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Is Identity Politics Compatible with Anarchism?

+3 votes
I'm not exactly clear on if identity politics is compatible with anarchism. I see on the internet and hear people elsewhere imply that it is, but I'm not sure on how that's the case, since it forces or re-enforces people into whatever identity regardless of whether or not they agree with said identity chosen for them. I guess my question is how is it compatible or is it compatible?
asked Oct 4, 2016 by human (3,740 points)

for some, particularly left- and social-anarchists, it probably is.

for those anarchists that consider politics anathema to a life of autonomous individuals freely associating, it probably isn't. of course that does depend on how one defines "politics"; and, i guess, "identity".

common definitions of "politics" relate to statecraft and governance, but some choose to define it differently - as would have to be the case to even be considered in any anarchistic sense.

in this case, "identity" refers to a group identity. i tend to think of "identity" as referring to something much more singular, individual, unique - rather than as a group.

Agree with Funkyanarchy here: any identity politics trying to create a group identity is trouble. In the US election right the established power structure is intentionally and effectively stirring up tension between groups (especially all supposed discrimination victims against the caricatured "straight-white-male" using Trump as effigy) to keep the spotlight off itself.   If people just saw themselves as individuals they would notice they are, personally, more oppressed by people in power than by any other particular identity group.
syrphant, sounds like you're just asking people not to identify with one group (identity as commonly understood, race, sex, sexuality, whatever), but to identify with another (the oppressed, or perhaps, the poor, or the working class).
this discussion raises for me thoughts of the difference between "identifying" with someone or something and "resonating" with someone or something....
i think ba@ makes an excellent point there. identifying with something has a very different timbre to it - especially in the context of so called radical discourse these days - than agreeing or resonating with it. i guess the whole identity thing carries too much baggage for me.

4 Answers

+3 votes
i personally would say that it's on a different plane than anarchy, the planes sometimes intersect, but frequently don't.

i think identity-thought is at best an attempt to answer questions that are not necessarily addressed by anarchist thought.

at worst, obviously, there are the people who are using identity as a way to get power/credibility/etc. (identity is not alone in being used that way, of course.)
answered Oct 4, 2016 by dot (50,660 points)
+3 votes

It really depends on what you mean by "identity politics".

I see the term get abused all-too-often by reactionary entryists who are trying to use some superficial common ground between themselves and anarchists (a dislike of liberalism - particularly bourgeois liberal feminism) to start pushing gradually for a narrative that any discourse on race or gender/sexuality is liberal/bourgeois/counterrevolutionary/etc. From here, it's not too hard to start saying that any oppression on the axis of race or gender or sexuality is unimportant, or that these struggles are invalid, because people are free and unique and should just realize that identity is a spook. As though it were that easy to address the issue.

It's important to realize on the other side of things, and also no secret, that all of these issues have been gradually co-opted by liberals. Marxist/socialist feminism was pushed out by radfem and later libfem (though the Marxists have themselves to blame for this), black liberation socialism (the Black Panthers, MLK, and Malcom X were all socialists) was COINTELPRO'd and pushed out in favor of the liberal pacificist/separatist narratives that were also present in that movement, and (I know less about this one) queer liberation has been normalized into being essentially an issue over gay marriage. All of these share the common influence of identity politics, which is really the tendency that capitalism has to recuperate struggles back into itself that aren't directly critical of capital.

Identity politics fundamentally reifies categories of identity. A woman/POC/queer person is still just as much reduced to being merely an identity category - that is, not a free and unique human being, not a subject but rather an object - but unlike when a sexist/racist/homophobe does this, identity politics engages in this levelling in a much nicer way. It creates "spaces" where these marginalized identities can feel empowered and safe, while in reality being sequestered into more managable groups that have no desire to be aggressive and claim more space. And really, what this succeeds in doing is continue to enforce the narrative that we are merely our identities and not free and unique persons, and also open up new markets for capital.

The histories behind these identity categories, and the particular ways that they serve as a tool of oppression by the ruling class, are complicated and have their own particular characteristics. And while they don't function the same as they used to in the first world - where it's no longer necessary for all women to be housewives in order to reproduce the labor power of her husband after he is done with a 12 hour shift and is too exhausted to cook or clean, for instance - the identities remain. And part of destroying the totality involves engaging with these axes of oppression and dismantling them on their own grounds, with their own unique logic - not by ALSO levelling them out and saying that identity is just a spook and everyone can or would "just realize" that they're spooks, and forget possibly a lifetime of having that identity category and the narrative that we are merely an identity category reproduced in them by patriarchy/racism/heteronormativity. 

