Against Unity

Anderson Bean and brian bean

The inauguration of Joe Biden arrives with the liberal establishment proclaiming the need for unity. But unity is not what we want.

Biden’s inauguration was a paean to national unity. “To restore the soul and secure the future of America requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy: unity.” The president used the word “unity” seven times in his address, urging us to “come together” and “renew the nation.” Speaker after speaker sounded the same note. 

But unity is not inherently good, and division is not inherently bad.

Of course, there are certain “divisions” that we need to oppose. The ruling class wants to divide working people along lines of race, sex, gender, nationality, etc., in spite of the interests we share. These divisions hurt working people and help the ruling class maintain their power over us. In company with Marx we should say, “Workers of the world unite!”

But there are other “divisions” within our society that cannot be met with calls for unity. The divisions between the exploiters from the exploited, and between the oppressors from the oppressed, need to be underlined so that everyone can pick a side. These divisions were not created by us. Conflicting class interests exist whether we recognize them or not. Those who own the means of production or who do their bidding (billionaires, CEO’s, hedge fund managers, big pharma, the police, etc.) have material interests that are antithetical to those of the rest of the population. What is good for them is not good for us, and what is good for us is not good for them. 

Liberal cliches about unity obscure our situation. They suggest that the problems of this country are somehow the result of people failing to work together to resolve shared problems, and therefore that the solution is to find common ground. But we share no common cause with the bosses, the billionaires, the exploiters, and oppressors. The police should be abolished, the nazis should be run off the street, and the billionaires should have their wealth stripped from them. Racism, inequality, and the politics of Trumpism are not unfortunate aberrations of the system but belong to its core functioning.

In the face of a global pandemic, an economic crisis, and the growth of racist far-right extremism, what we need is not more unity, but sharper division, properly drawn.

Anderson Bean is a North Carolina based activist and author of the book The Communal State: Venezuela’s struggle for participatory democracy in a time of crisis forthcoming from Lexington Books.

brian bean is a member of the Rampant editorial collective and an editor and contributor to the book Palestine: A Socialist Introduction.