Workers of the world unite! - Some notes on class unity and identity politics

There's been several articles posted lately critical of identity politics from a class struggle perspective. This blog addresses some of the pitfalls of the class unity v identity politics debate.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 18, 2012

I've been meaning to write something on this for a long time, but I've hesitated as class struggle critiques of identity politics are often clumsy and serve to gloss over very real oppressions and violence. This difficulty is probably why such critiques often open with arguments from identity, such as the opening line of 'Who is Oakland?': "This pamphlet – written collaboratively by a group of people of color, women, and queers." It's testament to the power of identity politics that even critiques of it require an identitarian disclaimer.

Of course, there's lots to be said for arguing from experience. The Oakland pamphlet is excellent, some of my favourite writing lately has been the work accounts on the Recomposition blog, and Liberté Locke's excellent piece went viral not too long ago too. But it often proves tricky to navigate between the politics of class unity on the one hand and the politics of identity on the other. So this blog is going to briefly focus on 4 sets of problems:

  • The problems with identity politcs
  • The problems of class unity
  • The relationship of identity to action
  • Class structure and subjectivity

The problems with identity politcs

This piece argues that "identity politics, as a political force, seeks inclusion into the ruling classes" - that is to say the creation of cross-class identities to demand that our rulers and bosses should reflect the identities of their constituents. This critique is further elaborated in the aforementioned Oakland piece, which argues that such a politics treats identity-based oppression as a matter of indivdual, interpersonal privileges, obscuring its structural elements. And in treating such cross-class identity groups as having shared interests, it proceeds by a politics of representation, with individuals incorporated into social structures speaking for 'the black community', 'the Muslim community' and so on.

In other words, identity-based oppressions are used as the moral claim to representation in and/or recogition by existing power structures, thus strenghtening the very structures that produce them. While there sound like some differences between the US and UK here, there are certainly strong similarities. While in the US activists from the 1960s liberation struggles are now to be found in the corridors of power 'speaking for' those they've left behind, in the UK the development of an insititutionalised multiculturalism has functioned similarly.

Since the struggles of the 1970s, the population has been parcelled up into identity-based, cross-class 'communities' which are then 'represented' by 'community leaders'. The effect of this move is to depoliticise these oppressions and to turn them into constituencies. However the Oakland piece also highlights the problems facing any critique of this liberal, representative politics:

"For too long there has been no alternative to this politics of privilege and cultural recognition, and so rejecting this liberal political framework has become synonymous with a refusal to seriously address racism, sexism, and homophobia in general."

This is a trap class struggle politics often falls into.

The problems of class unity

The basic problem with a politics of class unity is that the class is not united. The proletariat is positively striated in innumerable ways. There are hierarchies of income and social status. Divisions between citizens and shades of migrant through to the undocumented workers. The relatively securely employed through to precarious work and unemployment. There are divisions of language and culture which disrupt the circulation of struggles within workplaces and across borders. There are divisions of social power between roles, with some proles having disciplinary or supervisory functions. Prole-on-prole violence is endemic and structural - just look at the prevailance of intimate violence and rape.

Proles experience racism on a daily basis, from not just the state and police but customers, bosses and workmates... Civil rights are still striated by sexuality; witness the struggles over gay marriage (as much as libertarian communists might not care for the institution of marriage itself). Feminists in the Marxist tradition often draw attention to the division of labour, and particularly the division between production and reproduction, waged and domestic labour. Once reproductive, caring labour is included, women continue to do a significant majority of the world's work, and even when engaged in wage labour still do most of the domestic labour too.

A similar argument was the basis of Errico Malatesta's criticism of the apolitical syndicalism of Pierre Monatte in 1907, when he said that "there are therefore no classes, in the proper sense of the term, because there are no class interests. There exists competition and struggle within the working 'class', just as there does among the bourgeoisie." I would only partly agree with Malatesta (more on that in a moment), but it should be clear that simple appeals to class unity at best gloss over a whole range of hierarchies and divisions and at worst silence voices of less powerful sections of the class or become complicit in their oppression.

The relationship of identity to action

This is an enormous topic I can't do justice to here, so I'll follow a single thread. Take this quote from an old libcom piece:

"This is why we need a revolution. Firstly: of ideas. We need to stop believing in capitalism. We need to start seeing each other as equals and unite as workers, as a class, which has been successfully divided with racism, sexism and all sorts of stupid prejudices for centuries."

Here, we see an example of the problems raised above: the structural oppressions, hierarchies, power relations and violence just discussed is glossed as mere "stupid prejudices". Bad ideas. False consciousness. Identity politics thrives on the failure of class politics to address the lived experiences of the class, a politics of everyday life which speaks only to the everyday lives of a small minority. The criticism of privilege is of course answered with more appeals to unity - 'we're all workers!'. However, privilege theory is critiqued effectively in the Who is Oakland? piece, so I'll focus on the idealism.

The argument is explicit: revolution begins with a change in ideas, with everyone ceasing to believe in capitalism and identifying as proletarians with no country and nothing to lose but their chains. This shift in identity summons into being revolutionary action to overthrow capitalism. Proletarian identity is held to be a prerequisite of proletarian struggle. I would suggest it's the other way around - class identity is a product of shared activity, and in particular the collective power experienced in struggle. Judith Butler writes that:

"The foundationalist reasoning of identity politics tends to assume that an identity must first be in place in order for political interest to be elaborated and, subsequently, political action to be taken. My argument is that there need not be a ‘doer behind the deed,’ but that the ‘doer’ is variably constructed in and through the deed."

While I have differences with Butler's account (which I won't get into here), it does highlight the similarity of argument between a naive class struggle position and identity politics. To resolve this we need to look at what's different about class.

Class structure and subjectivity

Class, I have argued before is best understood as a bipolar social relationship. At one pole, the proletariat, the dispossessed, at the other, capital, whose inhuman, vampire-like logic is exposed so meticulously by Marx. What we don't have here is people, subjects. We are talking simply of social structures and subject positions, i.e. social roles which can be occupied by people. And we also have a spectrum - not everyone is fully proletarianised or fully an agent of capital. It's possible to occupy multiple roles at the same time: a worker who is also a landlord for example.

For this reason and others, this kind of analysis isn't interested in classifying individuals, but in understanding the social field and the antagonisms within it.1 And so there's still no people. It's all stage and no actors. However, it's starting to show us what's different about class. Slavoj Zizek has written of...

"...the fundamental difference between feminist/anti-racist/anti-sexist etc. struggle and class struggle: in the first case, the goal is to translate antagonism into difference ("peaceful" coexistence of sexes, religions, ethnic groups), while the goal of the class struggle is precisely the opposite, i.e., to "aggravate" class difference into class antagonism. So what the series race-gender-class obfuscates is the different logic of the political space in the case of class."

It is precisely this antagonism which is lost from the kind of intersectional analyses which speak of "classism", reducing class to merely 'economic oppresssion'. Class is not an economic category but a social one. Class struggle is the struggle against being reduced to mere human resources and to assert our human needs. This has multpile dimensions. Economic struggles over wages, conditions and poverty are just one element of it. So is the imposition of work, the imposition of motherhood (think struggles over reproductive freedom), struggles against racism, patriarchy etc.

Judith Butler notes that this ubiquitous 'etc' signifies the irreducibility of identity to a pre-existing subject. Rather, she claims that the subject - the "I" (or by extension the "we") who has an identity - is created through the performance of its identity.

It could all get very abstract and academic here, so I'm going to gloss over some pretty huge theoretical issues. But recall Malatesta's claim that classes do not exist "in the proper sense of the term." Here we can employ Marx's distinction between the class-in-itself and the class-for-itself. The class-in-itself can be recast as a subject position: proletarian, dispossessed. All these proletarians necessarily share is their condition - and nothing else, no positive attributes (ages, genders, incomes, social status and so on).

But the actual subjects who make up this class do have such attributes, which contribute to multiple hierarchies, oppressions, divisions and identities, and these subjects are always much more than bare proletarians.2 However, while struggle requires some kind of collective identity, it doesn't need to start from the global proletariat! The 'us' could be as small as the workers in a team or department, the housewives in a street or black workers in one factory... to begin with.

The 'class-for-itself', class 'in the proper sense of the term' can be understood as a collective political subject that comes into existence through struggles. Numerous partial, provisional struggles can forge shared interests and transform identities.3 Think for example how 'middle class students' and striking electricians attempted to come together in London last year, or how in 1960 and 70s Italy feminist movements, student movements and factory-based struggles linked up to seriously threaten capital's rule.

This is not a question of seizing power, but of exercising it - collectively. Through class struggles, proletarian unity moves from a negative, abstract common condition to become a concrete political force against capital. Autonomist Marxism has called this process 'political class recomposition'. Insofar as this force fails to vanquish capital, it undergoes a corresponding process of decomposition as capital reimposes itself on the proletariat, and the fractures, hierarchies and striations of the class in itself return to characterise everyday life and struggles.

It would take a short book to do this argument justice, but hopefully I've sketched an outline of a class politics that neither glossses over identity-based oppressions nor lapses into identity politics itself. 'Workers of the world unite!' is a statement of intent, but that unity must reckon with the multiple hierarchies, striations, divisions and identities in the proletariat.

