What is “anti-classism”?

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AR
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Jul 13 2009 07:51
What is “anti-classism”?

I may mean a number of different things. But none of them has much to do with anarchism.

At times, term “classism” shows up in a row of various evils “activists” are against – for example a group declares that they are “against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ablism and classism”. Apparently such groups and initiatives come from certain (liberal) anti-discrimination activist paradigm, but also want to put themselves to vaguely anti-capitalist context. However such declarations fail to do that, as capitalism has nothing to do with classism, that is, “discrimination on base of the class”.

Anarchism has two cornerstones – freedom of individual and mutual aid. Unlike such political theories as liberalism, fascism and social-democracy, anarchism does not admit any fundamental contradiction between these two. Because anarchism is for individual freedom, just as liberalism, anarchism is obviously against racism, sexism, homophobia and ablism as these constitute hindrances to free development of individuals – but these are also hindrances against mutual aid as any prejudices divide working class and humanity in general. Liberalism, as ideology of capitalism, is however not concerned about mutual aid. Ideal society of liberalism is a total survival of the fittest between “free individuals”, where only skills of individuals matter, not their backgrounds. Of course there exists also left-wing liberalism, but it is not really an ideology but rather a self-contradicting compromise between social-democracy and liberalism, endlessly oscillating between the two. In the end of the day, “equal opportunities to everyone” is a fundamentally capitalist idea – everyone should be allowed to participate to the race where one out of million becomes a billionare and all the rest will eat shit all their lives.

Is capitalism for classism? No it is not.

If by classism we understand class division, this is obviously something individual capitalists try to maintain in order to preserve their own interests. However system as a whole needs to exploit enterpreneurship skills of everyone who has them, not just skills of those who got capital by heritage. There is nothing anti-capitalist from making it from poverty to riches, actually system needs such stories both for its legitimization and renewal. Class mobility is no any fundamental problem for capitalism, as for any upward movement there will be corresponding downward mobility. Actually, any hindrances of class mobility in developed capitalism are not due to capitalism itself, but either due to efforts of individual capitalists, due to external restraints or due to residues of the previous system which was fundamentally based on restricting class mobility, that is, feudalism. And to some extent these residues are still here, for example some UK capitalists come from families which date their privileges back to Norman conquest.

If by classism we understand wage differentials between workers and CEO's, the whole concept is just nonsense. Corporations do not pay workers less because they are “prejudiced” against workers, they pay workers less because that helps them to make more profit. And when it is profitable to pay more, they will – best football players may earn millions but they are still workers. Some, even many bosses may hate workers, but this has nothing to do with capitalism – it is rather a feudalist mindset which is a hindrance to capitalism.

Capitalists may use vicious ways to play workers against other, but again in most of the cases it is nothing personal – just for the profit. In general, capitalism has nothing against workers as such as long as workers do not block capital accumulation. And even if workers organise, that may be beneficial for capitalism as a whole as long as self-organisation happens on purely economical, business union terms. In suitable economic situation, increased wages gained by collective action of workers only boost economy and make capitalism more healthier (however due to increased external constraints of capitalism those days of Keynesian accumulation may be now gone for good).

Individual capitalists often engage to activities which benefit themselves alone or are just plain irrational, but are harmful to capitalist system as a whole: they form cartels, evade taxes, mislead shareholders, sack workers just because they do not like them, cut wages which makes recession more severe etc. However, one should never confuse these typical capitalist deeds with the system as a whole. For system as a whole, ideal capitalist has nothing against workers, and he is always eager to pick most ambitious and skilled amongst them to be future foremen, managers, shareholders and even executives.

However is such an “anti-classist” capitalist any better than his crony class equivalent? From point of view of a liberal definitely yes, from point of view of an anarchist there is no difference between them. Capitalist is always protagonist of the ruthless, exploitative system which will always benefit only few and keep majority at the bottom. Capitalist who got rid of his feudalist or other prejudices, is no any better than any other capitalist.

Sometimes capitalists may promote racism or sexism in order to divide workers – however they need such methods only if threatened by a mass action of workers, racism and sexism as such have no any value for capitalism. Migration barriers may benefit some individual capitalists, but fundamentally it is not capitalists but workers of the developed countries who hope to protect their short-terms interests by voting for anti-migration candidates and supporting anti-migration initiatives. And of course, there are times when capitalism is temporarily using prejudices in their own interests in order to decrease workforce in times of economic downturn. Women are agitated to be housewifes, blacks were forced to go back to cotton fields (19th century method) or just put to prison (21th century method), migrants are deported and all this is legitimized by sexist and racist mainstream media. However, capitalism is based on necessity of accumulation of capitalism, thus no matter how inevitable recessions are in capitalism, they are always just a temporary setbacks. In the end of the day, capitalism must integrate everyone to a highly mobile and flexible, ever-enlarging system of production – this is why fundamentally capitalism is neither racist, nor sexist, anti-migrant, homophobic, ablist or even classist, quite a contrary.

