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Identity and Revolution

A publication of
Red Plains Revolutionary Group

2

Identity and Revolution

In regards to resolving racial inequity, the
black American essayist and author James Baldwin commented that, “What white people have to
do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it
was necessary to have a nigger in the first place,
because I’m not a nigger, I’m a man, but if you
think I’m a nigger, it means you need it.” In that
sentiment, Baldwin alludes to the ugly roots that
ground the inequity among races in the United States: perverse necessity; a necessity made
perverse in that antagonism grounds it and feeds
it; an antagonism itself grounded in… what exactly? Why does white identity need black and brown
identities? Moreover, why do masculine identities
need femininity? Why do straight identities need
queer counterparts? Why must there be old and
young? Able and disabled? What portion of our
being as humankind enables these divisions, and
what authority observes their enforcement and the
cataclysmic inequity thereof? Why does the antagonism among such identities increase when they
intersect? Certainly, the experience of the straight
black person is not the experience of the queer
black person. The experience of the able woman is
not the experience of the disabled woman.

We posit a twofold resolution: that unraveling the necessity of these identities and that of
their relationships can simultaneously unravel their
mystery and guide us towards demolishing the
antagonism among them, and that unless one’s
project fulfills both ends, that project cannot ever
be revolutionary.

3


However, before pursuing the task of the
revolution, we must identify the objects of our
revolt: what constitutes an identity? And how do
we define identity? In two words an identity is an
unreflected subjectivity. Reflection in this sense
means thinking or knowing. Subjectivity in this
sense means a totality of one’s own acts and existence. Defined as such, as a totality of acts and
existence that one cannot be but ignorant of without provocation, we not only get a clear picture of
identity but a clear explanation of the diversity of
identities as well. Now, investigating such a picture
and such an explanation requires a review of some
basic material conditions, as no fact ever occurs
in isolation; all facts intertwine. The two material
conditions that we must reckon with here are community and normativity.

Community and normativity intersecting on
an individual causes identity in them. Community
in this sense means any given group of people that
live together either by choice, necessity, or both.
Normativity in this sense means social devices
whereby communities determine regularity, security and the meaning of “community.” In a community one finds a mirror of sorts: a wellspring of
examples of how one could orient their existence.
Normativity and the way an individual reckons for
or against it determines the content of their existence or in other words their acts and thoughts. As
individuals reflect on the examples that others set
in their community and reckon for or against their
community’s normativity, a degree of their acts and
existence becomes less and less obvious. In this

4

an identity is born. As communities develop and
grow, multiple communities and their normativities
overlap on individuals causing individual intersectional identities. Having derived the cause and
conditions of identity, the task at hand becomes
unraveling the mystery of antagonism and inequity
among them. Why and how do so many have such
enmity for more still?

Of course by enmity, we mean racism; we
mean sexism; we mean ableism; we mean xenophobia; we mean transphobia; we mean homophobia; and the entirety of antagonisms among
identities. How do we unravel the mysteries of the
antagonisms among identities? The mysteries of
the inequities that these antagonisms cause? The
answer to our questions lie in power: demystifying
the dynamics of power demystifies the question
of identity and antagonism. Power in this sense
means the capacity to authoritatively negate or
confirm. Power in this sense “manages” subjectivity: it rules how individuals can and/ or cannot
act, think, or be. Different identities and different
intersecting identities participate in equally diverse power dynamics. Explaining the relationship
between power and identity entails excavating the
history of power or “powers” in this case, as any
given identity shares a different power dynamic
with any other and thus a different history.

Let us take the history of the power dynamic between black and brown and white identities
for example. In this sense “black identity” and
“brown identity” means the ethnic identities com-

5

mon among African, Asian, or American descendants whereas “white identity” means the ethnic
identity common among Europeans and European
descendants. The power dynamics among these
identities changed dramatically after Europeans
and European descendants began colonizing the
world. For centuries Europeans and European descendants seized the resources, the industries, and
the bodies of black and brown peoples. Naturally,
black and brown peoples resisted, and Europeans and European descendants reacted to secure
their power grab. Thus, we can see that the power
dynamic between black and brown identities and
white identities belongs to violence, bloodshed,
entitlement, and a number of other antagonistic
qualities.

