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Right-Wing Identity Politics and the Trans Debate: the New Reactionaries.

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Image result for Rappel à l'ordre. livre

 

“In cultural matters the old division of right and left has come to look more like two Puritan sects, one plaintively conservative, the other posing as revolutionary but using academic complaint as a way of evading engagement in the real world.”

Robert Hughes, The Culture of Complaint. 1993. (1)

Trevor Phillips has been suspended from the Labour Party for alleged Islamophobia. What looks like a parting factional swipe at a long-standing opponent of Corbynism, only adds to the culture wars. After the crisis over anti-Semitism recent weeks have seen a new battle, over Transsexuals, reach a peak. Some have demanded that transphobes be added to the list of the expelled. Defenders of family, faith and flag from Blue Labour, self-identifying libertarians, and supporters of the Brexit Party in Spiked, full-blown national populists, and radical feminists have joined together to attack demands for trans rights.

Judith Butler wrote in her critique of ‘foundational’ identity politics, Gender Trouble (2007) “If I were to rewrite this book under present circumstances, I would include a discussion of transgender and intersexuality, the way that ideal gender dimorphism work in both ways to discourses, the different relations to surgical intervention that these related concern.” At present it looks improbable that differences between gender-critical, or “materialist feminists”, and those defending transsexuals, can take place within reasonable limits.

For Blue Labour, citing the inevitable Christopher Lasch on ‘narcissism’, Jonathan Rutherford asserts that, “Like other forms of identity politics, the language of its more extreme advocates has the same mix of moral self-righteousness and ideological certainty. Scientific facts that compromise ideology are dismissed.” “Identity politics becomes the singular pursuit of self-interest detached from social obligations.” He claims, “It is a struggle that many women feel is all the more threatening because of the involvement of powerful lobby and corporate interests.” (The Trans Debate And The Labour Party)The nastiness of a minority amongst those defending absolute ‘cis’ gender has shredded that hope to pieces. The Suzanne Moore affair has opened up a breach that is unlikely to be bridged. (2)

In 1993 Robert Hughes was one of the first to suggest that Marxism, dead after the collapse of official Communism, has had an afterlife by shifting away from “economic and class struggle in the real world”, theorising instead a variety of oppressions and “discursive” articulations and antagonisms. This ‘cultural Marxism’, exploring themes from German and French left theory, has become a target for conservatives railing against “multiculturalism”. Speech codes, the “PC wars” of the 90s, and. fast-forward. Today we have Mark Lilla’s 2018 left of centre critique of “liberal identity politics” (The Once and Future Liberal), and Douglas Murray’s conservative broadside against “identity politics and intersectionality”, “the last part of a Marxist subculture” (The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. 2019) (3)

National Populism.

Those attracted to national populism, who disdain the causes of minorities, have become champions of identity, of the “Somewhere” plain folks against the identity politics of the ‘Anywhere” cosmopolitan elites. This strategy is not confined to the English-speaking world. “The ambition is to imitate the activism of minorities – postcolonial or LGBT – fed by French theory …..in order to serve the cause of identity” writes Nicholas Truong in this Saturday’s Le Monde (Il s’érige contre la « dictature » de la « bien-pensance » : l’essor du national-populisme intellectuel et médiatique). In France, “national populism”, a “catéchisme néo-réactionnaire”, the theme of immigration, the fear of the “great replacement”, the ‘Islamisation’ of urban spaces, up to hostility to human-rights “mongering” (droits de l’hommisme) , and the “terror” of feminist campaigns against sexual violence and harassment. The denunciation of multiculturalist “bobos” (Bourgeois bohemians) parallels British sneers, from Blue Labour, Spiked to the Morning Star at the ‘Islington left”. Truong, with good reason, compares this to French Communist language of the past century attacking the “petty bourgeois”.

In Le rappel à l’ordre (2002) Daniel Lindenberg outlined the way a group of French writers had begun to denounce May 68, human rights, feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism, Islam, and “globalism” (mondialisme). These “new reactionaries” had moved from the left critiques of market liberalism to national republicanism, He suggested that anti-globalisation could serve as a crossing-point

A “crude piece of work” commented Perry Anderson. It takes no more than a few minutes to see some names, Marcel Gauchet, Alain Finkielkraut, reappear in Truong’s article, some, like Eric Zemmour, and Jean-Pierre le Goff, author of a study that is recalled or its postscript on the enduring impact of “cultural leftism” post-68, had yet to come to wider attention. Others, like the once respected historian of the French left, Jacques Julliard are much more recent entries, though one was perhaps forewarned by his willingness to debate Jean-Claude Michéa, who asserts that the original sin of French socialism was its Dreyfus Affair alignment with democratic liberal human rights defenders. That one of these figures, Michel Onfray, a self-styled anarchist and pop philosopher has extended his openness to reaction by contributing to the pages of the Nouvelle Droite Eléments, is the occasion for sadness. (4)

