority redoubled by moral superiority too. ‘How dare you talk – it’s we who speak for those who suffer!’

But the rejection of identitarianism can only be achieved by the re-assertion of class. A left that does not have class at its core can only be a liberal pressure group. Class consciousness is always double: it involves a simultaneous knowledge of the way in which class frames and shapes all experience, and a knowledge of the particular position that we occupy in the class structure. It must be remembered that the aim of our struggle is not recognition by the bourgeoisie, nor even the destruction of the bourgeoisie itself. It is the class structure – a structure that wounds everyone, even those who materially profit from it – that must be destroyed. The interests of the working class are the interests of all; the interests of the bourgeoisie are the interests of capital, which are the interests of no-one. Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the preservation of identities shaped and distorted by capital.

If this seems like a forbidding and daunting task, it is. But we can start to engage in many prefigurative activities right now. Actually, such activities would go beyond pre-figuration – they could start a virtuous cycle, a self-fulfilling prophecy in which bourgeois modes of subjectivity are dismantled and a new universality starts to build itself. We need to learn, or re-learn, how to build comradeship and solidarity instead of doing capital’s work for it by condemning and abusing each other. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must always agree – on the contrary, we must create conditions where disagreement can take place without fear of exclusion and excommunication. We need to think very strategically about how to use social media – always remembering that, despite the egalitarianism claimed for social media by capital’s libidinal engineers, that this is currently an enemy territory, dedicated to the reproduction of capital. But this doesn’t mean that we can’t occupy the terrain and start to use it for the purposes of producing class consciousness. We must break out of the ‘debate’ that communicative capitalism in which capital is endlessly cajoling us to participate in, and remember that we are involved in a class struggle. The goal is not to ‘be’ an activist, but to aid the working class to activate – and transform – itself. Outside the Vampires’ Castle, anything is possible.

 

Mark Fisher is the author of Capitalist Realism and the forthcoming Ghosts of my Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (both published by Zer0 books, where he is now a Commissioning Editor). His writing has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Film QuarterlyThe WireThe Guardian and Frieze. He is Programme Leader of the MA in Aural and Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London and a lecturer at the University of East London.

{ 132 comments… read them below or add one }

automnia November 22, 2013 at 3:39 pm

Your a dick.

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Ruralrighton November 22, 2013 at 3:41 pm

Your a dick.
PS intersectional feminist vampires are under your bed.

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A Concerned Vlogger November 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm

im going to drown you in a var of piss

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murray November 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm

“This summer, I seriously considered withdrawing from any involvement in politics.”

We were close, so damn close.

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charles November 28, 2013 at 4:20 pm

my dad didnt buy me the car i wanted. im sick of arseholes like him going on about how only the ”working class” are oppressed

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John Smith March 31, 2014 at 9:05 pm

hahaha. That’s precisely what I heard when I read murray’s comment

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duras November 22, 2013 at 5:14 pm

good thinking mark! agree that we need to do something about these liberal effete queer blood-suckers, and establish our thousand-tweet reign … laughs …

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. November 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

pa pa?

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John Bull November 22, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Interesting article. Now that these arguments are out in a public forum, I hope these problems I’ve found in the arguments will add something constructive to the debate.

1. The whole play of attacking left-wing critiques of bigotry that represent queer sexualities, feminism and people of colour as vampiric and stemming from a ‘vampire castle’ seems a bit dodgy. In themselves, these positions are essential to creating conditions of equality and fairness in the socialist and democratic mass movements many of us have long been striving towards. Dismissing hot-tempered and dramatic critiques as ‘vampiric’ not only delegitimises a form of criticism that doesn’t play by academic rules (isn’t shouting and harsh put-downs part of the demotic politics of the street, about holding your own?), but it also dehumanises their proponents. It creates a bogeyman from which the writer and his allies emerge clean, truly “alive”. These kinds of arguments are dangerous as well as a bit childish eh?

2. Yeah, a lot of debates on Twitter are bad-tempered, people’s comments can be cringeworthy. Like any public debate I guess. But to propose that the real enemy of class struggle are a few largely well-meaning leftists on the Internet needs to be proved. What are they largely reacting against? A consistent war against the poor and the institutions which protect them fought by a fairly-tightknit alliance of politicians, large businesses, police, army and media-owners. Can the writer really claim that these activists are the real danger to a class struggle, the parasite that sucks the life from it? Or, if instead we thinking more strategically about creating a genuinely political popular movement for democratic socialism, aren’t the enemies elsewhere? Is the vampire castle really made up of hipster Marxist academics? Or is the real bloodsucker something far more substantial and, well, obvious?

3. Seems unqualified to dismiss the entirety of young dissidents involved in the student struggles or leftists in postgrad study as neo-anarchist, as if it were a single strand of dismissing the state in their politics. There’s a major difference between the common criticisms of the Labour party now, or of saying alongside Brand that voting in the British elections is a waste of time, and entirely abdicating a politics of the state. I don’t think many do this (who do you mean exactly?) and this criticism is unfair and unsubstantiated. And as above, to claim that young students are the enemy of class struggle overlooks the problem of class composition and the “proletarianization” of students, new academics, as with so many of those in former middle-class professional positions.

4. Class as the writer presents it comes across as another identity construction, rather than an identification. Either that, or he would permit the bogeymen of vampires and neo-anarchists who identify as ‘working class’ to join its forces. Either way, experiences of ‘class’ vary with even more dangerous imprecision than any identity politics: what or who counts as working class economically, or socially, or politically, all varies – not to mention how different age-groups, regions, identity groups might describe their own ‘class’.

5. If the writer’s intention is to purge the left of its love of grudge matches and in-fighting, then I’m not sure how well this succeeds, but it’s clear that new strategic thinking is needed. But dividing class vs. identitarianism isn’t that helpful. Laclau and Mouffe for instance covered this territory well in ‘Hegemony and Socialist Strategy’ and have pointed to how both can work together in a ‘chain of equivalences’, a series of democratic and socialist movements acting in a broad, pluralistic alliance (though by no means entirely unified). This is what I think of when I read the well-meaning class for comradeship and solidarity in the last paragraph. But the power of ‘class’ as binding of different social groups has been in decline for decades, for reasons the writer and most of us know already, and I’d suggest that new forms of identification that can be more clearly grasped be considered.

Anyway, before fingers are pointed, I say this as someone from an inner-city background with no money, single parent home, went to state schools, mucked about, went to a mediocre uni, got into a lot of debt, have worked and been on the dole, lived my adult life in council housing etc etc., and I don’t attribute any class virtue to this. Does it matter though, it is actually useful are these Left-McCarthyist “which class are you really!” discussions…?

