University of Melbourne
Manuel Castells’ The Power of Identity argued that, compared with the power of identity, “the labour movement fades away as a major source of social cohesion”. Insights from Raymond Williams suggest the labour movement’s retreat from a politics of class difference has ensured that, although the reality of class inequalities has become more stark, perceptions of this reality have become less clear-sighted. However, the events at Seattle indicate the first glimmerings of what Frederic Jameson described as the solution to the absence of class consciousness from postmodern late capitalism: “‘cognitive mapping’ of a new and global type”, a class consciousness “of a new and hitherto undreamed of kind”. The protests at Seattle and beyond express an emergent identity politics of the world’s socioeconomically disadvantaged and imply a potential for working- class remobilisation based once more upon a politics of difference. Autonomist Marxist theory, with its concept of “cycles of struggle”, suggests how and why this new form of resistance has developed.
During the last quarter of the twentieth century the labour movements of the western world were less successful in mobilising their constituencies than were the new social movements propounding the politics of identity, whether of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Moreover, this relatively poor performance of labour movements occurred during a period when class differences and socioeconomic inequalities widened dramatically.1 Thus the discrepancy between the objective importance of class and its subjective significance became especially marked.
In the previous quarter century, the post-war boom period between 1950 and 1975, the decline of working-class consciousness could be explained by increasing prosperity and decreasing socioeconomic differentials. It is well known that this situation prompted Herbert Marcuse to revise Marxist theory, in the face of the American proletariat’s refusal to exhibit a decent degree of working-class consciousness, let alone act as the midwife of history.2 Many other scholars refined their commitment to Marxist categories and understandings as new social movements increasingly moved to centre stage with their effective rhetorics of identity and difference. As far as many radical academics were concerned, new social movements became more attractive objects of study and personal political commitment. Zygmunt Bauman argued for the theoretical superiority of the concept of social movement over the concept of social class on the grounds that “it is fully its own creation; it generates its own subject; it constitutes itself into a social agent”.3 From the late 1970s new social movement theorists seized upon the evidence of declining levels of class identification and increasing degrees of incorporation of labour movement institutions to mount a serious challenge to class analysis and to query the primary role of the labour movement as an agent of social change.4
Although class position remained a primary determinant of people’s cultural and political behaviour, attitudes and lifestyle,5 consciousness of class continued to decline during the last quarter of the twentieth century, a fact celebrated by postmodern theorists, notably Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard.6 In much postmodern theorising, decline of class awareness was gleefully taken as indication of the death of class itself. All forms of identity—apart from class—were valorised in an intellectual and political climate that became increasingly hostile toward the very notion of class, dismissive of the labour movement and contemptuous of the working class.7
Clearly on the defensive, scholars who remained persuaded that class was a useful concept and the labour movement a crucial force for social change responded with varying degrees of chagrin. 8 Ralph Miliband emphasised that new social movements, though desirable and progressive, nonetheless lack that power possessed by the labour movement to effect change based on the strategic location of the working class in the economy, the necessity of its labour and the havoc that can be wreaked through its withdrawal; all new social movements, therefore, were inescapably dependent on the potential strength of labour movements and their political agencies.9 Some Australian Marxists suggested that identity politics expresses the class interests of the socioeconomically least disadvantaged sectors within subordinate groups, such as radical academics, and is not incompatible with capitalism, especially postindustrial/postmodern capitalism, which is intensely interested in niche marketing as it leaves Fordist mass-production patterns behind. In other words, class forces have brought about the supposed “end of class”.10 In New Zealand, Philip Ferguson even went so far as to claim that the politics of identity, as practised by the new social movements “represent an obstacle rather than an aid to emancipation”.11
Those who criticised identity politics for its neglect of class as an analytical category and its dismissive approach to the role of the labour movement as “the midwife of history” made valid and important points. However, this paper is not concerned with the shortcomings of identity politics. Rather, it seeks to analyse the reasons for its recent comparatively greater appeal. For it must be conceded that the labour movements of the western world have not been as successful in mobilising their constituencies, in speaking to disadvantaged people, despite increasing socioeconomic hardship. The ILO World Labour Report observed in 1997 that, in many countries, trade union membership had fallen since the 1970s, the workplace influence of local union representatives had waned, and difficulties had been encountered in encouraging members to participate in union activities.12 In the same year Manuel Castells’ The Power of Identity devoted little attention to labour in this mammoth survey of contemporary social movements, because, by comparison with the power of identity, “the labour movement fades away as a major source of social cohesion and workers’ representation”.13
The power of identity versus equality of opportunity
Ronaldo Munck has suggested that any new and more successful labour movement in the twenty-first century “will be much influenced by the example of the “new” social movements that have come to the fore over the last twenty years”.14 The most useful lesson to be gleaned by the labour movement from the recent successes of the new social movements is “the power of identity”. The labour movement can learn little from the new social movements about strategies and tactics, for the new social movements cannot compete with the power of workers organised at the point of production. However, the labour movement would do well to consider ways in which it might restore to working-class people the sense of identity that new social movements have imparted in recent years to their imagined communities; to emphasise class difference as successfully as new social movements have sustained the rhetorics of other differences.
