How can we solve identity politics

Identity politics

Left identity politics is usually a response to discrimination. It reacts to the fact that certain - not inevitably only negative - characteristics are ascribed to a supposed collective. People are combined into a group that is supposed to form a unit of its own: Identity comes from the Latin "idem": the same, the same. This unity is a social setting. The people who find themselves in it are not really "the same". This is how racism first produced the construct "race" - not the other way around, as the journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates puts it in a nutshell. [1] People are addressed as collectives without having decided on their own membership. This collective attribution has enormous consequences, which the individual has to bear, but which arise only because of the attributed affiliation: The "glass ceiling" is experienced by an individual woman, but not because she has done something wrong in her individual career planning but because, as part of the "women" collective, she is exposed to structural discrimination; Individuals are beaten up by fascists, but they experience this violence because they were previously racially collectivized; Lesbians and gays are attacked homophobically because their sexuality is collectively classified as "unnatural" and / or not conforming to the norm.

So if discrimination and oppression always and exclusively work collectively, it makes sense to also take a collective defense against them. But reacting as a collective to the oppression experienced together first requires acceptance of this externally determined assignment and affiliation. This inevitable acceptance is accompanied by a self- and redefinition of the assigned collective identity. The experienced subordination, including the derogatory attributes, should now become a self-chosen and self-empowering, positively connoted collective entity: women are no longer the "weaker sex", but strong and self-determined, black [2] is no longer worse than white, but "black is beautiful "," Gay Pride "replaces gay as a swear word and so on.

Identity politics is thus characterized by a fundamental ambivalence between rejection and affirmation of identity. Affirmation is accompanied by a great danger of identity politics: essentialization. Because even the sexist and racist ascriptions, for example, are often ambivalent and not without exception derogatory. Women are seen as empathetic and caring, black men as strong and potent. Therefore, the temptation is great to include such external attributions in one's own identity design and to essentialize them, i.e. to declare them to be essential characteristics. The self-confidently worn Afro is also indissolubly part of it blackness like the celebrated womb to being a woman. Conversely, this means: Those who do not have the necessary hair structure or, like trans women, do not have the required organ, are excluded. The assumed collective identity is then no longer an auxiliary construct that ultimately emerged from self-defense, but it postulates and again manifests essential differences where there are actually none.

However, it is by no means self-evident that such a positively turned collective identity will succeed at all; some prerequisites are necessary for this. It has to be generated, among and by people who are assigned certain common characteristics, who share specific interests, and who experience concrete situations similarly. The history of the left is full of such attempts to establish collective identities. Some of the essentials are described below.

"As a class for yourself". Workers movement

Identity politics are not just a matter for ethnic, gender and sexual minorities. When former farmers and former craftsmen poured into the factories during industrialization, this resulted in a massive harmonization of working conditions. However, these more or less identical production conditions did not lead to people defining themselves collectively using them. They saw themselves as locksmiths or laundromats, not necessarily proletarians. Karl Marx described this phenomenon, that people do not perceive themselves as a class, using the example of the parcel farmers and the so-called rag proletarians in France. The perceived and felt unity of the workers, this identification first had to be established by means of identity politics.

The history of emancipatory identity politics must therefore begin with the workers 'movement, or more generally, the workers' movements. Because class politics are always also identity politics. The theorists of the early workers' movement already knew this. "In order to oust the possessing classes from the helm," wrote Friedrich Engels in 1891, "we first need a revolution in the minds of the working masses". [3] This upheaval in the "minds of the working masses" is about an identification of the class, about class consciousness. This awareness of being in a similar economic situation and sharing collective experiences, the awareness, a class for themselves to become is seen as a crucial tool in the class struggle: the workers should become aware that they have something in common. The initially economic struggle, for example for shorter working hours, is, according to Marx, to be transformed into a larger political struggle in which the "working class as class confronts the ruling classes ", so in a"political Movement "[4] transformed, which first has to understand itself as a class. Marx's political struggle aims on the one hand quite generally at the regulation of social relations, but also specifically means the aim of the proletariat's conquest of state power.

Such processes of identity formation are, according to Marx, conflictual, they are thus produced in social conflicts - through struggles: "The economic conditions first transformed the mass of the population into workers. The rule of capital has created a common situation and common interests for this mass This mass is already a class in relation to capital, but not yet for itself. In the struggle (...) this mass comes together, constitutes itself as a class for itself. But the struggle of class against class is a political one Struggle. "[5] According to Marx, the struggle for the identification of the workers is a struggle that not only takes place in the factories, i.e. at the trade union level, but has to be directed towards the political situation as a whole. In fighting the bourgeois class, the workers become aware of their own class point of view. The fight creates the class for itself. How such a self-image, how class-conscious practice as a form of collective identification, was to be established was a central problem for many Marxist theorists. These include Lenin as well as Rosa Luxemburg, Georg Lukács and Antonio Gramsci.

Gramsci, for example, anticipated two aspects that later became decisive for both practice and theory with regard to the question of the collective identity of the working population or the working class. Firstly, he named the aspect of practice with "practical life": collective identification is not just a matter of the mind, it always also takes place in unconscious practices, in what people do. And secondly, collective identification is not limited to party meetings or party membership, but a matter of everyday life, it concerns the common sense dealt with by Gramsci.