Class/segmentation/racialization. Notes - Théorie Communiste

 Class/segmentation/racialization. Notes - Théorie Communiste

Originally published by Théorie Communiste as 'Classe / seg­men­ta­tion / raci­sa­tion. Notes'. Translated from the French by LNFC.

There has al­ways been seg­ment­a­tion with­in labor power. We must take it, then, as an ob­ject­ive de­term­in­a­tion of labor power un­der cap­it­al that nat­ur­ally leads to a di­vi­sion of labor. Here we have noth­ing more than a di­vide between a ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al and a simple quant­it­at­ive grad­a­tion of the value of labor power. (Both simple and com­plex work un­der­go a kind of os­mos­is with­in the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, from the gen­er­al­ized con­straint of sur­plus labor to spe­cial­ized labor un­der co­oper­at­ive man­age­ment, etc.). However, this seg­ment­a­tion would not be so if it were not but a qual­it­at­ive di­vide with­in an oth­er­wise ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al. Two pro­cesses in­ter­vene as they weave to­geth­er: On the one hand the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is glob­al, cap­able of ap­pro­pri­at­ing and des­troy­ing all oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion while con­serving for it­self the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of those it has re­defined. On the oth­er hand the value of labor power rep­res­ents a mor­al, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­ic­al com­pon­ent. Since cap­it­al­ist ex­ploit­a­tion is uni­ver­sal — i.e., be­cause cap­it­al can take over oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion or make them co­ex­ist along­side it, ex­ploit labor power to­geth­er with those oth­er modes or de­tach them from their former ex­ist­en­tial con­di­tions — cap­it­al­ism is thus an his­tor­ic­al con­struc­tion that brings about the co­ex­ist­ence of all the dif­fer­ent strata of his­tory in a single mo­ment. Seg­ment­a­tion is not merely “ma­nip­u­la­tion.” It ex­ists as the vol­un­tary activ­ity of the cap­it­al­ist class and its pro­fes­sion­al ideo­logues, which forms and an­im­ates an ob­ject­ive pro­cess, a struc­tur­al de­term­in­a­tion of the mode of pro­duc­tion.

If the work­ing class has al­ways been seg­men­ted, it is still ne­ces­sary to con­tex­tu­al­ize this seg­ment­a­tion. That is to say, it must be situ­ated in the gen­er­al form of the con­tra­dic­tion between pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al with­in a giv­en cycle of struggles. Without this, the op­pos­i­tion to iden­tit­ies — iden­tit­ies wrongly as­so­ci­ated with com­munit­ies — would be solely norm­at­ive. Even if we were to con­fer great cir­cum­stan­tial im­port­ance on this seg­ment­a­tion, its be­ing lies else­where, with­in a pur­ity that is either ac­cess­ible or not. We do not es­cape the mutually ex­clus­ive op­pos­i­tion to iden­tit­ies simply by pit­ting what is against what should be.

Re­gard­ing the re­la­tion between seg­ment­a­tion and ra­cial­iz­a­tion [raci­sa­tion], there ex­ist two uni­lat­er­al stances fa­cing one an­oth­er. Ac­cord­ing to the first, ma­ter­i­al­ism boils down to re­du­cing iden­tity to its found­a­tion — without tak­ing its ef­fect­ive­ness or its lo­gic in­to ac­count. The second, equally ma­ter­i­al­ist stance but­tresses it­self on a re­fus­al to con­sider the facts. It says that if ra­cial­ identity is reduced in toto to its found­a­tion, it’s noth­ing but an arbitrary [volon­taire] and det­ri­ment­al con­struct. Hence, those who turn it in­to an ob­ject merely di­vide the class and pro­mote bar­bar­ism. (I’m hardly dis­tort­ing their po­s­i­tion). What always es­capes both of these stances is the ques­tion of ideo­logy, which is not a re­flec­tion [of the base] but an en­semble of prac­tic­al and be­liev­able re­sponses. Beneath these operate cer­tain prac­tices. Iden­tity comes in­to be­ing wherever there is a sep­ar­a­tion and auto­nom­iz­a­tion of a proper sphere of activ­ity. Each identity or ideo­logy — in the sense of the term em­ployed here — has its own his­tory and mod­us op­erandi, which can be ascertained with reference to the prac­tices op­er­at­ing be­neath the ideo­logy in ques­tion. Iden­tity is therefore an es­sen­tial­iz­a­tion which defines an in­di­vidu­al as a sub­ject.

