Class / segmentation / racialization (TC)

by cominsitu

All identities gives themselves an imaginary genealogy which is both efficacious and real by way of its reconstruction.


Originally published by Théorie Communiste, a French communization group, here.

Translated from the French by LNFC (updates by Charnel)

There has al­ways been seg­ment­a­tion with­in labor power. We must take it, then, as an ob­ject­ive de­term­in­a­tion of labor power un­der cap­it­al that nat­ur­ally leads to a di­vi­sion of labor. Here we have noth­ing more than a di­vide between a ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al and a simple quant­it­at­ive grad­a­tion of the value of labor power. (Both simple and com­plex work un­der­go a kind of os­mos­is with­in the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion, from the gen­er­al­ized con­straint of sur­plus labor to spe­cial­ized labor un­der co­oper­at­ive man­age­ment, etc.). However, this seg­ment­a­tion would not be so if it were not but a qual­it­at­ive di­vide with­in an oth­er­wise ho­mo­gen­eous ma­ter­i­al. Two pro­cesses in­ter­vene as they weave to­geth­er: On the one hand the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is glob­al, cap­able of ap­pro­pri­at­ing and des­troy­ing all oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion while con­serving for it­self the char­ac­ter­ist­ics of those it has re­defined. On the oth­er hand the value of labor power rep­res­ents a mor­al, cul­tur­al, and his­tor­ic­al com­pon­ent. Since cap­it­al­ist ex­ploit­a­tion is uni­ver­sal — i.e., be­cause cap­it­al can take over oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion or make them co­ex­ist along­side it, ex­ploit labor power to­geth­er with those oth­er modes or de­tach them from their former ex­ist­en­tial con­di­tions — cap­it­al­ism is thus an his­tor­ic­al con­struc­tion that brings about the co­ex­ist­ence of all the dif­fer­ent strata of his­tory in a single mo­ment. Seg­ment­a­tion is not merely “ma­nip­u­la­tion.” It ex­ists as the vol­un­tary activ­ity of the cap­it­al­ist class and its pro­fes­sion­al ideo­logues, which forms and an­im­ates an ob­ject­ive pro­cess, a struc­tur­al de­term­in­a­tion of the mode of pro­duc­tion.

If the work­ing class has al­ways been seg­men­ted, it is still ne­ces­sary to con­tex­tu­al­ize this seg­ment­a­tion. That is to say, it must be situ­ated in the gen­er­al form of the con­tra­dic­tion between pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al with­in a giv­en cycle of struggles. Without this, op­pos­ing iden­tit­ies — iden­tit­ies wrongly as­so­ci­ated with com­munit­ies — would be solely norm­at­ive. Even if we were to con­fer great cir­cum­stan­tial im­port­ance on this seg­ment­a­tion, its be­ing lies else­where, with­in a pur­ity that is either ac­cess­ible or not. We do not es­cape a mutually ex­clus­ive op­pos­i­tion of iden­tit­ies simply by pit­ting what is against what should be.

Re­gard­ing the re­la­tion between seg­ment­a­tion and ra­cial­iz­a­tion [raci­sa­tion], there ex­ist two uni­lat­er­al stances fa­cing one an­oth­er. Ac­cord­ing to the first, ma­ter­i­al­ism boils down to re­du­cing iden­tity to its found­a­tion — without tak­ing its ef­fect­ive­ness or its lo­gic in­to ac­count. The second, equally ma­ter­i­al­ist stance but­tresses it­self on a re­fus­al to con­sider the facts. It says that if ra­cial­ identity is reduced in toto to its found­a­tion, it’s noth­ing but an arbitrary [volon­taire] and det­ri­ment­al con­struct. Hence, those who turn it in­to an ob­ject merely di­vide the class and pro­mote bar­bar­ism. (I’m hardly dis­tort­ing their po­s­i­tion). What always es­capes both of these stances is the ques­tion of ideo­logy, which is not a re­flec­tion [of the base] but an en­semble of prac­tic­al and be­liev­able re­sponses. Beneath these operate cer­tain prac­tices. Iden­tity comes in­to be­ing wherever there is a sep­ar­a­tion and auto­nom­iz­a­tion of a proper sphere of activ­ity. Each identity or ideo­logy — in the sense of the term em­ployed here — has its own his­tory and mod­us op­erandi, which can be ascertained with reference to the prac­tices op­er­at­ing be­neath the ideo­logy in ques­tion. Iden­tity is therefore an es­sen­tial­iz­a­tion which defines an in­di­vidu­al as a sub­ject.

