As far as I know the main post-Marxist criticism of identity politics is that it is divisive, and so prevents the association of the proletariat.

This seems to me to not take liberalism seriously enough, though, as a dominant ideology of a perverse/asive capitalism.

Did marx explicitly tackle the question of bourgeois identity politics, and if not how might he?

I would suggest that IME it functions to consolidate capitalism not just by division or distraction. Perhaps this is a matter of alienation?

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    How do you define liberal bourgois identity politics?
    – mart
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 11:57
  • identity politics without marxism, i guess
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 13:50
  • Depending on who you ask, not all identity politics is equal. Here is Slavoj Zizek's recent take on the particular issue of gender theory within identity politics, which makes use of both direct referance to Marx and general Marxist theory. thephilosophicalsalon.com/the-sexual-is-political Note: my sharing this does not imply I agree with him on this issue or others, but he's an undeniably interesting writer and thinker Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 15:15
  • I wonder whether identity poltics arose out of the failure of marxism and its variants - I mean socialism; the proletariat is replaced by minorities. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 1:50
  • This is my opinion, but I won't ruin it by sieving for quotes. Marx would say "that's not socialism", which at a minimum is an expression of solidarity, between workers, independent of liberal politics of identity.
    – user6917
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 18:40

12 Answers 12


Marx’s Communist Manifesto mentions something called “Conservative or Bourgeois Socialism” and states:

“A part of the bourgeoisie is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society. To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole-and-corner reformers of every imaginable kind. This form of socialism has, moreover, been worked out into complete systems.”

He considers it a milquetoast approach and I think 21st Century identity politics would fall under this category in Marx’s view.

Of course, we’ve no way of knowing that but the Manifesto is a quick read at only 77 pages long and pretty clearly states Marx’s position and opinions on other types of socialist movements.


For me it helps to frame the topic from the central objective of his philosophy, which one might put as: the liberation of humanity from the enchainment of exploitative modes of production.

If we assume this tenet, every act can be judged on the basis of whether or not it leads to greater liberation or greater exploitation.

Identity politics is politics pure and simple, BUT the question from a Marxian standpoint is what interests the particular identity serves.

Marx was adamantly against nationalist and racial identities, not simply because he disliked nation-states or had a hatred of racial classification theories, but because they both constitute a "superstructure" created by and reinforcing the production relations constituting the economic structure of society. They are epiphenomenal to what is "really" going on in capitalist modes of production.

In the "Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" he wrote:

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.

Part of Marx's legacy was the realization that identity need not be passive. The International Workers movement he helped to fomented was perhaps the largest secular transnational identity formations on the planet. One need not be passive (or reactive) in the face of identity. We have the capacity to forge new ones, based on new lines in the sand, the communities we seek to establish. What he was fully aware of that perhaps many of his followers weren't was just the extent to which the politics of identity needed to be a continual struggle or effort if they were to succeed. And not as something separate from politics in general, but as a central feature insofar as it is a type of branding on individuals who co-exist with many types of identifications, some self-generated but many others imposed on them. These brandings influence how people see themselves and thus weigh heavily on the types of decisions they make and and ultimately the politics they ultimately live out.


I would suggest that IME it functions to consolidate capitalism not just by division or distraction, but by disempowering the white / male / etc. working class; relative to the capitalist class of course.

Hmmmm, porbably not. Marx and Engels saw women as the original oppressed group and marriage and monogamy as instruments of capitalism. See the SEP article on marriage, Section 2:

Marxists also saw marriage as originating in ancient exercises of force and as continuing to contribute to the exploitation of women. Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) argued that monogamous marriage issued from a “world historical defeat of the female sex” (Engels 1884, 120). Exclusive monogamy “was not in any way the fruit of individual sex love, with which it had nothing whatever to do … [but was based on] economic conditions—on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property” (ibid., 128). Monogamy allowed men to control women and reproduction, thereby facilitating the intergenerational transfer of private property by producing undisputed heirs. Karl Marx (1818–83) argued that abolishing the private family would liberate women from male ownership, ending their status “as mere instruments of production” (The Communist Manifesto, Marx 1848, 173). The Marxist linking of patriarchy and capitalism, in particular its understanding of marriage as an ownership relation ideologically underpinning the capitalist order, has been especially influential in feminist thought (Pateman 1988, cf. McMurtry 1972).

So I don't think he would have worried too much about male dis-empowerment, and it is safe to assume that Marx would have sympathized with liberal feminist identity politics.