The same could be said of any other identities in antagonistic relationships: the antagonism
results from power dynamics themselves centered
on and intent on preserving an inequity of power. The inequity of power in these cases results
not only in antagonism between identities but an
inequity in identities, the same inequity that James
Baldwin knew and spoke about. Herein, we have
laid bare the necessity of identities. Why do white
folk need black and brown folk? White folk need
black and brown folk to broker power, to preserve
power, to enforce power. White folk need black
and brown folk to play their games, so to speak,
the same way that straight folk need queer folk,
that able needs disabled, that masculinity needs
femininity, and so on and so forth. Now, it should
be plain to see that demystifying the antagonisms

6

among identities can do much for the revolution,
but does it do enough? No! The truly revolutionary
task remains: how do we demolish the antagonism
and depose the powerful?

Demolishing the antagonism among identities requires that individual identities seize the
means of their production. What does that mean?
What does that look like? To wit, seizing the reproductive methods whereby certain identities
assume power over others nips the potential for
inequitable power dynamics in the proverbial bud.
Now, whereas such revolutionary measures may
manifest in many ways, each example will in one
way or another undermine the institutions of the
above mentioned normativities and communities
that intersect on and determine identity, subvert
their dominating force, and turn them towards
building equity among identities. We will, in fact,
teach old dogs new tricks; we must. However, it
cannot be overstated that all of this is easier said
than done.

At bottom the process requires dismantling
the most insidious and deeply rooted force for
inequity that ever existed: capitalism. In the social
sphere, capitalism thrives on atomizing individuals and their identities: the violence that divides
each identity from the other and subdivides those
identities over and over again delivers new markets to the system, new sources for profit and
exploitation. Under capitalism uniting identities in
revolt against inequitable power dynamics only
gets harder over time, and who profits from this

7

violence? The identities in power over others profit
at their expense. This is the material conclusion of
the Marxist theory of alienation. In this sense the
Marxist theory of alienation means that capitalism
divides individuals from each other, their labor, and
their lives. The machismo of the straight brown
person profits at the expense of the queer brown
person; the entitled able white male profits at the
expense of the disabled white woman; and so on
and so forth. Individual identities appealing to other identities under capitalism cannot and will not
effectively end the inequities among them.

If the individual’s condition as such doesn’t
already seem abysmal, it is more abysmal still that
under capitalism an individual’s appeal to the state
does even less to improve their conditions. In the
political sphere, capitalism thrives on preventing
individuals from changing their conditions through
the state. The state relies on power for authority,
and thus in order to retain power, government appeals to the powerful. The state has no interest in
adjusting power dynamics in favor of more equitable relationships, rather it has a deep investment
in appeasing power and reinforcing powerful identities at all costs. Presidents, prime ministers, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, school
boards, police, judges, and juries – they all rely on
power and thus rely on inequities in power dynamics for their authority. This is the Marxist theory of
the state: that under capitalism, government exists
to serve the bourgeois. Regardless of the token
legislations and movements that state officials may
occasionally hand off to disadvantaged identities,

8

the state under capitalism never serves them.

In conclusion, we must resume the questions that began our conversation: Why does white
identity need black and brown identities? Why
do masculine identities need femininity? Why do
straight identities need queer counterparts? Why
must there be old and young? Able and disabled?
Capitalism demands these perverse necessities
among identities. Capitalism needs inequities of
power for profit because it is profit that feeds capitalism, and as we demonstrated above, the necessity of the marriage of these facts does the violence that we have heretofore discussed. If under
capitalism an individual cannot appeal to society
to repeal the inequity of identities, can intersectionality flourish? If under capitalism an individual
cannot appeal to the state and its functions to
repeal the inequity of identities, can intersectionality flourish? No! In order for intersectionality,
real intersectionality, to flourish, we must assume
our aforementioned revolution and revolt against
capitalism entirely. Additionally, we must acknowledge the history of identities and respect them in
a complementary and necessary cultural revolution
aimed at facilitating equity among identities as we
dismantle the material conditions that cause their
inequity.

We have defined identity as unreflected
subjectivity, as a totality of acts and existence that
one cannot be but ignorant of without provocation.
In order to change the acts and existence that
gives identity, such acts and such existence must

9

be questioned. We must provoke individuals to be
conscious of them.

A familiar Marxist formulation posits that
one’s thoughts do not constitute one’s material
conditions, one’s material conditions constitute
one’s thought. By changing the material conditions, we change thought: we change identity by
bringing previously unreflected acts and existence into question. Such a revolution in thought
brings change to normativity and community. Such
change in normativity and community cannot help
but bring equity to identities, yet the revolution
begins by changing our material conditions, eliminating capitalism and its culture. Herein, we have
accomplished the revolutionary task: simultaneously unraveling the mystery of antagonism among
identities and demolishing it.


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