The rigid attachment by Intimate Partner Violence (‘IPV’) ‘advocates’ to a bogus conceptualisation of IPV is a highly emotional ideological stance derived from Marxian thinking (Dutton 2007, Dutton 2006, MacKinnon 1991); that is, it is the ideology that came to be termed ‘identity politics’.
With an origin and development well documented in scholarship (see below) of a re-shaping of Marxist ‘theory’, over time it has become the principal feature of contemporary politics.
‘Political correctness’ has often and popularly been the ideology’s tag, used not least by some scholars, but this is rather to confuse the ideology itself with what perhaps is better understood as its surface manifestation in ‘speech codes’ and blanket gratuitous charges of ‘sexism’, ‘racism’ and homophobia [sic] ubiquitous in the media, politics and the workplace.
‘Political correctness’ is a term with a history that although inter-twining with the history of the ideology of ‘identity politics’ is a separate one, with a different and slightly earlier origin – in the need to maintain a strict Party line within the Soviet state after 1917 – with its use (in more than one near-identical translation) from the 1920s (Ellis 2002).
The term quite suddenly became prominent in ‘Western’ politics at the turn of the 1990s when ‘identity politics’ started to become predominant. Having escaped the confines of academia, it had by then been in the ascendency for over two decades (see below).
The replacement by ‘identity politics’ of what by contrast may be dubbed the politics of ‘commonality’ was through the realisation that ‘the workers’ were not going to bring about a Marxist ‘revolution’: “the failure of western working classes to carry out their ‘proper’ revolutionary (class) interests”, as Somers and Gibson put it (1994 p.54).
According to Cohen (2007 p.196), the political-Left “despised the working class for its weakness and treachery, and condemned its members for their greed and obsession with celebrity. In Liberal-left culture the contempt was manifested by the replacement of social democracy by identity politics”. Gitlin (1994) concluded: “In large measure, things fell apart because the center could not hold, for chronologically, the break-up of commonality politics pre-dates the thickening of identity politics”.
The history of this goes back almost a century to the late 1920s, when it was already becoming apparent that Marxist ‘theory’ did not work in practice, as evidenced by the absence of revolutionary overthrow of regimes in Europe according to Marxian prediction and prescription, even though just such a revolution had occurred in Russia a generation previously.
The cognitive-dissonance (Festinger 1957, and eg, Tavris and Aronson 2007) this must have produced within the mindset of ‘Western’ intelligentsia could only persist and grow with the continued complete failure of a political-Left ethos anywhere to effect real change in its own terms. This became especially pointed with the unprecedented rapid implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989, still further intensifying cognitive-dissonance. [The former dissident Soviet, Vladimir Bukovsky (2009) points out that the Soviet demise coincides in date with the almost as sudden emergence in the ‘West’ of the notion of ‘political correctness’, in a transferred resurgence of essentially the same ideology.]
Being in common across a large group, the cognitively-dissonant mindset can then function as an in-group marker, becoming still more strongly driven, receiving so much investment that any intrusion of reality into the ideology is ever more strongly denied.
This intrusion would be great, given that ideology is in essence a highly partial view of reality emphasising a particular dimension over others, which inevitably is exposed as a mismatch with reality, obliging further ratcheting up of the ideology to try to transcend what becomes a vicious circle.
This can be achieved only by asserting an internal consistency to the exclusion of contact with reality in a tautological loop. Becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy (Bottici and Challand 2006), the ideology in a group context is subject to a ‘synergistic accumulative effect’ (Madon et al. 2004).
The prospect is of a catastrophic implosion, but meantime the stress on the belief system can lead to a ‘shifting the goal posts’ changes over time, even to the extent of the whole ideology in effect subverting itself, if this can be passed off either as not incompatible or as the position actually held all along.
Cognitive-dissonance is salved through adherents to an ideology trying to save face by admitting neither the falsity of the ideology nor their own gullibility, and instead blaming others.
The failure of the ideology thereby can be regarded and misrepresented as merely temporary, and the final reckoning postponed apparently indefinitely. The fall guys, as it were, here were ‘the workers’; judged to have ‘let the side down’. As the people intended to benefit from the predicted Marxist ‘revolution’, ‘the workers’ had been considered the ‘agents of social change’, but they completely eschewed this ascribed duty (Raehn 2004, 1997).
