Sunday 12 February 2023

The Culture Wars of Woke Imperialism

On the superb Labour Heartlands, its estimable Editor, Paul Knaggs writes:

We’re in a culture war and it’s killing us all.

What Are Culture Wars?

Culture wars refer to the current political, cultural and ideological battle between the “left” and “right” and anything they can drag in between.

This battle is characterised by a clash between traditional values and progressive ideals, with both sides holding strong beliefs regarding issues such as immigration, LGBTQ rights, gender roles and race. The culture wars have become increasingly prominent in the UK many subjects migrated from the US in recent years, with the rise of progressive liberalism and Political Correctness.

This blog post will explore the cultural wars in the UK specifically, and how woke imperialism and Political Correctness have impacted the Left in alienating its traditional working-class voters.

The Impact of Progressive Liberals on the UK’s Left

The rise of the progressive liberals and woke imperialism in the UK has significantly impacted the Left. This is due to the fact that the woke movement has largely been embraced by the progressive liberal Left, with many of its core values and beliefs being shared by progressive politicians and activists.

As a result, the Left has become increasingly divided on certain issues, with the more socially conservative elements of the Left and its traditional working-class supporters feeling alienated by the progressive stance of the modern woke movement.

The impact of this division has been particularly pronounced in the Labour Party, which has traditionally been the home of the British Left. The party has seen a rift open up between its social liberals known as progressives and its traditional working class, with the progressive wing pushing for more radical policies on issues such as immigration and LGBTQ rights.

This has resulted in a schism within the Labour movement, with many of the traditional working class feeling alienated, and disenfranchised. The working class are turning their back on an increasingly centrist ideology of progressive liberalism.

Before we delve any further, we should look at woke origins.

The Origins of Woke

In 1938, the phrase ‘stay woke’ was used by blues musician Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, in a spoken afterword to the song ‘Scottsboro Boys’. This was a protest song describing an incident from 1931 in which nine black teenagers from Scottsboro, Arkansas were accused of raping two white women.

Lead Belly says: ‘So I advise everybody, be a little careful when they go along through there – best stay woke, keep their eyes open.’ This spoke not just to the existence of racial injustice, but also to a more specific need among black people at that time: to stay alert to threats and dangers from white people in general and from the state in particular. ‘Stay woke’ reminded black people that they needed to be vigilant against the threat of racist violence.

By the mid-20th century in America, ‘woke’ was still used almost exclusively by members of the African-American population, but two meanings ran in parallel: be vigilant for potential threats from powerful whites and also be ‘aware’ or ‘well informed’ about political injustices in general.

Both meanings were used in black dialect and were brought to the attention of the wider American public with a 1962 New York Times article by African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley. In ‘If you’re woke, you dig it’, Kelley described the appropriation of black slang by white beatniks. Decades later, ‘woke’ itself came to be appropriated by white hipsters, at the very same time that exposing and condemning the appropriation of black culture came to be a woke action.

Three years after Kelley’s article was published, Martin Luther King, addressing crowds at the end of the 1965 civil-rights march from Selma to Montgomery, recalled an older meaning of ‘woke’ when he described the origins of racial segregation as emerging from opposition to the Populist Party of the 1890s. According to King, the white elite sought to challenge nascent populism because ‘the leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses and the former negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests’.

The word ‘woke’ emerged into mainstream white culture. This has led some to decry the fact that, ‘like anything created by black people’, the word has been ‘appropriated by the masses’. As Dorsey’s t-shirt demonstrated, by 2016 ‘woke’ had become popularised, commercialised and even memeified. Perhaps unsurprisingly, by 2018, as woke entered everyday speech, the association of woke with superficial displays of moral superiority had also become firmly entrenched in the public imagination.

Malaika Jabali: ‘Woke has become distorted beyond recognition’

“It’s mostly people who don’t understand the original connotation of “woke” who still say woke. They can have it. Whether we’re talking about “critical race theory” from black scholars, “identity politics” from black feminists, or “woke” from black slang, terms indigenous to our way of thinking or advocating get co-opted and distorted beyond recognition in mainstream society.”

In the UK, the roots of the current culture wars can be traced back to the late 2000s, when the “woke” movement began to gain traction.

The early years of the woke movement here were characterised by a focus on issues such as race, gender and sexuality. This focus has since grown to encompass a broad range of social and political issues, from climate change to the refugee crisis.