I would argue that feminism/black liberation/queer liberation all ultimately seek to abolish the categories of identity that they critique, as it is these categories as such and not their history as tools of oppression that are in fact oppressive to people who are put in them. Because again, we're free and unique humans, not a blob of social constructs that have been created by the ruling class. But, the tendencies are so broad that you can't say that and take it for granted - which is why I think it's important to recognize that the critique of identity politics can and should coexist with anarcha-feminism, and that anarcha-feminism can and should continue to represent these issues from an anarchist perspective and square them off against the anarchist critique of the State and capitalism, and hierarchy in general. 

The alternative as I see it is to continue taking things for granted: That anarchy just obviously involves being against these identity categories, yet not actually engaging with and critiquing them beyond "hierarchy is bad, m'kay?"; that identity categories doesn't real, so people should just obviously be able to act as rational agents and decide to not believe in the spooks anymore. Which, I think, is not only an infantile critique of the role identity categories play in hierarchical society, but also as I said earlier just makes it easy for reactionary elements to creep into the anarchist milieu.

answered Oct 7, 2016 by n1x (590 points)
"I would argue that feminism/black liberation/queer liberation all ultimately seek to abolish the categories of identity that they critique"

that may be an ultimate objective for some, but in my experience, most individuals that identify with those "liberation" movements express very different goals with their behavior, language, tactics, etc.

i can compare it to observing the behavior (langauge etc) of stalin or mao or castro..., against the marxist claims for a state that withers away. when one's behavior is that far away from their stated objectives, they kind of lose credibility in my mind.
n1x, the wikipedia definition of it is what I meant. I wouldn't really say Malcolm X was a socialist and Martin Luther King was against capitalism due to his religious beliefs and for other reasons, but wouldn't say he was a socialist.

Some of the folk that insist their goal is to abolish whichever identity sure don't come off that way, at least to me they don't. Other than that, thanks and good answer. :)

@ FA: 

>But, the tendencies are so broad that you can't say that and take it for granted

i.e. I recognize that in word and deed, so-called "liberation" movements are often anything but. From a theoreticaly standpoint, however, I would still argue that anyone who wishes to liberate groups of people who have been categorized as X, Y, or Z identity will have to ultimately come to terms with abolishing identity itself. Any category of identity is by its very nature oppressive and constructed by a ruling class who has the power to push whatever narratives and ideologies they want to about identity - whether it is a reactionary narrative that POCs, queer people, and women are inferior to white hetero males, or a liberal one that every individual is a special star in the sky* 

*Within the scope of the marketplace of identities

@ human:

Not super familiar with Malcom X and MLK tbh, but okay then.

I find it to be the opposite. Usually, you'd have to be pretty far along in the critique to recognize the need to abolish the identities themselves, and if so you're just a step away from then recognizing the need to abolish identity as such. So in either case it'd be surprising to me for someone to be that aware of the real issue with identity and yet not actually want to abolish them. Because usually a liberal identity politician will just reify and reaffirm these identities, and seek to create "safe spaces" for them so that they can express themselves from within the confines of these identity categories.

FYI, this article gives a pretty good analysis of identity politics:

http://anarchistnews.org/content/against-identity-politics-0

I would suppose the people on the internet and people I sometimes come into contact with aren't that aware. ;) Speaking of safe spaces, I remember awhile back, the local anarchist bookstore/coffee shop in my area, threw someone out for bringing chicken inside the store and the reason was because it's a "vegan safe space." There was a big hoo-haa over that because the person they threw out was also a poc, and the bookstore is also a safe space for poc.

I'll read the article and thanks for your response. :)
smh @ that story
@n1x: i am not taking anything for granted, i simply stated what my actual experience has been. i was in eugene (virtually ground zero for radical feminists at the time) for a while in the early 2000s, and in san francisco (a major center for gender/queer identity politicians) for much of the 1990s.

it seems we generally agree about group identity. i just give much less credence to "theory", when practice so often seems so disconnected from it.
@FA: I was quoting myself, because I feel like you missed the caveat I added to my post that you can't take it for granted that anything calling itself a feminist/queer/black movement is actually seeking to abolish these identity categories. Because they're all extremely broad and have been recuperated pretty well into relations of capital.

I'm well-aware that in practice, most so-called liberatory movements don't conform to my opinions on what they're supposed to be doing. I also don't really care that they don't, because insofar as they're identity politics movements I don't consider them to be genuinely feminist/queer/black movements anyways. For reasons that I've stated already a couple times, because identity itself is the problem and not how the ruling class recognizes the identity, etc. Which personally I think is important in the context of the anarchist milieu for working out the question of identity politics and how anarchists can conceptualize the particular ways that identity categories reproduce hierarchy and are themselves hierarchical.