  • 1This kind of bipolar analysis also allows analysis of processes of proletarianisation/embourgeoisement, commodification/decommodification, enclosure/making common, the division of family/market implied by the dominance of wage labour, the role of the state in creating these conditions and preventing them being torn apart, and many other matters besides. But these aren't our concern here.
  • 2Where these individual subjects come from is one of the bracketed huge theoretical issues, and raises questions of structuralism vs post-structuralism, materiality and discourse, the meaning of subjectivity and agency... Gulp.
  • 3There's nothing automatic about this, which is why radical movements have often actively fostered collective, class identities, which points to the importance of culture and discourse in constructing the shared identities which sustain material struggles. See: Music and the IWW: the creation of a working class counterculture

Comments

Ramona

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Ramona on May 18, 2012

Haven't had time to read this all the way through, let alone all the stuff you've linked to, or properly respond, but I'm really looking forward to cos this is excellent and really interesting. Especially:

Here, we see an example of the problems raised above: the structural oppressions, hierarchies, power relations and violence just discussed is glossed as mere "stupid prejudices". Bad ideas. False consciousness. Identity politics thrives on the failure of class politics to address the lived experiences of the class, a politics of everyday life which speaks only to the everyday lives of a small minority. The criticism of privilege is of course answered with more appeals to unity - 'we're all workers!'.

You've just said in a few lines what I've been thinking about for ages and never quite managing to articulate. Awesome blog.

Nate

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on May 19, 2012

Thanks for this Joseph, it's really good. I've not clicked through to any of the links, I'll read through at least some of that stuff later. I'm curious if there's any top pieces you'd recommend of those, as you link to a lot. One thought that occurs to me is that I think sometimes within class struggle political milieus there are turns toward bad ways to address racism, sexism, and others form of oppression. In my experience this tends to involve left people talking in a rather in-group way about their already constituted milieu. There are really important versions of this which should continue (I'm thinking of the safer spaces policy that Ramona wrote about somewhat recently), but there are a lot of bad ones too. I think that class politics moving to address the lived experience of the class is likely to be most successful when tied to a push to address people not currently in the milieu, which in turn will likely bring about a fair bit of conflict over those differences.

p.waterman

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by p.waterman on May 19, 2012

Joseph

Not sure if I entirely endorse your argument. I've only given it a rapid read but I have doubts about two concepts. The first is 'revolution', with all its historical associations (France, Russia, China, Cuba and their violence, blood, 'maximum leaders' and problematic outcomes). I prefer 'emancipation', the meaning of which requires invention and dialogue. The second is the working-class 'for itself'. Is this a working class which is Marxist? Leninist? Libcomist? Or Whatist? It seems to me that the concept of a class 'fuer sich' forecloses on what the variety of workers, in a variety of times and places, with a variety of ideologies does or might do.

However, I would like to see your argument reformulated so as to make it available to a sympathetic/critical readership unfamiliar with the previous texts (Oakland, etc) referred to.

This for a Special Issue of Interface on 'New Worker Movements', for which the first deadline was May 1. If you are ready and willing to consider this, email me: [email protected]. I cannot guarantee publication of any submission but...

PeterW

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 19, 2012

JK, this is excellent.

To add something I've seen when there is a power dynamic, or "hierarchies, oppressions and divisions" within a struggle. Say for example a struggle of workers where there is also racism directed at the black workers. Or sexism within a tenants' struggle . The people who are dishing out the racism or sexism, or benefiting from it, will often want "workers unity" but with the hierarchies oppressions and divisions kept intact. So in second example, the men (or some of them) will want the women involved in the struggle, but will still want their dinner on the table on time, won't listen, etc. Now if this is challenged, they will angrily denounce the challenge and evoke workers unity. They will also simply attack, because they think their privileges are under threat.
So workers unity can mean, for a lot of people, being told to shut up and do the dishes. The people benefiting don't see themselves, and are not criticised by others, as undermining class unity through their sexism or racism or whatever, it is only evoked when someone complains.

Sumthing

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Sumthing on May 19, 2012

This is very good. Strictly class politics has been distrusted in minority communities due to the "after the revolution" fobbing off of present prejudices. I'm not so clear how the article proposes the situation be improved.

This is not a question of seizing power, but of exercising it - collectively. Through class struggles, proletarian unity moves from a negative, abstract common condition to become a concrete political force against capital.

This sounds good but how does this happen in practice? How does the make up of revolution/anarchist groups, which is of a particular type, turn to truly reflect upon racial, gender and other internal hierarchies?

Probably in the long run two movements need to be made. Pushing classism away from its strictly economic interpretation of social ills and engaging identity politics in a way that exposes the systemic [economic] basis of prejudice.

Croy

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Croy on May 19, 2012

This is brilliant.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 19, 2012

Whoa, ok, loads to respond to...

In terms of the number of links, this is kind of a hurried write up of various working notes i've had from reading various things, so all the links are kinda there to try and acknowledge where different bits are coming from. it does make it even more dense than it already is though, so sorry about that.

In terms of what this means in practice... I was responding to a theoretical debate and the blog is therefore theory-heavy. I think there's a number of issues. First of all, I'm not sure how well the distinction between in-group and outreach holds up. I mean, take the example of sexual assault. If the radical milieu fails to take it seriously, or worse, slut-shames and victim blames, then lots of people (mainly women) aren't going to stick around. Which means those voices aren't there when articulating interests/activities etc.

So I think the 'safer spaces' side of things probably feeds into groups being less dominated by relatively powerful demographics, which in turn probably leads to a practice which is more plural in terms of the class needs it aims to address. In terms of the outward looking stuff, I think a lot is probably the stuff any good organising should do anyway: if a lot of co-workers (residents in your area/etc) are parents, maybe meet at lunchtime not after work; if a lot of them are practising muslims, don't meet in a pub. This seems really obvious, but once there was an SF event where the national secretary (who was a wheelchair user) travelled all the way down only to be told the venue wasn't accessible and have to turn around and drive back. So I think a lot of this happens literally without thinking.

I guess there's also other areas for organising. When it comes to work, or landlords, there's some fairly developed tactics knocking about for tipping the power balance in our favour through collective direct action. But with other issues, not so much. We did recently discuss possible anti-stalker tactics (thinking about that SolNet style intervention that was on YouTube), but that hasn't been necessary yet. Though the person involved at least knew she had support if she needed it. I don't know how you'd go about organising around say, the burden of domestic labour. But I think we should be aiming at least at making these conversations possible.

fingers malone

So workers unity can mean, for a lot of people, being told to shut up and do the dishes. The people benefiting don't see themselves, and are not criticised by others, as undermining class unity through their sexism or racism or whatever, it is only evoked when someone complains.

Yeah, this was the kind of thing I had in mind. Like the Occupy Glasgow rape, where being raped was apparently "divisive", but raping was presumably fine, cos [insert victim blaming]. I guess the thing is everyone's a 'minority' of some sort, in that no experiences are universal. The problem of 'false unity' arises when particular interests are asserted as universal ones rather than a substantive unity when plural interests are asserted together. Which requires a culture where people can speak up. If we oppose the politics of representation, we need to create the conditions where people can speak and act for themselves.

I guess I have in mind something like Wendy Brown's conception of freedom as the power to act together. Barriers to that freedom typically come from the bosses, the cops, letting agents etc but sometimes from comrades too. And that can't be let slide in the name of unity, it has to be overcome in the cause of freedom and collective power (and therefore substantive class unity). I guess sometimes that could require autonomous organising, which often gets erroneously labelled 'separatism'. As Gayge Operaista's blog put it:

Gayge Operaista

While groups within the working class can and often must struggle autonomously, those struggles need to return to and generalize throughout the rest of the class as they progress. The struggle for queer liberation is not against straight people; it is part of the struggle against the bourgeoisie

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 19, 2012

Regarding the ingroup/outreach thing, I think both JK and Nate are making good points. Thinking about issues like access, timing of meetings and so on is important but it's only a start. Many community/workplace struggles have really serious racist or sexist dynamics running through them and we usually don't really know how to change that. Political people who are not directly affected by racism or sexism can be really dismissive of it or blind to it in this situation.
Sorting out our internal dynamics in our groups and scenes is important but working out ways to deal with these issues in active struggles is also very important and something I've not often seen dealt with well.

A fantastic book about racism in the class struggle is "Organised Labour and the Black Worker" by Philip Sheldon.

