[...] the corpus of Marx’s writings [...] excels in problematizing that which we experience as our sensory and intellectual ecosystem, namely what he once termed capitalism’s “religion of everyday life”. The image of our social life as a problem, whose lines of solution are to be conjured and cajoled out of its conflicts and blind-spots, its lacunae and contradictions, but also by reading against the grain the stories our society tells about itself, remains indispensable. We need to reactivate the networks of concepts Marx forged to elucidate the capitalism of his age, but we also need – in these stupefying and grotesque times – his capacity for satire, polemic, for the painstaking labour of division that makes a true politics of association possible.
[...] the present moment has greater potential for a revitalisation of a Marxist research open to the unpostponable demands of the present, to the imperative of a problematizing practice that cannot presuppose it already has all the analytical tools at its disposal, as though Marx’s restless, multifarious and unfinished writings provided some kind of secure and comforting canon. The lesson that Stuart Hall drew from Gramsci in the 1980s remains relevant: ‘Gramsci … came face to face with the revolutionary character of history itself. When a conjuncture unrolls, there is no “going back”. History shifts gears. The terrain changes. You are in a new moment. You have to attend, “violently”, with all the “pessimism of the intellect” at your command, to the “discipline of the conjuncture”.’ What we have to ask then is not whether readings of Marx are open, heterodox or heretical – as though these were values in themselves – but whether they subject themselves to the ‘discipline of the conjuncture’, and if that means jettisoning, mutating or demoting certain aspects of Marx’s work, so be it (let’s not forget Marx wasn’t so precious about his own concepts as to cherish them for their own sake). Shining the flickering light of the present onto the corpus of Marx’s writings has brought into relief aspects of his thought that might in other moments have seemed secondary. [...]
wish i could write like this omg
[...] it is important to learn how to discern the classed and anti-capitalist dimensions of what is sometimes misconceived reductively as ‘identity politics’. After all, how could the political movements and militant theorising of those whose labour and lives have been confiscated, devalued and ‘primitively’ accumulated through gendered and racialized exploitation not concern class understood in its most crucial, which is to say its relational dimension? If start from class as a relation rather than class as an identity (an identity that would allow us to demarcate, as too many Marxists beginning with Marx have done, a good working class from bad lumpen, free from forced labourers, etc.) then we can begin to attend to the invisible ‘iceberg’ of exploitation (to borrow Maria Mies’s characterisation of the role of ‘women, nature and colonies’ in capitalist accumulation, recently revisited and revitalised by Jason W. Moore) which lends class determination its full weight. Ironically, as I already suggested, beginning with a more orthodox, even dogmatic definition of class (relation to the means of production, etc.) would today perforce lead one to recognise how the working class, globally conceived, but also in the so-called ‘North’, is anything but a white, male redoubt. None of this is to ignore that a focus on identity (including in a narcissistic-individual sense) to the detriment of collective experiences of exploitation and antagonism remains an ideological problem, that liberal (or even reactionary) reflexes inhabit us all to varying degrees. But I think that to reproduce this dichotomy – class politics versus identity politics – is not only to freeze the necessary internal debates in the left into the sterile terrain of 1980s skirmishes around postmodernism, but to conceal all the ways in which political and theoretical work across the twentieth century had already dismantled it. Stuart Hall et al.’s turn to the language of experience and mediation in their landmark Policing the Crisis is very instructive in this regard, when, in speaking of the Black British proletariat they write: “racial oppression was the specific mediation through which this class experienced its material and cultural conditions of life, and hence race formed the central mode through which the self-consciousness of the class stratum could be constructed”. Analogous if not identical arguments could be made in terms of gender or sexuality.
[...] Marx’s famous 1852 letter to Weydemeyer (put to illuminating use in Andrea Cavalletti’s acute essay on class, which I’m currently editing), where he clearly states that it was not he who invented the concept of class, but rather bourgeois historians – and that his contribution was rather to historicize class, to envisage the dictatorship of the proletariat, and to posit the revolutionary abolition of class. In other words, there is nothing particularly Marxian or Marxist about reference to class, nor indeed about the idea of class politics, and thus nothing contradictory or unusual about a reactionary politics that uses class as one of its chief signifiers (the history of fascisms and related political and ideological formations teaches as much). With this proviso in mind, there are a multiplicity of non-exclusive responses to this predicament: one can engage in the work of sociological demystification and undermine this inconsistent entity (i.e. ‘the forgotten white working class’); one can explore the historical and material grounds that lead particular sections of workers to develop passionate attachments to their ethno-racialised class identities; one can agitate among the targets of these reactionary discourses; above all perhaps one can foreground the fact that exploitation and exclusion (or indeed social ‘forgetting’) disproportionately affect the non-white working class. All of this without underestimating the depressing allure of the ‘psychological wages’ of whiteness that DuBois wrote about in Black Reconstruction, which remind one that any kind of ‘class unity’ or ‘solidarity’ is a very precarious product of political work and not some underlying and secure ground which is merely obfuscated by capitalist brainwashing, liberal ideology or, indeed, ‘identity politics’.