Revisiting Race and Marxism: A Conversation Between Gramsci, Hall, and the Operaisti

part of this text was presented at HM London earlier this month.

Introduction

So, hey, team. I’m very excited and honored to be here. Thanks to all the organizers for putting on this event, I appreciate all the labor that is seen and unseen. I’d like to thank the team at Notes from Below for encouraging my participation at the event. And also thanks very much to my comrades Victor and Antje – whose unending input is the marrow that resides between the lines of this, and all my work.

That said, I’m here to talk about the relation between Marxism and the question of race and racism. The way Marxists handle racism today is especially important. The interregnum we find ourselves in is, no doubt, defined by danger.

Current events urge me to echo Hall’s observations around the crisis of Fordism in Great Britain: “race is the lens through which people come to perceive” a crisis in progress, it is “the framework through which the crisis is experienced” and “the means by which the crisis is to be resolved” (Hall, 2017, p.152). In short words, it is imperative we combat racism at the current conjuncture. That is, in a world where  the crisis of neoliberalism is defined by racism on the one hand and mass left organization on the other, it is particularly pertinent to try to theorize how these should relate.

And as an organizer in this crisis, someone that has been involved in both the American and German social formations, the question of developing an effective and mass antiracism is particularly salient. So here’s my first proviso: I am not a formal theorist of racism, I am a militant. And it is as such, as someone currently engaged in struggle and wishes to see victory, that I approach the subject. And it is as someone in the mesh of the grassroots, engaged in a churn of discourses around racism, that I came here today, to receive input on a possible method of analysis capable of understanding the specificity and function of racism on the one hand, and is, on the other hand, capable of mapping different processes of subjectivization within class formations in order to understand potential. 

In what follows, I will briefly sketch my issues with intersectional analysis (a dominant – but contested – form of analyzing difference) and state why understanding racism is so vital to movement building. From here, I’ll propose a methodological trajectory that necessitates understanding the life of racism in capitalism not at the level of mode of production, but at the historical concrete level, and examine the formal subsumption of racism into the historical organizational formation of capitalism. From here, I will propose charting the trajectory of racism, and in turn, the formation of racialized subjects within classes, through an expanded form of compositional analysis, And I will end this presentation by highlight the formation of historical blocs and the place of racism within these.  

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Composition Notes: Deporting the Crisis

A dangerous string of episodes unfolds  in Germany – a political crisis that might leave us all in a worse place, rather soon.

On August 26, a Cuban-German male is stabbed and two asylum seekers from Iraq and Syria are arrested in the eastern city of Chemnitz. This sparks a set of right-wing mobilizations that flirt with the word “pogrom.” Videos are released where white Germans chase people of color across a busy byway. By the following weekend, tens of thousands take to the streets of Chemnitz in a show of solidarity with refugees, foreigners, and people of color more generally.

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Stuck in the Middle with You: Between Jodi Dean, Hardt & Negri, and Abdullah Öcalan on Organization and Transition

The following is a presentation I gave at the 23rd International Conference on Alternative Futures and Popular Protest at Manchester Metropolitan University, held between March 26th and 28th of 2018. This presentation was part of a panel discussion that included Rodrigo Nunes and Mark Bergfeld and regarding Hardt and Negri’s latest work, Assembly.

Dear all,

My many thanks to the organizers of the Alternative Futures and Popular Protest conference for all the seen and unseen labor it took to make this event happen. Not only have you generated a space and infrastructure I’m very excited to participate in, but you’ve given me the ability to bill my university so I can finally check out Manchester – a place that had a mythical standing for the suburban hellhole of mediocracy I grew up in. My many thanks. And Mark, thanks a lot for organizing this roundtable and allowing me to participate – I feel out of my league, but what’s the worst that can happen, let’s give this a shot.

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On Racism and How to Fight It: Schlossberg, BBQ Becky, and Left Praxis

Videos like those of “BBQ Becky” and Aaron Schlossberg provide a brilliant vantage point into the ways everyday racism functions at the current conjuncture. In these videos, the interplay between white individuals (of middle class background), the police, and the way race is iterated is telling of the current discursive formations in an embattled America made even more brazen by a Trump presidency. 

But there exists alongside the increasing documentation of white backlash a variety of increasingly visible debates and criticisms against “postmodern” and “identity politics” from the left. This was perhaps best epitomized by the rise of the Dirtbag Left. In Episode 40 of the Dead Pundits Society, Amber A’Lee Frost claims that this new cultural formation implied “an impious, unsanctimonious [sic.] gravitation towards class politics and politics of legitimate social justice. meaning not language policing or micro aggression or this kind of campus-created-pseudo-left subculture. Something actually organic […. that describes] a group of people who reject liberal pieties and instead gravitated towards the intent and concrete, material politics of our time and place […] Socialists.” 

In that same interview, Angela Nagle (author of Kill All Normies) explains that 4Chan and Reddit, sites that housed practices that were originally hailed by some academics to be hallmarks of a new vanguard counter-culture, have now become identified as the misogynist, racist antechambers of American proto-fascism they often are. Frost interrupts Nagle to emphasize her view of academic knowledge production: “How fucking… What an inditement it is that it… only academics thought, ‘Oh, this is so cool and subversive.’ The least cool people in the world thinks that this is cool and subversive. . . Only the postmodern academy . . . would look at these fucking nerds online and say, ‘Wow! What rebels!'”

While there is much to be said about the often dominant practices found at the grassroots, the rhetorical formulation that Frost develops leaves one with a distinct unease. Borrowing from Stuart Hall, there is clear signaling that if we go too far down that particular road, whom do we discover keeping us company but – of course – the Trumpistas and Petersonites, the alt-right, the anti-“globalists” who seem (whisper it not too loud) to be saying rather similar things about the Left. What is latent in Frost’s wholesale disdain of “postmodern academia” is a tense anti-intellctualism that conflates the voice of some for the voice of all. This is, again, not to say, that there is not a truth at play in Frost’s view or that, in attempting to articulate an oppositional position, that that road is not in-and-of itself slippery and tricky due to the dominant ways we formulate our problems (to be clear: I don’t think Frost or any of her cohort or audience are actually trying to find themselves in the company mentioned above). The question is, how do we theorize the issue and how do we act on it?

No doubt, since the Great Recession and especially in the interregnum its generated, fractions of the left have attempted to articulate a critique against dominant political practices at the grassroots that get uniformly wrapped in the signifier of “identity politics.” And within such loudening discourses is a latent call to abandon the “cultural or discursive turn” and simultaneously proposes to develop a new organizing culture (ironic, I know) that returns to questions of economics and politics as such. 

But understanding discourse and culture are central to understanding racism. And if racism is something that saturates social relations, then we have to come to terms with the necessity of developing a strategy for addressing it. And while there is a critical need to address the limits of practiced identity politics, how we do so matters greatly, or we run the risk of promoting a politics very against the socialist horizon. In this regard, BBQ Becky and Aaron Schlossberg point to how necessary targeting discourse is at our conjuncture, and how we must do so in a manner quite distinct from the currently dominant practices operating at the grassroots.

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