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The left has many problems, being ‘too woke’ isn’t one of them

This article is over 4 years, 5 months old
Left wingers who claim that being ‘woke’ about oppression is a turn off for working class people propagate poisonous nonsense, says Simon Basketter
Issue 2692
Did Labour lose the election because it ignored real working class issues?
Did Labour lose the election because it ignored ‘real’ working class issues? (Pic: Jeremy Corbyn/Flickr)

The problem is clear. It is that people like me don’t have a voice. Frankly it’s about time middle aged, white, male journalists got a break.

This is the common moan of too many on the right. It is the reason the cured pork that is Piers Morgan exists.

Pub bores bemoaning political correctness is as British as covering up royal child abuse and invading other countries.

What is more surprising is that whining about “identity politics gone mad” is the new contrarian wisdom seeping through bits of the left.

The argument has a number of variants. But nearly all of it is in response to the failure of “Ohhhh, Jeremy Corbyn” to win an election.

The argument goes that it’s because workers of the north of England—it is always the north—didn’t trust Corbyn and the left because it was too busy being cosmopolitan. So we need to drop the snowflake crap and get back to proper politics.

It tends to be based on a rather muscular view of what workers are.

The worker in question takes time out from wearing his flat cap to give his whippet some plain speaking. And, as everyone knows, plain speaking is short for being against immigration.

They do not have time between going down t’pit and hitting their wives for modern things like not being beastly to LGBT+ people. If the left wants to be successful, the argument goes, then it has to relate to this and stop the “identity politics”.

Most of those propagating this poisonous nonsense are somewhat removed from the mythical dark satanic mills.

And relating turns out to mean accepting reactionary ideas. If you’re reading this and thinking does he mean me—then I do.

Opposition to oppression is non-negotiable—the revolutionary Vladimir Lenin said if you missed that, you weren’t even a democrat.

Now, the left shouldn’t simply be a talking shop. And there are weaknesses with an approach that sees making sure we have better language to deal with oppression as the only priority.


But it is honestly a good thing to make racists uncomfortable enough that they have to think about how to hide their prejudice.

To say being “woke” is offputting to the mythical working class person is to lack any self-awareness on the left.

The opaque language used in the defeat re-enactments that make up much of the left’s activities aren’t exactly welcoming.

At one level this is a sort of embarrassing dad dancing. Please stop the memes and language we didn’t use in college. But it has deeper roots. In his 1937 book The Road To Wigan Pier, George Orwell asks why everyone isn’t a socialist since socialism is so obviously true.

He blames the left. “One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit juice drinker, nudist, sandal wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, ‘nature cure’ quack, pacifist and feminist in England,” he wrote.

He focused on the supposed “moral superiority of workers” instead of their economic power to shut down capitalism.

He believed theory is middle class while experience is working class. Importantly, this means ignoring working class intellectuals and focusing instead on the weaknesses of the “middle class left”.

There is a long history of the left ignoring oppression—not because it was too busy fighting over economic issues, but rather because it wasn’t fighting over anything.

It is a sort of collateral damage for seeing Labour as the way to change the world.

Finally it is worth noting “woke” has been around for a while, but it was the Black Lives Matter movement that bought it to wider attention.

That was a mass movement to resist US cops gunning down black people. And that’s not the worst place to start to fight back.

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