Language and systems of discourse, as Neville Kirk maintains, play active roles in the creation of aspects of social reality.15 The formation of social identities is accomplished in large part in and by language. As Miguel Cabrera argues:
relations of subordination only convert themselves into relations of oppression, and generate the corresponding social practice, when a particular body of categories (for instance, the modern democratic humanist one) articulates social, political, sexual, racial or any other inequalities as oppression.16
As Bryan Palmer notes of the work of Asa Briggs, it is important to be attentive to the contextualised emergence of “new verbal frameworks” or “vocabularies” within which experience is expressed and communicated, to resist a descent into discourse while attending to language in ways that are instructive.17
Social movements that successfully construct feelings of identity invariably create new verbal frameworks and vocabularies, articulate inequalities as oppression thereby converting relations of subordination into relations of oppression. Through the formation of social movements subjects participate in active ways in creating meanings; and language is crucial in mediating between being and consciousness. “Black Power.” “Gay Pride.” “Smash the Family, Smash the State, Women must decide their Fate.” “Indigenous Rights.” “Native Title Rights.” Numerous slogans come to mind, reminding us of the ways in which the movements propounding identity politics have created new verbal frameworks and articulated inequalities as oppression. Imaginative and effective deployment of linguistic categories on the part of these new social movements is part of the reason why they have recently been more successful than the old social movement of labour in rousing subordinate groups.
Many labour movement and left responses to the greater success of the new social movements have implied that the politics of identity is in itself problematic. On the contrary, the central problem is not identity politics per se but the comparative absence within contemporary political culture of a politics of class identity. In the first half of the twentieth century, the labour movement was rich in cultural forms, institutional and linguistic, that nourished a politics of identity: brass bands; workingmen’s colleges; mechanics’ institutes; workers’ educational associations; cooperatives; a labour press; a socialist press; and labour movement agitators, propagandists and even politicians that spoke the language of class.
Like the new social movements’ pursuit of identity politics, this politics of class identity revealed a greater capacity to capture people’s imagination than the politics of equality of opportunity pursued by the labour movement in the second half of the twentieth century. Confined within a cage of liberal individualist assumptions, the demand for equality of opportunity is a politics incapable of success in actually unequal, class-divided societies. At the same time, it is a politics that actively militates against working-class identity, against notions of separate and distinctive working-class values and interests, the preservation of which would enable the labour movement to promote or defend more adequately the interests of working-class people. The decline of working-class identity politics in the second half of the twentieth century has ensured that, although the reality of class inequalities has in recent decades become more stark, perceptions of this reality have become less clear-sighted.
In general, the rise of the neo-liberal paradigms that have been ascendant in the past quarter century has been facilitated by the labour movement’s neglect of the politics of identity and its concomitant emphasis on equality of opportunity; this is a model that all too easily falls prey to neo-liberal emphases, for what is demanded, in effect, is an equal opportunity to become unequal. Raymond Williams noted in 1958 that this “ladder version of society” was producing a real conflict of values within the British working class, because equality of opportunity politics weakens the principle of common betterment and “sweetens the poison of hierarchy…by offering the hierarchy of merit as a thing different in kind from the hierarchy of money or of birth”. The ladder, Williams insists, must be understood by those who have used it to escape from the working class as harmful to that class.18
Though “identity politics” was not one of his keywords, and he wrote well before its popular usage, Raymond Williams’ writings persistently warned the British labour movement of the dangers of neglecting what we can recognise nowadays as identity politics. He notes that, in its formative period during the first half of the twentieth century, the British labour movement offered a new category within social bonding itself, and a form of positive bonding. Williams wrote of the importance of this broad and meaningful working-class consciousness, as a sustaining and bonding principle.19 Williams describes “working-class culture”—embodied in the collective democratic institutions of the labour movement such as the trade unions, the cooperative movement and the political party—as a great creative achievement and the right basis for the whole organisation of any good society of the future.20 Far better, as the basis of a society, than the equality of opportunity politics starting to infect labour movement politics in the 1950s was the identity politics predominant within the labour movement of the first half of the century. For this “working-class ethic, of solidarity,” sought the betterment of society not of individuals. “Improvement is sought, not in the opportunity to escape from one’s class, or to make a career, but in the general and controlled advance of all.”21
To emulate the success of the new social movements, the labour movement need only resurrect its own best traditions of working-class identity politics, which, in the first half of the twentieth century were embraced by all sections of the labour movement, from the syndicalists, anarcho-syndicalists and revolutionary industrial unionists on the far left, through the Communist Parties, to the Labo(u)r Parties. The labour movement prior to the Second World War was identifiable as a social movement because of this emphasis on working-class difference. As Sean Scalmer notes, the basis of a social movement lies in the acknowledgment of a common interest between a specific group of people against another (and equally defined) group of people.22 Just as those propounding identity politics have persuaded subordinate groups to recognise and act upon their oppression, the language spoken by spokespeople of the labour movement is fundamental in the process by which working-class people perceive reality. In marked contrast to the lingua franca of the contemporary labour movement, labour movement activists of the pre-World War Two period, whether syndicalist, communist or labo(u)rist, spoke a language that encouraged emancipatory or social movement politics premised upon working-class identity.23