A norm­at­ive deni­al of ra­cial­ized seg­ment­a­tion does not seek con­tra­dic­tions with­in that which ex­ists, but is rather content to po­s­ition it­self in con­tra­dic­tion to that which ex­ists: class against its seg­ment­a­tion, without con­sid­er­ing that class only ex­ists with­in this seg­ment­a­tion (i.e., with­in the con­tra­dic­tion of pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al that provides for its re­pro­duc­tion). Norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion to the real seg­ment­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at leads to an ideo­lo­gic­al ec­lipse of this real­ity — something the Parti des indigènes de la République [PIR] does in­versely, in its own way.

Let us re­peat: Pro­let­ari­an struggles are always pro­duced and de­veloped with­in the cat­egor­ies of re­pro­duc­tion and self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al. Struggles only ever ex­ist as “over­de­termined.” The de­sire for a class which breaks away from its re­cip­roc­al im­plic­a­tion within cap­it­al to af­firm it­self as such, sub­stan­ti­ating it­self ­in pure self-de­term­in­a­cy, is a pro­gram­mat­ic dream. Fur­ther, this “surplus” or “over­de­termin­a­tion” is not some residual de­fi­ciency or détour­ne­ment, but rather the very ex­ist­ence and prac­tice of class as it is found. In oth­er words, it is the re­cip­roc­al re­pro­duc­tion of pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al — wherein the lat­ter al­ways sub­sumes the former, which then acts ac­cord­ing to cat­egor­ies defined by the re­pro­duc­tion of cap­it­al. The frac­tions of the pro­let­ari­at, in its seg­ment­a­tion, ap­pear on the labor mar­ket as pre­con­di­tioned because the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion moves with­in the con­crete forms it cre­ates (even bey­ond the labor mar­ket). As a result, these forms confront the pro­cess of re­pro­duc­tion as pre­con­di­tions de­term­in­ing the be­ha­vi­or of both cap­it­al­ists and pro­let­ari­ans, provid­ing them with their con­scious­ness and motives for ac­tion.

This seg­ment­a­tion de­vel­ops its own ideo­lo­gic­al ef­fic­a­cy, which then di­vides the pop­u­la­tion by so­lid­i­fying dif­fer­ences. And this is where the Indigènes ap­pear as en­tre­pren­eurs of ra­cial­iz­a­tion, just as there are en­tre­pren­eurs of na­tion­al­ism, elites which con­sti­tute a rack­et that happily was without much ef­fect­ive­ness un­til shortly ago. Cri­tique must be un­com­prom­ising on these points: tac­tic­al ho­mo­pho­bia, lat­ent an­ti­semit­ism, the “un­der­stand­ing” [«com­pré­hen­sion»] of pro-Sad­dam ele­ments dur­ing the Gulf War, the scrap­ping (“for the mo­ment”) of wo­men’s struggles, etc. — these are not “de­vi­ations,” which would pre­suppose a point of de­par­ture that was more or less “healthy.” Quite the opposite: these po­s­i­tions are con­stitutive of the activ­ity of racialization en­tre­pren­eurs, the rais­on d’être of the PIR, which even di­vides a par­tic­u­lar seg­ment of the “im­mig­rant” pop­u­la­tion with the term “post­co­lo­ni­al” in seeking to define an es­sen­tial iden­tity. Even if the PIR plays an in­sig­ni­fic­ant role in the neigh­bor­hoods [quart­i­ers], their ideo­lo­gic­al work is in line with the situ­ation which cur­rently pre­vails: “Since the mid-seventies, we have been able to dis­tin­guish three suc­cess­ive con­fig­ur­a­tions, three ages of the ban­lieue. A dis­or­gan­ized world, but one close to us, ter­rit­or­ies re­classified [requa­li­fiés] by drug traf­fick­ing and urb­an vi­ol­ence in a uni­verse marked by en­clos­ure and se­ces­sion.”1

