[OPE-L:2551] Re: class demarcation

From: John Holloway (104164.2012@compuserve.com)
Date: Sat Mar 18 2000 - 14:34:04 EST

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Dear Jerry, Paul Z., All,

1) Jerry says (in OPE-L 2534), in relation to the definition of working

"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

If you define working class, is it possible to avoid thinking of struggles
such as the ones you mention as non-class struggles (with or without
quotation marks)? If you think of them as non-class struggles, are you not
then contradicting your apparent agreement with me that "that the
understanding of capitalism as class struggle" is central to Marxism?

2) Jerry says (in OPE-L 2534):

"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. "

Is not the great difficulty the fact that we are also they and that they
are to some extent we? Surely the notion of alienation or fetishism means
that we exist on both sides of the class divide, so that criticism of our
own schizophrenia is an essential part of class struggle? Certainly there
is a 'we' and a 'they', but the antagonism between 'us' and 'them' cannot
be reduced to a conflict between different groups, because it is an
antagonistic relation that penetrates us all.

3) Jerry says (in OPE-L 2534):

"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."

        I would have thought that the main point is not that Marx didn't
get around to completing his treatment of class, but that Capital from the
beginning (and very clearly from Vol I ch 6 (English version) onwards) is a
critique of bourgeois conceptions of class as being based on inequality or
different sources of income. The development of this critique involved
explaining the nature of the antagonism that generated classes but it did
not involve the definition of classes.

4) Paul Z. says (in OPE-L 2538)

        "Marx's struggling with definitions was part of his whole project
and I don't think could be dismissed (I'm not saying John has that
position) without dismissing his
project of a lifetime."

                That is precisely my point, that Marx struggled with
definitions, but not in the sense in which you mean it, Paul. The central
issue I think is the distinction between political economy and the critique
of political economy. Political economy proceeds through establishing
definitions, the critique of political economy proceeds through exploding
definitions. Definitions define things, delimit them, separate them off
from their contest. Critique seeks to overcome definitions by showing how
the 'things' defined are forms of social relations, and that their
definition as 'things' is central to capitalism. I am not trying to argue
that a Marxist approach is undefined, rather that it is anti-definitional.
Marx's treatment of class in Capital is anti-definitional. That is surely
the point of Vol. III, ch 52: it is an attack on definitions of class.

        Can definition be part of the process of critique? I think probably
not, but I know I haven't answered Paul's point about variable and constant

5) Jerry says (in OPE-l 2534):

"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."

Surely not. It is not a question of finding a balance between the two sides
of Marxism, but of understanding the logic of capital as class struggle.

6) Jerry says (in OPE-L 2539):

"Perhaps we can agree that Marxists in the 21st Century need to work on
communicating ideas with each other that are freed from what is sometimes
called in textbooks "loaded terminology".
An example: if one group of Marxists are "Open Marxists", then is every
other group of Marxists by inference a "Closed Marxist"?"

I don't think it's helpful to talk of "Open Marxists". When we talk of Open
Marxism we refer to the understanding of categories as conceptualisations
of class struggle and therefore open in their development. This does indeed
imply a critique of closed Marxism but not necessarily an opposition
between a 'we' and a 'they', Open Marxists against Closed Marxists. That
would be to define classes, to establish identities, wouldn't it?


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