Amato makes, and then develops, an interesting and important point about the need to attend to identity as well as ideology in the development of a left-wing politics. He references the Pan-African movement [quite interestingly], but I should like to address the point with regard to American politics.
In contemporary America, there are very sharp class lines that are deeply rooted in conceptions of self-identity rather than merely in wealth or one's relationship to the social relations of production. Three-quarters of Americans do not have college degrees, and most of the quarter who do have earned them at what might reasonably be called declasse institutions. The roster of colleges and universities that confer status on their graduates is rather long, but in a country with four thousand or more tertiary institutions, they are very much a minority. Like it or not, people are extremely conscious, and self-conscious, about their educational attainments and the associated stigmata [the sort of coffee they drink, the television shows they watch, their relationship to organized religion, and so forth].
The fact is that there are two economies in America -- one with generous rewards and, in the old phrase, a "career open to talents," the other full of dead end jobs, limited prospects, and grave economic uncertainty.
A fundamental problem those of us on the left have is that even, or perhaps especially, the most radical of us tend to have educational and other identity markers that sharply distinguish us from the people with whom we wish to make common cause. They know that as well as we do, and fancy education or no, can smell someone from the other America at a hundred paces.
This divide fuels resentment that finds expression in the demagoguery of the Palins and Becks and Limbaughs. When the Republicans smeared John Kerry by pointing to the fact that he windsurfs and knows French, we all protested loudly, but we knew perfectly well what they meant, and they were of course right. The only politician in recent American public life who has successfully bridged that gap in pursuit of at least nominally progressive politics is Bill Clinton. [Jack Kennedy, oddly enough, also managed that.]
The divide between the two Americas places obstacles in the way of serious left-wing organizing. This is why the labor movement is so important. The Civil Rights Movement bridged that divide as well, since race trumps even class in America.
What to do? I confess that I do not know. Pretending to be someone you are not is a total loser. Americans can smell a phony a mile off [which may be one reason why Palin, despite her media success, has extraordinarily low approval ratings among Americans.]
I thank Amato for raising the question, and look forward to comments.