Labour’s retreat from identity politics
In Politics and Letters Raymond Williams explicitly identifies 1948-9 as the period of change in British Labour Party politics, the point at which the Party became less recognisable as part of a social movement.24 The retreat from working- class identity politics was epitomised by the Attlee Government’s educational reforms. Attlee aimed for greater equality of opportunity in education, providing the means by which the most capable children of the working classes could be integrated into elite education: children who passed the “11 Plus” examination, and accordingly commenced their secondary education at a state grammar school, were destined for university. Williams was concerned that this Labour Government’s educational reforms would discourage working-class identity, for the grammar schools imparted middle- class values and customs to the brightest of the working class: “the ladder, with all its extra-educational implications, is merely an image of a particular version of society”.25 Williams suggested instead the establishment of alternative educational institutions for the working class, as good as those with which they competed but distinctly working-class in character. Williams’ concerns about the loss of a distinct working-class identity were well founded, his warnings prescient. The Attlee Government’s educational reforms initiated the brightest of the working class into middle-class customs and elite tertiary education in the same way that Conservative Party inter-war educational reforms integrated the working class into mainstream secondary education, the process that Stuart Macintyre documents as ultimately harmful to the autodidactic tradition of British inter-war Communism.26
Williams was also agitated by the decline of specifically working-class cultural forms and venues. He argues in Politics and Letters that the Attlee Government had a clear choice, in culture as in education, between two options: to pursue conventional capitalist priorities or sustain working-class culture. Attlee’s “rapid option for conventional capitalist priorities” disappointed Williams. He criticised this Government’s “failure to fund the working-class movement culturally when the channels of popular education and popular culture were there in the forties,” the cultural infrastructure of the war-time years that could have been built upon. If such an option had been pursued, Williams insists this would have enabled the labour movement to withstand the political campaigns in the bourgeois press that were already gathering momentum. The Attlee Government’s decision to opt instead for “reconstruction of the cultural field in capitalist terms” became, according to Williams, “a key factor in the very quick disintegration of Labour’s position in the fifties”.27
Williams is adamant that neglect of the politics of working-class identity is the key to British Labour’s weakened position in the mid to late 1950s. Williams’ position runs directly counter to the conventional wisdoms that Labour suffered in this period from a muting of class differentials and the embourgeoisement of the working class. Williams’ The Long Revolution specifically rejected the argument that class distinction was on the decline, an assumption that sustained the latter twentieth-century labour movement’s pursuit of the politics of equality of opportunity.28 “As we move into this characteristic contemporary world, we can see the supposed new phenomenon of classlessness as simply a failure of consciousness.” There can be no real classlessness until capital is socially owned. In the meantime, “the resulting confusion is a serious diminution of consciousness”. This, in itself, was part of the problem, for capitalism would operate “so long as there is no adequate rise and extension of consciousness of what the system is and does”.29
In The Long Revolution, Williams observed that “the complex and uneven growth of consciousness, most marked in the new communities but present almost everywhere in the society, is left with too few channels through which it can be politically expressed”.30 The central problem of the labour and socialist movements in Britain was that they had neglected or lost touch with the positive resources of the labour movement that enable particular interests to be connected together to assert a general interest based on labour: the bargaining employed, the less organised workers, the unemployed and the really poor. This failure of the labour movement, its collapse into a congeries of particular interests and struggles, represented “the practical triumph of capitalist thinking”.31 When Williams departed the British Labour Party in 1966, he explained that the Party was no longer just an inadequate agency for socialism, it was now an active collaborator in the process of reproducing capitalist society.32 It is not surprising, he noted in his essay on “Britain in the Sixties,” that “many people now see in the Labour Party merely an alternative power-group, and in the trade-union movement merely a set of men playing the market in very much the terms of the employers they oppose”.33
This depiction of the labour movement’s decline from social movement to alternative power-group is not that different, in substance, to the analysis offered by Alain Touraine in The Voice and the Eye, one of the pioneering texts of new social movement theory, in 1981. Here, Touraine argued that the labour movement was no longer a social movement but a mere political force and one that was irremediably institutionalised and incapable of offering social opposition.34 Williams, by contrast, is wracked by regret and his preoccupation is with warning the labour movement of the dangers of this retreat from identity politics, rather than in looking for emancipatory alternatives to labour, as in the case of the new social movement theorists. Williams’ warnings are of great relevance to the labour movement today, for its emancipatory potential—far greater than that of the new social movements—lies wasted for as long as it declines to compete more effectively with the new social movements by providing workers with a powerful sense of class identity.
