Friday, February 13, 2009

With the Sharecroppers

I’ve been spending some time recently attempting to come to terms with the ways in which we periodize James. To begin: I think most of these periodizing operations are useless and stupid, reducing James’ thought and theory to biography. (The sheer number of biographical and biochronological introductions to James never fails to anger me. I think two were published in 2008 alone. Ya basta.) In the interests of, frankly, messing with the ways in which we emplot James’ intellectual life, I have been looking for soft spots in the narrative vis-à-vis James’ texts. What follows is an essay that I am preparing for (hopefully) publication.

The trotskyist/post-trotskyist distinction seem to me to be most unstable. Not so much because James didn’t break with Trotsky – he decidedly did – but because we take this break as an obviously good thing. The break with Trotsky is conflated with his break with vanguardism; his break with vanguardism (at least in the special, special environment of the northeastern American academy) is conflated with his understanding of the autonomy of black politics. (Never mind that Trotsky, initially, was far more an autonomist.) In short, the break is read as an escape from the confining, conservative-Left politics of Marxism.

Never mind that James’ theoretical justifications are rarely read closely; never mind that James is frequently reduced to an oracle who made pronouncements with which we might or might not agree. The point of this post is to deny the equation of break = anti-vanguardism = good politics. James’ anti-vanguardist break leads him to an organicism (which I too gleefully have already written about) that we need to question. The fact is this: James’ anti-vanguardism is justified through a cultural analysis that tends to exclude non-purposive socialities from political consideration. Indeed, tracing the vanishing position of the Party/intellectual – a position that indicates gaps and ruptures in the field of the social – we can see an entirely immanentist, monodetermined society taking shape in James’ hands. Indeed, the disappearance of the intellectual in James’ post-trotskyist theories do not represent a gain but a problematic loss of heterogeneity in his understanding of the social. (This loss of heterogeneity occurs even as James supposedly sets free black politics from Marxism.) The vanishing space of exteriority serves to consolidate an immanentist, organicist vision of society that renders alternative socialities illegible and illegitimate.

James theorized his historical conjuncture by activating two key strands in Marx. Firstly, James argued (in texts like State Capital and World Revolution [1951] and Facing Reality [1958]) that society has been totally incorporated into capitalism; real subsumption has occurred. Henceforth, there is no outside to capitalism; everyone – and he states this categorically – has their being, in America, through capitalism. The result is a general recoding of subjectivity (cf. James 1999, 148). Secondly, James claimed that capitalism – and particularly American industrial capitalism – had activated the full potential of humans as laborers. The American worker appears as a fully developed, “universal” subject: he knows that he wants and he is able to produce it. James’ critique of Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed occurs through the recently translated Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, which James reads as examining alienation directly in the process of production (and not in the spheres of consumption or distribution, as Trotsky argued). To repeat, James deploys an analysis of real subsumption of society by capitalism and a narrative in which American capitalism fully developed the potentialities of the laborer.

In this analysis of American society, the vanguard party has been left without a place to stand. With the real subsumption of society under capitalism, the former transcendent position of the vanguard (who bore the consciousness of progress) is erased from the political map. Society is now immanent to capitalism, and produces knowledge of itself immanently (cf. James 2005, 108). Furthermore, the vanguard always lags behind the worker, whom James wrote of as being the self-conscious dynamic force of history. The worker’s potential has been unlocked through his own labor, and the party is not required to tell the worker his own potentiality (James 2006, 96). The worker became theorized as self-standing and self-activating (cf. James 1986, 117; and see my last post on into the problematic of Selbstbetätigung). The shift in actors (party to worker) entails a shift in spacing. The location of the political moves from the fragmented space that that the vanguard sought to integrate through its synthesizing position, to the factory, which “is the single stable, unifying, and integrating element in […] society” (James 2006, 42).

This theory is bold and brilliant and under-discussed. It is also fundamentally problematic. James’ analysis of the real subsumption of society and of the worker’s production of his own potential trucks in a set of organicist theories and metaphors. The organicism of society (which is “an enormously complex organism”) works with the integrating and totalizing figure of the factory to produce an entirely immanent ontology centered on purposive production. The proletariat moves itself of itself for itself. The contradiction of James’ conjuncture was over who would determine the needs and the purposes of society, a contradiction James writes of as “this antagonistic relation between an administrative elite calculating and administering the needs of others, and people in a social community determining their own needs” (James 2006, 72). The political question was: will the proletariat be auto-purposive or have its needs determined by an exterior apparatus of control?

The elaboration of an immanent purpose through production thus becomes the goal of James’ socialism. Everything exterior to the organism of the proletariat presents itself as a risk to the being of the proletariat. This is particularly marked in the case of intellectuals, where the Party morphs into the repressive State. But it is visible throughout the social text, where only productively purposive or creative desires are given political and social legibility and legitimacy. Indeed, James even takes the alternative society formed by his mariners, renegades, and castaways and transmutes it into a floating mini-factory (James 2008, 8). Recall that special hate is reserved for Ishmael, the intellectual who exists alongside and beside the laboring community. Alternative socialities, non-purposive modes of being in the world, are coded as dangerous or useless. The vanguard party was theorized out of existence and use because the proletariat became the knower and producer of its own potential and purpose; this rejection of the vanguard served to consolidate an ontology of the world that is entirely immanent and purposive, in which society is a total organism working toward an end that it gives itself. The intellectual vanishes as society becomes more homogenous. As I read James, the disappearance of the intellectual marks the disappearance of non-purposive socialities. As a result of the homogenization of being, James ignores and renders non-political non-purposive modes of being in the world.

