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Tag Archives: Marx

Playing Cat and Mauss: The Historical Crisis of Socialism

All this talk about Marx lately had me returning to a passage in David Graeber’s book Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology pdf here. I’ve mentioned the book before, and though I find something of its writing style and organization a bit jarring, I would recommend it for its perspective. There is much to harvest from there. David Graeber had recent (in)famy for being involved in a contract dispute at Yale, his contract failing to be renewed for any formally given reasons, a dismissal others claim to be politically motivated (2006). Here though he sets out an interesting micro-history, the way in which Mauss attempted to address the possible future of socialism in view of the failures of Lenin in Russia, yet still abhorant the vanguard and pro-violent thinking of Sorel. Outlined, it seems, is a path forward, though stillborn in history, which concerns itself with immanent, anarchist-like principles of organization (I am no anarchist), which reject the kind of violenced, intellectual elitist thinking that sometimes tugs at the theorizing of the academic Left. Graeber here suggests that the tendency toward the vanguard and its heirarchies is something that directs itself both Right and Left, (likely with the university system of text-producing intellectually playing their suitably scholastic role). The call for intellectual, ideational rupture, followed by violenced rupture and reframing of society is revolution in the dream of the elite.

Mauss was a child of Orthodox Jewish parents who had the mixed blessing of also being the nephew of Emile Durkheim, the founder of French sociology. Mauss was also a revolutionary socialist. For much of his life, he managed a consumer coop in Paris, and was constantly writing screeds for socialist newspapers, carrying out projects of research on coops in other countries, and trying to create links between coops in order to build an alternative, anti-capitalist, economy. His most famous work was written in response to the crisis of socialism he saw in Lenin’s reintroduction of the market in the Soviet Union in the ’20s: If it was impossible to simply legislate the money economy away, even in Russia, the least monetarized society in Europe, then perhaps revolutionaries needed to start looking at the ethnographic record to see what sort of creature the market really was, and what viable alternatives to capitalism might look like. Hence his “Essay on the Gift,” written in 1925, which argued (among other things) that the origin of all contracts lies in communism, an unconditional commitment to another’s needs, and that despite endless economic textbooks to the contrary, there has never been an economy based on barter: that actually-existing societies which do not employ money have instead been gift economies in which the distinctions we now make between interest and altruism, person and property, freedom and obligation, simply did not exist.

Mauss believed socialism could never be built by state fiat but only gradually, from below, that it was possible to begin building a new society based on mutual aid and self-organization “in the shell of the old”; he felt that existing popular practices provided the basis both for a moral critique of capitalism and possible glimpses of what that future society would be like. All of these are classic anarchist positions. Still, he did not consider himself an anarchist. In fact, he never had anything good to say about them. This was, it appears, because he identified anarchism mainly with the figure of Georges Sorel, an apparently quite personally distasteful French anarcho-syndicalist and anti-Semite, now mainly famous for his essay Reflections sur le Violence. Sorel argued that since the masses were not fundamentally good or rational, it was foolish to make one’s primary appeal to them through reasoned arguments. Politics is the art of inspiring others with great myths. For revolutionaries, he proposed the myth of an apocalyptic General Strike, a moment of total transformation. To maintain it, he added, one would need a revolutionary elite capable of keeping the myth alive by their willingness to engage in symbolic acts of violence – an elite which, like the Marxist vanguard party (often somewhat less symbolic in its violence), Mauss described as a kind of perpetual conspiracy, a modern version of the secret political men’s societies of the ancient world.

In other words, Mauss saw Sorel, and hence anarchism, as introducing an element of the irrational, of violence, and of vanguardism. It might seem a bit odd that among French revolutionaries of the time, it should have been the trade unionist emphasizing the power of myth, and the anthropologist objecting, but in the context of the ’20s and ’30s, with fascist stirrings everywhere, it’s understandable why a European radica l- especially a Jewish one – might see all this as just a little creepy. Creepy enough to throw cold water even on the otherwise rather appealing image of the General Strike – which is after all about the least violent possible way to imagine an apocalyptic revolution. By the ’40s, Mauss concluded his suspicions had proved altogether justified.