To explain this failure to act according to prescription and prediction, Marxian academics working in the late 1920s onwards in Frankfurt and then New York (see eg, Lind 2004, 1997; Jay 1973) devised a fantasy aetiology in terms of Freud’s notion of ‘repression’, which though now comprehensively discredited along with the rest of Freud’s ‘theory’ (eg, Webster 1995, Loftus and Ketcham 1994) at the time it was the only framework in psychology available to them.
Freudianism is no less unfalsifiable than is Marxism, and therefore is in no sense science, and has long been superseded and abandoned by academic psychologists; yet readings and mis-readings of Freud continued over decades as central to varieties of neo-Marxism, not least in all of the ‘post-structuralists’; Foucault included (Zaretsky 1994). As these ‘theories’ told firm hold across academia and then ‘trickled down’ to society at large through the enormous expansion in student numbers, ‘Freudian-Marxism’, such as in the books of Erich Fromm, gained great popularity from the 1950s onwards.
Core to this new ‘theory’ was the anti-family rhetoric of nineteenth century socialists taken up and further radicalised by Marx and particularly Engels (Weikart 1994, Engels 1884, Marx and Engels 1848). This was developed into a conceptualisation of the family as an aberration resulting, it was supposed, from ‘capitalism’ somehow ‘repressing’ ‘the workers’, to the extent of becoming psychologically dysfunctional (Cerulo 1979). The fact was ignored that the family has obvious homologues throughout the animal kingdom, showing that it is clearly a product of evolution and not of cultural origin.
Marxism per se was superseded by a theory of culturally based personal relations (Burston 1991), popularised notably by Marcuse (1955) amongst many others. The objective was the elimination of what were imagined as the mere ‘roles’ of the mother and father, thereby to erase all distinction between masculinity and femininity. In this hopeful fantasy, the ‘patriarchy’ [sic] supposedly the foundation of ‘capitalism’ would disappear (Raehn 1996). The early/mid-1970s was the time when the works of Marcuse and Fromm reached the height of their popularity with students, and as Cohen remarks: “strange ideas that began in the universities were everywhere a generation later” (Cohen 2007 p. 375).
The man – the husband/father — as the head of the family was deemed ‘oppression’ incarnate, and as such the woman (wife/mother) needed to be ‘liberated’ from him. So it was that ‘the workers’, once considered the group destined to be ‘liberated’ and ‘the agents of change’ were replaced in Marxian imagination by women. Thus the ‘feminist Marxism’ we see today (Kellner nd).
Having forgotten or never having been aware of this origin and development, it has given way to another (though related and complementary) rationalisation also the legacy of Engels: ‘false consciousness’. [The term was first recorded in an 1893 letter from Engels to Franz Mehring.] Really, this is just a wider, vaguer take on the notion of ‘repression’. Cohen (2007 p.158) sums up that: “The Marxists of the early twentieth century took it up to explain away the discomfiting fact that the workers of the most advanced societies were not organising social revolutions as Marx had insisted they would.”
Cohen expands (p.374): “To explain the catastrophic collapse of their hopes they have revived the false consciousness conspiracy theory, which has been present in socialist thought since the early defeats at the turn of the twentieth century, and given it an astonishing prominence. They hold that the masses rejected the Left because brainwashing media corporations ‘manufactured consent’ for globalisation”.
This limp ‘conspiracy theory’ is still familiar today, surviving in that it is presentable in vague sociological terms in the wake of sociology eclipsing psychoanalysis from the late 1960s/ early 1970s as the popular pseudo-science. Using Freud’s bogus idea of ‘repression’ to posit a thin conceptualisation of psychological ‘brainwashing’ became less plausible, so in its place arrived a nebulous conceptualisation of a sociological kind of ‘brainwashing’.
Not that this is any more plausible – even as to mechanism, let alone efficacy. It has escaped attention that the notion of a society-wide ‘false consciousness’ created by an economically dominant group is the same idea as is behind the Nazi ‘Jewish conspiracy’ (as Cohen points out (2007 p.375)).
