Monday, September 20, 2010

WBM Strikes Again

I'm not sure whether I'd recommend reading all of it (it's a waste of time), but skimming for gems like the following might be of interest.
"But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things [i.e. anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc.]."
This man is a charlatan. If you want to understand where neoliberalism came from and why it emerged when it did, read David Harvey. To say that it arises "precisely as a commitment to anti-racism" is preposterous, and politically reactionary to boot. It's classic blame-the-victim. Neoliberalism began to emerge in the early 70s as a class project to reconsolidate power and roll-back the gains from the period between 1935-1970. What was happening in 1970 in terms of anti-racist struggle? Well, prominent members of the anti-capitalist Black Panther Party were being murdered in their sleep by the State. In what universe could that, or the eruptions of black rebellion all over the country in the late 1960s, have in fact represented a "commitment to" neoliberalism. It's quite obvious that WBM's not interested in a serious confrontation with historical facts; on the contrary, he's happy to rewrite events to fit his "anti-racists and anti-sexists caused neoliberalism" fantasy.

Here's another gem:
"The truth is, it’s hard to find any political movement that’s really against neoliberalism today, the closest I can come is the Tea Party. The Tea Party represents in my view, not actually a serious, because it’s so inchoate and it’s so in a certain sense diluted, but nonetheless a real reaction against neoliberalism that is not simply a reaction against neoliberalism from the old racist Right. It’s a striking fact that what the American Left mainly wants to do is reduce the Tea Party to racists as quickly as humanly possible. They’re thrilled when some Nazis come out and say “Yeah, we support the Tea Party” or some member of the Tea Party says something racist, which is frequently enough. But you can’t understand the real politics of the Tea Party unless you understand how important their opposition to illegal immigration is."
Wow. The only problem with the tea-baggers is that they are "inchoate" and "diluted". Hmm. Interesting...

I can't even say that 2% of that quote above is true. Maybe 1% insofar as some tea-baggers' angst derives from legitimate grievances (e.g. social misery visited upon them by capitalism) which then manifests itself as racism or xenophobia. But, in a way, isn't that true of WBM as well? Isn't he toeing the classic Right populist line, i.e. "soft" complaints about capitalist inequality coupled with a vitriolic hatred for struggles against racial or sexual oppression?

Also, to say that a group dedicated to liquidating government's role in public life is dedicated to fighting neoliberalism is to wear one's ignorance on one's sleeve. Hasn't WBM read about the Koch brothers and the obvious astro-turf "roots" of the Tea Bagger edifice? Hasn't he paid any attention to real Left movements of late against neoliberalism, such as teachers and students struggling to stop school closings, or this for example?

WBM's point about dismissing the tea baggers as racists reeks of utter disdain for the entire idea of criticizing racism. Of course, there is a facile way of calling a person "racist" in such a way that it seems to just mean "you're an evil person", where that has some important connection to that person's intentions. But all of the politically sharp and critical ways of fighting racism give a more nuanced story here. The manifest content of the Tea Bagger phenomenon is racist; they are in the business of scapegoating and slandering people of color and blaming them for the crisis we're in. Now, what's interesting is that there is a substantial contingent of Tea Baggers who voted Obama; clearly, there are interesting things to say about how the impotence and powerlessness of some of these confused folks is finding an outlet in the false promise of racist hatred. But WBM doesn't pursue this thought; he follows the Tea Bagger thought and gives it an academic veneer.

Also, what he says about immigration is completely inept. The populist attack from the Right against "illegal immigration" is not, as we have seen with SB1070, an attack on the merely "illegal" part. That is already to paint the whole thing in "law and order" terms and basically accept the Right's dubious frame hook, line and sinker. Ask any tea bagger if they think we should make immigration legal and accessible and they'll start whining to you about "amnesty". What they want (ask Joe Arpaio, for example) is for "all those people" to "get out". They want to ethnically cleanse large parts of this country and make it "pure American" again. And many have rightly said that this kind of politics is proto-fascist. The anti-immigrant Right in this country is xenophobic to the core. It's no accident that they often pursue english-only policies, and strongly support police harassment and repression of people with brown skin (whether or not they are documented). And then there are the "Minutemen" who shoot people (women and children included) on the border to stop them from "breaking the law". Perhaps they are renegades against neoliberalism as well?

Now, of course the spike in xenophobia and anti-immigrant (as well as islamophobic) racism has something to do with the crisis. But WBM botches that point (see above) so badly that it verges on an apologia for tea-bagger racism. I remind you that anti-immigrant fascist movements in Europe have also been galvanized by the crisis and have been picking up steam in recent years. These are interesting questions, but WBM has no nuanced understanding of them.

Check out the passage where he claims that Glenn Beck is in fact unconsciously a left-winger who has an "important" position on immigration. Who knew?

Again, his complete lack of understanding of immigration, racism, class and ideology is staggering. Do we need any more proof that this man is not really on the Left? This man's facile scapegoating is politically corrosive, and isn't going to help build the kind of broad movements we need to fight against exploitation and oppression. This is a smug, old white man complaining about things that have never mattered to him: fighting sexism and racism. Of course neoliberalism (and, I might add, even more "friendly" versions of capitalism) are bad. But do we really need WBM to tell us that? And can we really make sense of that claim with all of WBM's Right-wing garbage tacked onto it?

Perhaps he should just stick to writing facile polemics against literary theory to the effect that texts simply mean what their authors want them to mean (making WBM the literary equivalent of Antonin Scalia).


Will Shetterly said...