We can speak of a feel­ing of power­less­ness in re­gards to our re­la­tion with so­ci­ety, which con­fronts the in­di­vidu­al as re­ified [cho­si­fiée] col­lect­ive re­straint. Here we have the form and con­tent of an in­di­vidu­al con­scious­ness of itself that is properly religious: the con­sid­er­a­tion of in­di­vidu­al ali­en­a­tion vis-à-vis the com­munity (which is no longer a mode of pro­duc­tion or en­semble of productive relations) as a state, the in­her­ent misery of hu­man nature. In the capitalist constitution of ex­clu­sion, the pro­let­ari­at’s alienation from the web [ensemble] of so­cial re­la­tions no longer ap­pears as the product of its own activ­ity. Nor does its con­tra­dict­ory re­la­tion with the rest of so­ci­ety seem to be something of its own do­ing, but rather an in­her­ent feature of its in­di­vidu­al­ity. These are just the poor, the plebs. Hav­ing be­come in­her­ent in in­di­vidu­al­ity, this sep­ar­a­tion from the com­munity and oth­er in­di­vidu­al­it­ies can only be re­solved through a re­la­tion which tran­scends all of them as something rad­ic­ally ex­ter­i­or. This is in­deed the struc­ture of re­li­gion and its pro­duc­tion. Re­li­gion can thus reunite all the various de­term­in­a­tions of in­di­vidu­al­ity and become a power­ful lever for the en­tre­pren­eurs of iden­tit­ies.

Every iden­tit­y gives itself an ima­gin­ary gene­a­logy, which is both ef­fic­a­cious and real by virtue of its re­con­struc­tion. However, this is also the entire prob­lem of identity, aside from its labile, plastic, and fra­gile character (des­pite ap­pear­ances). The con­tra­dic­tion that occurs during the phase of real sub­sump­tion also takes place at the level of re­pro­duc­tion. But then again, the path of real con­tra­dic­tions — between norm­at­ive deni­al and the en­terprise of ra­cial­iz­a­tion — is a nar­row one in­deed. [For what fol­lows it would be use­ful to refer to the brief text, “An at­tempt to define class,” forth­com­ing]

The site of pro­duc­tion of iden­tit­ies is thus the mul­ti­tude of re­la­tions with­in which class membership is cre­ated and lived. Not all of them are strictly eco­nom­ic. We must add these to the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion: un­equal levels of de­vel­op­ment and their mise en abyme un­der contemporary cap­it­al­ism, the di­vi­sion of labor, the his­tor­ic­ as­pect of the value of labor power, the in­ter­play between re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion (as well as the pre­dom­in­ance they acquire in conjunction with the pre­vi­ous things lis­ted), and the de­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion of the state. The mech­an­ics of pro­duc­tion ap­plied here are di­verse, con­tin­gent on factors like class membership, seg­ment­a­tion of the labor power, cre­ation of the in­di­vidu­al as sub­ject, op­pres­sion (the “co­er­cive mo­ment,” which con­tains a re­newed faceoff between labor power and cap­it­al), and re­la­tions of dis­tri­bu­tion. Here it must be noticed that the Indigènes only speak of op­pres­sion and the op­pressed. Among oth­er things, this is their way to carve out [décou­per] and pro­duce an iden­tity. They give form to a true lo­gic of iden­tity ad­dressed to in­di­vidu­als for whom the de­fin­ing as­pect is “be­ing cast aside” from “true so­ci­ety,” along with a “lack of re­spect.” What we see here is a con­stant over­de­termin­a­tion, a constant carving out [décou­page], of the lo­gic of class from it­self: this, then, is the en­tire prob­lem with norm­at­ive deni­al and the cult of pure class.

These mech­an­isms in­her­ent to the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al work on re­la­tions that are not them­selves strictly eco­nom­ic, which form their material. From this work res­ults all sorts of products: re­li­gious com­munit­ies, eth­ni­cit­ies, races, ter­rit­ori­al belonging [ap­par­te­nance ter­ri­to­riale], etc.; the pos­sible combinations are quasi-in­fin­ite. It’s is all a part of class struggle, and it’s not al­ways pretty. But we have to take part in it be­cause it’s the world in which we live. Not the world of Pure Ideas, but the bot­tom of the Cave.

