Communal (Re: Class, w/relation to
Women’s Oppression) As a kind of stop-gap measure, i think i need to pass on some of my notes on several subjects, beginning with the subject of “class” and its relevance to the (origins of) oppression and exploitation of women.
My tendency has been to believe that my notes and thinking on these and other subjects isn’t ready to share, because i’m still so far behind in my study, thinking, and writing of “complete” or “worthy” pieces.
For example, i’ve long had the idea to do something like an “New Afrikan Communist primer” on the subjects of political economy, dialectical and historical materialism–but i’m still studying, searching for the source materials, etc., because i want such work to begin with discussion of dialectics and materialism in “traditional” Afrikan thought systems (e.g., Book Twelve, p.25, and reference to “the unmoved mover’). The same reasoning applies to “Part Two” of Book Nine. i think i’m gonna change my approach, and this scribe is the first example.
Even tho i haven’t “exhausted” my study of, say, the origins of the oppression of women, that doesn’t prevent me from sharing my notes and thoughts with comrads–as i think about it now, this reluctance to share has contributed to our collective uneven development, even depriving you all of points of departure for your own studies.
As for the subject of “class,” our first and probably most extensive published discussion was in Book One, p.19 (also see: Book Two, pps. 22-27; Book Five, pps. 2, 15, 20, 21; Book Seven, pps. 35 and 37).
Now, as a New Afrikan Communist, or, as anyone wanting to approach the subject critically, how do i begin my study of “class”? i certainly don’t wanna approach it in a doctrinaire way, nor do i wanna write on the subject as most others do, having “learned by rote,” and not having adopted a critical, and/or “revolutionary nationalist” perspective. Here is how one New Afrikan began his piece on “Classes In the Black Liberation Movement”:
Before we analyze classes in the black liberation movement, the question, “What are classes?” should be answered first: Classes are groups of people primarily distinguished by their place in the historically determined system of production. (The Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy.)
This New Afrikan–and his source–are correct up to a point. That is, they fail to list all of the criteria for “class,” and thus only give a superficial, one-sided definition. If you begin your analysis of classes on such a base, it can’t help but be incorrect. We’ll come back, but first let’s move to another example:
…society has large groups of people of special category, and it is only through the study of these groups that we can cognize the laws of social development. These groups are known as social classes. They emerged owing to the social division of labor at the moment when private ownership of the means of production became a reality. It was private property that split society into the rich and the poor, the exploiters and the exploited. (ABC of Social and Political Knowledge: What Are Classes and the Class Struggle?, p.23).
i must stop here, to point out how “NAC thought” begins to make its departure from “vulgar Marxism,” and where the relevance of the (origins of) oppression and exploitation of women must begin to stand at the center of our vision–as well as an example of the kind of further study that i feel i need before i seriously write on these subjects.
i don’t doubt that We need to study “classes” in order to grasp the laws of social development, to understand the nation’s social structure, and to begin to fashion a vision of the kind of new society that We want, and how to chart a path to it. However, We must be critical even of the sources from which We adapt tools of analysis, i.e., of “orthodox Marxism.” We must question, and re-analyze, concepts such as the “social division of labor” (esp. re: to the character or form that such a division originally took); We must take a critical re-view of the manner & character/form of the origin of “private property” and the kind of split in society that it caused. “Orthodox Marxism” implies that “the rich” and “the poor”, “the exploited” and “the exploiters” were the “first” classes, and that each of them included males and females. Well, what if the first “social division of labor” was actually a division between males and females? What if the first exploited class was women, and the first class of exploiters were men? What if “orthodox Marxism” is not only “eurocentric” but sexist as well? (See Book Nine, esp. pps. 16-21.)
So, why do We say, “For it’s own sake, and because of the historic and continuing relationship between the oppression and exploitation of women, and the rise and perpetuation of class exploitation, capitalism & colonialism, the NACOC places special emphasis upon opposing all forms of gender-based oppression, and upon upholding and promoting the full emancipation of women and their rightful participation in the collective mastery of society”?