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Bennie Bigins December 21, 2014 at 10:22 pm

WTL;DR

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Ben April 10, 2015 at 11:54 am

I read the whole thing. I thought it was dead on, not only in content but in tone. Its refreshing how you just say what you have to say in the gentlest way possible, absent rhetoric like “vampire castle”. I saw a piece similar to this recently where the author calls for “bridge building” and then a paragraph later suggests that the “identitarian” crowd is “caterwauling” and they recite their lines by rote. Like, good job building those bridges dude. Yes the in-fighting and calling out and mockery are a problem. No we don’t solve the problem by adding more in-fighting, calling out, and mockery

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Ben April 10, 2015 at 11:56 am

(And yeah I could have found a sarcasm-free alternative for “good job building those bridges”)

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Bearcubus November 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Troll.
1) Troll on behalf of paid identity-politics professionals, reasserting liberalism’s superior contemporary version of radicalism, postmodern theoretic-anarchism, qua its distractionary retainer function, targeting and isolating individuals and tiny networks of socialist putative good-ol’-boys. (Underlying assumption: postmodern theoretic-anarchists are themselves not implicated in oppressive and repressive relations, which are voluntaristic rather than institutionalized.)
2) Troll reasserting liberalism’s claim of monopoly powers of recognizing and celebrating individual liberty, based on not paying attention to history or contemporary totalitarian institutions.

3) Snide troll.
In conclusion: Personal claim to marginalized identity establishing authority of above points.

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ik November 28, 2013 at 4:00 pm

vegan post mod uni professors should be allowed to control the left as much as labourers who oppress them by eating cheezburgers. its called intersectionality

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Ben November 22, 2013 at 6:21 pm

You should have just gone and watched ‘Catching Fire’ again.

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Tom November 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm

This is some retrograde shit.

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jake November 28, 2013 at 4:01 pm

go fuckyourself tom

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jake November 28, 2013 at 4:15 pm

yea, so what if my parents put me through private uni, im oppressed aswel. he has such an outdated worldview. its also implicity sexist, and hes probably a rape apologist

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mrpettigrew November 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

boat people hate fuck

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KingCole November 22, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Aren’t you yourself continuing the slave revolt that feeds the vampires by trying to continue the socialist tradition?

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Anon November 23, 2013 at 10:09 am

On the spot from beginning to end

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Cautiously Pessimistic November 23, 2013 at 1:23 pm
Angela Mitropoulos November 23, 2013 at 4:13 pm
Tsk November 23, 2013 at 7:51 pm

I thought everybody knew that Leftists were just Calvinists without a deity, more interested in consigning others to Hell than changing the world. As another genuine working-class iconoclast sang, “She’s the little-est rebel/She consigns them all to Hell…”

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Dorian Gray November 25, 2013 at 2:53 am

I thought everyone knew that little shut-in twerps like yourself should keep to themselves.

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Tsk November 23, 2013 at 8:07 pm

Or, to put the article’s premise more simply: So many entry exams to get into a club for a handful of remarkably unattractive, vindictive people. Becoming a leftist under these circumstances makes as much sense as running through traffic on a dare for the privilege of joining a clique of failed bullies.

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Dorian Gray November 25, 2013 at 2:52 am

I can tell you’re ugly and bitter yourself.

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Aaron Aarons December 2, 2013 at 4:00 pm

How do you define “leftist” and what is the alternative to being a “leftist”? Being a supporter of imperialism and capitalism in general?

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Matthew E. Duffy January 15, 2014 at 2:06 am

join the neo-corpartists and let the tanks, deal with the capitlaists and the libreals!

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Tsk November 23, 2013 at 8:53 pm

The fact that so many commenters find it odd that the writer privileges class identity is astonishing. That’s the whole idea. There have been many attempts to blur class identity with other, more cozy and illusory identities, and they didn’t end very well. Amazing, and horrifying, that people calling themselves leftists have missed the whole damn point so badly.

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Cautiously Pessimistic November 24, 2013 at 1:50 pm

A) The problem isn’t that he privileges class, it’s that he privileges class as an identity, and uses it in a way that has nothing to do with actual social position. Treating a millionaire as a working-class hero based on his accent is absolutely useless for understanding class as a set of social relationships that shape our lives. The fact that he’d probably fail his own class-as-identity test just makes it funnier
B) Did you just call race and gender “cozy” and “illusory”?

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Aaron Aarons December 2, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Without knowing the class, racial, ethnic, national or gender identity of a being who identifies itself as ‘Tsk’, it’s not possible to determine the relationship between the writer’s material position in the global economy and his or her political position. But how is identity as a member of an oppressed nation, as a woman, etc., more illusory than identity as a seller of one’s labor power? And what is the evidence that “attempts to blur class identity with other, more [supposedly] cozy and [supposedly] illusory identities” have “ended” worse than attempts to promote class identity, in the narrow sense, while ignoring other identities — or, more accurately, other aspects of class identity less narrowly construed?

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Matthew Brett November 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm

This column makes strong points that I agree with. There is too much corrosive negativity within movements. However, I believe that your column will only continue this cycle.

You state that it is right to question behaviour and practices of groups and movements, and that “such questioning should take place in an
atmosphere of comradeship and solidarity, and probably not in public in the
first instance.”

Yet you do precisely the opposite. You publicly condemn a broad and nebulous group of people that you stuff into the “Vampire’s Castle.” These seem to be young
people that are forming political opinions and trying to engage in radical politics.

Rather than doing the hard work of trying to engage with (young) people that are developing interests in class, race and gender – you condemn with the same bitter and toxic language that you disapprove of.

I believe the bitter tone of this article will feed the cycle of negativity that you are trying to resolve. I believe that it will divide and deepen feelings of bitterness.

I hope this critique is well received. I do have other compliments and critiques about your piece that I believe are important, but I would like to focus on one.

Sincerely & in solidarity, Matthew Brett

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A. D. Ward December 7, 2013 at 11:35 am

Matthew,

I can see why you think the author is being contradictory. However, I think you miss his point. This “Vampire Castle” (the academy’s Humanities ghettoes) are not producing young radicals that are (hu)manning the barricades of social democratic revolution. Rather, wittingly or unwittingly (I suspect the latter,) they are producing the foot soldiers of the Bourgeois Establishment. Call this army “The United Colors of Bennetton,” or Thomas Müntzer’s, “Rainbow Brigade” if you prefer the authors Christian equivalence.

In privileging the suffering of marginalized minorities (for lack of a better word) and policing everyone’s language with such Jacobin zeal, they serve to crush any solidarity among democratic socialists or working-class peoples that might not be “there yet” regarding their radical and post-modern understandings of race, gender, and sexuality. In demonizing folks that fail to toe the party line in their language regarding this army’s privileged identity groups, they essentially reject important and strong allies in creating a world where in the planet isn’t destroyed, their isn’t massive income inequality, and privilege is no enshrined for a few, to paraphrase Brand. And in so doing, drive the working classes into the arms of f not the National Front or “Tea Parties,” at least into the arms of the Obamas and Clintons and Blairs of the political world.

The overarching point of this piece is that “Identitarians” and their politics while seeming to be radical and revolutionary are in reality counter-revolutionary movements and allowed to function within establishment institutions because the buttress existing class dynamics and make real revolution impossible.

And none of this is to say that the “Identiarian” critiques are invalid.

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Aaron Aarons December 11, 2013 at 1:30 am

Supporting militant struggle against imperialism and colonialism is a lot more likely to incur the wrath of establishment institutions, and is certainly more likely to get one put on a terrorist watch list or even imprisoned. than is support for abstract working-class solidarity.

