Work To Ruin Someone's Day
June 7, 2017 9:11 AM   Subscribe

"Rallies are fine. I’m not suggesting we retire the rally, but let’s remember what political theater actually does and does not accomplish: marches are for morale, protests are for pathos, but strikes? Strikes are for getting the goods, and that requires organizing workers. The hub of political power is not academia; it is not the internet; it is not the media, or comedy, or romance, or friendship, or art, or theory. It’s the workplace." All Worked Up And Nowhere To Go, Amber L'ee Frost on the limits of current protests and a path to an effective future.
posted by The Whelk (65 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Amber is the best thing to come out of the dirtbag left. Her and Matt Christman are the future of leftist commentary, and this article is a great example why.
posted by R.F.Simpson at 9:36 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


I think that this is an odd article, which combines a very sensible call to employ industrial action as a political tool with a hearty indulgence in the generations old leftist habit of accusing everyone the author disagrees with of being a splitter.
posted by howfar at 9:41 AM on June 7 [11 favorites]


It wasn't until the last third of the essay that I felt like standing up and singing the Internationale, but I do take issue with a few of her points.

Striking works because it fucks up someone’s day

Nope, that's why it doesn't work. Case in point:

In less than twenty-four hours, the NYTWA threw a fat wrench in the daily functioning of an international airport, marooning travelers in a rapidly expanding and unruly crowd

And those people were PISSED. Why? Because a bunch of cabdrivers fucked up their day. Strikes by certain groups of workers attempt to enlist support from the public by inconveniencing the hell out of the public. How does that engender support for the strikers?

Now, don't get me wrong: I love a good strike, and I won't cross a picket line. It's just the illogic of strikes like this that's so frustrating. Compare the NY Taxi Workers Alliance strike to, say, a textile mill strike. (Suspend your disbelief for a sec and imagine there are still textile mills in the US.) When millworkers strike, they're fucking up management's day and maybe the stockholders' day, not Jane Consumer's day. It would take a very lengthy industry-wide strike to prevent Jane from buying a new sheet set at her convenience. But if (suspend disbelief again pls) enough retail workers struck to shut down every purveyor of sheets in the city, Jane's going to be just as pissed as the air travelers were. Again, inconveniencing the public in an attempt to win support for their cause.

I understand that gaining support for a cause is not the sole reason for a strike. People need to stand up and be counted. My point, I guess, is that B2B strikes are more effective than B2C strikes.
posted by scratch at 9:48 AM on June 7 [9 favorites]


(Amber A'Lee Frost)
posted by indubitable at 9:49 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


Amber is the best thing to come out of the dirtbag left. Her and Matt Christman are the future of leftist commentary, and this article is a great example why.

My honest opinion is that one or both of them will be writing for Spiked within 5 years. We've been down this road before, and it always ends up on the libertarian right
posted by howfar at 9:52 AM on June 7 [4 favorites]


The taxi driver strike was wildly successful, the fact that it was only for an hour and that it was well-timed with the protests helped, but the idea that the public was angry at the NYC taxi drivers is made up entirely from thin air. It reminds me of R.L. Stephens story from the post a few days ago about a five minute strike at a Starbucks to draw attention to one employee's late pay. It worked, and customers didn't revolt.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:54 AM on June 7 [15 favorites]


horseshoe theory makes its first appearance, everybody drink
posted by indubitable at 9:54 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I don't think howfar is talking about horseshoe theory at all, but it would probably be helpful if he provided a concrete example of the phenomenon he is talking about.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:57 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Strikes by certain groups of workers attempt to enlist support from the public by inconveniencing the hell out of the public.

There are two kinds of mass actions-- one to create support for your issues among the populace, the other to force the populace to come to terms with you by shutting down their ability to make a living.

There is room for both of them, although obviously the second should be reserved for dire situations.
posted by empath at 10:00 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


the idea that the public was angry at the NYC taxi drivers is made up entirely from thin air.

Space Coyote, I'm curious if you have a source to cite?
posted by scratch at 10:02 AM on June 7


Scratch, #deleteyourtaxi was not anactive hash tag that day. #deleteuber was.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:05 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


I don't think howfar is talking about horseshoe theory at all, but it would probably be helpful if he provided a concrete example of the phenomenon he is talking about.

Sorry, I thought that my reference to Spiked was an example, but I can see that it was actually quite oblique. I am, indeed, not talking about horseshoe theory (which is, of course, nonsense).

Spiked, the modern tool of the corporate right, used to be called Living Marxism, which struck similarly iconoclastic poses as the so called "Dirtbag Left" (which, as a name to give you own gang, is pretty cringey, but hey ho) and was the official organ of the British Revolutionary Communist Party. Those who used to write for LM have tended to drift similarly to the right. This feels like a LM sort of situation to me.