Marx codes – and this I can only assert for the moment – non-purposive socialities through the term “community.” (We saw above that James locates the “social community” within capitalism as determining its own purpose.) Part of the work of capitalism, at least as it is described in the Grundrisse, is the invagination of community by capitalism. Indeed, where capitalist exchange once began on the edges and fringes of community, it eventually comes to constitute community’s inorganic being: “Where money is not itself the community, it must dissolve the community” (Grundrisse 224). Marx’s term for community here is not Gemeinschaft but Gemeinwesen, which more directly inscribes the problematic of being, and which might be rendered “being-in-common.” The violence that money effects on the community is to dispose what was “being-in-common” to being-for-wealth: “When labor is wage labor, and its direct aim is money, then general wealth is posited as its aim and object” (224). Money recodes non-purposive socialities and forces them into purposive dispositions. James’ post-trotskyist work would agree.

Indeed, it would be foolish to give into the “romance of the community”. However, I would like to work a critique of James through this barely formulated notion of Gemeinwesen. We can set something like “community” loose through James (and Marx) without giving into a nostalgia for something that is always already lost. If part of the historical violence of capitalism is to recode “community” such that it must dispose itself purposively, one risks restating the effects of capitalism by assuming this newly purposive “common being” as the location where politics occurs, as the political subject position. If capitalism operates by encoding all relationships as purposive (even if this purpose as desire is not derived from lack), does this necessitate that we only look for politics within money relations (and the network of relations that money signifies, including production)? Did Gemeinwesen, and whatever it signifies, disappear one day forever from the ontological constitution of subjects? I would like to argue that one can look for the “outside” of capitalism – or that which capitalism has dissolved – even inside of capitalism.

The purpose of what follows is to determine the extent to which this vanishing Gemeinwesen can reappear to interrupt politics of purposivity. This interruption, as I hope to show, is productive. Gemeinwesen is never defined by Marx: it is a nearly blank sign whose presence can serve as a resource for generating new readings. Below I will substitute Gemeinwesen with Heidegger’s Mitsein in a reading of C.L.R. James’ pre-break work. Alternative socialities lost in the expulsion of the intellectual might be recoverable without recourse to vanguardism. If James’ reaction to capitalism’s coding of Gemeinwesen involves, in part, the eventual erasure of the vanguard party, how does Heidegger’s Mitsein allow us to determine a new position for the intellectual? Does the sentence “Where money is not itself Mitsein, it must dissolve Mitsein” seem too radical an alteration of Marx’s meaning? And if this substitution is allowable, can we not ask after the political future of being-with another in a relation not reducible to purposive activity?

Classing Sharecroppers
James’ essay “With the Sharecroppers” (1941) documents the struggle of a sharecropping community in south east Missouri. Importantly, James wrote the article some years after the struggle he documents. He was attempting to learn ways in which political organizations could effectively assist the sharecroppers. (One result is the pamphlet that he wrote for the strike of 1942, which I discuss below.) The content of this struggle – what it is for – is by no means certain, and one of the purposes of James’ text is to explore the constitution of the sharecroppers’ revolutionary position. By the essay’s end, James appears to have reached a conclusion: the sharecroppers are not necessarily for anything so much as they are against the “general conditions” in which they “live and work” (James 1941, 30, 32).

The essay divides along lines whose relations need to be more fully established, along the lines of “work” and “life”. On one hand are economic considerations and a politics located in the relations of production as they articulate with Roosevelt’s Agriculture Adjustment Act. Here, the sharecroppers are shown to be subject to manipulations on the part of landowners in order that the latter can receive a greater share of the subsidies that the AAA promised to cotton growers. One political strand in the text operates to expose these machinations and manipulations, to show how the sharecroppers responded, and to establish protocols for studying the situation in accordance with economic demands. The other strand concerns itself with the affective and existential dimensions of (mostly black) sharecropper life in the South. The experience of being a sharecropper does not map in any transparent way onto the structural conditions that produce the environment of the sharecropper. James marks this experience through terms like “terror”; the sharecropper is exposed and vulnerable to violence without any hope or chance for redress (22). The politics emerging from “life” are less clear and obvious than those emerging from “work”; however, “hate” and negation constitute the affective dimensions of this political impulse (28).

Marxian politics have frequently located politics solely in the sphere of work or in networks of distribution. Classes, which name economically politicized identities, are formed or are located within either production relations (the boss and the worker) or within a wider social web that determines access to consumption and to political power. In the traditional Marxist determination, classes are structural categories existent regardless of a given class’s self-knowledge of itself as a class. In such a situation, the class exists in-itself; it is not aware of itself or of its interests; it is pre-political. The movement from pre-political to political existence entails a given class shifting from being in-itself to for-itself; it becomes aware of its being (or it calls itself into being, or is called into being) as a class with a unified interest. Prior to politicization, class elements exist beside one another, but lack organization or shape. A class in-itself “is formed by the simple addition of isomorphous magnitudes, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes” (Marx 1973, 239).

The movement to class for-itself – giving shape to the sack of potatoes, as it were – turns what was unconsciously held in common, like work or lived conditions, and establishes this commonality as the basis for a collective interest or desire. This movement, however, is not necessarily derivable from the class’s existence in itself; the movement from passivity to activity, from unconsciousness to self-consciousness, might require a push from the outside. One such technic for the establishment of a class for-itself is the party, as theorized through a Leninist tradition. The Leninist/vanguardist party supplies the revolutionary consciousness that a class-in-itself lacks. If the pre-political class is “incapable of asserting [its] class interest in [its] own name,” the party applies a name to a class in an attempt to establish that class as for itself (Marx 1973, 239).

