In this piece I want to give an overview of what I think is wrong with identity politics, which dominates current progressive left-wing thinking. Obviously, the world has changed a lot since I was younger but in many respects, what's considered left-wing thinking is far removed from the democratic socialism that I have always believed in.
This is quite a long article and covers most of the points very superficially but it serves as a statement of intent, for future discussion. As always I'm grateful for comments and criticism as this helps me hone down my thinking.
* You can listen to the article by clicking on the YouTube video below
When I was younger politics seemed much simpler. It was basically about class and was a battle between the privileged and underprivileged. If you were on the left, it was pretty straightforward to incorporate other issues into this framework. "Black and White Unite and Fight" and "Sing if you're glad to be gay", for example, were easy ideas to take on board.
I don't remember ever feeling challenged by either black people or gays. Quite the contrary actually, I liked reggae and disco music and enjoyed going to the clubs. Hanging out was fun and fighting for racial equality and gay rights was perfectly compatible with the class war we were engaged in.
I must admit I always found feminism a little more difficult. It was clear that sexual discrimination was an issue worth fighting against but ideas such as "All men are potential rapists" seemed unnecessarily divisive.
I remember having an argument with a feminist friend about the slogan "Women against rape". It implied that men are in favour of rape, I reasoned, when in fact all right thinking people abhor violence against women. I couldn't understand why feminists, or actually political lesbians as they were known at the time, were so keen on cutting themselves off from their male allies.
Political lesbianism was far from mainstream, though, and we all went on Anti-Nazi League and CND demonstrations together. We were united in our hatred of Margaret Thatcher and we picketed in favour of the nurses and the steel workers.
Everything reached its hiatus with the 1984-85 Miners' Strike. The breaking of the strike was a turning point in left-wing politics. The trades unions would never be the same again and class would lose its hegemony as the central distinction for defining privilege.
In 1985 I moved down to London and in 1988, I came to Barcelona. I was much less involved in politics for my first 20 or so years here but my values remained the same. I supported the anti-racist group SOS Racisme and conscientious objectors of MiliKK. I railed against the conservative Partido Popular governments of José Maria Aznar and opposed the Iraq War. All quite predictable stuff for someone who believed they had been born into democratic socialism.
It wasn't until 2011 when my political consciousness really woke again. I became involved with the Indignados, the Spanish precursor to Occupy Wall Street. When the Indignados fizzled out at the end of that summer, the Catalan independence movement was moving up a gear and inevitably got pulled in. The Catalans had definitely been wronged so it is no surprise that I would be drawn to defend a just cause.
I blogged quite a lot about Catalan independence, so I was very clear about how justified Catalonia’s claims for sovereignty were. However, there was something about the idea of nationalism that stuck in my throat so after I finished writing my book Catalonia Is Not Spain: A Historical Perspective in November 2014, I decided I would investigate the issue and my own feelings on it.
I think I typed something like "Nationalist Extremism" into YouTube, watched a few videos and decided that this wasn't what we were doing here in Catalonia, which was something of a relief.
My investigation of nationalism then led me onto religious extremism and I was soon watching talks by the New Atheists, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris.
I'd been a Dawkins fan since I read The Selfish Gene in my first year at university, and my thinking had always been somewhere between agnostic and atheist to all intents and purposes ever since then. However, I'd kept some residual unanalysed superstitious belief in magic and spirituality. Like many people, I suppose I wanted things to have a meaning.
A couple of months listening to the New Atheist arguments, though, soon knocked any vestiges of belief in the supernatural out of me. It also opened me up to some rather uncomfortable ideas.
Firstly, Hitchens and Harris persuaded me that, at least in its current state, Islam is the worst of the three main monotheistic religions. Like many other atheists, I was initially much more comfortable criticising Christianity. I have direct experience of it and having been brought broadly as an Anglican was educated in the tradition, which means I can quote and criticise sections and events in the Old and New Testaments.