Anarchism does not want to get rid of prejudices towards workers or towards capitalists. It is perfectly normal to dislike working-class existence, as there is nothing satisfying in it. It is also perfectly normal not to like capitalists – their personal qualities do not matter as long as they are exploiters. Anarchists want to get rid of the capitalist class as whole. Although anarchists do not want to kill individual capitalists , they want to get rid of that relation of production. Thus anarchists are not only prejudiced against capitalists as a class, we want to get rid of all of them. Thus anarchism is perhaps most classist theory of them all.

Thus groups and initiatives which refer to “classism” both misrepresent goals of anarchists and fail to get rid of the liberal, pro-capitalist “anti-discrimination” theoretical framework where their roots are. Of course, such terms could be of use when discussing with people who first become politically aware while influenced by some liberal one-case initiatives, we should reach out to these people just as much to everyone else. But in the end of the day concept of “classism” confuses issues, as capitalism not just one form of discrimination. If even anarchists do not understand what capitalism is about, we may never get rid of it. Thus next time you come across with people referring to “classism” or “anti-classism”, please point them to this text.

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Juan Conatz
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Jul 13 2009 07:56

I've had problems with that word too, but the way I've seen it used in a group is more of the internal dynamics thing. Such as, judging someone by their class background and treating them negatively because of it. This type of stuff comes up pretty constantly in student organizations where members that come from a more affluent background shut down, belittle or ignore the words and efforts of those from a lesser well off background. While maybe 'classism' isn't the perfect word to describe this, this problem exists.

Angelus Novus
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Jul 13 2009 08:55

The notion of "classism" is just identity politics applied to class, in a way that seeks to cement class identity rather than dissolve it.

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This type of stuff comes up pretty constantly in student organizations where members that come from a more affluent background shut down, belittle or ignore the words and efforts of those from a lesser well off background.

As if class has anything to do with questions of "affluence" or "lesser well off".

A skilled worker in a BMW factory with a second vacation home is still a proletarian, while a poorly paid teacher in the Berlin school system is still a state functionary.

I'm not a big fan of Hal Draper's left-social democratic reading of Marx, but volume 2 of KMTOR has a good exposition of social class as Marx conceived it.

Class is a structural position, not a cultural identity.

North American identity politics is so completely fucking stupid.

Coconut man
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Jul 13 2009 10:27

I generally agree with the original post, although I took issue with the final couple of paragraphs.

I have to disagree when you say anarchism is inherently 'classist'. The problem is not that the entire ruling class is made up from selfish, unkind, sociopathic individuals - as human beings, rich people are no better or worse than the rest of us - the problem, as you correctly state, is the relation between the working class and the employing class, which is based on exploitation, even its most benevolent manifestation. This relation was set in motion hundreds of years ago and can't be blamed on the average capitalist anymore than it can be blamed on the average worker. Sure, capitalists perpetuate the system, but then, for the most part, so do we. As with most working class people, most members of the ruling class are just trying to survive in an economic system that they mistakenly believe is the natural order of things.

The problem with building one's politics around class prejudice is that it reduces class struggle to the same level as infantile racism, depicting the rich as simply 'lesser people' who need to be got rid of for no reason other than their natural inferiority. Actually, our grievance against the rich is based on a conflict of interest, not because they are simply 'bad people'. If that were true, all we'd need would be a change of rulers, but we all know that former workers who rise to the level of capitalists behave in exactly the same way. Our goal should not be to get rid of the people; our goal should be to abolish the system that elevates them above everybody else.

This is why I despair over the state of an anarchist movement that includes stunts such as 'Bash the Rich' marches, because it gives outsiders the impression that we think rich people are bad and need to be beaten up (or killed), and furthers the misconception that anarchists are violent thugs fueled by hatred. I'm not in this because I want to make things worse for the rich, I'm in this because I want a better life for myself and people like me, and it just happens that a good number of rich people are likely to fight against the loss of their businesses and property, which puts them at odds with a class of wage labourers who want to improve their lives.