A norm­at­ive deni­al of ra­cial­ized seg­ment­a­tion does not seek con­tra­dic­tions with­in that which ex­ists, but is rather content to po­s­ition it­self in con­tra­dic­tion to that which ex­ists: class against its seg­ment­a­tion, without con­sid­er­ing that class only ex­ists with­in this seg­ment­a­tion (i.e., with­in the con­tra­dic­tion of pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al that provides for its re­pro­duc­tion). Norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion to the real seg­ment­a­tion of the pro­let­ari­at leads to an ideo­lo­gic­al ec­lipse of this real­ity — something the Parti des indigènes de la République [PIR] does in­versely, in its own way.

Let us re­peat: Pro­let­ari­an struggles are always pro­duced and de­veloped with­in the cat­egor­ies of re­pro­duc­tion and self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al. Struggles only ever ex­ist as “over­de­termined.” The de­sire for a class which breaks away from its re­cip­roc­al im­plic­a­tion within cap­it­al to af­firm it­self as such, sub­stan­ti­ating it­self ­in pure self-de­term­in­a­cy, is a pro­gram­mat­ic dream. Fur­ther, this “surplus” or “over­de­termin­a­tion” is not some residual de­fi­ciency or détour­ne­ment, but rather the very ex­ist­ence and prac­tice of class as it is found. In oth­er words, it is the re­cip­roc­al re­pro­duc­tion of pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al — wherein the lat­ter al­ways sub­sumes the former, which then acts ac­cord­ing to cat­egor­ies defined by the re­pro­duc­tion of cap­it­al. The frac­tions of the pro­let­ari­at, in its seg­ment­a­tion, ap­pear on the labor mar­ket as pre­con­di­tioned because the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion moves with­in the con­crete forms it cre­ates (even bey­ond the labor mar­ket). As a result, these forms confront the pro­cess of re­pro­duc­tion as pre­con­di­tions de­term­in­ing the be­ha­vi­or of both cap­it­al­ists and pro­let­ari­ans, provid­ing them with their con­scious­ness and motives for ac­tion.

This seg­ment­a­tion de­vel­ops its own ideo­lo­gic­al ef­fic­a­cy, which then di­vides the pop­u­la­tion by so­lid­i­fying dif­fer­ences. And this is where the Indigènes ap­pear as en­tre­pren­eurs of ra­cial­iz­a­tion, just as there are en­tre­pren­eurs of na­tion­al­ism, elites which con­sti­tute a rack­et that happily was without much ef­fect­ive­ness un­til shortly ago. Cri­tique must be un­com­prom­ising on these points: tac­tic­al ho­mo­pho­bia, lat­ent an­ti­semit­ism, the “un­der­stand­ing” [«com­pré­hen­sion»] of pro-Sad­dam ele­ments dur­ing the Gulf War, the scrap­ping (“for the mo­ment”) of wo­men’s struggles, etc. — these are not “de­vi­ations,” which would pre­suppose a point of de­par­ture that was more or less “healthy.” Quite the opposite: these po­s­i­tions are con­stitutive of the activ­ity of racialization en­tre­pren­eurs, the rais­on d’être of the PIR, which even di­vides a par­tic­u­lar seg­ment of the “im­mig­rant” pop­u­la­tion with the term “post­co­lo­ni­al” in seeking to define an es­sen­tial iden­tity. Even if the PIR plays an in­sig­ni­fic­ant role in the neigh­bor­hoods [quart­i­ers], their ideo­lo­gic­al work is in line with the situ­ation which cur­rently pre­vails: “Since the mid-seventies, we have been able to dis­tin­guish three suc­cess­ive con­fig­ur­a­tions, three ages of the ban­lieue. A dis­or­gan­ized world, but one close to us, ter­rit­or­ies re­classified [requa­li­fiés] by drug traf­fick­ing and urb­an vi­ol­ence in a uni­verse marked by en­clos­ure and se­ces­sion.”1