But I’m all for general, cross-ethnic, cross-national working-class solidarity when it emphasizes solidarity with those most oppressed. For example, I don’t support solidarity with workers who complain about workers of other nationalities taking their jobs, either through migration or so-called “export of jobs”. In fact, equalization of wages between workers of rich and poor countries is a good thing, and the proper responses include strikes and boycotts to force an increase in wages in the poor countries, as well as struggles in the all countries against various forms of “rent”.

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Fred Welfare December 11, 2013 at 4:20 am

At the risk of seeming naive, an objective diagnosis would indicate that local police are monitoring a significant number of interactions and movements; state and federal police agencies are monitoring most economic transactions and cyber-actions. Their reactionary response to behaviors that cross gender-lines, class-lines, and color bars as well as their general delimitation or hysterical reaction to theoretical labor proves that the intersectional trifecta or bias is productive for the capitalists and the state. It does seem, from their viewpoint or belief system if I can take it, that it improves their fitness. There is the view from the legal perspective which I think these practices violate, but these intersectional practices persist at ever increasing rates. It’s segregation, segregation, and isolation with a dose of spite.

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Jennifer Armstrong November 23, 2013 at 11:07 pm

A very nice, well-articulated and insightful article that needs to be spread.

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Mike Ballard November 23, 2013 at 11:20 pm

What is radical liberalism?

Radical liberals are the non-revolutionary left. They sometimes call themselves Greens, labor, liberal, socialist, communist, anarchist or some ideological subset of human identity; but they never advocate for social revolution. As a plus, many radical liberals advocate reforms of the system of wage labour which give some of the collective product of labour, including some labour time, back to the producers of the wealth of nations. Sometimes radical liberals even advocate for national liberation. Specifically though, radical liberals never advocate for a change in the mode of production and exchange.

Marx and Engels were social revolutionaries who advocated the abolition of the wage system, common ownership of the collective product of labour and production of wealth for use, with its distribution based on need e.g. communism. The defining characteristics of a social revolution are rooted in a change in the mode of production and exchange. Radical liberals content themselves with advocating reforms of the rule of Capital; but never the total obliteration of Capital as a social relation. They typically advocate a fair wage system with social justice and usually call it, ‘being realistic’. With their political pragmatism in hand, they barrack for good rulers to replace evil rulers and,
never for a free association of producers, democratically managing the whole the collective product of labour. The self-described anarchists and Communists amongst them sometimes advocate for an equality of wages, not the abolition of the wage system. Some radical liberals calling themselves libertarian socialists advocate for worker owned cooperatives to replace corporations with the aim of restoring fairness and social justice to the marketplace for commodities through genuine competition between enterprises of wage-slaves engaged in self-management, not an end to commodity production and sale and distribution of socially owned use-values on the basis of need.

Radical liberalism dominates political, social and cultural discourse on the left. With their identity politics in hand, they dream of ending racism, sexism, ageism, classism etc. while promoting environmentalism to achieve social justice under the rule of Capital. For radical liberals, changing the mode of production is an out dated way to approach social justice, one which smacks of bureaucratic State socialism.

Radical liberals may talk of revolution; but they haven’t got a clue about what a social revolution from class dominated to classless society would entail in terms of sublating the capitalist mode of production, although many of the more reactionary amongst them advocate a return to pre-capitalist modes of production. Radical liberals do not realise that the commodity itself is the building block of class ruled society. As history of human social relations has demonstrated, the commodity undermines any attempt to maintain equal political power between all men and women.

Social justice will never be achieved under the rule of Capital. Capital is inherently a system of generalised commodity production with unequal political power between men and women of differing classes and even within those classes, as individuals within classes are stratified with varying dynamics of dominance and submission. Social justice means equal political power between ALL men and women or it remains an meaningless abstraction. Thus, the search for social justice via radical liberalism remains a mirage, an echo from the last stages of philosophical Idealism, the epoch of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.

I have met a lot of nice Stalinists, Trotskyists and anarchists but, I’m not one of them.

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Aaron Aarons November 26, 2013 at 2:41 pm

So, until we have achieved full social justice via the abolition of commodity production, we shouldn’t be fighting capital’s destruction of the planet and its inhabitants, or the special oppression of women, people of color, et al.?

Sounds like just an ‘ultra’ version of white male imperialist-nation leftism to me!

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Mike Ballard November 26, 2013 at 11:41 pm

Right. That’s what I said. Roll over and play dead, just like a ‘white male imperialist-nation’ leftist always advises.

What I wrote was,”Radical liberals content themselves with advocating reforms of the rule of Capital; but never the total obliteration of Capital as a social relation.” Perhaps it’s time for radical liberals to see a strategic goal beyond the rule of Capital, to wit:common ownership of the collective product of labour in a society where equal political power between all men and women is the norm.

You see Aaron, contra Thatcher’s TINA, there is an alternative and that alternative should become part of the left’s conscious praxis. Organising classwide unity would at the same time necessitate union between men and women producers, between members of the human race of various hues, cultures, geographical locations and so on. Tactics based on dividing the human race into competing identities would only, indeed, is only serving the interests of those who wish to continue to rule us within the wage system. They would never eventuate in the establishment of the strategic goal: abolition of the wage system, production of wealth based on our own assessments of use while living in harmony with nature. Production of wealth to meet our needs, not the needs of a tiny ruling class to rule us by appropriating the lion’s share of what we produce.

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Aaron Aarons November 27, 2013 at 6:06 pm

If you want to promote working-class unity across race, gender, national, etc., lines, you should be organizing the most privileged workers to fight openly in the interests of the most oppressed. For example, how about organizing among U.S. citizen workers to actively oppose any repression or discrimination against non-citizens, documented or not? And, how about getting U.S. workers, instead of opposing the “export of jobs”, to actively, materially, support the workers who produce the imported raw material and products they process or consume in fighting to improve their conditions?

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Mike Ballard November 28, 2013 at 12:49 am

Getting all workers, whatever their perceived race or actual gender, to grasp the importance of abolishing the wage system and establishing common ownership of the collective product of their labour is my focus, Aaron. I think that’s the the most effective way for you and I and all class conscious workers to spend our political time under the rule of Capital. Our solidarity as a class should know no national borders. That has been my stance and praxis since I was in my 20s.

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Aaron Aarons November 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

“Our solidarity as a class should know no national borders.”

What would you think of a wealthy white woman who proclaimed, “our solidarity as women should know no national [or class or race] borders” while refusing to deal with the particular problems of working-class women?

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Mike Ballard November 30, 2013 at 12:36 am

I’d think she’s barking up the wrong tree, if she thinks women will ever be liberated within the political-economy of class dominated society. Unequal political power between men and women will never serve to liberate the human race, no matter which class dominate political State they live within.

The particular problems of working class women can be modified under the rule of Capital e.g. wages, working conditions through the praxis of class union, but the strategic goal of abolishing classes is the only way to achieve emancipation. This is a position your hypothetical wealthy woman (with less melanin than Oprah) would probably not find to be in her class interest.