Simply put, people who think that leftist politics should be brash, harsh, fun and daring, rather than cautious and kind, in my experience, always turn out to find it's more fun being on the right, and go that way.
posted by howfar at 10:08 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


So two issues:

1) Strike against business/material production w/o impacting other people's routines might be "better" in the US. But that's only because we've become so fucking brainwashed and self-centered (or probably *always* have been self-centered, at the root) that it is seen as a bad thing. I mean, look at what they do in France.

Part of that is due to the very legal institutions. Not just the individualist/collectivist split between US vs France but also the framework those ideologies have laid.

2) I haven't read the article yet (though I feel one of my comrades on FB had mentioned his mixed thoughts on it), IIRC, it's basically a call for a general strike?

But you can't General Strike via official Unions due to Taft-Hartley. So ... That's why it won't happen until people wildcat that shit and do it. But it has to take faith and trust that people will, actually, do it. And that also matters whether its at your job. And you're not scraping and can afford to take some time off. The Union affords some protections for such actions within their own sphere, but can't protect you in a General Strike.

That's the real difficulty. Like - I'm 100% pro-General Strike, but I'm also not delusional enough to think it's going to happen anytime soon.

That said I still try to push for it and voice support. I just don't want people giving up when it can't/won't/doesn't happen. This has to be a sustained, bottom-up push for it, and that means...

Agitate! Educate! Organize!
posted by symbioid at 10:09 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I remain unconvinced (though I believe absolutely that large numbers of people supported the cabdrivers' union and think the Muslim ban is an outrage).
posted by scratch at 10:09 AM on June 7


(above is in response to Space Coyote)
posted by scratch at 10:11 AM on June 7


Strike against business/material production w/o impacting other people's routines might be "better" in the US. But that's only because we've become so fucking brainwashed and self-centered (or probably *always* have been self-centered, at the root) that it is seen as a bad thing.

Agreed x kazillions. And I would add "shortsighted" to "brainwashed and self-centered."
posted by scratch at 10:13 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


I don't disagree with that but it's why the counter example of the public's backlash against Uber's scabbing is actually kind of a big deal and worth celebrating
posted by Space Coyote at 10:18 AM on June 7 [2 favorites]


The fpp on Exiting the Vampire Castle.

And I would add "shortsighted" to "brainwashed and self-centered."

Lovely way to convince people, insulting them.

Also, everyone knows that the pro-capitalist left is much much bigger than the anticapitalist left right? I mean, I willing to bet that if you polled for a general strike or nationalizing industries, you'd probably get the standard 27% crazification factor. And we get dirtbag left think piece after think piece, which seems with lines like:

our political parties—and most of our unions—are feckless at best, and capitalist quislings at worst.

What allies do you like? And no matter the problem, whether it be Trump or global warming or emotional labor or stubbing your toe, the answer is always the same:

the one and only prescription for socialism

Maybe, just maybe, we can focus on getting rid of Trump without calling for the full on destruction of capitalism.
posted by zabuni at 10:39 AM on June 7 [1 favorite]


everyone knows that the pro-capitalist left is much much bigger than the anticapitalist left right?

Nope.

Maybe, just maybe, we can focus on getting rid of Trump without calling for the full on destruction of capitalism.

Yeah our better-behaved billionaires were so much more pleasant to watch on TV.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:58 AM on June 7 [9 favorites]


Yeah our better-behaved billionaires were so much more pleasant to watch on TV.

Is that another way of saying that Clinton and Trump were both the same?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:01 AM on June 7


Simply put, people who think that leftist politics should be brash, harsh, fun and daring, rather than cautious and kind, in my experience, always turn out to find it's more fun being on the right, and go that way.

A'Lee Frost has pretty robust body of published work on leftism and Marxist feminism for someone her age (don't know how old she is but I'm pretty sure she's early 30s or younger). It's weird that someone can just point to her and say "pfft, you're just a future libertarian."
posted by mcmile at 11:02 AM on June 7 [11 favorites]


Is that another way of saying that Clinton and Trump were both the same?

The last war is in another thread. We can aim for a better world than the slow decline center-right status quo that the Democrats want a return to. The linked article is reminding us that to get there, we need labour and not just symbolic protest.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:29 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


Labor can get exactly as much out of asking politely instead of exercising power as other groups have.
posted by The Gaffer at 11:44 AM on June 7 [14 favorites]


Marches and protests can also raise the cost of doing business in a useful way. . . at least if they're not confined to protest zones or run by organizers who give up and cancel the march the moment they're not given a city permit. (In short, I agree.)
posted by eotvos at 11:46 AM on June 7 [3 favorites]


That was an invigorating read--I had never read anything by Amber A'Lee Frost before; I really enjoyed both what she had to say and her witty, sharp voice. I'm often surprised how many self-declared American leftists seem so uncomfortable with labour organization and work disruption, so it was a breath of fresh air to read an American piece about the value of unions and strikes. I must admit I did not know about the Taft-Hartley legislation, which seems to have effectively created that culture of reluctance.