We can speak of a feel­ing of power­less­ness in re­gards to our re­la­tion with so­ci­ety, which con­fronts the in­di­vidu­al as re­ified [cho­si­fiée] col­lect­ive re­straint. Here we have the form and con­tent of an in­di­vidu­al con­scious­ness of itself that is properly religious: the con­sid­er­a­tion of in­di­vidu­al ali­en­a­tion vis-à-vis the com­munity (which is no longer a mode of pro­duc­tion or en­semble of productive relations) as a state, the in­her­ent misery of hu­man nature. In the capitalist constitution of ex­clu­sion, the pro­let­ari­at’s alienation from the web [ensemble] of so­cial re­la­tions no longer ap­pears as the product of its own activ­ity. Nor does its con­tra­dict­ory re­la­tion with the rest of so­ci­ety seem to be something of its own do­ing, but rather an in­her­ent feature of its in­di­vidu­al­ity. These are just the poor, the plebs. Hav­ing be­come in­her­ent in in­di­vidu­al­ity, this sep­ar­a­tion from the com­munity and oth­er in­di­vidu­al­it­ies can only be re­solved through a re­la­tion which tran­scends all of them as something rad­ic­ally ex­ter­i­or. This is in­deed the struc­ture of re­li­gion and its pro­duc­tion. Re­li­gion can thus reunite all the various de­term­in­a­tions of in­di­vidu­al­ity and become a power­ful lever for the en­tre­pren­eurs of iden­tit­ies.

Every iden­tit­y gives itself an ima­gin­ary gene­a­logy, which is both ef­fic­a­cious and real by virtue of its re­con­struc­tion. However, this is also the entire prob­lem of identity, aside from its labile, plastic, and fra­gile character (des­pite ap­pear­ances). The con­tra­dic­tion that occurs during the phase of real sub­sump­tion also takes place at the level of re­pro­duc­tion. But then again, the path of real con­tra­dic­tions — between norm­at­ive deni­al and the en­terprise of ra­cial­iz­a­tion — is a nar­row one in­deed. [For what fol­lows it would be use­ful to refer to the brief text, “An at­tempt to define class,” forth­com­ing]

The site of pro­duc­tion of iden­tit­ies is thus the mul­ti­tude of re­la­tions with­in which class membership is cre­ated and lived. Not all of them are strictly eco­nom­ic. We must add these to the pro­cess of pro­duc­tion: un­equal levels of de­vel­op­ment and their mise en abyme un­der contemporary cap­it­al­ism, the di­vi­sion of labor, the his­tor­ic­ as­pect of the value of labor power, the in­ter­play between re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion (as well as the pre­dom­in­ance they acquire in conjunction with the pre­vi­ous things lis­ted), and the de­na­tion­al­iz­a­tion of the state. The mech­an­ics of pro­duc­tion ap­plied here are di­verse, con­tin­gent on factors like class membership, seg­ment­a­tion of the labor power, cre­ation of the in­di­vidu­al as sub­ject, op­pres­sion (the “co­er­cive mo­ment,” which con­tains a re­newed faceoff between labor power and cap­it­al), and re­la­tions of dis­tri­bu­tion. Here it must be noticed that the Indigènes only speak of op­pres­sion and the op­pressed. Among oth­er things, this is their way to carve out [décou­per] and pro­duce an iden­tity. They give form to a true lo­gic of iden­tity ad­dressed to in­di­vidu­als for whom the de­fin­ing as­pect is “be­ing cast aside” from “true so­ci­ety,” along with a “lack of re­spect.” What we see here is a con­stant over­de­termin­a­tion, a constant carving out [décou­page], of the lo­gic of class from it­self: this, then, is the en­tire prob­lem with norm­at­ive deni­al and the cult of pure class.