Dressing up in terms of ‘worker’ ‘repression’ and ‘false consciousness’ the volte-face from eulogising to blaming ‘the workers’, prevented it appearing too transparently to be holding ‘the workers’ directly culpable. It was also sufficient a departure from orthodox Marxism to hide its origin in Marxism, which assisted its acceptance. In the aftermath of McCarthyism this would have been important in the USA crucible of these politics, with the political-Left being obliged to present itself differently. The ‘communist’ purging had been popular with the American working-classes, and this begat a keen sense in the political-Left of an ‘us and them’ with respect to ‘the workers’, compounding antipathy.
The core of what became ‘identity politics’ was in place, but that label was neither known nor applicable until the early 1970s (Knouse 2009). As Hobsbawn points out (1996), there was no entry at all under ‘identity’ in the International Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences in the 1960s; even at the very end of that politically explosive decade.
There was no multiplicity of ‘identity’ labelled as ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ to be thus described.
The decisive development was the co-option by neo-Marxist ‘theory’ of a hitherto wholly separate movement. This was to be expected: as with any ideology, the political-Left tried to interpret anything and everything in its own ideological terms to claim as a manifestation of the ideology.
The American civil rights movement was ripe for such treatment, notwithstanding that it contained almost no Leftists. ‘Identity politics’ dates from the time of this co-option (Kauffman 1990); in 1968, in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King.
A momentous year, it was also the onset of Mao’s ‘cultural revolution’ in China, which was aped by the rapidly growing US student politics movement: that melting-pot of radicalism facilitating incorporation of not just different strands of the Left but movements hitherto entirely separate. The resulting ‘counterculture’ set itself against ‘middle-class’ norms, yet this was an attack not on the middle-class but on ‘the workers’.
Ordinary people as ever aspired to economic advancement (‘the American dream’) to become ‘middle-class’, whereas the political-Left envisaged a utopia/dystopia of a levelling-down so that everyone was working class.
The major social upheaval of ‘civil rights’ with its large-scale and widespread rioting, as the first great ‘single-issue’ campaign was easily the nearest thing in then recent US history to look like the promised Marxist ‘revolution’, and obviously was just the practical application the ‘theory’ was seeking. It handily clothed the Left in a home-grown moral high-ground to avoid a resurgence of McCarthyism, and it provided protagonists (black Americans) who were eminently separable from the now despised ‘workers’ per se, in being presentable as a new ‘group’ from outside of the former fray of ‘boss’ versus ‘worker’.
An historical accident, it served to add ‘black’ to ‘woman’ as ‘the new oppressed’ without a significant intellectual shift, more on the level of implicit than explicit cognition. In effect ‘the worker’ was retrospectively stereotyped as ‘man’ and ‘white’, which by inversion is not just ‘black American’ but ‘coloured’ — that is, ethnic-minority generically. So it was that even though some ethnic groups (eg, Indian, Chinese) actually out-perform ‘whites’ in key measures re employment level and educational achievement, all ethnic minorities came to be joined with all women in being regarded as ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ / the new ‘agents of social change’.
After this successful incorporation of ‘civil rights’, the next cause generating nationally prominent protest similarly was ripe for co-option, and the opportunity arose almost straight away in the 1969 ‘gay’ Stonewall riots, again prompting in effect a retrospective stereotyping of ‘the worker’ by contrast – as ‘heterosexual’.
Mirroring how ‘black American’ was broadened generically to ‘ethnic minority’, so was ‘gay’ to ‘homosexual’: to also include ‘lesbians’, even though discrimination and police harassment had been only in respect of male homosexuals. Female homosexuals did not themselves have a basis for grievance as a discriminated-against, ‘oppressed’ or ‘disadvantaged’ ‘group’. ‘Homophobic’ [sic] bullying is a problem suffered overwhelmingly by males (Poteat and Rivers 2010), as a part of group male (but not female) socialisation (Pascoe 2013).
Furthermore, male homosexuality is far the more visible given that ‘gays’ are roughly twice as prevalent as ‘lesbians’, and ‘gay’ behaviour may contrast sharply with male heterosexual behaviour, whereas female intra-sexual behaviour is physically close irrespective of sexual orientation.