Naming marks a direction of purpose, a tendency. Ideally, the vanguardist party’s application of the name is a constitutive speech act that calls what was in-itself to a position of purposivity. If we recognize that class in-itself is nothing but a set of structural conditions for the possibility of that class becoming for-itself, the act of naming constitutes an historical event insofar as it introduces a new, conscious actor into history (even if that actor’s full entrance into history is only temporally imaginable through recourse to a projected future). These classes, now historical actors, derive their status from the economic/political structuring conditions that produced them. Whether or not the name actually “fits” (if the proletariat has ever existed, etc.), naming establishes the lines of historical and political legibility. Furthermore, the act of naming gives a false unity to the entity constituted through naming. That is, the catachresis of class typically involves the hierarchization of one element of identity over another, and an abstraction that maintains one possible subject determination at the cost of all others.

This is all to say, then, that Marxism obscures other socialities that could be constitutive of a politics. Class-in-itself erases other socialities by indicating lack. The in-itself-ness of a given class marks it as pre-political and constituted through an almost dimwitted sociality (being beside one another as potatoes in a sack); as for-itself, it marks a self-conscious, purposive incorporated subject. Class is a catachresis that functions to abstract one determination (the purposive economic subject) as politically actionable. At each moment, something constitutive to all of these categories is being occluded as having political potential, something that James above marked as “life.”

Apposition / Opposition
James’ essay begins by establishing sharecroppers as the subjects of his care. As I will spend a lot of time with this paragraph, I will reproduce a large part of it:
Among the one-third of the nation that lives in direst poverty and greatest misery are thousands upon thousands of sharecroppers, Negro and white, in Arkansas, Missouri, and other states. Ill housed, ill-clad, ill-fed, they daily feel the severest lash of landlord and government. But despite the most vicious exploitation, despite terror – yes, actual, real terror – and despite starkest oppression, these are men whose spirits have not been broken, who stand ready to fight with every worker against class tyranny. They hunger for bread and they hunger for freedom… (22)
What is a sharecropper? Following what we read above from Marx, the sharecropper class seems fated to remain in-itself due to structural conditions: limited access to consumption, geographic spread, its racially mixed composition. In fact, these sharecroppers do not appear much different than the “small-holding peasant” whom Marx considers in that famous passage from the Eighteenth Brumaire. One mode of organizing – which James names Stalinist – would involve establishing a union as the representative of the sharecroppers, who would then negotiate for wages and such with the landowners (32). This union would engage in the economistic abstraction and catachresis that I discussed above.

Rhetorically, however, the sharecropper is constituted quite differently. Here, the sharecropper is coded as part of an extreme case (“Among the one-third of the nation that lives in direst poverty…”). The naming of the sharecropper splits it from the other two-thirds of poor, miserable people. The name of “sharecropper” is both a separation and a unification: it marks likeness (a shared situation of poverty) and some form of difference (through – at least – occupation). The economic name here functions as a separation; “work” interrupts the posited existential unity of the impoverished and miserable.

This analytic separation of the sharecropper from the remainder of the country’s impoverished does not serve to form the “sharecropper” as internally coherent and unified, however. “Work” is in turn interrupted, this time by two lived categories placed in apposition to one another and to sharecropper itself: “sharecroppers, Negro and white.” The “sharecropper” is constituted (in part) as the apposition of two potentially antagonistic predicates. The appositive relation of black and white to the “sharecropper” establishes the sharecropper on an unsteady terrain of relation of substantive to substantive. Reading for apposition rather than reading for modification entails very real political decisions. If one reads “sharecroppers, Negro and white” as a displacement of adjectival modifiers (i.e., “white and Negro sharecroppers”), then the “sharecropper” is situated as a unifying element, an abstraction that reduces potential differences to the position of modifier. Reading for apposition, however, retains the complexity of relationship, insofar as it renders “white” and “Negro” as substantive, self-standing identities that cannot in any easy way simply modify a more important abstraction.

Apposition is a strategy that allows differences to function while retaining a relation to an apparently abstracted/abstracting identity. The OED defines apposition in a few helpful ways: “3. The placing of things in close superficial contact; the putting of distinct things side by side in close proximity. 4. The fact or condition of being in close contact” (OED). Apposition is thus a spatial function (whether we understand this as cartographic space, social space, existential space, etc.); it brings things “side by side in close proximity.” Apposition relates, through proximity, two distinct things to one another. It is not a relation of predication (“the sharecropper is black”) or modification (“the white sharecropper”), but a setting beside of one another in the space opened up by the label “sharecropper.”

The class-name sharecropper can establish two opposed procedures. On one hand, the class-name can establish a politics taken to be emerging from an essential (thought abstractly produced) subject. The class-name would thus make legible a certain interest, assisting in the transformation of the sharecroppers into a purposive political body. The catachrestic operation of naming would be disavowed, and the political program would proceed as if a unified “sharecropper” class existed (or should exist, as vanguardist thought tends to operate in the imperative). On the other hand, the class-name can function as “perfectly neutral name, the blank part of the text,” deployed as a “theoretical fiction to entitle the project of reading” (Derrida 74; Spivak 280). The class-name can generate a heuristic through which we read appositive relations as they occur in a world.

James shuttles between these two options. His text is unstable insofar as he desires to allow apposed differences to interrupt and to feed one another, even as he is simultaneously a party operative invested in a notion of class politics. Indeed, we see this shuttling in a single sentence:
But despite the most vicious exploitation, despite terror – yes, actual, real terror – and despite starkest oppression, these are men whose spirits have not been broken, who stand ready to fight with every worker against class tyranny. (22)
Here, a series of conditions are set in relation to one another: “exploitation,” “terror,” “oppression.” The anaphoric setting-beside of exploitation, terror, and oppression can be read as apposition, in which case none of these structuring conditions retains analytic or political priority. However, this chain of conditions could also be translated into an hierarchical grammar: “exploitation” moves to class, “terror” to race, “oppression” to an odd space between race and class, where the Second International would locate the “national minorities”. The organization of these terms effectively reduces the apposing forces to a sociological chain: class - race - nation.* A second or third internationalist Marxism always effectively established class as the “general equivalent” to these other “values”; the positing of class as the basis of politics incorporates these differences in the interest of establishing a stable subject. James’s sentence ends by performing this reduction/incorporation, in that “men” (a blank name for those living in the appositional space constituted by exploitation, terror, and oppression) are replaced by “workers” who have the purpose of defeating “class tyranny.” The subjects-in-apposition (those men – and there must be more than one – constituted through terror, exploitation, oppression) yield to the incorporated class subject-in-opposition.