Jared

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Jared on May 19, 2012

Thanks JK. Have you seen this text by a comrade in our collective? It touches on some of the naive reductionism you mention: http://libcom.org/library/oppression-within-oppression-response-%E2%80%9C-question-privilege%E2%80%9D

Nate

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on May 19, 2012

JK, yeah, I don't mean to overemphasize the point. Trying again: there's making our existing milieus/groups more just internally for the people current involved. Then there's trying diversify the composition of the milieu, in part by addressing experiences in people's lives that aren't as close to the milieu's current ideological center of gravity. (So, talking about work and poverty, more what class politics tends to do, while talking about other stuff, less so - I take this to be something like your point about failing to address loads of parts of working class experience, though I'm not putting it as clearly.) In my experience in the US people tend to conflate these things and talk about the demographic make up of left milieu as if it's a result of how people in the milieu treat each other - so, like, stuff like "the white people talk too much, that's why there's not more brown people here." I'm sure that that *is* a factor, but I'm not convinced it's the biggest factor. And more than that, two things, one, the main reason to make the milieu more just is not because it will make the milieu grow, it's because that's the right thing to do. Two, people interact with fucked up institutions all the time - there's loads of women in churches and oppressive families, for instance. I'm not minimizing the need to improve things in our milieus, I think that stuff is super important, but in my experience at least in the US this kind of thing can be an excuse for not expanding. As in, there's this idea that the problems in the milieu have to be fixed before people in the milieu can meaningfully start to address currently unaddressed aspects of everyday life outside the milieu. The most concrete example of this that I can think is pushes for current leftists to attend workshops on privilege which involve mostly leftists talking about being within the left. I think that reinforces more than challenges the dynamic you identified when you said "Identity politics thrives on the failure of class politics to address the lived experiences of the class, a politics of everyday life which speaks only to the everyday lives of a small minority."

Edit: Reading this over again, I've jumbled together quantitative growth and the qualitative change that Joseph is talking about (expanding what aspects of life under capitalism that class struggle perspectives address in a meaningful way). That's probly unhelpful. I can't express myself any clearer on this just now, unfortunately.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 19, 2012

Ok, so we want to think about:
"the failure of class politics to address the lived experience of the class"
what is our problem here? We don't know much about the lived experience of a lot of people in our class, maybe? We know some stuff, but we don't know where to start when it comes to fighting on these issues? We don't connect well with people who have different life experiences from us, so they don't approach us during their struggles?

penny

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by penny on May 20, 2012

hey - so good to have this stuff talked about. I kinda felt unsatisfied though.

firstly, i don't agree with this quote - its assuming all minority identities are reformist.

"...the fundamental difference between feminist/anti-racist/anti-sexist etc. struggle and class struggle: in the first case, the goal is to translate antagonism into difference ("peaceful" coexistence of sexes, religions, ethnic groups), while the goal of the class struggle is precisely the opposite, i.e., to "aggravate" class difference into class antagonism. So what the series race-gender-class obfuscates is the different logic of the political space in the case of class."

Okay - I'm a bit wary of using the panthers as the universal example. But! The black panthers (for e.g.) were not all about promoting harmony - they were about ensuring safety. What about feminist separatist groups? Not all of us are looking for harmony with our oppressors.

Personally, as a trans person and a worker i want a revolution which overthrows capitalism AND gender oppression. For me, these things are interlinked.
I function as a component of capitalism as a buffer for the anger of other oppressed peoples, and as a source of easily exploitable labor under capitalism.

I don't want harmony with the ruling class, I want to promote harmony amongst the working class IN ORDER to overthrow capitalism and grow a society in which doesn't rely on structural identity exploitation to function.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

I agree that that quote is actually quite annoying. I don't remember anti-racist politics and so on being all about peaceful coexistence.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 20, 2012

I took the quote to mean the abolition of class society is through escalating class war, but the abolition of sexist society isn't through escalating sex wars and the abolition of racist society isn't through escalating race wars.

madashell

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by madashell on May 20, 2012

Mmm, but it is just factually wrong though, for instance I don't see anti-racist politics as being simply about the equal validity of all racial identities, but the destruction of race as a category by which we define people, ditto gender and sexuality.

Also Zizek is unbearably smug.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 20, 2012

madashell

Mmm, but it is just factually wrong though, for instance I don't see anti-racist politics as being simply about the equal validity of all racial identities, but the destruction of race as a category by which we define people, ditto gender and sexuality.

Yes, but do you abolish race by aggravating racial tensions?

madashell

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by madashell on May 20, 2012

Joseph Kay

madashell

Mmm, but it is just factually wrong though, for instance I don't see anti-racist politics as being simply about the equal validity of all racial identities, but the destruction of race as a category by which we define people, ditto gender and sexuality.

Yes, but do you abolish race by aggravating racial tensions?

Obviously not, but Zizek doesn't just talk about the means of struggle, he's making a definitive statement about the desired end (""peaceful" coexistence of sexes, religions, ethnic groups"), which is only actually true of reformist anti-racism, feminism, LGBTQ politics, etc.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

Agree with madashell there, it's only true for a certain kind of anti-racism etc.
Hey, but we started out by talking about the lived experience of the class and now we are talking about Zizek. Isn't this part of the problem? That we are comfortable talking about Zizek (I'm not, but other people are) but not about how to deal with people's real situations and real needs?

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 20, 2012

Right, but it doesn't say 'everyone who is against racism is a reformist', it says placing race-sex-class in a series obscures fundamental differences in these relationships when it comes to antagonism. Now Zizek, having rather crude Leninist politics, quite possibly makes this point in order to advance a crude workerism (I dunno; the source text is a critique of liberal multiculturalism hence the swipe at "peaceful coexistence").

But what I'm arguing is that rather than see race-sex-class as a series of oppressions, it's more useful to see class as a social relation with numerous dimensions, and 'economic' struggles (wages, hours), 'political' struggles (for control, freedom), anti-racist struggles and feminist struggles as dimensions of the class struggle. Which both pre-empts the reduction of class to economics, and pre-empts the problem of cross-class identity-based 'communities'.

Afaik the 'race-sex-class' series comes from more radical feminists (not Radical Feminists) trying to reintroduce race and class to a movement dominated by upwardly mobile white women. But the price of that seems to be to have adopted the liberal frames of reference ('individuals are not just disadvantaged by gender, but also class and race'), which is why I think even attempts to use it to critique reformism end up reducing class to a matter of individual privilege (which can be renounced) rather than social antagonism (e.g. bell hooks).

fingers malone

but we started out by talking about the lived experience of the class and now we are talking about Zizek. Isn't this part of the problem?

quite possibly.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

I don't disagree with anything you're saying, but Zizek is critiquing liberal multiculturalism, but you're trying to do something better than that, aren't you? Because Zizek's objective is to be very clever and shocking and get famous, and ours is to change the world.

Joseph Kay

Afaik the 'race-sex-class' series comes from more radical feminists (not Radical Feminists) trying to reintroduce race and class to a movement dominated by upwardly mobile white women. But the price of that seems to be to have adopted the liberal frames of reference ('individuals are not just disadvantaged by gender, but also class and race'), which is why I think even attempts to use it to critique reformism end up reducing class to a matter of individual privilege (which can be renounced) rather than social antagonism

Yes, that's fair enough and goes back to the points you made in the OP.

Look, this is what I'm trying to say.
You don't fight racism with race war and sexism with sex war. Men and white people aren't 'the enemy'. I agree with that.
You don't fight them through cross class reformism and representative community politics. I agree with that.
You can't just wait until after the revolution. I agree with that.
But my question is- the way we do effectively fight racism and sexism as part of the class struggle is..... what? And that's what I think we should talk about, not the opinions of some well paid academic with a stupid beard.

madashell

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by madashell on May 20, 2012

Joseph Kay

Right, but it doesn't say 'everyone who is against racism is a reformist', it says placing race-sex-class in a series obscures fundamental differences in these relationships when it comes to antagonism. Now Zizek, having rather crude Leninist politics, quite possibly makes this point in order to advance a crude workerism (I dunno; the source text is a critique of liberal multiculturalism hence the swipe at "peaceful coexistence").

It's been a while since I read the article that quote comes from, but yeah, crude workerism was how I read it.

Having said that, I pretty much agree with this:

But what I'm arguing is that rather than see race-sex-class as a series of oppressions, it's more useful to see class as a social relation with numerous dimensions, and 'economic' struggles (wages, hours), 'political' struggles (for control, freedom), anti-racist struggles and feminist struggles as dimensions of the class struggle. Which both pre-empts the reduction of class to economics, and pre-empts the problem of cross-class identity-based 'communities'.

So it's a bit of a moot point what Zizek's intent was, really.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

Ok, so, examples of struggles against racism and sexism in real life, good or bad, and what can we learn from them?

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 20, 2012

fingers malone

But my question is- the way we do effectively fight racism and sexism as part of the class struggle is..... what? And that's what I think we should talk about, not the opinions of some well paid academic with a stupid beard.

agreed. some possible ideas:

- researching examples of when the kind of sexist/racist dynamics within struggles you've described have been successfully challenged
- making these more widely known and/or creating resources and training to support people in that situation in future
- understanding things like the current attacks on reproductive freedoms as part of the class offensive against us, and fighting them accordingly wherever we have the power to do so (which might be opposing anti-choice groups, or rioting like fuck if the government changes the law).
- autonomous organisation and discussion either in place of or alongside the main ones (whether that's student assemblies, strike committees, unions, whatever) to actively organise against these problems, pushing the idea it's racism/sexism preventing class unity, not the people complaining about it

fingers, do you think you could expand on some of your experiences with these dynamics and how they were (or weren't) effectively challenged?

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

Oh God.
Errr.... maybe.
Probably be more of the "weren't than the "were" though.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 20, 2012

fingers malone

Oh God.
Errr.... maybe.
Probably be more of the "weren't than the "were" though.

