English Kontra klasa #1

Workers in the framework of identity politics

The following is a translation of our 2016 article, Radnici u okviru identitetskih politika:

The inclusion of the worker identity into theories of identity politics is present in Europe and America for decades. The most prominent LGBT platform in Croatia, Zagreb Pride, publically joined that school of thought in 2014 when it recognized that some LGBT people, beyond being LGBT, are also workers. This opened the doors to the already overfilled mass of complex analyses of individual experiences; a heterosexual white working woman has one experience, a black gay working man another, a transsexual worker of Asian descent has a completely different one and so on. If we include into those analyses the category of time, space and workplace we get a complex net of different experiences which in theoretical works absorb the category of the worker into other categories and transform it into an identity like any other, be it sex, gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture etc. Being a worker means having a certain experience which changes based on other identities it is combined with. That’s why it shouldn’t be expected from one of those theories or activist groups to advocate for abolishing the worker identity just like it cannot abolish the identity of a black person. The latter, however, can undertake a series of operations which would bleach their skin, narrow their nose and thin their lips, but rarely will some theorist or activist recommend such a change; the point is to strengthen those identities. We should be proud that we are women, that we are black gay men, bisexual, transsexual and transgender persons just like we have to be proud to be workers. Homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and the patriarchy are oppressors whom we should oppose by being proud of our identities, just like capitalism is an oppressor against which we as workers should be proud and go on as workers. The declaration of this year’s (2016) Zagreb Pride, among other things, states: “Working men and women, we want and demand that all working men and women have more free time for their families, to develop their creative potentials and to pursue culture and education. Freedom to workers, not to capital.” As we can see, the capital’s freedom is taken away by giving workers more spare time. We shall reexamine that later.

Pride of one’s membership in the working class is not a new phenomenon created by identity politics, nor does it today only exists within its limits. Besides, it is rarely highlighted in relation to other identities. This attitude can be understood in its opposition to the petite bourgeois and bourgeois hatred of the working class, especially the petite bourgeoisie whose relation to the working class is antagonistic because they desire to be a part of the big bourgeoisie and tremble at the thought of becoming a part of the working class. Oppression, patronization, scorn, and other such treatments are something the working class knows quite well and so it is not strange that it creates a buffer zone that will consist of the things opposed to the desired effect of oppression – instead of ashamed we shall be proud, the feeling of importance shall stand against inferiority. To that are bound concepts such as worker’s culture, experience, and identity which build a substructure used by identity politics along with other substructures.

When headaches caused by all those identities, experiences and substructures kick in, some theorists and activists, especially those positioned closer to the liberal left than just plain liberalism, endeavor to merge that loose amalgamation into a solid entity which would make its comprehension easier and give themselves a landmark for political involvement. They come to the conclusion that sexual, ethnic, gender and other forms of oppression cannot be separated from class oppression and how all those conflicts are all part of the same inseparable experience and praxis. Those left-liberal theoreticians are especially eager to emphasize this in dialogue with other Marxists who are somewhat keen to forget all forms of oppression other than class.

Worker identity does not exist. When a mall worker comes home from work she is no longer a worker. She is neither a worker when she is on vacation. That, of course, doesn’t mean she erased her experiences of working at the mall, that means that being a mall worker is something she is not at all times and at every place like she is always and everywhere a woman. She is a woman when at home and when at work, but she’s a worker only at her job. Same as that, she can quit her job at the said mall and start working someplace else making her no longer a mall worker, she can win the lottery or inherit capital and start her own business making her not a worker at all. Being a worker means performing an economic function; it means belonging to a class that is a product of a certain moment in history, unlike men, women and gay people who have always existed. LGBT persons didn’t have the same political space that they have now in, for example, the 13th century, they didn’t have a term for their identity, social treatment, self-concept, legal protection and so on, but from ecclesiastical and court records we know that there were people who had sexual relations with members of the same sex, while workers did not exist back then. Workers exist as long as capitalism does and shall exist as long as it does. There is no worker culture or subculture; one worker drinks beer in a park and listens to rock, the other drinks Gemišt/Spritzer and listens to hip-hop and rap. Even if there existed a music genre, clothes etc. common to all workers, being a worker wouldn’t still mean listening to a certain kind of music and drinking beer or tequila, it would mean having the same class position inside the capitalist mode of production.

