[Marxism] Re David Roediger on Slavery

Josh Saxe joshsaxe at gmail.com
Fri Nov 25 22:28:37 MST 2005

"Just last night I flipped a
piece of his across the room after reading that "people are never just
one thing" (i.e.) workers-- and that they will tell you they are
"Elvis impersonators, low riders,  crossdressers" and a host of other
identities to numerous to recall. He invoked the young Marx's critique
of the stultifiying effects on the human person of being reduced to
simply a "laborer." This wouldn't be so bad, but it's hard to read it
in context other than as a variant of the 'in the final analysis class
is unavoidable but in the meanwhile we ought to do our damndest to
junk the concept.' "

I don't understand your critique.  Isn't that absolutely true, that
the main thing about people's identities at least in the U.S. and
probably throughout the world is _not_ their class position?  Are
there many non-political people you know who if you asked them, "Who
are you, really?" would say, "I'm a worker" or "I'm a middle-class
professional" before saying "I'm Mexican," "I'm a punk-rocker," or
"I'm a Christian?"  This stuff is important to really grapple with -
because in many cases people, in talking about "I'm a Pentecostal
Christian" in opposition to mainline Protestant denominations, are in
a fuzzy way discussing class, or in discussing race, are at least in
certain ways discussing class, or in discussing music choices are
discussing attitudes to the existing power structure.  But it's only
once we recognize that take seriously the ways in which people think
of themselves in the world that we can talk to people about that stuff
and show them the ways in which they are already in some ways thinking
about class.

It's a whole different thing to talk about objective relationships to
consumption and production in the world system in terms of how
important class is.  Then I don't think David Roedigger or any other
materialist would dispute that class exists objectively, ubiquitously.
 But even then other categories like race and gender and even sexual
orientation structure one's relationship to the means of subsistence
and production.  In L.A. poor and working class post-op transsexuals
find it very hard to find a job and thus are often reduced to selling
themselves on the street - something far from ephemeral - and hiring
networks in the service economy lead to the fact that being Mexican
and being rooted in the Mexican community leads one to certain kinds
of work in certain labor markets, to take one example.

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