[OPE-L:2541] Re: Re: class demarcation

From: nicola taylor (nmtaylor@carmen.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Fri Mar 17 2000 - 15:50:41 EST

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Jerry L's [OPE-L:2539], re Paul Z's [OPE-L:2535]:

>So, even if there are Marxists who think that class struggle isn't central
>to capitalism, who is going to say that directly? Instead, they might
>believe in that proposition and yet at the same time downplay a
>theoretical and political role for class struggle.

It could be argued that the political turmoil of the last century has led
Marxists to emphasise politics at the expense of theory. Perhaps this is
understandable, given the opportunities for class struggle, and the
opportunities for supporting other struggles (eg national liberation
struggles, environmental struggles, women's and minority struggles etc
etc). But, has all of this political action come at the expense of the
development of Marxist theory (here, of course, I include theorising the
relation of class struggles to other struggles)?

In the case of the South African Communist Party, failure to conceptualise
these relationships led to some classic clangers. For example, during the
Apartheid years we had Joe Slovo's 'colonialism of a special type', which
justified the almost wholesale abandonment of class analysis by academics
(Dale McKinley was an exception). Post-apartheid we had 'structural
reform' and 'radical democracy'; what these things meant nobody was quite
sure, except that the words seemed to have a nice supportive ring to them -
at a time when any criticism of the new regime smacked of treason! Anyway,
during the Government of National Unity, classes were expected to act
nicely towards each other, and all get along. Internally, this 'new
thinking' resulted in complete abandonment of class analysis, in favour of
bourgeois thinking albeit with a progressive twist. In practice, the
working class was left at a critical moment in history, headless.

The international influences of that time are also interesting. Laclau paid
a visit, and the 1993 edition of the ANC's "Mayibuye" published his
encouragements: 'the democratic revolution is more fundamental, it is a
larger program than than socialism, which is one of its moments'. He then
produced an incredibly narrow definition of what socialism *was*:
'Socialism was the attempt to expand the principle of equality to the
economic sphere-which is why I call it an internal moment'. Apparently,
all of this went down very well with the leadership of the CP, especially
the deputy secretary general who adapted Laclau's notion of increasing
class 'uniformity' - but he called it 'aggregating heterogeneity' - this
being a good reason to argue against adopting a class based program, and in
favour of a program to 'infuse politics with the energies of autonomous
social movements'.

A succinct response to the 'uniformity' thesis might be that the centrality
and strength of class analysis stems not from pragmatic convenience or
analytic superiority, but from the material basis of class societies. In
the South African case, it seems to me that the appropriate question to ask
is whether the material conditions of the 'new' democracy differ so much
from those of the 'old' as to warrent a capitulation. I personally think
that the assumptions behind the new rhetoric (new definitions, or
re-definitions?) were adopted in a short-sighted fashion because they
intersected with mass sentiment, without regard for the potential
implications for organising effective action through working class struggles.

So, I for one am quite happy to stand up and say that, at this particular
moment in time, I privilage theory over practice. If one believes that
theory can influence practice, then there is nothing shameful in taking
time off from political struggle to do a little thinking. Surely, if we
lose the willingness to think, and the willingness to interrogate the
meaning of words, then we will have very little to offer when it comes to

Viva, class analysis,

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