One fre­quent er­ror con­sists in restor­ing a con­struc­ted iden­tity to its “base,” i.e. seg­ment­a­tion, without un­der­stand­ing that if seg­ment­a­tion is in­deed its base, then con­struc­ted iden­tity will “fol­low” the lo­gic which be­longs to it and func­tion ac­cord­ingly. This lo­gic or­gan­izes a whole world­view, and an approach to the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion as well. All these factors are per­tin­ent agents for the invention of dis­tinc­tions, their vari­ation or dis­ap­pear­ance. In Mar­seille, for instance, an Itali­an or a Span­iard is just an­oth­er nice bowl­ing buddy. Ra­cial­iz­a­tion, or the pro­duc­tion of spe­cif­ic iden­tit­ies, does not be­long to the concept of cap­it­al. (Un­like the dis­tinc­tion of gender, which is in­her­ent to work as a pro­duct­ive force). But this having been said, ra­ce is nevertheless a ne­ces­sary form of ap­pear­ance [une forme de mani­fes­ta­tion néces­saire]. The trans­form­a­tion of a so­cial re­la­tion in­to a thing — in oth­er words, a “para­dox­ic­al” sub­ject — is at the same time the trans­form­a­tion of this thing in­to a so­cial re­la­tion between sub­jects. In a sense, the sub­ject is heir to the move­ment which cre­ates it. This in­ver­sion is the way re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion really act, dis­guised [dis­si­mu­lés] as the wills and de­cisions of sub­jects.

But the whole so­cial con­struct out of which this arises now ef­faces it­self. Ra­cial or eth­nic dis­tinc­tion plays its own role ac­cord­ing to pre­scribed de­term­in­a­tions for it­self with­in the autonomy of the do­main of ac­tion in which it is cre­ated: a black man could be­come pres­id­ent of the United States, but he is still black. And a black pro­let­ari­an is not a white pro­let­ari­an. Ex­ist­ing for it­self, with­in its own do­main of ac­tion, such dis­tinc­tion can also be made the ob­ject of in­stru­ment­al polit­ic­al activ­ity. We saw this in France dur­ing the great wave of strikes in the auto­mobile in­dustry between 1983 and 1984, even up to today. Dis­tinc­tion is an ideo­logy, and as such works well in the as­sign­ment and re­la­tion of in­di­vidu­als to their con­di­tions of ex­ist­ence and re­pro­duc­tion. Or, to put it an­oth­er way, their pos­i­tion within the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion. Since all of this real and ob­ject­ive, it can­’t be dismissed with the grand, ritu­al­ in­voc­a­tion of class. No more than we could simply deman­d that pro­let­ari­ans se­cede.

This is the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al we have here: the re­pro­duc­tion of the faceoff between pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al. In­scribed ­within the con­tra­dic­tions of the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al, within its con­tra­dict­ory ex­ist­ence in pro­cess, and fi­nally within class struggle, these iden­tit­ies are thus plastic (in ac­cord­ance with the needs of this dis­tinc­tion, which passes through all in­stances not dir­ectly eco­nom­ic) as well as fra­gile (in ac­cord­ance with the ca­pa­city of this dis­tinc­tion to re­pro­duc­e itself).

Here iden­tit­ies can even be points of sup­port in its struggle (con­trary to norm­at­ive wishes), but they are nev­er fixed (con­trary to what en­tre­pren­eur­i­al prac­tices would like to make of them). Even when they are “affixed” to com­munit­ies, they re­pro­duce their core class con­tra­dic­tions. We must nev­er for­get that all iden­tit­ies are con­struc­ted, his­tor­ic­al and fra­gile. Re­volu­tion, as well as cur­rent struggles like the ri­ots in the ban­lieues, con­front the scler­osis of class defined as a so­cioeco­nom­ic cat­egory. But they also con­front all the iden­tit­ies built upon it as over­de­termin­a­tions, its con­di­tions of ex­ist­ence: un­der­mining, in­ter­rog­ating, and calling in­to doubt eth­nic na­tion­al­ity, ra­cial na­tion­al­ity, etc. (2005 was not an eth­nic re­volt). This isn’t an in­tel­lec­tu­al ques­tion bring­ing us back to re­call who is who, since this scler­osis and the struggle against it is the prac­tical con­front­a­tion that link­s re­volu­tion to coun­ter­re­volu­tion. Class does not al­ways ap­pear clearly. Any such clar­ity is rare, as it is not the nature of re­volu­tion to an­nounce the fi­nal hour. It is only with­in a mul­ti­pli­city of prac­tices and con­tra­dic­tions internal to cap­it­al — in confrontations between all sorts of iden­tit­ies, the ac­tions which stem­ from and over­come them — that class can trans­form­ itself into a com­mun­izing class. Or in oth­er words, one that is self-ab­ol­ish­ing. No longer can re­volu­tion be the af­firm­a­tion of a pro­let­ari­at re­cog­niz­ing it­self as the re­volu­tion­ary force fa­cing cap­it­al within the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.

