Lucha No Feik Club
(October 26, 2016)
Originally published by Théorie Communiste as «Classe/segmentation/racisation. Notes». Translated from the French by LNFC, with substantial revisions by Ross Wolfe. I can’t take credit for the majority of this translation, as I worked from the one posted by the Lucha No Feik Club. Nevertheless, I found this translation almost unreadable, and so decided to go over it again with my (admittedly quite poor) French and make some modifications. Right now it’s probably still unreadable, but hopefully a little less so. Just to point out some of my own edits, and give a sense of my reasons for making them, a few words might be added here. For example, I changed chosifiée from “thingified” to “reified.” Undoubtedly the former is used from time to time, but it comes across here as clunky and inelegant. Also, I rendered face à face as “faceoff,” rather than the dreadfully literal “face-to-face.” Various other minor corrections were made, some of them slight oversights. Part of the problem is in the original text, however, as there are a couple places where there are word-for-word repetitions of entire sentences. These were no doubt unintentional, and have been excised from the present version.
As regards the content, I am quite interested in seeing how Théorie Communiste relates the phenomenon of “racialization” [racisation] to the structural logic of capital and its historic unfolding. Clearly, the article takes race to be a more arbitrary construction than gender. Gender is rooted in the sexual division of labor within the oikos, wherein the family is the fundamental economic unit. There are more biological determinants for gender, at least initially. Some of this is sketched out in another short article published by Théorie Communiste, “Uterus vs. Melanin,” which as yet remains untranslated. However, while race is more recent and based on accidental features, it is no less real than gender. Théorie Communiste locates racialization within the segmentation of the workforce, where superficial distinctions such as skin color and difficulties of communication (multiple languages, etc.) become markers of difference. Denial of these differences, in the name of some normative ideal of what class should be, is sharply criticized for ignoring the segmented reality of socialized labor. Loren Goldner put this quite nicely a while back, when he wrote that “the ‘colorblind’ Marxism of many left communist currents — a proletarian is a proletarian is a proletarian — is simply… blind Marxism.”
Of course, race does not operate everywhere uniformly. It doesn’t always fall along a color spectrum running from “white” to “black.” To be sure, the legacy of racialized slavery in the United States overshadows most other historical determinations of race. But xenophobia toward various poor immigrant groups — the Irish in the 1850s, the Chinese in the early 1900s, Italians in the 1920s-1930s, Latinos today — also plays a major role. Paranoia about Islam also informs a great deal of the hateful rhetoric we’ve seen spouted against refugees since 2001. Antisemitism is less pronounced in the United States than in continental Europe, certainly, but it’s not altogether unknown. Racial dynamics work themselves out a bit differently in France, with its history of colonialism. However, I’m heartened to read that Théorie Communiste has no patience for the reactionary politics of race peddled by groups like the Parti des indigènes de la République and its leader, Houria Bouteldja. Roughly two years ago I criticized the cultural relativism of this particular group, which pervades decolonial discourse in general, its “tactical homophobia” and “latent antisemitism” (as the following article puts it). Later I reposted an excellent piece written by Malika Amaouche, Yasmine Kateb, and Léa Nicolas-Teboul.. «Classe/segmentation/racisation» lambastes the PIR, who Théorie Communiste calls the “entrepreneurs of racialization.” I don’t blame Bouteldja et al. for pursuing this enterprise, though; someone had to tap the market left untouched by Bloc Identitaire.
There has always been segmentation within labor power. We must take it, then, as an objective determination of labor power under capital that naturally leads to a division of labor. Here we have nothing more than a divide between a homogeneous material and a simple quantitative gradation of the value of labor power. (Both simple and complex work undergo a kind of osmosis within the capitalist mode of production, from the generalized constraint of surplus labor to specialized labor under cooperative management, etc.). However, this segmentation would not be so if it were not but a qualitative divide within an otherwise homogeneous material. Two processes intervene as they weave together: On the one hand the capitalist mode of production is global, capable of appropriating and destroying all other modes of production while conserving for itself the characteristics of those it has redefined. On the other hand the value of labor power represents a moral, cultural, and historical component. Since capitalist exploitation is universal — i.e., because capital can take over other modes of production or make them coexist alongside it, exploit labor power together with those other modes or detach them from their former existential conditions — capitalism is thus an historical construction that brings about the coexistence of all the different strata of history in a single moment. Segmentation is not merely “manipulation.” It exists as the voluntary activity of the capitalist class and its professional ideologues, which forms and animates an objective process, a structural determination of the mode of production.
If the working class has always been segmented, it is still necessary to contextualize this segmentation. That is to say, it must be situated in the general form of the contradiction between proletariat and capital within a given cycle of struggles. Without this, the opposition to identities — identities wrongly associated with communities — would be solely normative. Even if we were to confer great circumstantial importance on this segmentation, its being lies elsewhere, within a purity that is either accessible or not. We do not escape the mutually exclusive opposition to identities simply by pitting what is against what should be.
Regarding the relation between segmentation and racialization [racisation], there exist two unilateral stances facing one another. According to the first, materialism boils down to reducing identity to its foundation — without taking its effectiveness or its logic into account. The second, equally materialist stance buttresses itself on a refusal to consider the facts. It says that if racial identity is reduced in toto to its foundation, it’s nothing but an arbitrary [volontaire] and detrimental construct. Hence, those who turn it into an object merely divide the class and promote barbarism. (I’m hardly distorting their position). What always escapes both of these stances is the question of ideology, which is not a reflection [of the base] but an ensemble of practical and believable responses. Beneath these operate certain practices. Identity comes into being wherever there is a separation and autonomization of a proper sphere of activity. Each identity or ideology — in the sense of the term employed here — has its own history and modus operandi, which can be ascertained with reference to the practices operating beneath the ideology in question. Identity is therefore an essentialization which defines an individual as a subject.
A normative denial of racialized segmentation does not seek contradictions within that which exists, but is rather content to position itself in contradiction to that which exists: class against its segmentation, without considering that class only exists within this segmentation (i.e., within the contradiction of proletariat and capital that provides for its reproduction). Normative opposition to the real segmentation of the proletariat leads to an ideological eclipse of this reality — something the Parti des indigènes de la République [PIR] does inversely, in its own way. Continue reading