Now, by no means do I want to imply every citizen of my own country loves a strike or supports unionized workers. There are a lot of people who feel unions are bad, that they only exist to protect lazy workers and make unreasonable demands. Many people get pissed off when there's a strike that inconveniences them. However! There is also a history of strong and continuing labour organization, there have been multiple strikes in recent memory, and a surprising amount of public support despite real disruption to people's lives. It is possible to disrupt systems of oppression, but it requires solidarity. Solidarity, more than anything else, is key.
But take heart, fellow atomized and expendable neoliberal subjects: there is a place for us in the coming wars! The microcosms still need to be organized (every bit helps), and established unions can be refreshed and steered toward radical ends. Nevertheless, I regret to inform you that much of this endeavor will be quite dull. Organizing is not usually as invigorating as rallying; it’s mostly meetings, planning, phone calls, emails, spreadsheets—you know, women’s work. There are a lot of tedious administrative tasks that go into forming and maintaining a union, and the work is rarely as romantic or cinematic as a bunch of taxi drivers locking down JFK. But those moments do happen. They’re sustaining, and they compound one another. Only labor can make it happen. Only workers can shut down production. Only workers can close the ports. Only workers can take capital hostage and make the whole world stand still.
QFT!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:56 AM on June 7 [6 favorites]


And I would add "shortsighted" to "brainwashed and self-centered."

Lovely way to convince people, insulting them.


The truth hurts.
posted by scratch at 12:05 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


Nope.

Your link really doesn't prove much:

The Harvard University survey, which polled young adults between ages 18 and 29, found that 51 percent of respondents do not support capitalism. Just 42 percent said they support it.

It isn't clear that the young people in the poll would prefer some alternative system, though. Just 33 percent said they supported socialism. The survey had a margin of error of 2.4 percentage points.


One demographic of one country is slightly against capitalism. But they don't want what you're selling either, by a larger margin.

The truth hurts.

And does fuck all to convince people a lot of the time, especially when done in malice. This entire piece is about organizing people into unions. Calling them brainwashed isn't helping that cause.
posted by zabuni at 12:20 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


I think about how the boycott used to be a collective organizing tool much like the strike, instead of the (often but not always) watered down "vote with your dollars" solo action of today. Boycotts, much like strikes, can ask us to transform our sense of what is possible in a structural way. MLK Jr on the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the need for transportation justice:
We have the facilities for you to get to your jobs, and we are putting, we have the cabs there at your service. Automobiles will be at your service, and don't be afraid to use up any of the gas. If you have it, if you are fortunate enough to have a little money, use it for a good cause. Now my automobile is gonna be in it, it has been in it, and I'm not concerned about how much gas I'm gonna use. I want to see this thing work. And we will not be content until oppression is wiped out of Montgomery, and really out of America. We won't be content until that is done. We are merely insisting on the dignity and worth of every human personality. And I don't stand here, I'm not arguing for any selfish person. I've never been on a bus in Montgomery. But I would be less than a Christian if I stood back and said, because I don't ride the bus, I don't have to ride a bus, that it doesn't concern me. I will not be content. I can hear a voice saying, "If you do it unto the least of these, my brother, you do it unto me."
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:25 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


Your link really doesn't prove much:


It proves that "everyone knows that the pro-capitalist left is much much bigger than the anticapitalist left right? " is maybe a slightly embarrassing exaggeration.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:54 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


My honest opinion is that one or both of them will be writing for Spiked within 5 years. We've been down this road before, and it always ends up on the libertarian right

I've never quite figured out what Spiked is on about but they sure seem like a fairly particular thing, not a general one. The U.S. has a few famous socialists who turned right-wing - archetypically David Horowitz - but the prominence of those dudes has more to do with the marketing gimmick of "I used to be a commie" than the strength of the current I think.

(In particular no way will Christman be a libertarian conservative but I suspect you weren't trying to be that specific.)
posted by atoxyl at 1:13 PM on June 7 [4 favorites]


I freely admit, I was really offput by how she was sure to lead with an attack on Other Leftist Women, emotional labor is bullshit no on cur, etc etc. Also, the part where she collapses the politics of the leftist women with those of Hillary Clinton, which is pretty standard debating technique on certain parts of the left - whoever disagrees with you is just a stinking liberal, if you foreground women's concerns that means that you support rich white women doing whatever the hell just because they're women, etc.

My feeling is that when you choose to lead with "other women leftists are bad and their main concerns are dumb and liberal", you are not actually interested in convincing - you're interested in showing your "anti-identity-politics" bona fides.

