photo by SG

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

On class reductionism

I don't have any cohesive thoughts on this subject, but its something which has been playing on mind a lot after some discussion with a female comrade.

One of the irritating habits of the more Marxist-inclined anarchists (a group of which I am a member) is the ability to reduce all problems to problems of class. Clearly, this approach is outdated as other reductionist approaches, like petite-bourgeois anarchism (the State is the bad guy!) or jingoist workerism (the Foreigners are the bad guy!)

Noticing the development of the capitalist system, Marxist critics have far outweighed their anarchist comrades in their consideration of the system as scientific. The work of Negri, Tronti, and the autonomists has been particularly enlightening. But this is not enough.

Other thinkers, some of them Marxist, some of them not, have noticed that the oppressions present in capitalist society exist in non-capitalist society. The kneejerk reaction, that capitalism has imperialized its prejudices and internal contradictions, is simply not true. Non-capitalist societies are not paradises, they too have their problems (with gender in particular). Anthropology has been particularly helpful my understanding of the universalism of oppression.

So class reductionism is not enough. Clearly, as the autonomists have pointed out, the traditional role of women in capitalist society has functioned to reproduce labor. Likewise, as the Johnson-Forrest Tendency folks and their successors have indicated, the working class of color is the most revolutionary class in America. But these problems do not simply disappear when capitalism ends.

To build an authentically anti-capitalist movement of the working class, we cannot simply eschew personal and social racism, sexism, and heteronormativity as "liberal identity politics". To do so not only further oppresses already oppressed people, but discourages the development of people as people. If we seek to build an anarchist future, we must model the social relations we seek to create in our communities.

Nor can we fall into the trap of the liberals, who focus solely on personal and social oppression. But that is not my concern with class reductionists. They already know this part, but can't understand that the movement for workers' liberation must be lead by oppressed peoples, as they have the most to gain. Simply waiting for the OBU to organize them, or events to radicalize them, denies agency and is also poor strategy.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fives sketches and five theses

This will hopefully be in a forthcoming zine:

“The student struggle has now been left behind…The outcome of the present crisis is in the hands of the workers themselves, if they succeed in accomplishing in their factory occupations the goals that the university occupation was only able to hint at..”

Paris, May 19, 1968

Wind howls and echoes eerily through the empty shell of the new athletic facility, half built. The whole south side of campus is always singing this screechy, unearthly tune. It is the first snow of the year, just a couple of days after Halloween. My bike is cold to the touch, my gloves are busted through and don’t help much. I swear that I can see my breath in front of me. The Upper Midwest wastes no time in moving from one of our hottest, driest summers on record to plunging below freezing.

Thesis 1: Students have no revolutionary potential as a class. The student exists in a cocoon, a moment of stasis, between childhood and the workplace.


Sitting in my room, music is faintly playing. I am writing another paper. I don’t even remember what class this is for anymore, or what it means. They all just blend together. Was this one of the classes I picked because I liked it or to fulfill a requirement? It doesn’t really matter I suppose, I can’t stand it either way. Why is it that the only really good parts of school don’t involve homework? My mind wanders, I search the internet for something more exciting. I turn off my computer and pray to the god I know is a fiction, if only to break the monotony.

Thesis 2: The role of the student in bourgeois society is become the next generation of skilled workers. The distinction between skilled and unskilled labor is one created by capital to encourage workers to fight against each other. This dichotomy must be problematized primarily by the workers who benefit from it, i.e. students.


I took a sociology class one time. The professor had us read this bit by Max Weber. It was explained to us that basically the purpose of having a college degree was to legitimize our presence in the workplace, to illustrate that we can shut up and follow rules, that we are able to listen and repeat. All four years basically for a piece of paper, as the cliché goes. Seemed like a pretty radical thing for Weber to say, but the class came to agree pretty quick. And why wouldn’t they, witnessing what they have?

Thesis 3: Students can only become revolutionary when they align themselves with the interests of the working class. Students are workers-in-training. Attempts to theorize or organize revolution lead by students-as-students in the modern late-capitalist context are useless.


This time of year always gets me a little excited, but ultimately disappointed. I wish there was time to reflect on the seasons, but I don’t have it. I’ve gotta rush from place to place, meeting to work to class to meeting to homework to sleep. The couple of spare minutes I find each day get wasted because I can’t motivate myself to bike to the river or check out some book on anthropology or biology. Which is tragic. My father once told me that the truly wise man (sic) learns more outside of class than in it. The trees are just at the end of their leaves, the last yellows and reds are beginning to get ugly.

Thesis 4: Working class identity which remains theorized only classically is pure Stalinism. Rather, working class struggle must be built upon the struggles against whiteness, patriarchy, and heterosexism. Without these oppressions, capital could not reproduce labor or divide the working class.


My brother and I are walking out of a punk show to take a break and grab some food. As we walk down the street, a homeless man asks us for coins, all we have are a couple bucks and are hungry. A red-faced man walking into the bar yells at the beggar to get a job. My little brother’s face burns with fury at this yuppie scum, but we plunge our hands into our pockets, walk on, and buy a spicy gyro from a bored young East African woman. I feel implicated, culpable, feel like I am in a stage production of a witty, post-modern farce.

Thesis 5: Alienation from school is related, but not identical to, alienation from work. Whereas worker alienation stems from the extraction of surplus and the commodification of all activities in capitalism, student alienation stems from the production of valueless commodities and the disconnect between presumed class identity and reality, past and future.