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Aaron Aarons November 30, 2013 at 2:51 am

You are not dealing with the point I was making with this analogy. My hypothetical ‘wealthy white woman’ would have many options for showing solidarity with poor, working-class and/or non-white women in their concrete struggles, and her failure to do so would make her abstract declarations of ‘solidarity’ meaningless — or worse, if she tried to use such ‘feminist solidarity’ as a weapon against working-class women uniting with men in working-class struggle or ‘third-world’ women uniting with men in anti-imperialist struggle. And her position wouldn’t be any better if she argued, perhaps correctly, that the abolition of patriarchy would end the special oppressions of workers and people of color.

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Mike Ballard December 2, 2013 at 3:55 am

I think that is my point. Without classwide solidarity for social ownership of the collective product of labour, mere assertion of identity results in ‘radical liberalism’ and a loss for emancipation from the rule of Capital. My point is that workers, whatever they prefer to describe themselves as being their individual identity, need to unite as a class, not divide themselves and fight and guilt trip each other as to which of them is the most oppressed identity.

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Aaron Aarons December 2, 2013 at 8:49 am

It is not a question of identity but of the actual position of different groups of workers in the global economy. The super-exploitation of some groups of workers, particularly, those in neo-colonies, would be a fact even in the unlikely event that those workers somehow failed to notice it. But, just as it is a lot easier for a white person to say that “I don’t notice race” and believe it than it is for a person of color, it is a lot easier for imperialist-nation workers to be blind to the differences between them and “third world workers” than it is for the latter to not notice it.

I think that old song with the line “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die.” needs to be changed, with first-world workers now singing to the rest of the working class, “You’ll get an equal share of the pie when the global working class finally unites to overthrow capital, but trying to do anything about global inequality before that happens is divisive.”

A D Ward December 7, 2013 at 11:52 am

This is the problem, you see the call for class solidarity as an equivalent category to sex, gender, race, when it is an all encompassing totality. You see, ALL PEOPLE are included under “class” and “class” does not exist as a separate and equal category to sex, gender, and race.

A “black, gay, Christian, trans-woman,” is just as exploited by the neoliberal paradigm as whatever boogeyman identity you want to stack up against her.

The point is that the problem is Capital, which is founded on a desire to control others, and the solution to those problems are only going to stop when we agree that we are all in this together. As cliched as that may be.

We should be lumping, not splitting.

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Fred Welfare December 7, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Class is an economic term and usually refers to a person’s income or wealth. If we are oriented towards both a growth mentality and social change, where qualitative improvements in living conditions for everyone accompany a certain degree of equal respect, then the ideological and the political have to be considered simultaneously with the economic problematic. One approach to this was the intersectional “trifecta” of race-sex-class because we feel these attributes but working out the legal technicalities, the policy statements, and modes of effective activity is more complex that simply identifying a set of contradictions. These contradictions, as many posters have pointed out, are overlays or substitutions for more serious contradictions. Reigning in the filthy rich, even figuring out exactly how they exploit (surplus value indeed) in particular is the real detective work. Profit via surplus value is only one of the means, far deeper and more disastrous is the ownership of rental property and the control over the mortgage of property, also, there is the question of interest, a thorny and complicated problem which is also related to taxation. It is cute to think in terms of wiping out the given system but it is not feasible. The question is whether reform is better or worse than replacement.

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Pavel December 8, 2013 at 5:55 am

Class refers to one’s relation to the means of production and not to how much income one has, differently to how it is viewed by radical liberals. That, I think, explains the difference between the marxist and the radical liberal view of ‘intersectionality’ and identity politics more generally.

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Fred Welfare December 9, 2013 at 7:04 am

I understand that a Marxist view uses the term ‘class as relation to the means of production’ as an abstract statement since the means of production refers to forms of technology of which there are many but more incisively, as you mention the distinction between liberals and marxists, within the relations of production, there are many differentiations of role and group. In order for a unity of the working class to emerge, several contradictory relations would have to simultaneously come to a head.

Aaron Aarons December 2, 2013 at 2:53 pm

Also, regarding this:

What I [MB] wrote was,”Radical liberals content themselves with advocating reforms of the rule of Capital; but never the total obliteration of Capital as a social relation.

Does that mean that most militant trade unionists, or those involved in other forms of struggle over wages and working conditions, are “radical liberals”?

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Fred Welfare December 9, 2013 at 7:14 am

Is race one or many when race is not the substitution for a certain class level? The race issue begins historically in the relation of inferior tribes to colonial powers as seen during the early empires: Egyptian, Persian, Greek, and Roman and then through the rise of Western Culture. Race is often understood not a biological differences, a vulgar prejudice, but as cultural difference. Although cultural difference may refer to weaponry or other technology, or to knowledge, the issue strikes home at the level of lineage and family where the conflict over race prejudice and intermarriage is most violent.

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Tim Holmes November 24, 2013 at 1:46 am

1. I think this could have been said in about a third of the space and without the jargon. Would make a much better read – because there’s a BIG kernel of truth in here – but it’s obscured by theorising here, in my view. I’d be interested to see how you’d write it up for a tabloid-reading audience. And I mean that quite seriously. Give it a go. Because you make some really important points.

2. You seem to me to be confusing “the ruling class” and “posh people”. The two are not the same, any more than trustafarians are the same as the FTSE 500.

3. Anarchists have spurred groups like Climate Camp, UK Uncut, Plane Stupid – they’re out there “getting their hands dirty” all the time, and are always willing to work with sympathetic insiders, or use the mainstream media. There is, yes, a nay-saying fringe in self-imposed exile, but that’s not the whole story, not by a long shot. I wouldn’t even regard it as the mainstream of the movement.

4. But even then, “outsiders” matter, often a lot. The Labour Party didn’t create the welfare state on its own: it did so because organised popular movements forced it to.

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groovey post left dude November 28, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I got my hands dirty at Climate Camp during my gap year. I work in hedgefunds now but i feel pretty qualified to speak of hardship.

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Ben April 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

^ Thats interesting how you “know” all about a stranger on the internet, absent any actual evidence

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Jason November 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

None of what you write is untrue, but you need to be honest and go the whole way. Calling the intersectionalists, for that is who you mean even though they are not named, “petit-bourgeois” doesn’t entirely do justice to what’s going on here. I suspect you just think calling someone middle class is the ultimate insult.

Moreover, coming up with cutsey phrases like “vampire castle” isn’t going to address the problem any better than saying “capitalist realism” allowed you to dodge the reality that we do need economic growth, something the left has been dissembling about for decades. There is a reason the left has absolutely no purchase in society and it’s not that people have had their minds bent out of shape by “neo-liberalism”. It’s that it doesn’t, and is incapable of, speaking to ordinary people’e experiences.

As someone else here said: Leftists are just Calvinists without a deity, more interested in consigning others to Hell than changing the world.

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Dorian Gray November 25, 2013 at 2:54 am

Yeah, that was you who said that, posting under another name. It’s very sad and weird that you think your opinions come from a position of strength or have any impact on the world, and yet to find someone to agree with them, you have to exhibit signs of mental illness and pretend to be two people at once.