These mech­an­isms in­her­ent to the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al work on re­la­tions that are not them­selves strictly eco­nom­ic, which form their material. From this work res­ults all sorts of products: re­li­gious com­munit­ies, eth­ni­cit­ies, races, ter­rit­ori­al belonging [ap­par­te­nance ter­ri­to­riale], etc.; the pos­sible combinations are quasi-in­fin­ite. It’s is all a part of class struggle, and it’s not al­ways pretty. But we have to take part in it be­cause it’s the world in which we live. Not the world of Pure Ideas, but the bot­tom of the Cave.

One fre­quent er­ror con­sists in restor­ing a con­struc­ted iden­tity to its “base,” i.e. seg­ment­a­tion, without un­der­stand­ing that if seg­ment­a­tion is in­deed its base, then con­struc­ted iden­tity will “fol­low” the lo­gic which be­longs to it and func­tion ac­cord­ingly. This lo­gic or­gan­izes a whole world­view, and an approach to the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion as well. All these factors are per­tin­ent agents for the invention of dis­tinc­tions, their vari­ation or dis­ap­pear­ance. In Mar­seille, for instance, an Itali­an or a Span­iard is just an­oth­er nice bowl­ing buddy. Ra­cial­iz­a­tion, or the pro­duc­tion of spe­cif­ic iden­tit­ies, does not be­long to the concept of cap­it­al. (Un­like the dis­tinc­tion of gender, which is in­her­ent to work as a pro­duct­ive force). But this having been said, ra­ce is nevertheless a ne­ces­sary form of ap­pear­ance [une forme de mani­fes­ta­tion néces­saire]. The trans­form­a­tion of a so­cial re­la­tion in­to a thing — in oth­er words, a “para­dox­ic­al” sub­ject — is at the same time the trans­form­a­tion of this thing in­to a so­cial re­la­tion between sub­jects. In a sense, the sub­ject is heir to the move­ment which cre­ates it. This in­ver­sion is the way re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion really act, dis­guised [dis­si­mu­lés] as the wills and de­cisions of sub­jects.

But the whole so­cial con­struct out of which this arises now ef­faces it­self. Ra­cial or eth­nic dis­tinc­tion plays its own role ac­cord­ing to pre­scribed de­term­in­a­tions for it­self with­in the autonomy of the do­main of ac­tion in which it is cre­ated: a black man could be­come pres­id­ent of the United States, but he is still black. And a black pro­let­ari­an is not a white pro­let­ari­an. Ex­ist­ing for it­self, with­in its own do­main of ac­tion, such dis­tinc­tion can also be made the ob­ject of in­stru­ment­al polit­ic­al activ­ity. We saw this in France dur­ing the great wave of strikes in the auto­mobile in­dustry between 1983 and 1984, even up to today. Dis­tinc­tion is an ideo­logy, and as such works well in the as­sign­ment and re­la­tion of in­di­vidu­als to their con­di­tions of ex­ist­ence and re­pro­duc­tion. Or, to put it an­oth­er way, their pos­i­tion within the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion. Since all of this real and ob­ject­ive, it can­’t be dismissed with the grand, ritu­al­ in­voc­a­tion of class. No more than we could simply deman­d that pro­let­ari­ans se­cede.

This is the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al we have here: the re­pro­duc­tion of the faceoff between pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al. In­scribed ­within the con­tra­dic­tions of the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al, within its con­tra­dict­ory ex­ist­ence in pro­cess, and fi­nally within class struggle, these iden­tit­ies are thus plastic (in ac­cord­ance with the needs of this dis­tinc­tion, which passes through all in­stances not dir­ectly eco­nom­ic) as well as fra­gile (in ac­cord­ance with the ca­pa­city of this dis­tinc­tion to re­pro­duc­e itself).