The class-name of worker in this paragraph functions to restrain the appositive reality in which these “men” are caught. The class-name functions as an abstracting/catachrestic mechanism that establishes a purposive politics stemming from an incorporated subject. This rhetorical movement is not specific to Marxist organization: the simulation of an nonconflictual identity is common to most formal political movements. Indeed, one could say that the very formality of the formal political requires a proper subject whose name is necessarily catachrestic. In short, my point is not to abject “Marxist” or class politics in order to substitute for it equally problematic (but possibly dematerialized) political identities. Nor should an attention to appositional subjectivities lead to a civil social organizational model of coalition building. Rather, I am following James as he describes the political location of subjects-in-apposition before they are (or even as they are or while they are) directed by the purposive abstraction/catachresis of opposition.

It should be noted, finally, that James of the early 40’s (and even through Notes on Dialectics, though there things begin to tilt into an organicist language) was self-conscious regarding the artificiality and exteriority of “purpose” to the entity that was being organized as purposive. That is, James did not imagine that a political purposivity naturally or essentially emerged from “the worker” once the worker had received his name. In a 1943 article on Sidney Hook, James takes issue with Hook’s characterization of Marxist historical philosophy. Hook, James writes, sees Marxism as endorsing a nearly theological teleology that is scientifically untenable; for Hook’s Marx, the proletarian’s purpose is inscribed in the fabric of time. James responds:
[An entity like a river] acts that way because that is its nature, and my business as a scientist is to examine that, and not look for the hand of God or any outside agency. On this use of “purpose”, both Hegel and Engels, as we see, had common ground. But both Marx and Hegel understood quite clearly that you could never finally prove this purpose or any necessity purely by empirical observation. […] As Engel’s says: “The empiricism of observation alone can never adequately prove necessity…. But the proof of necessity lies in human activity, in experiment, in work.” Could anything be simpler? (James 1943, 55)
“Purpose” is not verifiable as a fact within the world. The proof of the philosophical attribution of purposivity rests in changing the world itself. (Here James interprets the eleventh thesis.) The attribution of “purpose” establishes the agency of the actor (not “the hand of God or any outside agency”) and the necessity of the actor’s work within the world to make true the attribution of purpose. Establishing purpose is thus a program.

The techne of purposivity operates at cross-purposes with the assumed agency of the purposive subject: even the internally coherent agent requires a naming from outside to have its purpose rendered legible. James gets around this in his Johnson-Forrest texts by extending the function of naming to the working class itself: the proletariat, in production, produces knowingly its own purpose (cf. James 2005, 78, 88, 109). This position is coterminous with James’ increasing organicism. We do not, however, need to follow James down this path. Indeed, James’ sharecroppers (white and Negro, exploited, terrified, and oppressed) raise another set of questions: what politics belong to the non-purposive? Where do these politics occur?

Apposition; or, Mitsein
The politics of purposivity demand the catachrestic/abstracting production of the subject-in-opposition. Naming, as we saw above with Marx, marks the moment of a class’s becoming for-itself. Beside the name I placed the apposed conditions and identities of non-class subject – those elements that must be sublated in the production of the class. The gamble that I am taking is that appositional subjectivities productively lack the purposivity of the oppositional incorporated subject. This being said, apposition is not opposed to opposition. Indeed, one might say that a politics of apposition is apposed to a politics of opposition. The possibilities presented by this apposition will occupy the remainder of this paper.

As I discussed above, James’ concerns in his essay are bifurcated along the lines of “work” (and its formal political apparatuses and economic structures) and “life” (which I described as the experience of living in the world of the sharecropper). We now see, however, that this apparent analytical division actually establishes a different lens as well as a new politics. “Work” and “life” appose one another. One might say that work and life partake in different ontological coding. If the ontological (and political) function of work in Marx and James is clear, the function of living or life is more obscure. Indeed, James eventually seems to subsume life into work through an organicist analytic of the real subsumption of society by capitalism; it is, of course, this problem that propelled this paper. James does, however, provide us with an alternative way of discussing life. Usefully, this different mode comes through Heidegger. In a lecture on Wilson Harris’ sui generis and difficult The Palace of the Peacock, James deploys Being and Time to make sense of the novel. From this lecture, and in particular James’ discussion of Heidegger, we can take a number of things.

Firstly, James establishes the “world” not simply as a product of man’s past labor but as what Heidegger would call a “referential totality”: “May I say that everybody has a philosophical view of the world and of politics and of literature and everything else. He may not know it […] but he has one” (Heidegger 160; James 1980, 157). Secondly, this “philosophical view of the world” or “referential totality” establishes itself as prior to activity that accomplishes aims or goals; an interpretation of the world, even if it is unconscious, is prior to work within the world, insofar as any changing of the world requires the constitution of the world, which is always already a philosophical movement. James highlights this through reading the reiterative narrative of the novel, in which the death of characters reveals their disposition toward and interpretation of the world as determining their activity within it (James 1980, 158). Thirdly, James describes Heidegger’s concern for “everyday life,” “the life that is lived by you and me and Heidegger himself” (James 1980, 160). The everyday, for James, becomes a space of the inauthentic, in which one is given over to “idle talk” and where the world appears to one as an “average” or as a fact” (James 1980, 160). The everyday is recuperated by James through an experience of Being-there. For James, recognizing one’s Dasein begins an “authentic existence.”