Of course, outside of that, it would be useless to try to debate an identity politician about these things. They're pretty well-insulated against any critique of their agenda and especially if the person trying to have a discussion about these things looks like a white cishet male.
@n1x: i just reread the last part of your answer, and i guess i did misread what was being taken for granted. sounds like we are saying the same thing there.

i find it interesting that you think anarcha-feminism "can and should continue to represent these issues from an anarchist perspective". by "these issues" i assume you mean identity politics and the associated identity categories. why elevate that identity category above any other? what makes gender any more significant than race or class or ...? i mean, for any individual, it makes sense for their particular oppression(s) to take precedence in their life. but as a generality for "an anarchist perspective"? it starts to sound a bit like the oppression pyramid.

or have i misunderstood again?

@FA: I think you misunderstood again.

What I mean is that I think it's important for anarchists to recognize that these modes of oppression - both these particular identity categories and categories of identity as such - have their own unique logics and histories different from that of the State and capitalism, though also very intimately connected to them. And I think that they need to maybe given more representation in the anarchist milieu beyond just assuming that all anarchists are supposed to be against racism/sexism/homophobia. 

The very point of critiquing these issues on the basis that it is identity categories as such and not just the fact that racism/sexism/homophobia are mean hierarchies is a start I think, because ideologically all identity categories - whether they're the master or slave classes' identity categories - are by their very nature oppressive and also repressive of the uniqueness of individuals. But nevertheless, I think it's too often the case in the anarchist milieu to lump everything together under "hierarchy", or to place the State and capitalism above everything else. And to turn the question back around (not necessarily at you), I would ask why are the State and capitalism are more important than these identity categories? 

I think that insofar as they're hierarchical, they should all be equally distasteful to anarchy, but each hierarchy has its own particular histories and logics that need to be engaged with on their own terms in order to be able to dismantle them. And they all need to be given representation and be talked about in order for this to happen, which is what I mean when I say that anarcha-feminism (and queer anarchy and whatever kind of black anarchy exists, though I haven't heard of anything like the latter before) should represent these issues nonetheless, from an anarchist and not a liberal, bourgeois identity politician perspective.

Admittedly, it's easier said than done, especially given the political climate lately over things like racism/sexism/homophobia. But reacting too hard in the opposite direction can lead to dangerous, Nationalist "Anarchist" type places. Which concerns me.

+1 vote
is identity politics compatible with anarchism ?  >>> NO ... identity "politics" is an evolvement of group identities collectively excluding nonidentifiables from the group's communal goal ... the operative distinguishment from anarchism (most forms) being the "communal goal" ... identity politics exclusifies a singular characteristic and through the shared voice of its exclusivity politically acts ... Les/Gay-chicano-blk ... identity politics is the activation of the heretofore passive response to some human rights issue by the majoral/authoritarian status quo ... the activation comes to be in the form of a shared voiced agenda ... the concept of identity politics is the natural evolution of various groups identifiable in the context of much larger groups to politicize their communal wants ... pre politically these groups identifying trait could best be a fellow traveler to some broader agenda but mostly went ignored ... actively politicized in a singularity this shared TRAIT evolves into a shared cause ... antithetically there is  INDIVIDUAL ANARCHISM where the need for a communal trait to evolve politically should not in theory exist ...  the unfreedom of individualistic anarchy leaves the need for identity politics wanting ... SOCIAL ANARCHY situationizes  anarchy into a positive responder to individual needs ... the positivity of social anarchy quiets any arguments that the identifiables need to politicize ... whatsoever anarchial realm there be that realm shall not there dwell the politics of identity >>>>
answered Oct 20, 2016 by jack pot (310 points)
Your writing style is kind of like poetry. I'm confused about something in your answer. Why do you feel individualist anarchism leads to the need for identity politics and less free per se, whereas social anarchism doesn't lead to the need for ID-politics? Thanks :)
I apologize for my lack of clarity. I  believe that there would exist NO need for identity politics in the context of individualistic anarchism. By unfreedom i mean that in individualistic anarchy one abandons the constraints of the formal and informal group freedom and chooses the "unfreedom" of self design . To the group such abandonment equates to a loss of freedom but to the unfreeman it equates to freedom.  When i say the "need" is "wanting" I mean there is no conceptual place for identity politics in individualistic  anarchist theory  >>>>>>>>" the unfreedom of individualistic anarchy leaves the need for identity politics wanting" ... individualistic anarchy stresses a singular existence wherein one's self  designs & determines one's existence ... as such one is not needful of a group>political identity ...  societal constraints are not addressed thru an identity of thought ... in individualistic anarchism one intentionally exists in a singularity in belief that a personal uncompromised WILL is the means to higher ends>existence ... in this individualistic construct identity politics is for naught
+4 votes

It seems to me that identity is most often approached as something internal to, caused by, someone by proponents and critics of identity politics alike. To me identity is more an issue of context than anything particularly causal. First off, we currently speak languages concomitantly arising/evolving with habitats we call ‘mass-society’ wherein any degree of shared sensuousness has become ever increasingly tenuous at best. Up to now, abstractions, along with the desire (if not demand) for their universality, has been key to keeping each mass-society somewhat intact, at least to all appearances.