Let s move ahead a bit
The path leading to the classless society [Marx maintained] lies through the proletariat’s class struggle-against all forms of oppression, for establishing its power in society created to protect the interests of all working people. Marx and Engels saw the working class as the main social force which is capable eliminating the capitalist system and creating a new, classless Society free of exploitation…(ABC, p.24)
If i were writing a New Afrikan Communist “primer” on classes and the class struggle, i certainly wouldn’t start with–and may exclude altogether–a passage such as the one above. In part, i’m thinkin about the “negation of the negation” concept, i.e., a “return to the beginning,” but on a higher level. If the beginning was, in essence a “communal” (”classless) society, which has, to now and by most, been equated with matriarchy, then what must a communist (“communal,” “classless”) society in the future look like with respect to the relations between males and females? with respect to the economic, political, military and social roles of women? with respect to the elimination of ALL forms of oppression and exploitation?
Again, from Book Nine: “…We don’t want to repeat the practice of other movements where, once in power, they failed to fulfill the promises made to women in the course of struggle–a failure intimately related to their inability to fulfill other fundamental aims and principles of the socialist society for which they fought.” (p.3)
As We develop New Afrikan Communist thought, our concept and definition of “class” has to be developed alongside or in conjunction with our greater understanding of the origins and relevance of women’s oppression and exploitation, and the many concrete ways that the social (economic, political, and military) power of women must be expressed in order to realize socia1 revolution and the creation of a “classless” society…
In an attempt not to keep interrupting myself, let me run these long passages through, and then make my comments:
“…Lenin further developed Marx’s teaching on classes and defined them as ‘large groups of people differing from each other by the place they occupy in a historically determined system of social production, by their relation…to the means of production, by their role in the social organization of labor, and, consequently, by the dimensions of the share of social wealth of which they dispose and the mode of acquiring it. Classes are groups of people one of which can appropriate the 1abor of another owing to the different places they occupy in a definite system of social economy…’ ( ABC, pps. 24-25)
“The relationship to the means of production determines both the role of classes in the social organization of labor, and their share of socia1 wealth and the way they receive lt. Lenin wrote: ‘The fundamental criterion by which classes are distinguished is the place they occupy in social production, and, consequently, the relation in which they stand to the means of production.’ “.
“Every class has its own relationship to the means of production. On the basis of this distinction, we can draw the line between classes, and social groups other than classes. The intelligentsia, for example, is not a class because it has no relationship of its own to the means of production…. “(ABC, pps. 25-26).
” …The other distinction between classes lies in the size of their social income and the way they acquire it…”
“…Though the distinction between classes based on the size of income and way of earning it stands out as essential class characteristics. YET IT DOES NOT DEFINE THEM AS CLASSES. If we confine ourselves to the consideration of the sources and s1zes of incomes, we would fail to correctly define classes or to single them out from the multitude of social strata and qroups which also may have various sources of income. Under capitalism, clerks and physicians have different sources of income, the former being paid by the government, and the latter by individuals. This, however, does not make them separate classes yet. This example goes to show that to grasp correctly the essence of classes we should consider all their distlnctive features as an organized whole.”
“Class division touches upon the economic, political and spiritual aspects of social life. The division of society into classes permeates it through and through affecting the entire system of socia1 relations. Yet, class division of society derives above all from the definite economic relations which enable the exploiting class to appropriate the labor of the exploited…At the same time, the relations between the classes go far beyond the economic sphere, manifesting themselves most explicitly in political life. To crown it up, these relations, as well as the class struggle, find their way into the sphere of ideology and of society’s spiritual life.” (ABC , pps. 25-29) .
“In order to characterize the process of formation of the working class, Marx developed the following two concepts: ‘class for itself’ and ‘class in itself’. These notions are equally applicable to the contemporary processes of class formation in capitalist and, especially, developing countries. When a large mass of hired workers find themselves in the same economic position brought about by the power of capital, this mass of workers becomes a class with respect to the capitalists, i.e., ‘a class in itself.’ The proletariat only becomes a ‘class for itself’–an active force of historical transformation–through struggle which enables it to consolidate its ranks, adopt a common ideology, work out a common program of actlon, and create a political organization of its own. (ABC, p.59)
Now, i know i quoted a lot of stuff, but it’s necessary. Read it carefully, critically. Read it -two or three times today, and then come back in a week and read it again. Compare it to other stuff you read that claims to define “class.” There are a few things i want you to pay particular attention to: 1) look at the several elements of Lenin’s definition of class, from pps. 24-25; 2) look also at Lenin’s “fundamental criterion”, 3) look at “the…other…distinction between classes”–as if there are only “two” things which distinguish classes!; 4) pay special attention to the passage that i typed and underlined throughout; 5) finally, pay heed to the distinction that Marx makes between ‘class in itself’ and ‘class for itself’–and, it’s interesting, to me, that the authors of the book only referred to Marx’s reference to these concepts as made in The Poverty of Philosophy, and not Marx’s reference to these concepts in The German Ideology or The Holy Family; nor do they refer us to Marx’s definition of class made in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.