Seattle and beyond
Where Raymond Williams’ writings sadly note the decline of working-class consciousness, Frederic Jameson’s writings gladly anticipate its reemergence. For Jameson the absence of class consciousness is a crucial and problematic feature of the postmodern condition. (Jameson’s writings on postmodernism are especially useful, because he avoids using postmodernism as a prescriptive or celebratory category, as in Lyotard or Baudrillard.35 Rather, Jameson uses postmodernism as a useful description of the “cultural dominant” of late capitalism.36) Jameson’s solution to the temporary absence of class consciousness from postmodern late capitalism was “‘cognitive mapping’ of a new and global type”. This, he explained, was the attempt to learn how to represent “the truth of postmodernism—that is…the world space of multinational capital” and so “again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralised by our spatial as well as our social confusion”.37 Jameson anticipated, too, “a process of proletarianisation on a global scale” and explains that “cognitive mapping” is a code-word for class consciousness “of a new and hitherto undreamed of kind”.38
There are indications recently—in the protests that shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in late November/early December 1999, and subsequent mobilisations in Davos, Washington, London, Prague and Melbourne—that we might be witnessing the first glimmerings in radical practice of such a politics of “cognitive mapping of a new and global type” and of class consciousness “of a new and hitherto undreamed of kind”. Chris Carlsson wrote on the internet of his experience in Seattle: “the people in the streets of Seattle articulated a sophisticated understanding of the new global political situation, and saw their issues as transcending borders, workplaces, industries and populations”.39
Class has been put firmly back into the picture—and class identity. The events at Seattle and beyond suggest the emergence of an identity politics of the disadvantaged, of the majority of the world’s workers in an increasingly lean world. Chris Carlsson insists:
Although the idea of class, especially working class, is not widely understood or accepted in US culture, the movement that discovered itself in Seattle is fundamentally a working class movement. The people in the streets may identify themselves more formally with their cause, whether it be ecological or human rights or what have you, but you can be sure that few if any of them are anything in their daily lives but wage workers.40
Most of the demonstrators, according to William Tabb, “had the sort of class analysis which working people intuitively, if inchoately, often have…The proposals for confronting transnational capital are in class terms and, for the most part, inclusive.”41
The movement’s composition is clearly different from the movement of the 1960s when, by and large, the working class and its labour unions were not involved. In Seattle the largest contingents were from that constituency. Despite the machinations of AFL-CIO bureaucrats to keep the union forces away from the battle zone by forcible detouring of the labour rally, many rank-and-file militants defied their lieutenants to join the troops downtown.42 The unions identified as present included: steelworkers; electrical workers; teachers; bricklayers; longshoremen; painters; Stanford workers; service employees; teamsters; sheet metal workers; marine engineers; transit workers; boilermakers; plumbers; steamfitters and refrigeration workers; public service workers of Canada; cement masons; pulp, paper and wood workers; nurses; Canadian airlines workers; carpenters; autoworkers and machinists. By the end of the event, according to the observations of John Charlton, these sections of labour were in a close and apparently harmonious relationship with the “natural” constituency of demonstrators: students, environmentalists of several stripes, 1968 veterans and their children.43
This new activism against organisations that could reasonably be regarded as the executive committee of the international bourgeoisie for managing the common affairs of the whole international bourgeoisie points to the possibilities for working-class remobilisation based on a strong politics of identity. “Working people came together to contest trade policies being negotiated behind closed doors.”44 Whatever the working-class component in any particular protest, these mobilisations at least posit a form of identity politics that is recognisably based on socioeconomic status. There is a hard economic centre to the rhetoric that sustains these confrontations and builds the necessary links between the participants, even between those whose radical leanings have been prompted by concern for the fate of the planet, the violence of men against women, or discrimination against their racial or ethnic grouping. The battle lines are drawn clearly in terms of the rich who rule the world versus the poor who do not. “Seattle was many things to many people, but everyone there in opposition to the WTO knew that their interests were opposed to the corporate agenda for unfettered “free markets” and capitalist development.”45
Most significantly, the new opposition to corporate globalisation, like all successful social movements, is creating new verbal frameworks and articulating inequalities—in this case socioeconomic ones—as oppression. Consider the placards at Seattle that speak the discontents of globalisation: “Capitalism destroys all life.” “Keep the sweatshop in the sauna.” “Stop exploiting workers.” “Think the WTO is bad?… Wait till you hear about capitalism!” Amongst the puppets was a ten foot square rolling “pyramid of corporate power”. The crowds sang, after Pink Floyd: “We don’t need no corporations, We don’t need no thought control .”46 The titles of the sounds and songs from the streets of Seattle that have found their way on to the internet include: “Family farms vs. Corporations,” “Steelworker,” “Jobs and environment,” “Not Buyin’ the Shoes,” “Wealth is generated by workers,” “Frenchmen on capitalism” and “President of the Steelworkers.”47
A teenager explained his presence in Seattle to Jeff St Clair. “I like turtles and I hate that fucker Bill Gates.”48 With similar precision, a man from Vancouver replied to John Charlton’s questionnaire probing people’s motives in attending the mobilisation: “I hate capitalism.” Bill O, a professional actor who worked as a clown and kept the crowds and police amused at Seattle, said he was “interested in fighting the enormous and growing influence of unaccountable transnational corporations and the human rights and environmental havoc that these monsters promulgate. The WTO is one part of a vast complicated system to recolonise the Third World. Almost any issue can be traced back to the systematised power of capital.”49
Common socioeconomic interests against this systematised power of capital even saw a new worker-peasant alliance forming at Seattle. It was significant that Via Campesina, a network representing peasant movements in 65 countries, also had a date in Seattle, with many foreign delegations present.50 Susan George has detailed the ways in which small farmers are wiped out because small producers cannot compete with the heavily capital intensive, highly mechanised agriculture of Europe, the US and the big latifundia in some Latin American countries.51 José Bové, the French farmer famous for his dismantling of the McDonald’s outlet in Millau as part of his campaign against “neoliberal globalisation” and “Frankenstein foods,” distributed his threatened Roquefort cheese to the other protesters.52 His presence at Seattle symbolised the interest of the world’s peasantry in the movement that discovered itself at Seattle.