I suppose the first clue to your misreading of Michaels is when you quote him, then use quotes to suggest he said something he did not: "precisely as a commitment to anti-racism".

He actually said, as you wrote, that anti-racism is only one of the things that neoliberalism is committed to.

You have noticed that the most prominent figures in anti-racism, Tim Wise, Peggy McIntosh, and Judith Katz, are all whites who hate to talk about class?

Ah, well. Thanks for linking to his interview! I might've missed it otherwise.

Oh, and since you pull the usual anti-racist trick of dissing Michaels because of his race, here are couple of black writers you might try:

Why Anti-Racism Will Fail by Thandeka:

The limits of anti-racism by Adolph Reed Jr.:

t said...

He says, and anyone with eyes can go ahead and read it for themselves, that neoliberalism "begins as a commitment to precisely those things", where "those things" refer to struggles against sexism, racism and homophobia.

That is preposterous bullshit. It also has the idea of being false. Read David Harvey's book on neoliberalism, and come back when you've grasped what neoliberalism is and where it came from.

The last thing I'll say is that your "argument" about Tim Wise, et. al is classic strawperson argumentation. I don't know what Time Wise, et. al say, but let's grant you that they hate to talk about class. Now, what you want to do is say that because 3 people who purport to be against racism hate to talk about class, it must follow that there is something wrong with, say, anti-racism AS SUCH. It must be that anti-racism, qua anti-racism, means "hating to talk about class". That's crazy.

That's a bit like saying: "well, Michael Moore says things that are false and imprecise. So it must be that the ENTIRE LEFT is just a load of false beliefs and imprecise claims... hence you should be on the Right."

t said...

I think you're the one who needs to re-read WBM. He's not your comrade. And he's no Adolph Reed. Are you prepared to defend his preposterous claims about Glen Beck, The Tea-Baggers, etc?

Will Shetterly said...

WBM mentions anti-racism in a list of things that neoliberals believe do not threaten capitalism. Your focus on anti-racism may be blinding you to his point: there's nothing socialist in opposing racism in the 21st century. Many, perhaps most, capitalists dream of a ruling class that looks like the ruled, a form of "diverse" class oppression that will be seen as just by people who are blind to the class war.

You're also misreading his point about Glenn Beck. There's no praise there.

Have you read Reed's article about the limits of anti-racism? It's short. Thandeka may be a little too spiritual for you--she's a Unitarian Universalist minister--but she is the author of Learning To Be White and knows a hell of a lot about racism and antiracism.

t said...

Richard Seymour's take on the issue:

Will Shetterly said...

I just left a comment, which may be in moderation for a while. What did you think of Adolph Reed Jr.'s take?

Will Shetterly said...

Oh. My comment was mostly pointing out that "neoliberal" and "neoconservative" get used a bit differently in the US and the UK.

Richard said...

It is not a waste of time to read the WMB interview, and challenging his perspective requires more effort than displayed in this post.

WMB makes serious errors of exaggeration, but that should not blind us to the fact there is no mainstream opposition to neoliberalism today in the US, and that movements in the US that used to have bonds with the left and Marxism, such as the union movement, anti-racist, feminist and immgrant rights ones, no longer have them. If anything, as noted by Louis Proyect today, the trend has been in the opposite direction, the willingness of the some on the Marxist left in the US to embrace the Democratic Party.

But that's not what WMB says. Like many acadamics, he accepts expressed ideologies at face value, and, thus, he rightly says that the propagandists of neoliberalism advocate anti-racism, feminism, gay rights and immigration rights as harmonious, if not necessary, for a market based society, but it is in an abstract sort of way, and not borne out by neoliberalism in practice. Neoliberalism on the ground has been allied with imperialism (for example, in the course of the invasion and occupation of Iraq as well as support for Israel, an high technology economic powerhouse), and, hence, has exploited racism, misogyny and religious violence to create new opportunities to forcibly incorporate peoples and regions into a global market economy.

Similarly, WMB says that neoliberals want to create a world of equal opportunity exploitation, but the problem here isn't that he's a buffoon or doesn't understand the real world histories of radical activism around issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and immigration (if anything, he probably understands the pacification of it all too well) but that he credulously accepts neoliberal utopianism (they certainly have no problem with expanding the pool of vulnerable insecure people in our society beyond racial and citizenship constraints) and accepts it as something on the verge of attainment.

WMB's comments about US corporations being amenable to incorporating anti-racist, feminist and gay rights practices is on the money, which is not to say that their record is a good one. Labor unions and left tendencies have been historically notorious for being behind the curve in embracing these movements for social justice, and corporations exploited the opportunity, especially among women and gays and lesbians (in relation to both women and lesbians, Ann Block has described it in her autobiography, "Arm the Spirit", while Nina Power recently engaged it in relation to feminism in "One Dimensional Woman") For a South American illustration of this, consider how the Pinochet regime actually had a liberatory dimension as related to women within the family, despite their intensified economic exploitation. Here, again, WMB's tendency towards exaggeration and distortion obscures an important point, that neoliberal capitalism has been more nimble in incorporating these social movements into its practice, however cynically, than has the left, which got caught up in squabbles over "identity politics" and the lack of ideological purity of nationalist movements on other ocntinents (another subject that Proyect has examined with skill).


Richard said...