Realignments to the right that have yet to go so far could be seen in the UK during the EU Referendum and Brexit process. The Full Brexit brought together left sovereigntists, Blue Labour, Labour Leave, activists in Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, and members of the Communist Party of Britain. They contrasted the real popular sovereignty of the nation against the workings of the globalist EU elites. Andrew Murray has expressed the widely shared views of these sections with his hostility towards “rancid identity politics”, pitting the rights of “peoples” against the “poisonous seeds” of human rights (The Fall and Rise of the British Left. 2019)

The French new reactionaries have, Truong outlines, a strong and highly visible media presence right in the mainstream, the MSM. For those inflamed with hatred for identity politics Britain offers the consolations of Spiked, the Spectator, and the hard right press for those hostile to all things Woke, with the occasional television platform like Sky Press reviews. As interest in Brexit has waned some of  this new sect of plaintitive reactionaries  has taken up the cudgels against transsexuals. Elsewhere Verso Books publishes Andrew Murray, who thanks Tariq Ali for his “support and political commitment., The journal of Perry Anderson, New Left Review, is home to Wolfgang Streeck, a supporter of the Full Brexit, who believes that national borders are the “last line of Defence”….

 

*****

  1. Page 60. The Culture of Complaint, The Fraying of America. Robert Hughes. Harvill. 1994.
  2. Page xxviii. Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. Judith Butler. Routledge 2007.
  3. Lecture 2. Multi-Culti and its Discontents. Robert Hughes. Op cit. “PC Wars” in Chapter 8. New Consensus for Old. One Market Under God, Thomas Frank. Vintage 2002.
  4. Page 169. Perry Anderson The New Old World. Verso. 2009 Jean-Claude Michéa and Jacques Julliard La Gauche et le Peuple. Champs. 2014.
  5. Page ix. Andrew Murray. The Rise and Fall of the British left. Verso, 2019

White Guilt. From Stickers in Ipswich to Identitarian Politics.

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Racist stickers found on streets of Ipswich

A council has taken down around 60 white supremacist posters plastered around a UK town over the weekend, authorities have said.

“It’s OK to be white” and “reject white guilt” were written on signs across Ipswich, according to images shared on social media.

Max Stocker, a council spokesperson, told The Independent they have been working to remove the posters, which also included the message “beware non-white rape gangs”.

Similar messages have been spotted around different parts of the UK in recent months, including Hull and Perth, according to local media.

Signs saying “it’s OK to be white” were also put up in Bristol city centre last week.

Some of these posters bear the mark of Hundred-Hands, a group encouraging the spread of posters containing messages of white supremacy over social media.

Sam Murray, an Ipswich resident, claimed she removed 10 signs in the town herself.

“This does not have a place here,” she told The Independent.

“Ipswich is a nice town,” she said. “It is diverse and normally people just get on with their lives.”

Bryony Rudkin, deputy leader of Ipswich Borough Council, called the white supremacist messages “deplorable”.

“This racist behaviour does not represent the people of Ipswich or our town,” she said.

“Council staff have been out over the weekend taking these stickers down.”

Police are investigating the posters and aware of similar reports in other areas of the UK, a Suffolk Police spokesperson said.

“It’s OK to be white” spread as a slogan across the US several years ago, and posters started appearing across American universities.

One of the few telling points in Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission (2015) was his invention of a group called “Indigenous European – a direct response to the Indigènes de la République which claims to represent “colonial subjects” on French territory.  This is not the product of the jaded writer’s imagination. I Identity politics is the mainstay not just of campus politics but also, in Houellebecq’s twist, of an influential section of the European right. Génération Identitaire claims to stand for Europe against the “Islamisation of Europe” and the “migrant invasion”. Hope Not Hate writes that the British offshoot, Generation Identity, has this basis.

Martin Sellner, de facto spokesperson for the movement, talks of the need to preserve “ethno cultural identity” which extends back to an ancient European heritage.