It is evident, as Pete Cooper and John Lister maintain, that many of these activists “are increasingly explicitly anti- capitalist”.53 The mobilisation emphasises “the pernicious effects of corporate sponsored globalisation, including the terrible effects on US workers and the US labor movement”.54 A Reclaim the Streets speaker in London during the Seattle uprising urged the importance of placing the WTO in the context of capitalism and its dire effects.55 The language of the anti-globalisation protests explains that increasing socioeconomic inequalities have at last goaded disadvantaged people to action. They have had enough of “the race to the bottom” in terms of wages and conditions and the use of new technologies to displace labour rather than lighten the burdens of those in employment. “Meanwhile profits are skyrocketing and the global elite grow richer by the day.”56
Vocabularies and verbal frameworks such as these encourage participants and observers to think about the structures of global economic power in ways that invite class analysis and class resentment: “cognitive mapping of a new and global type,” as Frederic Jameson would have it. Indeed, if the rhetoric of globalisation informs the identity politics of the world’s rich, then increasingly anti-globalisation rhetoric is the language sustaining an emergent identity politics of the world’s disadvantaged.
The diversity of the groups present at Seattle—epitomised in the slogan “Turtles and Teamsters: Together at Last”— which nonetheless found a common purpose in opposition to class-based inequalities and inequities, has been the subject of much comment.57 The spokespeople of corporate globalisation chose to depict this diversity as evidence of the incoherence of the protesters.58 Yet in their apparent incoherence, in the alarming breadth of the coalition, lay their strength and potential to mount a serious challenge. The real divisions at Seattle were the tensions between the radicals of all sorts and the more co-opted hierarchies of social movements both new and old. Jeff St Clair details the machinations of labour leaders as well as the devious smugness of “environmentalists in suits”. He emphasises that the events at Seattle made the moderates look silly.
In the annals of popular protest in America, these have been shining hours, achieved entirely outside the conventional arena of orderly protest and white-paper activism and the timid bleats of the professional leadership of big labour and environmentalism. This truly was an insurgency from below, in which all those who strove to moderate and deflect the turbulent flood of popular outrage managed to humiliate themselves.59
That people often at odds with each other, such as greenies and steel workers, could be united in resistance to a form of capitalism they now saw as producing inequality, poverty and job insecurity as surely as it guaranteed environmental degradation, was a truly alarming development for the globalisers.
