In Defense of Class Reductionism
July 13, 2022
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, (1848)
The charge of “class reductionism” shouldn’t faze us as socialists. If to accept that the world’s great problems are ultimately matters of political economy to be solved through the development of proletarian politics if to be a Marxist, is to be a “class reductionist,” then we ought to embrace the charge as a badge of honor. It is unnecessary to suspend our historical materialism in favor of "identity politics" essentialism. We should uphold and develop our understanding of the problems of racial and ethnic bigotry as expressions of the grand problem of capitalism. We must defend the idea that these must ultimately be addressed, as all other component problems are, namely through class-based politics.
Those who throw the class reductionism label at us contend that our prescription for these problems amounts to neglect, or even indifference toward, these problems. Such accusations are blatantly absurd. Do we Marxists fail to recognize that the matters of Post-Age of Discovery racism and ethnic bigotry are among the greatest problems facing humankind simply because we understand them to be products of economic relations, to be component problems of the grand problem of capitalism that, like all other component problems of the grand problem of capitalism, can only be solved through the building of proletarian class consciousness and solidarity? Absolutely not! We hold that racial and ethnic/national oppression and bigotry are pervasive throughout the world and critical to the protection of existing property relations and the capitalist order. Indeed, we recognize that they are probably the most powerful impediment to the realization of a proletarian consensus for the expropriation of capital and the realization of socialism, and consequently, to the realization of a global cooperative commonwealth.
Class Reductionism and the Pseudo-Left
Accusations of "class reductionism" never amount to anything more than what can easily be shown to be propagation of counter-solidaristic anti-Marxian hogwash, and in some instances, entail outright propagation of "mainstream" bourgeois race ideology. Indeed, many “racial justice” ideologues stray into a rejection of universalism and into overt racial essentialism.
Consider the usage of "class reductionism" as a slur by Pseudo-Marxists, such as the members of the DSA’s Afrosocialists Caucus, They attack figures such as Adolph Reed and contend that post-Age of Discovery notions of "race" are a natural reality and an inherent component of human psychology. For them, racism must be overcome through something more (and other) than the simple development of proletarian class consciousness and solidarity — something that entails, among other things, a mature sense of proletarian internationalism. Some with less racially essentialist thinking, such as Yanis Iqbal and the late Louis Proyect, do not go as far as suggesting that these conceptions of race are natural realities and inherent components of human psychology which precede the Age of Discovery, but nonetheless, act as apologists for the aforementioned apostles of these claims and loudly decry "economic reductionism" all the same.
The online millennial left is more hyperbolic. Trendy social media “leftists” like Emerican Johnson sometimes halfway accurately describe race ideology's role in capitalism. However, they at other times contend that White supremacy has somehow violated the laws of labor exploitation and ultimately benefitted White workers. As any coherently thinking Marxist would know, this is a profoundly convoluted position- any section of workers is still a section of workers under the boot of capital, all the same, is still oppressed and exploited in an absolute sense, even if it may be privileged in relation to other sections of workers.
Worse still are non-Marxist socialists like John Halstead who invoke the writing of “radical” liberal corporate human resource consultants like Robin DiAngelo and crypto-Afropessimists like Ta-Nehisi Coates in their arguments in their war on so-called class reductionists.
Such anti-materialist politics takes us to some bizarre places as evidenced in the work of "progressive guru" Tema Okun who argues such traits as perfectionism, individualism, objectivity, and “worship of the written word” are somehow inherent parts of “whiteness.” It seems that the only difference between Okun’s worldview and that of the Ku Klux Klan is that she sees “whiteness” and its attendant traits as negative.
Embracing Class Reductionism
Let us not be weak-kneed just because we are being spoken to in a derisive tone, just because we are being sprayed with a firehose of bile. Let us respond to their branding of us with the confident assertion of the fact that we do understand these problems to be dimensions of the greater problem of capitalism, problems to be solved via the proletarian class struggle against capital, and that this understanding in no way amounts to a downplaying of the severity of these problems.
In fact, let us own “class reductionism” with pride. Let us embrace this epithet that the “radical” essentialism-peddling opponents of our movement fling at us. Let us seize this weapon from their arsenal and employ it against them.
Acceptance of it would deny them a cudgel they have used against our movement and provide us an excellent opportunity to both showcase our unifying anti-racism based on proletarian solidarity and free our movement from its present popular conflation with the peddlers of sanctimonious “woke” garbage. It would present us an excellent opportunity to juxtapose Marxian historical materialism and proletarian internationalism against race and ethnic reductionism, against the larger claptrap heap of historical idealism. It is something our movement would only stand to gain from.
Let us be unabashed “class reductionists”.