Whenever strug­gling as a class is the lim­it of class struggle, re­volu­tion be­comes a struggle against that which pro­duced it: the whole ar­chi­tec­ture of the mode of pro­duc­tion, the dis­tri­bu­tion of its in­stances and levels, which find them­selves drawn in­to a pro­cess of upending [bou­le­ver­se­ment] the nor­mal­ity/fatal­ity of its re­pro­duc­tion. This, in turn, is defined by a de­term­in­at­ive hier­archy of in­stances in the mode of pro­duc­tion. (Each thing in its own place acts as “cause” of what fol­lows, in the or­der of bases, in­fra­struc­tures, su­per­struc­tures, etc., all of which are placed into the hier­archy). For re­volu­tion is itself this very up­heav­al [bou­le­ver­se­ment]. Only if it is suc­cess­ful can it be­come the mo­ment in which pro­let­ari­ans cast off the rot of the old world which sticks to their skin and keeps them pro­let­ari­ans. Men and wo­men will do the same with that which con­sti­tutes their in­di­vidu­al­ity. It’s not a ques­tion of pure caus­a­tion, but rather the con­crete move­ment of re­volu­tion — in which the various in­stances of the mode of pro­duc­tion (ideo­logy, law, polit­ics, na­tion­al­ity, eco­nomy, gender, etc.) one by one become the dom­in­ant fo­cus of the ensemble of con­tra­dic­tions. This con­junc­ture des­ig­nates the very mech­an­ism of crisis, as a crisis of the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al: the upend­ing [bou­le­ver­se­ment] of the de­term­in­at­ive hier­archy of in­stances in the mode of pro­duc­tion. The re­volu­tion as com­mun­iz­a­tion would have to nour­ish it­self on this im­pur­ity, this non-sim­pli­city, of the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion’s con­tra­dict­ory pro­cess. Chan­ging cir­cum­stances and chan­ging one­self co­in­cide: this is re­volu­tion, this is a con­junc­ture. Iden­tit­ies are not es­sences, even if they of­fer them­selves and func­tion as such. Pretty much every­one agrees on this point. If we con­sider their place and their pro­duc­tion mech­an­ism, the ques­tion of over­com­ing leads to ques­tions con­cern­ing re­volu­tion as con­junc­ture: upend­ing [bou­le­ver­se­ment] the hier­archy of in­stances and cir­cu­la­tion of the dom­in­ant.

It would be false to see something nov­el in this, something that would only ar­rive with­in this “con­junc­ture.” We already en­ter­tain the idea that iden­tit­ies are fra­gile in their very con­struc­tion, wheth­er these are ra­cial, eth­nic, re­li­gious, etc. Of­ten iden­tit­ies in­clud­e a mix of these factors, a mix that ori­gin­ates in the con­tra­dic­tions of class and tra­verses them.