I mean, I too was a pretty big fan of Mark Fisher, although I thought - based on following the events that led up to it - that "Leaving the Vampire Castle" was much more about some creepy interpersonal stuff in that particular academic circle than it gets credit for. Implying, as she does, that he was driven to suicide by the cruel, cruel identity-politics left is pretty fucked up. I like to joke that the student movement killed poor, dear Teddy Adorno too, but he's been dead since the late sixties...and I'm kidding.

My discomfort with her writing comes from my feeling that she's setting herself up as a left-wing Cool Girl, the one who doesn't do all that bullshit about feelings and feminism that those other dumb women do, the one who agrees with dudes when they're all "politically speaking, b*tches are crazy, amirite".

We've been through this before a whole bunch of times since, like, 1917 - this is round three in just my political lifetime - and it does not fill me with confidence.
posted by Frowner at 1:32 PM on June 7 [15 favorites]


(I add that "you can't have an effective women's general strike with, like, two months of lead time, and maybe not - in existing political conditions - at all" is not the same as "your concerns are dumb and liberal".

And that if a dude were like "can I flirt with women activists during a strike", it would be readily apparent that he was asking a sort of transgressive/polemical question whose subtext was "your strike demands are bullshit" and also being kind of a creep.

If we accept any kind of intersectionality, we probably say that since women are in a different social position vis-a-vis flirting than men, it is less creepy when women make this kind of remark because there's less social force behind it, and there's some modulation for women flirting with women. But what if we don't accept intersectionality? Then we're left with "either it's totally cool for dudes to do this because intersectionality doesn't exist and emotional labor is bullshit or it's totally 100% fucked up, no excuses".

I'm more on the "I've dealt with this kind of clever-clever questioning before and mostly want to tell people that their consensual sexual arrangements don't interest me that much" train.)
posted by Frowner at 2:00 PM on June 7 [6 favorites]


I freely admit, I was really offput by how she was sure to lead with an attack on Other Leftist Women, emotional labor is bullshit no on cur, etc etc.

I do find Amber Frost a bit much of this. Or particularly - at some point isn't complaining about everybody else's "leftist infighting" just another kind of leftist infighting.

Implying, as she does, that he was driven to suicide by the cruel, cruel identity-politics left is pretty fucked up.

Does she? I guess it's implied a little bit. This

Even worse, after Fisher died at forty-eight in January of this year, he was still being denounced by po-faced critics for his frankly gracious critique of the left. And I’m talking right after his death—within hours of the information going public.

is referring to a couple specific shitty takes people had. It's probably not fair or accurate to imply that this is how a lot of people responded, even people who didn't like Fisher.

And that if a dude were like "can I flirt with women activists during a strike", it would be readily apparent that he was asking a sort of transgressive/polemical question whose subtext was "your strike demands are bullshit" and also being kind of a creep.

I think it's pretty clear that it's not the same thing as if a dude asked it - nonetheless it does contain kind of an unnecessary swipe at the premises of somebody else's thing, where one could be silently skeptical and do one's own thing.

This

These questions were frustratingly overshadowed by criticisms from liberals insisting that only the “privileged” women would be striking. This framing, of course, misses the point; the success of a strike is not dependent on the relative “privilege” of the workers participating, but in the chaos those workers can inflict by withholding their labor.

seems right on but we had that same conversation here.
posted by atoxyl at 2:17 PM on June 7 [2 favorites]


How do people end up working for the unions themselves? Do they just apply? What positions are they typically looking for?
posted by gucci mane at 2:43 PM on June 7


How do people end up working for the unions themselves?

If a union is large enough, yes. Irony can sometimes follow.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:50 PM on June 7 [1 favorite]


My honest opinion is that one or both of them will be writing for Spiked within 5 years. We've been down this road before, and it always ends up on the libertarian right

I will gladly take a large wager on this re: Christman. MeMail me to work out the deets.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:33 PM on June 7 [3 favorites]


Simply put, people who think that leftist politics should be brash, harsh, fun and daring, rather than cautious and kind, in my experience, always turn out to find it's more fun being on the right, and go that way.

I think we just want our leftist politics to actually be effective. Kind is good (and I'm not seeing a lot of that anywhere in politics right now, by the way - I'm curious where you are), but cautious certainly isn't getting us anywhere.

Also, how cynical is it to assume that people who want better things for the left and our country are just libertarians-in-waiting?
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 7:42 AM on June 8 [4 favorites]


So, the popular pastime right now for white lefties is to insist that the American left needs to abandon "identity politics" and refocus on the "white working class". Not saying that Frost specifically falls into this category, but is it really so hard to see why that might come off a bit... suspicious to anybody?

Once these folks get tired of fighting with other leftists who keep reminding them that people of colour exist and need to have a place in The Revolution, they have a ready-made place to go that already hates identity politics and loves the white working class...
posted by tobascodagama at 8:05 AM on June 8


I was surprised that I didn't hear anything about the huge Commications Workers Of America Union AT&T strike, they're mentioned in the article as having booted out thier leadership in 2016 and was able to plan and enact a weekend long strike. I volunteered for strike soildarity that weekend, we had a good sign up system for shifts (you got a txt telling you where to go) and it was a good example of organized, forcused resistance.