However, Sam Harris's argument that certain beliefs have specific consequences was very compelling. It's clear that Christian religious ideas lead to specific attitudes on abortion and equally the concepts of jihad and martyrdom result in the violent behaviour of Islamists. That's not to say that social disaffection and anger at Western imperialist and capitalist intervention in the Middle East have no influence but dying in the name of Allah is specifically mentioned in the Koran and the Hadith.
Obviously, given that most of my friends take a standard left-wing line and almost totally blame the West for the upsurge of radical Islam, this was a rather uncomfortable position to take. I got into a few spats and things got even worse when I began criticising Islam's illiberal position on women, homosexuality and apostasy, amongst other things.
It was then that I began to realise that I had a problem with modern progressive left-wing thinking as a whole. It is, and probably always has been, plagued with dogma. Many people quite simply refuse to face up to the facts because they conflict with their ideological position.
The analogy between left-wing thinking and religion became clearer as I thought more deeply about it. The basic dogma is defined by a relatively small group of ideologues. These journalists, writers and university lecturers are not unlike the priestly class in Christianity or the imams in Islam. They define the faith for the masses, who rarely question much of what they are fed and simply accept it as the truth.
Current progressive thinking is dominated by the idea of social justice, which basically states that certain groups in society have been treated unfairly and that the wrongs committed against them must be redressed. It has its roots in cultural Marxism and is also known as intersectionality or, as I’ve chosen to define it here, identity politics.
One of its most pernicious aspects of this kind of thinking is the censorship system known as political correctness or hate speech. This is very similar to the idea of heresy so the similarities with religion are even clearer.
The main groups of victims are women, people of colour, the gay community and a final group including the disabled, the ugly and the fat. I’ll go on now to give some general thoughts on each.
According to feminism, despite there being laws that guarantee equality in most spheres of society, women are the victims of the patriarchy. This is basically the idea that all white men hate them and are conspiring against them.
An example of the patriarchy in action is the gender wage gap, which states that women only earn around 70% of what men earn for doing the same job. The differences in the average wage earned by men and women, though, can actually be put down to factors such as the number of hours worked, the fact that men tend to go for higher-paid jobs in management and technology and also that women are more likely to take time out of their careers in order to have babies.
Another consequence of the patriarchy is that we apparently live in a rape culture and rather than women using their own agency and taking sensible measures to protect themselves in dangerous situations, men have to be taught not to rape. Given that the vast majority of men, who are also husbands and fathers to daughters, find the idea of rape completely abhorrent, I wonder how effective those lessons will be on psychopathic serial rapists.
Interestingly, strong women who get to positions of power on their own merits but do not follow leftist dogma are expressly disowned by conventional feminists. Only yesterday an acquaintance on Facebook gave a list of reasons explaining why Theresa May is not a feminist. She probably isn't by the way but, whether you agree with her political position or not, it surely is a testament to Conservative women that she's just become the second female Tory Prime Minister after Margaret Thatcher, whilst the Labour Party hasn’t even had a female leader over the same period.
The people of colour category seems to include blacks and Muslims, but not Jews or East Asians. Hispanics only appear to be considered a oppressed minority under certain circumstances. They qualify if Donald Trump is talking about them but not if they are in conflict with blacks or Muslims.
The narrative surrounding black people is that they are victims of imperialism and slavery and that they should paid reparations by their white oppressors. They also suffer from institutional racism, which is the reason why they remain underprivileged.
Obviously, the black community, particularly in the US, are subject to a great deal of inequality but being told that your white neighbours are evil oppressors really cannot do much good for social cohesion. Just as with feminism, conservative blacks such as Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice tend to be dismissed as Uncle Toms.
The social justice view of Islam is particularly strange. It is obviously not a race but rather a particularly retrograde ideology, which specifically sees women and gays, two of the other groups in identity politics, as problems in Western society. Women are devalues in most Islamic societies and gay men are often executed. However, as Muslims tend more often than not to be brown, this trumps their treatment of women and homosexuals and criticising them would obviously be racist.