Personally I'd still find that helpful. I don't have much experience with these dynamics in struggles, let alone seeing them challenged (or not - the reasons they weren't would be helpful too). Might help focus conversations on more concrete, practical matters, perhaps thinking what could have been done with hindsight.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

Ok, a relatively easy one to start with.
This was an anti gentrification struggle in London.
The struggle got massive popular support, quite incredible in fact. We were squatting in a building that the tenant had been evicted from, it was a greasy spoon cafe in a gentrifying area, and we were demanding that the building wasn't to become luxury flats iirc. The tenant was involved in the struggle and there had been three big demonstrations previously to stop him being evicted. There was another tenant in a similar position on the other side of the road who was involved, who had a fruit and veg shop.

So, the struggle was massively popular, but was also riddled with contradictions like woodworm. One problem was all kinds of shit behaviour, which was usually ignored if it was carried out by people perceived as "working class locals". The political group involved in organising the occupation were very keen on the participation by working class locals (which obviously was crucial, and was a very good thing) and they felt that ... well I don't know exactly what they felt, really, but if you complained about anything they just massively put you down. They would say that they wanted local people involved and "you can't expect your right on lefty standards here" or something. Shit behaviour included sexual harassment, men sitting around in filth and waiting for women to come and clean it up, chucking their dogends on the floor while you were cleaning, women being literally told to make the tea (I went along once with a friend, a south american chambermaid, and this happened, I went ballistic, and she bravely chipped in saying "we aren't your lady teas" which was almost a good comeback.)Some people were permanently drunk, two sexist blokes had a massive "I am the top dog massive arsehole in this occupation!" "No I am!" hostility thing going on. There was also a lot of racism, although there were quite a few black people involved, and there was an infamous incident when a mate of mine, who was African, came to an event and wasn't allowed in till I went to the door and verified that he was my mate. Apparently it wasn't just because he was black, it was also because he was missing a tooth, so the combination of these two facts meant that he was probably a crackhead.
How were these problems dealt with? They weren't, unfortunately. I went to a meeting and raised the issue of my mate not being let in and was just massively publicly put down. The sexual harassment thing wasn't challenged, so for example a lot of women just stopped staying the night there for quite a while. My mate never came back but he did, quite surprisingly, go to benefit gigs in support for ages, and bring his friends, as he said he still supported the cause.
In the end we were evicted and the place as far as I know is still empty.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 20, 2012

Errr, right, well I've got all that off my chest, now I should get a little bit political I suppose.

When these things happened, with hindsight, I didn't deal with them strategically, for example that horrible meeting I didn't talk to anyone else beforehand and say "back me up!" I just turned up at the meeting and said "Why did you do this?" However, it's also a bit wrong to be too wise after the event about that, someone got treated with racism, I went to the meeting and straightforwardly complained, they wouldn't admit it. That's because they didn't want to. Having the best approach in the world might not have changed that. Re. all the sexism, thing is sometimes there weren't many women involved, and the ones who were might or might not have agreed there was a problem, we could have got together to talk about it, that would at least have been a start, but we didn't. At the time there was so much of a big ideology around "local working class people" that there would probably have been a lot of hostility if we had done that. Also I didn't know a lot of the other women before the occupation so I would have been kinda unsure about suggesting it. It's still probably a good suggestion.

Thing is, the people who behaved really badly would have militantly defended their right to behave like that, and the political group were very very sure they were right about everything, and it would have been pretty tricky to challenge both at once. Also, I genuinely cared about the occupation, and I didn't want to be a "distraction"....

gypsy

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by gypsy on May 20, 2012

cheers for that fingersmalone.

Mike Harman

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Mike Harman on May 21, 2012

I was a member of the political group at the time, and loosely involved with the occupation. I lived the opposite side of Hackney, was mainly there afternoon as opposed to evenings/overnight, and disappeared late Autumn since my daughter was close to being born. I also left the group not long after the occupation finished.

With all those caveats, I didn't notice any of the bad behaviour examples mentioned (although I agree the entire thing was riddled with contradictions), while the only one that actually surprises me is the 'lot of racism'.

I'd be interested to know whether those examples were from the first few or last few months of the occupation or across the whole thing - i.e. whether I missed it while loosely involved, or if things got worse towards the end when I wasn't there to see it anyway.

I should mention people in that political group would definitely put up a lot of resistance to 'lefty' stuff so definitely recognise that general phrasing. I just only saw that applied personally to things like having specific political events in the cafe - but again I may just not have been involved enough to pick up on much of this.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 21, 2012

Thanks for writing.
Maybe it's too strongly worded to say 'lots of racism', there were some incidents, but they affected friends of mine, so I reacted strongly to them and they stuck in my memory.
I was usually around in the evenings after work and not in the afternoons, bad behaviour was more likely in the evening when people had been drinking.
It's a fair question about when in the occupation this was but I don't really know, I remember the things I'm talking about clearly but I don't remember whether they were early or late in the occupation, sorry.
The sexism thing for example, I raised it once with a member of the group, he was totally dismissive, then I didn't say anything to anyone else, so you probably wouldn't have known.
But come on, you must remember some of the guys sitting around chucking their dogends on the floor, they did that consistently for the whole occupation!

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 21, 2012

I think other people should put up some other concrete examples.

becham

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by becham on May 21, 2012

hello i am new user this website but I'm really looking forward to cos this is excellent and really interesting. i am imprised this post

Mike Harman

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Mike Harman on May 21, 2012

But come on, you must remember some of the guys sitting around chucking their dogends on the floor, they did that consistently for the whole occupation!

Hm not specifically but I'd definitely not dispute it either. I vaguely remember doing the washing up once or twice and there being way more cups than there were people actually there at the moment, suggesting they'd built up over some time. I was probably guilty of that some other days as well, since I tend to forget about the existence of cups of tea if I'm in the middle of something else while drinking them. I think I would have noticed the dog-end stuff if someone had done that in the middle of a clean-up, since that's an extra level of anti-social.

On specific examples, I don't have any to hand with organising, but it's worth pointing out that open source software communities often have very similar discussions as these, as well as similar demographics (90% male etc.), and there's quite a bit written on the subject as well. Will dig up some links later since I think there's quite a lot in common between open source groups and political organisations in terms of structural/behavioural issues etc.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 21, 2012

Ok, so in this case there sounds like several issues...

A. Sexist/racist behaviour by participants in the occupation
B. A political organisation willing to turn a blind eye to this
C. Those not being directly effected not noticing these dynamics (assuming Mike Harmann was there when they happened, for the sake of argument)
D. Lack of autonomous organisation (either pre-existing, e.g. a feminist group, or formed ad hoc)

A Is something that will always come up, as these attitudes and behaviours are common. In terms of how to deal with it, the general approach I'd suggest is (1) talk to them privately as an individual or get someone they respect to do so; (2) talk to them privately as a group; (3) raise the issue in a meeting and (4) if all else fails, try to isolate or bypass them. All of these are much harder on your own than with a formal and/or informal group backing you up, so this isn't meant to tell you what you should have done, more what I'd suggest if this came up in a struggle I was involved in. I also mean it constructively - I'm not trying to have a go at whatever group this was. I've definitely been on the wrong side of these dynamics in groups I've been involved in at times too.

The thinking behind the order is to try and minimise the defensive reactions from 'calling someone out', giving them an opportunity to modify their behaviour before raising it formally. I suspect the last step is the most controversial. I'm not talking about going FULL MACHIAVELLI, just trying to minimise the informal power sexists/racists have and/or find workarounds. So if we're dealing with alpha males in a tyranny of structurelessness, this could just mean strengthening formal democratic structures (having an occupation meeting at a set time and frequency etc).

If the majority of the occupation don't see the problem (i.e. isssues B, C and D) this might not work, but an alternative e.g. a women-only room for sleeping might be a (far from ideal) way to minimise sexual harassment without forcing women out of involvement. If women are doing all the cleaning, maybe go on strike. Something like this was threatened in a Sussex occupation iirc and lead to a rota and a load of guilty men chipping in (although I think the women still did more than their fair share iirc; i'd need to confer with others as I was only on the edges of that occupation). It's possible the men would call your bluff and live in squalor I guess, but if done right a cleaning strike could maybe get the non-alpha male types on board against the dickheads and lead to a more egalitarian division of labour.

B is a question of our own organisational cultures. This is something that can be worked on wherever, prior to particular struggles. It's partly a political argument: do we see 'the working class' as this sexist, racist mass over there we have to woo in, and thus see things like anti-sexism and anti-racism as 'middle class niceties' which get in the way of class unity? Or do we rather recognise sexist and racist attitudes as barriers to class unity that need to be actively overcome in the course of struggles? This comes down to the 'we won't wait until after the revolution' stance of most anarchist feminists afaics.

This definitely doesn't have to mean giving patronising 'middle class' lectures; but imho treating 'the working class' as unchallengeably sexist and racist is just as patronising (scare quotes as we're dealing in tautologies here). Rather political organisations should see struggle as a place of potential but not automatic change, and think of ways to support change in that direction (e.g. having resources and/or training for organising alongslide and against these kind of dynamics and working out ways to support people in such situations rather than silencing them in the name of unity). And we shouldn't assume we don't have baggage of our own while doing this, or have all the answers, of course. The standpoint should be 'we're working class participants in this struggle too' (assuming that's the case) as opposed to 'we're the people with the right(-on) ideas, listen to us!'