But the best thing was watching leaders emerge from within the striking workers, who in NYC where overwhelmingly young and black. It was incredibly heartening and legit inspiring to see people excited and fired up by this. I hope they have a long future in fighting and winning for thier rights as workers.

Furthermore, there's a continuous weekend action over at B&H camera* and equipment here in Manhattan. The famous retailer has a number of charges against it, including forcing thier mostly Latino staff to use separate bathrooms and not clear out when the fire alarm goes off, but the action is specically about stopping them from moving to a new warehouse after the workers successfully unionized.

The protest is mostly for morale to show the workers we haven't forgotten them and to make a big public mess of B&H's reputation, since most of thier money comes from online sales and large institutional, purchases, were working with setting picket lines at delivery locations and getting places like state schools to stop purchasing things from B&H and again, dragging its name through the mud in creative circles that use high end camera equipment.

So that's the organized, focused workplace action I'm involved in and would like to see more of, speficslly bigger and broader stuff that requires more lead time and has the effect of stopping profit and making things too inconvenient too ignore.

*if you're in Manhattan on the weekends and have an hour to stand outside, I recommend it as a fun cost-free outing. Bring a date! Bring a friend! To quote Linda Blecher "I love it! It's so political!"
posted by The Whelk at 8:33 AM on June 8 [7 favorites]


tobascodagama, what is going to help people (of any color) most is things like a living wage for all, health care for all, doing everything possible to stop climate change, and getting this godawful evil idiotic horrible shitshow of a president out of office as soon as possible.

People can have the worst motivations in the world, as far as I'm concerned, if we can get the above done. We can hash out who all the jerks were and post blistering call outs later.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 8:35 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


People can have the worst motivations in the world, as far as I'm concerned, if we can get the above done. We can hash out who all the jerks were and post blistering call outs later.

The problem with excluding the concerns of POC, women, GLBTQ people, the disabled and any other category that does not subsume neatly into "identical working class cut-out" (and as a result often excluding not only the concerns but the people) isn't "having bad motivations" - it's that the actual results of the organizing/revolution/whatever then kind of suck for everyone who is not the target model worker.

So, for instance, if you don't include the provision of childcare in your revolutionary project/your union demands/etc (and a surprising number of modern leftist projects don't) your utopia still sticks individual women with the childcare. If you assume that "emotional labor" is bullshit no one cur, then the people who get pushed to do exhausting, draining, frustrating labor will still end up doing it in the new world. If you assume that, like, subtle and pervasive homophobia is more identity politics and no on cur, then in your new utopia, minority stress will still damage GLBTQ people - but we won't be allowed to talk about it, because who complains in utopia?

If you assume that misogyny don't real or is just bullshit liberalism because (for a variety of reasons about which I will not speculate here) you yourself either don't experience it or don't notice it, you will probably end up with an ugly surprise in utopia once you get tired of trashing women or get old enough that people start taking out their resentment of their mothers on you. (And I know this because misogyny didn't real for me either when I was a young person who was happy to talk about how bullshit women's studies was, etc.)

If you think that the reason that women, POC, GLBTQ people, etc are saying "stop excluding us and saying that our concerns are the liberal bullshit reasons that the revolution fails" is because we are worried about the character flaws of the anti-identity-politics left, you are...well, let's say that you are radically misreading the situation.

Also, revolutions that just help some people tend not to endure very well, or tend to endure only in forms that no one really likes.
posted by Frowner at 8:50 AM on June 8 [8 favorites]


Apparently I wasn't clear that my list above was non-exhaustive. Equal rights for all and childcare for all *absolutely* should be on it, and I am horrified that anyone who calls themselves a liberal or progressive would think they are anything less than absolute requirements for civilization. These, like the other things I listed will improve life in this country for everyone, directly or indirectly, in a very tangible way from the bottom up - which is why I think the focus needs to be on them and not on losing battles like trying to control speech and expression or stopping cultures from mixing or just general throwing out the baby with bathwater stuff, which is the part of things I'm seeing on the left that drives me crazy and looks bad to everyone else.

We need to focus and prioritize, is what I'm saying.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 9:25 AM on June 8


Look, here is the deal: historically, the concerns of whoever isn't on the top of the worker heap (in this country, white straight men) get "prioritized" straight to never. We hear a lot of "well, yes, your concerns have merit, but if we work on them now we will lose the revolution!!" and we know where that goes.

This isn't our first time at this particular rodeo - you could write volumes on modern left politics (with "modern" interpreted as "French Revolution and after" showing how this works, whether you're talking about how Haiti was treated by revolutionary France or how women were treated in the New Left. Nominally, of course, the concerns of the less "classic" workers are important, of course, but in actual practice they get shoved aside.

