Queen of Thorns wrote a post Why the Left Needs Feminism and cross posted over on the standard. I think her post is really interesting and important (and it's great to see it at the Standard, which usually only comments on feminist issues when there's a really obvious way to insult John Key in the process). Here I do focus on what I disagree with her about and so I suggest you read the whole post, because there's lots of cool ideas in there.
And I agree with her conclusion - obviously I agree with her conclusion. But I disagree with some of the points she makes along the way. Mostly, I think, because we have a different analysis of the role of the Labour Party within the left.
QoT appears to begin her post by setting up a Labour party: "focused on class struggle or strictly economic leftist ideas." This labour party does not exist. Chris Trotter has indeed tried to portray worshipping at the altar of testosterone as a service to the working class, but that doesn't make it true. Likewise there are those who suggest the reason that the fifth labour government alienated so many working-class people was because of it's crazy feminism, but the actual feminist legislative achievements at that time were minimal particularly with what doesn't done (I'm looking at you pay equity and abortion law reform). At times QoT appears to accept Chris Trotter's zero-sum game and just argue that 'identity politics' things are important - rather than going further and saying that there's enough liberation to go around.
In places of her post she is treading over reasonably familiar ground. One of the biggest intellectual challenges for the left is to understand the why and the how of the fourth labour government? Certainly this has come up on left blogs before and there is an argument which places the responsibility at the feet of 'identity politics' (Chris Trotter, John Minto and Bryce Edwards have all made it). I disagree - and I've written my thoughts on this before, so I'm not going to go over them again.
But at times QoT seemed to be arguing the inverse of Trotter's argument:
Trotter is speaking about the 1980s, that golden age of namby-pamby identity politics when the left got distracted by piffling little side issues like whether men should be held accountable for raping their wives and whether gay men should be allowed to be gay.
A time when the Left wasn’t, to quote Phil Goff’s own advisor John Pagani on that thread, “connecting with things that matter to people”. You can probably draw your own conclusions as to the kind of people he means.
I've said it before, and I'll probably say it again, but this idea that the 1980s was a golden age of identity politics (whether you see that as a bad thing) gets repeated far more often than it gets proved. No-one has been able to tell me what the wonderful legislative feminist gains of the fourth labour government were.
But more importantly here Pagani is clearly conflating the 'left' and 'the parliamentary labour party'. He's also wrong on both counts. Because in the 1980s the parliamentary labour party was 'connecting with things that matter to people' - if you call a kick connecting. It was privatising assets, introducing GST, introducing student fees and selling post-offices. And the extra-parliamentary left were also connecting with those very same things, remember just because we didn't win, doesn't mean we didn't fight.
Likewise while homosexual law reform and rape law reform, both had their home in the extra-parliamentary left, neither sat quite as comfortably in the parliamentary left. Homosexual law reform was a private members bill, and several Labour MPs at the time voted against it. Whereas the act that criminalised rape in marriage had been drafted under Muldoon's government, but not passed before the snap election. I disagree with QoT idea that 'the left' focused on Homosexual and rape law reform during the 1980s and this was good, as much as I disagree with Trotter et al's reverse formulation.
I am concerned about the stories that get told about the 1980s, partly because I care about history, but also because I am worried people will draw the wrong lessons today. I think QoT reinforced Trotter's formulation of class and 'identity' politics standing in opposition to each other with the way she talked about the past even though I think her argument was the opposite of that.
This is not a zero sum game - there isn't a limited amount of liberation available that we have to fight among ourselves for. It's the opposite - your struggle is my struggle, and I cannot be free while you are in chains.