Why Jehu is Wrong, and Privilege Analysis is Important

Zak Drabczyk Featured, The Commune 2 Comments

After I read the recent article by Jehu Eaves, fellow Marxist on Gonzo, I felt it necessary to give my own input and make a few criticisms of Jehu’s analysis.

Mr. Eaves analysis was centered around an anarchist essay espousing some rather unorthodox theories about privileges and their relation to capitalist social relations and the state. Keep in mind that my analysis is directed towards Jehu, not towards the anarchists, and at least for the early part of his critique, I held a similar position as Jehu. Our divergence is mostly around what constitutes a Marxist analysis that can be applied in a contemporary manner. I begin halfway through his article:

“You can tell people to “check their privileges at the door”, when it is just you and five activist friends… Since it is your tiny little isolated meaningless circle-jerk of idealistic young radicals…you can set whatever silly fucking rules you want.”

What is important to notice here is that Mr. Eaves criticism of self-absorbed Anarchists is that they are privileged. Look at how he not only marginalizes the group by calling them “five activist friends” but also calls their gatherings “tiny little isolated meaningless circle-jerk of idealistic young radicals”.

What he is saying, perhaps even unconsciously, is that these individuals stand in a privileged and secluded part of the revolutionary paradigm that stands above most of the interests of the working class. This allows them the privilege to behave in a way that is counterproductive to any revolutionary movement. I am not criticizing Mr. Eaves analysis of these petit bourgeois, rather I am simply highlighting the bit of hypocrisy in criticizing those who use privilege in class analysis, when you then go on to use it yourself. In fact, I agree with his analysis. Instead of trying to make myself some sort of purist who does not recognize obvious privileges within the working class I very clearly make the distinction between petit bourgeois ‘revolutionaries’ and those who are actually revolutionaries.

This is an important distinction to make for two reasons. First, it is factual. There is a clear distinction in social relations between the capitalist-middle-and working classes. It matters not that the middle class is also being exploited by the capitalist class. What matters is that as long as the middle class retains this sort of pride in their position the viability of revolution is severely compromised. Envision chattel slavery. There is a clear distinction in the social standing of slaves who work in the house and those in the field, this is often a highlighted analogy among working class revolutionaries. This does not mean to state that middle class revolutionaries or those in the middle class are some mortal class enemy, it means that they have  a more vested interest in preserving Capitalism.

Secondly, it builds real revolutionary movements. If you don’t believe me look at the “revolutionary” movements that spawn from strongly privileged portions of the middle class. They become reformist tendencies that are more posited towards Capitalism “with a smile” than actually smashing the system. In fact, this was an early criticism of the Bolsheviks who were largely members of the intellectual classes of Russia and although they were not Capitalists, it is difficult for a revolution to stay true to mass principles when it is rooted in bourgeois liberalism and has a negative connotation of the working classes, as the Bolsheviks had towards the more rural and lower class Mensheviks.

If you don’t believe me, look at how many of the middle class, even those left of center, who look down upon the working class and the masses. Look at all the televised propaganda and internet hate speech towards “welfare queens” and “leeches” and “those on the dole”. More sad is how so many in the middle class believe this putrid propaganda. They believe, like Mr. Eaves said, that their livelihood is at stake. The idea is pitting the house slaves against the field slaves and it plays perfectly into the hands of the Capitalist class. There is clearly division among the exploited classes, and ignoring this division, ignoring this privilege, will not help to unite any of the oppressed classes.

My alternative, rather, is to not ignore this privilege, especially that expressed by those of the male gender, and the white race, but to reconcile this privilege with the principles of the masses. I do not see the position of the middle class as the deluded defenders of Capitalism as an insurmountable foe, I see it as a weakly played card by the real power brokers, the capitalist class. Ultimately, we must convince the middle classes to reconcile their privilege with the fact that they still stand on the shoulders of the lower classes, and then both must unite as an organized front against the Capitalist class. This means abandoning middle class privilege and the suburbs of White America to set up cooperatives, establish worker run firms, organize revolutionary unionism, and engage in class warfare at the social and economic level. It means that white privileged middle class revolutionaries come together to meet black marginalized urban proletarians to work against the Capitalist class and reconcile their differences towards a more principled desire to emancipate all of humanity from alienation and exploitation.