Politics based around hatred towards any type of people just comes off as petty and juvenile to the vast majority of people, and in this context often seems woefully ignorant of the fact that some of the greatest proponents of working class emancipation originated from the ruling classes. This is why the anarchist movement should stand for class struggle and not for class prejudice.

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Jul 13 2009 12:17

My whole life experience has been coloured by class prejudice. From the earliest experience of the middle class I have learned not to trust them. Doctors, lawyers, teachers small shop owners landlords poxdoctors clerks- managers: cunts in suits to me. My experience of radicalisation was through a Trot group that preached proleterianism but was dominated in it's structures and methods by middle class elements who exercised bureaucratic control methods to stifle dissent. On leaving them my hatred of the middle class was even deeper.
As I explored anarchist groups I was slowly disillusioned by the domination of the middle classes of all organisations.(the relationship between leading figures in Class War and the better public schools was a shocker) I was in a position of not trusting anyone and seeing no way forward. Trapped by my own hatred.
I am not a Marxist and despise the way that 19c academic methods are applied to debate. Winning a position is not finding an understanding. I am never going to be able to compete in an argument because I am not academically gifted but I know I am capable of participating in discussions where perhaps my insights may be useful.
The need to trash and wipe the floor with views you do not agree with comes from the need of academics to sell their ideas in a competitive market. Middle class people and workers who have gone through the education system accept the methodology without criticism and see the way they operate as a scientific and efficient method to distil the truth. In fact it has the effect of suppressing the arguments of others. Winning becomes all and dirty tricks, lies and personal abuse replace scientific method- even on Libcom forums.
Class identity was important to me when I was trying to understand why I was so angry and what could I do about it. Now I think it is as useful as my appendix. It does nothing and is in danger of festering. Classism is not resolvable without fundamental changes in society taking place. I try to take a positive approach to everyone I meet on an individual basis. I think about half my friends are middle class and I love them. I find some of their attitudes and assumptions hard to swallow at times but I extend understanding to them. In return I demand to be heard and understood.
Middle class people do have a responsibility to look at how they behave in the movement because they are trained to take control and to despise dissenters- that's what they do for the bosses. I agree with Coconut Man that the objective is class struggle not class hatred but would add that part of the class struggle is to liberate our own movement from the bosses methodology.

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Jul 13 2009 14:56
Angelus Novus wrote:
Class is a structural position, not a cultural identity.

Lolstrawman. Yes, we all know that. But it is the case that groups dominated by a certain cultural identity (e.g., the common cultural identity of more affluent members of the working class) can exclude or alienate people from a different cultural background (as Tart explains above). Identity politics are pretty worthless in themselves, but considering whether your group projects a certain identity that can be offputting to other people and how to get around that is worthwhile - if anything, that's anti-identity politics. I'm sure you'd agree that a group made up entirely of vegan punx might be offputting to people who aren't vegan punx, no matter how excellent their formal communist positions might be, so why are you not willing to consider that the same thing might happen with groups mainly or entirely made up of culturally "middle-class" people?
To take your example (oh, and what point are you trying to make about teachers there?), a skilled worker in a BMW factory is still undeniably a proletarian. But if the entire anarchist movement was completely dominated by people who worked in BMW factories, and people who didn't work in BMW factories showed little or no interest in it, I'm sure you'd agree there was a problem there. Why can't you apply the same logic to people who've been university-educated?

Boris Badenov
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Jul 13 2009 15:12
Farce wrote:
Angelus Novus wrote:
Class is a structural position, not a cultural identity.

Lolstrawman. Yes, we all know that. But it is the case that groups dominated by a certain cultural identity (e.g., the common cultural identity of more affluent members of the working class) can exclude or alienate people from a different cultural background (as Tart explains above). Identity politics are pretty worthless in themselves, but considering whether your group projects a certain identity that can be offputting to other people and how to get around that is worthwhile - if anything, that's anti-identity politics. I'm sure you'd agree that a group made up entirely of vegan punx might be offputting to people who aren't vegan punx, no matter how excellent their formal communist positions might be,

yes but their "critique" will always be shit because it will promote veganism as subversive (otherwise why would they gather around vegan punkism?)