The ob­ject of the­or­et­ic­al and, when pos­sible, prac­tic­al com­mun­ist cri­tique, is not the en­te­rprise of iden­tity. Nor is it the norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion, which con­siders terms like class and “iden­tit­ies” to be mutually ex­clu­sive. Still less is it “dis­tantiated com­pre­hen­sion” [«com­pré­hen­sion dis­tan­ciée»]. The ob­ject of cri­tique, its tar­get, is rather the lab­il­ity [labi­lité], plas­ti­city, and fra­gil­ity of iden­tity: his­tor­iciz­a­tion, “de­con­struc­tion,” con­tex­tu­al­iz­a­tion. In cer­tain situ­ations, why not, the ob­ject of cri­tique could even be the fact that these iden­tit­ies are dy­nam­ic pro­cesses con­sti­tu­ting a par­tic­u­lar struggle. And by way of this, a specific re­for­mu­la­tion of the gen­er­al re­la­tion of forces among classes. Why not? But even this is quite com­plic­ated. The lab­il­ity of iden­tity con­struc­tion var­ies a great deal, in keeping with so­cial and cul­tur­al levels. We ac­know­ledge that this lab­il­ity is stronger in the struggles that are won. Don’t for­get that the dis­ap­pear­ance of ra­cial­iz­a­tion will not by itself bring about the dis­ap­pear­ance of classes; it is not a pre­requis­ite. Ra­cial­iz­a­tion is also the voice of cap­it­al.

A repeat of the struggles in France is in large part cur­rently sus­pen­ded, un­der a fa­vor­able bal­ance of power, in the autonom­ous and par­tic­u­lar struggle of ra­cial­ized pro­let­ari­ans against their ra­cial­iz­a­tion [pro­lé­taires raci­sés contre leur raci­sa­tion]. This could not have been done simply by declaring ra­cial­iz­a­tion null and void. It is ab­so­lutely use­less to call on in­di­vidu­als to de­fend them­selves “as pro­let­ari­ans,” as if seg­ment­a­tion and ra­cial­iz­a­tion were not a part of their ex­ist­ence as pro­let­ari­ans. Fore­ground­ing an iden­tity can at once bring about its re­cog­nition and de-es­sen­tial­iz­a­tion, however, which then passes on to an at­tack on cer­tain his­tor­ic­al and cul­tur­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics being made into one’s per­son­al defin­i­tion, op­er­at­ive agents of so­cial and eco­nom­ic cleavage (because chos­en and de­lim­it­ed). Or in oth­er words, to bring war upon the dis­tance that separates the of­fi­cial Law of equal­ity, cit­izen­ship, and the other ab­strac­tions with which cap­it­al op­er­ates from the real rules (which the whole world knows are in­verse of of­fi­cial Rule) and real con­di­tions of work and life. It’s not a mat­ter of simply as­sum­ing “dif­fer­ence,” so as to rub it out at the same time. “Dif­fer­ence” is noth­ing more than an in­feri­or status in­delibly in­scribed onto a person. We must admit that “in­teg­ra­tion” is a test no one stands a chance in passing, even less so when coupled with the “war on ter­ror.” Break with the rules of the game, show that the of­fi­cial Rule is not the real rule, that ra­cial di­vi­sion derived from the seg­ment­a­tion of labor power func­tions in ac­cord­ance with its own needs. There is no a pri­ori “all to­geth­er.” Even if this seems “re­form­ist,” or an “in­ter­me­di­ary ob­ject­ive,” this has still not yet been achieved…

Once one pos­sesses a gen­er­al com­pre­hen­sion of the pro­duc­tion of iden­tit­ies, con­trary to that of en­tre­pren­eurs of iden­tity like the PIR or that of the norm like La Lutte de Classe, everything re­turns to the par­tic­u­lar ana­lys­is of a par­tic­u­lar situ­ation.

Why does such a sub­ject make sense today? Just look at nearly all the so­cial ques­tions. Most struggles can­not help but ex­press them­selves in the lan­guage of iden­tit­y, eth­ni­cit­y, re­li­gion, and race, all of which would be suf­ficient cause for a re­sponse But this does not ex­plain the vi­ol­ence and ten­sion this sub­ject pro­vokes in our “mi­lieu.” Purely norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion to the real seg­ment­a­tion of class is there to stave off what would surely be the annihilation of the pro­let­ari­at’s gen­er­al iden­tity, which the mil­it­ant claims as his own and without which he im­plodes. He knows his very ex­ist­ence is at stake con­cern­ing this issue. What a nar­ciss­ist­ic wound it would be, to no longer be able to iden­tity with the “thugs of the ban­lieue”!