The problem most people have these days, when they approach the question of 1) defining “class,” and 2) conducting class (and national) analysis, is that they get hooked into the essentially narrow or superficial definition of what constitutes a “class”-its various characteristics. In essence, folks actually tend to define “class” and confine its characteristics to the economic elements, the “relation to means of production” and/or to the “size and source of income.” On top of this, this narrow definition is based within a context of “classical” capitalist society/ nation-state, with little or no sufficient expanse when considering oppressed nations -and esp. in our own case, an oppressed nation within the borders of the settler-empire.
Let’s compare Lenin’s definition of class, cited above, with the definition Marx gives in The 18th Brumaire:
In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. In so far as there is merely a local interconnection among these small-holding peasants, and the identity of their interests begets no community, no national bond, and no political organization among them, they do not form a class.
Clearly, Lenin focuses entirely upon economic or material elements in his definition, whereas Marx details at least six elements in his definition of class: 1) that the class members must share a common position in their relation to the means of production; 2) they they must share a way of life and cultural existence; 3) that they share interests which are antagonistic to those of other classes; 4) that they share a sense of community which constitutes a “national bond”; 5) that they share a corresponding bond of consciousness of themselves as a “class,” and, 6) that they have their own political organization, i.e., their own political party.
Now, if We go back and look at the definition of class given by the New Afrikan, We see that while it qualifies itself, with the phrase “distinguished primarily,” it doesn’t tell us what else distinguishes these groups besides their place in the system of production–why do you think that’s so?
And, think on this: We need to re-view the early writings of Marx, because he hadn’t yet “bent the stick” far to the side of trying to make his points about the “primacy of the economic role,” neglecting to re-strike the balance he implies in works like The Holy Family and The German Ideology –works in which he tended to include, as forms of “labor,” the reproduction of human life! Therefore, also, when We consider that classes are distinguished by, among other things, the fact that one group “can appropriate the labor of another,” then We look, again, to the sexual division of labor as “the first,” and begin consideration of women as the first “exploited class.”
Also fundamental to our new thinking on “class,” is full, dialectical, analysis of “all their distinctive features as an organic whole.” i bring such features to the table whenever i hear folks say, on one hand, that there’s a “black proletariat,” AND a “white proletariat”—yet there’s somehow “only one proletariat.” Evidently there isn’t–and the “race” factor alone doesn’t account for the fundamental distinction between the class structure of the oppressed nation, and the class structure of the oppressor nation. What does account for the distinction is a correct grasp and analysis of all distinctive features, i.e., see the six elements within Marx’s definition cited above….
From My Notebook Re: “Class”–
Analysis of class relations–as well as analysis of relations between oppressed and oppressor nations–rests and departs from the character and level of productive forces, tracing their line of influence through to social relations….(Remember: the most dynamic element of the “productive forces” is people; and, “social relations” are those that involve kinship, morals, religion, politics, culture–as well as economics.)
We generally accept that classes exist inside the oppressed nation; however, We aren’t quite clear on the distinction between corresponding class types that exist in the oppressor nation, i.e., that while both have “proletariats,” each is qualitatively distinct, which rules out, for instance, any notion of a single working class–at the expense of an independent working class in the colonized nation.
Secondly, We aren’t yet clear on the manner in which national oppression distorts and influences the development of the oppressed nation’s class structure; how the appearance of “progress” is given by “expanding the ranks of the black middle class” while worsening the comparative condition of the nation as a whole vis-a-vis the empire AND objectively; i.e., the class in question numerically expands, yet the gap between it and the empire is wider, and between it and the nation’s proletariat is narrower, while the BASE of the proletariat broadens…only the pseudo-bourgeoisie obtains any real relative gain (?) (i.e., more “black millionaries,” etc.).
