Behind Charlottesville: Identity and Material Politics


Much has been said and written about the events in Charlottesville. The documentary “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” (Vice) has left the biggest impression on me. The journalist Elle Reeve was able to interview some neo-Nazis and demonstrate their ridiculous way of thinking. It was shocking to see so many neo-Nazi symbols, and people marching with torches and screaming: “Jews will not replace us.” I really thought that this is something that belongs to the past.  Moreover, the demonstrators were allowed to carry heavy weapons. In the end of the video, one neo-Nazi even said that the demonstration was a big success, even though one woman was killed.

The demonstration reminded me of a personal experience. In April 2016, I was walking around in Karlsruhe, a city in the South-West of Germany. Suddenly, I saw two big crowds. The smaller one consisted of neo-Nazis and right-wing people. Needless to say, that 90% of them were men. They waved flags and held torches in their hands. It was horrible to watch them without doing anything, so I joined the counter-protest group which was standing some meters away from them. While observing the whole situation, I deeply asked myself what was going on here. Why is it still necessary to protest against racist people in the 21st century?

For a while, I thought that humanity is evolving in a more positive direction: Less discrimination, more equality. However, if we look at the current situation of the world, it is actually no surprise that these racist hate-groups exist and become even more powerful again. In general, their followers demand change. This change can be split into two different categories: identity politics and material politics.

The identity politics part leads to discrimination, destruction and war. It should be condemned. In general, it is based on the idea that “they” (white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and basically all other extremists) are special and they want to keep their own group pure. Therefore, they are against immigrants. They do not want to grant “others” the same rights and don’t want to marry or have children with “others.”
The category “others” is socially constructed. In the past, the “others” have been slaves, indigenous people, women, Jews, people with disabilities, homosexuals, men without property, and many more. This thinking is against humanity and science. We are all human beings, we are all equal. End of story.

The material politics part is something else. Many people follow extremist groups because they are unhappy with their living conditions. Capitalism makes it hard for most people to earn enough money. Many are concerned about their future. Overall, prices increase, wage levels decrease, social welfare systems are more at risk. At the same time, Oxfam reports that the richest 1% own more than all the rest in 2016. Of course, people get angry about this and demand change now. They are tired of liberal politicians who serve the elite.

Unfortunately, right-wing groups and parties make the best use of this situation. They do not have solutions for current problems. In fact, many populists are rich and profit from the capitalistic system. However, they have their own media outlets, pay marketing agencies and use social media channels to get the votes. They promise to bring change while making tons of money in the background.

The left contributes to this situation because it neglects material politics for a long time. It is too busy with quota systems, language reforms and other identity politics projects. They are important, but they do not help poor people to feed their children and pay their rent. So, it is no surprise that the working-class pays more attention to racist rhetoric than Marxism. The working-class are very powerful because they are the strongest group of voters. To counter racist and populist movements, Left activists and politicians should return to their roots: material politics.


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