Of course, I don't agree with his assessment of the Tea Party, but to summarily dismiss him as failing to recognize its obvious racist tendencies is to fall into the trap set by Democratic Party neoliberals, us versus them, which may be why he has mistakenly concluded that the Tea Party movement has some anti-neoliberal features. Your view of the Tea Party to the effect that it wants to 'liquidate the role of the government in public life' is also erroneous. They don't want to get rid of government, they want to control it so that it serves their interests, and theirs alone. After all, what will build build the border "fence" they want? What will continue to prosecute the wars in the Middle East that they support? Have you ever heard of a Tea Party person coming out against the drug laws and advocating the release of thousands upon thousands of people of color incarcerated in the US prison system as result? I haven't, if you have, I'd be interested in seeing it, and I mean that sincerely.

The critical issue here is how class resentment (expressed in common retrograde US populist style), racism and xenophobia and the Tea Party's nostalgia for a government that more effectively maintains social control over people of color and undocumented people interact, and drive the movement. Neither you nor WMB touch upon this, because each of you are caught up in the binary opposition of "racist"/"not racist".

As for affirmative action, WMB typically exaggerates and distorts, but affirmative action has been a failure in terms of addressing racial inequalities in this society. And, that's partially because it was never supposed to do that anyway (remember that Nixon implemented the policy to avoid more progressive alternatives), and partially because it was effectively adopted by US corporations as an effective public relations strategy as part of its manipulation of anti-racism against the left. To say that doesn't mean that we shouldn't have it, but instead that, by itself, it has shown itself as having a sufficient class content to effective a radical social transformation in the US.

Richard said...

Oops, that should be "INSUFFICIENT class content" in the last sentence of my previous comment.

Will Shetterly said...

You folks are aware that the Tea Party movement, according to Gallup, is 6% black in a country that's 11% black? That's better integrated than a lot of leftist and liberal organizations.

I don't think WMB is saying that the neoliberal agenda can succeed. I sure don't think it can, since the neoliberals are not about to share the wealth and class movement in the US is the same as it is in the UK. But the neolibs are promoting opposition to all forms of discrimination except class. So it seems to me and WMB and Adolph Reed Jr. and a few other folks that socialists really shouldn't neglect the traditional socialist issue.

. said...

Oh look, it's Will Shetterly again saying something stupid and offensive about race & class! Fandom's own miniature Walter Benn Michaels.

To anyone not in sf fandom or with no friends on LJ, I recommend reading this:'09

Will Shetterly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will Shetterly said...

Ah, there's nothing like an ad hominem attack from an anonymous source.

Yes, I did get involved in a flamewar with a bunch of neoliberals. My bad. Reason never trumps faith.

Really, there's no reason to argue with me, 'cause I'm white and in the struggle for equality, I've bled from the blows of racists who weren't on the internet. But you can argue Adolph Reed Jr. if you think you're up to it:

And if you don't automatically disrespect white women, you might also argue with Race, class, and "whiteness theory" by Sharon Smith:

. said...

If you think Kimberlé Crenshaw is a neoliberal that's your affair.

If you think that the present crisis has nothing to do with racism and doesn't require an approach to fighting that recognizes how racism still works in this country, then you don't understand the housing problem or reverse redlining:

I've had some terrible experiences myself with a few bullshit white anti-racists who pulled crap about how poor black lack agency, despite the centuries of revolutionary evidence to the contrary. But having solidarity with people means understanding how the struggles in their lives can be different from my own and still tied to them.

And the fact in general that I've hidden my name so that my boss cannot find my political opinions is just that, a fact. I look forward to the day when I'll either have the job security or the unemployment benefits to be able to speak openly about what I believe, but I don't have that safety at the moment.

Will Shetterly said...

Kimberlé Crenshaw was in the Racefail 09 flamewar? Even if that's true, the African American Policy Forum says she's all about black feminism, not socialism.

As for the main people I encountered, they're neoliberals. Search their blogs for discussion of class issues, and you'll find mighty, mighty little, and what there will be is the usual neoliberal meaningless gesture of asking that people avoid "classism." Because they believe in noblesse oblige, I suppose.

Now, where have I ever said racism was irrelevant? Of course it's relevant, and I've never denied it.

But you're very right that it must be understood. The problem with anti-racists was identified by Thandeka: They misunderstand the nature of power in the US.

As for wanting safety, that's your choice. I live below the poverty line, which gives me enormous freedom to speak. But the price I pay is having pseudonymous neoliberals misrepresent me. All things considered, it's not a bad price.

Oh, if you have dependents, I agree that you have very little choice. Ain't capitalism fun? I'm lucky that my wife is also content to live very simply.

. said...

No, she wasn't, but many people who articulated the intersectionality position were.

Also, that was a crappy link on redlining, sorry about that.

I very much want us to be able to fight strategically and in my opinion, Walter Benn Michaels is a jerk and an idiot if he thinks that he can discuss immigration in the way that he did, as if many people don't see laws like SB1070 as racist threat and an attack on them. And if comes down to it, I'd rather defend "illegal immigration" than not defend the demands for equal rights here by anyone who has fled from somewhere worse.

Will Shetterly said...

I'm confused. What did WBM say about immigration that you disagree with? Capitalists certainly exploit illegal immigrants--look at Meg Whitman.

I live in Tucson. We're right in the heart of the madness. A lot of brown folks support SB1070. I was in the big protest here; several of the counter-protesters were Hispanic. The Tea Party is nativist as hell, but their nativism includes folks of all hues. At least, if they're Christian and legally here, it does.

Will Shetterly said...

Uh, just to be as clear as possible: I was marching with the folks opposing SB1070. While many of its supporters aren't racist--they'll happily kick out Irish illegal immigrants also--it's an evil bill that's going to disproportionately affect brown folks.

t said...