C is a tricky one as it's basically a wider cultural issue. For obvious reasons, the people on the receiving end of sexism or racism (or other oppressive behavior) are likely to be more sharply aware of it. However, if people 'just don't see it' they may well become allies once it's drawn to their attention. I guess that would depend how it's raised, how obviously problematic the behaviour is and so on. Maybe a bit of social mapping would help; who's actively sexist, passively sexist, neutral, passively anti-sexist, actively anti-sexist, unknown etc (in terms of behaviour, not stated ideology!)? Then come up with an organising strategy (AEIOU, one-on-ones etc) to win people round...

D is something that might be able to support the above. I can't speak for you, but perhaps if there had been an organisation (whether formal or informal) which had done some of the groundwork, had some resources in place and could offer practical and moral support, I'd guess that would have made it easier to stand up to those dynamics (and the relatively powerful individuals involved). Ideally political organisations would be play this role (or revolutionary union initiatives for that matter), but often they don't and are even part of the problem as it sounds like may have been the case here.

So then it falls to autonomous organisation on a feminist/anti-racist basis to play this role. If there's no pre-existing group, it may be possible to create something like an informal committee following the social mapping to organise against sexist and racist dynamics from within the struggle. Obviously this could be done in a way which supports the struggle (e.g. making sure you're all involved enough that critics look like the divisive ones - autonomous organisation will invariably be accused of splitting, separatism, divisiveness, WHAT ABOUT THE MENS? etc).

Ok, that's another long post. But hopefully more practical and less theoretical.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 21, 2012

Mike Harmann

Will dig up some links later since I think there's quite a lot in common between open source groups and political organisations in terms of structural/behavioural issues etc.

that sounds interesting, please do!

Mike Harman

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Mike Harman on May 21, 2012

OK here's a few links.

This presentation is a good general overview, and it's a talk by an actual participant: http://webchick.net/presentations/women-in-open-source-owv-09 (see the 'download video' link). Covers some of the same ground (calling things out, blind spots etc.) on this thread.

I haven't got very far through http://flosspols.org/deliverables/D16HTML/FLOSSPOLS-D16-Gender_Integrated_Report_of_Findings.htm yet, but it's the kind of thing I'm thinking of. 'cos so many businesses/governments/universities use FOSS stuff, there's a reasonable amount of academic study on how it's organised etc. and that includes quite a lot of focus on gender imbalance and possible reasons for it.

For example:

Although it is considered ideal that good code would speak for itself, in reality authors must vociferously defend their work or proposals in order to demonstrate knowledge and develop a reputation as a valuable person. Demonstrating and defending one’s technical proficiency is vital. Sometimes a tiny technical decision results in a discussion consisting of several hundred emails. The discussions tend to become more fierce as they progess.

Sound familiar?

One which isn't related to this thread specifically, but is very interesting in terms of how open source projects are structured and how people enter those structures/end up in leadership positions etc. is http://www2.parc.com/csl/members/nicolas/documents/JCSCW-OSS.pdf

http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/FLOSS has lots more links, including to specific incidents (like people putting nude pics in their presentations to conferences etc.)

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 21, 2012

Joseph Kay

It's partly a political argument: do we see 'the working class' as this sexist, racist mass over there we have to woo in, and thus see things like anti-sexism and anti-racism as 'middle class niceties' which get in the way of class unity? Or do we rather recognise sexist and racist attitudes as barriers to class unity that need to be actively overcome in the course of struggles?

I think this is excellent.

About the practical ideas: got loads to say, maybe tomorrow I'll have a chance.

What about other people chipping in with some examples then?

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 22, 2012

Sorry it's took me a while to come back to this.

The suggestions JK wrote are all solid. Problem is reacting in that kind of way assumes some kind of backup, which you don't always have.
I think unfortunately often when these things happen your first impulse is just going to be to be less involved. Unless it's something very important to you, you are more likely to respond by withdrawing a bit from the situation. Which means that people who might be your supporters are not around as much.
Another problem is that tackling these things can lead to serious amounts of hostility, which has a negative effect on the struggle and personally grinds you down. Not in the example I gave above, but I've seen it happen other places. Some people will be furious at being challenged and confronted.

There's probably less consensus than you think that these problems exist, that they should be dealt with, or that they should be allowed to interfere with real, important politics.

Another problem is that it is amazingly difficult to talk about these things. We're talking about something that happened years ago, that wasn't even that bad really, and I'm actually pretty uncomfortable talking about it.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 22, 2012

Hey I don't mean that comment to sound negative, and the suggestions were all good. Some of them would probably have helped a lot.

And I still think someone else should chip in with some examples.

madashell

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by madashell on May 23, 2012

I can't speak to this particularly well, for various reasons, but I'll give one example of somebody being successfully removed from a space because of his behaviour.

So this particular individual (C) was involved in the Liverpool social centre from the very beginning, he was deeply sexist to the point where several women felt unable to be involved. He did a lot of the DIY around the centre and resented skilled women being involved in it, he expected women to pick up after him and there were a number of occaisions when he was physically violent or threatened to be violent.

He was allowed to stay involved for far longer than he should have been, there were a number of factors in this. He had a few mates involved in the centre who consistently defended him and refused to challenge him, his aggression and refusal to accept responsibility for his behaviour made challenging him individually ineffective, quite a few men involved in the centre didn't recognise his behaviour as sexist, rather than him just being a dick (I'm sorry to say I was guilty of this at times) and he was seen as being a proper working class bloke and some people didn't feel able to challenge him because of this.

Eventually women who were involved in the centre formed a group to deal with this (which still exists to this day as AWOL), they caucussed and fed the discussions back into social centre meetings, where they made it clear that C could not possibly continue to be involved in the centre. It was agreed that C would be barred from the centre altogether, with an agreement that if he made a serious effort to change his behaviour, the ban would be reconsidered after a year. This was about four years ago and he hasn't been seen at the centre since.

A conflict resolution procedure was brought into place so that there would be a formal process for dealing with this sort of stuff, which came into play a couple of years later when another bloke (P) behaved in a similar way. This time the guy was removed much quicker, thanks to both the conflict resolution policy and improvements in the culture of the centre, with everything being done through social centre collective meetings.

After P was kicked out, a safer spaces policy was drawn up, which has been used to challenge people on their behaviour and resolve situations before they get to the point where they have to be banned from the centre.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 23, 2012

That's really interesting madashell.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 24, 2012

I'm trying to write a post about this idea of the proper working class bloke and how it interacts with anti sexism, but I've deleted it three times and I just can't get the words out.
And that was the whole of my lunch break. :(

Nate

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on May 24, 2012

hey fingers, for what it's worth I hope you'll keep trying to get this out. and I'd like to respectfully suggest that you put up the imperfect versions rather than delete them so the rest of us can think along with you. I think working class masculineness is different in the US from the UK but there's similar issues and it's important stuff.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 24, 2012

Thanks Nate.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 25, 2012

It's still not very good but I'm posting it anyway (blame Nate)

There’s a strong connection, culturally, between ideas of working class and ideas of maleness, things like strength, anger, toughness, bravery, connected with certain manual jobs… there isn’t really any equivalent for women and this connection with ideals of maleness means there is an identification of the working class as male.
When there is criticism of sexism, it can be written off as “middle class feminism” and an assumption that the problem is somebody being too easily shocked and having delicate middle class sensibilities, as if working class women have no problems with sexism (maybe real working class women don’t mind?) or as if we are not really part of the working class. There’s an assumption that you are complaining about some behaviour because you are not used to it, rather than that you have grown up with it all your life and are sick of it. It’s seen as maybe true, but minor and not worth alienating working class people over. The working class people who might be alienated by sexism don't feature.
I’ve seen people using these arguments to avoid criticism when they’ve done very serious things.
To be fair, though, maybe there is a genuine problem with politics where too much importance is given to having the right politics in the abstract and using the right words, which people could legitimately get annoyed with. I think at the moment there is an excessive wordiness in politics. However this isn’t particularly worse in feminism than anything else and feminists did some very good critiques of it as well (Sheila Rowbotham for example).

Maybe the problem also is people see it as only two choices, we accept sexist behaviour, or working class people will leave, and they don't want them to leave, so they try to make you accept it. Instead of seeing,as JK said, struggle as a place of potential but not automatic change, and that challenging these things is part of the struggle. Seeing people as unchanging and unchangably sexist for ever is also wrong.

For clarification, I don't think that only working class people are sexist, middle class people are also very very sexist. I'm talking more about people's perceptions of other people than real people in all their complexity.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 25, 2012

thanks for posting that fingers...

We were talking about this in our local a bit, and the discussion came up about how we're always talking about fights, conflict etc. When actually 95% of a typical fight involves talking to people, standing around outside shops, leafleting, meeting. It's pretty rare we actually have to physically defend ourselves or break out of kettles.

Now that's not to say we shouldn't talk about class conflict, nor reduce politics to a language game about which words we use. Neither is it to say women don't like conflict or men do. Rather that we instinctively use words like 'fight' and 'conflict' where 'supporting one another' or 'care' are at least as accurate, and thus frame 'politics' in a socially masculine way (and of course there's also anarchists who take this to the extreme of saying anything that doesn't involve gratuitous aggro, smashing, fire, explosions or violence isn't real politics).