** see Cabral; key element: the self-interest of imperialism to increase the level of productive forces inside the nation, as well as its interested in creating and using class blocs to prevent rise and divert course of mass rev. struggle; re: to the former, it can be seen when the slave is clothed and fed, permitted to learn and/or practice new techniques of production, hire out labor, move to or work in the city, perform industrial as well as domestic and agricultural tasks; to sell labor (power) for money–that’s returned to the colonizer and upon which the colonized becomes dependent, and which serves to disrupt the indigenous economy, etc.–
“Classic” M-L holds that the historic mission of the working class arises from the historic necessity of changing production relations when production outstrips them….
The working class was said to have this mission because of the “classic” capitalist mode and its corresponding production relations, and thus, by its position w/in these relations, it was the “social force” to carry out the historic task….
Marx said he didn’t invent this mission, but “discovered it”–and what he discovered was the mission itself, and the general laws corresponding to it. In other words, as the mode changes, as production relations – and social relations alter in a qualitative way, the “mission” remains, but the “social force” changes–in correspondence to changes in relations, i.e., under “classic capitalism,” it was the working class,” and under imperialism, it’s the oppressed nation, i.e., under colonialism, it’s the nation, led by an alliance of the most rev. class(es) and strata, and under neocolonialism, it’s the nation, led by the most rev. class, in alliance with other progressive classes and strata. What about women? Maybe We need some new terms and concepts….–
More concrete and correctly oriented class analysis is needed to avoid the tendency of making easy and superficial generalizations and descriptions of pseudo and petty-bourgeois forces, “fascism,” New Afrikan and North American contradictions, etc.–
See that left and right errors are rooted in class struggle, position, analysis; thus class analysis includes knowing and tracing the development of left and right errors/deviations; to know how they were dealt with within the context of who, what, where, why, how, etc. That is, “mistakes” have their roots in the class base of those who make them! “Adventurism” and “militarism” are the tendencies of a class; collaboration and tailing behind the masses, are the tendencies of a class . So-called revolutionaries that use and deal drugs are merely expressing their class position. Sexism is a class attitude & practice….–
Look at all social activity from a national AND class angle, i.e., placing above all else the interests of the nation and IT’S proletariat, of socialism and independence; look at all events to see who benefits from them!–
In class analysis, We must remember that the “masses” are composed of relatively active, intermediate, and relatively backward sections; musn’t commit error of seeing all classes & strata as unified or unifiable mass, i.e., a variant of “skin analysis”….
Develop progressive forces, win over the middle, isolate the die-hards. –
Utilize struggle and alliance with all possible allies, even if they are “temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable, and conditional.” The problem is not in the making of such relations, but in our skill in conducting them–knowing when to make them, how to maintain them, and when to break them.–
Above all, as a tendency, We must never give up leadership of the masses (e.g., when the BLA went underground and abandoned the “mass front” to forces that they knew weren’t revolutionary!).–
Knowing distinctions between, and degree of class consciousnes and sentiments of various classes and strata is essential to the working out of correct policies on any particular issue or campaign, i.e., who will support and/or oppose the policies? What forces do the issues serve?–
What allows other classes and strata to “shift” to the class positions of the prols, if not that the essence of the rev. prol is its STAND and not merely some narrowly conceived material relation to the means of production?!–
What do We mean by “class STAND”? At the most “vulgar” or commonly understood level, a “stand” is an assumed or specified position. A “class stand” is the political stand of a class, and the consciousness of the fundamental interests of that class. A class stand is the ideology and the theory of the class,w/out which the class couldn’t realize its interests. Moreover, class stand also embraces the idea of the (rev) activities of the class, carried out by the class org. How complicated things now become, when We consider that the “rev class” is not just “workers” but “women,” or that the stand We must develop and adopt is a “womanist”/”feminist” one.–
One way in which practice is guided by theory is when We determine our friends from our enemies through an analysis of the class forces inside (& outside) the nation. This means–in some cases, it especially means–determining friends from enemies among those usually considered “revolutionary” or in “leadership” positions (individuals and orgs.). (see Book Five, “Intro.” and “Afterword”.)–
Re: On the question of distinguishing between the “prols” of the oppressed nation and the “prols” of the oppressor nation -We begin by employing an analysis that engages all the definitional criteria re: “class,” looking for qualitative uniqueness. How does one distinguish quality from quantity? By looking at/for specific properties, etc. “The more deeply we reveal the definiteness in which lies the relative stability and independence of a thing, the more exactly can we measure it.”