This assertion appears more convincing than it actually is. I cannot find a single person who argues that in the absence of men (if that were possible) women would oppress themselves as women, or, in the absence of white folks, black folk would oppress themselves as blacks. However, it is quite possible, even in the absence of the capitalist class, for the working class to act as its own capitalist. It is called fascism. Even without a capitalist class that controls capitalist property, the working class in this society still manages to exploit itself through its own democratic state. While this property is legally recognized as owned by the capitalist class, control is entirely in the hands of officials elected by the working class. The fascist state is essentially capitalism without a capitalist class.

Unfortunately this analysis is not only non-Marxist it is just plain wrong.

First, Mr. Eaves ignores the fact that women do oppress women and black people do oppress black people, precisely because the Capitalist system has conditioned them to do so, and it is expected that even after the system has been overthrown, for a time at least this will continue. I personally have seen black police brutalize and slur against black individuals when white police are not around. In addition, I have seen women make fun of more feminist women and taunt feminism in general. This is all due to the privilege system that Capitalist builds and has conditioned to the point where it is not simply enough to overthrow the state and call it quits, that is how revolutions fail. A revolution is a process of social change, not just the disembodiment of a particular social institution such as the state. Anything different will stain maintain the stratification of Capitalism and ensure the system has a revival. Before I am criticized by Anarchists for being “authoritarian”, allow me to say that this is the reason why Revolutionary Spain lasted for longer than a few months, but lasted a few years. Unlike the conservative elements of the revolution who wanted to restore rights to the clergy, those of the gentry, and fascists, those revolutionaries in the POUM and CNT-FAI relentlessly pursued those of privilege who stood to defend bourgeois principles. They recognized that if they did not reconcile their privilege they stood to reinvent Capitalism and reintroduce it as was happening in Russia.

Second, Mr. Eaves whole point about the working class becoming its “own capitalist” is strikingly misrepresenting of what really occurs under fascism and for some reason paints the working class as inept. True, the working class does have some bourgeois elements, but in the line of Marxist analysis, their interests are opposite that of the capitalist class. Allow me to elaborate why Mr. Eaves point is wrong:

First, there cannot be Capitalism without a Capitalist class.

“it is quite possible, even in the absence of the capitalist class, for the working class to act as its own capitalist. It is called fascism. Even without a capitalist class that controls capitalist property”

Fascism, as Lenin properly described it, is “Capitalism in decay” and has nothing to do with the “proletariat acting as its own capitalist”. Fascism, as Mussolini described it, should properly be called corporatism, it is just the state realizing the interests of not just the Capitalist class but the middle class as well through “labor-state cooperation”. The Capitalist class is all there. In fact, many private industry owners were hugely supportive of Hitler, Mussolini, and Obama, despite the fact they acted as populists. This is because there is no social ownership of the means of production, the private ownership has simply adopted a stronger state presence that now pretends to be some sort of mediator. Socialism is the social ownership of the means of production. This is highly incompatible with any private operation of the means of production for a profit, which is precisely what occurs in Fascism.

“While this property is legally recognized as owned by the capitalist class, control is entirely in the hands of officials elected by the working class. The fascist state is essentially capitalism without a capitalist class.”

As I previously said, this isn’t even possible. It either is Capitalism, with a Capitalist class, or it isn’t Capitalism at all. To define Fascism as some sort of quasi-authentic workers state where the inept multitude of toilers self-abuse themselves with private accumulation and surplus labor/value is just ridiculous and lacks any logical train of thought. Control is not “entirely in the hands of officials elected by the working class” it is still managed by the state for the protective ownership of the Capitalist class which has now donned the apparel of a populist state or hidden behind it.

The importance of critiquing Mr. Eaves faulty analysis lies in the importance of correctly realizing class struggle. If we do not correctly realize class struggle, than what are we doing? Then we are the ones who become privileged and begin to think that Socialism revolves around liberating the individual from his own potential to be a Capitalist or some other bourgeois nonsense that surrounds the term “socialist” today.

Mr. Eaves also makes the point that the Proletariat existed before Capitalism. This is absolutely false and a bit weird to even suggest. The Proletariat is clearly different from earlier forms of exploited classes, unlike the serf, he is not tied to land. Unlike the craftsman he does not own his own instruments of production. He is a property-less laborer forced to sell his labor on the market to reproduce the means of his survival. This was a unique development of the early Industrial Revolution that displaced craftsman and peasants and made them the proletariat as we understand it. It is one thing to broaden the definition to include more types of working class labor today, it is an entirely different thing to rewrite the history of class struggle to fit a personal analysis.