What happens is that people who do not experience these things - mainly but not exclusively people who categorically do not experience them, eg white people talking about racism, straight people talking about homophobia - basically say, "well, that's bad but it doesn't sound that bad, what is really important are these things that affect me the most. Those other things may affect you, but clearly your biggest problems are the things that affect me, so we should prioritize those".

Because of time and churn, there are certainly plenty of people who say this very sincerely and with the best intentions.

But there are also a lot of people who say it who should know better - people who should be familiar with past left struggles.

Because Marxism is really grand-narrative oriented, too, it seems to attract people who are opposed to contingency and plurality. There can only be one revolutionary story, and if the revolution hasn't happened yet, it must be someone's fault, because obviously the working class hasn't assumed its historical role, which it totally would have if not for those meddling women, POC, etc. History is a titanic struggle between Good and Evil, and while the groups that make up the two sides may change (sometimes the bourgeoisie is an agent of change! sometimes feminism is appropriate! sometimes the struggle against fascism is premature!) the way to understand the world is a struggle between good sides and evil sides. And if you're not boosting the workers in the appropriate way, that's because you're on the evil side, not because there are a variety of things happening at once, or because workers' movements can go a variety of ways. It's okay for women to talk about their concerns, a little, as long as they put class identity first; putting gender first (or even equal) means you're a shitty liberal on the wrong side of history.
posted by Frowner at 9:56 AM on June 8 [9 favorites]


Also historically, the work of women, POC, queer people etc in class-based movements gets downplayed and ignored, because we are just being "good proletarians". If we say "we're doing this work, why don't you show up for us" all of the sudden we're shitty liberals. This is, IMO, what led Black Lives Matter (oops, shitty identity politics creeping in again! If it weren't for Black Lives Matter, the white left would totally have fixed police brutality by now!!) to prioritize the experiences of queer femme people and other typically marginalized groups.
posted by Frowner at 9:59 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


living wage for all, health care for all, doing everything possible to stop climate change, and getting this godawful evil idiotic horrible shitshow of a president out of office as soon as possible.

You can not say these things (in addition to others) would not change marginalized people's lives for the better disproportionally. So what's the problem? That they're "shitty" class politics?

The simple fact is that the things that affect people's ability to provide for their basic needs and economic security need to come first and have the added bonus of being the causes you can get the most people behind, because they affect the most people.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 10:16 AM on June 8 [1 favorite]


So, the popular pastime right now for white lefties is to insist that the American left needs to abandon "identity politics" and refocus on the "white working class"

Well she just wrote an article about the actions of a mostly muslim group of cab drivers, so your sneaking 'white' into 'working class' up there is pretty fucking shitty, honestly.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:26 AM on June 8 [5 favorites]


There are ways and ways of "stopping climate change", and if you are all "even talking about your bullshit emotional labor is liberal garbage, we should stop climate change in the first way that comes to my mind!", you're going to end up with something oppressive.

Like, consider conservative labor unions who want to exclude rather than legalize and unionize undocumented workers. There are ways and ways of regularizing the labor market in favor of labor. Or take my dad's contention that it was women wanting to have careers that ruined the labor market - more women in the workplace and voila, reserve labor army! If women had learned to be happy staying home, the labor pool would have been restricted and wages would have stayed higher.

I mean, what's wrong with reproducing the working class? Why not be happy doing that? Why insist on "getting out of the house" and a "career" when it weakens the bargaining position of the standard model worker? Surely after the revolution we can figure something out so that women can participate fully.

Or what about the many, many platformist communist organizations that for many years (the last and admittedly most fringe holdout gave up in the nineties) had internally consistent explanations for how homosexuality was a bourgeois perversion that would wither away after the revolution?

You might say "well, clearly now, today, I understand that Gay is Good and racism is bad and wanting to participate in society fully rather than stay isolated in the home is reasonable, so why can't I go ahead and determine what the best way to achieve social change is, free of all this whining about micro-aggressions?" But that's pretty much what, like, communists thought in 1960, right? They were progressive on many things, so obviously they must be progressive on all things, and whining from the gays and women and so on is just garbage whining that should be discounted.

I think the real reason that "identity politics sucks" frosts me so much is that it leans on the idea that class-first leftists already have all the answers and don't need to listen to anyone else.
posted by Frowner at 10:40 AM on June 8 [9 favorites]


If it weren't for Black Lives Matter, the white left would totally have fixed police brutality by now!!)

Good god googling for socialism and BLM gets you an express ticket to some weird places on the web, but one gem did show up on the DSA site:

Anthony Hill, Black Lives Matter, and DSA
posted by Space Coyote at 11:23 AM on June 8


Well she just wrote an article about the actions of a mostly muslim group of cab drivers, so your sneaking 'white' into 'working class' up there is pretty fucking shitty, honestly.