This language of authenticity might strike us as problematic. However, James deploys Dasein not in order to produce an existential ethics but instead to attend to a world-forming activity that is not reducible to “work.” James thus fixates on the existential operation of Lichtung and its relationship to the “truth” of Dasein:
Heidegger says that although Plato and Aristotle knew better, they set us on a path which has made us completely lose sight of what truth is. He says truth is in nobody’s mind. You have to find out truth by being there […] Truth is covered over and the find out of truth means you uncover what is there, but it can be uncovered not by philosophy, not by knowledge of any kind, by the fact of dasein. […] And the dasein, the “being there”, is an uncovering of the truth of Being that exists. (James 1980, 161)
Being-there is for James an activity that clears and uncovers the world of Being. This “uncovering’ of the world – or this clearing of the world so that Being can appear – is not an operation that occurs in thought; it is not an epistemological problem. Nor is it merely a problem of work or activity, for reasons I discussed above. The uncovering of the world is an ontological problem specific to “life”.

A question remains, however: what is the technology by which “truth” is uncovered, by which a space for Being is cleared, by which a world emerges as a world? James is categorical here: “The means he uses to find what he is finding out, to live an authentic existence, is language […] Language” (James 1980, 161). Language uncovers the truth of Dasein’s being in the world. Yet, “language is not a tool”; language is not equipment or a thing, in Heidegger’s terms (James 1980, 161). James inscribes language as the element that makes man’s existence possible: “In Heidegger’s view man lives a human life because of language. Without that he would be, I do not know what he would be, but he would not be a human being” (James 1980, 161). This ontological centrality of language could only sit uneasily with Marx’s positing of the ontological primacy of labor.*

Language, for James, is the way in which one orients oneself in the world; it is the way by which a world is formed. Language is not instrumental but fundamentally poetic. James cites Heidegger:
Language is not a mere tool, one of the many which man possesses; on the contrary, it is only language that affords the very possibility of standing in the openness of the existent. Only where there is language, is there world. […] Language is not a tool at his disposal, rather it is that event which disposes of the supreme possibility of human existence. (cited in James 1980, 169)
James cites a reading of Holderlin that Heidegger gives, in which Heidegger stresses the sociality of language in its formation of the referential totality of a world: “We – mankind – are a conversation. The being of man is founded in language” (cited in James 1980, 169). Man’s constitution through language establishes him as always already with someone else.

But what is it to be with someone? Heidegger undertakes this analysis in Being and Time. Dasein’s Being-in-the-world is always already to be with others: “The world of Dasein is a with-world. Being-in[-the-world] is Being-with Others” (Heidegger 155). Others are not encountered as tools, equipment, or things; Others are encountered in a specific mode, which Heidegger writes of as a sharing of or similitude of condition: “[Others] are like the very Dasein which frees them, in that they are there too [in the world], and there with it (Heidegger 154). Being-there-with is a fact of being in the world. In a world, one is always beside, among, alongside, or with the Dasein of Others. What is curious in the passage just cited, however, is that Dasein being-with the Dasein of an Other can free the Dasein of the Other. Heidegger’s analysis continues by attending to the modes of being-with the Dasein of Others that free (or do not free) the Dasein of Others.

In everyday being, Heidegger argues, one appears with Others almost “unconsciously.” One appears alongside “the They” [das Man]. This being-alongside does not free the Dasein of the Other; one appears alongside the Other indifferently, uncaringly. However, Dasein can also relate to the Dasein of Others positively. Heidegger identifies two positive modes of being-with, which he places under the term “solicitude”. In the first case, solicitude operates negatively; it can “take away ‘care’ from the Other and put itself in his position in concern: it can leap in for him” (Heidegger 158). In Heidegger’s terms, “concern” is the existential disposition of Dasein to things in the world; “care” is the existential disposition of Dasein to the Dasein of Others. Here, Heidegger indicates that “caring” for the other might be to substitute oneself for the other. “Leaping in” is to take the concerns of the other as one’s own, to attend to the matter concernfully, and to return the matter to the Other as “something finished and at his disposal” (Heidegger 158). This leads to a situation of dependency: “In such solicitude the Other can become one who is dominated and dependent” (Heidegger 158).

The other mode of solicitude, claims Heidegger, is to free the Other: “[it] does not so much leap in for the Other as leap ahead [vorausspringen] of him […], not in order to take away his ‘care’ but rather to give it back to him authentically” (Heidegger 158-9).* This mode of solicitude is freeing because it “pertains essentially […] to the existence of the Other, not to a ‘what’ with which he is concerned.” “Leaping ahead” thus “helps the Other to become transparent to himself in his care and to become free for it” (Heidegger 159). The point here is that Dasein in leaping ahead does not claim the concern of the Other as Dasein’s concern; rather, this care for the Other respects the Other as a Dasein who is oriented to the world concernfully and singularly.

In the first mode, Heidegger essentially detailed the master/slave dialectic of Hegel. Here – and this is perhaps a perverse reading – the bondsman “leaps in” for the lord to work on the lord’s concern, to return the matter to the lord as attended to. The bondsman, as the narrative goes, “becomes” lordly in his unmediated relationship to the world; the cared-for Other (here, the lord) becomes, in Heidegger’s words, “dominated and dependent.” In the second mode, Heidegger expands Hegel’s sense of the social to include a beside-ness that does not seek to control the concern of the Other. Recognizing and caring for the Dasein of the Other, Dasein “leaps ahead” of the Other. This should not be read – as one might be tempted– temporally, as if Dasein, in leaping, is one step ahead of the cared-for Other. This is not a teleology, in which the Other will assume the position that Dasein assumed when it leapt ahead. Nor is this leaping ahead anti-social, as one scholar maintains.* Nor is the concept of “leaping” particularly agential: if Heidegger is thinking of the master/slave dialectic, we see that “leaping in” might occur under conditions of domination. Similarly, “leaping ahead” is not necessarily a heroic activity, “requir[ing] great exertion”; after all, it occurs in the everyday (Dostal 407). Instead, this “leaping ahead” should be read as a clearing of space, an opening, a creative “leap[ing] forth and liberat[ing]” of “potentiality-for-Being” (Heidegger 159).* “Leaping ahead” lets the Other be even as it maintains a relationship with this Other; this relationship occurs within a shared world, as a Being-with-in-the-world.

