Guest author Michael Bröning heads the Department of International Policy Analysis of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and is the editor in charge of the journal "Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft". Here he responds to the ZEIT contribution "From Pride to Workers" by Robert Mueller-Stahl and Robert Pausch.
Is everything just a misunderstanding? All the critique of identity-political aberrations in parts of a left increasingly struggling to survive? "Identity policy is not to blame for the crisis," Robert Mueller-Stahl and Robert Pausch explain in DIE ZEIT on 14 March 2019. Left politics was identity politics even in the 19th century – just in the name of the working class. Anyone who suppresses this "elementary turn to identity questions" today suffers from oblivion of history. However, selective skeptics do not suffer from skeptics of identity politics, but Robert Mueller-Stahl and Robert Pausch. Their definition of identity politics has little or nothing to do with their current liberal form.
The working-class movement of the 19th century certainly had references to questions of identity. Trade unions, reading circles, proletarian newspapers, of course, all had a class-identity dimension. In the end, everything is personal when it comes to people. And people who come together create a common consciousness. "The construction of the class as an identity", of which Mueller-Stahl and Pausch speak, is therefore little contentious. But it is no proof of a supposed tradition of the workers' movement, but rather of the diffusiveness of the identity-political approach.
If everything is somehow considered identity politics, in the end only one thing is complete: the confusion. Already called today white supremacists on identity politics to tackle the supposedly necessary protection of "white culture". But at the latest, if right-wing populists after safe spaces Calling for places where you are not allowed to discriminate has gone a bit wrong.
"Reaganomics for the Left"
The dominant form of liberal identity politics today is not a legitimate successor, but the opposite of the historical emancipation efforts of the workers' movement. Their focus on recognizing ever-smaller group identities constructed on the basis of ethnic, sexual, social or cultural aspects is not about solidarity and public spirit, but about subjectivity and exclusion. Instead of universalist demands for barrier-free access to education, health, prosperity and participation, special rights are at stake. The result is a zero-sum competition for the most lucrative positions in the social sacrificial hierarchy. At the end of this Balkanization is not the common act, but only as angry as status-quo-compatible resentment.
This can be observed in parts of the American left and in the academic just milieu of many European progressives. The identity-political obsession just does not work out here empowerment but on a self-deprivation of the left. Of course, the more they are combined with moral contempt for their car-driving, carnivorous and carnival celebrations, the traditional voter milieu.
"Identity policy," writes Columbia University teaching Mark Lilla, "is Reaganomics for the Left." As it is compatible with the dogmas of a polarizing neo-liberalism, economic injustice coalesces into a side contradiction to allegedly more fundamental discrimination, which is counteracted by ever new pirouettes of progressive symbolism and "attitude." Such a left is worried about emotional aggravations by microaggression, but has only a selective sensorium for democratization, growing economic inequality, and for the broken knees of a tiler in the outer S-Bahn ring.
The focus is inevitably not the ideal of civic equality, but the specificity. Instead of promoting the common color in color blind, people are sorted in drawers. At the same time, however, economic conflicts are increasingly turning into cultural struggles. After all, arguments about identity can hardly be worked through compromises – quite apart from the fact that, in view of fluid identities, lasting coalitions are hardly conceivable.