To the doctrine of the revolutionary vanguard, he wrote, Sorel added a notion originally culled from Mauss’ own uncle Durkheim: a doctrine of corporatism, of vertical structures glued together by techniques of social solidarity. This he said was a great influence on Lenin, by Lenin’s own admission. From there it was adopted by the Right. By the end of his life, Sorel himself had become increasingly sympathetic with fascism; in this he followed the same trajectory as Mussolini (another youthful dabbler with anarcho-syndicalism) and who, Mauss believed, took these same Durkheimian/Sorelian/Leninist ideas to their ultimate conclusions. By the end of his life, Mauss became convinced even Hitler’s great ritual pageants, torch-lit parades with their chants of “Seig Heil!,” were really inspired by accounts he and his uncle had written about totemic rituals of Australian aborigines. “When we were describing how ritual can create social solidarity, of submerging the individual in the mass,” he complained, “it never occurred to us that anyone would apply such techniques in the modern day!” (In fact, Mauss was mistaken. Modern research has shown Nuremberg rallies were actually inspired by Harvard pep rallies. But this is another story.) (17-19)

Now Mauss’s essay is well-known and actually quite influential in a shadowy way. It provided an alternate conception of ways that primative cultures, and even modern cultures negotiated their identies and exchanges. No longer does the Marxist/Capitalist mythology of universal barter sit well as the necessary ideological underpinning of justice. The point here though is that in Mauss were some historical doubts that we today might well retain, in particular as we contemplate the recent discourses of the academic Left, dreaming of radical breaks with what is possible in society. It seems to me that in particular his distrust of vanguardism, his first hand view of top-down historical failures when coupled with a differential notion of human bonding through gift, and incorporated into a cybernetic conception of the post-human, provides us a view forward, through the mechanisms of Capitalized communication. This, instead of any dying attempt to reformulate the intellectual elite through the full reanimation of Marx’s corpse. The only choices are not some essentialized and projected Capitalism and a not-yet-attained Marxist Communism.

Click here for a nice interview of David Graeber by Charlie Rose (roughly 20 minutes), wherein he addresses the principles of his proposed anarchism. Warning for Badiouists: do not compare this interview, and David’s substantive articulation, with that of Badiou’s recent prevaricating discussion at Hardtalk.

Quote from the Interview: “In academia there is a hierarchy, and…you’re supposed to be scared, you’re supposed to be, um,  sort of cowering before people. And I was never disrespectful before people, but I didn’t cowar.”

Growing Enthused – Achilles (Fetish and Blake)

The Problem with Fetish

Yesterday I spent some time researching into Sloterdijk, and making connections towards productive theories on economy and value. Re-reading parts of David Graeber’s provocative and enlightening Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams, with careful attention to its last chapter helped focus me on the precise notions of imaginary relations, in particular the different meanings of “fetish”. David there makes clear the problem that Marxists have in explaining real African fetishes (they do not necessarily occlude human relations as Marxist theories require), as well as the difficulties anthropologists have with the concept of “magic” (relativist tendencies strain to explain its nature in terms other than simply that of false beliefs). There is actually a dearth of anthropological literature on magic, which is somewhat surprising. David wants to suggest that societal “magic” with its emphasis upon human agency, and a built-in skepticism for results possible, may actually provide clues for the nature of political power.  It occurs to me that somewhere in the triangle of fetishes: Marx’s commodity fetish, Freud sexual fetish, and the African fetish of bound agreements, may lie important criticisms of Western concepts of the individual, politics and desire, the possibility for a language of desire that is simply missing from the discourse. I briefly discussed Sloterdijk with David, who has as of yet had very little contact with his ideas, but who in person struck him as a genuinely creative mind (a substantive compliment). Excitingly, David is well into the writing of a new book, no doubt something to watch for. I have some difficulties with his writing style which often makes an uncomfortable compromise between the depth of his ideas and the need to draw them out into an almost conversational and much recapitulated plainness-in-sight, perhaps a product of his field (what he is saying is simply much more exciting then how he says it); but his particular synthesis of anthropological knowledge, anarchist criticisms and prescriptions, and sensitivity toward a need for just, radical conceptual change makes him a voice to be heard. One of the rare intellectuals who seems to love and like human beings, people, even more than his own ideas.