The woke movement has seen a surge in popularity in the UK in recent years, with the rise of so-called “woke imperialism”. This term refers to the practice of exporting progressive ideals and values from other countries, mainly the US, often in an attempt to impose a particular worldview on those countries.

Bhaskar Sunkara: ‘Language on the left can be a problem’

To be “woke” once meant to be alert to the continued realities of oppression, particularly the oppression faced by black Americans. But today, its meaning has shifted. To be “woke” is to lack urgency about building the coalitions that can win over working-class people and actually redistribute money and power to the oppressed.

“This isn’t to say that progressives have to avoid questions of social justice to win a mythically conservative working class, but that we need to acknowledge the reality that working-class people of all races want basically the same things: good jobs, secure housing, dependable health care, and the ability to provide for themselves and their families. Framing universal concerns with identity-focused messaging or language stolen straight from academia is a huge mistake.”

We need to get back to our original ideas of liberty, freedom and equality and above all the emancipation of the working class. Ensuring that they are the ones that are the most prominent when it comes to the conversations on the Left. We must also ensure that the language we use is a reflection of those values and makes it clear that we are fighting for real, lasting change and not just buzzwords to virtue signal our way forward. That is true progressivism and it is the only way forward.

Nowadays, the term “woke” has primarily been used in a critical sense. It is important to note that disputing this new woke culture does not correspond with adopting right-wing values, nor does it entail advocating for racism, sexism or any other form of discrimination. In fact, those who oppose the embrace of wokeness by progressives often have views which originated from a left-wing position.

Traditional left-wing supporters are worried about seeing left-wing principles such as free speech and tolerance being pushed aside in favour of new divisions between people according to identity characteristics like gender, race and sexuality. Furthermore, they fear the deployment of language which pejoratively brands their dissenters as homophobic or fascist.

By many accounts, opposition to wokeness seeks to challenge hate rather than affirm it.

Challenging Hate The Black Panther Way

Personally, I’ve always preferred the all-inclusive Black Panthers, there has never been a better quote than that captured in Fred Hampton’s speech, Power anywhere where there’s people:

“We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I’m talking about the white masses, I’m talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We’ve got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.” – Fred Hampton

The Dangers of Woke Imperialism

The rise of woke imperialism has raised a number of concerns, not least of which is the danger that it poses to the left. By attempting to impose their own values on others, the progressive liberals are in danger of alienating the social conservative elements of the left, its traditional working class. This will lead to a further splintering of the left, with both wings becoming increasingly divided.

The overall effect means that the Left has become less of a voice of ordinary workers and more of a mouthpiece for the metropolitan liberal class.

These culture wars in the UK have been intensifying in recent years, with the rise of progressives and woke imperialism. It is important for the Left to find ways to bridge this divide and to ensure that its traditional and economic theory is not lost and that it is heard by the wider public.

However, that is becoming harder and harder, we are at a point where the Labour Party uses its platform to push down socialist ideas and the new progressive liberals within the Left have a very bad habit of castigating, censoring, and deplatforming those who do not linguistically conform to their self-made ideologies and Politically Correct speech.

They often try to manifest a condescendingly aloof attitude as a way to feel they have a morally superior position that negates any argument or tolerance for others that don’t fall into their new worldview, while all the while the only gain they make is to prolong the divide.

In doing so, they make it easier for the ruling class to get away with abuse, neoliberalism, permanent war, and the curtailment of civil liberties. They do not confront the institutions that orchestrate social and economic injustice.

It would be wrong to call the new progressives a modern Puritan movement at least the Puritans had a collective ideology, a firm foundation they didn’t slip slide and change whenever someone shouted “Witch!”

The progressive liberals are without foundation, cause or reason other than to point their collective finger at what or whomever they feel doesn’t fit into their wishy-washy world of make-believe. Nothing captures their dishonesty better than the classic Monty Python scene, She’s a witch.

Wokeism and Censorship

There’s a fine line between being woke and being censorship-happy. And far too often, progressive liberals cross that line. They start trying to dictate what people can and can’t say, all in the name of political correctness. They want to control the language that everyone uses, in an attempt to create what would only turn into authoritarian Society, a dystopian 1984.

But this kind of censorship only serves to further divide us. It creates an us-vs-them mentality, where people are afraid to speak their minds for fear of being labelled racist or sexist or whatever. And that’s not at all what Left is supposed to be about.

The Battle for the Soul of the Left

“The left will end up eating itself.”