“Leaping ahead” in the world places Dasein beside the Dasein of the Other in such a way that one does not incorporate or substitute itself for the Other; instead, Dasein recognizes the Other as Being-there in the world. “Often exclusively,” Heidegger writes, “Being with one another is based […] upon what is a matter of common concern in such Being” (Heidegger 159). This commonality is not similitude: “A Being-with-one-another which arises [entspringt] from one’s doing the same thing as someone else” produces distance and reserve (Heidegger 159). Leaping ahead, the being-with of Daseins, does not establish these Daseins as similar or identical. It establishes a commons: “when they devote themselves to the same affair in common, their doing so is determined by the manner in which their Dasein, each in its own way, has been taken hold of” (italics added; Heidegger 159). Being-in-common or being-concerned-with is not in conflict with the own-ness of the way of each Dasein. Commonality is not identity; it is the being-with and beside of different identities for a common concern. The “leaping ahead” that establishes being-with as the commonality of mutually recognizing Daseins is the setting in apposition of Dasein through a common.

“Leaping ahead” establishes the common through which Dasein is with the Dasein of Others. Leaping ahead is not, as such, an agential act; being in an “affair in common” is not a purposive work. Rather, the affair in common “takes hold of” one. One is simply there, thrown into the world, apposed to and alongside Others. Dasein is set in apposition to Others through the common as much as Dasein sets the Dasein of Others in apposition. Being-with-in-common is more a fact than the product of a work. And it is this being-in-common, or “common being,” or “community,” or “Gemeinwesen” that, for Marx, was to be dissolved by capitalism.

We are thus back to my initial question: has being-with as being-in-common really been eradicated by the effects of capitalism (which codes all subjects as beings-for)? Turning back to the sharecroppers, we will see James explore not only the presence but the political efficacy of a reactivated notion of being-with/in-common. Three questions remain for us to put to James: what – if one can ask after the what-ness of that which is between beings – is the common, and how is it politically actionable? And, finally, what is the position of the intellectual in all of this?

Standing with
Returning to the first paragraph of James’ “With the Sharecroppers” (and I hope now, at this point, we are sensitive to the loaded nature of this seemingly innocuous “with”), one sees that the worker is not simply opposed to the capitalist and that workers are not simply apposed to one another. The relationship is more dynamic: they are apposed-in-opposition: “But, despite the most vicious exploitation, despite terror – yes, actual, real terror – and despite starkest oppression, these are men […] who stand ready to fight with every worker against class tyranny” (22). “Standing” – as both with (each other) and against (oppression) – mediates relations of apposition and opposition to form the political subject that we recognize as the “sharecropper.” “Standing” negates both the passivity of submission to heteronomy and the activity of heroic autonomy. Neither claiming a law or motivation for himself, nor allowing exploitative capital to subject his body to external logics of power, the sharecropper standing against oppression stands-there outside the economy of revolution/submission.

It is this standing-there that I would like to track, as a politicization of the being-there of Heidegger. Heidegger gives short attention to the existential meaning of “standing.” Either standing registers in the domain of autonomy (as in to be self-standing), or it marks a mode of being that is indifferent and unconcerned with the world (cf. Heidegger 153, 156). Yet, Heidegger acknowledges “standing around” as “an existential mode of Being [… which entails] tarrying alongside everything and nothing” (Heidegger 156). James’ examination of the sharecroppers gives a fuller meaning to “standing-there.” While the standing-with/against of the initial paragraph that I have not stopped reading might be seen as “just rhetorical,” James elaborates standing-there and staying-there as having political effects.

In 1938, the landowners determined that if they had no tenants they would receive a larger share of the federal AAA subsidy on cotton. Sharecroppers’ contracts expired in January; in 1939, they were told to leave by January 10. “Twenty thousand workers were told to leave the shacks in which they lived. They had nowhere to go” (23). This abandoned multitude, about 5,000 people, Negroes for the most part, with a few whites, camped on the St. Louis highway. They took their scanty possessions with them and announced their intention of staying there” (emphasis added; 23). The abandoned sharecroppers quite literally camped on the highway.

A host of apparatuses were unleashed to do something with this undisciplined, squatting mass of vogelfrei (ex-)laborers. “Police, armed to the teeth, came to intimidate these Negroes and make them leave the highway. The Negroes, who had their guns with them, refused” (emphasis added; 24). Force failing, another disciplinary apparatus was called: “The Health Department and the Humane Society came out and investigated. The sit-down strike was called a menace to public health” (24). Still, “the result was nil. There they were and they were going to stay” (emphasis added; 24).

Standing-there and staying-there emerged as the last ontological resources of a multitude whose only protest to capitalism was the there-ness of their being. However, as James claims, this staying-there was not spontaneous (“though it would have been nonetheless significant”); union organization had preceded this activity (24). Yet, James details how this activity occurred without and beyond the desires of the STFU and the CIO: “Butler, the leader of the STFU replied to Whitfield [a local preacher and organizer]: ‘You did it without consulting us. Go back’” (24). Indeed, the strikers are eventually folded into UCAPAWA (a CIO organization), and Whitfield was incorporated into the labor aristocracy.