It is not homosexuality per se that had led to a ‘disadvantage’ and severe discrimination, but being male; that is, the combination of being male and exhibiting an extreme difference (differences between males being amplified in male dominance contest, with such an extreme difference as a same-sex preference sending a male to the bottom of the hierarchy, and rendering him a candidate for the unusual occurrence for males of exclusion from the in-group).
The identification of ‘homosexuality’ generically as a ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’ category is false, in line with the bogus presumption that women constitute such a category – the conclusion from examining all issues male/female is that not the female but the male is clearly the more ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’ sex (see Moxon 2008, 2012 for summaries of this topic, which is far beyond the scope of the present text).
Bringing together the disparate ‘groups’ re sex, ‘race’ and sexual orientation, there was not just insulation from further McCarthyism, but a revival of the political-Left’s lost universalism, albeit in only the negative sense, in demonising ‘the worker’. As Gitlin pointed out (1993), ‘identity politics’ is a “spurious unity”, and that “whatever universalism now remains is based not so much on a common humanity as on a common enemy – the notorious White Male”.
Membership of a ‘group’ according to any of the inversions of one or more of the retrospective supposed hallmarks of ‘the worker’ as male / ‘white’ / heterosexual, earns automatic definition as ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘oppressed’, and consequent special protection.
The abstracted generic groupings of ‘woman’, ‘ethnic-minority’ and ‘homosexual’ naturally were considered additive in conferring ‘victim’ status, so that any combination of two (or, still better, all three) was a trump card in what has been dubbed ‘intersectionality’.
Given the ‘victim status’ kudos this afforded, then as could only be expected, there have been further extensions, again in effect by inverting ‘the worker’ retrospective stereotype. Added were the disabled and the elderly; trans-sexuals, and even the obese – but on such dubious grounds as to reveal further the incoherent basis of ‘identity politics’ other than as a protracted agitation against ‘the workers’.
Both the elderly and the disabled if anything enjoy consideration (or are at worst ignored) rather than suffering any prevailing negative attitude towards them; and far from discrimination, any lack of special provision is just that. They simply endure a hard life (though the elderly usually are relatively wealthy without the major expenses of early adulthood), and to an extent are likely to do so irrespective of how they may be treated. No form of intervention can reverse or significantly ameliorate their condition. The only sense that can be made of their inclusion within ‘identity politics’ is that they are non-‘workers’ (if not thus by definition, they are only unusually in employment).
Trans-sexuality is so rare (roughly one in 20,000 pooled across sex) as to be too irrelevant a criterion for inclusion, appearing to be simply an extension of the homosexuality category, either to try to revive the notion of ‘homophobia’ [sic] and/or because it may be thought to – but does not – challenge male-female dichotomy, along the lines of ‘non-essentialist’ feminist complaint.
‘Trans-sexual‘ is a misnomer for what is a desire for somatic sex to match ‘brain sex’, as it were; and is a term which would be apposite only for the far rarer still ‘intersex’ condition of possessing an extra sex chromosome. Just as for homosexuality, only males suffer any significant ‘disadvantage’. Male-to-female (but not, or much less so, female-to-male) trans-sexuals may suffer opprobrium, and this is because they are regarded as being essentially and irredeemably male, whereas female-to-male trans-sexuals are considered to be females exhibiting gender [sic] flexibility.
The quality attracting any ‘oppression’, again, is maleness, not trans-sexuality per se. And likewise as with homosexuality, this is obscured in that most trans-sexuals are male – that is, male-to-female: one in 10,000, as against one in 30,000 female-to-male (APA data).
There is if anything still less justification for obesity to be a category within ‘identity politics’, in that being fat is a failure to make a better lifestyle choice and is not an irreversible, inescapable condition. It was not even a pragmatic inclusion given the very high incidence of obesity in the USA. The emergence of ‘fat studies’ was as a subsidiary of ‘women’s studies’, and therefore presumably because either ‘lesbians’ are more than twice as likely to be obese as heterosexual women (Boehmer, Bowen and Bauer 2007) and/or that ‘valourising’ the obese would be in line with the extreme-feminist notion that a female should not be judged according to her attractiveness.
In entering political centre stage, the several abstracted faux groups displaced ‘class’, because in ‘the workers’ being now considered collectively persona non grata, the ‘working class’ was no longer recognised as ‘disadvantaged’.