The division between the progressive liberal left and the traditional working class has been further exacerbated by the rise of Political Correctness.

Where Political Correctness was once used to describe language and behaviour that was deemed to be respectful and non-offensive towards marginalised groups. it was seen by many on the Left as a way to protect from discrimination and oppression. Now it’s pushed into every aspect of our lives from the progressive liberal Left, it has created much debate about the merits of Political Correctness and its weaponisation.

Social Issues Are Not Socialist Issues

It is important to remember that social issues, such as sexism, racism and homophobia, are not socialist issues. These are not problems of poverty or inequality, but rather ideological issues that have been brought about by a political class that seeks to divide us along lines of gender, race and sexuality.

Progressive liberalism does not challenge the structural inequalities of capitalism. Instead, it seeks to make oppression more palatable by equating it with mere language. It is instead an attempt to create a cloak of false morality to cover up the inaction of the ruling class in addressing issues such as poverty, inequality and corporate abuse.

Social justice warriors who choose to focus on policing language instead of challenging institutional injustice do nothing more than paper over the cracks in our society. These are not real solutions – they are distractions which prevent us from confronting the root causes of our social problems.

At the same time, we shouldn’t forget about the traditional left-wing culture, which is not just about celebrating diversity or new rhetoric, but about taking up the mantle of redistributive justice, economic unity, emancipation, and equal opportunity for all.

We need to go back to our fundamental principles and stay true to them, and not just become content with the politically correct language that is subject to constant change.

Understanding Identity Politics

At this point, everyone should understand what identity politics are. Simply put, they are the political stances and positions that are based on the recognition of diverse social identities, such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.

Identity politics have become an increasingly important factor in our society, especially in recent years. This is largely due to the fact that we are now more aware of the diversity that exists in our world. As a result, people have been seeking ways to more effectively represent and protect the interests of minority groups.

While identity politics can be a powerful tool for change, again they can also be divisive. This is because they often lead to us thinking in terms of “us” and “them.” We begin to see the world in terms of black and white, good and bad, right and wrong. And this can lead to a lot of conflict.

These new so-called progressives have become extremely loud, arrogant and exclusive but certainly don’t have any socialist or left-wing foundations, and just like the modern Labour Party neither do they remotely resemble the working-class Labour Movement, a Movement that was founded on liberty and free speech. A Movement built on openness and discourse carried by rigorous debate.

These extreme authoritarian progressives self-identify as the working-class, yet ironically the majority of the progressive liberal left have never ventured beyond their university campus, never mind sat in a working-class club or seen a council estate, never mind lived in one.

Put simply, the so-called progressives or liberal elites are increasingly engaging in identity politics and diversity initiatives under the all-inclusive banner of the Left, but in reality these social issues have little to nothing, to do with a left-wing political ideology or its economic theory.

The debate over Political Correctness has been further complicated by the rise of “woke imperialism”. This term refers to the practice of exporting progressive ideals and values to other countries, often in an attempt to impose a particular worldview on those countries. The quickness of the progressive liberal Left to pick up on US culture wars and export their political agendas to the UK has often come unstuck and doesn’t always translate well when crossing the pond.

The same progressive liberals who celebrate being Politically Correct and demand higher standards when it came to language should also want to do the same when it came to policy. Liberals should be demanding a higher standard when it came to public spending that reduces inequality, a higher standard when it came to creating job opportunities and closing wage gaps, and a higher standard when it came to tackling environmental destruction and poverty.

We shouldn’t be looking to appease the cultural elite of the privileged liberal masses with superficial language, but should be looking to create lasting changes.

How ‘Progressive Liberals’ Make Injustice Palatable

Progressives are very good at making injustice palatable. In fact, they’re so good at it that many people don’t even realise they’re being subjugated. How do they do this?

Well, it all comes down to identity politics and diversity. The progressives wallow in a cloying moral superiority as they castigate, censor and deplatform those who do not linguistically conform to Politically Correct speech. This game disguises their passivity in the face of corporate abuse, neoliberalism, permanent war, and the curtailment of civil liberties. They do not confront the institutions that orchestrate social and economic injustice. They seek to make the ruling class more palatable.

It’s a brilliant strategy, really. By pretending to stand up for the little guy, progressives liberals make it appear as though they’re doing something when, in reality, they’re not doing anything at all.

Trans Rights vs Women’s Rights

Nothing exemplifies progressive liberalism better than that on the debate on Trans rights.

