My thoughts developed around a dialogue with my friend Ralph Dumain about Reed's article on nonsite.org.
In my query to what he thought, Raph briefly replied that
"I have mixed feelings about this: I understand the general picture, and the issue of popular political ideology, but this seems too weak to grapple with the particularity of the problem and the nationwide terrorism against minorities, though it needs to be emphasized that this is a major manifestation of the class genocide now under way.
It seems to me that while poor whites have always been victimized as well, the racism is more direct with the police than simply being a byproduct of other disparities. Also, a class analysis would include the socialization of the personality types that choose a crappy career such as that of police officer."
- This prompted my following thoughts, related to how I am conceptualizing race, class, and gender in relation to capital. These are provisional formulations, so I especially welcome feedback. I have made some significant edits, so this is more of a third draft. -
Agreed on both counts. There is a lack of seriousness about the "authoritarian personality" (Adorno really nails this) that not only conducts this violence, but that justifies it (the whites who cravenly defend and even cheer on the cops and the obvious pleasure taken in the action of the police.) Especially in the face of what Trump has not so much stirred up, but has given presidential
The revanchist rage of the present around race, gender, and class is not about white supremacy, male supremacy or class entitlement, but the crisis of the expected supremacy and entitlement as complicated moments of the crisis of capital (what Moishe Postone has in a recent interview called the contradictory shearing forces of capital in the present.) In other words, the efficacy of being on the "winning" end of the race and gender relation for those on the "losing but still legitimate" end of the class relation has been seriously undermined because the class relation is itself in increasing crisis. - Again, following on Moishe Postone's comments, crisis does not mean a necessity of collapse, but like an asymptotic curve the crisis comes closer and closer to collapse without ever reaching it, and in the process intensifies those shearing forces as it comes closer to 0.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding of the way in which legality, the status of being a subject of the law and thus a citizen and a legal person, rather than an object of the law and thus neither a citizen nor a person, both constitutes and is constituted by racialization. In fact, class and gender as well cannot be grasped without such consideration, since all are moments of the constitution of labor in the relation of labor to capital, and thus also of capital to labor. It is not just a matter of 'racist' ideology any more than class is a matter of 'classist' ideology. The exchange relation of the worker is not only an inherently legal relation but a law constituting relation, a relating of two individuals as two property owners engaging in a contract governed by law and enforced by the state, constituting the personhood of both parties as subjects of the law. To be in the relation of labor to capital where there is no exchange, e.g. slavery or non-potentiality as labor, is to be in a legally abject relation to capital and thus to the state. The racial relation is fundamentally another moment of the relation of labor and capital, grounded in the specific constitution of freely exchanged versus unfreely exchanged labor, which both exist within the production process, no longer as persons but merely as variable capital, in the total cycle of capital. This split occurs within the constitution of forms of law or recht pertaining to the constitution of individuals as persons, that is as subjects of the law, or as property, that is as objects of the law through which other persons achieve their legal status as persons. Pace Hegel's Philosophy of Right, in the racialized universe of capital then not only is the class relation of freely exchanged labor an action between two parties now legally constituted as persons as the owners of property (in the case of the wage-laborer, they have Lockean property in themselves), but those racialized as non-persons and objects of the law are the property of persons and/or the state, and thus the negative of persons, thereby constituting an essential determination of persons. Thus to threaten the racial relation is a way in which to threaten the personhood of those whose personhood only exists in exchange relations, but is always-already negated within the process of production wherein all labor, free or unfree in exchange, is reduced to variable capital, that is, to a moment of capital's subjectivity with the loss of our own as mere objective moment.