You say "isn't that he's a buffoon or doesn't understand the real world histories of radical activism around issues of race, gender, sexual orientation and immigration (if anything, he probably understands the pacification of it all too well)".

I'm not interested in psychologizing WBM here. I'm also not interested in irresposible speculation about what he might understand all too well. I'm interested in what WBM writes in print. He has said lots of things to the effect that "neoliberalism ARISES as a commitment to anti-racism, feminism, etc." Which is false and evinces a deep misunderstanding of history and movements. He's also said (in the LRB and the NLR) that struggles against racism helped contributed to the rise and consolidation of neoliberalism. Again, this is utterly false blame-the-victim bullshit.

Neoliberalism arose in a climate in which all of the militant anti-racist struggle in this country had been violently crushed by the state. It was a class project to reconsolidate power and re-establish the accumulation process, and destroying the gains of the 1960s was part and parcel of that project. That meant crushing resistance to oppression.

It would appear that WBM doesn't know his ass from his elbow when it comes to the history of struggle. His complaints about neoliberalism are tepid. One gets the impression that we just need more post-war Keynesianism. He's no Leftist. This is classic Right populism.

Anonymous said...

The idea that the Tea Bagger phenomenon is a multiracial movement is a convenient myth for its apologists.

It is bankrolled by billionaires, and largely consists of middle age and older white men who aren't working class.

I find it pretty preposterous to say that "brown folks support sb1070". Lots of documented Latinos and immigrants fled Arizona because of the environment it created (let's not forget that it institutionalized racial profiling). Anyone with the faintest connection to the movements and demonstrations there would realize that this is false.

The sb1070 law is inescapably racist or xenophobic, to the extent that there's a difference. It's about marking out a certain group within the population, isolating them, and blaming them for problems they couldn't possibly have caused.

When Arizona was the "fastest growing state" a couple of years ago, the Arizona Right was happy to have immigrant labor facilitating that growth. But now that the economy has ground to a halt, they're saying in effect "we have no use for you". That's racist and dehumanizing. Racist, because a single group is isolated as the problem and scapegoated; Dehumanizing because it assumes that Latinos are only welcome in Arizona to the extent that they are instrumentally useful to the rest of the population.

t said...

I have my issues with the Adolph Reed piece- he's no stranger to polemics or overstated cases for controversial theses.

But Reed is historically informed and far more politically sophisticated. I feel that disagreements with him are, at least, of a comradely sort.

WBM is no Adolph Reed. WBM is a buffoon who has no serious political or historical acumen. He has no knowledge of movements. He's a bullshit artist. As Richard Seymour recently said of WBM in a comment on Lenin's Tomb:

"[WBM] hasn't a clue about neoliberalism, the Tea Party, anti-racist and feminist politics, etc etc. He previously claimed that you could deal with every form of racial and gendered inequality in the US, and it wouldn't advance the working class economically one bit. If he'd taken his studies as far afield as investigating the case of affirmative action, and the Great Society programmes of the Sixties, perhaps coupled with an examination of the Nixonite and Reaganite attacks on these programmes, he would have seen that he was talking through his hate. He pontificates without bothering to do any research. He polemicises against sock puppet opponents."

I think that basically sums it up.

Richard said...

t: actually, you took one paragraph of my posts and made it appear that my argument is that you should psychoanalzye him or speculate as to what he might understand

as for the first, that's clearly not the case, my purpose, as should be evident to anyone who reads my posts, is that we need to do more make pejorative comments about WMB and his article

because, for me, but perhaps, not for you, it really isn't about WMB personally, it is about what he says, and the implications of it in relation to our experiences over the last 30 to 40 years

WMB flourishes in an environment where neoliberalism has successfully draining the energy of anti-racist, feminist, gay rights and immigration rights movements through the intensified marketization of social life

neoliberalism has combined a faux diversity with the illusion of choice and entertainment to give the impression that it has a cultural place for everyone, as well as position in the corporate hierarchy protected by Human Resources

hence, to be successful as an African American, a woman, an immigrant, a gay person or a lesbian becomes increasingly measured by your ability to obtain your perceived gratification through the market, a cool car, a great condo, a dynamic sexual and/or family life

in relation to women, Nina Power has exposed this quite well, and I believe that this process can more generally applied to all

now, WMB implicitly recognizes this, and the fact that millions have been left behind, and we should acknowledge that, but, because his roots appear to be in a conservative form of an outdated form labor activism that focused predominately upon working class white males, he engages exaggerates, distorts and misrepresents what actually transpired within these social movements, and fails to recognize the relationship of neoliberalism to imperialism

but, if you just call him a "douchebag" as lenin did, or a "charlatan" as you, you end up missing what is the larger, more important question: why has the door been opened for people like WMB to represent the last 50 to 100 years as he does? and the answers have less to do with whether WMB is a charlatan, and more to do with the failures of the left itself to incorporate these movements into its activism and transformative visions as rapidly as neoliberalism did

it is easier to acknowledge this in contexts outside the developed world, I think

for example, as I noted earlier, it is recognized that women have been able to attain personal and economic independence outside the control of males much more in Pinochet's Chile than they were in social democratic and attempted socialist Chile of the 1960s and early 1970s, even though they were mercilessly exploited economically

more recently, Nancy Fraser broke the taboo of dealing with the relationship between feminism and neoliberalism in a New Left Review article a few years ago

so, it would be more productive, I think, to subject WMB to a more rigorous analyis, with the objective of understanding his errors, but ours as well, so that we can rectify them and be more effective in the future

as for speculating what someone might think, as I did with WMB, I believe that to be legitimate intellectual curiosity and discourse

Will Shetterly said...