Those present in Seattle were not only a broad coalition but they also imagined a community of the oppressed as wide as the world itself: “in the fight over trade policies, the people in the streets knew that their situation was fundamentally allied with people in other countries being victimised by the same policies”.60 In the last few years considerable evidence has accumulated about the disastrous consequences of unfettered and unregulated corporate globalisation to the lives of billions of people, east and west, north and south, across the entire planet.61 With class disparities widening and absolute and relative levels of poverty on the increase, with whole communities being ripped apart by plant closures and capital flight, multinational capitalism appears to be starting to produce its own aspirant gravediggers. Sharpened degrees of class division have brought with them increased levels of class conflict.62
Drawing upon autonomist Marxist theory, Nick Dyer-Witheford points out that, since capital is a system that depends on labour, each capitalist restructuring must recruit new and different types of labour, and thus yield the possibility of working-class recomposition involving different strata of workers with fresh capacities of resistance. This process of composition/decomposition/recomposition of the working class constitutes a cycle of struggle. “This concept is important because it permits recognition that from one cycle to another the leading role of certain sectors of labor, of particular organizational strategies or specific cultural forms may decline, become archaic and be surpassed, without equating such changes, as is so fashionable today, with the disappearance of class conflict.”63 Chris Carlsson has described the actions in Seattle as “an emphatic rebuttal” to the nonsense that was the ruling class euphoria that we had reached “the end of history”. “History has asserted itself… Specifically, history means the inevitable re-emergence of class conflict.”64
Euphoria pervades much of the radical speaking and writing on Seattle. It is possible this euphoria expresses a tendency to view the lone swallow as the longed-for spring, to seize upon every struggle as evidence of the re-emergence of working-class consciousness so fervently desired. It is equally likely, too, that the mobilisation for Seattle really did mark a shift from awareness and attitude to action. Many demonstrations would throw up an activist profile similar to Seattle, yet the best lieutenants cannot build a mass demonstration by themselves. As Charlton stresses, there must be an “army” ready to respond. “That there was speaks of an enormous depth of feeling—a raised consciousness across a significant swathe of society.”65 This consciousness of a hitherto undreamed of kind is a new and significant phenomenon: identity politics based on socioeconomic status and, with the aid of the technology associated with globalisation,66 with even greater potential for mobilisation than the burgeoning labour movements of a century ago. One must hope so, because, as Susan George stresses, “the forces of neoliberalism, humiliated and determined to get their own back, will lose no time in regrouping”.67
The protests at Seattle and beyond express an emergent identity politics of the world’s socioeconomically disadvantaged and suggest a potential for working-class remobilisation based upon a politics of class difference rather than the opposed and ineffectual strategy of a politics of equality of opportunity. Paul Sweezy and Harry Magdoff believe that “the emergence of a labor-popular movement alliance of a kind and a scale not seen since the 1930s now seems possible”.68 By such means, those of identity politics, might the forward march of labour be hastened rather than halted.
So turtles and Teamsters united at last,
We marched in Seattle, we marched for our class,
Police and tear gas could not put us down,
We got something started—we’ll see you around.69
1 For example, the income ratio of the wealthiest 20% of the world population as against the poorest 20% grew from 30:1 in 1960 to nearly 80:1 at present. (Jan Pronk, “Globalization: A Developmental Approach,” in Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Global Futures: Shaping Globalization (London and New York, 2000), 42. See also John Westergaard, Who Gets What? The Hardening of Class Inequality in the Late Twentieth Century (Cambridge,1995), esp. 161-2, 113-114.
2 Marcuse, Herbert, One Dimensional Man (London, 1972 [first published 1964]), 199–200.
3 Zygmunt Bauman, Intimations of Postmodernity (London, 1992) 54-55.
4 Alain Touraine, The Post-Industrial Society: Tomorrow’s Social History: Classes, Conflicts and Culture in the Programmed Society (London, 1974) esp. 75–6, 9, 17, 61, 73, 11; Alain Touraine, The Voice and the Eye: An Analysis of Social Movements, (Cambridge, 1981), esp. 13; Jürgen Habermas, “New Social Movements,” Telos 49, Fall 1981, esp. 33–5; Claus Offe “Work: the Key Sociological Category?” in Claus Offe, Disorganised Capitalism: Contemporary Transformations of Work and Politics (Cambridge, 1985), esp. 133–6, 141, 148; Claus Offe, “Challenging the boundaries of institutional politics: social movements since the 1960s” in Changing Boundaries of the Political, ed. Charles S. Maier (Cambridge, 1987), 63–105; Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, “Post-Marxism without Apologies,” New Left Review 166 (Nov./Dec.1987), esp. 103, 106; Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. Towards a radical democratic politics (London, 1985), esp. 183; Andre Gunder Frank and Marta Fuentes, “Nine Theses on Social Movements,” Thesis Eleven 18/19 (1987), 143–65; Karl Werner Brandt, “New Social Movements as a Metapolitical Challenge: the Social and Political Impact of a New Historical Type of Protest,” Thesis Eleven 15 (1986), 60–8; Ronald Inglehart, The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics, (New Jersey, 1977); Ronald Inglehart, Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society (Princeton, 1990) esp.371–92; Alberto Melucci, Nomads of the Present, Social Movements and Individual Needs in Contemporary Society, Hutchinson Radius, London ,1989); Ferenc Feher and Agnes Heller, “From Red to Green,” Telos 59 (Spring 1984), 35–44.
5 Erik Olin Wright, Class Counts: Comparative Studies in Class Analysis (Cambridge, 1997).
6 Class, to Lyotard, was “little more than an effect” of Marxism, a grand narrative stripped of all credibility in contemporary culture. Indeed, in liberal democracies, labour organisations “have been transformed into regulators of the system” and class struggles had “blurred to the point of losing all…radicality”. (J-F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis, 1984), 36-7, 13). See also Jean Baudrillard, Simulations (New York, 1983). By 1993 Baudrillard was insisting that the working class had become subsumed under the “code of normality” and the proletarian was prey to every dominant discrimination: “he is racist, sexist and repressive…he has sided with the bourgeoisie”. (Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death [London, 1993] 29.)
