Capitalism is the overarching totality that governs all oppression – their discursive focus on categories of difference ALLOWS the much larger CLASS CONFLICT to continue.
McLaren and Scatamburlo-D’Annibale, 4 (Peter and Valerie, University of Windsor, Ontario, University of California, 2004, Educational Philosophy and Theory Vol 36 No 2, “Class Dismissed? Historical Materialism and the politics of ‘difference,’”)
The cohesiveness of this position suggests that forms of exploitation and oppression are related internally to the extent that they are located in the same totality— one which is currently defined by capitalist class rule. Capitalism is an overarching totality that is, unfortunately, becoming increasingly invisible in post-Marxist ‘discursive’ narratives that valorize ‘difference’ as a primary explanatory construct.¶For example, E. San Juan (2003) argues that race relations and race conflict are necessarily structured by the larger totality of the political economy of a given society, as well as by modifications in the structure of the world economy. He further notes that the capitalist mode of production has articulated ‘race’ with class in a peculiar way. He too is worth a substantial quotation:¶ While the stagnation of rural life imposed a racial or castelike rigidity to the peasantry, the rapid accumulation of wealth through the ever more intensifying exploitation of labor by capital could not so easily ‘racialize’ the wage-workers of a particular nation, given the alienability of labor- power—unless certain physical or cultural characteristics can be utilized to divide the workers or render one group an outcast or pariah removed from the domain of ‘free labor.’ In the capitalist development of U.S. society, African, Mexican, and Asian bodies—more precisely, their labor power and its reproductive efficacy—were colonized and racialized; hence the idea of ‘internal colonialism’ retains explanatory validity. ‘Race’ is thus constructed out of raw materials furnished by class relations, the history of class conflicts, and the vicissitudes of colonial/capitalist expansion and the building of imperial hegemony. It is dialectically accented and operationalized not just to differentiate the price of wage labor within and outside the territory of the metropolitan power, but also to reproduce relations of domination–subordination invested with an aura of naturality and fatality. The refunctioning of physical or cultural traits as ideological and political signifiers of class identity reifies social relations. Such ‘racial’ markers enter the field of the alienated labor process, concealing the artificial nature of meanings and norms, and essentializing or naturalizing historical traditions and values which are contingent on mutable circumstances.¶ For San Juan, racism and nationalism are modalities in which class struggles articulate themselves at strategic points in history. He argues that racism arose with the creation and expansion of the capitalist world economy. He maintains, rightly in our view, that racial or ethnic group solidarity is given ‘meaning and value in terms of their place within the social organization of production and reproduction of the ideological-political order; ideologies of racism as collective social evaluation of solidarities arise to reinforce structural constraints which preserve the exploited and oppressed position of these “racial” solidarities’.¶ It is remarkable, in our opinion, that so much of contemporary social theory has largely abandoned the problems of labor, capitalist exploitation, and class analysis at a time when capitalism is becoming more universal, more ruthless and more deadly. The metaphor of a contemporary ‘tower of Babel’ seems appropriate here—academics striking radical poses in the seminar rooms while remaining oblivious to the possibility that their seemingly radical discursive maneuvers do nothing to further the struggles ‘against oppression and exploitation which continue to be real, material, and not merely “discursive” problems of the contemporary world’ (Dirlik, 1997, p. 176). Harvey (1998, pp. 29–31) indicts the new academic entrepreneurs, the ‘masters of theory-in-and-for-itself’ whose ‘discourse radicalism’ has deftly side-stepped ‘the enduring conundrums of class struggle’ and who have, against a ‘sobering background of cheapened discourse and opportunistic politics,’ been ‘stripped of their self-advertised radicalism.’ For years, they ‘contested socialism,’ ridiculed Marxists, and promoted ‘their own alternative theories of liberatory politics’ but now they have largely been ‘reduced to the role of supplicants in the most degraded form of pluralist politics imaginable.’ As they pursue the politics of difference, the ‘class war rages unabated’ and they seem ‘either unwilling or unable to focus on the unprecedented economic carnage occurring around the globe.’¶ Harvey’s searing criticism suggests that post-Marxists have been busy fiddling while Rome burns and his comments echo those made by Marx (1978, p. 149) in his critique of the Young Hegelians who were, ‘in spite of their allegedly “world- shattering” statements, the staunchest conservatives.’ Marx lamented that the Young Hegelians were simply fighting ‘phrases’ and that they failed to acknowledge that in offering only counter-phrases, they were in no way ‘combating the real existing world’ but merely combating the phrases of the world. Taking a cue from Marx and substituting ‘phrases’ with ‘discourses’ or ‘resignifications’ we would contend that the practitioners of difference politics who operate within exaggerated culturalist frameworks that privilege the realm of representation as the primary arena of political struggle question some discourses of power while legitimating others. Moreover, because they lack a class perspective, their gestures of radicalism are belied by their own class positions.10 As Ahmad (1997a, p. 104) notes:¶ One may speak of any number of disorientations and even oppressions, but one cultivates all kinds of politeness and indirection about the structure of capitalist class relations in which those oppressions are embedded. To speak of any of that directly and simply is to be ‘vulgar.’ In this climate of Aesopian languages it is absolutely essential to reiterate that most things are a matter of class. That kind of statement is ... surprising only in a culture like that of the North American university ... But it is precisely in that kind of culture that people need to hear such obvious truths.¶ Ahmad’s provocative observations imply that substantive analyses of the carnage wrought by ‘globalized’ class exploitation have, for the most part, been marginalized by the kind of radicalism that has been instituted among the academic Left in North America. He further suggests that while various post-Marxists have invited us to join their euphoric celebrations honoring the decentering of capitalism, the abandonment of class politics, and the decline of metanarratives (particularly those of Marxism and socialism), they have failed to see that the most ‘meta of all metanarratives of the past three centuries, the creeping annexation of the globe¶ for the dominance of capital over laboring humanity has met, during those same decades, with stunning success’ (Ahmad, 1997b, p. 364). As such, Ahmad invites us to ask anew, the proverbial question: What, then, must be done? To this question we offer no simple theoretical, pedagogical or political prescriptions. Yet we would argue that if social change is the aim, progressive educators and theorists must cease displacing class analysis with the politics of difference.
A historical materialist analysis is key to understanding the oppression of all categories of difference – the dialectic of capital creates the material structures of exploitation.