Marxian ideological belief being always in terms of a ‘power’ [sic] struggle between one bloc and another within society — formerly the ‘bourgeoisie’ versus the ‘proletariat’ — such that the ‘powerless’ [sic] are set to overthrow the ‘powerful’ [sic]; then as long as this dynamic remained it was not a large adjustment to re-envision the details.
Conflict was now between a more abstract but still supposedly dominant ‘group’ of generically men – anyone male / ‘white’ / heterosexual, etc – as the one with ‘power’ [sic], against the one without, being a cobbled-together melange of abstractions – supposedly generically women, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, etc.
With the benefits accruing in terms of saving face, the adjustment has been seamless.
Reality being held to result from whichever ‘group’ is deemed to hold ‘power’ [sic] (Green 2006), then it follows in internally-consistent imagination that reality is changeable in the mere assertion that a ‘powerless‘ [sic] ‘group’ somehow is set to take the place of a ‘powerful’ [sic] ‘group’. A self-fulfilling prophecy, this is the imperative driving ‘identity politics’ that has come to be dubbed ‘political correctness’, with its fervent focus on mere forms of words as if they have inherent efficacy.
The problem then becomes the absence of any external validity to ‘identity politics’ reasoning.
The need arising was for a novel intellectual underpinning, which was supplied in the confused strands of philosophy grouped together as ‘postmodernism’ (as applired in ‘cultural studies’ / ‘critical studies’ / ‘theory’).
The incoherence of theory in ‘postmodernism’ is ascribed, in an excoriating analysis by Gross and Levitt (1998, 71-92), to its being “more a matter of attitude and emotional tonality” (p.71). This is as would be expected of what is an attempt to obscure the sophistry of ‘identity politics’.
At root ‘postmodernism’ is simply an insistence that any and every criticism of ‘identity politics’ is inadmissible.
As is wearily familiar within if not without academia, the ‘postmodernist’ stance is that any text is held to have only latent meaning, supposedly specific to local context (‘situated’).
As befits the ‘identity politics’ contention that given everything concerns ‘power’ relations, then all depends on someone’s vantage point in respect of these — in terms of their own ‘oppressed’ status. Whilst all individuals from one particular ‘oppressed’ ‘group’ perspective (eg, ethnic-minority female) are deemed to have an identical experience espoused in the same ‘narrative’, these particular perspectives are sanctified as being entirely opaque to anyone else with a different perspective, even if from what might be considered a parallel one in ‘power’ relations (eg, ethnic-minority ‘gay’). The perspective of a ‘group’ ‘narrative’ is considered to be trapped in the sub-text, rendering it decipherable only through the special technique of ‘deconstruction’.
Fatally undermining this flimsy reasoning is the non-reflexivity in the ‘theory’ in respect of the texts of the ‘postmodernists’ themselves, which are deemed uniquely to be legitimately understood according to their surface meaning.
Within this ‘discipline’, where it is held that no text is ‘privileged’ over any other, necessarily a complete exception is made for texts concerning the ‘theory’ itself; otherwise the ‘theories’ of ‘postmodernism’ (and its subsidiaries re ‘deconstruction’) could not exist.
If ‘postmodernist’ principles were applied to ‘postmodernism’ itself, then the ‘theory’ would become apparent as being entirely based in the very principles of ‘power’ relations it purports to reveal. A tautology, the ‘theory’ is without foundation: special pleading amounting to an insistence that understanding is unavailable to the uninitiated without the unique insights of a ‘priesthood’ of the political-Left. The great irony is that this is raw elitist-separatism: the very attitude and behaviour that a political-Left ethos purports to be fighting against and deems immoral.
The circularity in ‘postmodernism’ is extended further in that the notion of language conveying nothing but ‘power’ relations is inverted in a false logic to view ‘power’ as nothing more than language; and from this is deduced that all that is needed is a change in language to bring about a wholly new set of ‘power’ relations.
This is a risible dressing-up of the self-fulfilling prophecy in ‘political correctness’ and ‘identity politics’.
As is known from neuroscience, language is communication based in explicit cognition, where there is no access to the vast bulk of cognition, which is implicit (non-conscious); and therefore language cannot possibly be of the nature ascribed to it by ‘postmodernists’.
