Another Look at Safe Spaces

 

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‘South Park,’ a right wing Libertarian show which attempts to rehabilitate White Supremacy, attacks the idea of the ‘safe space’ as part of so-called ‘mental gentrification.’

 

Lately, I have been seeing many socially-reactionary posts from Leftists attacking the idea of a safe space; sadly enough, these Leftists often sound like anti-PC reactionaries and right-wing South Park loving teenagers when they rant against safe spaces as exclusory, postmodern-liberalism, or elitist counterproductive measures. Sometimes, these Leftists are afflicted with a severe case of class reductionism, other times they are suspicious of the idea by viewing such a space as middle-class narcissism. Ignorance of these spaces, of course, plays an additional role. More often than not, however, their hostility is due to a misunderstanding of postmodern identity politics.

What is important to remember about identity politics is that it seeks to supplant class struggle with identitarianism. Instead of seeing revolutionary praxis through the interplay of class forces and socioeconomic power, postmodernism, by its virtue of being a ahistorical force, posits individualism as the defining factor; bringing the oppressed to the forefront only to then channel their yearning for liberation away from emancipatory politics, identity politics is a cannibalizing force denying class consciousness on the grounds that individualism can be the foundation for struggle by interlocking with other forms of activism (in this sense, then, it closely resembles movementism). To identity politics, there is nothing beyond identity: with revolutionary fervor supposedly defeated, it sees cooperation as the best solution and so conjures an engorged identity-complex as its substitution for class politics.

The preceding should be obvious to anyone who has been in the revolutionary movement for any substantial period of time. The issue I have been seeing, however, does not lie in ignorance of how identity politics function, per se, but in its application in today’s revolutionary praxis. Comrades have not taken the time or effort to understand the nuances of identity politics as it appears today, how it relates to safe spaces, and how Leftists can support the minority and disenfranchised—those most susceptible to violence—without appealing to a crass class reductionism.

I will argue something new, instead, that a defanged identity politics—an identity politics subordinated to a materialist analysis—is useful in organizing anti-capitalist resistance.

Identity politics is a massive apparatus and has incarnations in both right-and-left-wing social circles in addition to the bourgeois center. So, to narrow down on this post’s focus, I will be focusing primarily on only the Leftist incarnation with some deviation to the Rightist. To accomplish this, I will offer commentary on both ideas insofar as relate to the concept of a safe space while curbing the social-reactionary Left’s vulgar Marxism concerning the idea of a safe place.

  1. Safe Place as Remuneration

Capitalism is a duality. While being the single best thing to happen to humanity, it is also the worst. The destructive nature of so-called ‘late capitalism’ has produced tremendous amounts of alienation among all sectors of society but most powerfully among working class persons, especially youth. Safe spaces are areas which attempt to counter-act this alienation, if only temporarily. A safe place is an area which shuts down the violence of alienation by both reassuring and welcoming those disparate elements (minority and oppressed persons) that their existence matters and that they are not alone in their struggle to survive; oppressive language, hateful micro aggressions and violent assault and battery, discrimination and ‘mansplaining’ and ‘cissplaining’ are kicked to the curb. Bringing together alienated individuals into contact with one another while in a setting which has delineated a stridently progressive code of conduct, thus promising a risk free socialization, ultimately promotes a kind of restoration by building networks of support and mutual aid, concepts which is vital for the proletariat to survive under an increasingly hostile regime of accumulation. Although alienation can only be ameliorated under capitalism, and never eliminated, such spaces are a step in the right direction in terms of community organizing and organization building.

To pretend that the horrors of capitalism are the same for all persons of a certain class or socioeconomic factor, simply because of their inclusion as a free-waged laborer, is to resort to a base class reductionism that erases the histories of struggle which Persons of Color (PoC), Women, oppressed nationalities, and Queers face on a daily basis, a struggle which is more nuanced than an issue of simply class (in this sense, class reductionism is a form of identity politics in itself). Yes, it is true that class is the pivotal factor which must never be overlooked or lost sight of, but neither can it be trumpeted as the end-all identity which all should strive toward.

  1. Safe Places have always Existed

In one form or another, safe places have always existed. It is here that we encounter the safe places on the right-wing. For what are areas such as country clubs, exclusive neighborhoods, and economic summits, or even gendered codes of conduct (if we want to think in grand terms), if not a safe place for the reactionary elements of society? In a de-territorialized form, safe places can be seen as encompassing a vast array of locales which radically diverge from the clichéd image of a safe place, such as the image of it being nestled within a liberal arts university full of supposedly ‘oversensitive’ youth; to name a few additional– men’s clubs, racially specific (usually White) business clientele, gendered restrooms, etc. But since we are concerned in its territorialized incarnation, of those safe places specific to the oppressed, we can cite, just from revolutionary history, the existence of women’s self-defense brigades, Queer vigilante patrols, and anti-fascist militias all as examples of individuals creating safe spaces against the encroaching violence of reactionary safe places.