Anonymous, the Tea Party is an evil, nativist, capitalist, xenophobic movement, but it has a lot of brown folks in it. I collected some examples here. I wouldn't call it multicultural because it's monocultural: conservative and wealthy.

t, here's the truest thing WBM has said: ” ... my point isn’t really to deny the phenomenon of status anxiety, it’s just to point out the extraordinaire eagerness of American liberals to identify racism as the problem, so that anti-racism (rather than anti-capitalism) can be the solution."

What evidence do you have that he's a Keynesian?

As for his point about capitalism's embrace of diversity, I just saw an article about a new law in the UK to prevent discrimination. But it does nothing to end class warfare.

JM said...

Just because some tea parties have black people in them doesn't make them not racist. Again, the minority of black folks that Shetterly displayed is a damn small minority. And yes, races can be prejudiced against other races too. Hence, yes, that still makes them rather racist, Shetterly said so himself.

Richard said...

in 1865, the Confederate States of America offered African American slaves their freedom if they would enlist in the Army, and some probably did

so, that means that the Confederacy wasn't racist?

Will Shetterly said...

JM, the argument that a lot of black people are too stupid to know that their political party is racist strikes me as awfully racist. (Said with a grin. I don't really think you're being intentionally racist.)

I think the Tea Party is classist as hell, and they like it that way. If all you want to do is oppose them, sure, call them racist if that'll rally the troops. But if you want to get people to change their minds about the Tea Party, to see it as the nativist threat it is, you need to attack it for being what it is, capitalist and elitist and a disaster for poor folks of all hues.

Richard, if you want a better example, black slaveowners volunteered to fight for the Confederacy at the beginning of the war in Louisiana. The Confederacy turned them down because of their race, so, yeah, they were racist.

Will Shetterly said...
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Will Shetterly said...
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JM said...

Well then, why do you think a small minority of black people joined the group? I didn't mean they were ignorant about other tea parties hating black people, I meant that it's indeed possible for races to dislike other races and in this case, the race group is illegal immigrants.

Will Shetterly said...

6% is hardly a small minority if the US is 11%. What's interesting to me is that the Tea Party has a higher percentage of blacks than the Republican Party does. According to Gallup in 2009, the Republican Party was only 2% black.

Will Shetterly said...

Oh, thinking of illegal immigrants as a race is interesting, and I kind of like that, but I have to note that a conservative immigration group wants Meg Whitman arrested with her maid. Whitman's got all kinds of class privilege, but she's not getting any white privilege from those folks.

Richard said...

Don't spend much time around California or the Southwest apparently.

Surely, you can't be unaware that the hostility towards "illegal immigration" is about Latinos?

I mean, when Dianne Feinstein and Pete Wilson helped get this rolling back in 1994, and ran the infamous "They Just Keep Coming" ads, guess who they were about.

Hint: It wasn't the Irish or the Russians.

Will Shetterly said...

Hey, I'm in Tucson, and before that, I was in Bisbee, six miles from the Mexico border. That's why I see the brown folks who want to expel brown folks. "I've got mine, Jack" is a political philosophy that crosses all races. Sure, there are racists in the Tea Party. But the reason the Tea Party is scary is it includes a lot of folks whose fear isn't about race.

. said...

Kimberle Crenshaw on the persistence of racism

Will Shetterly said...

And who says racism isn't persistent?

The question is whether anti-racism theories understand the problem or offer the solutions. In "An Examination of Anti-Racist and Anti-Oppressive Theory and Practice in Social Work Education", Macey and Moxon pretty much demolish the assumptions and note its failure in real-life experience. Their conclusion is devastating. They say its approaches "are theoretical and thus closed to the canons of scientific evaluation and because the discourse itself prohibits the open, rigorous and critical interrogation which is essential to theoretical, professional and personal development."

Here's a bit from an Australian study that found essentially the same thing: "In 1997 the Council of Europe coordinated a year of anti-racism campaigns and activities throughout Europe. A survey at the end of the year, conducted in European Union countries by the polling organisation Eurobarometer, found that rather than a decline in racism, it had been marked by a growing willingness on the part of Europeans to openly declare themselves as racist. Twenty-two per cent of those surveyed in December 1997 in Belgium, 16 per cent in France, and 8 per cent in Britain declared themselves to be 'very racist'. Thirty-four per cent of those surveyed in Germany, 30 per cent in Italy, and 24 per cent in Britain admitted they were 'quite racist'. As the primary goal of the Year's activities was, presumably, to reduce racist attitudes, rather than to encourage honesty and self disclosure, the campaigns run in European countries in 1997 would appear to have failed, if not backfired."

Anonymous said...

WBM's first sentence in the interview is folly:

"The differentiation between Left and Right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state's role in maintaining competitive markets."

Leaving aside the stupidity of the concept of "left neoliberal", since when has neoliberalism EVER really been about competitive markets? And even if we take the moronic language of neoliberalism at face value, it's own ideologists talk so frequently of the "minimal state" that it looks as though they wouldn't even agree that the state should maintain competition. Isn't the idea that competition must be maintained by something other than markets a thought that is tension with neoliberal ideology?

Anonymous said...

WBM's first sentence in the interview is folly:

"The differentiation between Left and Right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state's role in maintaining competitive markets."

Leaving aside the stupidity of the concept of "left neoliberal", since when has neoliberalism EVER really been about competitive markets? And even if we take the moronic language of neoliberalism at face value, it's own ideologists talk so frequently of the "minimal state" that it looks as though they wouldn't even agree that the state should maintain competition. Isn't the idea that competition must be maintained by something other than markets a thought that is tension with neoliberal ideology?