“The quality of a thing can only be understood by distinguishing it from other qualities. Thus in the very category of quality there is implied a relationship with something else, a distinction from it.” e.g., “black america” & “white america”; “black working class” & “white working class”–why use such terms if there is no fundamental distinction? When you use statistical data, for instance (employment, wages, housing, education, prison populations, mortality rates for infants and mothers, life expectancy, etc.), you reach the point where you’re no longer measuring quantitative differences within a class, but you’re measuring the qualitative distinction between peoples!–
It becomes necessary to have clarity on “class” for a number of reasons, e.g., to show how “national struggle” is a form of “class struggle,” and that class struggle in the imperialist era is not merely between “prols & boozies”; to determine and articulate the actual character of the contradiction between forces inside oppressed nations, e.g., do pseudo-boozies “own” the means of production? if not, how/do they form a “class” distinct from the prols of the oppressed nation? (i.e., another way to make the point that the material relationship to means of production is not always the primary element in distinguishing class WITHIN OPPRESSED NATIONS, particularly, and that We must always use the “universal” elements of “dialectical logic”, e.g., when primary and secondary aspects change places, no matter how temporary the shift.) (see Mao’s On Contradiction)
“Class” was originally articulated from a particular perspective (i.e., eurocentric, sexist, AND imperialist, i.e., few people acknowledge the USSR as an empire, and this character influenced Russian interpretations of “Marxist-Leninism” not only on questions such as class, but also on the “national question”); it was drawn in a dichotomous way (prols-vs-boozoies) and explained as phenomena occurring within independent, capitalist, nation-states, operating according to the laws of capitalist development. However, Lenin’s imperialist restraints didn’t allow him to fully articulate the dimensions and consequences of world imperialist imperialist development, and “class struggle” within the imperialist framework, where the primary contradiction between class forces takes the form of the super-exploitation and national oppression of all class forces within the oppressed nation, vis-a-vis all the class forces of the oppressed nation.
What i mean, for example, is that there is even a qualitative distinction between “poor whites” and “poor blacks”–poverty doesn’t eliminate the fundamental differences between the “stands” of the respective classes/nations. “Poor whites” and “poor blacks” — no matter that none own the means of production and must work for a slave wage–nevertheless maintain separate ways of life and cultural existences; they engage in conflict over fundamentally distinct social and political interests; they each feel part of separate national communities and they each have a consciousness of this distinctness. And they each desire and require separate political organizations as the means of fighting for their goals. In order for this not to be so, “whites” (North Americans, or U.S. citizens) must give up on being settlers, give up on being “Americans,” capitalists, world-runners….
“Poor whites” share and embrace the ideology of their bourgeoisie, the morals of their bourgeoisie, etc., and it ain’t just a question of “white” supremacy or “racism”. If We woke up in the morning and somehow found that “racism” no longer existed–but that capitalism did- We’d still have problems….If We woke up in the morning and found that there were no more “white folks,” We’d still be in trouble so long as so many of us don’t wanna give up bourgeois ideology and patriarchy!–
Class division/struggle has existed on an internal basis as long as the nation is old.
We must consider “class” not from a purely economic perspective, but from a dialectical perspective, including in its definition all elements of its composition–understanding that not all elements carry the same weight, and that there’s variance in the factors, determined by changing conditions/the development of the nation vis-a-vis the relations with the empire….
“Class” differences manifest through an individual’s and/or a group’s support or opposition to the very idea of an independent national existence for New Afrikan people. This difference shows itself by one’s being a friend or an enemy of the struggle for national self-determination; the differences show themselves when individuals or groups put forth lines which promote collaboration between bourgeois and proletarian class interests, and those who stand firmly upon the interests of the proletarian stand and oppose the interests of the bourgeoisie. These differences also manifest themselves through an individual’s and/or a group’s support or opposition (in deeds, cause many folks use words to say whatever they think needs to be said- but their practice is the criterion of truth) to sexism, patriarchy, the exploitation of women…the pursuit of socialist development….
(More notes on “class” and other subjects to follow. Meantime, here are some suggested readings on the above subject:
- Sex-Pol Essays, 1929-1934, Wilhelm Reich, ed. by Lee Braxandall Vintage–esp. see the chapter “The Imposition of Sexual Morality”
- On Becoming Human, Nancy Makepeace Tanner, Cambridge U. Press
- The Creation of Patriarchy, Gerda Lerner, Oxford U. Press
- Patriarchy and Accumulation on A World Scale: Women In The International Division of Labor, Maria Mies, Zed