Houellebecq illustrates how identity politics have moved on from the time when Naomi Klein could regret that “The need for greater diversity – the rallying call of my universality years – is now no only accepted by the culture industries. It is the mart of global capital. And identity politics, as they were practiced in the nineties, weren’t a threat, they were a gold mine.” Hollywood and the media aside, these issues have shifted into national populism, fall out from the EU Referendum, and the efforts of those who failed to oppose the Hard Right Brexit project to throw a smokescreen about Labour’s election disaster. (1)

Now we have people putting up stickers spreading the right-wing identity message. Those there say that at the Farage rally to celebrate Brexit last Friday some also repeated other ideas from this quarter, the fight against “cultural Marxism” held responsible for the other side, in the argument, liberal identity politics.

This is not just a fringe movement.

Prominent Spectator writer Douglas Murray’s Madness of Crowds (2019) is a sally against the “religion of social justice” prompted by “identity politics”. His The Strange Death of Europe (2017) is a lament about the suicide of Europe through mass immigration. The Spectator writes ends with a plea against those politicians who wish to “change our home into an utterly different place.” In short, Europe’s identity is under threat from others. Murray anglicised Éric Zemmour’s complaints against post-68 ‘cultural Marxist’ attacks on “(famille, nation, travail” with Renaud Camus’s fear of Europe’s inhabitants being replaced by newcomers, the Grand Remplacement. (2)

During Brexit we’ve often heard that the ancestral inhabitants of Britain are under threat from metropolitan, and cosmopolitan, elites. The late Roger Scruton observed in 2017 that, “The question of identity is bound up with that of sovereignty: who governs us, and from where?” Spiked runs a profitable ‘anti-woke’ troll farm promoting national populist, and pro=Brexit,  identity politics under the mask of saying, “Identity politics is really for rich white people“.   This ‘question’ has received a left response: the ‘real’ working class, who struck a blow against the capitalist EU in the Leave revolt, is under attack from liberal identity politics. Some with no doubt admirable aims speak of “the caricature of the white working class as racist and culturally conservative”.  In Haringey Labour it’s been debated that the working class needs its separate party group (Haringey: Labour members call for ‘working-class section’ in bid to regain power).

Identitarians.

The identitarians, who have branches across Europe, including Britain, were founded in France. Struggling against ‘cultural Marxism’, affirming their culture and selves. Douglas Murray has talked about “desire to continue to feel yourself guilty..” for the legacy of Empire. This is an idea can be traced back to Pascal Bruckner’s Le Sanglot de l’homme blanc (1983). From disillusionment with Third Worldism, the belief that revolution would come from the global South, the French essayist has not stopped exploiting the theme. In La Tyrannie de la Pénitance he already observed, in 2006 Western “masochism”, the desire to apologise for the, very real, crimes of imperialism. Imprisoning people in their ethnic and racial identities, leads to individuals staking up a tally of resentments, not to free themselves as a collective group with universal right. Many will sympathise with Bruckner and his conclusion that “shame” should be replaced by a common search for freedom. But most people who read La Tyrannie would retain the diatribe against those protesting at past atrocities and injustices, and his mocking at the “agglomeration of tribes” standing against the common identity of Citizenship. (4)

There is a point at which identity politics on the left meets the far right and that point has been reached by the French Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR) The PIR’s spokesperson Houria Bouteldja offers a picture of the world in imitation of US Black Power. She melds attacks on ‘Whiteness’ (Blanchité) and laments for the decline in Arab virility. Bouteldja takes it upon herself to speak for the “nous”, the “Noirs”, the blacks to the ‘vous’, the ‘Blancs’, the Whites, and has some words of advice to the “vous”, the ‘Juifs’, the Jews. In the struggle for the voice of the indigenous she affirms a belief that commemorating the memory of the Shoah is, for whites, the “the bunker of abstract humanism”. Anti-Zionism is the “space for an historic confrontation between us and the whites”. She has been pictured with a placard reading “Zionists to the Gulag”. Bouteldja is fêted in Berkley and other ‘post-colonial’ academic quarters. She has been given space in the populist US left journal, Jacobin. A certain Richard Seymour has called her “admirable”. (5)

White Guilt.

Those now rushing to affirm working class identity should take note of that adventure. Those who wish to talk about a halt to White Guilt have more in common with their approach than they might wish. Both the side attacking some kind of inheritance of ‘whiteness’ and those trying to stand up for an indigenous, left-behind, working class share something with the right-wing ‘identitarians’. That is the immense weight they claim for the past. The enemy of human rights and the French Revolution,Edmund Burke, would be amused to find that political debate has become a squabble about the “Inheritance from our forefathers”, the ” partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.”

This Blog prefers another side of the dispute altogether

Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the ages and generations which preceded it. The vanity of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.

Tom Paine.

