Leftism, Theory

Against Class Reductionism: Some Advice

A comment and response to a response made by Xexizy (also known and henceforth referred to as Muke) in reply to a comment on one of his videos focused on class and identity politics a long while ago here:

https://twitter.com/xexizy11/status/844161769899806721

Identity politics is still a big issue among us, and the Left in general is much infected by liberal identity politics. That said, those on the Left against identity politics often suffer from too strong a reaction to its issues and make a turn towards all issues reducing to class. Class is objective, they say, but identity is subjective and consists merely of psychological spooks. To quote Muke:

Class is not something you identify as, though. It is how you objectively relate to the means of production—the way people view this relation does not change the relation, unlike identities such as black women. No matter how much you change people’s implicit bias towards class, it changes literally nothing about the problems caused by class society, again unlike for identities.

What our dear friend Muke does not understand is this simple fact: one doesn’t identify as the key identities in question, either; one is identified and objectively pegged in a hole structure by society. Identity is just as objective as class, it is just as much an objective structure, and it is just as important. Now, this doesn’t make Muke a racist or bigot, and I hope he will agree with what I say here in expansion, but he does often rush to say things without fully thinking through the implications of what he says. What he ended up saying here unfortunately makes him look backwards rather than radical and willing to solve the issue in all capacities possible and necessary.

In the United States, black folks do not have to identify as black; they are already given the identity no matter what they feel or think. It doesn’t matter how white they talk, it doesn’t matter how white they think, and it doesn’t matter how rich they are.  Do you have black skin? You are black. You’re going to be treated as black, and your social reality will be black. Banks won’t lend to you. Cops will stop you far more often. Property realtors won’t sell to you. Companies won’t hire you. Non-blacks will feel certain ways about you and see you in certain ways. You’ll have to walk on eggshells to put them at ease and show you’re not just another nigger, but a respectable black. You won’t be loud; you’ll be polite. You’ll say, “Yes, mastah” when stopped and asked to do something. Do you need anything more to prove this is objective a relation as you can get? Do you think racism is a conscious thing these people all do? No, most people today are not explicitly racist, and yet they have implicitly racist feelings, views, and act on them without ever thinking, “That person is black. Fuck them!”

How about sexuality? Did gays ever identify as gay when their struggle began? No. The struggle began because a society looked at the private consenting relation of individuals and deemed it ‘immoral’. You were identified as gay and treated as gay. You were systemically and structurally kept out of civil society, if not outright murdered. Transexuals? Nobody originally wanted to be seen as such; hell, they still don’t. For their part, they’d be happy if you never knew they were ever identified with another gender. What’s the deal with their struggle? It’s the struggle for recognition of not just who they feel they are, but of the systematic and structural exclusion, oppression, and violence they face from society which by identifying them as a spooky other justifies its maltreatment of them.

“Oh, b-but class is purely objective! No one identifies themselves as workers because they feel like one! Those others don’t just have structural reality! Besides, it’s mainly superstructural and social, and worse, their subjective reality!” Oh yeah? Ever walked into an establishment or home of the wealthy? Felt out of place? Felt…poor? How about talking with your manager or boss? Felt like you shouldn’t say certain things because they’re the boss and you’re just…a worker? Seems like one definitely feels like a prole. Not only that, but if you seem like a prole, you’re going to have economic opportunities shut before you can even ask. Money talks louder than anything, but proper looks and speech, the right words and attitude, the right skin colorthese qualities talk silently. If others see you in certain ways, you have access to capital which of your own immediate financial account you do not. Social capital is real.

But what about the objective structure? Well, racism is a structure of psychological spooks only if you are seriously stubborn and refuse to call structural aspects which happen to sift out non-whites in the U.S. for particularly repressive results. Just as the conditions of work are geared to weaken workers by mere laws and willful inaction of the government towards their rights (anti-unionism, low wages, shit public housing, et cetera), the conditions of being black are geared structurally against them regardless of how they feel or think about themselves or how others feel or think about them. If you’re black, you are structurally locked out of certain economic possibilities, just like how a worker is. Someone caught with crack (cheap cocaine) has a mandatory sentence to serveone which a judge is by law required to give regardless of their individual judgment of the case. Who happens to consume crack the most? Black people. Cocaine is the drug of the rich, and its penalties are by far less length and less strict. Weed? It was for a long time legally classified as bad as heroin (still is on federal level). Yet race is not objective as a class you say? Repeat for the LGBT community.

But it’s just a superstructural spook you say? A fictional social relation that just exists because we believe in it? What, pray tell, do you think the origin of material class is as well? It is the same kind of spook made into an objective structure that works itself once set up. Protection of property (of the rich) above all values. The glorification of endless accumulation of money for its own sake. All the things implied in this cascades into the actual structure that enables and reproduces these things. Class too is a complete social spook just as much as racism and no less potent.

The claim that class is more important than sub-class struggles is based on logical consideration, of course. Even if race or sexuality is an objective class, class obviously underlies it as a ground, and if we get rid of class, then we get rid of its sub-classes, right? I’m too lazy to argue some finer points that throw a bit of a wrench into this (social capital as an objective relation of access to certain things), but let’s say I’ll agree for now. Even if this is the case, these sub-classes are not necessary to class as such. We can and should get rid of them without waiting for the glorious revolution to end them all by ending their ground. To take issue with identity politics is in essence to take issue with their ultimate end and practice, but we must also recognize their immediate ends as legitimate (usually).

The meaning of the primacy of class is not to cease the struggle against sub-classes and identities, but to unite with these struggles and bring them parallel to and aiming at the ultimate goal: the end of class altogether. This means that you struggle against what you can now within class, but never forget the ultimate aim of eliminating class. It’s not the business of the oppressed to fight for your cause and ignore theirs for later, but it’s your business to liberate them from all their chains if you can.

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2 thoughts on “Against Class Reductionism: Some Advice”

  1. I’d say it’s overall a good article. I mostly agree with you, although I do notice there’s some reactionary elements within the elements of the pro-identity leftists. There was actually a really good article on the Jacobin, recently. It claims that the ultimate goal of identity struggles is to liberate yourself from the identity that was assigned to you itself. Not fetishistically immerse yourself in it. Here’s the link:
    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2017/08/identity-politics-gay-rights-neoliberalism-stonewall-feminism-race

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the thesis of the negation of identity is easy in abstract *if* we are assuming a society which is fully integrated. The reality of integration, however, is an empirical thing which can more or less happen as well as not happen, and under no necessity *to* happen. I have said such a position myself: the aim of socialist struggle in identities as social structures of enabling and impeding is to remove them as anything of consequence. That is feasible and most certainly doable, and I wholly agree and push that. But that is >not< what can be done with identities first everywhere, each place has its own unique path to this self-dissolution. Nonetheless, I am more than certain that this dissolution is occurring and is, if all things remain on the current path, impossible to stop. Capitalism itself does not profit from any exclusion, only certain capitalists do. The thing left to find out is just how this will occur, there is no guarantee that all groups will find themselves liberated from identity in any comfortable way… and some may be due to an economic extinction and utter systematic exclusion.

      The fetishization of identities, however, is something different to the struggles of identity which I deal with here. It arises from a far more fundamental alienation in the human being, a hunger of social being which is filled in by a category which allows people to find an 'in group' by merely a natural or fictional category. These categories provide a given aesthetic, a given character, a given community for those who lack the strength of individuality.

      Liked by 1 person

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