At­tempt at a defin­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at

The es­sen­tial defin­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at is a concretion of thought that ex­cludes no single mani­fest­a­tion. It is al­ways present in each of them; these cannot ex­ist except in the to­tal­ity of its forms and at­trib­utes. What then is a class? Let us at­tempt to provide a pos­sible defin­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at as a class. Defin­i­tions of this class have al­ways nav­ig­ated two poles: a so­cioeco­nom­ic defin­i­tion and an his­tor­ic­al cat­egory defined by prac­tice (in early cri­tiques of pro­gram­mat­ism, this am­bi­gu­ity had been ar­ti­fi­cially over­come by dis­tinguishing between work­ing class and pro­let­ari­at).

But let’s start from an even sim­pler point: the im­per­at­ive to sell our labor power. We might add that this im­per­at­ive has no mean­ing out­side the val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al, which leads us to say that this sale for val­or­iz­a­tion defines it­self both as a con­tra­dic­tion for cap­it­al and for it­self. The sale of labor power does not tell us what the pro­let­ari­at is if not seized by its re­la­tion à la cap­it­al’s val­or­iz­a­tion, as con­tra­dic­tion. On its own, the sale of labor power ex­plains noth­ing; it no longer defines the class, even if linked to the val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al. A defin­i­tion only ap­pears when either this situ­ation (the sale of labor power) or re­la­tion (of this sale to val­or­iz­a­tion) are seized as a con­tra­dic­tion by that of which they are a dy­nam­ic force: the con­tra­dic­tion between ne­ces­sary labor and sur­plus labor, the tend­ency of the rate of profit to fall, the con­tra­dic­tion com­prised by pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al. It is also cap­it­al as a con­tra­dic­tion in pro­cess. So we have a unity of the defin­i­tion of class as a situ­ation and as a prac­tice (or “in it­self” and “for it­self,” if one pre­fers).

Moving on, if it is true that classes define them­selves as a spe­cif­ic po­s­i­tion within the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion, then re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion are also re­la­tions of re­pro­duc­tion. Here the defin­i­tion of class be­comes com­plic­ated. We find that norm­at­ive deni­al fa­ces a “dis­har­mony” between what is hap­pening in any giv­en mo­ment and Marx’s fam­ous phrase about “what the pro­let­ari­at must do in con­form­ity with its be­ing.” This “dis­har­mony” not only attaches to cer­tain mo­ment­ary cir­cum­stances, but is in­her­ent in the fact that class is ob­ject­ively situ­ated with­in a struc­ture whose con­flic­tu­al re­pro­duc­tion mo­bil­iz­es the whole mode of pro­duc­tion. This im­plies a mul­ti­tude of re­la­tions that are not strictly eco­nom­ic, in which in­di­vidu­als live out this objective situation, which they also take on as they self-con­sti­tute as a class.

P.S. — It would be ne­ces­sary to pro­duce this tentative defin­i­tion from a par­tic­u­lar­ place within the to­tal­ity. Here we depart from a single pole, and not from the whole. This is not so bad, but it is a bit in­con­veni­ent.2


Oct 30 2016 13:22

This translation was missing the 3rd and the 8th paragraphs from the French original, so I've inserted them into the article and, hopefully, someone else can translate them.

Oct 30 2016 20:12

There goes the 3rd (rough -but faithful enough- translation:

Regarding the relation between segmentation and racialisation, there are two unilateral and opposing stances. According to the first, materialism boils down to reducing identity to its foundation without taking its effectiveness or its own logic into account. The second and equally materialist stance buttresses itself on the refusal to consider the facts and says: if racialisation is completely reduced to its foundation, then it is nothing but a voluntary and detrimental construct, and those WHO turn it into an object merely divide the class and promote barbarism (I’m hardly distorting their position). What escapes both these stances is always the question of ideology, which is not a reflection but an entirety of practical and believable responses, underlying which are certain practices. Identity comes into being where there is a separation and autonomisation of a certain sphere of activity. Each ideology —in the sense of the term employed here— or identity has its own history and modus operandi, which can be identified by the practices operating beneath the ideology in question. Therefore, identity is an essentialisation which defines an individual as a subject.

Oct 30 2016 18:33

And there goes the 8th (actually 9th by my count)

However, in that case, the way forward between the entrepreneurs of racialisation and normative denial is a narrow one indeed.

Oct 30 2016 19:02

Thanks Nization, I've now updated the document with your translations.

Oct 30 2016 19:29

Thanks guys!

Oct 30 2016 19:42

Glad to help.