Which leads onto another thing; the practical content of 'politics' and organising are almost opposites. 'Politics' involves grasping the bigger picture, having the right positions and using the correct terminology in quite an abstract way (which is necessary to talk about the big picture to an extent). This is exacerbated by the medium of forum discussion I think. It's a caricature, but one could in principle have excellent politics whilst being a complete introvert who never leaves bed/laptop.

Organising on the other hand is 90% about building and maintaining relationships with real people. It's about getting people to open up about their hopes and fears and listening to them, which can be quite emotional. It's about breaking big problems down into small concrete steps people can take together, and putting names and faces to the abstract impersonal forces which rule our lives.

I think both are needed; politics without organising leads to detached, impotent pontificating; organising without politics makes footsoldiers for reformism. And not everyone has to be some kind of communist übermensch doing everything all the time. But it strikes me that this division is pretty gendered, e.g. women are very under-represented in SF (between 0% and 33% depending on the local afaik), and yet definitely over-represented amongst our most active and effective organisers.

Croy

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Croy on May 25, 2012

Joseph Kay

It's a caricature, but one could in principle have excellent politics whilst being a complete introvert who never leaves bed/laptop.

You have just described me.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 27, 2012

Related: The importance of dealing with Occupy's misogyny problem:

I remember meeting after meeting where the people who talked the loudest and most proceeded to complain about being unheard, when all that had really transpired was people not agreeing with them (freedom of thought and the right to have people agree with you are irreconcilable, so the right to be heard necessarily has to stop there, at the right to speak one's mind).

With hindsight to put the pieces together, a bigger picture emerges. I remember who in particular these people were - male, predominantly white, alienated and resultantly defensive, and at their absolute worst anytime they were confronted by women.

(...) The challenges these men face will not be resolved through conflict with the women around them, but through challenging the social structures that do contribute to their lived experiences of alienation.

fatbongo

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fatbongo on May 30, 2012

You say that people don't first identify as the global proletariat and then take action. However, don't people need some level of idealism or identification with the "working class". Otherwise, you end up with one group of workers seeking to benefit the group they identify with at the expense of another group or workers.

In theory, this class identity arises through struggle But why should a 'privleged' worker not simply identify with their fellow white/male etc workers and strike a deal with capital to maintain their relative advantage.

I suppose what i'me getting at is that there are material benefits to the privelged prole (eg the fact they have to do less shit work for greater rewards)

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 30, 2012

Good point.

This is a problem with the idea of struggle in your own material interests. In the bigger picture, it is in all our interests to overcome divisions within the working class, an injury to one is an injury to all... but in the here and now, some people can definitely meet their material interests better by benefiting at the expense of another group of workers.

Where my mate works, a militant workplace, a few years ago they had a choice between more casualised workers getting proper permanent jobs, or a pay rise for the people at the top of the pay scale, and the permanent workers voted for the second one, and that's what won.

People can also identify in this way when it isn't even in their immediate material interests, due to the strength of ideology. I'm thinking of racism but also anti scrounger workers who want to cut benefits, which will bring down their own wages.

Has anyone else read "Organised labour and the black worker"? I think it's got some of the best examples of exactly this question.

Joseph Kay

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on May 30, 2012

you're right to point out that sectional interests are just as rational as class interests. indeed, so are individual interests, even scabbing. this is why i don't like the idea of 'false consciousness'. there's nothing false about it - if you see yourself as an individual, scabbing is rational; if you see yourself as part of a relatively privileged section of workers, sectional struggles are rational; if you see yourself as part of a global proletariat, full communism is rational.

So i guess identity mediates interests, and identity has the potential (but only the potential) to broaden out in the course of struggles. But generally that will require either active agitation or a really stupid opponent (i.e. indiscriminate victimisation uniting everyone against the boss). So generally it requires active organisation to overcome divisions and challenge hierarchies (whether sectional interests, identity-based, whatever), rather than relying on capitalism to create a unified working class gravedigger.

Fwiw (back into comfy theory territory), something like this was the basis of Malatesta's critique of Monatte's syndicalism, which assumed that simply uniting all the workers was anti-capitalist in itself.

Edit: This is also a very real issue at the moment. where I work 10% of the workforce are being outsourced, and these are amongst the lower-grade staff in a very hierarchic workforce. There's been a lot of talk of united action, but it will take a lot of agitation to turn words into deeds imho. A lot of people can see how if we let them shaft one group of workers then they'll be next, but will that translate into collective action? Certainly not automatically.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on May 30, 2012

Joseph Kay

Edit: This is also a very real issue at the moment. where I work 10% of the workforce are being outsourced, and these are amongst the lower-grade staff in a very hierarchic workforce. There's been a lot of talk of united action, but it will take a lot of agitation to turn words into deeds imho. A lot of people can see how if we let them shaft one group of workers then they'll be next, but will that translate into collective action? Certainly not automatically.

People who are in a slightly better position than someone else often strongly defend that ideologically, they want to see it as right and fair. When I was doing a course years ago, those of us on the dole got our dole plus a tenner (making 46 quid at the time) those under 18 on YTS got 29 quid. In an argument about it I noticed that the ones on full dole all defended it, although we had no reason to. We could have just said, yeah, it's shit, you should have the extra tenner too. But we didn't.

Last round of layoffs at work we did manage to get it on the table that the non-permanent staff should be defended as well, but there was a lot of tension and loads of people didn't like it. I had some conversations with people that were pretty hostile, which was uncomfortable as they were my friends, but they resented being asked to make a stand for us. It was a major change for the better, don't get me wrong, and we got two unanimous votes for action over it, but people weren't unreservedly happy about it.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 5, 2012

I looked for some concrete struggles, this one, the Burnsall dispute, is very interesting. It was a strike In Smethwick, 1992-93 in a metal finishing factory. It was partly an equal pay dispute but mainly about health and safety issues. A woman miscarried after asking not to lift metal pieces and to be moved to lighter tasks and being refused. The strikers were members of the GMB and were mostly Punjabi speaking women. The strike went on for 54 weeks and received a lot of community support, but it was defeated. The company recruited scabs, helped by the jobcentre, which forced unemployed people to take jobs there. Workers at most companies which Burnsall supplied wouldn’t boycott Burnsall goods.
The end of the dispute:
“In May 1993 a scab who had been hired at Burnsall only that day attacked with a knife a young male striker on the picket, who later underwent emergency surgery for partially severed fingers. The union featured this vicious assault in a four-page leaflet calling for solidarity, distributed at all the unionised factories that do business with Burnsall. After 26 days without a single response to the leaflet, the union officials
came to the conclusion that the strike was over. They argued that if other trade unionists were not going to take solidarity action for a fellow trade unionist mutilated on an official picket line, then they were unlikely to take action whatever further appeals were made. Other trade unions argued that they were unable to provide more substantial and effective support unless they were officially asked by the GMB;
however, such action on the GMB's part would be seen to be unlawful. The GMB union officials had no further initiatives to propose, saw no prospect of victory, and
recommended calling off the picketing. After a three hour meeting with the strikers the strike was called off. It had lasted for just over one year.”
John Wrench and Satnam Virdee, Organising the Unorganised

baboon

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by baboon on June 5, 2012

On finger's report above:

There's no denying the militancy of the workers involved in Burnsalls - and other strikes of the time - but the context is also important. 1992/3 saw massive attacks against the working class in Britain with large scale redundancies in the state and private sector. The working class were getting hammered.

There were a lot of similar strikes to Burnsalls, ie, long drawn out affairs that remained isolated despite some solidarity which were gradually strangled into ignominious and demoralising defeat.
Arrowsmiths print works at Bristol was another such long drawn out strike. Deliberately provoked by the management, when it refused to implement a national pay deal, it was turned, like the others, into a strike for "workers' rights" or "union rights" and set piece confrontations with the police. Even the new TUC boss came to the picket line to give it his blessing and all this upheld by the SWP and other varieties of leftism cajoling the workers to "keep fighting". In essence these strikes were beaten by their length and isolation which were very similar to many strikes in the 80s where the bourgeoisie would spend more on isolating, dragging out and repressing than it would cost to settle.

Similar strike to Burnsall at the time were Timex and Middlebrook Mushrooms whose length didn't stop the unions putting the boot in at the end of them.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 5, 2012

The source quoted above has a lot of interesting things to say about the Indian Workers Association, a group which was heavily involved in supporting the dispute and had major bust ups with the GMB, who didn't want them involved.

The IWA were calling for mass pickets and for disregarding the anti union laws, saying that the dispute couldn't be won otherwise. There was massive mutual acrimony between the union and the IWA at the end of the strike.

Interestingly the article suggests that, although the IWA were a lot more radical than the GMB, they were also patronising and paternalistic to the mainly women strikers.

Some sources quoted say that this wasn't a dispute like Imperial Typewriters or Red Scar Mill, where the union was actively collaborating and racist towards the workers. According to them the GMB in this case was very active and gave the strikers a lot of support within the boundaries of the anti union laws.

Burnsall seems to me similar to a lot of disputes going on at the time: the dockers, Magnet, Timex...they were all disputes that went on for many months, sometimes over a year and were militant, with a lot of support, but didn't win. My gut feeling about why the dispute was defeated is that it was more than anything part of this early nineties series of defeats in the class struggle. The new laws meant that methods that worked before (mass picketing, solidarity strike action, boycotting goods) were unlawful now and no-one knew any strategy to get round this. The attitude of other workers to a dispute was also changing, with a weakening of class solidarity.

