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 Clearly, this approach is outdated as other reductionist approaches, like petite-bourgeois anarchism (the State is the bad guy!)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.


William said...

One would hope that non-strawmen anarchists would also believe "the state is the bad guy." I mean, what with the whole Anarchism thing. ;)

I suppose this is a step in the right direction, if a perplexingly overdue one. I would like to inquire, however, as to what their could conceivably be beyond the scope of "personal and social oppression"? And why those concerns should be met with the "liberal" slur? I mean last time I checked economic oppression was a form of social oppression. And I highly doubt you're making a transhumanist critique.

William said...

Holy crap. I used "their" for "there." FAIL.

Setanta said...

Naw, non-strawmen anarchists love the State. Can't get enuff of it.

Eh, I was qualifying economic oppression as something different from social oppression. Clearly, economics is only a social relation. But that's not always extremely clear, so drawing a distinction sometimes helps clarify things. It's basically just a semantic difference.

Nate said...

It seems to me there's at least two versions of class analysis here. One is like an objective account - economic exploitation is the cause for patriarchy/homophobia/white supremacy/etc. That's occasionally made as a historical claim (all that other crap originates with economic exploitation). That seems to me to be demonstrably false and a foolish line of thought. The historical claim isn't always mad sometimes people claim (and the people who make historical claim often have this in mind) that the end of economic exploitation will end all that other stuff automatically. That too seems to me to be false (or at least, in so far as none of us can see the future, rests on some seriously flawed arguments).

There's a different perspective (the one I agree with) which holds that most power relations are bound up with economic power relations such that the end of exploitation would take a lot - but not all - of the teeth out of a lot - but not all - of other forms of power/hierarchy/oppression/whatever we call it.

So, if there's no more compulsion to waged labor (no more commodification of labor power) then there will be no more hierarchies of income based on racist, sexist, heterosexist, able-ist, age-ist, etc standards. No more bosses means no more racist bosses. Likewise no more landlords means no more homophobic landlords. And so on. This also would mean no more economic compulsions keeping people (mostly women) with abusive partners (mostly men) as well as no more disproportionate bearing of the cost of childraising by women,

This doesn't mean sexism and racism and other oppressions are reducible to class, though. Sexual assault may still exist after the end of exploitive economic relations, for instance and will need to be dealt with in a just manner. (Given that the majority of sexual assaults are committed by partners, however, the end of economic power of wage-earning or higher-wage-earning partners over non- or lower-wage-earning partners will at least take away one bulwark that allows rapists to do what they do.)

This is only partly related but I think there's a difference as well between power analysis and moral analysis. For instance, I think able-ism is morally just as important as any other form of hierarchy and exploitation. I'm not sure it's as central to the prevailing power relations in our society, though. That is, I think eliminating able-ism is more compatible with our society than is eliminating exploitation.

That said, related to morality as opposed to power - while I do think all oppressions are morally equivalent I have to admit that I have a hard time being bothered about the idea of a woman CEO makes less pay for being a woman or if a black CEO has trouble hailing a cab. I care about those things insofar as they're part of systems of power that impact working class people.

Anyhow, to my mind, the question is how projects of contesting different power relation relate to each other - how does a project of economic emancipation relate to undermining patriarchy and racism and vice versa? This means in part, how are gains distributed once won? Just to white workers? Just to black men? Just to women bosses? Just to college educated radicals? Clearly none of those are acceptable. How to advance on all fronts at once is beyond me but I think we can do a sort of balance sheet of how broadly something applies.

Lastly, about waiting for the OBU to organize them... to my knowledge no one says that. To my mind the question is what the OBU ought to be doing. To my mind, that's helping people build power at the point of production. That project alone is not a sufficient project for human liberation (total liberation has other components), but just by itself it's really hard. To my mind until the OBU does that with a reasonable (and sustainable) probability for success it's not a good idea for us to broaden out to other aims.

Sorry to on at such length, it's cuz this is a good post.

take care,

Anonymous said...

Il semble que vous soyez un expert dans ce domaine, vos remarques sont tres interessantes, merci.

- Daniel