Will Shetterly said...

Anonymous, the interviewer is picking up from a point WBM has made before. Here's an example from "Against Diversity" at New Left Review: "For the answer to the question, ‘Why do American liberals carry on about racism and sexism when they should be carrying on about capitalism?’, is pretty obvious: they carry on about racism and sexism in order to avoid doing so about capitalism. Either because they genuinely do think that inequality is fine as long as it is not a function of discrimination (in which case, they are neoliberals of the right). Or because they think that fighting against racial and sexual inequality is at least a step in the direction of real equality (in which case, they are neoliberals of the left)."

WBM seems to be trying to distinguish between neoconservatives like Michael Steele, Michelle Malkin, Lloyd Marcus, etc. and neoliberals like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, etc.

. said...

This is what solidarity means to me:

If what you face concretely is not what I face concretely, then I don't get to pretend that it is. Yet, if I know that our struggles are linked, that what oppresses me cannot be undone without the undoing of what oppresses you, then I have to be your ally. Every time I try erase or hide what oppresses you concretely, I am not only working to main your oppression, I am also working against my own liberation.

For us to be able to work together against the structuring process of class, which we face together, I have an obligation to support you in your struggle against the oppression in your life, which may look and feel and operate very differently than the oppression I face in my life. But I also have to muster the courage to struggle against my own oppression and not simply ignore or erase that either. And I hope that at the times that I do rally myself to such confrontation, that you will support me and not tell me that I am wasting my time with little things like my own life.

Will Shetterly said...

., if your goal is to be in solidarity with upper and middle-class people of color, anti-racism theory is for you. But if your goal is to be in solidarity with working class people of all hues, it's about class, not race.

Yes, there is an overlap between the concerns of anti-racism and anti-capitalism. But you have to remember that many of the proponents of anti-racism, whether famous ones like Tim Wise or the Ivy League neoliberals who took part in the Racefail 09 flamewar, are working to strengthen capitalism, to convince people that communism is still bad and capitalism is better than it used to be. Socialists may be able to work with neoliberals on a few issues, but if they're allies, they're dangerous ones.

Anonymous said...

I resent what was said about Tim Wise. The guy is not a committed socialist: fine. But it's bullshit to say that he doesn't talk about class. He talks about it all the time: his schtick is that various forms of oppression are interconnected and reinforce one another. That's basically right. I might take issue with his coziness with the Democrats (though he definitely is willing to be critical at times)... and I might take issue with his naivete about the possibility of working for justice within capitalism... but let's be honest here: he's no different than other left-liberals in the US on that score. So it's kind of ridiculous to single him out because he's a liberal, and he works mostly on anti-racism. If you want to condemn liberals for being naive, wedded to being politically marginal, whatever.. then fine. But don't single Wise out because his main focus is anti-racism. He does good work and his anti-racist politics are absolutely class conscious, if only in a liberal way.

Anonymous said...

"they carry on about racism and sexism in order to avoid doing so about capitalism."

WHO? Who does? Where are the people talking bluntly about racism in the establishment? Where are they?!

Are you telling me that Obama is an anti-racist? Well, that's news to me. My man hardly mentions the word race. He sits by while black people take this crisis on the chin and basically does nothing. He refuses to do anything remotely progressive on the racial justice front. He's a mainstream Democrat!!! I don't know anybody that is serious about anti-racist struggle in this country would buy the claim that Obama is the be-all-end-all of racial justice, even the folks who would offer "critical support" of him.

Will Shetterly said...

Anonymous, argue about Tim Wise with Adolph Reed Jr. I suspect Reed would say that it's precisely Wise's liberal approach to class that makes him a neoliberal.

As for Obama, yeah, he's a neoliberal doing his bit to keep capitalism healthy for the sake of rich folks of all hues. The man comes from expensive private schools, and left a million-dollar home to enter the White House. Why did anyone expect anything more?

Well, because people need to hope. But in this case, they were looking too much at his race and too little at his class.

t said...

There's an important distinction between the way "liberal" gets used in the US and neoliberal. Paul Krugman is a liberal: that is, he is for welfare-state capitalism. He has a Keynesian angle on how to solve the problem of effective demand, he wants to ease some of the pain of workers with redistributive measures, etc. He's no neoliberal. In fact, neoliberal is supposed to pick out precisely that set of ideas and practices that emerged in a reaction to the Keynesian "managed capitalism" of the Postwar era. So calling everyone a neoliberal who isn't a socialist isn't very helpful; it just muddies the waters here.

But muddying the waters seems to be a pastime of yours.

Will Shetterly said...

t, it's true that sometimes the water gets stagnant, so I stir it up. I don't know another way to seek clarity. I get very tired of people making arguments that were refuted decades or, in Marx's case, centuries ago. Heck, in terms of prophets who spoke about sharing resoruces, millennia ago.

Capitalism evolves, and so does neoliberalism. Neoliberalism's focus is on limiting the government's role in capitalism. What the government does to pacify the people is much less important to neoliberals. In the US, neoconservatives and neoliberals are the right and left of global neoliberalism, what WBM calls right and left neoliberalism. They're fighting over the best way to rule us.

Will Shetterly said...

This might help. Tony Blair has been called a neoliberal. Would you call him a liberal instead, or something else?

Roachbeard said...

I will leave off entering into the main argument here since I'm not sure where I ultimately stand on WBM. I'm thankful to all of the commenters for providing me with as many perspectives as they have.