To clarify, I don't remember this dispute from the time, although I was involved with some of the others, so everything above is from reading, not from personal knowledge.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 5, 2012

cross posted with baboon

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 5, 2012

I'm going to write something in a minute about Imperial Typewriters, as that definitely was about racism within the trade union movement.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 7, 2012

Long post. Some strikes by Asian workers in the 70s, examples of workplace struggles that were fighting racism.

Red Scar Mill in Preston 1965. The strike was started by Asian workers because they were being forced to work more machines for less pay than white workers, with the collusion of white workers and the union.
Coneygre Foundry in Tipton 1967. The strike was over racism against workers in being selected for redundancy. The TGWU would not make the strike official and the AUFW supported the white workers who crossed the picket line. Eventually the strike was successful and workers were reinstated.
Mansfield Hosiery in Loughborough 1972. All the workers on the lowest pay, the bar loaders, were Asian. They struck for a pay rise, which the white workers joined, but went back to work after a week. They also demanded to be trained as knitters, a better paid job. All the knitters were white at the time. The white workers struck against Asians being trained as knitters. The bar loaders struck against a new deal put forward by the management. After occupying the union offices (the NUHKW) they got their strike made official and got a victory of thirty knitters’ jobs reserved for Asian workers.
Imperial Typewriters in Leicester 1974. There were 400 workers on strike. The strike started over workers being ripped off over bonuses, which were being calculated fraudulently. There were also issues of white workers being given preference for promotion and women paid eighteen pounds per week while men were paid twenty five. One of the biggest demands was for the election, not appointment, of shop stewards. The workers were met with racism from their white co workers and from T&G union officials and the National Front organised counter demos.
Two years later the Leicester and Hull Imperial Typewriter factories were closed down.
“When Littons [the US multinational that owned the factory] decided to close its two UK factories in 1974, the Leicester plant put up no resistance, while the Hull workers occupied their factory in an attempt to save their jobs. The Leicester workforce, weakened and demoralised by racist divisions, was in no position to fight back over the closure, and black and white workers alike lost their jobs.” (CIS Report 1976)

Spikymike

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on June 7, 2012

Perhaps it has to be accepted that, as we are starting to witness now, it is only the depth and geographical extent of the capitalist economic crisis which can provide the necessary background conditions for initially separate and localised struggles to extend over time into a generalised and more unified class based response. This still requires of course the active political agitation of organised class conscious militants to argue against the counteracting forces of isolation and dispersion of struggle. That doesn't however mean making abstract calls for class unity but recognising the practical need for self-organisation and the assertion of power in confrontation between different groups of workers in the course of struggle. (Workers addressing each other collectively and directly from a position of strength rather than weakness if you get my drift).

For the record the group I was involved with back in the 70's wrote about most of the small disputes referred to here including that at Hull Imperial Typwriters where I was living at the time. That dispute failed partly for the reasons mentioned of racist divisions but also as a result of other sectional, localism and political divisions (many with their roots in specific material conditions). It's worth mentioning in this context the different economic situations in Hull and Leicester with Hull, as now, being a particular 'unemployment blackspot'.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 7, 2012

Hey, Spikymike, post us up more about that, please!

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 7, 2012

Spikymike

That doesn't however mean making abstract calls for class unity but recognising the practical need for self-organisation and the assertion of power in confrontation between different groups of workers in the course of struggle..

Can you say a bit more about this Spikymike?

Spikymike

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on June 7, 2012

fingers,

Firstly there are two short articles on the Timex and Burnstall's s disputes under the 'Subversion' heading at:

http://forworkerspower.wordpress.com/

Unfortunately the Imperial Typwriters article is not included and I don't have the facility to post it up from the original.

PS - I'm not claiming these articles were particularly brilliant.

Regarding my comment on not approaching struggle with 'abstract calls for unity....' etc I mean that in a situation where the working class is materially stratified and divided in a whole variety of different ways overcomming those divisions requires those with less power to self organise and confront those with more power and certainly not wait on, or depend on, any level of majority support accross any particular divisions before acting. Building unity in struggle is not just about the intelectual understanding of long term common interests but a process of negotiation, 'give and take' and building respect based on strength. I recall this kind of discussion being significant in the past when considering the relationship between unemployed 'job seekers' and the civil service workers who administer benefits during the anti-JSA campaign in Britain, but it is obviously relevant in situations where minority etnic workers are being discriminated against by an unholy alliance of 'white' workers, unions and bosses. As a more extreme example, though I'm not an advocate of violence as a badge of militancy, clearly some struggles will practically advance, in part at least, only if workers are prepared for it's use in some confrontational circumstances.

Not sure if that helps? I don't think I'm saying anything particularly significant here for what it's worth.

baboon

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by baboon on June 7, 2012

Yes, what exactly does that mean Spikey?

Another example to be added to finger's list is the 20 odd month long Grunwick strike of mostly Asian women in a photographic processing plant. A militant strike against harsh and racist conditions it saw massive support and solidarity from white workers (quite a movement really) including miners, postal workers and London dockers (some of whom had followed Enoch Powell earlier). Sometimes there were thousands of workers on the picket line and the solidarity action of the local postal workers could have brought the company to its knees. But this was another set-piece that was ultimately defeated by the unions who agreed that the postal workers's action was "illegal" (ie, effective) and the union's role in reducing the effectiveness of the picket lines. The stalinist controlled unions of the 60s and the early 70s were, like the trade unions generally in Britain, racist. But in order to have some credibility in places like Grunwicks - and other examples that fingers gives - it was necessary to be more "multi-cultural", up to the point of pushing a black man forward to head the TUC.

I think that despite the examples of solidarity and militancy expressed by the struggles above one thing that we do have to recognise is that the long drawn out isolated strike is not a useful weapon for the class struggle and instead favours the ruling class. Rather than workers being cajoled and encouraged to "fight to the bitter end" there are practical steps that could be taken at the beginning of any strike by the workers themselves to spread the movement and there are no recipes in this respect that can be applied in advance. But the long drawn out strike leads to demoralisation, isolation and the strengthening of the forces of the state.

fingers malone

12 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 7, 2012

Spikymike

fingers,
Building unity in struggle is not just about the intelectual understanding of long term common interests but a process of negotiation, 'give and take' and building respect based on strength.

What you're saying here is very relevant and to the point, mate.

Two things spring to mind.
Firstly, if you are the ones with less power, it's pretty common that the ones with more power just ignore you, or walk all over you. Now if you can get enough unity and militancy amongst the workers in your position, and there's enough of you, you can force people to have to take account of your demands, Mansfield Hosiery for example, the Asian workers struck twice and they got results. But I think that it would often be extremely difficult for people to be able to force a change.
Secondly I think people can easily develop mutual resentment based on previous betrayals that means they don't support each other in future struggles.

syndicalistcat

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalistcat on June 26, 2012

Excellent blog joseph.

at the end it seems to me you leave it as a quandary, not posing a solution. the working class is a very large, very heterogeneous mass of people where various sub-groups have a worse situation than others for the sorts of reasons you mention...racism, gender inequality, homophobia, skill/educational differences, income differences, etc.

people learn about the world bit by bit, fact by fact, experience by experience. so it's natural that awareness of oppression arises first in regard to the oppression(s) one experiences. so a group of workers may come together and develop collective struggle against their employer, recognizing the assaults to their dignity, their exploitation. but they may conceive of this as a struggle against this employer, not generalizing it to a critique of the system, or they may conceive of the "us" as just their co-workers, or people who look like them.

historically in the USA the dominant union ideology which accepts capitalism & the imperialism of the federal state and just looks to modifications in the furniture in our cages developed back in the 19th century. and racism was then a key roadblock that made it hard for the early white male unions to think of a movement of the actual working class as a whole...as this would mean solidarity with immigrants and blacks.

and then this early pattern got sort of cemented via the increasingly repressive legal labor regime built since World War 2.

so only rarely has worker action broken out of the sectoral limits of a fight with a particular employer or industry. and this tends to limit the worker consciousness, of "us"...as the mindset tends to be shaped by the actual struggles that unfold & what people find they need to do to have an effective chance in that situation.

this type of labor movement was the background to the retreat from class in the social movements that arose out of the '60s/70s era.

to get around this problem it seems to me the key thing is for people who start out with an understanding of their own oppression in a particular situation where they are entering into struggles & actions to somehow also gain an understanding of the other forms of oppression that folks face. this is the process of working people developing a better understanding of the situation of the class as a whole, by understanding the oppressions of the various groups that make up the class. for example via alliances where feasible.

it seems to me that when a particular group of men are acting in a sexist manner, they are failing to understand the situation that women face in society, that is, the limits on their freedom...such as implicitly regarding their time as less important when it is assumed they will do all the cleaning up.

in the Marxist education of my youth we always used the term "class formation" to refer to the process of workers developing more of a mindset where they do come to oppose all the various oppressions that are suffered by the groups making up the class, as well as coming to oppose the system as such, aspiring to liberate themselves from it. I'm not sure if the Marxist autonomist term "class composition" has the same meaning or not. the discussion here sort of suggests it might.

anyway i would envision this in terms of an ideal of a grassroots social movement unionism that is overtly anti-sexist and anti-racist for example. If the slogan "an injury to one is an injury to all" is to be made real, then the injuries of any oppressed group can't be ignored. Thus saying that "unity" means avoiding gender & racial inequality issues fails to understand what class solidarity really would be.

