Lazy rascals, spending their substance, and more, in riotous living

Bridging the class divide

Christ, this is repulsive. An organization focused on ending classism by “bridging the class divide.” Actually, I wonder if it wasn’t set up by some old lefty to demonstrate the limitations of the theraputic model of identity politics. I’ve sometimes been worried that certain discussions of, for instance, white privelege, end up being about allowing white people to feel good about themselves, but surely this is the nadir: “because of intense class segregation in the U.S., we don’t benefit from each other’s strengths and grow past our limitations.” Oh yes, because that’s the problem with class society; we don’t get to “grow” from the splendid diversity of poverty. Žižek sometimes says that the difference between class, on the one hand, and race and gender, on the other, is that anti-racist and feminist struggles are struggles for the acceptance of diversity, while class struggle is a struggle against diversity, for the abolition of class distinctions. But Žižek here is wrong, and precisley because he reproduces the errors of the identity politics he is criticizing: no anti-racist struggle is worthy of the name if it doesn’t attempt to abolish whiteness, just as any serious feminist politics needs to abolish masculinity. The problem with this “anti-classist” formulation of class politics is that it suggests that there exists a solution to  class struggle that doesn’t involve the abolition of the whole frame of class. This, in fact, is true of any position that replaces the abolition of class with some notion of “justice.”

Your old-school Marxist (and that is who Žižek is channeling in this instance) accepts the identity politics formulation of struggles around race and gender and, recognizing the limitations of identity politics, supposes that class is somehow different. But as this horrible example of class identity politics makes clear, there’s nothing preventing class being assimilated to an identity politics framework, too. The way to avoid the problems of identity politics is not to privelege class. Quite the contrary, making this distinction between class and other organizations of oppression prevents us from understanding any of them. Poulantzas criticizes Foucault for failing to ground his theory of power in class, but Foucault is right here and Poulantzas is wrong; Poulantzas mistakes a form of appearence of economic power, class, for the power itself. The question facing a Marxist theory of power is to figure out how abstract materialities appear as particular stratifications and identifications.