WORKING CLASS SUBJECTIVITY, RICHARD WRIGHT, CLR JAMES

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Mon Feb 5 10:22:58 MST 1996


The response to Jerry's call for the discussion of working class
subjectivity has in short order already become so voluminous that
my echo of encouragement is hardly needed at this point.  Many of
us have discussed this matter privately and now we have something
constructive to discuss publicly.  I have little to say now but
shall follow this discussion enthusiastically.  For now I'll just
toss in a few stray remarks.

1.  The characterization of Negri's views here only increases my
distrust and aversion.  Please keep explaining Negri so that I
need not waste my time reading him.

2.  The question of subjectivity is one question to which we owe
an enormous debt to the Hegelian tradition.  My own aversion to
idealism kept me from exploring this tradition for the longest
time, but there is no reason that materialists can't profit from
and incorporate this tradition.  Marx himself did this, and also
acknowledged the role of subjectivity, beginning with cognition,
when he recognized that the idealist tradition dealt insightfully
with the problem of cognition in ways the materialist tradition
did not.

3.  The problem of subjectivity is not just a matter for fussy
intellectual snobs, though it is not hard to understand why they
would make this terrain their own.  The question of subjectivity
is at the heart of the ideological struggle against Stalinism,
i.e. against knuckle-dragging knuckleheads like Shawgi Tell.  My
model for the recognition of subjectivity is not Sartre but
Richard Wright.  Wright was not a theorist in exactly the same
sense as his buddies Sartre or C.L.R. James, but in his own
empirical American way he was grappling with the same issues, with
an even greater sense of urgency.  Wright also remarks in his
novel THE OUTSIDER (1953) that he is out to preserve and protect
the notion of subjectivity and thus fight Stalinism.  Needless to
say, such conception of subjectivity is not a subjectivist one,
floating in idealist air.  I think one will generally learn more
about this issue by reading novelists than philosophers anyway,
but still it is the task of philosophy to transcend specific
contexts and formulate the problem in terms of abstract systematic
concepts.

4.  For those who don't know, Phil Romano and the Facing Reality
group pertain to the work of C.L.R. James, labelled "Johnsonism"
and the "Johnson-Forest Tendency" in the 1940s.  This group
covered everything, from Hegel to the study of shopfloor
activity.


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