 

 

  1. Page 115. No Logo, Naomi Klein. Flamingo. 2000.
  2. Page 320. The Strange Death of Europe. Immigration, Identity, Islam. Douglas Murray. Bloomsbury. 2017. Eric Zemmour, Le Suicide Français. Albin Michel. 2014. Le Grand Remplacement. Renaud Camus. 2011.
  3. Page 4. Where We Are. The State of Britain Now. Roger Scruton. Bloomsbury. 2017.
  4. Page 175. Murray. Op cit.
  5. Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous. Houria Bouteldja. La Fabrique. 2016.

The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray. Culture Wars seen from the Right.

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Image result for The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray.

 

The Madness of Crowds. Gender, Race and Identity. Douglas Murray. Bloomsbury Continuum. 2019.

Last week on Question Time  “Rachel Boyle, a woman of colour, audience member and academic, said: “Let’s be really clear about what this is, let’s call it by its name, it’s racism.” Fox responded that discussions of racism in Britain were “really starting to get boring now,” and accused Boyle of reverse racism for pointing out that he is a “white, privileged male”. Since then, the actor has been busy making an apparent campaign to become the new poster boy for the populist right.”(Independent)  For Douglas Murray the other, largely critical, reaction has shown the face of the ” new totalitarians. ” “ox, again perfectly reasonably, pointed out that he has had no more say than anyone else in choosing the colour of his skin and that in such circumstances the person who imagined she was being anti-racist was in fact being perfectly racist herself.” It was the “identitarians” who were at fault in this “terrifying parable” (The terrifying parable of Laurence Fox’s Question Time appearance)

There is a serious critical debate on identity politics or ‘identitarianism”. On the left responses began in the late 1980s in the pages of Race and Class with articles by Ambalavaner Sivanandan channelling the idea that leaders of pre-formed ‘communities’ should be represented and integrated into the state through Community Relations Councils. In No Logo (1999) Naomi Klein observed the emergence in North American student circles of what is now called ‘intersectional’ cultural battles, at the expense of fights about the increasing domination of globalised corporate power over everyday life. (1)

In the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium Kenan Malik attacked responses to Islam and the rise of people identifying themselves in “narrower ethnic terms”. He wrote, liberal indulgence, “helped build a culture of grievance, in which ebbing offended is a badge of identity, cleared a space for radical Islamists to flourish and made secular and progressive arguments less sayable, particularly within Muslim communities.” In 2010 Rumy Hasan observed that “A profound consequence of silence in regard to oppressive practices within religious-ethnic minority communities has been the abandonment, or the downplaying of key universalist egalitarian principles.” Chief amongst those, he stated, was secularism. (2)

In France Nedjib Sidi Moussa has taken apart the “ethnodiffértialisme” the “racialisation of the social question” primarily through Muslim identity – and the pretension to engage in “race struggle” by anti-Semitic ‘anti-white’ groups like the Indigènes de la République. From an Algerian family he does not shrink from addressing the failure of the radical left to address Islamist violence and the hatred of Jews La Fabrique du Musulman (2017) suggests that the so-called radical supporters of identity politics have a lot in common with right-wing identitarians like Alain Soral. Yves Coleman of Ni Patrie Ni Frontières and Nadia Meziane provide essential critical commentary on these issues in French. (3)

Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds avoids developing the views on the threat of migration. The idea that “the mass movement of peoples into Europe” is happening as Europe has “lost faith in its beliefs, traditions and legitimacy.” (The Strange Death of Europe. 2017). An authority on this, Yves Camus, and his theory of the Great Replacement, cited in that work, does not pop up in the present volume. It is not the suicide of a Continent that preoccupies The Madness, but ‘“a great crowd derangement”. This new Tulip Mania is ‘Identity politics’. “It atomises society into different interest groups according to sex (or gender), race, sexual preferences and more.” (Page 3) These “rights issues have moved from being a product of a system to being the foundations of a new one.” (Page 7). These “destabilising foundation of liberalism” lead to “ugliness” to “believe things that are unbelievable”. This “crowd madness” needs, like a minefield, to be “cleared”.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Murray was a contributor to Spiked, and an acolyte of Frank Furedi. Yet the former Revolutionary Communist Party guru is absent from his pages; his warnings about the post-68 left’s turn to a “bitter conflict between competing lifestyles – symbolic struggles”, the “culture wars”, are unmentioned. (4)

Post-Marxism.