Political Correctness can also be used to push an end-run around class politics. Take the example of trans rights vs. women’s rights. The latter has been ignored for decades and yet the liberals will often focus on the former instead by demanding that those who refuse to accept gender neutrality get labelled as ‘transphobic’ and have their voices silenced. This allows the liberal elite to posture as ‘progressives’ while ignoring real gender inequality.

In the rush to support the trans movement, women’s rights and their concerns are being ignored. Trans activists and their liberal supporters are attacking women and lesbians both verbally and physically while any mention of these actions is met with outrageous condemnation and a torrent of excuses followed by statistical information suggesting that trans are the most attacked minority group in existence, stats that conveniently ignore the attacks of violence and suppression of rights on women as just an aside.

It is women who have been marginalised throughout society’s history. It is women who were the property of their husbands, who were prized captives in war and sold as slaves, who up until the 1970s would have been refused mortgages if they applied in their own right and who were not paid the same as men, who up until the 1980s could lawfully be turned away from a bar and whose incomes had to be declared on her husband’s tax return. Who are still subject to the “sex” pay gap and whose careers are stalled due to rearing the next generation.

The progressive liberals violently shout down women’s genuine concerns about the trans movement. Concerns about men that self-id and the use of women-only spaces are ignored, and cancelled as if women are being unreasonable. These are genuine concerns that should be addressed. instead, the progressive liberals within the Left demonise women for calling out their concerns, branding them TERFs, while trying to silence them, in effect outcasting them as if their views didn’t matter.

Again, just because a group are subject to any form of oppression it does not make this a socialist issue but a social one, and just because something falls into the realms of the LBGT community it does not make it politically or socially a Left or Right issue. Many traditional Left groups oppose some or all of the demands from the trans activist, including feminists and lesbian organisations that again raise legitimate concerns. One’s sexual orientation does not define one’s political ideology.

These extreme authoritarian progressives have done a great job of shutting down debate and discourse. They want to stop the conversation and debate from becoming mainstream. Voters need to understand all sides of an argument. I for one want to know if my potential MP can tell me what is an adult female woman. Until then, it’s important for the Left to stay true to their principles of inclusivity and acceptance. But if that means trampling on the rights of women and blocking their legitimate concerns, then we are left with some very big questions to answer. What’s so controversial about “woman — adult human female”?

The same thing applies when there are questions of race and privilege, whereby activists push a discourse that echoes corporate buzzwords such as ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ instead of meaningful policies that would challenge corporate hegemony or address oppressive forms of racism and sexism. Rather than engaging in meaningful debate, these issues are often relegated to meaningless platitudes about ‘being nice’ or ‘showing kindness’ which does nothing to confront systemic inequality or injustice.

The Left is still in the minority when it comes to tackling stories about misogyny, racism and homophobia – primarily due to the ‘no platforming’ and ‘safe spaces’ that are so commonplace on university campuses.

Rishi Sunak has become the UK’s first prime minister of Indian descent, and that matters. The Tories have not only statistically and physically become the party of diversity, but they have also become the party of gender equality, having had three women Prime Ministers. While Labour constantly virtue signals about gender equality, even running all-women shortlist for local and constituency candidates, they have failed to reflect real diversity and gender equality. When it comes to leadership of the Labour Party, it remains the face of a pale-looking middle-aged white man.

Mandy Clare writes: “The middle class majority on the Left seem to have much more of a comfortable familiarity with the issues of other minority or disempowered groups than with the working class. It seems they are far more willing to get on board and be vocal on those issues. Perhaps it’s tedious having to listen to inarticulate people suggesting your personal success is based on networks and privilege. You came here to be outraged about something – a pet, confined injustice or two, to which you know all the answers and with a vague idea of socialism being about becoming kinder to the poor, helping them be more like you and having more of the material things you have, but not really wanting to be told you are part of their problem, or that power within the party needs to be effectively turned on its head.”

“Some activists call for an end to all identity politics as if by waving that magic wand, the social structures formed of deep prejudice and hoarding of power through history and the social inequality it produces will suddenly be swept away if we stop talking about it. Actually, language is one of the few weapons we have to bring it repeatedly out into the open so that it can be challenged. Silence that and the power imbalances remain and further entrench. Besides, class can’t be included within the identity politics bracket. Every other strand you might want to look at has legal recognition, protection and a movement behind it. A legion of middle-class activists, usually. The working class enjoy no such protection, recognition or vocal solidarity, hence their alienation and political vagrancy. That can’t be remedied by simply ignoring it further.”