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so why are you not willing to consider that the same thing might happen with groups mainly or entirely made up of culturally "middle-class" people?

because the cultural middle class is not really a class, and I agree with Angelus' point that if we're talking about classes as structural categories, there can be no meaningful definition to "classism." Capitalism is classist by definition and everything that happens within it is classist. Culturally middle-class people are very often working class, but then again who isn't, unless you accept the spurious notion that the working class has a culture of their own, a truer version of middle-class poseurism. Even the proliest Red Thor look-a-like matcho workingman will have some middle class cultural attitudes depending on the situation.
If an anarchist group is not paying close enough attention to certain demographics, or if some of its members are overintellectualizing academicist wankers, that is certainly something that can and needs to be corrected, but I fail to see how it has anything to do with "classism." It's not like recruiting more "real proletarians" will automatically change the nature of the in-group interactions.

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Jul 13 2009 15:26
Vlad336 wrote:
yes but their "critique" will always be shit because it will promote veganism as subversive (otherwise why would they gather around vegan punkism?)

Yeah, but, say for the sake of example that they were a group of vegan punks who all happened to arrive at a perfectly-formed anarchist communist critique, and agreed to keep veganism and indeed punkism out of their formal politics and position. No matter how good their material might be, I still think it's likely that a non-vegan non-punk turning up at their meetings would still feel unwelcome or excluded in some ways (maybe I should've left the veganism out, cos that's more likely to be passed off as a political act, whereas being a punk is more purely just a cultural identity). Or, to give another example, Libcom is officially a website for libertarian communists, not a website for libertarian communists with a specific sense of humour, but people who get libcommunity are likely to be able to participate more fully than those who don't.

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so why are you not willing to consider that the same thing might happen with groups mainly or entirely made up of culturally "middle-class" people?

because the cultural middle class is not really a class

I agree with this bit, that's why I put it in quotation marks. Also cos I couldn't be bothered to keep on writing out "relatively more privileged sections of the working class".

Quote:
and I agree with Angelus' point that if we're talking about classes as structural categories, there can be no meaningful definition to "classism." Capitalism is classist by definition and everything that happens within it is classist. Culturally middle-class people are very often working class, but then again who isn't.

I agree with that bit as well. That's why I used the analogy of the BMW workers, who are presumably working class as well.

Quote:
If an anarchist group is not paying close enough attention to certain demographics, or if some of its members are overintellectualizing academicist wankers, that is certainly something that can and needs to be corrected, but I fail to see how it has anything to do with "classism." It's not like recruiting more "real proletarians" will automatically change the nature of the in-group interactions.

At this point, we seem to be just disagreeing about semantics. And possibly the likelihood of this being a problem - whether you think "classism" is useful shorthand or not, I think that problematic in-group interactions are likely to happen a lot, whereas you sort of make it sound like they're something that might possibly happen in some cases.

Boris Badenov
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Jul 13 2009 15:47
Farce wrote:
Or, to give another example, Libcom is officially a website for libertarian communists, not a website for libertarian communists with a specific sense of humour, but people who get libcommunity are likely to be able to participate more fully than those who don't.

true, but libcommunity has little to do with libcom as a political group, and even less to do with libertarian-communism per se. It is just a place for general irrelevance, because you can't be right on all the time. Similarly, if a political group's informal activities are focused on something that tends to exclude some people (such as those without a sense of humour), that's just a natural feature of any human interaction. It's different from tacitly excluding some people from discussion at conferences and seminars because they don't have "the right training."
If I had to pass a political quiz to join these boards, I would probably feel left out. I would not blame it on "classism," but I would definitely think it was elitist and exclusive. But the fact that I can't participate in all the elaborate libcommunity inside jokes, does not bother me in the slightest.

Quote:
At this point, we seem to be just disagreeing about semantics. And possibly the likelihood of this being a problem - whether you think "classism" is useful shorthand or not, I think that problematic in-group interactions are likely to happen a lot, whereas you sort of make it sound like they're something that might possibly happen in some cases.

No, I agree that it always happens, but when it does it's not necessarily because a group is dominated by middle-class snobs who want to monopolize discussion and exclude the ignorant rank-and-file. Any political group will also function as a an informal group of friends on some level, which means some people will almost certainly feel excluded.

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Jul 18 2009 05:07

Admin edit: no flaming

Angelus Novus
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Jul 20 2009 05:45

Admin edit: no flaming

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Jul 20 2009 14:57

Angelus Novus and Dead End, can we keep the discussion civil?

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Jul 20 2009 15:34

I didn't see Angelus's reply, but did Dead End's post not have some actual content in it apart from the flaming?

Angelus Novus
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Jul 20 2009 16:28

Admin edit: no meta discussion. If you want to discuss admin decisions then please do it in the feedback forum. Bring the thread back on-topic or the thread will be locked.