The totalizing character of capitalism implies not simply that patriarchy and white supremacy becomes forms of capitalist relations and nothing more, but even that the working class’s own political rule as a class is a specifically capitalist rule. Moreover, patriarchy is not simply left as the routine exploitation by a man of his wife’s labor, that relation itself is commodified, so the woman too can be dragged into the market for labor power. Children are dumped in warehouses call “schools” that are little more than preparation for a life of labor or prison. Capitalism takes all preexisting categories and reconstitutes them on an entirely capitalistic basis. Not to understand this is to miss the significance of the entire capitalist epoch.

Does Capitalism dominate contemporary life? Absolutely. Does thinking that all social antagonisms can be displaced with the overthrowing of Capitalism sound logical? Absolutely not. Capitalism, despite some misconceptions about Marxism, is not the “be all end all”. The social conditioning that existed before Capitalism, will exist after, and we must prepare ourselves as revolutionaries to engage in the type of class war that recognizes privilege and demands that it be reconciled with a socialist and democratic front.

The greatest question I had to ask myself after reading Mr. Eaves article was:

Does Jehu stand for a proletarian revolution, or petit bourgeois individualism? In all honesty I am not one to make such sweeping judgments of an individual’s character. I do think that his analysis has made me question why he is so affront in revising privilege out of social relations and delegating it to an easily reversible social option that can be switched ‘off’ at the point when the means of production change hands.

History has shown us differently. History has shown us privilege is an issue, it doesn’t just cease to exist without Capitalism, and that in the long run it can inhibit revolutionary growth, which if you are as serious about destroying Capitalism as me, is a huge wake-up call. If you don’t believe me, look at the Social Democrats pandering in Germany in 1919. The nation stood on the edge of revolution, but the privileged pieces of the middle class stood with the Capitalists against proletarian revolution. Look at the Soviet Union. What started as promising proletarian revolution, sprouted a privileged and disgusting bureaucracy outside the working class  that eventually reintroduced Capitalism.

This isn’t a Libertarian Communist vs. Authoritarian Communist issue or a Anarchist vs. Marxist issue, this is an issue of revolutionary theory in general, regardless of tendency, and how we apply that theory into applicable praxis.

This is why I make it very clear what I am about. I am about revolution. Revolution on the behalf of all the working classes and those of the toiling masses. I reject privilege of the middle class and I expect that the revolution be a movement from the bottom, not an intellectual and privileged academic vacation. I want to see workers councils, peoples assemblies, and cooperative production, not bourgeois “individualism” and the subjection of society to the bourgeois “rights” of a minority of privileged middle class managers.

I don’t believe in the “liberation of the individual” as I feel that espouses a hint of bourgeois liberalism that ignores the reality of social production. I do believe in individualism, just not that realized by productive differentiation. I just do not believe that individualism can be analyzed under capitalism or that the property held by an individual can begin to describe or grant unique characteristics to that individual. The social relations produced by Socialism, in which property becomes a thing of common and the means to produce it as well, only those relations can produce lasting individualism and personal fulfillment outside of damaging privilege.

I will get off my soap box and wish Mr. Eaves a good day.

 

 

Zak DrabczykWhy Jehu is Wrong, and Privilege Analysis is Important

Comments 2

  1. Jehu

    Zack,

    I want to say, I do not ignore divisions within the working class. These divisions are very real. However, I do not believe privilege theory adequately addresses the problem. There are many differences among individuals within the working class, as should be expected since everyone has differing capacities, skills, education and backgrounds. Some of these differences are located in natural abilities, while others are purely social constructs; some are fortuitous, while others are deeply rooted in history. Of these differences, all we can say is that, in a group of individuals, inequalities will arise for innumerable reasons.

    If privilege theory cannot address these inequalities, it must also be clear that it did not cause these differences to arise in the first place, nor is privilege theory responsible for the material effects these inequalities have in people’s lives. Competition within the working class over who gets to sell their labor power and who is made dependent on state handouts, or forced to sell their labor power under the most vile circumstances is the problem. Privilege theory is a reaction to this competition.

    A common starting point for the movement is one that focuses on ending competition within the working class over the sale of labor power. It is one that emphasizes solidarity and brings a focus to those demands that advances the entire class together, despite our manifold differences in capacities. If privilege theory is to be criticized for anything, it is that it directs our attention away from doing this.

  2. Post
    Author
    Zak Drabczyk

    “A common starting point for the movement is one that focuses on ending competition within the working class over the sale of labor power. It is one that emphasizes solidarity and brings a focus to those demands that advances the entire class together, despite our manifold differences in capacities”

    I definitely agree, Jehu.

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