Blakean Rage and Revolution

In making my rounds I also had some contact with Emile Fromet de Rosnay at the University of Victoria, and who has promised himself Sloterdijk’s Zorn und Zeit, though it remains in the cue. He is focused on notions of Rage as they form a natural compliment to Melancholia, an interesting pair. I am unsure of how Sloterdijk would handle this as it is his position that the repression of rightful anger that leads to the excessive economy of eros and lack. Emile made the enlightening suggestion that Blakean rage may be good to look at. Somehow this struck me as quite significant, and the figure of Los/Orc from the Four Zoas came to my mind (a favorite work), the heated creative fusion of new things, which can be born out in revolutionary rage. Indeed there must be an artistic aspect to this analysis of Achillean economics, as I already suggested in regards to Achilles’s new use of language in the forming of his complaint and withdrawl. Orc, who is meant to embody the pure Revolutionary spirit, the name possibly an anagram for Cor, heart, may reflect well Sloterdijk’s concept of thymotic rage.

And Los repented that he had chaind Orc upon the mountain
And Enitharmons tears prevaild parental love returnd
Tho terrible his dread of that infernal chain They rose
At midnight hasting to their much beloved care
Nine days they traveld thro the Gloom of Entuthon Benithon
Los taking Enitharmon by the hand led her along
The dismal vales & up to the iron mountains top where Orc
Howld in the furious wind he thought to give to Enitharmon
Her son in tenfold joy & to compensate for her tears
Even if his own death resulted so much pity him paind

But when they came to the dark rock & to the spectrous cave
Lo the young limbs had strucken root into the rock & strong
Fibres had from the Chain of Jealousy inwove themselves
In a swift vegetation round the rock & round the Cave
And over the immortal limbs of the terrible fiery boy
In vain they strove now to unchain. In vain with bitter tears
To melt the chain of Jealousy. not Enitharmons death
Nor the Consummation of Los could ever melt the chain
Nor unroot the infernal fibres from their rocky bed
Nor all Urthonas strength nor all the power of Luvahs Bulls
Tho they each morning drag the unwilling Sun out of the deep
Could uproot the infernal chain. for it had taken root

Into the iron rock & grew a chain beneath the Earth
Even to the Center wrapping round the Center & the limbs
Of Orc entering with fibres. became one with him a living Chain
Sustained by the Demons life. Despair & Terror & Woe & Rage

Inwrap the Parents in cold clouds as they bend howling over
The terrible boy till fainting by his side the Parents fell

(The Fifth Night, FSZ-62.11 -63.6)


The Unlived Life and Unnecessary Triviality

Poetix offers a beautiful post on the meaning of the unlived life Latourian/Marxist valuation and its necessary connection to vitalism.

“A premise of Marxist economic theory, in particular of the Labour Theory of Value, is that exploitation is odious: the “surplus value” extracted from workers is a part of their life (that is, of their labour) which is taken from them and not returned. Not only is the working life of the worker actively curtailed by exhaustion and immiseration, but even the life he has left is not lived to the full inasmuch as he never enjoys the full fruits of his labours.”

From this comes to mind the Process Theology definition of “Evil”, derived from Whitehead and Aristotle, presented by Cobb and Griffin. Process Theology is an off-shoot of Whiteheadian metaphysics. Under this definition, there are two kinds of evil, absolute as Discord and relative as needless Triviality:

“Discord, which is physical or mental suffering is simply evil in itself, whenever it occurs. Triviality, however, is only evil in some cases. A trivial enjoyment is not evil in itself insofar as its harmony outweighs its discordant elements. But if it is more trival, and hence less intense than it could have been, given the real possibilities open to it, then it is evil. Hence while discord is absolutely evil, triviality is only comparatively evil.”

[Briefly summed up here: A Non-moral theory of Evil ]

With this in view, the soterial drive is the drive for the redemption of the “triviality” of other lives, a re-inscription of the meaning of their persisting notes in the strain. It is perhaps why Zionist movements and Christian Eschatology have played a heavy hand in the history of the West, in particular during it turning points of modernity 17th century and early 20th(and perhaps now). Keeping with an analogy of music, notes that are played trivallyso in history, the banal, sing-song jingles of an immature happinesses, or worse, the culdesacs of suffering, sour notes let out, each can take on a difference juxtaposed meaning when considered with our own actions. In this sense, our actions are genetic fulfillments of the hopes, unconscious and conscious, of others.