I explicitly excluded Amber Frost in my statement.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:36 AM on June 8


Frost is arguably on the "idpol-bad" spectrum I think if probably not the far end. It depends somewhat on what you think "identity politics" means - as always I don't find it a very useful term. She particularly seems to have a chip on her shoulder about the academicization of left politics (despite working in academia) and the turn toward cultural criticism above all else. Those are concerns I'm pretty sympathetic to but I do find she expresses things in a way that can come off as sneering at stuff that excites other people.
posted by atoxyl at 3:10 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


I'm not looking for a communist revolution nor, as a feminist, do I have any interest in reversing the hard-fought victories of the women's movement. Quite the obvious, I think we need to fight to preserve the social progress we've made and build upon it. I don't necessarily think all "identity politics" are bad at all. Both emotional labor and white privilege are useful and important concepts. But they're not going to put food on the table or give parents time to help their kids with homework. You're not going to get millions of people behind something like "Recognize Women's Emotional Labor" the way you are with "$15 an Hour" or "Childcare Benefits Now". Most people don't know what emotional labor means ( I'm not even sure I do any more as the definition seems to have broadened considerably lately).

The other issue with "identity politics", setting aside the support of a couple pretty unsavory causes, is the hateful, divisive, and hyperbolic way it's often played out. The whole "ally one minute, enemy the next". You can't have that kind of thing if you need to show a united front, which we on the left desperately need to do.

We don't need to eschew all or even most of the higher level stuff but we need to come together on the big, basic stuff first so we can all be in a good position to fight the rest of the battle.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 3:59 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


I am really frustrated to see the same "IDPOL isn't BAD, we just need to SET IT ASIDE for TOTAL SOCIALIST COMMITMENT" playing out on the micro bullshit internet scale right here. I, like Frowner, have been in the game long enough to see this play out in predictable ways that do not do the disempowered well, and I am tired enough of it that apparently my pithy grumpy comments about it get deleted on these posts. I'm going to try to say it in the not pithy way: I'm really upset that left folks keep falling for this shit. It sucks. I'm kind of over trying to convince people that it sucks because it seems self-evident, but here we go again.
posted by nixon's meatloaf at 4:29 PM on June 8 [5 favorites]


Of possible relevance:

R.L. Stephens on Chapo Trap House

posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:56 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


The other issue with "identity politics", setting aside the support of a couple pretty unsavory causes, is the hateful, divisive, and hyperbolic way it's often played out. The whole "ally one minute, enemy the next". You can't have that kind of thing if you need to show a united front, which we on the left desperately need to do.

Whose united front though?
posted by atoxyl at 6:19 PM on June 8 [2 favorites]


R. L. Stephens also has his own podcast, this episode on salting in low-wage workplaces is particularly relevant to this thread.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:22 PM on June 8


This is, IMO, what led Black Lives Matter (oops, shitty identity politics creeping in again! If it weren't for Black Lives Matter, the white left would totally have fixed police brutality by now!!)

I was going to try to explain my nuanced opinion about all the shit in this thread but a good place to start would be to say I don't know how many times I've had to

a.) explain to liberal/center-left folks that the closest thing to a BLM platform explicitly calls for redistribution of wealth and universal healthcare

b.) explain the same thing to self-identified socialists who assume that BLM=idpol=liberals
posted by atoxyl at 6:32 PM on June 8 [1 favorite]


We should also confirm that cyber-bullying transphobic legislators is good socialist praxis..
posted by Space Coyote at 6:50 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]


I actually have had several centrist liberals argue with me recently in defense of slavery, and then reject the actual Left on threadbare and never-accurate-not-even-at-first "but Bernie bro" grounds. It boggles the mind.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:01 PM on June 8 [3 favorites]


I mean, not to discount anyone's lived experience but I have never, in person, in argument or conversation or in a meeting or action, met a self-described socialist who was anti-BLM. It does not match with my (admittedly very localized to NYC groups) experience.
posted by The Whelk at 6:35 AM on June 9 [3 favorites]


(Also the Village Voice Union is having a fundraising screening of The Pajama Game at the Metrograph in the east village, another fun pro-worker date night!)
posted by The Whelk at 7:29 AM on June 9


I've met a number of self-described socialists who would not say that they were "anti" BLM, but definitely would say that BLM was taking the wrong approach because they foreground race and are a cross-class organization - that BLM is too much a liberal project. Locally, the white socialist presence at BLM events has been way, way smaller than you'd think. Also, white socialists have really disliked the incorporation of Black church stuff at events even when it's been pretty mild, a la "let's all sing this particular non-denominational hymn which has a history as a Black resistance song".

It's not that Black Lives Matter is beyond criticism, but there's a difference between "I, a white person, completely understand the aims and tactics of Black Lives Matter, and I can say definitely that they are a liberal project, that their methods are wrong and that they should foreground class" and "This specific action seems like it will be recaptured by liberal projects even though I can understand why, given the issue, this tactic may be the only viable one" or whatever.