The "black race" in this country was constituted as one pole of the racial relation constituted through unfree labor, as non-persons because they were objects of the law with no ownership even of their own capacity to labor (as Locke would say, they were treated as not having property in themselves, which Locke found unacceptable and formed the ground of his rejection of slavery.) Unable to engage in the free exchange of their labor, and therefore where they, not their labor, was the commodity and thus the property of another, they were denied standing before the law as subjects and thus as legal persons. The end of slavery did not end this relation, as the place of labor racialized as black has remained largely within an unfree condition, from virtual indentured servitude in agriculture and personal servitude as household servants of whites and legally explicit political and social segregation in the Jim Crow South to the use of incarceration and racialized hiring and housing practices, and de facto political and social segregation in the North, provided a wide scope for maintaining effectively unfree forms of labor. This same process found its legal expression in the ongoing refusal of legal recognition of people racialized as "black" as much as it enshrined personhood and legal subjectivity as "white", creating the situation in which the abolition of race would amount to the abolition of the personhood of whites and their self-identification with the law and lawfulness as such. The power of this racialization post-slavery made itself felt as early as the Great Strike of 1877, in which white workers in St. Louis were convinced to return to work in no small part through being shamed by local politicians and newspapers for acting like (inherently) lawless blacks, albeit in uglier terms. Time and again in the history of working class struggles, this appeal will be made with more or less effective force, alongside the primitive accumulation of capital for small-property-holding "whites" by the theft of "black" individuals' property and redistribution of it to "whites", as in the Populist Movement, where the promise to take black farmers' property from them and redistribute a portion of it to poor white farmers helped break the movement in the South. This action is predicated on the idea that those racialized as black are inherently not persons and as such not entitled to property, unlike those racialized as white, which is itself the process of racialization in action.
Africa, as the centerpiece in the development of capital globally as the source of unfree labor, has continued to this day to bear the burden of a global racialization, including in the dependence of the highest tech industries on slave-labor conditions of raw materials extraction in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A second element of racialization is not merely those destined for unfree labor, but those deemed unfit for labor or unincorporable, typically the various indigenous populations, who are then slated for genocide. The various American Indian peoples of North and South America, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the Zulu in Southern Africa, and others form this other element of those not only with no property in themselves, but deemed also incapable of being property or exiting as an impediment to the appropriation of new property, typically of land to be turned into a commodity. Such a status not only involves a refusal of recognition as persons, but even as potentially variable capital. Such persons are reduced to the status of mere elements of nature, wild animals to be culled in order to make way for progress. This very attitude continues to this day, as evidenced in the struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in which all means are allowed, all state and corporate violence is acceptable, and the destruction and desecration of holy ground, having already taken place in order to erase the material proof of the claims of the Standing Rock Sioux, is justified on the basis of the rights of 'productive' property and its convenience.
If there seemed to be a moment when the needs of capital for labor were so great that Southern segregation became an impediment on the labor market, thus garnering significant white elite support for desegregation and at least formal, legal equalization (which was genuinely a problem for capital insofar as it still garnered distinct benefits from the unfree labor of those it racialized as black, and is what so-called black people have always intuitively grasped as an important struggle for their own liberation), it was also the end of the expansion of wage labor (especially in the production of the means of production, ye olde Department 1 of Marx' reproduction schemas) thanks to the dramatic spread of microelectronics, chemical and biological engineering, and other methods of generalizing the automation of living labor, which has not been merely a tectonic shift from living to dead labor, but of the direct application of scientific knowledge to this process so that the workers who remain cannot even comprehend the production process as a mechanization of their own skills and consciousness. The expulsion of labor power from the global market has caused not merely a shift of "black" labor from unfree to unwanted, and thus subject to intensified mass incarceration, but of much of the "white" working class' labor becoming redundant and/or servile (low-waged and unproductive vis-a-vis valorization.) That is, the panic-inducing slide of many "whites" towards the position of "blacks", as unfree (albeit largely through a new kind of debt entrapment) or as only casually employable (labor qua class is always contingent, but there was the assumption that capital needed a growing amount of free laborers who were largely superior to unfree labor for all but the most miserable work, not shockingly frequently in agriculture and mining, as well as personal servitude, and that race in some sense secured the difference between who was contingent relative to this or that job and who was contingent to wage labor as such), forms the backbone of the current revival and intensity of racialism. It is, as I noted earlier, not a white supremacy, but a fear-driven panic over white supremacy's loss of efficacy, a drive to reclaim a stability and "needed-ness". The current racism, like the retrograde movements in gender relations, reflects a crisis of the coherence of race, not the strength of racialization.