"classism" seems to be used two different ways here in the USA I think. there are the liberals, like the NGO Class Action, who use it to mean prejudice against working class people. I think bell hooks, who also uses that term, meant to refer to the actual structure of class domination. Zizek's explanation of the difference between class & gender & race i find very obscure and not illuminating. It's possible to conceive of gender inequality being eliminated under capitalism i suppose (but it won't happen in fact), but not with elimination of class domination (since it's inherent to the capital relation). But I'm not sure what the practical implication of that is.

one last point. You write:

do we see
'the working class' as this sexist, racist mass over there we have to woo in, and thus see things
like anti-sexism and anti-racism as 'middle class niceties' which get in the way of class unity?

I just want to point out that this rhetorical question assumes that "working class"=white guys. This is an assumption we need to avoid.

Joseph Kay

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 26, 2012

just on that last point, that's the point i was trying to make, i.e. to show how how for example saying feminism or anti-racism puts off 'the workers' presumes 'the workers' to be white males. this can be avoided by seeing class struggles as not just 'economic'/anti-exploitation but also political/social/anti-oppression.

rushing out in a bit, but also 'class formation' is probably similar to class composition. the latter includes a more cyclical schema (phases of decomposition/recomposition) and distinction between technical and political composition too. i might be wrong, but i think class composition is a specific way of theorising class formation in general.

syndicalistcat

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalistcat on June 26, 2012

just on that last point, that's the point i was trying to make, i.e. to show how how for example saying feminism or anti-racism puts off 'the workers' presumes 'the workers' to be white males. this can be avoided by seeing class struggles as not just 'economic'/anti-exploitation but also political/social/anti-oppression.

okay but the oppression of workers in the workplace includes race & gender oppression, as with things like sexual harassment at work...a traditional mechanism used to drive women out of certain kinds of work. this was one of the practices that led to creation of female job ghettos. just as class power spreads throughout the society, so too does gender & racial inequality exist in the workplace. and this brings in a key area where bridging those divides can be worked at in workplace struggles. here in the USA at any rate a common practice among workplace organizers is to do mapping of the workplace to figure out all the various groups & networks, to try to find people from all the groups to participate on an initial organizing committee, and finding out what the beefs are of the various groups.

i would be interested to know what technical & political class composition are.

fingers malone

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 26, 2012

JK's agreeing with that, not disagreeing with it.

We've often found it very difficult to bring those kind of things up in organising meetings, there is a feeling that you are causing division when you are in the middle of a big battle with the management, a fear that you will bring massive animosity on yourself, and also be called crazy.

At work I wouldn't say that we've ever successfully brought it up at all actually.

syndicalistcat

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalistcat on June 27, 2012

what kind of diversity exists in the workforce in such situations? i was thinking more of getting people to voice their own beefs and concerns.

to take an example, in the construction industry in New York City racism has always been a problem. in the old days the unions were job trusts who recommended membership & jobs to relatives and friends who looked like themselves. it was racist de facto.

Once blacks & Latinos broke the job trust thru the "Coalitions" in the '70s through active shape up (invading job sites and demanding that contractors hire black & latin workers), a situation then evolved where the union leaders allowed the companies to have certain "regular" employees who weren't hired through the hiring hall. they were always white guys and they got the regular employment. women & blacks & Latinos were relegated to more irregular employment thru the hiring hall. Here a demand might be for all jobs to go thru the hiring hall.

Joseph Kay

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 27, 2012

i'm a bit rusty, and i'm getting most of this from Steve Wright's book Storming Heaven, which I've been planning to re-read for ages, but iirc...

Technical class composition refers to the division of labour (including productive/reproductive), the organisation of the labour process, the social structures (families etc) and the sectoral composition (manufacturing, services etc) of the working class at a given time and place.

According to the autonomists (I think this originates with Tronti/Negri and the Quaderni Rossi journal), each technical class composition in time gives rise to a political recomposition, where workers find forms of organisation/self-organisation adequate to the conditions and thus form a political/antagonistic subject that imposes itself on capital.

Insofar as this doesn't lead to a revolutionary rupture, capital is forced to respond with changes to the technical class composition (e.g. off-shoring industry, changes to the labour process, recuperating organs of struggle into mediating roles), which in turn undermines the basis of that particular political class composition ('political decomposition'). This whole thing would be a 'cycle of struggle', which then repeats itself as workers recompose themselves politically under new conditions and force capital to react again.

I think this is a useful way to think about various oppressions, the challenging of which can be seen as part of the process of political recomposition (creating class unity), rather than barriers to it. E.g. Riots against police racism or feminist struggles for reproductive freedom (or indeed struggles against workplace harassment) are parts of the class developing adequate means of struggle under present conditions just as casualised workers getting organised is. The extent to which various struggles develop power and link up is an index of political recomposition. Like I say, I need to go back and re-read the relevant autonomist stuff before fleshing this out as I might be mis-remembering aspects of it.

syndicalistcat

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalistcat on June 27, 2012

I think that is WAY too deterministic. but it doesn't surprise me for Negri. there is simply no such automatic relationship between the objective situation and the mindset within the class.

Joseph Kay

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 27, 2012

tbh i'd read something other than my hurried recollections of a book I read 5 years ago before passing judgement. from what i remember it was aimed against determinism, the Operaist groups had a practice of workplace organisation and agitation which suggests they didn't see political recomposition as an automatic process. but like I say my autonomism's a bit rusty.

syndicalistcat

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalistcat on June 27, 2012

even so, it shows that "class composition" is not the same as "class formation." Class formation is all about becoming a class for itself, "forming" itself to realize its own interests. the subjective as opposed to objective side of class. using "class composition" for both invites confusion.

fingers malone

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by fingers malone on June 27, 2012

syndicalistcat

what kind of diversity exists in the workforce in such situations? i was thinking more of getting people to voice their own beefs and concerns.

Well, yeah, I was too. My workplace is pretty diverse I guess. what I was trying to say is that although there are a lot of women and black people working there, and involved in organising, they/we don't tend to feel able to raise those kinds of concerns.

Joseph Kay

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on June 27, 2012

syndicalistcat

Class formation is all about becoming a class for itself, "forming" itself to realize its own interests. the subjective as opposed to objective side of class.

tbh, that sounds like 'political recomposition' (autonomist marxism is usually reproached for one-sided subjectivism, not objectivism!). but like I say I'd base a critique on something more solid than my paraphrases from memory. Steve Wright's book is pretty good iirc.

Nate

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on June 27, 2012

Depending on who is using the terms and how 'class formation' and 'class composition' are synonyms. They're terms from different traditions that are for dealing with a similar range of problems.

In case aanyone cares, slightly longer definition of class composition here, something I wrote for a glossary of a book edited by a friend. http://crashcourse666.wordpress.com/2006/04/25/is-the-glossatariat/

The class composition stuff was a big deal for me personally for a long time but it's not stuff I'm real into anymore. It is worth reading though (and Steve Wright's book is very good). Unfortunately there's a lot that's not in English, and a lot of what is in English tends to treat the term in a singular way when most of it was actually a subject of disagreement. As in, different people used the terms class composition, political composition, technical composition, etc in different ways and there were political stakes to those uses. Negri by far is the most translated person related to all this and he tends to talk and get talked about like he's summed up past debates, when I'm sure other people would sum up those debates very differently. Unfortunately the mini-boom in autonomist marxism has mostly led to some philosophical writing about the present and not much in the way of translations of material from the 1960s and 70s in Italy.

Here is a thing with my notes on how Sandro Mezzadra presents the intellectual history of 'class composition' analysis in the Italian New Left as well as a bunch of links to different pieces where people have picked up these terms and run with them in a variety of ways - http://crashcourse666.wordpress.com/2005/11/21/is-class-composition/

syndicalistcat

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by syndicalistcat on June 27, 2012

thanks nate for the link to your little piece. but it just re-inforces my sense that that outlook is very dubious. Stalinism was characterized by an implausibly deterministic interpretation of historical materialism, and this may infect the outlook of the Italian far left of that era.

Nate

12 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Nate on June 27, 2012

Well, to reiterate JK's point, it's probly best to actually read some of the work in question or one of the decent secondary sources (Wright's book is the best, Cleaver's Reading Capital Politically is good as well) before drawing too much of a judgment about it based on some quickly dashed off commentary on the internet. I just put that up to be like "here's where the terms come from as I understand them." And like I said I think it's probly best to approach that material as a set of disagreements rather than as all of a piece. There are big problems with strains of thought in that era, but it's just false to suggest that the Italian New Left per se was deterministic. This is getting quite far afield from JK's post so I'll leave off here.

Mike Harman

6 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Mike Harman on November 14, 2017

fingers malone

John Wrench and Satnam Virdee, Organising the Unorganised

Now in the library: https://libcom.org/library/organising-unorganised-race-poor-work-trade-unions (and a handful of articles on the Burnsall strike now https://libcom.org/tags/1992-burnsall-strike)