Murray does however have a smattering of knowledge about the left and ‘post-modernism’. Citing Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) and an article on the same theme in Marxism Today, he outlines a shift from class polities to “new political subjects’, “women, students, young people, racial and regional minorities, as well as the various anti-institutional and ecological struggles” (Page 57). Skirting clear of these “post Marxists” fascination with the left potentials of populism, he observes that their “ideological children in identity politics and intersectionality seem to be content to inhabit an ideological space littered with contradiction, absurdity and hypocrisy.” (Page 58)

These new classes of “exploited” persons are explored, we learn, in the hard to read prose of Judith Butler, and produce “social justice theories”. The gobbledegook around social constructs and gender and race offers the gently e amusement of the “conceptual Penis as a Social Construct” and doubtless more opportunities for spoofs than Murray could cut and paste into his book.

The Madness of Crowds is determined to expose these absurdities. There is something deeply distasteful in the way that the Associate Editor of the Spectator rummages through the Web to find them. Gay demonstration, apparently, (Murray is openly gay himself) include fetishists with their leathers, sadomasochists flogging each other in the street….”(Page 39) Murray is fascinated with women singers’ wiggling bums, which is perhaps understandable, though the demand that they should be “sexy but not sexualised” will have passed most people by. Misandry – a new one on my spell checker – “Man are trash”, is a rubbish example of when put alongside this jumble of terms, “concepts like ‘male privilege’, ‘the patriarchy; ‘mansplaining or “toxic masculinity”. “ (Page 103) Is Murray suggesting that patriarchal structures do not exist, that women are often not oppressed by men, or that the unpleasant, violent, side of masculinity is something even a gentleman scrivener has never seen?

Unfamiliar with American campus politics one is still unable to take on trust Murray’s description of racial incidents and university slanging matches about people’s rival experiences. It would strike many people that in a country that elected Donald Trump, and which has a substantial, networked, far right, that racialism remains an issue beyond verbal jousts. Black Lives matter, most seem to agree, is a call that reflects a justified angry response to an unpleasant reality.

Tansexuality.

Murray reaches his lowest moment is the chapter on Transexuals. He insinuates that many trans people may be largely motivated by being “sexually around by the idea of presenting as, or actually becoming a woman” (J. Michael Bailey). This casts doubt on whether that “tans is a hardware issue”, that is against the claim that “trans are born this way. (Page 199) Digging deeper into the pit of controversy around transexuality The Madness of Crowds cites the hostility to those who assert that surgery cannot “make you a woman”. Greatly respected feminists who have taken this, or a more moderate critical view, and have been violently hounded for their opinions. “Transphobic”, Murray is not familiar enough with the subject to talk of the details of the rows about ‘TERFs’, feminists do have a legitimate point of view. So do transsexuals. But this book, with its prurient interest, casts little light on this “unbelievable unclear issue”.

Attempting a weighty conclusion The Madness of Crowds reminds us that in 73 countries it is illegal to be gay, and 8 in which being gay is punishable with death. Women are denied basic rights in countries in the Middle East and East Africa. Inter-racial violence happens across the world. “But there is a paradox here: that the countries which are the most advanced in all” in promoting laws and a culture of rights “are the ones now presented as among the worst”. (Page 232) He has no doubt that the agenda, “the last part of a Marxist subculture” is to “policies absolutely everything and turn people against the society they were brought up in. That the left believes that, “when intersectionality has done is job and he matrix of competing hierarchies has finally been nixed, then an era of universal brotherhood will ensue.” (Page 252)

Hidden from this present book are the countless Middle Eastern, Maghrebin, African, Asian Iranian gay and feminist activists. It is their “religion of social justice”, which many on the left support. Are we “using” their fight too? It is one very far from identical to what Mark Lilla calls North American “liberal identity politics”. It involves political action, and politics means joining people together, not separating them. The courage to join together for human, universal rights is our struggle. Feminist, gay and other movements are part – one part – of this, all over the world. This is a more substantial than limiting our “source of meaning” amongst our kith and kin, important as the “love of people and places” is. Or wallowing in snippets about the wilder side of American and British cultural politics. Or boosting an opposing right wing identity politics.

To top it Murray,”….has been described by French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy as “one of the most important public intellectuals today”.[8]

  1. Communities of Resistance. Writings on Black Struggles for Socialism. by A. Sivanandan Verso 1990.
  2. P 210. From Fatwa to Jihad. The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy. Kenan Malik. Atlantic Books. 2009. Page 224. Rumy Hasan, Multiculturalism, Some Inconvenient Truths. Politico’s. 2010
  3. La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa Libertalia. 2017.
  4. First World War. Still no End in Sight. Frank Furedi. Bloomsbury 2014.
  5. The Once and Future Liberal. After Identity Politics. Mark Lilla. Hurst and Company. 2018.