I think it is right to read the very question of continuity within the question of the maximalization of the intensity of our present lives, and hence attribute an implicit vitalism to any rational scheme to make sense of our world. As we stretch the living band to its most taut, discord reaching point, and form counterpoints to that tension, it is ever the graves of others that we retroactively over-turn and rebury.

The Angel of History

I differ though from Benjamin’s notion of historical impasse, the sense that we are ever removed from the paradise of a growing piling up of corpses and fragmentations, the haunting of a hautology:

A Klee drawing named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe that keeps piling ruin upon ruin and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

– Walter Benjamin,

Ninth Thesis on the Philosophy of History

And I do not read individuation as a necessary ghosting as Benjamin evocatively summons up,

Standing behind the doorway curtain, the child [who is hiding] becomes himself something floating and white, a ghost. The dining table under which he is crouching turns him into a wooden idol in a temple whose four pillars are the carved legs…. Anyone who discovers him can petrify him as an idol under the table, weave him forever as a ghost into the curtain…. And so, at the seeker’s touch, with a loud cry he drives out the demon who has so transformed him – indeed without waiting for the moment of discovery, he grabs the hunter with a shout of self-deliverance.

Walter Benjamin, One Way Street

The reason for this is that given a Spinozist conception of sense-making, one already takes any notes played as optimally intense, not from their perspective, but the perspective of the fullness of Substance’s expression. But, this is not to say that our position, or own historical attempt to maximalize ourselves beyond the locality of our individuation, beyond the ghosting implicatures of the Symbolic, necessarily doesn’t keep a record of the relative intensities and trivialities of others, not only of the past (!), but of the present and the future. It is musicology. As such, there is more than enough room though for the Caliban Question, and the imagination as prophetic, including the spectres of ghosts.

[Also recommended, the “Life Beyond Life” post at Complete Lies.]

Producing Producers: Interlocking of Oppression

Interlocking Divisions of Labor and What it Means to Produce: Notes on Patricia Collins’ “Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought”


The aim here is to explore Patricia Collins’ use of the concept of “Interlocking of Oppression” via Marx’ primary definition of the “division of labor” as found in The German Ideology and in so doing, to open up both Collins’ standpoint thinking and Marxist foundations to questions and development. First by considering Collins’ appeal to the binaries of oppression, and then by looking to Marxist intellectual origins of bifurcation itself, it is my focus to show that the importance of examining the notion of a “simultaneity of oppression” (Collins S19) lies in the very diversity of production it exposes in the development of all materialist relations. Only by recognizing these multiplicities of domination and production, can novel or still silenced forms of oppression be uncovered and taken into moral account. Further, it is my hope that the ultimate question of the produced-a wider view of what is produced, and how it is produced-may then establish even greater relevance for Black feminist thinking.

When quoting the ambitions of Black feminist Anna Julia Cooper as paradigmatic, there is a sense in which Collins relies upon the very “construct of dichotomous oppositional difference” (S20) that she is otherwise at pains distance herself from. Principally, there is a subtle contradiction. For Cooper in her vision expresses a hidden and perhaps core binary which may lie beneath all other dichotomies, that of nature vs. culture:

We take our stand on the solidarity of humanity, the oneness of life, and the unnaturalness and injustice of all special favoritisms, whether of sex, race, country or condition…not till race, color, sex and condition are seen as accidents, and not the substance of life…is woman’s lesson taught and woman’s cause won…not the white woman’s nor the black woman’s, nor the red woman’s, but the cause of every man and every woman who has silently writhed under a mighty wrong (S21).