I must say, however, that calling WBM a rightist and claiming that his critique of anti-racism and anti-sexism is ‘vitriolic’ is patently incorrect. In fact, I think it’s his matter-of-factness that drives people nuts. And the little jab at the conclusion of the post that in his native domain of literary criticism Michaels is reductively anti-theoretical is just wrong-headed. His work in literary studies is not facile. Even those who violently disagree with him will concede his importance in the field. He is contentious–perhaps unnecessarily provocative at times–but he is ruthlessly intelligent. And consistently Althusserian. He works very hard to show how (American) narrative fiction, consciously or not, in its representation of desire, is thoroughly beholden to capitalist logic. In his reckoning, capitalism structures desire. In books and in life. And there is no escaping that. He is a bit total in that conclusion, but it ain’t a right-wing conclusion.

I do think he’s intellectually dishonest in his insistence that he wants to be able to point up the injurious relation of identity and ideology without declaring any definite political stance other than being for the redistribution of wealth. That seems like an empty, intellectual position, even if it is an instructive one. However, I still think his points that class is not an identity category and that the aim is not to respect the poor but to work to end their poverty are very strong ones.

He may be something of an intellectual snake charmer, but it wouldn't hurt to say where he gets things right. You seem convinced of his crypto-rightism in a way that is eerily similar to the shrill insistence of some others that Obama is a socialist.

To characterize his argument as "'soft' complaints about capitalist inequality coupled with a vitriolic hatred for struggles against racial or sexual oppression" is just that, a characterization. He is principally concerned with inequality; and his intellectual reservations regarding the blithe liberalism of mainstream anti-sexism and anti-racism movements don't seem to be hateful.

For the record, I still think he's jerky. I just find the tone of the original post a little on the jerky side as well.

Roachbeard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
t said...


I agree with you that the tone of the post was, perhaps, a bit too vitriolic or, as you put it, jerky.

That said, I think WBM is deserving of much of the scorn he's acquired from leftists. I'm not sure about the sense in which you see him as an Althusserian. Though I have my problems with the Althusserian project, at least Ol' Louis had a sophisticated analysis of capitalist social relations, the complicatedness of social formations, etc. I see none of that in WBM's "critique" of neoliberalism. Everything I've read where he makes his "anti-racism causes neoliberalism" argument, his own critique of neoliberalism is weaksauce. He complains about income disaprities in typical clueless liberal fashion, with literally no analysis of how such patterns are produced, how neoliberalism was a global phenomenon that was in part a class project, etc. Moreover, though he goes on about class, he has no rigorous understanding of it. He doesn't work with relations of production or structural definitions of class... he just whines moralistically about income inequality. I don't count that as "getting it right", though I do, of course, think that income inequality is a problem. But it is basically epiphenomenal and not an explanation of anything- on the contrary it is a social fact in need of explanation. WBM gives us little to work with here- so I don't see that his complaints about inequality are helpful for Leftists whatsoever.

As far as whether to place WBM on the Left, here's my somewhat polemical view. WBM is a mere academic who seems intent on complaining about, and slandering, struggles against oppression that have never really mattered to him. He is not in the business of building anti-capitalist struggle, he is not in the business of theorizing a way out of the present. He is not a vocal socialist or Leftist in his own right. Instead, he's made a career for himself by taking tepid forms of identity politics and throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It's as though he's never read a single marxist-feminist, or hasn't read ANY of the literature on intersectionality. It's also extremely clear that the man really just doesn't know history. And worse yet, he blames victims and gives creedence to typical Rightist populism, by claiming that anti-racist and anti-sexist struggles, AS SUCH, have produced and helped to create neoliberalism. That is both false and politically toxic. That is not far from the Tea Bagger inference that "since I am very badly off in contemporary capitalism it must be because of all this anti-racist stuff or it must be because people with brown skin are taking the jobs". And WBM's comments on the Tea Baggers and Beck reinforce this proximity. And seriously- if those inept reflections on Beck and the Tea Baggers don't evince deep political confusion, I don't know what does.

I'm not really interested in his intentions. Perhaps he means well, in some strange way. But the manifest content of his view is false, and politically reactionary. And worse still- it inhibits the capacity of dis-empowered working people to band together in a struggle against capitalism itself. It inhibits our ability to discover how capitalism and, say, racism are deeply intertwined. His toxic blame-the-victim line muddies the waters, and makes it even more difficult to get things right than before.

So, my view is that socialists and leftists should categorically reject his arguments. Everything that he almost gets right, others have said more effectively, more clearly, without the "anti-racism isn't left-wing politics" garbage.

Will Shetterly said...

s his "anti-racism causes neoliberalism" argument

Cite? I read him very differently: Neoliberalism exploits anti-racism.

t said...

Perhaps you should read more closely. You're tiring me out with these sorts of questions.

See his interview for instance:
"But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things [i.e. anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc.]."

The content of the indexical "those" is specified by the previous sentence, and it is "anti-sexism, anti-racism, etc."

Elsewhere--and I leave it to you to do your own homework here (read my previous posts on WBM if you like)--he's argued that the struggles against racism in the 60s contributed to and helped increase inequality.

That's his view: anti-racist struggle is causally implicated in the production of income inequality, hence anti-racism "is not left-wing politics". That's bullshit, and proof (if anything is) that he's no Leftist. The BNP in the UK also has a weak-sauce critique of (white) inequality, but their explanation, of course, is all of those "foreigners" are the problem. WBM isn't Nick Griffin, to be sure. But his position is not so different from far-Right populism. That he should be so glad to use kid-gloves with the Tea Baggers is especially troubling on this score.