This, of course, also refers to political interests and positions. Just because some LGBT people are workers, doesn’t mean that the recent emphasizing of the worker identity in the declaration of the Zagreb Pride and on their banners during their annual manifestation will somehow attract other workers to support the Zagreb Pride. The law which would allow adoption of children by gay couples is not within the sphere of political interests of the worker, just like same-sex marriage isn’t. It is not set in stone that capitalism, within which identity politics have emerged, has to generate all those factors of oppression and merge them in one – some capitalist countries are quite progressive in terms of LGBT rights, while other capitalist societies are quite homophobic. Whatever cultural, religious, political and other characteristics of some country are, it having laws in favor of or against LGBT people does not change the capitalist mode of production. No feminist or LGBT group can alone make way for the abolition of the capitalist mode of production; that can be done only by the working men and women because they are the only ones opposed to capital and are key in its abolition. Freedom of capital does not diminish by giving workers more spare time, although, this social-democratic position is, in fact, a compromise between the worker and capital; the social democratic state placed the rabid chase after capital under control by making concessions to the working class. But to diminish the freedom of capital it would have to abolish the capital itself, and when it is gone so will be the workers. This is the essence of the positions of the communist camp with which the left-liberal groups and individual activists sometimes have had a dialogue.

On the other hand, it would be unfair to not mention the prejudices, held because of the already mentioned positions, by communist groups and individuals in the past. Although only the workers are capable of abolishing the capitalist mode of production, that does not mean that we should forget all the other forms of oppression of the workers. Wherever they are found, racism, sexism, homophobia and the rest should be opposed. Likewise the efforts of reformist groups, feminists and LGBT activists, have paid off (although we believe they are not the only ones who are to take credit for achieving greater rights of women and LGBT people) because they made laws that are favorable to LGBT people and women a part of the ruling ideology and politics, which has had and can have effect in infringing on the deeply rooted hierarchical relations between men and women, heterosexuals and gay people and etc. Nevertheless, we as communists, unlike reformist groups that have no pretensions to rock the capitalist social relations, want to abolish the capitalist economic functions, among other reasons, because we think that this will make the liberation of LGBT people possible, let alone the liberation of women who by having to become mothers and give birth to future generations of workers do not close the door to every form of sexual oppression. One capitalist country can be distinguished from another by its level of homophobia, but the freedom for all, including LGBT people, is incomparable with the idea of freedom that would be realized in a communist society. A society in which alienation of labor and people and political superiority of one man over another exist can in no way be as free as a society in which such things don’t exist. Therefore capitalist society in the best case can dull the blade of its contradictions, but it cannot remove them.

Socialist revolution is only possible with the mass initiative of workers which would first cease production and then begin the era of socialist society. In it can and will take part working men and women of all ethnicities, sexual orientations, genders etc., but nothing other than that is a revolutionary move. Not even struggles for the rights of women or Afro-Americans or LGBT people, because they do not diminish capitalism but only seek to reform it. Thereat, as we have said, working women have to react to any kind of oppression they experience from workingmen, just as workingmen should from ethical and human motivations work on overcoming their own prejudices toward women. But capitalism can survive with homophobic laws just like it can if it grants every right to sexual and gender minorities.

The point in which communists differ from reformist groups is not, and should not, be the tendency to diminish the forms of oppression. We differ in that the reformists don’t seek to abolish the capitalist mode of production while we do. But reformist groups are not the only forms of action in which LGBT activists can partake. There are many queer activist groups which seek forms of actions other than reformism, there are also groups that declare themselves as queer communist. One of such groups, from the Kyrgyzstani capital of Bishkek, published their own “Queer communist manifesto” in which they write about the abolition of private property, the possibility of redefining the set gender roles in communism and the impossibility of escaping the nuclear family under capitalism. Groups like that and those similar to them are the ones with whom we could have a dialogue if they existed in Croatia. Not because we like them that much and are interested in their anti-capitalist protest in the form of artistic performance, but because in the theoretical sense we have a lot more in common with them than with the majority of reformist groups.