The appreciation of this division, that of the produced class “humanity,” as distinct from what is not human-obscured here by the ambiguous terms “life” and “unnaturalness”- may seem like a necessary, and indeed vital distinction for moral positioning. For it is within the context of “humanity” that one sees with greatest clarity the oppressive binaries, “black/white, male/female, reason/emotion, fact/opinion, and subject/object” (S20), which African-American women have found themselves diversely subject to and from which Collins’ critical use of “interlocking oppressions” is derived. It should not be lost though that this distinction of the “human” also is an essentializing dichotomy, and as such, may prove foundational to the basic dichotomous ideas that for Collins ground and “crosscut multiple systems of domination” (S20). If so, one’s non-oppressive aim might be not a return to the broadest of these dichotomies, but rather new divisions of even greater communicability. There would be no turning back to a primordial simplicity of dichotomy imagined to be more “natural”, but only the more intricate and whole systems of relation, formed by giving voice, which recognize the oppressive nature of necessary divisions themselves.

It is significant that Marx starts from this same exact point, the emergence of the human from Nature, as a primary binary-what Collins and Cooper take as a direction, Marx makes as a beginning: “Man can be distinguished from animals by consciousness,” he writes, “[humans] begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence” (Marx 150). What I would like to highlight, is that almost immediately Marx draws a distinction that momentarily seems to threaten the standing of women as producers, leaving their biological production of children potentially on the wrong side of the human vs. nature divide. “This mode of production,” he states emphatically, “must not be considered simply as being the reproduction of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are” (150). But because the biological carrying and birthing of children by women, that reproductive labor, is for Marx human only when it is seen as a “mode of life,” we see exactly the kind of line Marx is intellectually forced to draw in order to make a producer to a “producer” (α).

So Patricia Collins’ exemplar and Marx seem to be on the same page regarding this fundamental distinction that will universalize what is human. Yet in this primary distinction the bifurcating action of dichotomies has already begun, the human has been broken off from the material, and production from its means. By separating the world into the mentally made and the materially found, the superior and inferior halves of binaries upon which oppressions are formed have been initialized.

But let us dig deeper into the nature of such line-drawing, a nature which will be made clearer in the principle of Marx’ ‘division of labor,’ the production of a new means of producing a thing to be used through a specialization of the workforce. The “degree to which the division of labor has been carried,” says Marx, is shown by each “new productive force.” And a “new productive force” is defined as something that is “not merely a quantitative extension of productive forces already known.” Such a new force, that which exceeds that which is already known, “causes a further development of the division of labour” (150). When a plow has been invented, a new kind of metal is smelted, a population is enslaved, a production line is put in place, a town agora established, there is a new form of production, division of labor that increases relatedness-that is, a quantitative increase in the complexity of modes across which effects may pass. What is salient to my point here, is that the developmental degree is dependent upon newness itself, and newness is dependent upon what is already known. To return to our illustrative example, just as in the myth of a distinction that supposedly once made woman’s reproduction into a “baby,” so too new modes of production are framed by the recognition of material possibilities different than those already understood. The way something has been conceived in the past, its history, contributes to the material distinction as to whether there has been a new and productive division of labor. Marx’ materially oriented examination of the human world begins with a mental recognition of historic differences.

Now these divisions of labor are readily taken by Marx to be such things as specializations of a workforce along particular tasks or modes of the produced: the slave, farmer, the serf, the blacksmith, the cog-maker, and then the legislator, the priest, the teacher; but there is nothing in this definition that restricts these productions to solely those of the economic sphere (β). In fact, beyond Marx’ materialist aims (he seeks to foreclose the ideational as less real and subsidiary), because the very newness of divisions is dependent upon current states of knowledge and conception, one could argue that the economic character of the “division of labor” is solely that of the conceived-that Marx sees the division of labor strictly to be brought about at the moment of a division between mental and material labor (159), does not mitigate the productive dependence on thought in the entire process. Thinking and valuation creates difference. All material distinctions are mentally recognized, and all mental distinctions are materially manifested, if by degrees (γ). Indeed, what for Marx would place the reproduction of children on the right side of the nature/culture divide is in the fact that a birth is seen as an expression, as a mode of life (150). The point I put forth, beyond Marx’ intention, is that what is humanly produced in the reproduction of babies-and analogously in all reproductions- is the category of “mothers,” of “daughters,” “sons,” and so many other material instantiations of already-known differences. In this way one is to understand that the things we produce are not limited to instrumental material objects of use and exchange, things to be sold at market, but also to see that we produce ourselves, the material basis for known forces of production, and also that we are the fecund nexus of differences that may found new forces of production, through kinds of recognition, and recombination. There is a technology of selves.