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Aaron Aarons November 26, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Various sections of the amorphous phenomenon referred to as “the left” have done a fairly good job of “speaking to ordinary people’e experiences”, which is why imperialist agencies, ranging from militaries to counter-intelligence agencies to media conglomerates have spent many trillions of dollars to defeat “the left”, sometimes by mass propaganda, sometimes by mass murder, mostly by something in between, including selective assassination.

Of course, if you mean by “ordinary people”, white men, you’re probably right.

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joe November 28, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Agree 100% Jason. These white male oppressors need to stop calling us ”middle class” every we time we try to make them face up to their privilage.

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Fred Welfare December 9, 2013 at 7:19 am

Insofar as the labor unions oppose governmental intervention in the form of management, wouldn’t it seem obvious that they would ally themselves with left liberals, libertarians, who desire extremely limited government as opposed to the welfare state?

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Ben April 10, 2015 at 12:16 pm

Libertarians are out there saying that all sorts of labor laws should be repealed – minimum wage, child labor, safety standards, you name it. Good luck finding a labor union that opposes those government “intrusions”

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Seventeen Eighty-Nine November 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Very good article.

Though the way Mark Fisher treats class here is also somewhat essentialist (as if the class background of any given individual is the relevant point!). This can tend to reproduce the identitarian frame he rightly critiques, and obscures the *political* character of class – which is surely what matters, for anyone interested in social transformation.

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BigDave November 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

This is an article that needed writing. It reflects what I’ve thought about a proportion of my so-called comrades on the left for the best part of 40 years. If a genuine class fighter is accused by the state of murder, or a serious but gender/race/etc-neutral crime, we all rally round and say that he/she was fitted up. Make the charge rape, domestic violence, racism, etc., and there is a whole section of the left that assumes guilt, and continues to do so, in a style that would disgrace even The Sun or The Daily Mail, long after charges have been dropped or the person has been acquitted.

I’ve been rounded on by the bullies simply for agreeing with a quote about an industrial dispute, whose origin was one such person, a genuine class-fighter who has achieved pariah status in the “Vampires Castle”, on the basis of unproven allegations from one person. At the time I didn’t even know who he was, and there was nothing wrong with the quote that someone else had lifted from him.

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Cautiously Pessimistic November 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm

And what if they’re not accused by the state? What if they’re accused by another person, or even another genuine class fighter? I suppose she was probably just making it up?

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BigDave November 24, 2013 at 10:02 pm

It says “unproven allegations by one PERSON”.

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Lola November 24, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Yeah, it’s not often “the state” is the sole accuser is it. There’s usually a victim, and plenty of lefties who are quick to judge or accuse them of lying in case it shatters their fragile network. The left is no better than the right or the state when it comes to letting down victims of domestic violence.

Even when there’s photographic evidence and a number of victims and witnesses they often won’t believe it.

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Aaron Aarons November 26, 2013 at 2:58 pm

How about giving us some examples where there was “photographic evidence and a number of victims and witnesses” and we — the left, and not just loyal members of some bureaucratic group — wouldn’t believe it.

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Dee November 25, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I’m a genuine class fighter, too. Can I not speak out against sexism, racism, as it arises for me?

Women who report incidences of rape and violence, should be believed and and supported. A left that doesn’t do so, are no comrades of mine.

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BigDave November 25, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Yes, you can and you must speak out against sexism, racism. I also agree that if a woman (or a man for that matter) speaks out against rape and/or violence (especially in a relationship), they should be supported, and yes, it should be pursued on the basis that you believe what they are saying. However, if it is not proved, you shouldn’t presume to be judge, jury and executioner. I was verbally abused by my ex for years. It never spilled over into physical violence but it did have a bad effect on me. There were occasions when I shouted back, and she challenged me to hit her. I never did of course. It is usually, but not always, the male who is the perpetrator, but you can’t assume guilt in every case on the basis of a statistic.

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Dee November 26, 2013 at 11:15 am

How do you prove rape then, Big Dave?

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BigDave November 26, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I wouldn’t know. How do you assume who is guilty in the absence of proof? No-one said it’s easy.

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Dee November 26, 2013 at 2:30 pm

If a woman says she was raped, the chances are she was. In fact, rape is under reported.

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Aaron Aarons November 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Yes, in the great majority of cases where a woman alleges rape, she is telling the truth. But what actions can or cannot justifiably be taken against the alleged rapist on that probabilistic basis?

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Fred Welfare December 9, 2013 at 7:40 am

By investigating, remember Mao’s famous saying, “If you do not investigate, no one will listen to you.”

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Fred Welfare December 9, 2013 at 7:38 am

Verbal abuse is at least material that can be used to form a claim against the abuser. What about cases of psychological abuse or emotional abuse in which the abuser may use the old standby, “it’s all in your head.” The use of mind to affect others moods, capabilities and feelings is all too human. The internal thinking of persons is distinct from their speech usage. Often a person can determine that another is abusing them emotionally or psychologically but can only take a defensive or counter-offensive position towards that source. To claim that these intuitions are assumptions borders on denial or autism.

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Fred Welfare December 9, 2013 at 7:28 am

I agree but the subterranean problem is when “they think” that someone has done something for which no evidence is profferred and on that basis employ intersectional forms of identity discrimination. The judicial problem of establishing an event and prosecuting for the law is purely empirical and by case, but the more generalized action form of using a false belief to harass others is devious formal rationality.

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Doug Tarnopol November 24, 2013 at 1:48 pm

A brilliant and much-needed essay. I have shared it with everyone I know, which happens to include, just so you know, Noam Chomsky and Norm Finkelstein. Don’t mean to name-drop; just wanted to let you know they will have seen it. And I’m sure they will much appreciate it, as did I. Well done!

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murray November 25, 2013 at 12:31 pm

I shared your comment with Marx and Jesus. Don’t mean to name-drop; just wanted to let you know they will have seen it.

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Doug Tarnopol November 25, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Looks like someone missed the point of the essay.

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murray November 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm

No, I got the point loud and clear. And I reject it utterly.

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Noam Chomsky November 29, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I read it and i thought it was shite, ya bellend.

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John Halle November 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I appreciated this and strongly agree with its central point-with maybe a few small qualifications. I should say that I was a bit disconcerted by the tone which implies that the author is a voice in the wilderness in making these arguments. In particular, the notion that the multiculturalist agenda is not only not hostile to but entirely consistent with neoliberalism has been a staple of Adolph Reed’s critique for two decades. Walter Benn Michaels’s The Trouble with Diversity also lays out the argument well, as does Barbara and Karen Fields Racecraft (though a bit too obscurely for my tastes). I’ll also mention my take downs of diversity pimps MH Perry and Tim Wise as application of the basic theory, the former published here at North Star the latter at Doug Henwood’s Left Business Observer blog.

