CLR JAMES, SOCIAL BEING, TOTALITY, RACE

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Wed Mar 15 15:14:50 MST 1995


>There is a huge tendency, and CLR James is a large part of it
>these days, to want to simply turn around "social being
>determines consciousness" and make it "and also consciousness
>determines social being".

Say what?  How is CLR James part of such tendency?  No way.
Perhaps you are thinking of the some of the cultural studies
people now appropriating James.  But James was an old-fashioned if
unusual Marxist.  He most certainly did believe that being
determines consciousness.  He was rather old fashioned in the
sense that he believed that workers brought together into common
association under the capitalist-industrial mode of production
exhibited cetain characteristics and dispositions becuase of their
social being.  As for my part in this, I don't think I gave anyone
cause to believe that either James or I turned the
begin-consciousness relation upside down.

Other matters: TOTALITY

>Totality:  I am influenced by Jameson's definition of totality
>as the mode of production, a definition which I believe must
>draw from world systems theory

Sorry if I am deflecting the discussion from its original
framework, but there is another way of looking at totality
philosophically, eg. by thinking of it as "concrete totality" or
simply the concrete.  Your definition of totality means
"totalizing", ie. the actual state of or process of the world
capitalist system subsuming the entire social complex under its
logic.  People who don't like totalizing, esp. the pomos, of
course, equate "totalizing" in theory with totalism or
totalitarianism in practice.  But another way of looking at
totality is in terms of the concrete whole, which according to
Marx, can only be reconstructed conceptually by means of
abstraction.  To comprehend the capitalist mode of production
conceptually in terms of the decisive general abstract relations
explaining capitalist societies is not a form of reductionism; it
leaves open the possibility that the social concrete is not
exhausted thereby, but that successive layers of abstractions must
be applied to reintegrate conceptually the inseparable connections
within the concrete totality that have been filtered out in the
process of abstraction.  Such a concept of totality is the direct
opposite of the usual accusations of theoretical totalitarianism.

>Rather it means something more nearly like totality = white
>supremacist capitalist patriarchy

In other words, this is a concretization of the character of the
capitalist system with decisive features factored in.

>if I choose to do anti-racist work on the ground it is because I
>don't believe the socialist revolution is happening in my
>lifetime

I think bringing this into the discussion is a red herring, as it
assumes the old saw that the recognition of the primacy of class
inherently implies that one should struggle for general class
issues subordinating all others or that one must hold a specific
struggle (say the black struggle) hostage to larger coalitions.
So many people assume this is the case and nobody challenges this
presumption.  I think it is baloney.  I am sure now that other
people assumed it of me when I made those sarcastic remarks about
the new social movements.  My point is this: nothing exists in
general, but only in particular, but whatever segment or aspect of
society that becomes your focus out of necessity or choice, you
can't understand even that without understanding how it fits into
the class system.  It doesn't even have to be a prima facie class
issue, but the structure of the problem as well as of the movement
is going to be tinctured with the structure of the class system as
a whole:  the laws, the courts, the employers, business and
corporations, the class interests of the movement leaders vs. rank
and file, etc.  This is so obvious to me I thought it didn't bear
mentioning, but I should realize now that one man's obvious
banalities is another man's Bhaskar.

By now, the race issue is so interpenetrated by the class issue
they are virtually indistinguishable, as opposed to the days of
apartheid.  You can't do a damn thing about racism in 1995 without
implicating the entire class system, and that's why race is the
best place to start, because blacks are being exterminated by the
reactionaries at a much more devastating level than the rest of
the working class destined to follow them into starvation,
homelessness, prison, and death row.


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