Brocialism

The more I’ve thought about Mark Fisher’s hit job on what he deems identitarianism, the madder I’ve gotten. My muted initial response was due in part to the fact that I’d sort of written him off since he began his bid to become a public intellectual; he was much more interesting, politically and philosophically, as a blogger, before his writing veered toward the pluralistic and oracular. It’s also hard to take seriously anyone who uses playground taunts as the basis of an architecture of social types. Thinking that name-calling (“vampires”) can be the foundation of a critical theory is embarrassing and ridiculous.

Then, as with other things that become more nefarious once they are put to use, I started to see the effect the curiously specifics-free article’s circulation was having, the way it was being used to diagnose and polemicize against “post-Occupy neo-identitarianism and privilege guilt-tripping,” for instance, or the way it was praised for recentering questions of class and organization, which had been sidelined by the identitarian anarchists. All of which made sense upon rereading the piece and seeing Fisher’s curious decision to go to the barricades for Russell Brand, defending him from charges of vanguardism and wanting to lead the revolution. But that (willfully, I’d say) mischaracterizes the criticisms of Brand, the most substantive of which had to do with his loutish sexual politics and behavior and his focus on equality and political corruption–the socialist reforms couched in an idiom of revolution. Fisher has to perform some impressive mental gymnastics to make Brand a working-class victim of cultural identitarianism, a victimization that Fisher incredibly extends to himself in his claim that the vampires nearly drove him from politics.

The nastiness of Fisher’s polemic was heightened for me when I found out a little while after reading it that a writer whose work I respect a lot was jerked around by a journal of proud brocialism. The journal is Jacobin and the writer is a gay migrant woman of color who wrote an article critical of DREAM activists and their normalizing, citizenship-based politics, only to have Jacobin decide at the last minute to not publish the article. Jacobin didn’t give a specific reason for the aboutface, and it’s more than safe to assume that they feared alienating just the sort of social-democratic groups that make up their audience. The important thing here, though, and what connects Jacobin with Fisher, is not the cause but the effect: the (attempted) silencing of voices that criticize and refuse the nationalist, party-based, inclusive politics of socialism. It’s so tiresome to have these critical queers killing your brocialist buzz.

Of course it’s no coincidence that the people who write rants like Fisher’s are middle-aged white dudes who’ve had their feelings hurt by the Internet, sometimes, admittedly, abetted by younger white dudes. But here’s an idea: even if privilege theory is problematic (and it is, though I think it’s aiming at something worth working towards, as I try to get at here), how about accepting that you do have a higher, and certainly different, social position, not taking criticisms personally, and instead using them as a way to expand and modify your political outlook and positions? In other words, don’t be a defensive old fart who takes criticism as a cue to defend your subject position. It might also be helpful not to use “identitarian” as invective and not to assume that just because others fail to share your politics they are ignoring class. I have criticisms of intersectionality, but intersectional analysis certainly does not abnegate class. Pretending that it does is highly insulting, not to mention an exhibition of the muscular-socialist crap that’s (rightly) being criticized.

All of this relates, in odd and disturbing ways, to recent events in British leftist-socialist politics. As far as I know, Fisher was not and is not a member of the SWP, and I don’t intend in any way to smear him with its taint. But he’s certainly associated with that milieu, and his politics seem to have evolved to the point where they are effectively the same as the SWP’s, regardless of institutional affiliation. So it’s notable that in the wake of the party’s rape scandal he and others have opted for retrenchment and chosen to focus energy on those who bring up questions of gender, race, and sexuality. (The “others” include Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, who have rebranded Leninist technocracy as the kinky-sounding accelerationism.) One would think he’d use a bit more caution when discussing gender politics in light of that horrific, sustained series of events, which should have raised concerns beyond the cretinous personalities involved, to include questions about party structure, socialist leadership, democratic centralism, and more. That is, the basic tenets of socialism. Especially, the events should make someone hesitate before avering that questions of gender are nonpolitical and distracting from the primacy of class, which is frighteningly similar to what the women assaulted by Martin Smith were told by the party when they complained. Of all the political routes Fisher and his acolytes could have taken after the events of the spring, focusing critical energies on (as they put it, in sneering tones) neo-anarchism, post-structuralist horizonalists, and identitarianism is an interesting political decision.

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22 thoughts on “Brocialism

  1. Excellent. I think you got to two critical things here (well, many but two that stand out): class becomes identity, in the absence of any sort of reckoning with exploitation; and relatedly, and I think what I was gesturing toward with the comparison to SWP, how surplus value is created and by whom and at what rates is completely ignored. All this talk about a return to Marx and to class, and not a single word about how for the former the latter is created.

  2. Oh, look, I think Mark’s article was over the top and incoherent. I mean, it reads as if he hasn’t a clue what essentialism or identitarianism mean, despite having managed to ‘borrow’ the terms to create a brand over the years. So, I asked myself what work it was doing in a really minimal sense, all that talk about depression & enjoyment, etc. And you’re totally right to bring up the SWP. This is the whole point: it’s about recreating a business model founded on a membership that will do a lot of unpaid work, feed a few people’s narcissistic fantasies about being ‘leaders of the working class’ without question, and reconstitute the model that has been thoroughly discredited because, by now, we all know the results of those kinds of dynamics: it gives licence to exploitative creeps who think they have a right to the bodies of their members, in more ways than one. But the most telling thing about all of this is that Marx isn’t some guy who spent a long time writing interesting or important things, some of which might actually be wrong. He’s only important as a patriarchal icon, heaven forbid anyone reads his writings and not some doctrinal text from Lenin, Trotsky or Harman that, in fact, argues the very opposite: ie., makes it all about the revolutionary subject and not about the material processes of exploitation. I’m glad you raised the SWP stuff. A lot of this frantic “stop talking about racism and sexism” is fallout from that. And it’s been really interesting seeing which side of what I think is a very clear line people have taken on that, people who you expected to know better, but also people who’ve stopped gritting their teeth about crappy politics.