And yet, despite this abandonment by the union, and outside of the organization of class politics, the sharecroppers continued to “revolt” through the simplicity of their staying-there-together: “they found a piece of land, infertile and rocky, and at the top of a hill. It was situated in the county of New Madrid, Miss. Three hundred and five families made the trek to it, and they began life over on July 3, 1939” (25). Their initial living conditions were appalling: “About a thousand people lived on bread and gravy for two months, bread made of flour, water, and salt” (25). They were met with no organizational help from unions. Nor did local aid societies lend a hand: “The local relief committee gave them as little as possible, hoping to throw them out” (25). Finally, even the law entered: “The sheriff threatened them. ‘You must not stay here. Tonight I will protect you, but after that I can’t.’ However, they stayed at the camp, Poplar Bluff, and they built a village which they will inhabit” (emphasis added; 25).

Doubly abandoned, the sharecroppers stand-there and stay-there with one another. In each case, the spectacle of the masses presents their simple being-there-together as unacceptable to the order of capitalism. Their “lives” (and not necessarily their position in work) disrupt capitalist, state, and civil social discipline. A common ontological resistance is being deployed here, a simple massing of being-with that is scandalous to the purpose-obsessed consciousnesses of capitalism and organized labor. Quite simply, their staying-there with one another is ontologically resistant to capitalism, and this resistance becomes politically actionable: “Late in 1939 the Negroes began to threaten to hold another roadside demonstration.” Here, however, there is already some manipulation of this force by unions, who end the demonstration by bargaining with the governor (25-26).

James’ plan, in 1942, is to discover a means of setting this ontological resource of the sharecroppers (white and Negro) to work beside the oppositional politics of the party. How can the standing-there of sharecroppers operate with the party, in such a way that the party does not simply manipulate, instrumentalize, or purposively recode the sociality of the sharecroppers? We will turn now, finally, to a pamphlet that was written at the time, in which I hope to bring together numerous terms that I’ve used in this paper: Gemeinwesen, apposition, being-with, and language.

The Pamphlet

One of the more significant things to emerge from James’ time in Missouri is a small pamphlet entitled “Down with Starvation Wages in South-East Missouri”. This document addresses itself to all sharecroppers (though it takes the time to address white workers specifically), and puts forward basic demands for increased wages and time-and-a-half pay for overtime. All in all, it seems like a generic piece of revolutionary literature, with bland calls for solidarity and the injunction for black and white to unite and fight.

It is not the pamphlet itself but its composition that is noteworthy. Indeed, as James’ career progressed increasing stress was put upon the content of the composition of revolutionary literature. James’ composition incorporates the revolutionary nature of being-with that he documented in “With the Sharecroppers.” James describes the process as follows:
When the time came for us to have a strike, I called some of the leaders together and said: ‘We have to publish something, for everybody to read about it.’ They said yes. So I sat down with my notebook and said, ‘Well, what shall we say?’ So (I used to call myself Williams) they said, ‘Brother Williams, you know.’ I said, ‘I know nothing. This is your strike. You are all doing it, you have to go through it. I have helped you, but this pamphlet has to state what you have to say. Now, have you got something to say about what you think?’ And I went through each of them, five or six of them; each said his piece, and I joined them together. Everybody said what he thought was important. I didn’t write anything, none of them wrote it… They said what they thought and I put it together. (emphasis added; James 1977, 89)
The meaning of the composition seems simple. James essentially convenes a group writing session. Nicole King claims that the presence of the “I” in this passage, and James’ agency in calling together the strike leaders, smuggles a vanguardism into a scene of supposed democracy (cf. King 95). This argument is unconvincing. The vanguard party assembles and organizes a mass into a class through the production of being-for; James is doing something much different here, regardless of charges of egoism or self-promotion.

James posited a divide between himself and the sharecroppers. The latter are simultaneously the agents, the knowers, and those who must experience the consequences of their action. James, on the other hand, is not a participant in the strike as a striker; his mobility and class identity preclude him from experiencing as a sharecropper the struggle of the sharecroppers; and James disavows possessing any knowledge. The division effected by class, distribution of activity, and experience of effects was inscribed into the production of the document.

This division between the intellectual and the sharecropper, however, is generalized when one recognizes the differences subtending sharecropper identities. That is to say, the sharecropper is not constructed as homogenous; indeed, the “sharecropper” has five or six leaders meeting with James alone. Furthermore, the document inscribes a difference between “unskilled” workers and tractor drivers (the latter demand fifteen cents an hour more than the unskilled), black and white workers, and these impoverished workers versus the rest of the nation’s working population. The work does not restrain the plurality of identities, either through positing a monological authoritative representative, or through suppressing the intra-sharecropper class difference of unskilled/skilled. The differences constructing the composite figure of the sharecropper are not deadened or homogenized through the process of recording their words, but are rather set loose. How is this possible?

The figure of “joining” is crucial here. Indeed, the determination of how to read the activity of joining in this text determines the position of the intellectual. If the intellectual-as-joiner or the party-as-joiner in its act of joining substitutes an abstracted figure to stand in for the chain of identities being joined, then one has something like a vanguardist situation. Vanguardist “joining” can operate through reducing difference and “yoking” social identities to a single purpose. Indeed, something like this happens with the slogan, “Black and White, Unite and Fight,” where class desire is supposed to yoke the abstract worker, regardless of racial antagonisms, to a class goal.