Here iden­tit­ies can even be points of sup­port in its struggle (con­trary to norm­at­ive wishes), but they are nev­er fixed (con­trary to what en­tre­pren­eur­i­al prac­tices would like to make of them). Even when they are “affixed” to com­munit­ies, they re­pro­duce their core class con­tra­dic­tions. We must nev­er for­get that all iden­tit­ies are con­struc­ted, his­tor­ic­al and fra­gile. Re­volu­tion, as well as cur­rent struggles like the ri­ots in the ban­lieues, con­front the scler­osis of class defined as a so­cioeco­nom­ic cat­egory. But they also con­front all the iden­tit­ies built upon it as over­de­termin­a­tions, its con­di­tions of ex­ist­ence: un­der­mining, in­ter­rog­ating, and calling in­to doubt eth­nic na­tion­al­ity, ra­cial na­tion­al­ity, etc. (2005 was not an eth­nic re­volt). This isn’t an in­tel­lec­tu­al ques­tion bring­ing us back to re­call who is who, since this scler­osis and the struggle against it is the prac­tical con­front­a­tion that link­s re­volu­tion to coun­ter­re­volu­tion. Class does not al­ways ap­pear clearly. Any such clar­ity is rare, as it is not the nature of re­volu­tion to an­nounce the fi­nal hour. It is only with­in a mul­ti­pli­city of prac­tices and con­tra­dic­tions internal to cap­it­al — in confrontations between all sorts of iden­tit­ies, the ac­tions which stem­ from and over­come them — that class can trans­form­ itself into a com­mun­izing class. Or in oth­er words, one that is self-ab­ol­ish­ing. No longer can re­volu­tion be the af­firm­a­tion of a pro­let­ari­at re­cog­niz­ing it­self as the re­volu­tion­ary force fa­cing cap­it­al within the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion.

Whenever strug­gling as a class is the lim­it of class struggle, re­volu­tion be­comes a struggle against that which pro­duced it: the whole ar­chi­tec­ture of the mode of pro­duc­tion, the dis­tri­bu­tion of its in­stances and levels, which find them­selves drawn in­to a pro­cess of upending [bou­le­ver­se­ment] the nor­mal­ity/fatal­ity of its re­pro­duc­tion. This, in turn, is defined by a de­term­in­at­ive hier­archy of in­stances in the mode of pro­duc­tion. (Each thing in its own place acts as “cause” of what fol­lows, in the or­der of bases, in­fra­struc­tures, su­per­struc­tures, etc., all of which are placed into the hier­archy). For re­volu­tion is itself this very up­heav­al [bou­le­ver­se­ment]. Only if it is suc­cess­ful can it be­come the mo­ment in which pro­let­ari­ans cast off the rot of the old world which sticks to their skin and keeps them pro­let­ari­ans. Men and wo­men will do the same with that which con­sti­tutes their in­di­vidu­al­ity. It’s not a ques­tion of pure caus­a­tion, but rather the con­crete move­ment of re­volu­tion — in which the various in­stances of the mode of pro­duc­tion (ideo­logy, law, polit­ics, na­tion­al­ity, eco­nomy, gender, etc.) one by one become the dom­in­ant fo­cus of the ensemble of con­tra­dic­tions. This con­junc­ture des­ig­nates the very mech­an­ism of crisis, as a crisis of the self-pre­sup­pos­i­tion of cap­it­al: the upend­ing [bou­le­ver­se­ment] of the de­term­in­at­ive hier­archy of in­stances in the mode of pro­duc­tion. The re­volu­tion as com­mun­iz­a­tion would have to nour­ish it­self on this im­pur­ity, this non-sim­pli­city, of the cap­it­al­ist mode of pro­duc­tion’s con­tra­dict­ory pro­cess. Chan­ging cir­cum­stances and chan­ging one­self co­in­cide: this is re­volu­tion, this is a con­junc­ture. Iden­tit­ies are not es­sences, even if they of­fer them­selves and func­tion as such. Pretty much every­one agrees on this point. If we con­sider their place and their pro­duc­tion mech­an­ism, the ques­tion of over­com­ing leads to ques­tions con­cern­ing re­volu­tion as con­junc­ture: upend­ing [bou­le­ver­se­ment] the hier­archy of in­stances and cir­cu­la­tion of the dom­in­ant.

It would be false to see something nov­el in this, something that would only ar­rive with­in this “con­junc­ture.” We already en­ter­tain the idea that iden­tit­ies are fra­gile in their very con­struc­tion, wheth­er these are ra­cial, eth­nic, re­li­gious, etc. Of­ten iden­tit­ies in­clud­e a mix of these factors, a mix that ori­gin­ates in the con­tra­dic­tions of class and tra­verses them.