7 Andrew Milner, Class (London, 1999) 145; Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Oxford, 1996) 71.
8 Some notable examples include: Ellen Meiksins Wood, The Retreat from Class: A new ‘true’ socialism (London, 1986); Ralph Miliband, Divided Societies: Class Struggle in Contemporary Capitalism (Oxford, 1989); Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx (New York and London, 1994); Ellen Meiksins Wood and John Bellamy Foster (eds), In Defense of History: Marxism and the Postmodern Agenda (New York, 1997).
9 Miliband, Divided Societies, pp.96, 110.
10 Verity Burgmann and Andrew Milner argued that there were material reasons why identity politics appealed to academics, that the “retreat from class” expressed the class interests of those advocating retreat. The social power of the intelligentsia is grounded in credentialism, a kind of intellectual property not incompatible with inequality in the distribution of material property. The intelligentsia necessarily struggles to de-legitimate alternative claims to authority that run counter to its own: these have proven to be not those of property but rather those of white race, dominant ethnicity, male gender and heterosexuality. Thus the importance of all manner of subordinate identities except class is asserted. Moreover, within the new social movements in particular, radical intellectuals emphasised social categories other than class, in order to conceal the extent to which their own relatively privileged class position makes them unrepresentative of those they claim to represent. It is by de-emphasising the significance of class that the proponents of identity politics proclaim a community of interest between feminist bureaucrats and female welfare recipients, gay studies academics and working-class homosexuals, ethnic affairs advisers with unemployed immigrants, and so on. (Verity Burgmann, Power and Protest. Movements for Change in Australian Society (Sydney, 1993); Verity Burgmann and Andrew Milner, “Dressed for Success?: Economic Rationalism and the New Social Movements in Britain and Australia,” Australian Studies [Britain], 12, 2 [Winter 1997], 46-57). Murray Kane points out that Marx stressed in the Grundrisse that capitalists must constantly encourage consumption by creating new and differentiated individual needs, thus it is capitalism that has created the polymorphous identities and hybrid phenomena of the current period, which are being hailed, or lamented, as signifying a radically new and final phase of world history. (Murray Kane, “The Problems of the Contemporary Labour Movement from the Perspective of Marx’s Grundrisse” in Carole Ferrier and Rebecca Pelan [eds], The Point of Change: Marxism/Australia/History/Theory [University of Queensland, 1998], 220-223.)
11 Philip Ferguson, “New Identities for Old? Towards a Critique of the Political Economy and Social Significance of Derived/Invented Identities,” Paper for Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, Christchurch, New Zealand, September 1998, 1.
12 Cited in Jeremy Waddington, “Situating Labour Within the Globalization Debate” in Globalization & Patterns of Labour Resistance, ed. Jeremy Waddington (London and New York, 1999), 2.
13 Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity, Vol. II of The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture (Oxford, 1997), 354.
14 Ronaldo Munck, “Labour in the Global. Challenges and prospects,” in Robin Cohen and Shirin M.Rai, Global Social Movements (London & New Brunswick, N.J., 2000), 90-91.
15 Neville Kirk, “History, language, ideas and post-modernism: a materialist view,” Social History,19, 2 (May 1994), 235.
16 Miguel A. Cabrera, “Linguistic approach or return to subjectivism? In search of an alternative to social history,” Social History, 24, 1 (Jan. 1999), 86.
17 Bryan D. Palmer, Descent Into Discourse. The Reification of Language and the Writing of Social History [Philadelphia, 1990], 64, 86, xiii, 122,143.
18 Williams, Culture and Society, 318-319.
19 Raymond Williams, “Class, Politics, and Socialism,” Towards 2000 (London, 1983), 167.
20 Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780-1950 (Harmondsworth, 1971 [first published 1958]), 313.
21 Williams, Culture and Society, 314, 312
22 Sean Scalmer, “Truth, Myth and Movement: Labour as a Social Movement in Queensland 1915-1924,” B.Ec. Social Sciences Honours Thesis, Department of Government and Public Administration, Sydney University (c.1994), 6.
23 For elaboration, see Robert L. Tyler, Rebels of the Woods: the I.W.W. in the Pacific Northwest (Eugene, 1967); J.G. Brooks, American Syndicalism: the I.W.W. (New York, 1969 [first published 1913]), 109-10; Verity Burgmann, Revolutionary Industrial Unionism. The Industrial Workers of the World in Australia (Melbourne, 1995), 130-42; Georges Sorel, Reflections on Violence, (London, 1970 [first published 1908]), 105, 91, 248; Stuart Macintyre, A Proletarian Science. Marxism in Britain 1917-1933 (Cambridge, 1980), 238, 93, 87-8, 202; Scalmer, “Truth, Myth and Movement,” 16-19.