Marx has made some dubious statements about race and slavery, but I think that had he lived in a more cosmopolitan environment (i.e. one like modern U.S society were class and ethnicity correlated strongly), he would be sympathetic to ethnic identity politics as well, if only by extrapolating from his position on women and capitalism.

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    thanks for the post, but i still maintain that you are wrong.
    – user6917
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:54

Identity politics are actually a form of class politics, when a lesbian of color walks outside does she become classless? So what are the material class interests within this form of politics?

The answer is well established, by the impact of such adopting such politics, all well covered by professor Adolf Reed. Identity politics only represents the ruling class, regardless of the atomized individuals they claim to represent. This is anti-marxist, right wing, politics in a cloak of left-ish chic.



If by "bourgeois identity politics" you mean advocating for a single group that is constituted by some sort of common criteria, we have to take into account, that these identities are usually grounded in oppression (e.g. racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.) which result in the identity being imposed on certain individuals.

Working against these oppression mechanisms inside of capitalism could lead to a consolidation of capitalism but not by disempowering white males, but by preventing social unrest by people who are rebelling against oppression that is non-capitalist.

But I would argue that this is not the case - (emancipatory) identity politics are something mostly happening in the western world, but capitalism is globalized by now. The class antagonism has shifted from a local to a global phenomenon. Therefore identity politics and advocating diversity does not erase the global difference in economic wealth. I'd rather argue that the effect of identity politics is a larger awareness to different forms of oppression, which in turn can only help to bring together the working class to fight against capitalism - after all who wants to cooperate with a racist?

And also: how is advocating the working class not identity politics?

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    "after all who wants to cooperate with a racist?" apparently Capitalists get to, they arm ISIS for geo-political reasons, but when it comes to the working class we demand ideological tests? In addition the system perpetuates and recreates racism, what you call opposing racism is in fact exploiting latent racism. "And also: how is advocating the working class not identity politics?" Are you making a moral argument? As if to insinuate working class people get to fight along class interests, so why can't we serve ours by promoting racism? Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 3:10
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    Advocating for class equality is not identity politics. It is seen as the prototype for it, but this is just a mind game. Lack of choice in occupation is an imposed state in the way nationality, religion, gender, and other naturally occurring states are not. You can have a Muslim, Polish, black, female legislator. But you cannot have a working-class legislator, lawyer, engineer or doctor. These are, in-and-of-themselves knowledge-based, capital leveraging, occupations, and doing one makes one no longer proletarian, whatever your past associations or sympathies.
    – user9166
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 17:03
  • @jobermark when I present similar arguments to yours to my fellow Arab-Americans as an objection to identity politics (and this applies to all minorities obviously) - the response is usually: "Yes, in theory - but in practice we live in a White/Christian/Hetero/Patriarchal society and so advocating for a minority amounts to the same thing as advocating for an oppressed class". Additionally, aren't affirmative action type rules applications of the principle that class and minority status correlate? Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 21:09
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    @AlexanderSKing It is not an objection to identity politics, but it is a significant difference. An economic class is an effect, not a perceived cause of classification. Black was never an economic class, even if slave was, because indentures existed. I am all for advocating for better treatment of both kinds of oppressed classes, but they are essentially different in nature. Poverty is not an identity, having been poor can be one, but being poor is just an observable fact and it can apply to anyone raised in any way and thinking of themselves as having any indentity.
    – user9166
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 21:21
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    Isn't "Control of the means of production" meant in a more basic sense, namely owning them and therefore being in the position to choose what will be produced and how the production process is organized? If I am a coder in some company I am not able to choose what will be produced, but by implementing the algorithm choosing how the product works.
    – m-strasser
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 14:00

Let's start with two of Marx's better-known principles:

  • Commodity: Objects which have 'exchange value' — often expressed as a monetary value — so that they can be easily compared with and exchanged for other (otherwise dissimilar) objects. For instance, we can only say that a quart of orange juice is worth roughly two pairs of socks because both orange juice and socks have been commodified.
  • Commodity fetishism: A tendency to treat exchange value as intrinsic to objects, so that exchanges in a market appear as a relationship between objects (commodities), not as a social relationship between people. For Marx, a quart of orange juice is worth roughly two pairs of socks because the labor that goes into each is roughly the same, and so people place roughly the same value on them; that social aspect disappears when people fetishize commodities into free-standing values.

Commodification doesn't merely apply to inanimate physical objects. Intangible things like information, acquired skills, and public approval can be be given exchange values and commodified, as can people themselves. This is why a degree from Yale is worth more than a degree from a state college — the commodification of university degrees places ivy league schools at the top — and why skilled labor is generally better paid that unskilled labor. This too can result in fetishism. There is no reason to believe that an undergraduate degree from Yale is significantly better than (say) an undergraduate degree from UConn, but the mystique of attending an ivy league school carries weight.

