If I were a transgender person and a bunch of Lefties dared lecture me that the exploitation of factory workers by capitalists is more important than my daily struggle tο function as a transgender person, I would tell them to get lost. No one has the right to tell those who are hurt, terrified, exploited or oppressed that their pain, fear or persecution is politically less important than some other type of repression.
Discrimination, we must not forget, divides and multiplies. It does so automatically because in so doing it gains evolutionary stability. The exploitation of a group is reinforced when its exploited members (eg. workers) get the feeling that they are not at the bottom of the pecking order but that there is a subset of their group (e.g. workers’ wives) that they can exploit. This pattern becomes even more entrenched when the subset of the exploited group is further bisected (e.g. between black and white workers’ wives). And so on.
Other patterns of discrimination can emerge from utterly arbitrary differences that, logic dictates, should be irrelevant. Left-handed schoolchildren, for example, have for centuries found themselves in lesser social roles, often grossly discriminated against — so much so that their lives are marked into old age. In laboratory experiments that I conducted in the 1990s, assigning a random colour to otherwise identical participants generated significant discrimination within minutes, with holders of one of the colours emerging spontaneously as the dominant group. (See here for a broad discussion and here for the relevant academic paper.)
In short, in every society hitherto, discrimination digs in by constantly inventing new divisions and opportunities for oppression. Even to imagine that there exists some objective metric by which to compare the different groups’ pain or deservedness, is ridiculous. Equally ridiculous is any attempt to compare your predicament to that of people of another group exposed to a different oppression. Finally, it is for each and every differently oppressed person to decide which type of oppression to rage against and how to fight for their future. The Left’s old argument, which I remember encountering as a teenager, that first we build socialism and then all other oppressions wither is not just stupid — it is oppressive.
Consider the extreme case of a black middle-class Harvard student. While it is meaningful, and statistically accurate, to say that it is easier these days for a black person to enter Harvard than for a poor person, it is both unhelpful and wrong to compare and contrast the two types of experience. Who are we to say that the black middle-class Harvard student’s terror at being stopped by police, and subjected to the ignominy reserved for blacks, is more or less crushing than the despair of a white poor person who did not get into Harvard but is attending Community College and works at some Amazon warehouse to make ends meet? Once we get bogged down in such comparisons, we lose the plot. Which plot? The plot which we should be following, namely building solidarity between people in the clasps of different types of pain, suffering and fear.
Power has a capacity to unite, to become abstract and homogenous in proportion to how exorbitant it is. This is why in Davos there is very little discrimination. Black and white, American and African, male and female corporate executives band together with remarkable equanimity. They speak as if with one voice. They never antagonise each other or fall out. If you ask them pressing questions about the role of structured derivatives, central banks or private equity, they will all give you the same, more or less, answer.
In sharp contrast, the powerless, the exploited and the suffering tend to disunity that renders them even less powerful. Each group, nursing its special pain, looks inwards and feels threatened both by the oligarchy and by other groups of disempowered people. It is in this manner that the poor and the disheartened are ‘persuaded’ to use their formal liberty (e.g. during elections) to keep wealth in power. Only solidarity across the ever-evolving archipelago of under-privilege can change this and challenge the oligarchy-without-frontiers.
“We come from every part of Europe and are united by different cultures, languages, accents, political party affiliations, ideologies, skin colours, gender identities, faiths and conceptions of the good society.”
When we got together at the Volksbühne Theatre to inaugurate DiEM25 on 9 February 2016, we had indeed arrived from all over Europe, in difference but also in solidarity.
We celebrated our gathering by committing to “treating non-Europeans as ends-in-themselves”, to remaining “…alive to ideas, people and inspiration from all over the world, recognising fences and borders as signs of weakness spreading insecurity in the name of security”; and to struggling together for a “…Liberated Europe where privilege, prejudice, deprivation and the threat of violence wither, allowing Europeans to be born into fewer stereotypical roles, to enjoy even chances to develop their potential, and to be free to choose more of their partners in life, work and society.”
That was DiEM25 on the day it was born five years ago. This is DiEM25 today too. At a time when divisions (also known as culture wars) are wreaking havoc amongst progressive people who should know better, we have an opportunity to use our differences as building blocks of the one thing that can face down the dividing-and-multiplying oppressions spreading like rampant bushfires in our post-Covid-19 world: Solidarity!
To build solidarity, DiEM25 is constantly working for a common plan against every single oppression. Is such a common plan possible given the variety of oppressions? Of course it is. Green shared prosperity is technically possible and an excellent foundation of turning the tide of multiple oppressions to reveal a terrain on which different people can lead equally flourishing lives. However, it is one thing to say it is feasible and quite another to make it happen. For this we need common campaigns.
And here is where progressives, and the Left in particular, are failing so badly today: On the one hand, we have the time-honoured divisions due to power-struggles over bureaucratic nation-state-based parties. And on the other hand, we have the tendency of different groups to separate their struggle from those of other groups. Also known as identity politics, this is the opposite of solidarity — a godsend to the Davos men and women whose power is thus guaranteed.
That’s why DiEM25 is so important: Not only is it the only transnational European political movement (with a paneuropean manifesto, one set of detailed policies for the whole of Europe, a unique Feminism, Diversity and Disabilities Taskforce etc.), but it is also the foundation of the Progressive International which, in the last eight months, has shown what international solidarity means in practice.
Through our Make Amazon Pay campaign, the Debt Justice Collective, our electoral observatories in Latin America, the farmers’ strike in India etc. we have demonstrated the one thing that matters: To liberate everyone, we must act globally against every single type of oppression, without privileging one type of suffering over another, by turning our sovereign and multiple identities into one tsunami of humanist solidarity.
Click here for the diem25.org page where the above was originally published.