So why is this important to Patricia Collin’s argument for the “interlocking of oppression?” She convincingly sets forth the assertion that African-American woman speak from a unique place in history, that,

The oppression experienced by most Black women is shaped by their subordinate status in an array of either/or dualities. Afro-American women have been assigned the inferior half of several dualities, and this placement has been central to their continued domination (S20).

The painful truth of this resonates throughout the claim of her position. It provides the far-reaching, crosscutting aspect power of her criticism. There are several trajectories of binary domination which have historically converged upon the African-American woman; as such, their voice becomes a voice that cannot be silenced by the privileging of any single binary as the primary complaint to be addressed. Collins asserts that attempts to “prioritize one form of oppression,” as in traditional Marxism, and “handle the remaining types of oppression as variables” (S20), proves wholly deficient to a group that has historically experienced oppressive binaries with oscillation: one form of oppression at a particular time takes a dominant role, only to recede as another that takes its place. Taking the historical example of the male black rights movement, and citing feminist Sojourner Truth, Collins makes this point. Black men would eventually gain legal rights as men, but this would only lead to new gendered forms of domination for African-American women, obscured by changes on a particular front (S19). Further, there is a complex circuitry with which ruling parties enforce these dualities, for instance the essentialization of the passionate character of black women by whites justified their sexual abuse, but an alternate structuring of their essences as irrational was accomplished by keeping black women from literacy (S20). This shows a network of as-knownreproductions which extend beyond any simple stratification of class, race or gender. By seeing the pervasive and nexus nature of oppression, Collins calls one’s attention to the diversity of what is produced in material instantiations of the new (δ).

Marx compares ideology to a kind of reflected image. Like the camera obscura, which guided the new realisms of Renaissance painters, upside down it actually reflects the material conditions that were thought by Hegel to be its products (154). If Marx made an essentialist mistake, it was not to see the complexity of vectors upon which his original definition of the “division of labor” could and does manifest itself. The newness of productions that depart from the known, are not just the specializations of the marketplace, but also new forms of oppression, new ways of exacting binaries to which peoples can be institutionally “assigned the inferior half” (Collins S20). Because what is “known,” is essential to the “newness” that distinguishes the advance of the division of labor itself-a division which founds the very character of our interrelatedness-one must grasp just what it means to produce. There was a time in history when “blackness” was not known, and then a time that it became a new “quantitative extension” of what was known, a new productive force of the difference. It seems a simple, if not obligatory move to imagine that “blackness” only followed the economic “slave,” but indeed as produced effects of difference, it is very likely that they developed on parallel but independent tracks. If ideology does indeed reflect the material means of production, as Marx imagined, perhaps it is most advantageous to understand that what is ever being produced in divisions of labor is a material form of newness, itself to be exchanged in circuits of power.

What African-American women have experienced is being the bodily producers of “blackness,” of “womanness,” of the “worker” to be segmented into organizations of the known (ε). Only more rarely have they been producers of “humanness.” Their history of words, expressions, mannerisms and culture, what Patricia Collins sees as “different expressions of common themes” (S18), has become the material basis for those inferior half productions. When Ms. Collins argues for self-definition, and self-valuing (S18), and for and an emphasis on African-American Culture (S20), what she is radically arguing for is the organized reclaiming of that which has been produced. But not only this. She is also calling for a new “quantitative extensions of productive forces already known,” a division of labor, though she does not frame her position consistently as such. Her appeal to a universal humanity that does not distinguish via substantive difference already relies upon a culture/nature dichotomy which classifies the human as essentially human against a backdrop of the non-human. This is a fair violation of anti-dichotomous principles for many moralists, for one need only make of all interactions “humanity” the guiding universal, a nice, clear biological, species-specific definition of justice. Yet there is an infinitely grayed, ever-productive boarder of the new that threatens even this class. The line between the humanity of the unborn, and the humanity of the agency of unionized and corporate persons for instance, defies such a clean moral judgment. And this essay suggests that such a move is not strictly possible.

