Response to a reply: sex, class, and race

What in the hell wrote a reply to my post here. I am posting my response here for layout’s sake. This stuff is all raw in my brain, so take these as rambling thoughts rather than a hard theory per say. I say that seeing the perspective of nearly all the positions we’re considering.

“There are at least two definitions of class usable here. One is simply a differential or hierarchical position in the application of violence. The other is a differential or hiearchical position in the distribution of surplus labor.”

I don’t know if it actually matters for your argument, but I don’t like the first formulation. The first one is too broad to include any class content. Under it any hierarchical power would be class, and that can’t be right.

Your point in the discussion below, I take it, is that conceptually race, class, and gender can vary independently though they are interdependent within contemporary society. I agree with the rejection of the point about the Marxist theory of history, I’ve never been keen on it in any form  I think there is a third element you’re missing, and one I could have been more explicit about. You broke up the base-superstructure issue into history and power analysis and strategy.

My essay was more about two separate things: conceptual analysis, and strategy. The first question is what concepts do we need to account for gender, race, class, and there interactions between these? The second question would be, given the state of present society how can we abolish these forms of hierarchy. Most of my critique is aimed at the first. I, perhaps naively, read marx(ists) as giving somewhat parallel answers to both of these questions as is exemplified by the base-superstructure comments. Such an answer to the first question in unexceptable to me. In essence I think we need concepts and an explanatory framework that goes beyond class (in your second sense) and capital. Selma James doesn’t do this in part I believe because she’s committed to a strict Marxist framework wherein the analysis of power is secondary (if present at all) to that of capital.

You’ve come at it a different way, giving an analysis of class as hierarchy broadly, and trying to show the relation between capitalist class and this broader concept. Implicit in that process is an acknowledgement of the efficacy of para-economic forces on a similar plane as capital. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence as your thinking departs from Selma’s significantly. So if I’m reading this right, we agree here. Maybe it was obvious enough that you’d didn’t draw that out. The conflict is important though as I think it distinguishes us from nearly all the left-communists and ultra-left Marxists (also from the anarcho-trots and their ilk).

The second question is where you argue for the primacy of class. You say

“The majority of other forms of violence in the world, the majority of hiearchical positions within the distribution of violence, and the majority of the actions of those who occupy dominant positions in the distributions of violence (actions qua occupiers of those positions, not actions as such) are bound up with class in at least three ways. Those forms of violence, those positions, and the acts enacted from those positions are directed toward the maintenance of class in the second sense. They are also the result of class in the second sense (both the result of – or equivalent with – hiearchical positions in the distribution of surplus labor and the result of conditions – scarcity, etc – which result from the distribution of surplus labor). These claims amount to claim that the end of class in the second sense is the most effective way to end the most forms of class in the first sense.”

If we agree that class, race, and gender are interdependent, then I think I can accept all this, but without drawing precisely the same conclusion. It is also true of class I believe that it is a result of the other forms (see the Marx Capital Vol 1 quote Selma gives) in the sense that capital exploits and depends on pre-existing divisions within the populace to structure wage relations. Similar though qualified parallels exist in how hierarchy in enacted towards the maintenance of race and gender.

“If class is abolished it is entirely possible that racism, sexism, homophobia, and other contradictions or reactionary ideas and practices will still exist. The important point remains, however, that these other contradictions or power processes will not, however, have any economic expression. In that sense, class can still be held to be primary.”

I don’t take this to necessarily answer questions about the primacy of class since it assumes that one could pull apart these forces of hierarchy. It certainly is an argument against a view which believes that race and gender are independent, under capitalism, of class (though leeches off it). Instead the model I have been operating under is one of interdependence wherein capital, race, and gender all share a common geneaology and have developed attractors and equilibrium based on complex interaction and adaptation (this is where I think the complex adaptive systems bit is useful).

For this reason it seems to me that the problem becomes one of magnitude not structural or functional primacy. That is, it is hard to say exactly where class starts and ends, what runs deeper into our lives, etc. In fact having complex adaptive systems in mind, I think it is the wrong approach for us to try and pull them apart in that way. In a complex adaptive system, one cannot externally or from a different level analyze actions into simple causes and modular components. Think of the body. For every action in your body there is complex dynamic of feedback loops between cells, organs, systems, etc. They are stand in interdependence. It may be that we pin point the specific activity of some region or system, yet we cannot do so in isolation from the other components.

In this regard I take the Jamesian line to be a step forward (for marxists and anarchists alike). You can’t have a class analysis without understanding the role that race and gender play in the construction of class. Still it doesn’t go far enough in that it doesn’t seem to necessitate or develop an analysis of power and the anatomy of hierarchy.

Once we have that, we get a very different answer to the question of how we should overturn capital (and hierarchical power). Traditionally the ultraleft as well as Leninists have downplayed issues of organization of power as well as divisions in the working class. They have argued that if we attack the social relations that constitute capital, the rest will fall as it will have it’s foundation undermined. The Johnson-Forrest tendency is a revision of this, but not a re-evaluation. They argue for a broadened notion of class where we have an analysis of subdivisions of class, which may have non-class content, but that we need go no further.

I don’t think you fall into that camp. However I think the issue of the primacy of class is coming from a different angle than you or I should approach. The question is not which is primary, but what aspects of the relation we have to change to eliminate hierarchy. That is since they are interdependent, how can we rupture the interconnectedness of them. Or to say it differently, we can’t come at them from a single angle so the question becomes where do we put our energy so that we may attack them all best.

Race and gender have two parts: biology/psychology, and their social form. Anthropology studies how these things can vary based on the commonalities we share as humans. Our task then is not just to attack class, or even the aspects of race and gender as they are class issues, but to attack the social relations of class, race, and gender as they exist in interdependence.

To my mind these discussions give us more work to do. I think it means we have to do the same things to gender and race as we do to class, that is attack both the systemic institutions that structure them as well as transform the social relations that reproduce them (on a collective level). Now that being said there is a lot of overlap. I also don’t think I’ve come that far from what you’ve said, except in emphasis. What I find to be important is that we’ve come along way away from the Marxist tradition and it’s analysis of capitalist society. I think anyway I know I could/should draw out the practical aspects of this program since you spent the most time on that too. Maybe a sequel?


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