The fact that Islam is a religion doesn't seem to bother mainly atheist social justice warriors. Cultural Marxists and Islamists share the aim of wanting to see the complete destruction of Western civilisation so minor ideological differences are of little importance.
AS with other groups, Muslim reformers like Maajid Nawaz or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who don’t fit the stereotype, are dismissed as Porch Monkeys. Strangely, the terms used by anti-racists are often race-specific.
In many respects, the issue of gay rights is the one that has changed most during my lifetime. Homosexuality was illegal in England until 1967 and only legalised throughout the whole of the United Kingdom in 1982. I suppose there is some residual prejudice against gays in the West but since same sex marriage became legal in most countries, there is very little official discrimination against homosexuality.
With less to complain about, the LGBT battleground has moved beyond the issue of sexual orientation as expressed in LGB or Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual to the gender identity issues expressed by the T of Transgender and the new initials, Q and I, which refer to Queer and Intersex.
Apart from LGBTQI being an unmanageable number of letters to remember, it seems that today you are whatever gender you decide to be. The idea of androgyny, hermaphroditism and a third sex have existed in many different cultures since ancient times so this is fine. As far as I'm concerned, you be whoever you like.
However, political correctness has raised its ugly head here and we now have to refer to the most militant of these people using neutral pronouns. Unfortunately, this doesn't change people's perceptions.
The Caitlin Jenner pantomime was particularly tiresome. He wanted to change his sex, which he's perfectly entitled to do, but that doesn't mean that everyone has to think he looks like a woman or is a bigot for not finding him attractive. All this really seems like a directive from the Ministry of Thought of George Orwell's 1984.
On a more disturbing note, although the issue of which toilets or dressing rooms transgender people use may seem trivial, it potentially opens the door to predatory behaviour. If people are taken at their word, rapists and paedophiles could easily get access to women's and girls' toilets and dressing rooms just by saying that they're women.
Also the issue of transgender children leaves impressionable children at the mercy of parents and adults, who might have their own agenda. If a person really believes that they have been born in the wrong body, they should receive all the help they need but such decisions are irreversible and need to be taken once the person is a fully aware and responsible adult. The use of hormone treatment, surgery and puberty blockers on children is tantamount to child abuse in my opinion.
The final categories of ableism and body-shaming are also thought crimes to be eradicated by political correctness. You are a bigot if you think that a disabled person isn't capable of doing everything and able-bodied person can. The same applies if you don't find fat or ugly people attractive. Cultural Marxism has taken us to a point where reality is of no consequence.
A recent incident in London shows how the multiple heads of this dangerous intersectional hydra work together. New mayor Sadiq Khan withdrew a perfectly acceptable advertisement of a woman in a bikini ostensibly on the grounds of body-shaming. However, the immodest advert also contravened Sharia law. It was a perfect way for London mayor to keep both feminists and Islamists happy at the same time.
I don't think it's difficult to see why many people, who are trying to cling on to some socialist principles, myself included, feel that the goalposts have been moved. What is considered left-wing and progressive today is not the same movement I was born into.
Apart from anything else identity politics divide people on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation and body size and create a kind of hierarchy of oppression. More importantly class, the simple distinction between haves and have nots, has been removed from the mix and, in many respects, the group that has suffered most are white working-class heterosexual males. They are awarded no identity team points but remain disaffected and underprivileged.
I'm certainly not saying that the groups mentioned above don't have legitimate complaints but divisive identity politics is not the way to solve them. Furthermore, by not addressing the problems of the autochthonous, not necessarily even white, working class, the supposedly left-wing parties are leaving their natural voters without representation.
As we are already seeing, this political vacuum is being filled by the right. I sincerely believe that if progressive parties don't start to deal with socio-economic problems more fairly, the consequences for everyone who believes in a fairer more just society will be extremely negative.