This terminal criticism is never addressed, through denial that there is a scientific way of acquiring knowledge about implicit psychology; but this is an argument itself no less circular than is everything in ‘postmodernism’. Gross and Levitt (1998 p.75) sum up: “American postmodernism is often accused, with considerable justice, of being little more than mimicry of a few European thinkers, mostly French, who rose to prominence in the midst of the bewilderment afflicting intellectual life when the proto-revolutionary struggles in the late sixties in France, Germany and Italy fizzled out without having produced any real impact on bourgeois society.” ‘Postmodernism’ has the same roots as ‘identity politics’; or, rather it is its offspring.
In the transition to ‘identity politics’, the quintessential form of ‘oppression’ [sic] in Marxian imagination changed with the family replacing the workplace as the putative key locus of conflict; transferring from ‘the boss’ lording it over ‘the worker’ to the man ‘dominating’ the woman.
This was a politics in line with natural prejudice (see above), easily translating into ‘pavement’ politics to fill the vacuum left by the severe decline in class-based political-Left politics.
The belief system was most apparent within the social work profession (McLaughlin 2005). Political-Left-minded individuals seeking escape from work in commerce found not only a shelter in the burgeoning state, but a niche where they were able to act according to ‘identity politics’ principles.
Social work became a locus of problematising social issues, most especially IPV, which was ripe for portraying as the supposed exemplification of male/female ‘power’ [sic] relations in the only portion of IPV that anyone is concerned about – that by males against females.
As IPV in the female-to-male direction contributes significantly to undermining the neo-Marxist rationalisation of why ‘the revolution’ never materialised, then the occurrence and concept of ‘non-gendered’ [sic] IPV had to be resolutely denied whatever the strength of the evidence.
Facets of human psychology are fertile ground for this ideology to take hold and become entrenched.
From the afore-mentioned biological principle that the female is the ‘limiting factor’ in reproduction: whereas she is treated as being privileged, prejudices evolved against the male through both the differential allocation of reproduction within male hierarchy (Moxon 2009) (and ‘policing’ associated with this) and, obviously, the close scrutiny of males by females to exclude most males in their mate choices.
Making still more plausible the political developments here outlined, is the male reluctance to reveal IPV against them – discussed above. There is also the self-serving utility of the contemporary political-philosophical mindset in salving cognitive-dissonance (and providing within-group status gains, not least through driving in-group-/out-group competition), which further serves as reinforcement. All of this works on the level of implicit as well as or rather than explicit cognition, given that the stronger the motivation the more implicit we might expect to be the associated cognition (Di Conza et al. 2006).
Another reason why the ideology of ‘identity politics’ so readily and strongly took hold is that in a wide sense it is a recapitulation of the ideation from Christianity that the future is deemed inevitable in ending in ‘the promised land’.
Social development is taken to be teleological: as if ‘pulled’ towards a utopia/dystopia of equality-of-outcome. This is a secular religion, transferring the notion of a ‘god’ from being in man’s image, via the humanistic deification of mankind, to worship of a supposed mechanism of social development, which is in no way scientific; merely an assumption that it is akin to a mode of reasoning – the ‘dialectic’.
After Rousseau, the individual is taken to be in essence ‘good’, but contaminated by ‘capitalism’. This contamination is regarded as superficial yet irredeemable without the ideology.
That all this is very much a residue of Christian thinking is outlined by Gray (2007), who shows that (neo-)Marxism is the apotheosis of humanist political-philosophies, which all spring from an ostensible opposition to religion, that actually itself is a still more entrenched religiosity.
This new quasi-religion seems to be as pathological as the closely related former quasi-religious ‘revisionist’ Marxisms as espoused by Stalin and Hitler (see below). Bukovsky (2009) warns that just as the ideological progenitor of (what he terms) ‘political correctness’ imprisoned him as a Soviet dissident simply for not being an active supporter, so it will be in the ‘West’; the ideology building unstoppably from excess to ever greater excess as adherents to the ideology refuse ever to admit they are wrong.
It is no surprise that what began as a desperate rearguard notion in academic political-Left circles to attempt to save face, has evolved over many decades into a mainstream ‘given’, with supporting notions, such as the previously prevailing theory of IPV, resolutely data-proof. This is notwithstanding ‘identity politics’ notions as to who is ‘oppressed’ / ‘disadvantaged’ and why, having no objective plausibility and being deeply at odds with common-sense from any vantage outside of the ideology itself.