Virtue Signalling

We need to recognise how irrelevant we sometimes come over to working-class voters. Our pet issues may be laudable and justified but totally off the radar for most working-class people against the backdrop of job insecurity and cost of living crisis, against no savings and a social safety net shot to pieces; against decades of being sidelined and ignored, looked down upon by the middle class political elite, busy concerning themselves with fixing, understanding and empathising with everything under the sun apart from what’s on their own doorstep.

These extreme authoritarian progressives self-identify as the working class yet they don’t like the working class, don’t understand the working class, don’t like the working class, and definitely don’t listen to the working class.

Passivity in the Face of Corporate Abuse

This game of identity politics while adopting woke imperialism allows progressive liberals to wallow in a cloying moral superiority as they castigate, censor and deplatform those who do not linguistically conform to Politically Correct speech. It’s a way of avoiding the real issues that are impacting the lives of marginalised groups. Instead of working to address corporate abuse, neoliberalism, permanent war and the curtailment of civil liberties, they have chosen to focus their energy on making the ruling class more palatable. By ignoring the structures that enable the status quo to persist, they are passively participating in injustice.

This passivity has been particularly evident in recent years as corporations enjoy record profits while wages remain stagnant and inequality increases. The same ideology that calls for tolerance is also allowing corporations to get away with exploiting their workforces without consequence. Liberals need to recognise that if they want real change, they must stop playing these games of identity politics and start standing up against corporate abuse.

This means recognising that people from all walks of life should have access to decent living conditions, healthcare, education and economic security regardless of their gender, sexuality, race or creed. It also means support for efforts to rein in corporate power and greed that have resulted in the inequality and exploitation of workers. It is only through action, not words, that this will be achieved. In order to ensure that justice, equality and freedom are not just ideas on paper, but are tangible realities in the lives of marginalised groups, the left must put aside its progressive liberal platitudes and start taking a stand.

Neoliberalism and Permanent War

Neoliberalism, permanently expressed through imperial wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe provides the perfect excuse for progressive parties to abandon the real social movements of workers and people of colour. Their political marketeering applies an economic lens to this ‘free market’ conflict between nations, as Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn noted in a scathing condemnation of his party’s right wing in 2017.

With the support of the Labour Party, the liberal media, academia and social media platforms in Silicon Valley, demonise the victims of the corporate coup d’état and deindustrialisation. They make their primary political alliances with those who embrace identity politics, whether in the City of London or the industrial arms complex. They are the useful idiots of the billionaire class, moral crusaders who widen the divisions within society that the ruling oligarchs foster to mintain control.

Meanwhile, it’s easier for the Left to be dragged into their own echo chambers by the liberals to fight among themselves. This masquerade of liberal values undermines the left’s ability to challenge exploitation on a global scale and unites their agenda with the objectives of neoliberal capitalism.

The cruel inequalities that exist within society should not be accepted just because they are entrenched in law. The Left needs to challenge those corrupt forces that promote war and impose austerity on communities worldwide; if it fails in this mission, it will die a slow death of progressive liberalism.

The Curtailment of Civil Liberties

We must also consider the terrible cost of the left’s passivity, in particular the curtailment of civil liberties. Progressive liberalism has resulted in the restriction of freedom of speech, and the imposition of thought control on college campuses, the workplace and in all facets of everyday life. People are increasingly afraid to express their opinions for fear of ostracism and retribution from the liberal establishment.

At the same time, ‘progressive liberalism’ and woke imperialism have enabled powerful institutions like Silicon Valley companies to shape and censor public discourse, allowing nefarious actors to silent dissenting voices without consequence. This undermines our right to self-expression and produces an environment where it is impossible to create a meaningful dialogue without an oppressive atmosphere of censorship.

So, when it comes to the dilemma of progressive liberalism, it seems that the left has effectively shot itself in the foot. By alienating those who don’t conform to their increasingly rigid and exclusionary speech codes, they have eliminated any chance of building a coalition large enough to confront the truly pernicious institutional injustices that still plague our society. Worse, they have replaced critical thinking with a brittle dogmatism, and replaced activism with moral posturing.


  1. You used to be told you were the only economically left-wing social conservative. We always knew you spoke for millions of us.

    1. Whatever did become of Damian Thompson? Not that I care.