What Patricia Collins’ use of interlocking oppression points to is that binaries proliferate and extend themselves on any number of newly produced trajectories. While ‘the human,’ may seem like a safe place to stop in our favor, what it ignores is that, as an examination of Marx’s definition of ‘the human’ shows, the bifurcation of the known into the newly known is a product of conscious development itself, it is the means of a growing interrelatedness. What interlocking oppression tells us is that the “oppressed” occur along any number of vectors, and very often with several such vectors converging on a particular people, a people whose very invisibility and silence may mark their status. What a radicalized version of Marx’ division of labor tells us is that the freedom of the oppressed does not occur through a return to an primordial “whole,” or an all inclusive depositing of people on the right half of conceptual binaries, but through the political production of new forms of voiced power, the countermanding of the products of one’s own image, the seizing of the knowness of one’s material existence. As Patricia Collins draws upon the lived experiences of the oppressed, the actual wisdom and analysis of Nancy White for instance (S17), her standpoint theory becomes the material reorganization of what was once historically organized in a different way. In so doing, exactly in accord with Marx’ vision, she allows what was once taken as material to speak, and in speaking to bring material change.


(α) The ideological component of this core distinction may not seem immediately evident. But illustrative of the resonant ideological aspect of even this most basic division, nature vs. culture, “reproduced physical existence” vs “distinct mode of life,” when reflected back upon something as simple as childbirth, is two-fold: one, women as the physical bearers of children ever threaten to fall materially on the silent, not-yet-human side of production, the side of the speechless “body”; and two, in that the meaning of biological reproduction is human only to the degree that it is culturally framed; the ideas that frame it are substantial in determining the place such reproduction has in social contexts. Its power and place are circumscribed and directed.

(β) The family and its gendered and age divisions as an Ur-type for Marx (156), indeed blurs the economic foundation of such distinctions, for although certainly one can see the significant economic core of recognitions of wife, son and daughter, the original cognizance of those gender and age differences certainly seems to transcend, or at least foreground even economic distinction. The awareness of difference must precede its function.

(γ) When the first homo sapiens looked up into the night sky and recognized the moon as a distinct object, was this material labor, or mental labor? Marx would claim that nothing “material” was produced, but because material relations between persons would be changed, those material relations-gestures, words, rites, amulets-would instantiate that newly conceived production. The newness of a moon is definitionally no different than the newness of a plow, so conceived, in that each produces a material increase of relatedness. And if a plow is insisted to be indistinctly new until it is actually fashioned, then so might also the a moon be thought so until fashionedwith gestures, words and rites. The ideational and the material in terms of the produced are not separable.

(δ) Marx attempts to foreclose these seemingly ideational productions because he does not wish to acknowledge the full ideational character of his original bifurcation…newness of relations conceptually produced. In seeking to drive his analysis away from ‘the conceived’ he does not fully recognize the material effects of all conceptions. In seeking to reduce all production to objects of industry, his analysis, and the analysis that is derived from his intent, does not appreciate the industry of distinction alone, that ‘objects’ are formed of relations alone, and hence are more plentiful and diverse than he might have allowed. Glances are exchanged as well as crops. His foundational dichotomy human/nature is not in error, simply not fully explored by Marx

(ε) The question of agency is central here, as one comes to grip with conceptions of historical determinism. While “blackness” and “womanness” can be described as historically  produced, the empowering thought behind the critical dialogue between Collins and Marx, is that just as workers in Marx are awakened so to take hold of the means of their production, so too are subjected groups, and individuals themselves awakened to take hold of the means of their social production. In terms of agency, moving from a passive to an active, self-determining state, as a black woman realizes that she is producing the actual“blackness” and “womanness”, the material instantiations, the thereness of each, upon whose circulation the economy of the social whole relies, she then is called to lay claim to those productions, just as a worker does of cogs.

Works Cited

Collins, Patricia Hill. (1986) “Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought.” Social Problems. 33: S14-S32.

Marx, Karl. (1978 [1846]) “The German Ideology: Part I” (selections). In The Marx-Engels Reader. Ed. Robert C. Tucker, 146-175. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.