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Aug 27 2009 11:26

Ok. A critique of the notion of 'classism' is valid. I will be the first to admit this. I have run up against this in various 'anti-oppression' settings or trainings/workshops in the last year with liberal nonprofit organizations as well as vaguely 'progressive' or 'radical' groups and people.

It is often based on thinking that says class is income based or made up of cultural indicators. I believe that class is much more, and is based on a social relationship of power. However any analysis that groups 'a skilled worker in a BMW factory' with a fast food worker on government assistance or deems 'a poorly paid teacher in the school system' as a non-proletarian state functionary is one that needs a serious looking at. That might be true in a strict social relationship definition of class (although I don't agree with the whole 'people that work for the state are not proles' thing you did there), but as far as being strategically useful or coherent in anyway in which people can understand, I think that's another story.

Also, although class is not defined by culture, there are certain cultural norms and ways of interacting that almost exclusively exist in the working class.

Sure, the word is shit, but the scenario of a high school dropout, temp factory worker from the projects or trailer parks coming to a meeting full of people that are students or on some level of low management and the problems that arise from the expectations of cultural norms for the latter exists and needs to be addressed.

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Aug 27 2009 11:52
Dead End wrote:
Also, although class is not defined by culture, there are certain cultural norms and ways of interacting that almost exclusively exist in the working class.

Most of my bosses have been 'culturally working class' , and haven't had a university education.

Dead End wrote:
Sure, the word is shit, but the scenario of a high school dropout, temp factory worker from the projects or trailer parks coming to a meeting full of people that are students or on some level of low management and the problems that arise from the expectations of cultural norms for the latter exists and needs to be addressed.

This seems like a straw man argument, as there are quite a few more positions available in the social structure than school-dropout trailer-park temp-worker, student and management.

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Aug 27 2009 12:21
Django wrote:
Most of my bosses have been 'culturally working class' , and haven't had a university education.

Depends what you mean by boss, if you're including middle management in that, I'd say I've had the same experience. Regardless, what I said was not a blanket statement nor my basis for what class constitutes.

Quote:
This seems like a straw man argument, as there are quite a few more positions available in the social structure than school-dropout trailer-park temp-worker, student and management.

A better way to put it, is that I agree with the 3 class analysis of a working class, a middle class of coordinators, bureaucrats and management, and a ruling class. Now, elements of the middle class, could go either way, as far as allies to the working class, and often do. Despite this, many who see themselves as allies to many of the aims and projects of the working class carry this attitude towards them and preconceptions based on their class are expressed in different ways. This needs to be addressed, particularly when Western anarchist movements have large numbers of students and people from middle class backgrounds, as well as being currently middle class.

I haven't even touched the hegemonic culture that capitalism pushes that creates internalized oppression and self-hatred within the working class itself.

Like I said before, yes, calling this 'classism' may be misdirected, but the issues that it raises or touches upon in a non-threatening manner are relevant issues.

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Aug 27 2009 12:48
Django wrote:
This seems like a straw man argument, as there are quite a few more positions available in the social structure than school-dropout trailer-park temp-worker, student and management.

I'm pretty much with Dead End on this one. Yes, there are many positions available that aren't school-dropout temp-worker, but many people in many of those other positions would also feel uncomfortable in a setting dominated by either students or recent ex-students (like much of the anarchist movement).

RedHughs
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Aug 27 2009 21:43
Dead End wrote:
Sure, the word is shit, but the scenario of a high school dropout, temp factory worker from the projects or trailer parks coming to a meeting full of people that are students or on some level of low management and the problems that arise from the expectations of cultural norms for the latter exists and needs to be addressed.

Addressed by who? To what end?

The scenario you sketch out might indeed involve our high school dropout being dissed, leaving in huff and perhaps having reasons even we over-intellectualizers can sympathize with.

But what scenario for changing this situation would you imagine? Seriously. The student-types are the only ones who'd using a term as unwieldy as "class-ism". I wouldn't expect our high school dropout to bother with the term unless he/she had hung around said student types a lot (it occasionally happens).

But even looking at the larger issue, what "solution" could you imagine for this situation?

I think that "revolutionary nuclei" are something might indeed form when/if we actually get closer to a revolutionary situation. I suspect these won't begin with the student milieu but they might have to deal with students joining them but such a different scenario quite possibly would make all the present concerns about participation relatively moot but it might not. I believe that in Argentina in 2001, the main, serious problem that neighborhood councils had was leftist barging in - I don't think this was one social class versus another but "ordinary people" versus a highly ideological minority (the minority might have been former students but it might well have been people of working class background).