Buried deeper still is the history, development, of an article of faith philosophers have named the correspondence theory (of truth). To the contrary of those who might object that philosophy has no relevance to everyday life, I tend to see this theory as girding modern life as it permeates every ideology (each a tendency toward a totalizing system of meaning) up to now as well as today’s ascendant global economic habitat, itself perhaps best described as an over-saturation of meaning obscuring and dominating sense.

We hear a sort of mutual acquiescence (to borrow Sakolsky’s terminology) to this theory by self-professed ‘realists’ of varying stripes in phrases like, “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” Not only does ‘cigar’ entail a belief in ‘objects’ and ‘things’ but an underlying demand for a ‘correct view’ purportedly transcending our actual view, perspective, perception; the latter (each our perspective) must become subordinate to the former. Thus, the word/concept becomes dominant, and more prized, than all our fleshy immediacy, our shared stories, of that cigar’s coming-into-appearance. All the shitty monocultured crops, horrid working conditions, pollution and addiction attached to the long, rolled, brownish tobacco leaves, which are snipped of their interwoven sensuousness in order to become identified as ‘cigar’ in a hierarchy of order itself relevant within a totalizing worldview of things.

To illustrate a bit more, Borges put it this way:

“The world of appearances is complicated, and language has only verbalized a minuscule part of its potential, indefatigable combinations. Why not create a word, only one, for the converging perception of the cowbells announcing day’s end and the sunset in the distance?”

At the end of my day I cannot but see the question of identity as inseparable from the development of our language, concepts, and grammatical structure; thus the values, articles of faith (‘givens’) grounds itself in great measure as the very perspective embodied by each speaker/participant, willing or otherwise. That ‘anarchists’, like nearly everyone else on Earth at this point (the Piraha perhaps an exception), continue to speak the language of mass-society, embody the articles of faith within it (including 'the correct view') leads me to feel that identity, the rationale for it, the attacks and defenses of identities made within it (ie, ‘politics’ in a nutshell) will be with us for some time to come regardless of my thoughts, feelings, evaluations about it all.

And yet, I simply cannot remain silent and/or allow myself to be silenced by the demand of others to quickly ‘get to the point’ on their terms and time schedules, which seemingly get speedier by the day.

answered Nov 1, 2016 by AmorFati (7,780 points)
edited Nov 1, 2016 by AmorFati
How do you interpret that...when someone asks you to "get to the point"?
Nihilist: sometimes, but not always, as a mendacious little cocktail:

1 part self-important narcissism

1 part internalized tyranny of the clock

2 parts a belief in teleology and/or the principle of sufficient reason

all poured on the rocks of our ever more harried push-button paradise.
"....teleology and/or the principle of sufficient reason"

Is this akin to devout utilitarianism? The idea that something must be "of use" before it deserves your attention? I hate that.
i'd say utilitarianism is derivative of PoSR/teleology basically the belief there's a reason and/or purpose (telos) for everything.

*edit to erase my wonky attempt at eprime ;)

i would add two (not mutually exclusive):

a. concern about intelligence/attention span of the reader (ie the reader worries about following the reasoning when there are multiple layers, threads, references, and/or jargon sets going on)

b. wariness around excessive wordiness that frequently is more about someone not having much to say (aka gradstudentitis)

if communication requires some kind of meeting of minds, that can happen only when both people are trying. not just the writer, and also not just the reader. how do we indicate that we care about our readers, and how do we indicate that we are open to a writer?

(this is not criticism of your writing AF. but as someone who copy edits grad students frequently, and as someone who mostly writes for myself so that i don't have to deal with some of these questions---who our audiences are is something every writer does best to consider)

@dot: philosophy is a jargon all to itself, so i wouldn't anticipate anyone understanding what he says besides self-proclaimed egoists.

like i have learned from many anarchist writers, the size of the audience never particularly matters, and in today's society you can't say anything original or interesting unless you say something particularly difficult to digest and turn into profit. I'm considering taking an online writing course from people who are clearly well versed in literature, and the size of that group in particular keeps shrinking and shrinking, and while parts of it remain will most certainly disappear...just sayin'...ya know.

The paragraph i was poking fun at is clearly a "non-objective" attitude or opinion, which is easy to question and deconstruct, but there isn't much else to human communication but non-objective attitudes and opinions
i have to say i like the last few comments here, and i think that topic  (reader/writer relationship, clarity, jargon, etc) would make a good discussion thread on its own.
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