  1. Safe Places and the Revolution

Because of the definition in point ‘B,’ we can say that safe places are one in the same with pushing for a revolutionary rupture. In identifying safe places with realms of safety for minority and oppressed persons, the creation of safe places is identical with revolutionary struggle. In this sense, not all safe places should be respected; those areas of safety on the right-wing, for instance, which run the range from conferences, fairs, meetings, demonstrations and the like, should be targeted by the forces fighting for Left-wing safe places. Although somewhat abstracted as a conceptualization of safe spaces—where places are defined outside of the expected middle-class milieu– this macro-understanding is what will eventually be a reality, and so should be approached by revolutionaries as a serious facet of communist praxis; to understand safe spaces, that is, as a cornerstone of intersectionality which is irrevocably tied to revolutionary emancipation. Without doing so, the movement risks falling into class reductionist outlooks and right-wing deviations. In the short term present, however, the safe places of minorities and oppressed persons, in however delimited a form they appear, should be respected as possible nuclei of struggle; after all, during a revolutionary period, should those individuals associated with that safe space convert to an internationalist outlook, as they likely would, considering how the materiality of their interests would push them in that direction, especially, if their own members adhered to revolutionary theory, then the end-result would be a great influx of liberated areas and staging grounds for the continuation of the liberation struggle.

  1. Anti-Infiltration & Self-Determination

By this, I do not imply that safe spaces disavow counterrevolutionary elements from infiltrating the group. This would be absurd. Police and agents of the state will always infiltrate left-wing groups. To believe that any group is free of such agents is to endorse idealism. No, I mean that a safe space is an area where the minority and disenfranchised express their concerns without privileged Leftist saboteurs co-opting the purpose of the group for their own narrow end-game. The safe space is democratic insofar as it is the participants themselves who decide in what manner the group operates, whether it is merely a support group, an activist group, or Leftist cadre. Revolutionary elements which adhere to the safe space’s conceptualization may participate in the direction which the group drifts toward, but those elements which do not adhere, people who identify otherwise, will necessarily be pushed out since they lack the identity principals for which the place exists in the first instance. Such basic codes of conduct prevent the privileged, non-oppressed, elements from wrecking the purpose of the group and enable the downtrodden to exercise their right to associate without being pressured to automate according to some arm-chair revolutionary’s idea of praxis. It is important, especially in conjunction with point ‘C’ to understand that every space and possible realm of revolutionary struggle, but decide for themselves to enlist in the revolutionary movement, and not be coerced or guilt-tripped into it by middle-class dogmatists who view it as the responsibility of every super-exploited and oppressed person/group to join, or otherwise be at risk to be labeled a class collaborator, traitor, etc. When such middle-class dogmatists attempt to enforce such practice from above, they become agents of sabotage to the oppressed liberating themselves as they are forcing a mode of struggle which may not be compatible with the space’s idea of struggle, goals, or purpose.

  1. Anti-Safe Place as Disguised Conservatism

                More often than not, anti-safe place Leftists espouse a conservative ideology disguised as leftism. It is not hard to see this in practice; online, it is common to view memes which compare political correctness and preferred pronouns to fascism. In the real world, it manifests as an anti-Marxist a-historicism which devalues struggle outside of the class struggle (forgetting, in the process, that gender and sexual orientation are directly related to the economic base since capitalism as a mode of production directly relies on biological determinism and heterosexism to defend the nuclear family and the industrial reserve labor army). Often, these Leftists come from privilege (heteronormativity, cis-cum, White mythology, middle-class settlers, racial supremacists, etc.) and so they fail to see how letting the minority and oppressed to speak for themselves is of vital importance to the revolutionary movement. Such Leftists lack the history of struggle and (self-)education to understand how these oppressed histories diverge in forms of struggle from their own histories and in ways other than class; yes, class is shared and is ultimately of paramount importance, but to shut-down the lessons learned from these struggles outside of the purview of class—their victories and defeats, theory and practice—all out of a desire to elevate class to the highest pedestal, is to reproduce bourgeois supremacy; to repudiate revolutionary rupture and stitch together an elaborate mythos concerning class struggle as the only facet of the revolutionary struggle that matters, is to legitimate antiquated ideology: anti-feminism, cissexism, white supremacy, American exceptionalism can all be rehabilitated through the denial of non-class factors since it ignores the real legacies and experiences gleaned from engaging the bourgeoisie in circles of life specific to how the base and superstructure have become intertwined.

When a Leftist falls unwittingly to conservative ideology, it is easy to see. Think of a Men’s Rights Activist ranting against women’s shelters, of them screaming that it is a sign of matriarchal elitism for there to be shelters which cater exclusively to abused women. Now ask yourself this: how is a Leftist belittling the idea of safe places for Queers and racial minorities any different than our MRA? Both individuals see only the surface and ignore the material reality for why these places exist; just as a woman’s shelter exist because of systemized patriarchy, safe places for gay, trans gender, and non-white persons exist because of institutionalized heterosexism and white supremacy. For a Leftist to attack such a safe place is to coopt conservatism while splashing it with a red veneer.

Conclusion

Anti-safe place Leftist want a new conservatism. They want a socialism stripped of its emancipatory qualities and reduced to the class binary; where workers own the means of production, yet the quality of bourgeois civilization, of sexual and gender distinction, racial and ethnic difference, remain. Whether this is a desire that is unconscious or conscious is of little concern since their ideology reproduces the conditions of subjugation (it may be useful here in thinking of the Communist Party of Greece’s (KKE) recent homophobic co-habitation document argues for biological determinism concerning the gender spectrum[1]).

To end, all of these points are merely precursors to future content. In the future, I will be posting more content which deepens the issues raised here. For the time being, then, I hope these points raise some points of discussion and assist in helping people move beyond outdated and reactionary beliefs concerning safe spaces.

[1] http://inter.kke.gr/en/articles/On-The-Cohabitation-Agreement/