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everyday experience key


Mas'ud Zavarzadeh, Marxist author, 2003


This mimetic theory of the social, like all forms of mimesis, is founded upon the privileging of experience. The centering of “experience” in postmodern social movements has taken the form of “identity politics.” “Identity politics” is a theory that fragments social solidarity by privileging “difference,” which derives from the different experiences of people as “woman,” “gay,” “lesbian,” “black,” “Latino,”…. It deploys the difference (of experience) to naturalize “pluralism” and “multiculturalism,” and in so doing, conceals the primacy of the social division of labor in the organization of postmodern capitalism.

“Identity politics” is founded upon the assumption that the only authentic mode of political practice is acting on the basis of one’s own unique experience as a woman, a gay, a lesbian, an African-American, an African-American woman, a lesbian African-American woman…. Only an African-American can speak for an African-American; only a woman can speak for a woman, but even this is problematic for a white woman cannot speak for an African-American woman…. Accordingly, an intellectual cannot speak with any legitimacy for the proletariat because he/she does not have the appropriate “experience.” In fact, following the Foucault—Deleuze—Guattari line of ludic politics, speaking for the other is regarded, in postmodern pluralism, to be an act of violence against the other. Any “speaking for” is considered to be “universalist” and “programmatic” (to quote the second reader). A call for revolution “from above” is without experiential authenticity and thus fraudulent. One’s moral legitimacy in politics, in other words, is confined to ones experience and legitimacy disappears the moment one transgresses the boundaries of one’s experience.

As its popularity shows, “identity politics” is a highly useful theory of politics for transnational capitalism. “Identity politics” completely erases “labor” which provides the basis for commonality in all social practices, and in so doing, it obscures the political economy of “production,” which is the main source of exploitation. Before one is a gay, an African-American, a woman, a Latina, one is situated in the social division of labor. Before the emergence of “heterogeneity” (difference), there is “homogeneity” (commonality), and it is “commonality” that is the foundation of all revolutionary praxis aimed at overthrowing not only oppression (the rule of power) but also, and more importantly, exploitation (the rule of economic inequality). It is my emphasis on commonality that the second reader violently opposes and considers to be totalitarian because, unlike him/her, I regard power to be always exercised from above. In other words, I regard Foucault’s notion of power to be an ideological alibi for blurring the line between the “powerful” (the ruling class which owns the means of production) and the “powerless” (the worker who has nothing but his/her labor power to sell). The Foucauldian theory of power posits an all-inclusive power, thus providing the powerless with the illusion that he/she has as much power as anybody else: after all, Foucault assures her/him, power elicits “resistance,” and resistance” is the strongest mark of power. All people (of all classes), according to Foucault, can resist! (This, by the way is the basis for the theory of resistance in the second reader’s text.) But “even a child knows” that there is a fundamental difference between the power (of resistance) of a worker (demonstrated, for example, by absenteeism) and the power of the buyers of labor power. Power is determined in the relations of production.

Identity politics” obscures exploitation and therefore diverts social struggle away from a revolutionary praxis for socialism and towards mere reforms for capitalism with a more humane face. It reduces solidarity to feelings of sympathy and substitutes the “moral” for the “political”; the “local” for the “global”; “context” for “history,” and “consensus” for “critique.” A radically different theory of the “other” is offered by Marx and Engels in their Manifesto of the Communist Party where they write: Finally, in times when the class struggle nears the decisive hour, the process of dissolution going on within the ruling class, in fact within the whole range of old society, assumes such a violent, glaring character, that a small section of the ruling class cuts itself adrift, and joins the revolutionary class, the class that holds the future in its hands. Just as, therefore, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over to the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970, 42).

Solidarity, in the work of Marx and Engels, is thus founded upon a historical and “conceptual” understanding (theory) of the social totality and not on “experiencing” the locality of the lifezone of the monadic subject. It is global knowledge—this “comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole”—that is the target of poststructuralist localism as well as postmodern “social movements” (from feminism and environmentalism to queer theory, all of which advocate an “identity politics” founded upon “difference”).


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