Modern-day identity politics are efforts to re-commodify the value of a given group. Societies have traditionally commodified and devalued members of 'out-groups' — women, racial minorities, gays and lesbians, people of different religions, laborers, etc — so that people in those groups are considered less valuable and have more difficulty securing economic benefits and societal statuses and protections. The proper Marxist solution to this would be to de-commodify people: to make it so that all people are evaluated solely on their skills, talents, and intrinsic capacities, not on the extrinsic factors of group inclusion. That is (unfortunately) a utopian ideal that has never gained much traction in the real world. By contrast, identity politics embraces the commodification of people-into-groups that already exists in the world, but insists that a given identity group should receive equal valuation to other identity groups.

I don't think Marx would have disliked the concept of identity politics; mainly it's an extension of the 'class consciousness' ideal, in which laborers unify as a group to fight the exploitation of those in the group. Marx would certainly have thought of identity politics as superficial — all problems for Marx build down to the economic alienation that drives class capitalism, so the real effort has to focus on labor relations — but I don't think he would have objected to them outright (except in the nationalist moment, where the ruling class portrays itself as victimized minority).


When I think about Karl Marx, and communism, he considered communism the highest and supreme type of government. I wonder if he believed it was actually achievable in his time considering the human condition and the technology. Maybe he was proposing an unachievable ethopia, as the ultimate, but would have settled with a socialistic capitism. Obviously the Soviet Unioin form of Communism was quickly corrupted and far from the Ethiopia of Marxism. With this being said the Soviets obviously thought that all people should be equal, without religion and class. But how can it be achieved when some people have to be farmers living in poor villages And low social value, while other were astronauts living like kings? The ideology was only temporary sustainable with deception.

Maybe Comunism only works when technology, like robots, are able to replace the labor force, giving all people the equal opportunity to be unemployed intellectuals pushing the boundaries of thought rather then productiveness.

  • 'division of labour' is crucial in marxism, tho i'm not totally sure what the alternative is. i think what's important to remember about this is that communism isn't just a fairer or even freer society, but one that has done away with every mystification involving and instantiated in class
    – user6917
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 16:59
  • He would not have settled for socialist capitalism. This answer seems rife with opinion and factually is completely devoid to actual references to Marx or Marxist theory. Commented Aug 12, 2016 at 15:19
  • Ethiopia of Marxism ?
    – amphibient
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 19:42
  • @amphibient - at eternal war with the Erithrea of anarchism. Commented Jan 23, 2018 at 0:40

Let me answer briefly since, ignoring the OP's personal question to me seems a bit rude to me.

First of all, I hadn't know what identity politics is. And Thank you.

Regarding your question, honestly speaking, the OP's method of question seems a bit astray to me.

For example,

This seems to me to not take liberalism seriously enough, though, as a dominant ideology of a perverse/asive capitalism.

Because, according to the definition in the link provided by the OP, the Identiy Politics is,

Identity politics, also called identitarian politics,[1] refers to political positions based on the interests and perspectives of social groups with which people identify.

Hence, Marx, and the First International, is/was itself one kind of Identity Politics, so, let me say with no offense that I would like to recommend for the OP to reconsider the "entrance" to ask the very question...

Thank you very much.

  • but trhe question is only confused, i think, if marx was part of the liberal tradition. was he?
    – user6917
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 14:58
  • @MATHEMETICIAN To me, he was part of the super liberal tradition or groups, almost to the extent to the anarchism. Thank you.
    – user13955
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 0:56

See Marx's essay "On The Jewish Question". It's a relatively quick and easy read. Marx's position on the identity politics of his day was clearly materialist and anti-essentialist. He argues that struggles for emancipation of Jews as such are to be understood in their concrete historical contexts. I think this is consistent with how Marxists critique identity politics today (as for example in this essay by Marie Moran or this special issue of the journal Historical Materialsim, both from 2018.)


I would venture to say that aside from the few and far between snide anti-semitic comments, Marx rarely ventured to address the question, as it was one that had not been posed up to that point. That being said, anything that rests upon the fact of dividing the working class can hardly seem Marxist. Marxism is the antithesis of "I am x so I deserve y" I work, so I deserve the fruits of my labor. That's about it. It's liberal distraction. It's what a supposed communists makes their main point when they run for election in the democractic party. In short, it's a refuge of class traitors, it's not as if we workers are not facing covert oppression day in and day out (Nor am I diminissioning POC and other marginalized groups experience. Belong to a few, however, you fix class opression, you fix oppression, you fix other oppression, you fix that oppression... idk, call me a pos but class identity before ANY AND ALL OTHER FORMS OF IDENTITY!