The ob­ject of the­or­et­ic­al and, when pos­sible, prac­tic­al com­mun­ist cri­tique, is not the en­te­rprise of iden­tity. Nor is it the norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion, which con­siders terms like class and “iden­tit­ies” to be mutually ex­clu­sive. Still less is it “dis­tantiated com­pre­hen­sion” [«com­pré­hen­sion dis­tan­ciée»]. The ob­ject of cri­tique, its tar­get, is rather the lab­il­ity [labi­lité], plas­ti­city, and fra­gil­ity of iden­tity: his­tor­iciz­a­tion, “de­con­struc­tion,” con­tex­tu­al­iz­a­tion. In cer­tain situ­ations, why not, the ob­ject of cri­tique could even be the fact that these iden­tit­ies are dy­nam­ic pro­cesses con­sti­tu­ting a par­tic­u­lar struggle. And by way of this, a specific re­for­mu­la­tion of the gen­er­al re­la­tion of forces among classes. Why not? But even this is quite com­plic­ated. The lab­il­ity of iden­tity con­struc­tion var­ies a great deal, in keeping with so­cial and cul­tur­al levels. We ac­know­ledge that this lab­il­ity is stronger in the struggles that are won. Don’t for­get that the dis­ap­pear­ance of ra­cial­iz­a­tion will not by itself bring about the dis­ap­pear­ance of classes; it is not a pre­requis­ite. Ra­cial­iz­a­tion is also the voice of cap­it­al.

A repeat of the struggles in France is in large part cur­rently sus­pen­ded, un­der a fa­vor­able bal­ance of power, in the autonom­ous and par­tic­u­lar struggle of ra­cial­ized pro­let­ari­ans against their ra­cial­iz­a­tion [pro­lé­taires raci­sés contre leur raci­sa­tion]. This could not have been done simply by declaring ra­cial­iz­a­tion null and void. It is ab­so­lutely use­less to call on in­di­vidu­als to de­fend them­selves “as pro­let­ari­ans,” as if seg­ment­a­tion and ra­cial­iz­a­tion were not a part of their ex­ist­ence as pro­let­ari­ans. Fore­ground­ing an iden­tity can at once bring about its re­cog­nition and de-es­sen­tial­iz­a­tion, however, which then passes on to an at­tack on cer­tain his­tor­ic­al and cul­tur­al char­ac­ter­ist­ics being made into one’s per­son­al defin­i­tion, op­er­at­ive agents of so­cial and eco­nom­ic cleavage (because chos­en and de­lim­it­ed). Or in oth­er words, to bring war upon the dis­tance that separates the of­fi­cial Law of equal­ity, cit­izen­ship, and the other ab­strac­tions with which cap­it­al op­er­ates from the real rules (which the whole world knows are in­verse of of­fi­cial Rule) and real con­di­tions of work and life. It’s not a mat­ter of simply as­sum­ing “dif­fer­ence,” so as to rub it out at the same time. “Dif­fer­ence” is noth­ing more than an in­feri­or status in­delibly in­scribed onto a person. We must admit that “in­teg­ra­tion” is a test no one stands a chance in passing, even less so when coupled with the “war on ter­ror.” Break with the rules of the game, show that the of­fi­cial Rule is not the real rule, that ra­cial di­vi­sion derived from the seg­ment­a­tion of labor power func­tions in ac­cord­ance with its own needs. There is no a pri­ori “all to­geth­er.” Even if this seems “re­form­ist,” or an “in­ter­me­di­ary ob­ject­ive,” this has still not yet been achieved…

Once one pos­sesses a gen­er­al com­pre­hen­sion of the pro­duc­tion of iden­tit­ies, con­trary to that of en­tre­pren­eurs of iden­tity like the PIR or that of the norm like La Lutte de Classe, everything re­turns to the par­tic­u­lar ana­lys­is of a par­tic­u­lar situ­ation.

