Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Friday, February 12, 2016

A REPLY TO CHRIS

Chris asks a deceptively simple question:  "Given that you've spent so much of your life studying race and class, where do you side on the whole race-class debate? Race is reducible to class? Race is separate but interconnected to class. Race is separate. Etc."

I have written about this before, but it seems appropriate to return to the issue in the context of the current race between Sanders and Clinton for the Democratic nomination, just before the South Carolina primary.

Quite obviously,  neither race nor class is "reducible" to the other, and equally obviously, they are interconnected in endlessly complex ways.  Here, put as simply as I am able, is my view of their differences:

The struggles for gender equality, racial equality, and equality of sexual orientation are all, in my view, struggles for the perfection of capitalism, not its overthrow.   I think Marx was right [and he was not at all alone in this view in the nineteenth century] that capitalism is a revolutionary force whose tendency it is to destroy social, economic, and political differences based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or [though Marx would never have said so] sexual orientation.  That is to say, it is the tendency of capitalism to erode or destroy social and economic differences grounded in anything other than one's position in the social relations of production.  Thus capitalism was, when it appeared, and is in its essence, politically progressive and liberal in its orientation.  The ideal capitalist world is a world in which men, women, Blacks, Whites, Gays and Straights are all equally and with rigorous fairness exploited by capital, a world furthermore in which no religious beliefs interfere with the smooth accumulation of capital.

The evidence of the past century strongly suggests that Marx overestimated the power of capitalism to accomplish this transformation of the pre-capitalist world, but he was correct, I think, in its tendency. 

The liberation struggles of women, African-Americans, and the LGBT community are desirable, admirable, essential, and worthy of support and commitment, but they are not, nor have they ever pretended to be, inimical to capitalism itself.

What makes the Sanders campaign extraordinary in American politics is that it is the first campaign in several generations that even hints that capitalism itself is the problem, not the deformations or imperfections of capitalism.  I say "hints" because Bernie is really an FDR liberal, not a genuine socialist in the style of my grandfather [or Eugene V. Debs, to choose a rather more prominent example from the same period of American history.]

Does that help?



5 comments:

Chris said...

Thank you, my own thoughts were circling around this very thesis, and I'm glad you articulated it so clearly.

A side note, Sanders does have a picture of Eugene Debs in his senate office.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

No kidding!

enzo rossi said...

So, prof. Wolff, do you think that there would be persistent racism (say) even under socialism? There would be residual racism at the beginning, to be sure, but I'm inclined to think that racism, sexism, etc. feed on oppressive social relations of production, and that they will wither away with them. But yes, there will still be car accidents under socialism.

s. wallerstein said...

Professor Wolff,

I think that you're right that capitalism has no prejudices, although individual capitalists may have them. What's more, capitalism learns quickly and it didn't take it long to see that women, gays, ethnic minorities are all potential consumer niches to sell to. Did you know that there's even a Che store? Anything can be made into a commodity.
https://www.thechestore.com/

Chris said...

There's certainly cases where capitalists use racism and sexism to foster more surplus value extraction. For instance, as long as the American working class continues to blame "those illegal Mexicans taking our jobs", then it divests what is really an issue of structural exploitation into an issue of local racism (the capitalist happy to higher cheaper legal immigrant labor, and to pay illegal labor under the table, both cases where the cost of labor power is reduced but the exploitation of labor time is the same). So I think Marx is right in the aggregate that capitalism tends toward progress on sex, race, and sexuality issues, but it's certainly the case that capitalist are slowing the trend due to profit incentives.