Identity politics and political organizing (2000)

Notes for a discussion event on identity politics and political organizing

The aim of the event is to help develop a politics that
1.seeks to combine strategic identity politics with transversal alliance politics
2.aims to break the dominance of self-satisfied white heterosexual anti-feminists within the radical left towards a redefinition of what is actually meant by ‘left radicalism’
4.takes class differences between and within the various radical left subcultures seriously; for example by practising a certain degree of redistribution and by attempting to break down the phobic and defensive class-stereotypes that originate in our upbringing in a class society and are culturally reinforced on a day-to-day basis
5.tries to avoid racist exclusions; for example by, instead of taking it for granted that the left in Germany is ‘German’, conceptualizing future radical-left organizational structures as at least potentially multi-ethnic (or, rather, trans/anti-ethnic)
6.attacks the sexist consensus within the radical left; for example, by refusing to reduce the patriarchal gender order to a special topic for women’s groups, instead making the presence of clear antisexist political practice the criterion of a whether a group should be deemed ‘radical leftist’ or not.

Some theses for a discussion on identity politics:

1.Criticism of identity politics has, in the nineties, been used to discredit (pro)feminist politics as such. This integration of elements of an antiessentialist critique into a ‘backlash discourse’ must be opposed.
2.Gender and ethnic identity don’t really fit into a single category. In that sense, the general term ‘identity politics’ is questionable.
3.It’s necessary to develop a strategic identity politics that constructs unities across differences, without disavowing differences and without positing unities as natural; that remains conscious of the dangers of essentialising, naturalizing and homogenizing. This entails a pragmatic and flexible approach to identity-defined groups, a ceaseless problematization of homogenization inside and boundaries to the outside.
4.Identity politics of priviledged groups raises completely different issues from that of underpriviledged/oppressed groups. Identity politics of priviledged people can be a progressive practice only as self-abolitionist or negative identity politics. This means that the goal of abolishing one’s identity should not only be present – as in any non-reactionary identity politics – but should be clearly in the foreground, in uncompromising antagonism to the propagandists of masculinity, home, the nation and the like.
5.‘Negative identity politics’ appeals to Germans to engage in anti-German, antinational politics, appeals to heterosexual men to engage in anti-masculinist, anti-heterosexist, anti-patriarchal politics. In this, it fundamentally contradicts the orthodox left tradition of acting politically out of a homogenized ‘we the victims’ or ‘we who are affected by…’, to the tune of:‘we the good down here against you the bad up there’.

Ideas for ‘practical’ projects in the faraway future:

A congress on the problem of whiteness (for whites and non-whites) with workshops on whiteness and christianity, whiteness and masculinity, whiteness and colonial history…
An antiracist border camp focusing on the traffic in women, sex tourism, gender- and sexuality-based persecution

Some text fragments on alliance and identity politics:

In “Gender and Nation” (1997) N. Yuval-Davis writes: “…transversal politics aims to be an alternative to the universalism/relativism dichotomy which is at the heart of the modernist/postmodernist feminist debate. It aims at providing answers to the crucial theoretical/political questions of how and with whom we should work if/when we accept that we are all different as deconstructionist theories argue.”(p125, my emphasis).
In this context she quotes Spivak (1991): “Deconstruction does not say anything against the usefulness of mobilizing unities. All it says is that because it is useful it ought not to be monumentalized as the way things really are.”
and Stuart Hall (1987): “…all identity is constructed across difference…” (in: Yuval-Davis, 1997, p126).
Further she writes: “In ‘transversal politics’ , perceived unity and homogeneity are replaced by dialogues which give recognition to the specific positionings of those who participate in them as well as to the ‘unfinished knowledge’ that each such situated positioning can offer.”(p131)

In the introduction to “Mappings – Feminism and the cultural geographies of encounter” (1998) S. Stanford Friedman characterizes her project in the following manner:
“The book insists on going ‘beyond’ both fundamentalist identity politics and absolutist poststructuralist theories as they pose essentialist notions of identity on the one hand and refuse all traffic with identity on the other.”(p4)
She calls her politics “locational feminism”:
“A locational approach to feminism incorporates diverse formations because its positional analysis requires a kind of geopolitical literacy built out of a recognition of how different times and places produce different and changing gender systems as these intersect with other different and changing societal stratifications and movements for social justice.”(p5, my emphases)