Will Shetterly said...

I just got Harvey's book on Neoliberalism and haven't begun it yet, so my argument may change.

But I've never seen WBM suggest that the struggle against racism began in the 1970s and '80s with the rise of neoliberalism. He knows very well that feminism and civil rights struggle predate neoliberalism.

And this is a fact: The gap between rich and poor has grown during the time that many governments have instituted diversity policies. Diversity is good for many things, but under capitalism, it's not good for fighting poverty. What was true in King's day is true today: there are twice as many white folks in poverty as black folks. Only the ruling class has become more diverse.

Something else I was meaning to ask: Isn't 'marxist-feminist' redundant?

Anonymous said...

in his interview wbm says: "it’s hard to find any political movement that’s really against neoliberalism today, the closest I can come is the Tea Party. The Tea Party represents in my view, not actually a serious, because it’s so inchoate and it’s so in a certain sense diluted, but nonetheless a real reaction against neoliberalism that is not simply a reaction against neoliberalism from the old racist Right."

are you shitting me? how can he think that the tea party is anti-neoliberal, when they are dedicated to the destruction of the welfare state, "minimal government", etc. and how can he think that there are no other anti-capitalist politics out there? it seems to me that he's just aloof and misinformed here- hasn't he just internalized the stupid lamestream narrative that the tea baggers are the only political game in town right now? hasn't he simply given more weight to the lie that this is a "center right nation" with no left groups whatsoever?

way to pull for the left, there, buddy! screw this guy

Roachbeard said...

t, thanks for your comments. But can you clear up for me what WBM "almost gets right"? For me, this thought (speaking of gay marriage) is quite strikingly true: "And it is on one hand a completely admirable shift, I don’t think there is any doubt that you have a freer, more just society if you allow same-sex marriage, but on the other hand it is a shift that is in no sense oppositional to capitalism."

Can you put me on to some literature on intersectionality that would put lie to Michaels' logic here? Is it a matter of activating large scale, broad-based civil rights movements for social justice, which socialists and capitalists both can get behind, and THEN focusing on the bosses? I'm not being cheeky - I'm genuinely confused about this stuff. MLK and Malcolm X both became more universalist, class-conscious figures later in their careers, which suggests that they envisioned the limits of civil rights. The enduring poverty of blacks in the U.S. testifies to those limits, doesn't it, when full equal rights are enshrined in law and affirmative action programs have diversified a lot of American institutions?

You speak of the Panthers who were anti-capitalist, and when you do, I am reminded of the FLQ (this being October) here in Quebec who were an identitarian, socialist-revolutionary group. What troubles me about the latter (this may be true of the Panthers - I'm not sure) is that in their very righteous struggle, they painted all Quebec Anglos as moneyed elites, when most of us are poor, exploited, working people. We do (or did - past tense provincially, present tense federally) enjoy an illegitimate privilege because of our cultural identity, but it seems incoherent not to reach out to natural class allies. Those potential allies may be, by and large, reactionary bigots, but can't they be shown how their interests coincide with your own? And once that coincidence of interests is articulated, does it make sense for there to be a dispersed (atomised?) network of groups who acknowledge mutual solidarity rather than a mass movement?

Also, I must say I find the hyper-ventilating about WBM’s comments on Glenn Beck and the Tea party – “SEE!?! SEE!! He’s a bigot!” – to be totally misrepresentative of what he actually says about them. His analysis may be shoddy, but he isn’t painting them as heroes. t., you keep pointing to “what he says about Beck and the Tea Party” as some conclusive evidence that he is this crypto-bigot of some kind. He clearly finds Beck and his ilk to be fools, but ones that are reacting to the injuries of neoliberalism's advent. Again, how can an anti-capitalist be a right-wing populist?

He troubles me, but I'm still compelled by the argument that full social equality for all is entirely amenable to capitalism. So, where can I find his argument nuanced by the idea that capitalism's inequalities depend on other sorts? Again, I'm not being smarmy. I'm a relative neophyte, and I want to read up on this problem. At present it seems to me that institutional sexism, racism, and homophobia are vestiges of the white, straight, male cabal that still runs things, but that their (the straight, white, males, that is) resistance to sharing out the spoils is basic, primal, (tribal) fear of the other and protection of one's own. As things advance and progressive forces make gains (for the good, as WBM freely admits), these old boys are dying off or having their eyes opened to the fact that business as usual can proceed unimpeded. For the very fact that previously disenfranchised groups (other than fringe, anti-capitalist, activist elements) are not actually working against capitalism. This is not to say that fighting racism, sexism, or homophobia is a waste of time - it does make life better for everybody. But to associate it with the struggle to get the bosses off our backs is only appropriate insofar as socialists almost always insist on this equality. Am I making any sense?

Will Shetterly said...

Roachbeard, to go one step further, I think those white moneyed men are looking to diversify their heirs, but not their society, so they welcome the Rices and Obamas to the 1% club, and their children will intermarry, and capitalism will not weaken a whit.

At least, that's their plan.

I've started to read Harvey's A Brief History of Neoliberalism. So far, there's nothing that contradicts WBM and a good bit that supports him. From the first page of the first chapter: "The founding figures of neoliberal thought took political ideals of human dignity and individual freedom as fundamental, as 'the central values of civilization'."

Roachbeard said...

"how can an anti-capitalist be a right-wing populist?"

I think I'll retract that one, actually. I'll ask instead, how can a remote, smarmy, elite anti-capitalist professor be construed as a populist?

Anonymous said...

here's an interesting article on Benn-Michael's favorite social movement: