[OPE-L:2552] Re: class demarcation

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sat Mar 18 2000 - 19:38:10 EST

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Re John H's [OPE-L:2551]:

1) different types of class struggles

> 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?

Peasant struggles for self-determination and autonomy and against capital
and the state (and its agenda of Neo-Liberalism) _are_ class struggles.
Just as surely as a "peasant war in Germany" was class struggle.

Similarly, struggles by working-class families for housing, etc. _are_
class struggles (against landlords, real estate developers, the banks,
etc. and the state). This becomes apparent when one understands that class
struggle goes on not JUST in a factory or office (at the "point of
production"). Rather, class struggle proceeds on MANY fronts and sites.

2) "us" and "them"
> Is not the great difficulty the fact that we are also they and that they
> are to some extent we?

"They" are people too so we have that in common with "them". That doesn't
mean, though, that "to some extent" we are they or they are 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?

In one sense, we are products of capital. And, yes, we have to recognize
the ways in which capital has affected our ideas and our lives as a part
of the class struggle. So, in a sense we struggle against the
multi-faceted ways in which they have de-humanized and degraded us and
attempted to exercise thought-control over us. This is, after all, part
of how the process of class struggle can lead to human liberation (and,
thereby, we strip the "character masks" off of both capitalists and
ourselves and hence create the conditions where we can relate to each
other as human beings).
3) definitions and critique

> The development of this critique involved
> explaining the nature of the antagonism that generated classes but it did
> not involve the definition of classes.

The antagonism is based on the exploitation of one class by another. To
then explain the antagonism, necessarily requires that one, in due
course, define the classes in an antagonistic relationship to each other.

> 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.

(Paul: haven't we been "here" recently? I.e. on another list?)

What is Marx's "aim" in writing _Capital_? Does he tell us that his aim is
to critique political economy? No. Rather, a critique of political economy
is a component part in the presentation of the subject matter. That
subject matter is not political economy, but "modern society" (i.e.

I should add that the task of critiquing political economy *if* that was
his *major* task, is of of relative insignificance for Marx *as a
revolutionary*. Indeed, how many workers and socialists during Marx's time
had any familiarity with the writings of "political economy"? Moreover, the
intended readers of _Capital_, to the extent that they had any familiarity
with "political economy", would have already rejected those bourgeois
conceptions. Indeed, if *all* _Capital was about was "critique of
political economy", then it was a very poor use of Marx's time and energy
to write that book.

4) the ending of _Capital_
> That is surely
> the point of Vol. III, ch 52: it is an attack on definitions of class.

No, not at all.

To begin with, there is no attack on definitions of class or political
economy in that (brief) chapter.

Indeed, Marx tells us that:

"The question to be answered next is: 'What makes a class?', and that
arises automatically from answering another question: 'What makes
wage-labourers, capitalists and landowners the formative elements of the
three great social classes?'" (pp. 1025-26 Penguin edition).

It should be clear from its context that these are questions that Marx is
presenting rather than being mistakingly presented by political economy.

And, to answer the question, 'What makes a class?', you have to define

But, and perhaps this is where we might come closer to agreement,
definitions do not settle the matter. Rather, they tend to be *preliminary
to a closer examination of a subject matter*.

And what is that subject matter? Note in the last paragraph that Marx
asserts -- but doesn't really explain -- how classes are *fragmented* and

Speculative explanation (since Marx doesn't tell us one way or the other):
In _Capital_, classes are considered as *simple unity*. In Books II and
III, landowners and wage-labourers are then to be initially considered as
*diversity*. Later still, classes are to be considered in terms of

5) Various

> 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.

In suggesting that there were "two extremes", I was not asserting the need
for a "balance" among different Marxist perspectives.
> 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?

I understood the concept(s) that "Open Marxism" was intended to convey. My
argument wasn't with the meaning of that expression, but rather the choice
of the expression itself. Surely, those who came-up with the term "Open
Marxism" must have given thought to how that self-designation would be
(mis)interpreted by other Marxists.

In solidarity, Jerry

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