DANIEL VAUGHAN: The new left has replaced Marxist class consciousness with identity politics

August 26, 2019

One of the cornerstones of Marxist thought is the idea that the proletariat — the lower class — will eventually gain consciousness of their class conditions and unify together, around the world, to overthrow their capitalist masters.

Karl Marx saw class division as a means of creating a new social order. Where Marx ended up being wrong is that as the world grew increasingly more free and capitalistic, class divisions started disappearing. And while those divisions still existed in some form, they didn’t provide the same social cohesion communists desired, especially in the West.

The new left, seeing that class-driven forms of socialism have failed to materialize, has switched tactics. They’ve replaced class consciousness with identity politics — or rather, a consciousness based on race, gender, or creed.

Instead of the “workers of the world” waking up to their shared circumstances and class similarities, and using those to band together, the new left wants people to become “woke” on issues of identity, race, and religion.

In a letter to a friend, Marx said, “We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.”

Marx believed that class consciousness was inevitable, and that people would awaken to that reality whether they wanted to or not. In simple terms, this is Bernie Sanders; in a nutshell, he views and describes the world entirely in terms of a class struggle.

Sanders spends his time blasting the one-percenters, the rich, and the billionaires, who he argues are the driving force of the world’s problems. He wants people to see themselves as locked in a struggled against the bourgeoisie — an upper class that is capitalistic and in need of a communist answer.

Contrast Bernie Sanders with his democratic socialist protégés like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. In an interview, she said, “I can’t name a single issue with roots in race that doesn’t have economic implications, and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn’t have racial implications.”

When combined with the socialist ideas she espouses, you can hear the Marxist undertones: “Race consciousness is something that one has to acquire, even if they do not want to.”

When compared to a typical Marxist class consciousness, a racial consciousness implies the same basic principles. If you’re any form of a minority race in the country, you’re a victim of the ruling racial class. In identity politics, victimhood is the most prized status to obtain, because it grants you exclusive authority to demand policies that alleviate your victimhood.

Class consciousness never stuck with the same depth in America that it did in Europe or Russia. America lacked a distinct feudal class with guilds and other such institutions that created class divisions. While communists and socialists certainly live and thrive in America, they’ve never had the same power because of there were no class divisions to stoke the populist fires.

Race, however, is a different story. America has a deep and long past dealing with a complicated relationship with race and non-Judeo-Christian religions. The New York Times’ “1619 Project” starts America’s history with race, 400 years ago in Jamestown, Virginia.

As a project of exploring the past, and reminding Americans of the impact slavery has had in shaping our culture and world, it’s a great project. But there’s another aspect too; as the authors lay out in the preface, they aim to “reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding.”

It’s not just an attempt to explore race as a defining issue in American history; it’s an attempt to stoke race consciousness that awakens to the importance of socialist thought. If you accuse the American founding of being riddle through and through with unrepentant racism, you can then use that newly awakened race consciousness to replace that founding with something else entirely — the downtrodden races replace the foundation with something new.

The point isn’t just socialism, but to remove the roadblocks to socialism or progressivism. The main barrier to that form of “progress” is the shared faith in the American founding and the Constitution. Discrediting those institutions is the ultimate goal.

For modern progressivism, the attacks on the American founding begin with Woodrow Wilson, who saw the Constitution as “an obstacle to be overcome, not a legitimate charter establishing a system of checks on government power.” Wilson wanted the power to advance his progressive ideas, and the Constitution thwarted those goals — which is good, since he was quite possibly the most racist president in American history.

What Woodrow Wilson attacked because he wanted power, and what Marxists attacked because it prevented class consciousness, modern democratic socialists now attack as being a racist part of the past.

The reasoning shifts, but the goal is the same: overthrow the restrictions of the U.S. Constitution, erase the story of America’s founding, and replace our culture with the socialist or progressive utopia that makes America a “better” place.

We’re only guaranteed one thing from this: if and when this assault fails, these factions on the left will find another method of attacking the Constitution and our founding. When you want the power that the Constitution continues to deny you, the means you use to attack it will change.

Yesterday’s class consciousness is today race and identity consciousness; tomorrow will bring another type of consciousness we’ll unquestionably need. Conservativism stands as the bulwark defending against these shifting mores.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.