Why does such a sub­ject make sense today? Just look at nearly all the so­cial ques­tions. Most struggles can­not help but ex­press them­selves in the lan­guage of iden­tit­y, eth­ni­cit­y, re­li­gion, and race, all of which would be suf­ficient cause for a re­sponse But this does not ex­plain the vi­ol­ence and ten­sion this sub­ject pro­vokes in our “mi­lieu.” Purely norm­at­ive op­pos­i­tion to the real seg­ment­a­tion of class is there to stave off what would surely be the annihilation of the pro­let­ari­at’s gen­er­al iden­tity, which the mil­it­ant claims as his own and without which he im­plodes. He knows his very ex­ist­ence is at stake con­cern­ing this issue. What a nar­ciss­ist­ic wound it would be, to no longer be able to iden­tity with the “thugs of the ban­lieue”!

At­tempt at a defin­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at

The es­sen­tial defin­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at is a concretion of thought that ex­cludes no single mani­fest­a­tion. It is al­ways present in each of them; these cannot ex­ist except in the to­tal­ity of its forms and at­trib­utes. What then is a class? Let us at­tempt to provide a pos­sible defin­i­tion of the pro­let­ari­at as a class. Defin­i­tions of this class have al­ways nav­ig­ated two poles: a so­cioeco­nom­ic defin­i­tion and an his­tor­ic­al cat­egory defined by prac­tice (in early cri­tiques of pro­gram­mat­ism, this am­bi­gu­ity had been ar­ti­fi­cially over­come by dis­tinguishing between work­ing class and pro­let­ari­at).

But let’s start from an even sim­pler point: the im­per­at­ive to sell our labor power. We might add that this im­per­at­ive has no mean­ing out­side the val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al, which leads us to say that this sale for val­or­iz­a­tion defines it­self both as a con­tra­dic­tion for cap­it­al and for it­self. The sale of labor power does not tell us what the pro­let­ari­at is if not seized by its re­la­tion à la cap­it­al’s val­or­iz­a­tion, as con­tra­dic­tion. On its own, the sale of labor power ex­plains noth­ing; it no longer defines the class, even if linked to the val­or­iz­a­tion of cap­it­al. A defin­i­tion only ap­pears when either this situ­ation (the sale of labor power) or re­la­tion (of this sale to val­or­iz­a­tion) are seized as a con­tra­dic­tion by that of which they are a dy­nam­ic force: the con­tra­dic­tion between ne­ces­sary labor and sur­plus labor, the tend­ency of the rate of profit to fall, the con­tra­dic­tion com­prised by pro­let­ari­at and cap­it­al. It is also cap­it­al as a con­tra­dic­tion in pro­cess. So we have a unity of the defin­i­tion of class as a situ­ation and as a prac­tice (or “in it­self” and “for it­self,” if one pre­fers).

Moving on, if it is true that classes define them­selves as a spe­cif­ic po­s­i­tion within the re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion, then re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion are also re­la­tions of re­pro­duc­tion. Here the defin­i­tion of class be­comes com­plic­ated. We find that norm­at­ive deni­al fa­ces a “dis­har­mony” between what is hap­pening in any giv­en mo­ment and Marx’s fam­ous phrase about “what the pro­let­ari­at must do in con­form­ity with its be­ing.” This “dis­har­mony” not only attaches to cer­tain mo­ment­ary cir­cum­stances, but is in­her­ent in the fact that class is ob­ject­ively situ­ated with­in a struc­ture whose con­flic­tu­al re­pro­duc­tion mo­bil­iz­es the whole mode of pro­duc­tion. This im­plies a mul­ti­tude of re­la­tions that are not strictly eco­nom­ic, in which in­di­vidu­als live out this objective situation, which they also take on as they self-con­sti­tute as a class.

P.S. — It would be ne­ces­sary to pro­duce this tentative defin­i­tion from a par­tic­u­lar­ place within the to­tal­ity. Here we depart from a single pole, and not from the whole. This is not so bad, but it is a bit in­con­veni­ent.

1 Michel Koko­reff et Didi­er Lapey­ron­nie, Re­faire la cité, l’avenir des ban­lieues, Ed. Le Seuil