In “This Is Our Neoliberal Nightmare: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Why the Market and the Wealthy Win Every Time” (Alternet, June 8, 2016), Asin Shivani sees neoliberalism as promoting multiculturalism and identity politics, in a form that severs identity politics from a class foundation. He considers multiculturalism to be the dark side of neoliberal ideology, implying a form of exclusion and intolerance: “This is the dark side of neoliberalism’s ideological arm (a multiculturalism founded on human beings as capital), which is why this project has become increasingly associated with suppression of free speech and intolerance of those who refuse to go along with the kind of identity politics neoliberalism promotes.” He maintains that neoliberal multiculturalism ostracizes and excludes working-class whites who are uncomfortable with neoliberal conversion of the self into a market commodity, and that such alienated working-class whites form the basis of support for Trump. He writes that from the neoliberal point of view, “those who fail to come within the purview of neoliberalism should be rigorously ostracized, punished, and excluded.” And further: “It is not surprising to find neoliberal multiculturalists—comfortably established in the academy—likewise demonizing, or othering, not Muslims, Mexicans, or African Americans, but working-class whites (the quintessential Trump proletariat) who have a difficult time accepting the fluidity of self-definition that goes well with neoliberalism, something that we might call the market capitalization of the self.” He views neoliberal multiculturalism as an elitist discourse that reinforces the neoliberal glorification of the market: “neoliberal multiculturalism, operating in the academy, is so insidious, because at the elite level it functions to validate market discourse, it does not step outside it.”
Thus, Shivani suggests that the progressive discourse that emerged during the 1960s has evolved into a pejorative dismissal of the white-working class, invoking a language that is exclusive and that offends, alienating working-class whites from progressive causes, even as the progressive message seeks to speak on their behalf. At the same time, it is a discourse that does not really offer an alternative to neoliberal policy and philosophy.
Shivani writes in a tone that appears to not appreciate that multiculturalism emerged as a progressive response to the systemic exclusion of ethnic and cultural minorities. Nevertheless, I think he points to a problem with the progressive discourse. The Left seeks to promote a nation characterized by cultural pluralism, in which racial and ethnic groups with distinct cultures, languages and identities have social and political space; and rightly so. But the Left does so in a way that fosters white resentment. This suggests the need for a reconstruction of the discourse of the Left.
Please see various posts in the category Race in the United States: “Black community control” 5/10/2015; “The unresolved issue of race in the USA” 6/23/2015; “The abandonment of the black lower class” 6/24/2015; “On racism and affirmative action” 6/26/2015; “The need for a popular coalition” 6/27/2015; “Race and Revolution” 1/19/2016; and “Race, the university and revolution” 1/25/2016. The posts explain and affirm the historic goals of the African-American movement. At the same time, they suggest strategies and a discourse with respect to race that is oriented to building a popular coalition.
We intellectuals and activists of the Left need to return to our roots in popular movements, recalling the discourses of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and seeking to forge a popular coalition based on an inclusive calling of all our people.
Key words: neoliberalism, multiculturalism, identity politics, Shivani