[OPE-L:2534] Re: class demarcation

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Fri Mar 17 2000 - 07:08:28 EST

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John H wrote in [OPE-L:2531]:

> But does understanding the meaning of class mean that we have to define
> it?

Defining terms is a basic component of understanding any subject. It's
also a basic component in any struggle, e.g. (referring to your
conversation with Paul C in [2531]) even without any conception of a
Leninist political party, understanding who "we" are vs. "them" is
important. Further, if some group is not "we", we have to also know if
they are _not_ "them" in terms of how we relate to that group and the
possibilities for developing solidarity and alliances. Thus, we might
differ on whether students are workers, but it's important regardless of
a different classification/definition to know _who_ they are and the
possibilities for building solidarity. I think it only becomes a political
problem when Marxists privilege "working-class" struggles to such an
extent that they abstain from (or even oppose) other (e.g.
"petty-bourgeois") struggles. Thus, if you are saying that we shouldn't
use definitions alone as the means for determining which struggle to
support and participate in, then I agree with you.

I gather this point might kind of "hit close to home" with you since some
Marxists have downplayed the Chiapas rebellion because it is not a
"working-class struggle"? I can appreciate that point since for many years
I have been involved with "non-working-class" struggles on behalf of
squatters, tenants, street peddlers and the homeless (and more recently,
community gardens) and in opposition to gentrification and police

> Do all the endless discussions on 'are students/ police/ workers who own
> shares/ university professors members of the working class' really take us
> anywhere at all other than into the bourgeois logic of classification, i.e.
> into the logic of the production and reproduction of class?

To begin with, it is important to understand the logic of capital. It
seems to me that we need to avoid two extremes here: on the one side there
are perspectives that focus _only_ on the logic of capital and which
treat the working-class as only an object (Mike L calls this "one-sided
Marxism"), but the other extreme would be to focus only on the working
class and its struggles without paying attention at the same time to the
logic of capital.

Of course, we can struggle against the logic of capital, but even a
struggle against the "bourgeois logic of classification" must recognize
that to be what it is.
> I think that the understanding of capitalism as class struggle is central
> to Open Marxism, autonomist Marxism and, one would hope, any other type of
> Marxism.

One might hope, but let's not assume that to be the case even when and
where Marxists agree to that proposition.

By way of analogy: let's say that there are 1,000 Marxists of all
varieties meeting together in a large auditorium. Someone makes a motion:

"Marxists must oppose dogmatism and sectarianism".

Do you think that there will be any 1 Marxist who will stand-up in the
auditorium in opposition to the motion and in defense of sectarianism and
dogmatism? I think not. Indeed, I think that the _most_ dogmatic and
sectarian Marxists in the auditorium will be among the loudest voices in
the auditorium to support the motion! This is because they _can not
recognize themselves_ as dogmatists and/or sectarians. Just as surely,
there are other Marxists who don't recognize the ways in which they
downplay theoretically and/or ignore politically class struggle.
> The problem, surely, is how we understand the categories we use as
> part of that struggle.

The problem as expressed above is two-fold: how we understand categories
associated with the logic of capital *and* how we struggle against those

> My worry is not about the concept of class, but
> about the preoccupation with definition.

If all one is doing is defining terms, then I agree that that is a (big)

> Does not the idea of revolution
> depend on breaking definitions?

Right, but we have to know what definitions we are breaking.
> Does Marx define class? If not, was this just because unfortunately he
> didn't get around to it (the last chapter of Vol. III), leaving us with a
> theoretical problem? Or was it because class was better left undefined?

If one views _Capital_ as a "terminal work", then Volume 3, Chapter 52 is
indeed very puzzling. If, however, one recognizes the Hegelian influence
in the ordering of subjects in _Capital_, then it is easier to see, imho,
that Marx has chosen to end Book 1 (Capital) by introducing the subject
matter for Books 2 & 3 (Landed Property and Wage-Labour respectively) on
the other two "great classes of modern society based on the capitalist
mode of production". Thus, the systematic development of an understanding
of class in Marx's theory was a "post-Capital" subject. Yet, this does
_not_ mean that it is in some way a subject of insignificance
theoretically or politically any more than the subject of the state (Book
4) is in any way insignificant.

In solidarity, Jerry

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