With the long development of ‘identity politics’ over almost a century, its origin has been forgotten or never understood, and the lazy assumption is that it is simply well-intentioned championing of women, ethnic minorities and ‘gays’, rather than that this championing is instrumental in attacking ‘the workers’.
Often cited is post-colonial guilt, but ‘identity politics’ emerged initially in the USA, not in any European ex-colonial power; and feminism is central to the politics rather than or merely alongside anti-‘racism’. Also suggested is that it is merely some result of the experience of modernity: an absence of meaning (Furedi 2013), as if this had not been a major issue at the time of Marx and before; or simply a feeling of anonymity (Calhoun 1994), which hardly explains the fervency of the politics.
It is argued by Calhoun that ‘identity politics’ is nothing new in that nationalist movements should be included, but nationalist movements both today and historically are the apotheosis of ‘commonality’ politics in being perennial assertions of in-grouping at the most obvious fully autonomous level of social organisation.
This reality was the basis of the early-20th century nationalist revolutions as pragmatic modifications of Marxian ‘internationalism’. As such they do share roots with ‘identity politics’ in the sense that this too is a pragmatic modification of Marxian ‘theory’. Stalin engineered “socialism in one country” for Russia in the 1920s to try to keep at bay the rest of Europe in the wake of the failure in European nations of early attempts at ‘proletarian’ revolt.
This paralleled the shift in position by Mussolini (who was the editor of the newspaper of the Italian socialists) a few years before, at the outbreak of World War One, in asserting the Italian ‘proletariat’ against that of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which it was feared was intent on swallowing Italy.
‘Fascism’ was ‘national socialism’, as explicitly labelled in the German copying of the Italian model: a Marxian splintering, not a political-Right manifestation. [Revolution overthrowing elites in favour (ostensibly) of the masses was hardly any form of conservatism – and neither was ‘fascism’ ‘racist’: the ‘racism’ of the Nazis was bolted on as an historically deep-rooted aberration peculiar to Germany, which was not shared by Italy.]
That ‘fascism’ is the bogeyman of Marxism/socialism is through the former being derived from the latter, leaving little to distinguish them, driving the fierce internecine conflict so readily engaged in by the political-Left. All nationalism – whether emerging as a bastardisation of Marxist ‘theory’ or otherwise – clearly is in essence a politics of commonality, whereas ‘identity politics’ concerns sub-division of society into abstract categories to constitute faux ‘groups’ in supposed opposition to the ‘group’ with ‘power’.
Within academia there has been wide discussion about the difficulty in understanding the nature of ‘identity politics’, but this is as would be expected of a system of thought which is not what it purports to be. That ‘identity politics’ only ostensibly concerns actual ‘oppression’ / ‘disadvantage’ is revealed by Calhoun (1994 p.29) in asking: “… rather than being surprised by the prevalence of identity politics and seeking to explain it, should we not consider whether it is more remarkable and at least as much in need of explanation that many people fail to take up projects of transforming shared identities or the treatment afforded them?”
The answer is that the ‘identities’ of ‘identity politics’ arise not from within the ‘groups’ themselves but are conferred according to what can be posited in opposition to ‘the workers’. Actually ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’ categories wholly or mainly comprising males are ignored, whilst deemed worthy of inclusion are those not in reality comprised only or if at all of the ‘oppressed’ and ‘disadvantaged’, and which may be either narrowed to the point of absurdity (as with the minuscule minority that is trans-sexual) or stretched in their inclusiveness beyond credulity (as with ‘ethnic minority’).
That ‘identity politics’ is not what it seems is revealed by a fatal contradiction that is the major criticism in academic discourse today, highlighted by many, perhaps first by Gitlin (1994): “For all the talk about the social construction of knowledge, identity politics de facto seems to slide towards the premise that social groups have essential identities.
At the outer limit, those who set out to explode a fixed definition of humanity end by fixing their definitions of blacks and women”.
The paradox is that the insistent political demand that all individuals are the same – not least so as to establish entitlement to equal treatment – itself negates the very purported non-equivalence that supposedly establishes any need that there may be for redress in the first place.