In a larger sense, I think that a common problem between movements and orgs is the refusal to respect that people can identify the problems that they face. I'm not saying that we all have to agree with each other's tactics and priorities or that people always perfectly understand their own situations and should never get pushback, but something I see all the time is a rhetorical move that is basically "this group of people [who are not me and whose experience I am not very familiar with] consistently talk about having [X] problem that they would like to use politics to solve. This is either a politically motivated lie, a sign that they have bad politics or false consciousness, and [X] is not a problem that we need to concern ourselves with".

As a result of this, people end up taking positions like "when Black communities have an ambivalent relationship with the police and sometimes in fact call for better policing rather than the abolition of the police, this is just false consciousness, authoritarianism or proof that the Black bourgeoisie are in control" instead of saying "hm, I wonder what problem is being identified here that people want to solve via policing? It seems like people legit have a problem that they see police as the solution to, and while I may not agree, it seems like investigation into the problem is the logical next step" (This particular example is one I encounter a lot among white leftists.)

It may be a regional thing - it seems likely that the character of socialist orgs in different cities differs substantially. I would expect that the whiter the history of local socialist orgs and the more segregated the city, the more marked this effect would be. Which makes me think that things are probably way, way different in NYC and Minneapolis.
posted by Frowner at 7:55 AM on June 9 [4 favorites]


Yeah I wasn't implying there are a lot of hard antis but what Frowner said here

I've met a number of self-described socialists who would not say that they were "anti" BLM, but definitely would say that BLM was taking the wrong approach because they foreground race and are a cross-class organization - that BLM is too much a liberal project.

Or just people who don't seem to have bothered to try to really understand it. People who think it's just DeRay McKesson and his Twitter account.

If you read my comments above here or in the last related thread, I'm actually sympathetic to a number of the views that drive folks like Frost (and I've enjoyed stuff she or her friends did):

- it's fundamentally A Good Thing for the idea of class to come back into American political discourse. To the extent that the ultimate point of this piece is "There is Power in a Union" that's a good thing.

- the Left these days tends to be really inward-looking and frustratingly unable to fight battles outside of venues where it has some existing clout with people in power

- sometimes it feels like intersectional critiques go down a path that just feels like "well what can you do?" - not seeming to present any way forward

- and of course things get co-opted but things always get co-opted

It's just on the other side I am frustrated by the elision of or obliviousness to real differences and uncertainties - and don't think it's a good idea to casually dismiss causes people care about. I don't think that really helps build unity in the long run.
posted by atoxyl at 1:29 PM on June 9 [3 favorites]


Whose united front though?

To answer your questions, Democrats, since that's the political party we have to work with at the moment.

don't think it's a good idea to casually dismiss causes people care about

I agree. And the more I think about it, it's not causes that are an issue - in fact I am hard-pressed to really think of any leftie cause that I think is just total bullshit. It's the methods that are the issue - censorship, segregation, viewing people as nothing but a set of categories to the point of dehumanizing them. It's scary and weird that this kind of thing is tolerated and even championed.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 2:57 PM on June 9


Here's an article about that:

Corbyn Is Dumbledore
Earlier this week, a meme was circulating around Twitter aimed at least partly at left-wing critics of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

"Dear liberals and independents," it began. "In 2020 there will be a candidate competing against Donald Trump for president. It is very likely this candidate: 1) Isn’t your first choice, 2) Isn’t 100% ideologically pure, 3) Has made mistakes in their life, 4) Might not really excite you all that much, 5) Has ideas you are uncomfortable with."

"Please start the process of getting over that shit now, instead of waiting until 2020," it concluded.

The meme echoes some of the common complaints around the treatment of Hillary Clinton (and, by extension, all centrist candidates) during the 2016 election. Many liberals and Clinton supporters still believe that Clinton’s loss can be heavily attributed to the fierce criticism she received from the Left, particularly during the Democratic primary. Others condemned the “Bernie or Bust” contingent, particularly those who disrupted the Democratic National Convention.

It’s part of a long-running critique of any party’s progressive base: that instead of simply holding their nose and accepting someone who is a flawed but acceptable candidate, they sabotage moderates’ chances at leadership, thereby bringing a much worse alternative to power.

Yet these familiar arguments appeared to have vanished for some high-profile liberals when it comes to the case of Jeremy Corbyn. While Corbyn pulled off unexpected gains in yesterday’s elections, he did it without the assistance of some high-profile liberal voices.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:02 PM on June 9 [4 favorites]


Oh! And also there's an Anti-Muslim RAYY AT 10am at Foley Square in Manhattan saturday and a planned noise rally to drown them out at the same time so , that's another fun possible weekend activity
posted by The Whelk at 5:41 PM on June 9 [1 favorite]


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