24 Raymond Williams, Politics and Letters. Interviews with New Left Review (London, 1981), 377-8.
25 Williams, Culture and Society, 317.
26 Macintyre, A Proletarian Science, 239.
27 Williams, Politics and Letters, 73-4.
28 Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1975 [first published 1961]), 349.
29 Williams, The Long Revolution 352-53.
30 Williams, The Long Revolution, 361.
31 Williams, “Class, Politics, and Socialism,” 164-5.
32 Williams, Politics and Letters, 373.
33 Raymond Williams, “Britain in the Sixties,” Towards 2000 (London, 1983), 32.
34 Touraine, The Voice and the Eye, esp. 13.
35 Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition; Baudrillard, Simulations.
36 Frederic Jameson, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London, 1991), esp. 400, 36.
37 Jameson, Postmodernism, 54
38 Jameson, Postmodernism, 417-18.
39 Chris Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle,” San Francisco, January 19, 2000, Version 1.4, from <email@example.com>.
40 Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle.”
41 William K.Tabb, “After Seattle: Understanding the Politics of Globalization,” Monthly Review, 51, 10, March 2000, 2.
42 John Charlton, “Talking Seattle,” International Socialism 86 (Spring 2000), 6.
43 Charlton, “Talking Seattle,” 7-8, 17.
44 Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle.”
45 Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle.”
46 Charlton, “Talking Seattle,” 4-10.
48 Jeff St Clair, “Seattle Diary: It’s a Gas, Gas, Gas,” New Left Review, 238 (1999), 86.
49 Charlton, “Talking Seattle,” 15-16.
50 Susan George, “Fixing or Nixing the WTO,” Le Monde diplomatique (January 2000) [http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/en/2000/01/07george.]
51 Susan George, “Trading Places,” Socialist Review 233 (September 1999), 18.
52 “A Victorious Weekend for the Anti-Globalization Movement in Millau, France” (http://france.indymedia.org); Guardian Weekly July 13-19, 2000, 27.
53 Pete Cooper and John Lister, “Rattled in Seattle,” Socialist Outlook, reprinted in Labor Review (Melbourne) 32 (2000), 30.
54 Robin Hahnel, “Going to Greet the WTO in Seattle,” (http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Globalism/hahwto.htm).
55 Anon, “London Wakes up to Global Action”, London (November 30, 1999) (http://www.zmag.org/CrisesCurEvts/Globalism/hahwto.htm).
56 “From Seattle to Melbourne. Stand Up for Global Justice. Why Protest?” Leaflet, 2pp. (Melbourne, 2000).
57 St Clair, “Seattle Diary,” 83; Doug Henwood, Left Business Observer (November 30, 1999) (http://www.panix.com/~dhenwood/lbo_about.html); Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle.”
58 For example, Gerard Henderson, “Rebels without a common cause,” December 21, 1999 (http://www.smh.com.au/news/9912/07/text/features5.html)
59 St Clair, “Seattle Diary,” 84, 89, 91-2, 96.
60 Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle.”
61 See, especially, Michel Chossudovsky, The Globalization of Poverty: Impacts of IMF and World Bank Reforms (London, 1997); Saskia Sassen, Globalization and its Discontents (New York, 1998); Andrew Hurrell and Ngaire Woods (eds), Globalization, Inequality, and World Politics (Oxford,1999); Pronk, “Globalization,” 42; Susan George, How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger (London, 1991 [updated edition]); Susan George, A Fate Worse than Debt: A Radical New Analysis of the Third World Debt Crisis (London, 1988); Susan George, The Debt Boomerang (London, 1992).
62 See, especially, Kim Moody, Workers in a Lean World. Unions in the International Economy (London and New York, 1997); Nick Dyer- Witheford, Cyber-Marx. Cycles and Circuits of Struggle in High-Technology Capitalism (Urbana and Chicago, 1999); Jeremy Waddington (ed.) Globalization and Patterns of Labour Resistance (London and New New York, 1999); Munck, “Labour in the Global,” 90.
63 Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 66.
64 Carlsson, “Seeing the Elephant in Seattle.”
65 Charlton, “Talking Seattle,” 16-17.
66 Dyer-Witheford, Cyber-Marx, 42-71; Arthur B. Shostak, CyberUnion: Empowering Labor Through Computer Technology (New York, 1999). As Susan George notes: “Throughout 1999, thanks primarily to the Internet, tens of thousands of people opposed to the…WTO united in a great national and international effort of organisation. Anyone could have a front seat, anyone could take part in the advance on Seattle. All you needed was a computer and rough knowledge of English.” (“Fixing or Nixing the WTO.”)
67 George, “Fixing or nixing the WTO.”
68 The Editors (Paul M.Sweezy and Harry Magdoff), “Towards a New Internationalism,” Monthly Review, 52, 3, July/August 2000, 2-3.
69 Poem by Albert Vetere Lannon, Laney College, quoted in Ross Rieder (President of the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association), “Urban Work March 2000” (http://www.members.home.net/pnlha)