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neo-anarchist? November 24, 2013 at 4:16 pm

This is a great piece. I am a little bit disconcerted by your comments on ‘neo-anarchists’ though. In short, it looks like – but I hope you’ll tell me this is not what you really meant – you are saying that the only viable strategy is to enter parliament or work through established media and political organizations… everything else is ‘purism’ and ‘fatalism’. The history of the anarchist movement – as well as the best part of the socialist and communist movement – shows us the opposite: it is possible to change the world without sitting in parliament. Surprisingly enough that is what Russel Brand rightly pointed out in his interview with Paxman: whatever the history of the Labour Party, it is today an integral part of ‘an indifferent system that really just administrates for large
corporations and ignores the population that it was voted in to serve’. Obviously there are forms of political engagement which are meaningful and powerful even if they refuse the possibility of changing the labour party or the corporate media ‘from within’. It is possible to attempt something like that – and it seems to be the strategy you seems to argue for – but attacking comrades who work through other forms of resistance… well it sounds like the Vampires’ Castle.

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OllieS November 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Because Alan Sugar is from a working-class background, is he working-class? Of course he isn’t, but you’d think that after reading the laughable idea of class in this post. Class is relationship to the means of production, not your background or accent (although the author is apparently unaware that Brand went to Hockerill College, one of the best schools in the country, in a wealthy area).

The practical politics of this post are extremely boring; I’ve heard it all before. ‘Class’ is important, even if these *great leaders* of our class aren’t at all interested in challenging racism or sexism. The idea that the ‘vampire’ left is a liberal pressure group, but the People’s Assembly isn’t, is laughable.

And really, the ‘neo-anarchists’ identified here consist only of about 50 people. To act as if they’re some dominant trend which is the main thing holding the left back is again, laughable.

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Jessica November 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm

He doesn’t mention “great leaders”. Who is a racist or sexist? You keep saying laughable. Ollie, you live off rent from your tenants.

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Jessica November 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm

Brand may not be working class in his relation to the means of production, but in the Paxman interview he was condescended to because he doesn’t speak ‘properly’. There is such a thing as cultural capital. Your comments are typical of posh white guys who heap shit on people of identical background hoping it won’t stick to themselves. Amazing.

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Tsk November 24, 2013 at 9:47 pm

Well said, Jessica. There’s a lot of that going around.

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Aaron Aarons November 29, 2013 at 5:39 am

And how Brand’s being looked down upon because of his accent fundamentally different from another person’s being looked down upon because of their darker skin color or their having a vagina?

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gregoryabutler November 24, 2013 at 11:58 pm

So only straight White males are “working class” and Black, Asian, women and gay workers (in other words, the MAJORITY of the working class) are “vampires” if we dare to raise our demands?

Whatever, dude

Basically, this nimrod wants straight White male national socialism – call it “Whitemanism” for short.

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Dorian Gray November 25, 2013 at 2:51 am

This essay is as drudgingly joyless and self-centered as the shit it condemns and by the end of writing it you should have realized it was ready for the bin. I do commend your effort but you put it toward the wrong thing.

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uncle ishtar November 25, 2013 at 8:33 am
Slothrop November 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Great piece. Particularly this:

“The Vampires’ Castle feeds on the energy and anxieties and vulnerabilities of young students, but most of all it lives by converting the suffering of particular groups – the more ‘marginal’ the better – into academic capital. The most lauded figures in the Vampires’ Castle are those who have spotted a new market in suffering – those who can find a group more oppressed and subjugated than any previously exploited will find themselves promoted through the ranks very quickly”.

Seen this first hand over the past few years. Cynical and careerist “politics”.

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Adam November 25, 2013 at 5:19 pm

I found this to be quite enjoyable as someone who is avowedly liberal rather than “of the Left”.

As a white male who is relatively privileged in economic and social capital, I feel like I have a very hard time these days even getting to the part in the argument wherein I advocate non-Revolutionary progressive tax reform, shareholder participation changes in corporate governance, modest trade union re-strengthening, neo-liberal free-trade agreements with better environmental, labor, and corruption oversight, and the rest of the cavalcade of bourgeois horrors that I think make for a better future than the one offered by the revolutionary Left.

Somehow it all becomes about my right or authority to speak on whatever issue it is that sparked the conversation. Other people who share similar genetic or historic features to me just don’t seem to have deposited enough into collective oppression credit accounts that I can draw from to allow me to unmute myself.

Now, I also think, along with some of the other commenters here, that Fisher is constructing class in a way that is way too similar to the way that he criticizes other identity features being constructed. But still, I mean, jeez, how is anybody supposed to figure out that I really *am* an opponent of the general Socialist program — and a dissident of the dialectical ideas and theories that underpin it — if they can’t stop gawking at my oppressive Y chromosome and my oppressive skin color and my oppressive heterosexual predilections long enough to hear it?

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Aaron Aarons December 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm

I have no doubt that you are “an opponent of the general Socialist program”, and the fact that you have, due to your various privileges, a material interest in opposing fundamental change is perfectly consistent with that. Given that consistency between your material privileges and your politics, I have no interest in listening to you lecture on what’s wrong with “the general Socialist program”. Maybe you should join a privileged white men’s support group, where you can share your laments about not being listened to.

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Adam December 2, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Hi Aaron,

Apologies if I wrote that in a way that muddled my argument a bit. I did not mean to imply that it’s everyone’s duty to accept as valid or useful my values, premises, analytic perspective on leftist social movements, etc. Of course that would be great — I think it’s good for people to listen to their opponents on an issue, even when the gulf is yawning. But all sorts of people on any number of issues tune out or dismiss the arguments of those whose fundamental interests or desires are sharply at odds with their own, and Fisher’s post here was not really taking issue with that. In fact, he doubles down on the presence or absence of a Marxian class consciousness as a divider that can prevent meaningful alliances from being formed across it.

What I did mean to say, and what I think you reinforced with your reply, is that there needs to be at least some significant, substantive ideological or political difference triggering that sort of dismissal. In this case (at least I hope), it is not my privileges themselves but rather my politics, which happen to be “consistent” with what you see as my class interest, that makes me not worth listening to. Hopefully your having “no doubt” about my opposition to revolutionary Socialism stems from the fact that I said so up front and not from you making assumptions based on my background.

There are going to be a diversity of opinions, even within the revolutionary or liberation Left, about who can be an ally on what issue or who should be heard on what issue. You might think my views on economic structure and class preclude me from being a good or interesting voice when it comes to, say, gender/sex equality or anti-racism. Others might disagree, either by being more generally open or by saying that some part of, say, your stance on gender precludes you from being a good or interesting economic revolutionary.

Whether such ideology-based dismissals of people’s voices is good or bad is an argument for another day. I think the point at issue here is whether, at a bare minimum, the dismissals should be based on actual, explicit ideological or political differences or whether they can properly be made based on little more than snap inferences drawn from someone’s body type, skin color, parents’ bank account, etc. The latter view isn’t, I think, good for any movement or society in general. And when the only way to avoid that kind of dismissal is to engage in what Fisher here has identified as a set of quite arbitrary and treacherous acts of performance under the shifting banner of “privilege checking”, that’s really no remedy to the problem at all.

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KC Halas November 25, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Stop considering and disappear with your ill gotten gains, proffered by graft and corruption by your beloved corporate fraudsters.

