Note from some correspondence, trying to get clear on what I think.

I’m not quite sure what the link is but I’m sure that somehow this stuff ties to those Thompson quotes I like, about direct economic satisfaction and about the reduction of people to a narrowly defined economic.

I’m not sure how important the waged workplace is or not in a big picture sense. Workplace organizing is really important to me personally, and I’m not sure of its important beyond that. I will say, I think the waged workplace is sorely neglected today, so I think it’s particularly important for us now today in building up the movement we want to see, but that’s different from its important in revolution or in capitalism. So I think above all I’m committed to a sort of syndicalism in practice regardless of the theory or analysis, because it’s so much not what most people are doing.

I’m also committed to the primacy of the economic under capitalism (and the primacy of capitalism as the problem we should orient to), within which the workplace is important but it’s much larger than the workplace and the issues are much bigger than what many people tend to talk about as ‘economic issues’.

To my mind the most important bit in marxism are the analysis of surplus value extraction, which is a process more than a thing, at variety of levels (differing geographic scope, differing temporal scope, differing amount of detail etc). There are a lot of hard/complicated cases about how people as individuals relate to these processes – a subcontractor in the construction industry who works alongside his three employees, for instance, and is subject to command
by another higher contractor – and the division into classes sort of invites elevating hard cases to a level of universality. So over all at a theoretical level I think ‘working class’ mostly just means ‘surplus value producers’ and ‘capitalist class’ means ‘those who own and continue surplus value’ and a lot of individuals are in vague spots. I don’t think clarifying structural positions is all that useful so much as being clear on the processes and forms of power we
reject. So this is partly about a demand that people attend to the ways surplus value production and accumulation writ large – so, production, distribution, consumption, reproduction of labor power, and the various disciplinary mechanisms built in to/functional for all that – constrain people’s lives. So my impulse is to say that it’s less class that matters here than a solidly marxist understanding of capitalism (I think sometimes the term ‘class’ muddies things because
the concepts are asymetrical – class meaning “those who sell their labor power or live from wages earned by other sellers of labor power” is different from class in a more sociological sense, and the common term can sometimes paper over larger more important disagreements I
think.)

Related:
Some notes on what class means, in notes on an argument
about Selma James here –
http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2006/11/30/356/

the relevant bit for this would is “There are at least two definitions of class usable here. One is simply a differential or hierarchical position in the application of violence. The other is a differential or hiearchical position in the distribution of surplus labor. (If one sees the imposition of surplus labor as a form of violence, then the distinction collapses. I do see the imposition of surplus labor as a form of violence, but I want to retain the distinction, because the imposition of surplus labor is a specific form of violence [ie, it is not violence as such but a mode of violence], one which is historically accompanied by – produced by and productive of – other forms of violence.)”

excerpt from comment number 1 at this blog post, an essay criticizing some god awful Althusserian article –
http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2008/01/03/is-the-end-of-capitalism/

“There are at least four possible perspectives which take class as
primary. I will call them:

1. The strong determinist version

2. The identitarian version

3. The weak determinant version

4. The power analysis version.

(…)

The power analysis version of the primacy of class takes the economy
as the primacy expression of power in capitalist society. In that
sense, then, class struggle is the most important power struggle
because success in the class struggle impacts a greater number of
social processes and power struggles than any other. This version
amounts to the view that class is primary in that class struggle is
the most important political project in the present. That is, most
important project is the abolition of class via struggle at the
economic base. This was Gramsci’s view, and Althusser’s view. (…)
This is why both remained involved in the Communist Party and the
labor movement during their lifetimes, to the exclusion of involvement
in other causes.

Class processes are the primary form which processes of power take in
capitalist society, such that class struggle is not merely one form of
struggle among others. This was Marx’s view as well, though Marx, at
least in the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of
Right, overstated this point. Marx held that the working class “has
radical chains.” This means that the working class’s grievance against
capitalism “has a universal character because its sufferings are
universal, and which does not claim a particular redress because the
wrong which is done to it is not a particular wrong, but wrong in
general.” The class “claims no traditional status but only a human
status.” The class is thus “totally opposed” to all forms of
oppression or power process. This means that the working class “cannot
emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres
of society, without, therefore, emancipating all these other spheres”
(Marx-Engels Reader, 64).

Radical here means “to grasp things by the root” (Marx-Engels Reader,
60). For Marx, “radical chains” are chains which are, so to speak,
chained the root of all forms of social inequality and oppression.
Thus, the severing of radical chains will sever all forms of chaining
of human beings. The proletariat’s severing of its chains will sever
all chains. In other words, Marx held that the end of the class
process or class processes will end all forms of power processes, or
at least all forms of undesirable power processes.

This is an overstatement on Marx’s part. There is no reason why the
end of class will end all other forms of oppression or undesirable
power process. If class is abolished it is entirely possible that
racism, sexism, homophobia, and other contradictions or reactionary
ideas and practices will still exist. The important point remains,
however, that these other contradictions or power processes will not,
however, have any economic expression. In that sense, class can still
be held to be primary.

If class is abolished via the abolition of capitalism, abolition of
the appropriation of surplus labor, much of the teeth of other
contradictions will be abolished. Gaybashing, racist violence, sexual
assault, domestic violence and other atrocities may all still exist in
post-capitalist society. There will not, however, be economic power
present which serves to reinforce them. Companies will no longer be
able to decide whether or not gay partners shall be covered on the
company insurance plan, because healthcare will be provided to all.
Racists will not be able to appeal to the lie of immigrants lowering
wages, because wages will not exist. Abusive partners will not be able
to use their partners’ economic dependence on them to trap the partner
in the violent relationship. Employers and privileged employees will
not be able to use their power in the workplace to provide them with
the power to inflict sexual harassment with impunity upon those below
them in the workplace hierarchy, because the institution of the waged
workplace will not exist.

Any preferential/discriminatory practices in hiring, firing, wage
levels, housing, access to healthcare, or other forms of inequality in
the distribution of means of subsistence will not exist after
capitalism is abolished. This is the meaning of the slogan Marx liked,
describing communism as “From each according to his ability, to each
according to his need!” (Marx-Engels Reader, 531). There may well
still be contradictions, reactionary ideas and practices remaining
after the abolition of capitalism. These will need to be dealt with.
With the end of capitalism, there will be more resources available for
education to erode some of the bases for reactionary ideas. In
addition, because we will no longer be having so much of our time
stolen by the capitalist class’s forcing of surplus labor upon us, we
will all have more time available to support those victimized by
reactionaries and more time to deal in the requisite fashion with
reactionaries.”

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