And if instead it is held that there are major differences – as those on the ‘essentialist’ side of the debate contend — then equality would be better realised not by providing treatments that are the same, but by ones that are accordingly different.
Yet, the firm belief that all is socially constructed pretends no difference that is not an arbitrary and merely temporary playing out of ‘power’ interactions, which equal treatment is intended (supposedly in time) to nullify. The feminist core of ‘identity politics’ is an endless self-contradiction in just this manner: simultaneously holding that women and men are quintessentially different whilst insisting that they are exactly the same. An intractable problem, it is recognised by theorists of feminism as the source of long-standing internecine debate showing little sign of diminishing.
The little or no internal consistency in the ‘theory’ stems directly from its origin and development not to address issues in the real world but as an attempt to hide uncomfortable truths within academic political-Left politics.
Yet ‘identity politics’ is now so entrenched across ‘Western’ society that it has a life of its own well beyond the latter-day now quite intense critique of it from within the academia that spawned it. Such critique does not, however, extend to uncovering the actual origins of the ideology, indicating that this is just another phase in the endless attempt by the political-Left intelligentsia to try to save face.
The ultimate explanation of ‘identity politics’ and ‘postmodernism’ is the basis of politics generally: perennial universal status-striving, usually masked by ‘competitive altruism’.
Acquiring social pre-eminence is to secure rank and also to be part of a pre-eminent in-group – one that is almost as separate from society as it is at its apex: elitist-separatism. Implicitly (beneath or only dimly in conscious awareness) — unwittingly – this is what the political-Left appears to be concerned with.
Conceiving of society as being cooperative, with any competition considered aberrational, those with a political-Left ethos are left peculiarly blind to their own competitiveness.
The ideology seems very much a displaced expression of it, and explains the peculiarly vehement bigotry of its adherents, and why supposed ‘proletarian’ revolution invariably produced a tyranny, and one actually directed towards the ‘proletariat’, not by it.
The egalitarian ethos is a competitive-altruistic feint to assist status-grabbing in rejecting the legitimacy of any rival elitist-separatism, duping others, and precluding even self-awareness of one’s own elitist-separatist aspiration. It is in respect of this, ultimately, that are deployed the endless attempts to salve cognitive-dissonance so prominent a part of political-Left experience.
There is a paradox here in that attempting somehow to transcend human nature, the political-Left confirms its reality. A related irony is that the very charge made against ‘the workers’ of a psychological dysfunctionality in supposedly not being able to see what is in their own best interests, actually is political-Left myopia in respect of the psychology of its own ethos.
It is not that Neo-Marxism/ ‘identity politics’/ ‘political correctness’/ ‘postmodernism’ is an altruism that is in fact disguised self-interest: in the service of its own ends the political-Left ethos adopted a deception designed to fail to identify the actually ‘disadvantaged’ / ‘oppressed’, expressly so as to make their condition still worse; as a form of revenge on those regarded as ungrateful for past efforts on their behalf.
In whatever manner the underpinning political philosophy collapses, the prospect is of a reversion to the understanding of IPV which formerly held sway. This was exemplified in the one non-‘saucy’ topic of those ribald English seaside postcards of old: the domineering past-her-prime plump red-faced wife wielding her rolling pin or frying pan, intent on perpetrating serious IPV, or at the very least explicitly threatening it; with the victim her hapless husband perhaps not so much weedy as lithe through the frequent enforced exercise of so much running to escape her.
IPV in popular imagination always having been not to take seriously the impact of violence on male victims, it is easy to see how extreme ideology took hold as it percolated down from academia, to reverse the sexes as to the perception of the chief perpetrator. The comedy of course did not survive this sex-inversion, and the seaside postcard view has been consigned to the presumed false-stereotype dustbin of history.
However, that the current view of IPV took hold only because it rode piggy-back on implicit psychology stemming from underlying biology, leaves the change in the minds of ordinary people in its most important respects superficial. It’s likely, therefore, that people in general will readily relinquish the blinkers imposed on them ‘from on high’ to resume the common-sense perspective that IPV is female- rather than male-perpetrated.
Looming in a future nearer than might be feared may well be a far more enlightened and well-rounded – even scientifically informed – popular view of IPV amounting more or less to the status quo ante.