I don't know what Marx would say about current identity politics, and I don't think the question is answerable. There is a different question you could ask: could Marxism provide any moral principle that would allow Marx to resist current identity politics? The answer is no.

Marx favoured the rule of the proletariat. As such, he accepted the principle that the right system involves a particular group of people being in charge and controlling everyone else.

This principle is anti-rational. It involves saying that people outside a particular group are always wrong and baking that into the political system so that any criticisms held by those outside the favoured group are ignored except at the whim of the rulers. There can't be any legitimate argument for such a system. So people can only hold it by ignoring criticisms and abandoning the practice of deciding what to do by open-ended critical argument.

Now, suppose somebody comes along and claims that a different group than the proletariat should control everyone else. If you want to reply, your reply can't be that you should take a step back from both positions and consider what principle determines who should be in charge. If you do that, you find that there is no such principle. Rather, that appropriate principle is that you should have institutions that enable the replacement of bad policies and rulers. This is incompatible with both identity politics and Marxism.

Identity politics and Marxism are also both incompatible with free markets. A free market would be set up so that it was easy for people to make agreements where you benefit from providing an agreed good or service, but you can refuse to do so if you're willing to pay a price you agreed on when you formed the agreement. This sort of system has ways of correcting errors in how people act on their ideas. If you come up with a bad idea about how to do something and try to implement it, then you will have to make agreements you can't deliver on and you will have to pay the price. You will run out of resources for implementing the bad idea. Identity politics and Marxism are both opposed to this principle since they want only the favoured group to have the right to dictate what others do.

As such, identity politics and Marxism are both opposed to free markets. Free markets and any other rational political institution are a mortal threat to Marxism and identity politics, so Marxism and identity politics have a problem in common. At the same time Marxists and identity politics people can't both have their favoured group in charge. So at some point both groups either have to change position by rational discussion or coerce the other group into cooperating.

As you may have guessed by now, I think both Marxism and identity politics are evil. My main advice to anyone who holds either position is to reconsider your position. Leaving aside all the other objections, wanting to fight other people all the time sounds like a boring and shitty way to live your life. You should be interested in learning about institutions that facilitate dealign with other people voluntarily, such as free markets.

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    Hmm - the rule of the proletariat was supposed to be a temporary step on the path to a classless society - so your point about "As such, he accepted the principle that the right system involves a particular group of people being in charge and controlling everyone else." is debatable. I agree though that identity politics are incompatible with the free market. Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 18:41
  • @AlexanderSKing So Marx only advocated temporarily ignoring any knowledge held by people not in the proletariat? This is a bad idea and has terrible consequences. If you concede irrationality is correct under some circumstances, then people will point that out and you then have to either give up the irrationality or ignore those questions, i.e. - indulge in more irrationality. And the process will keep repeating. Sometimes you won't openly say irrational stuff: you'll just ignore places you know you could get rational arguments. People who do that for long enough end up running gulags.
    – alanf
    Commented Jan 23, 2017 at 8:58
  • And other people set up the transatlantic slave trade... Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 4:45
  • @MoziburUllah The people who set up the transatlantic slave trade also ignored knowledge held by people who were not in a certain group, i.e. - they ignored the slaves' knowledge. They also ended up running institutions not much different from gulags: plantations.
    – alanf
    Commented Feb 17, 2017 at 8:31
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    @MoziburUllah You keep naming bad policies that ignore particular groups. I don't understand the point of this,as the existence of other mistaken people doesn't make Marx's mistake okay or even excusable.
    – alanf
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 16:00

That would depend on which identities one was advocating for. Marxist class conflict is FOR the advocacy of the oppressed class against the oppressor class. In a way it is identity politics for you are advocating exclusively for a SINGLE group. In so far as that group is an oppressed group Marx would support exclusively calling for their liberation. This quote from Marx as Spivak points out proves that he wasn't ONLY advocating for the working class in an industrial sense but ALL oppressed peoples form a class worth fighting for :

"‘in so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that cut off their mode of life, their interest, and their formation from those of the other classes and they form a class ."

So in the west, black people, hispanic people, indigneous people form a Marxian class which must be advocated for. Marx wouldn't be opposed to the advocacy for the groups themselves but rather to the types of policy proposals that liberals are advocating for.

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