    1. For awhile I’ve been wondering if I’ve lost my mind, because the line seems so clear to me as well. I do think it’s possible to remain critical while clearly being on the right side of that line, which is why the decision to go the other way is so astounding.

  3. “As far as I know, Fisher was not and is not a member of the SWP, and I don’t intend in any way to smear him with its taint. But he’s certainly associated with that milieu, and his politics seem to have evolved to the point where they are effectively the same as the SWP’s, regardless of institutional affiliation. ”

    I think that’s called a smear..

  4. William, I was worried about that, but several people, including Angela above, have responded that they didn’t read it that way, and I’m certain that I put enough disclaimers on it to clear that my concern was not Fisher’s direct associations but the political route he has chosen when the scandal was still ongoing. I have the same criticisms of anarchists who responded in the same way to sexual violence at Occupy camps.

    So I don’t think your unelaborated accusation has much force. Do you have an actual defense of what Fisher wrote?

  5. I wish I knew how this was relevant. Though I do know that not all Marxists are Leninists. I think I might be one even. But the people and politics discussed in here (except Jacobin, which it seems safe to call soc-dem) are clearly (neo)Leninist. Are you saying I’m wrong about that?

      1. Sure, partially that. But even more it’s a viewpoint that sees politics and political movements as homogenous, or needing to attain homogeneity. That’s why the Lenin strain of Marxism talks so much about unity, and why Fisher feels the need to have class be the left’s focus and denounce identitarianism as petit bourgeois. (Leaving aside the fact that, as others pointed out, Fisher’s notion of class is identitarian to the core and that his belligerent name-calling attempts to mask that his understanding of anti-sexist and -racist politics is as shallow as his understanding of Marx.)

        This prescriptive unity and homogeneity comes from a political philosophy that understands things structurally and as operating under the one. That is, a philosophy of the state and of the enlightenment and capitalism. For capitalists and Leninists, history can largely be understood as the subject grabbing hold of circumstances and making what it wants out of them. Leninists put more faith in a sort of collective subject–but yes, they do have leaders and educators–but it’s the same view of history and politics, only with a different orientation.

        So far, that’s been a disastrous outlook and practice. Whatever its faults, identitarianism at least introduces, or can introduce, multiplicities into politics.

  6. I also thought that the comparison to the SWP was a bit off at first. But having said that, I found this appreciative comment on the original post really, really revealing ( http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=11299#comment-1136925612 ):
    “This is an article that needed writing. It reflects what I’ve thought about a proportion of my so-called comrades on the left for the best part of 40 years. If a genuine class fighter is accused by the state of murder, or a serious but gender/race/etc-neutral crime, we all rally round and say that he/she was fitted up. Make the charge rape, domestic violence, racism, etc., and there is a whole section of the left that assumes guilt, and continues to do so, in a style that would disgrace even The Sun or The Daily Mail, long after charges have been dropped or the person has been acquitted.”
    Even if it wasn’t Fisher’s original intention, the fact that these are the people who’re celebrating his critique should give him some pause.

    1. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to blame Fisher for other people’s awful politics, but on my reading, that sort of response derives pretty easily from the article, though the tone is not that blatantly persecuted…. And somehow pause has not been the respone. Jodi Dean, James Heartfield, and McKenzie Wark, and some others, have come out with nasty defenses that amplify Fisher’s worst points and go to the bunker with him instead of using the opening for other purposes and pursuing other lines of inquiry.

      1. It’s amazing how, given that Mark Fisher’s original purpose was allegedly to defend class politics, Heartfield’s taken his ideas up and run with them in a direction that, if taken seriously, would swiftly make class politics impossible.
        “The main claim of the anti-humanist philosophy is a rejection of the assertion of a common human essence. All such claims to the anti-humanists are false and ideological supports to oppression. Claiming, for example, that men and women, or white and black are fundamentally the same, in this argument, is to hide the oppression of the one by the other under the appearance of equality…
        Most of the posters hold the view that thought is not universal, but embedded, not true for all, but specifically attached to races and groups.”
        Not only does this line of argument sit oddly with Fisher’s emphasis on the vampire’s castle/neo-anarchism being a product of the academy, it’s hard to see how it could fit it into any kind of communist or historical materialist position. If thought, as Heartfield seems to believe, is genuinely universal and not embedded, then you have to bin the entire idea that different perspectives can reflect the interests of different and competing social groups. It’s hard to see how Heartfield’s “humanism” could lead to any other conclusion than total liberalism.

  7. Yes, these convenient slips between “accused by the state” & called out on sexism or racism (and worse in the case of the SWP) by people who (oftentimes and mostly) have far less social & economic power is the reason why I don’t think Mark Fisher’s article can be read outside the post-SWP fallout.

  8. I’ve approved this pingback thinking it might reveal to more people what an absolute pile of shit you are, Wolfe. So in addition to your stellar resume of transphobia and doxxing victims of sexual violence, you’ve added using the occasion of someone’s tragic death to grind axes with your political opponents. You are vile.

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