On identity-reductionism vs. experience-inclusive revolutionary theory


the political guideline of “no matter what, it is unacceptable to disagree with someone about x political matter if they have y identity/lived experience” is not a liberatory set of politics.

there’s a distinction that should be made here:

there’s the very real fact that of course we should be open to hearing people’s lived experiences. people who try to insist that they know everything about how things were for a Cuban expat’s family in Cuba are out of line. it’s important to not deny *this particular set of facts*, the narrative of *their own lives*.

but it’s also incorrect for a Cuban expat to be able to show up and have people have no choice but to take their word on Castro.

for instance, there are some Palestinians who collaborate with the Israeli government, in the Palestinian Authority. if we were to talk with them, they might say, “listen, yes there are problems but fundamentally, Israel does not need to go–it is fine if Israel continues to exist.” there are some black women, such as Condoleezza Rice, who will tell us, “yes, the u.s. has problems with race relations, but the united states is a force for good in the world and is overall working to solve white supremacy.” neither of these statements is a personal narrative or the telling of a lived experience. they are overall political interpretations–and specifically, they are the oppressor’s perspective.

truth, if we know that a person who faces oppression is offering the oppressor’s perspective on a political question, then it is betrayal to the rest of the people who face that oppression to not disagree with that perspective. if Barack Obama, who is a war criminal, tries to show up to talk somewhere, yeah you’d better believe i want to see him interrupted–even if the subject he is slated to talk about is white supremacy–because i know for a fact he is a committed agent of the empire and he’s going to give the empire’s perspective on it, which should be denied a platform.

“Cuba si, Castro no,” for instance, is the empire’s perspective. it means “the revolution was bad, should never have happened, and needs to get overthrown by the united states.” this is an imperialist perspective that, if successfully acted on, would plunge the Cuban people into much deeper poverty and oppression. if i recognize the necessity of communism, then i would be treasonous to the broad masses of humanity to let an anti-revolution expat’s perspective rule the day. such a person’s Cuban descent does not make them automatically right, and my not being Cuban does not make me automatically wrong on this question.

we must fight white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism-imperialism tooth and nail.

but it must be said that these struggles have been going on long enough that at this point we can be scientific about it. the mechanics of the struggle have been understood and passed down. for most of their struggle, MLK and Malcolm X tried to fight white supremacy without fighting capitalism-imperialism but then they started to really have deeper success when they recognized that mistake and began to fight capitalism-imperialism as well. incidentally, that’s also when the u.s. government got truly terrified of them and began to try to kill them.

we have learned that if a person claims to want to fight white supremacy but isn’t on board with fighting capitalism-imperialism, they are going to come to some incorrect conclusions. even a white person will be correct if they learn and understand these lessons that have been handed down.

and if that white person knows them, it is important for them to try to convince anyone and everyone of them, unless the person listening shows themselves diehard committed to the perspective of the oppressor. if i’m in a conversation and a black, brown, or indigenous person says, “i’m pretty sure we can solve police brutality by working with the cops,” in fact, if i can, i have a duty to express the viewpoint to anyone listening that in fact the police are the enemy of the people, and always have been, and try to explain how we know this, both from what we know about the inner logic of capitalism-imperialism and from the lessons learned in the experience of past struggles.

there is definitely 100% such a thing as *tact* in here–tact is real and important. i should be kind, if i can. i should not assume someone is intentionally serving the oppressor, but rather is still simply speaking from the default perspective, which is the oppressor’s perspective. but i should also not mince words–it is okay to say “collaborating with the police cannot ever solve this problem, and here’s why…”

how do i know it has never worked? yeah, i read books about it. yeah, i never met Malcolm X in person. that’s okay, i read what he wrote, i’ve studied the things he’s studied. Malcolm X didn’t become certain that police collaboration would never ever work because he somehow had millions of years of lived experiences that made him personally sure–he read history and about how the system works. i came to almost all the same conclusions he came to, using the same methods he used. we don’t have a better way of figuring it out than that: studying the question scientifically.

studying history and listening to what the most successful revolutionaries and revolutionary movements said is the *best* way, for *anyone*, to figure out what’s correct. we should always be struggling to deepen and nuance our understanding and letting it be modified and complex-ified by what we hear from personal accounts–but those personal accounts don’t falsify the perspective formulated by the self-conscious revolutionary struggle of millions, or hundreds of millions, of people.

one should also be wary of one’s own *prejudice*. people who don’t face a given oppression are going to face a psychological pressure and have *some* tendency from their upbringing and ongoing treatment by society to adopt the oppressor’s perspective, or a perspective that serves the oppressor. this is not the end-all, be-all, but it is a real effect. what it doesn’t mean is that all oppressed people (or people with a given lived experience) have the correct perspective, and all non-oppressed have the incorrect perspective.

in short, there is a difference between (a) a revolutionary politics that understands that lived experience is the raw material that helps us understand the complicated nature of the struggle to end all oppression *and then* strives to theorize these experiences of oppression and struggle against oppression into a universal framework that can be used by *all* people who are against oppression so they can collaborate and take down the system and (b) an identity-reductionist politics that says that lived experience trumps literally everything, even the synthesized revolutionary experience of millions and generations.

and i’m for (a), 100%, and for deploying (a) with tact and nuance. i am 100% against (b)–and in fact (b) is now consciously being wielded by the oppressor, by the likes of Hillary Clinton, to try to crush (a), and we should be aware of that and disagree with (b) whenever it emerges.


it should be said that there are both progressive and harmful elements that are involved in bringing people to identity reductionism. for a while the left was (and a lot of it still is) very white chauvinist, cis-het chauvinist, male chauvinist, etc., so there was an honest reaction to withdraw to focus on specific oppressions and try to fight them on their own terms without addressing capitalism-imperialism. an under-focus on the lived experience of masses of people led to a desire to insist on the centrality of lived experience above all things. so to a large extent, historically, it is the left’s fault this tendency exists.

but while identity-reductionism’s emergence and growth probably played a useful role in having a come-to-jesus with the left about its chauvinism, it was never correct in itself either, and at this point, given how we see one of the most central people in u.s. imperialism (Clinton) wielding it to try to say she couldn’t possibly be part of the establishment because she’s a woman, well, it has to be demarcated against clearly.

and really, truth be told, the ideological underpinning of identity-reductionism, postmodernism (“nothing’s true, your truth is as good as mine”), received normalization in academia through the 70s and 80s even while experience-inclusive revolutionary theory continued to have no place in academia, and to this day postmodernism is still very normalized in academia even now–which is not as bad as it might seem because academia is so divorced from the working-class masses. but it’s still pretty bad because it does “catch” a lot of the discontented petty-bourgeois students who might otherwise turn to communism and become good organizers.