Leo on identity politics, again

jwalker jwalker at email.unc.edu
Wed Aug 9 10:17:28 MDT 1995


I agree with much of your recent post.  I think you're right to assert
the legitimacy and necessity of approaches to politics that take
seriously bases for identity such as race and gender.  And I *believe*
you think class, in the Marxist sense, is an important dimension
of political analysis and action as well.

But I'm not sure how to understand this quote:

Leo: "I think we need tojettison as unhelpful the old base-superstructure
assumption that there isfirst an objective determination of social class
status (the worker isexploited) and then a subsequent subjective coming
to consciousness (themoment of truth when he understands "I am a worker
and I am exploited." Ameaningful class politics will inquire
into the discursive construction ofthe identity "worker" in order to
intervene in it and advance it."

I'm interested in the idea, which Jim put forth in a recent post, that
there's something more objective about class status than, say, racial
status.  Whether that's true or not, I'd have said it's an objective fact
what (Marxist) class someone belongs to -- they stand in a certain
relation to the means of production.  If they are workers who
sell their labor-power, so that surplus value is extracted from them and
appropriated by those who own the means of production, then it's another
objective fact that they are exploited in the technical Marxist sense of
the term.  And then there's the separate question how they
conceive of themselves -- whether they are conscious or not of these
objective facts about their class status, etc.

So I guess I like the assumption you say we need to jettison.  What's
wrong with it?

On false consciousness: what's false is not people's seeing (identifying)
themselves as members of (for example) an ethnic group.  The social
reality in our country is that such membership matters, a lot.  Instead
what's false is my students failing to see themselves as
members of particular economic classes.  The official denial of economic
class (and the myth of the "middle class") in the US is, I think, a myth
which gets perpetuated because it serves the interests of capital.

John D. Walker
jwalker at email.unc.edu

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