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MyMoontime November 26, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Thank God I got out of leftist shit while I still have my youth. It ain’t worth it. Nothing is worth this level of self-denial and flagellation and moral hygiene. They want to confiscate your drugs and porn, and they aren’t even giving you an afterlife in exchange.

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Aaron Aarons November 26, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Being anonymous means never having to say you’re sorry.

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Ben April 10, 2015 at 12:28 pm

Yeah the left wants to take away your drugs and your porn. Thats super accurate.

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xTrotskyx_1990 November 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm

What a shock it must be to Mark Fisher to receive a series of excoriations in the manner that he describes in his article. As far as I can understand, there’s a difference between ‘essentialising’ and merely ‘categorising’: without the latter, we cannot communicate ideas. I also can’t find the part where he suggest that we should ignore or marginalise gender or race, I hope that someone can help me.

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anechoic November 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm

this article shows why most people on the left continually fall for the same tricks played on them by the elite class while many of the comments below reflect why the left will continue swim in it’s own waste ad infinitum – great article! :)

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Michael Odom November 26, 2013 at 9:06 pm

Agreed. Mostly. The draining and cowing effects (the “vampire” aspect) of judgmental/ moralizing identity politics has served the bourgeoisie well in dividing and deflating working class advocacy. Minorities, even the poorest, who want nothing but to get rich by exploiting others are their own enemies and everyone else’s. The black woman on welfare has more interests in common with the homeless white male than she has with the child of privilege born in dark skin. As much as we do not help in dropping the battles against racism & sexism, it is a poor strategy to turn the poor against one another when we could be pointing to their more essential (a word that also means ‘extremely important’) similarities.

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Hmmm... November 30, 2013 at 10:51 pm

What about a black women with wealthy parents who has ended up living on benefits because her parents don’t actually support her financially?

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Aaron Aarons November 26, 2013 at 9:49 pm

“And one of the things that was clarified for me was the way in which, in recent years, so much of the self-styled ‘left’ has suppressed the question of class.”

One of the things that is constantly clarified for me, and presumably even more for those who are not white, male beneficiaries of imperialist-county citizenship, is how most of the left in imperialist countries has, for over a century, suppressed the recognition of the massive privileges accruing to imperialist-county citizens, especially but not only white male ones, in the international exploitation of labor and looting of nature. It’s meaningless to talk about ‘class’ if your concept of class can’t distinguish between a Bangladeshi garment worker making US$0.25 an hour and a homeowner in Britain or the U.S. making over US$25 an hour. The latter may not be entirely secure, but it is an insecurity shared with the petty bourgeoisie in general.

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Andrew Coates November 27, 2013 at 12:42 pm

As one of the people who helped organise the Ipswich meeting of the Suffolk People’s Assembly that mark came to I’d like to say how much his comments have cheered me up. “One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live.”

“What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers.

But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizonta….The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.”

This has made my day, and my comrades will be informed immediately (I missed this earlier when skimming North Star).

We are a *real* “People’s Assembly”!

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jason November 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

vegan academics are oppressed by homeless people who eat burgers, its called internationality you fuckwit

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Steve December 3, 2013 at 3:34 am

Congratulations Mark, one of the best articles I’ve read in a fair while. Pretty much every week bring another piece of fraudulent academy dross that confirms the drift of your arguments, whether it’s the shoal of “Lily Allen is a racist” garbage that gummed up twitter taking the heat off Tommy Robinson for a few days, or this past weekend’s masterpiece from the New Statesman “Movember is racist”, which has been widely re-posted on sporting messageboards across Britain, making everyone with politics slightly to the left of Ed Miliband’s look like total clowns. Ellen Mieksins Wood wrote a superb take-down of identity politics around 20 years ago, drawing on her experience of American politics that lacked the unifying force of a progressive left social democratic project. And it’s no coincidence that the defeatism enshrined in that curious ragbag mix of anarchism and liberalism you describe has advanced in the UK thanks to New Labour nearly wiping out the Labour left here. But fair play to the likes of the People’s Assembly and Owen Jones, they are keeping hope alive. And Russell Brand does have that threatening trajectory from mainstream to left politics that so worried the establishment when Tony Benn started going off-message in the late-60s. I also remain optimistic because I remember the huge impact the likes of Livingstone’s GLC made at the time – for all the social media hot air from the gurus of intersectionalism, it was this labour movement project in the 1980s that did electrifying things to advance the interests of feminism, the capital’s black and Irish communities and LGBT activists – and remains an inspiration for political alliances to aspire to even now for the left.

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Fred Welfare December 3, 2013 at 5:26 am

Most of the article by Fisher discusses identity as an overlay on more foundational issues. For example, the use of the term, petit-bourgeios, is undefined and the function of this strata is unclear as if it always has the same purpose regardless of task: it is undifferentiated as used by this author. There is the suspicion that identity politics and the attendant guilt-induction has no cause. So, what is it the effect of? Then, in closing, class structure is presented as the culprit entity. Class structure must be ended. The sense here is that the mode of production and reproduction IS the class structure and not that capitalism is a particular mode, a mode of production that is exploitative, deceitful, and oppressive. What we need to see is how the current mode of production, capitalism, in all of its effects, is contrasted by the next historical step(s) which eliminates the exploitation. Our species being and our labor power do not somehow vanish when the mode of production changes. The issue is how it should change: how should we reproduce and how should careers proceed. The labor movement posits unions that graduate the individual through the occupational system and this usually works despite rigidities, but the labor union concept has not been implemented fully and there are several sectors of the society in which the concept of labor union takes on wholly different meanings: a trade union is not an academic union is not a cashiers’ union. Is society to be rationalized as a series of occupational paths regulated by union procedures? Anyway, there is no comparative parallel for species reproduction. Sexual reproduction is entirely unrationalized and until this sphere of interaction is freed from government and religious intervention, freedom as a concept will never be realized. The absence of a rationalization of sexual reproduction is a glaring gap that is secretly controlled by political power, money, and “persuasion.” The hidden side of identity of each person is related to their relation to parent and offspring which is today a hodge-podge of competing unknown lineages controlled by information operations from the state and religion. The description of identity politics or conflicts as phenomena does not address its cause or structure.

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Will Shetterly December 7, 2013 at 4:45 am

Anyone who doubts the bourgeois roots of identitarianism only has to look into its history. It was promoted by liberal academics like Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw, people who were far more interested in being part of capitalism’s upper class than promoting an alternative.

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Aaron Aarons December 11, 2013 at 3:34 am

One of the things that makes Fisher’s polemic worthless on the face of it is the lack of any concrete, specific examples of what he is criticizing. He not only gives no quotes and no names, but he doesn’t even give a substantial paraphrase of the ideas he is attacking.