From that point of view, anti-racism and anti-sexism actually do miss the point as they want to also build a politics on identities that are in crisis, and whose position is also slipping into worse states in the process. Identity politics is itself an adjustment to the crisis of capital (typically referred to as neoliberalism, a confusing term not least because many people take it as referring to a new kind of "liberal", a weaker, guiltier, more self-involved person as opposed to "progressives", "radicals", etc., rather than to a new market liberalism in which all people should be subordinated to the imperatives of the market as individuals and subject to its dictates and their ability to meet them.) For identity politics is a branding exercise of our marketable particularity which necessarily rejects the Enlightenment abstraction of a common humanity. Often drawing on the fascist Heidegger for its critique of "humanism", it rejects universality as a brutalizing abstraction in favor of an "authenticity" (again, taken from Heidegger) of particular identities. The most sophisticated expression of this current is "intersectionality", which attempts to wrestle with the aporias of identity thinking from within identity itself in order ultimately to preserve particularity and immediacy against universality and abstraction. Here it is important to note that fleeing from all abstraction into a supposedly immediate, concrete particularity is to pretend that the reigning abstraction, capital, does not exist, and to pretend that capital does not exist in one of the first and foremost injunctions of neoliberal theory. One of the aporias, after all, of identity theory is that identity is always an abstraction from every other aspect of an individual. This is where intersectionality attempts to layer or weave identities together in order to understand that a black woman is not just a (heterosexual) black man mixed with a (heterosexual) white woman, but it does not posit the inherent falseness of race, gender, sexuality, but merely reproduces their dimporphism and undigested dualisms. Rather, it wants to produce a more nuanced identity, a kind of production of infinite identities, just as today every scholarly compartmentalization of fields of study has really collapsed into an infinite number of sub-fields in a proliferation of brands, actually a process of generating brandings through which one can market oneself, whether politically or academically. Intersectionality both complicates and naturalizes identity in a "safe for neoliberalism" fashion by also excluding the hidden universality of capital and the universality contained in the struggle against race, gender, class, sexuality, in fact against all identitarianism, that is, that all have to be a struggle against capital without somehow imagining that any one of them is privileged in the order of domination.
Insofar as the total cycle of reproduction of capital depends, has always depended on, labor as free and unfree, value-producing and labor power-reproducing, not only does the crisis of capital undermine the class relation (turning the contingency of any particular labor but the necessity of labor as such into the contingency of labor as such, thus turning proletariat into precariat), it also threatens to feminize and negro-ize (for lack of a better term to express the racial panic of so-called whites) the white man (or rather men as such and whites as such, as all of these relations are experienced as both singular identities and inextricably intertwined, bound together in the hidden universal of capital.) Thus the hysterical reassertion of whiteness and masculinity in the age of actual increasing equalization of duties in the public and private sphere between men and women in all aspects except sex (and here I would argue the explosion of the porn industry and the hypersexualization of femininity is not merely about Internet accessibility, but tied to the way in which sex and sexual reproduction, both as making babies and making happy, becomes the singularly defining marker of gender dimorphism, of the distinction between man and woman. It sure as shit isn't nearly as much about who does the dishes or watches the kids or takes out the garbage or does the laundry or brings home an income! in the space of consumptive reproduction and the reproduction of labor power, a panicked, violently enforced hypersexualization is the only barrier to de-gendering.)
To come back to race, it is also complicated by the fact that while global capitalism has always been dependent on unfree labor and the making unfree of specific groups, the way that racialization itself played out is very complicated and does not appear universally present geo-politically (unlike class or gender), but always as specific and territorial, even. However the racial dynamic of unfree labor has always been necessary for global capital at the level of its universal expansion as self-valorization. For example, if the racial other to Europe seemed largely vis-a-vis colonialism, that is, a kind of Other 'out there', and thus only some outcome of colonialism (a particular moment, like imperialism, against the universality capital), at least until after WWI or even WWII with mass immigration into Europe of peoples from Africa and the Middle East, the racial other was present inside, say, Germany, in its relation to the Slavic peoples on its Eastern and Southern borders whom it sought to literally enslave. The case may be most evident and familiar to Americans however in reference to England, as religio-racialization of the Irish began in the early development of agrarian capitalism unique in England. The particular forms of this settler-state racialization and its extension into Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the United States of America may give an indication as to why formerly English colonies have been especially brutal racially, but in no way can we say that racialization was unique to those places. Racialization is built into the constitution of capital through unfree labor time as also validly variable capital in the valorization of value and the constitution of social relations as legal relations vis-a-vis exchange and the production of individuals as persons and subjects of law or as objects and property.