Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

66: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri part XI:
Identity Politics and Revolution

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         There are categories or identities that we give people (or which people claim) based on for example race, gender, sexuality socio-economic class, religion etc. that can bring people together to demand political change. These categories are also used more often to degrade, exclude, segregate and divide people. This is the catch 22 of revolution: we need to bring people together based on some common criteria but the criteria is often easily subverted by Empire and the republic of property to stop, inhibit or betray any revolutionary movements that may challenge the power hierarchies that exist. Today, modern revolution entirely based on identity is bound to be corrupted(Q1); however an identity has always been and necessarily is the source of all revolution. Today we need a postmodern form of revolution.
         Identity politics is the foundation for struggle because only injustice to a particular identity can arouse the moral indignation needed to move people to revolution.(Q2) However because an identity is a property (often inalienable) it is easy to be absorbed into the republic of property by establishing rules of conduct for each group and then having the groups police themselves. In this way a sovereignty of hierarchies and boundaries are established and stakes created within the identity's domain such that members of the hierarchy of the out-group identity fight to keep the distinctions. Postmodern revolution has three tasks to do if it wants to use and then move beyond identity politics.
         The first task is to reveal the violence of identity as property. In the early modern world women and blacks were clearly in a subordinate property relation with men and whites respectively. All other identities also share in the inclusion-exclusion dichotomy and subordinate status that property by definition requires. Property creates and necessitates a dichotomous hierarchy: I (or we) own this and you (or they) do not; I (or we) have privilege over an object that you (or they) do not (Q3). In the late modern world subordinate property relations still exist but are better hidden (Q4) partly through an ideology of deliberate blindness (Q5). Because the violence of late modern property relations has been better hidden and then silenced the imperative to expose the violence is greater today than ever before.
         The second task is to channel indignation against the structures of domination in a quest for freedom through a process of exodus (Q6). However there is a trap here that can corrupt revolutions: Identity politics that struggle for the recognition of existing identities, for a full legal or cultural affirmation of their authenticity, and for their universal respect and toleration have been corrupted and are on track to become part of Empire with their own structures of domination, control and exploitation.(Q7)
         The third task to keep revolution moving forward toward freedom; to prevent identity from becoming the end of struggle is to destroy all closed exclusive identities. It is not enough to storm the walls of domination and hierarchy in the republic of property for freedom in the name of “who you are” – the republic of property will find a place for you: a gilded cage. The fight must be for the freedom of self-determination and self-transformation: the freedom to determine “what you can become”(Q8). Both modern and postmodern revolutions use identity to expose injustice and create indignation to fight injustice. But where modern revolution whats to replace hierarchies with new hierarchies. Postmodern revolution seeks to use and then destroy the identities that are the conceptual source and foundation of injustice, hierarchy, exploitation and exclusion. (Q9)
         Q1 A modern or corrupted revolution is one that maintains identities and merely changes the ruling identity. Examples of violent modern revolutions are the French, American, Russian etc.; a democratic election in which the ruling party loses and is replaced is an example of a non-violent corrupted revolution. These are corrupted revolutions because they change one ruling identity for another; they seek to ameliorate the situation for their constituents and supporters against an opposition; hierarchies are kept and in- and out-groups switch places. Structural injustices persist. How often have you felt betrayed by a newly elected government that promised real change but failed to deliver? One major reason is that both in-groups and out-groups are beholden to the same master: the republic of property which exercises an excessive protection of property. Is an excessive protection of property such a big deal? What is at stake?
         Q2 Is it really true that only indignation can provide the kindling for revolution?
         Q3 As we have seen many times before the world is not dichotomous and yet we are taught to think in dichotomies. Our world is viewed and conceived through the ideas we hold therefore we are in a matrix like prison for our minds: Dichotomous thinking inspired by property is “the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” Is the lens of property really world encompassing? So what?
         Q4 Today women's work is still devalued as can be seen in wage statistics and experiences of glass ceilings. Furthermore we are all taught (though all media and advertising; consider the Bechdel Test) to view women first and most importantly as sex objects. These are examples of property relations attached to the concept “woman”. Women's reproductive rights reinforce and delineate women's property relations under the guise of ameliorating and emancipating women from oppression. But the source of the original oppression is still present, working and growing more powerful. How does this notion strike you?
         Q5 We are not supposed to consider a person's race, age, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc. when hiring or renting to someone. Police are not supposed to admit to racial profiling. We are not supposed to discriminate based on identity: this sounds good theory but what it has accomplished is a silencing of the debate; the hardening of the established hierarchies at the moment when progress was being made. Each time we add a new identity which cannot be discriminated we freeze the momentum that created the change in the first place. Now that we are not allowed to discriminate against X identity, the argument goes, there is no discrimination: so why bring up old wounds. Does legally ending discrimination actually end discrimination? Does ending legal discrimination reduce the indignation associated with real injustice? Ending legal discrimination has created sovereignties that thrive on and perpetuate their victim status. Do you believe that ending legal discrimination was a good idea in the long term?
         Q6 When the structures of domination are government supported, violence is futile. Most governments are very well prepared to deal with crowd control. Exodus (the vacating of centers of power and production) is a technique they are unable to deal with because it clearly shows the true nature of the dependency: the multitude (the dominated) produce what the dominators need to dominate. One great example of exodus was MLK's Montgomery Alabama bus boycott. It clearly showed the dependence of whites on blacks. During the boycott both sides suffered but the logic is that the expropriating class losses relatively and absolutely more thus giving the advantage to the poor or exploited. Exodus is the most effective postmodern revolutionary tool. Can exodus be used effectively to fight any injustice?
         Q7 The problem is that identity becomes the end of the struggle rather than the means of the struggle. An end becomes fixed and unchanging but people change and people can change their identities too. This changeable reality is what gets limited or destroyed by defining an identity politically. When you identify yourself as a medical doctor it is to help people. Would you consider it strange to say: my highest aspiration my goal of life is to become a doctor, a student etc.? If you identify yourself with a colour, or a race you are categorizing yourself within an exclusive community that imposes limits on what you can become (for example if you are white there are some things you cannot say around blacks). What is at stake by dividing identity into means and ends and judging identity as an end as counterproductive to common life?
         Q8 What is the difference and is it really a big difference to fight for the freedom of “what you are” vs. “what you can become”? Does fighting for “what you are” really lead to a gilded cage? Is that so bad?
         Q9 Any evil in the world today was not created by an identity (the original source or Pandora's box is lost in time) but it was perpetuated by the creation of the identity. Closed exclusive identities were created to maintain and expand the in-group/out-group dichotomy for the benefit of the in-group. Do you believe it is enough to stop an injustice by legislating it away or must we get rid of the categories we use too? Revolutionary Feminism seeks a world without gender; Queer politics has tried very hard to remain categorically and definitionally unstable; Black radicalism wants to eliminate blackness and whiteness. These revolutionary movements do not want to make everyone the same; a genderless, colourless, queer world does not mean we do not have gender or race or sexual orientation rather that these identities do not matter. Is such a world possible or desirable? Is there any worry about how you will identify yourself?

© 2008 - 2017, James Jeff McLaren