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Fred Welfare December 11, 2013 at 5:31 am

Fisher seems to be criticizing what he calls the moralizing left which might be catholic or religion-obsessed persons (deeply deceived by ideological propaganda) and who may also be anti-communist and anti-socialist (against the welfare state and politicians). These types of people not only attempt to make others feel guilty and miserable but narrow down their experience to individuals only without any awareness of class. Fisher used the terms class obfuscation and class privilege. Their specific modus operandi seems to be condemning, a form of mockery and scape-goating. Their blindspot is gender, he says, and although they are left (?) as anti-capitalist (hating their position in the hierarchy), they are individualist, essentializing – no awareness of class. I would like to hear his version of how neoliberalism mantled the welfare state as well as his take on the isomorphism between natural selection and the class structure. Apparently, because he calls them vampire, he implies that they make you bleed!!!

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Tyrone January 1, 2014 at 1:55 pm

Leave it to some lily white Brit to try to resurrect the legacy of sexist imperialist Euro-Settler ‘Leftism” Nice to know we in AmeriKKKa arent the only ones having to put up with racism apologists in the socialist movement

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Mark Power February 11, 2014 at 6:26 pm

All you collectivists are deranged. I can’t wait for the deflationary depression to start and the immigrants you love will cannibalize you.

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Andrew Flood February 24, 2014 at 3:56 pm

A rather late to the party reply to this piece Intersectionality, Calling out & the Vampire Castle – we need dialogue & change rather than exclusion

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John Smith March 31, 2014 at 9:14 pm

Wonderful, inspiring polemic. I, personally, already did give up, and the sh!tstorm this article created only serves to reinforce my decision. The very fact that mr. rectenwald had to write an ‘explanation’ of your comments shows the sad, sorry condition the ‘left’ is in these days, and serves only to reinforce the veracity of your claims. The very fact that it had to begin with a ‘critique’ – a critique merely of ‘form’ at that; not taking into account the difference between a polemic and a theoretic exegesis – only serves to show the massive amount of unwarranted power given to what Petras calls this ‘subjectivist cult of essentialist identities.’
Falling victim to these bourgeois ideologies, as you rightly label them, is somewhat understandable during times of relative peace and prosperity (eg. 90s) when they really asserted dominance, but I had great hope that after the Global Financial Crisis the world would sober up and realize that the ‘End of History’ was an absurd postulate. The Right has awoken/is awakening, but the ‘Left’ still sleeps. All seems lost.

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clemdane April 11, 2014 at 8:26 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you! This is the most refreshing left wing opinon piece I have read in 25 years. I encourage you not to just give up on politics, but to break away from the dour, judgmental Puritans and find likeminded people (like the ones who responded so well to Russell Brand) and strike out on your own. Why not create a NEW kind of leftist movement? It’s about time for a new paradigm. Even if there are only 10 of you to start, word will spread and you might even end up the head a of a huge grassroots movement. You are clearly sincere, thoughtful and have the courage to stand up to some pretty formidable entrenched groups. I wish you Godspeed!

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peter gentle May 24, 2014 at 8:41 am

“Brand’s forensic take-down of Paxman was intensely moving, miraculous ….” Well, in that case, you must be refering to a different interview from the one I saw. Brand revealed himself to be what he is: a comedian, and someone only a desperate editorial borad at NS would want as a guest editor. Brand’s is a politics of pose, nothing more. He had no ideas whatsoever worth noting, simply talking about ‘revolution’, though what that revolution would look like – a revolution in what? – and how to get there was conspiciously absent from his rants. That he gets caught up in ‘intersectionality’ was another lesson on what the left has beocome – a small, sectarian irrelevance.

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Jeremy Paler September 26, 2014 at 1:10 pm

This is older, I know, but…

I think the only point I agree with here is that class has been down-graded as an intellectual talking point, especially in America. A friend of mine in the DC State Department told me he doesn’t think class really exists in America, and this dude identifies as an “extreme radical leftist.” I just don’t get it.

Everything else, though, honestly sounds like the mad complaint of a white man who can feed himself. That doesn’t mean the critique is useless, it means it’s silly. How are you going to worry about class itself when most of the people with those all-important minority qualifiers are fairly poor–poverty is one of the *biggest* things critics of anti-minority culture talk about. There is a powerful dialectical relationship between those minority-status qualifiers and practical poverty. Homosexuals of either gender often live in poverty when or if they try to start a family. Needless to say the same is true of American-born racial minorities and some immigrant minorities, though not all. Class struggle is thoroughly foundational to why these minorities seek and are given succor in the first place.

“The fifth law of the Vampires’ Castle: think like a liberal (because you are one). The VC’s work of constantly stoking up reactive outrage consists of endlessly pointing out the screamingly obvious: capital behaves like capital (it’s not very nice!), repressive state apparatuses are repressive. We must protest!”

That doesn’t sound like a liberal, that sounds further to the left of anything a liberal would say. Quoting a radical Marxist like Althusser is not exactly a liberal thing to do.

“big Other”

I always laugh a little…

“partly to cover up their own invariably wealthy, privileged or bourgeois-assimilationist background”

Oh? Invariably you say? In America most academics I know wound up where they did *because* they grew up without a voice or the ability to act on their environment. Their fathers were janitors or military men–the last couple decades’ worth of single parenting will no doubt even further express lower socioeconomic backgrounds in the academy, provided government aid remains. If they only wanted the money they’d have used their talents elsewhere. Most also reject “bourgeois-assimilationist” tendencies like having children, or marrying, and surprisingly many never own property except perhaps a car. Muttering nonsense does not a criticism make.

What the hell were you doing on Twitter? What kind of person who worries about anything Old Leftists worry about waste their time on 140 characters in the first place? Read a book. Write a book. Discourse–not soundbites.

I learned absolutely nothing from your diatribe.

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Mike Ballard December 2, 2013 at 10:52 pm

The ‘super-exploitation’ you write of is not the ‘fault’ of workers in other parts of the world. In fact, it’s just how the wage system operates. Labour power is a commodity which capitalists buy at the lowest price they can. If the type of labour power a capitalist needs is for sale by workers in one country for half the price it is in another, where do you think the capitalists are going to go to buy it? Capitalists aren’t nationalists, although they do promote patriotism amongst their wage-slaves. Capitalists are only in it for the money. Lower wages and working conditions make for higher rates of profit. Therein lies the secret to the fetishism of ‘super-exploitation’.

The best way to deal with capitalists is from a position of power and our power as a class lies in the conscious praxis of global solidarity as a class. Your constant attempt to guilt trip members of your own class, assuming you are a worker, is typical of the radical liberal approach to gaining ‘social justice’ under the rule of Capital. After 2,000 years of this moralistic approach, one would think the left would have learned that ‘social justice’ will never be achieved by brow-beating the producing classes into submission to a Deity’s aphorisms. It will leave them divided and fighting each other over the ‘correct’ interpretations of what said Deity meant and which BOOK lights the correct path to a jolly afterlife.

What the producers of all wealth (outside that found in nature) need is a clear understanding of how the wage system works and how to abolish it. What they need are proposals on what to replace the wage system with. What they don’t need are holier than thou leaders preaching to them about their sins of omission and commision.

Sure, chide, even shun your fellow workers for racist and sexist expressions. Why? Because thinking that there’s more than one race is wrong scientifically and wrong politically because it weakens class solidarity needed for emancipation. The same goes for other divisive ideologies e.g. sexism etc.

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