As the Brexit battle raged, the Morning Star identified a new and fearsome force, threatening working class unity and making rational debate impossible: identity politics (sometimes also known as the “culture war” and, more recently, by the single word “woke”).
An editorial (2 Sep 2019) playing down the significance of Johnson’s prorogation of parliament (“an extra few days to the habitual parliamentary break”), denounced “the one reactionary aspect that threatens to engulf the whole debate… the identity politics now gripping large parts of the pro-Remain, anti-Brexit movement.”
Notice that “identity politics” – never precisely defined in the Morning Star – only seems to have afflicted one side of the Brexit debate (just as the so-called “culture war” is only ever waged by the “liberal” side).
Blue Labour’s appeal to “family, faith and flag is not denounced as identity politics; nor is David Goodhart’s appeal to the “people of somewhere”; nor is the repeated invocation of what he calls the “white working class” by Morning Star favourite Ian Lavery MP (they even touted him as a possible leadership candidate for a while!)
Yet the Communist Party of Britain (the ideological masters of the Morning Star) could, in the immediate aftermath of the general election, put out a statement (“Politics of identity – British, Scottish or European – rather than class win the day”) accusing Labour of failing to defend “the millions of working-class and Labour supporters of Brexit… in many working class communities hard-hit by industrial decline since the 1970s [who] saw this as another, more grievous example of betrayal by their own party, its leadership and a London metropolitan elite”.
Marxists have a criticism of “identity politics” — of “naming and claiming”, of the idea that just to name yourself as part of a given group is to claim a moral backing for your words and actions, above and beyond evidence and reason. But the Morning Star’s idea here is just “identity politics” in the form of claiming moral authority as representing non-metropolitan, non-London, “traditional” people.
“Class” vs “identity”?
The Morning Star, the CPB and other Stalinists and semi-Stalinists (e.g. Andrew Murray and Len McCluskey) pretend to counterpose what they call good old-fashioned “class politics” against identity politics (“culture wars”, etc.).
The problem for these people is they understand class not by Marxist analysis (property relations and relationship to the means of production), or even serious bourgeois social science, but by categories drawn up by the marketing industry (the “National Readership Survey”) that defines the “working class” as semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers lumped together as “C2DE”.
This category becomes even more problematic when applied to retired people, no longer part of the production process or connected to organised labour.
What lies behind most of the talk about identity politics, “culture wars” etc is a refusal to recognise that the working class has long been in large part ethnic minorities, women and LGBT+ people and is now majority white-collar. These are at least as much Labour’s “heartland” constituents as retired white former manual workers.
They are the actual, existing working class. The failure of some leftists and would-be Marxists to understand this can only be put down to… identity politics.