CLR JAMES, SOCIAL BEING, TOTALITY, RACE

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Mar 16 20:36:50 MST 1995


>I'm not sure what you mean by the "concrete whole".

I don't think I pursued my train of thought to a conclusion.  I
started out by distinguishing two notions of totality: (1) the
process of totalization, or the subsumption of all aspects of
human living under the logic of capitalism, without indicating
whether such a totalization process should be considered
exhaustive or completely successful or not; (2) a logical concept
of concrete totality, which simply means the real concrete which
is conceptually grasped by successive approximations, for example,
by abstracting out the decisive general relations of the
capitalist system first of all, and then refactoring in cultural,
religious, psychological elements, etc., to create a more
concretized picture of the social totality.  A question I left
open, other than whether the concrete can be fully grasped
conceptually, is whether the concrete totality (in the second
sense) is really a single, coherent, fully integrated totality in
which everything is interrelated and causally coheres.  Another
way of saying this is: is the totalization process of the
capitalist system fully operant in everything  that happens in
human existence in a given society at a given time, or is there
something that escapes the system, in which case the notion of
concrete totality refers to the state of the concrete as a whole
but allowing for some gaps in interconnections or integrality
amongst the phenomena abstracted out of the (physically)
indivisible concrete.  I'm trying not to be obscure, but this is
the best I can do right now.  I have not thought out these
questions to their conclusion.  I wanted to allow for other
considerations besides equating totality with totalization.

>That's why I use Sartrean terminology (learned primarily from
>reading Jameson) regarding totalization as an abstracting
>process, and totality as the unreachable, but scientifically
>necessary, systematization.

It seems now you are using your conception of "totalization" not
the way I thought you were using it, but in the way I wanted to
use it, as a process of approximation by way of successive
abstractions to reach the (concrete) totality of the phenomenon
being analyzed.  Totalization as an abstracting process is fine by
me, as long as one acknowledges its possible limits, as you do.
The other notion of totalization, as the logic of the social
system itself, is OK so long as it is not confused with the
abstracting process, and as long as one recognizes that objective
totalizing may not be 100% possible either.

>As for CLR JAmes:

>I think a reading of *Black Jacobins* which discussed the notion
>that consciousness determines social being is feasible, but
>perhaps it would be inappropriate.

You would have to point out the text that supports such
feasability (though you don't believe it either), but I don't see
how James would support the notion that consciousness determines
being.  Is somebody else interpreting James that way, as you
alluded?

>I do know that, as someone whose been pretty deep into pan-
>Africanism, I have found Du Bois and Fanon of much greater
>ongoing use than James.

I'm afraid I don't understand the meaning of your statement.  Why
are you into pan-Africanism?  As a focus of historical study?  As
a political philosophy to be pursued in 1995?  To what end is
DuBois and Fanon more useful than James?  Your statement makes no
sense without specification: of ongoing use to what?

I cannot see how pan-Africanism could be of the slightest use as a
political ideology in 1995.  Nkrumah wanted to unite Africa into
one powerful functional unit and that was a pipe dream.  Is that
what you want?  Or some other goal?  Or are you a black
nationalist?

Now if one wants to talk about the usefulness of these three
people as historians, I would think James is useful as DuBois is.
I don't know enough about Fanon -- I didn't know he was a
historian.

James of course was involved in Pan-Africanism simultaneously with
his Trotskyism in the 1930s.  He saw no contradiction nor did he
wring his hands over the dichotomies which exercise other people.
To be a Marxist supporting world revolution and to be supporting
the African freedom struggle in particular was not a contradiction
to James (rather the opposite), nor does it imply any essential
nationalism on his part.  One could also look at James's advocacy
of an autonomous Afro-American political movement from 1939
through the 1940s: it was NOT advocacy of "black nationalism", ie.
black separatism.  (Trotskyists have been falsifying James's
position for decades.)

For the record, I think that in 1995, black nationalism = black
fascism, and every black nationalist should be lined up against a
wall and shot.  The world would be a better place for it.


     --- from list marxism at lists.village.virginia.edu ---

     ------------------



More information about the Marxism mailing list