James, on the other hand, means something different. To re-quote: “And I went through each of them, five or six of them; each said his piece, and I joined them together. […] They said what they thought and I put it together.” As stated, one could read this “putting together” as a vanguardist activity that “puts together” and “joins” through positing an abstract identity. In which case, joining would produce an authoritative political identity whose authority would be conferred by the joiner. The conjoined political identity would be given to the sharecroppers as an artifact for their use. Heidegger would describe this modality of being-with (which is here a being-with-for) as einspringen, “leaping in.” Vanguardism is the activity wherein one leaps in for a political subject to produce consciousness for a class, which is then given to the class as “something finished” (Heidegger 158). In such a case, authority is maintained by the one who leaps in – the party, the intellectual. In an obscure sentence, however, James denies authority to anyone: “I didn’t write anything, none of them wrote it.” The pamphlet is here constructed as authorless, even as we have seen five, six, or seven possible “authors” of the text. No author is “leaping in” to produce a homogenous political subject. James denies that a proper, homogenous subject is producing the text. Differences proliferate without substitution or catachrestic naming.

James, I want to suggest, is “leaping ahead.” Leaping ahead, as we described above, clears a space (the operation of Lichtung) in which beings can operate in common while retaining substantial differences: “when they devote themselves to the same affair in common, their doing so is determined by the manner in which their Dasein, each in its own way, has been taken hold of” (italics added; Heidegger 159). Being-in-common, or attending to the same affair in common, clears for itself a common space in which to operate. As we saw in James’ discussion of Wilson Harris, the means by which Dasein clears a space for its being (which is necessarily a being-with Others) is through language. Language is the space in which apposed identities can be placed beside and with one another; text provides the common space for being-in-common.
The point here is that text itself – here, the most generic of pamphlets – provides the possibility of apposing beings, of setting Mitsein loose through the world of politics. Text, as the clearing of space so that Mitsein can appear in the world, is the very possibility of apposed identities; the pamphlet “joins together” (without erasing) differences. Text is the Gemeinwesen of being; being-with or beside the Other is always already a textual situation. The intellectual here, far from homogenizing or organizing masses into classes, provides the very textual common through which differences can be apposed to one another. If catachrestic naming functions to endow the class with purposivity, it does so because it affixes a “proper” name to an entity that will always be improper to its label. What James is encouraging us to think, however, is the possibility of “common naming,” of using the commons of the name/text to appose identities: “Sharecroppers, Negro and white.” For this C.L.R. James, the being-with of the sharecroppers is not analogous to the apolitical and asocial mode of Marx’s class in-itself. “Sharecroppers” does not designate a structural given without identification (“much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes”); instead, sharecroppers is a name that produces a political commons through which differences can relate without reduction or abstraction.

A Brief Conclusion
This paper has been sprawling, almost unmanageable; this is a symptom of the difficulty of thinking beyond the binary of the worker doesn’t know / the worker knows. As I have argued, vanguardist and anti-vanguardist logics alike assume the “worker” as the proper name of a purposive, agential subject. Whereas vanguardist thought presumes that it must Prometheus-like bring consciousness of the purposive construction of the political subject to the class in-itself, anti-vanguardist thought (like James’ work from the mid-forties through the sixties) argues that the proletariat produces knowingly its own purpose. Each argument consolidates the political subject as a purposive being ontologically programmed by capitalism. Vanguardist claims argue that Gemeinwesen, or being-in-common, is a sociality ontologically and politically inferior to the “being-for” sociality that capitalism generalizes. Anti-vanguardist thought argues much the same, the difference being that the generation of the purposive sociality is located immanently within proletarian self-formation.

Reading C.L.R. James through Heidegger, I have argued that we can displace the crippling couplet of the-worker-doesn’t-know / the-worker-knows) by attending to the fictive, catachrestic nature of the proper name of the worker itself. The oppositional identity of the “sharecropper” emerged through the abstracting of elements from appositional identities. Seeking a politics of apposition, I identified the grammar of apposition with Heidegger’s analytic of Mitsein. I argue that the rhetoric of apposition as an embodiment of Mitsein provides a space wherein different identities and socialities can enter into non-purposive, but still political, contact. One such space is that of everyday life: even without the apparatus of a party or union, the sharecroppers mobilized their community in a resistant activity that I would call being-there-with. Another such space is that of text: text provides a commons through which apposed identities can relate to a common concern. The intellectual or the party finds a new position: he or she does not bring a purposivity from without, but provides the text through which differences can be apposed to one another in a common concern. In text, I argue, James finds the possibility of politics by a common name.

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Disconnected notes (I don't understand blogger at all):

*See Lenin’s “Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions” for a justification of these “translations.”

*The opposition between these competing ontologies has been resolved in recent years through an incorporation of linguistic being into productive technologies. James himself, in his later texts, performs this incorporation. One would also look to Virno (2004), Hardt and Negri (2000), Negri (2008), and Christian Marazzi (2008), to list only those coming from the autonomist school of Italian Marxism. My aim here is to establish a path that resists both opposition (Heidegger versus Marx) and incorporation (which historicizes Heidegger’s ontology). The way out, I hope, is apposition, a (as I will show below) “joining” of language and labor, life and work.

*It is important that “leaps ahead” could also be translated as “leaps forward.” Heidegger goes on to describe this activity as “that which leaps forth and liberates” (Heidegger 159).

*“‘Leaping’ (Springen) mitigates against togetherness and mutual reciprocity. The verb suggests that one leaps ahead, or in place of, or even behind. Leaping is a decisive action that requires great exertion; "being together" is contrary to it.” (Dostal 407)

*This is akin to Heidegger’s analytic of Lichtung, in which being discloses itself in its there-ness. Leaping-forth clears space for the Dasein of Others. Heidegger writes of Lichtung: “To say that [man] is ‘illuminated’ [‘erleuchtet’] means that as Being-in-the-world it is cleared [gelichtet] in itself, not through any other entity, but in such a way that it is itself the clearing [Lichtung]. Only for an entity which is existentially cleared in this way does that which is present-at-hand become accessible in the light or hidden in the dark. […] Dasein is its disclosedness” (Heidegger 171). Leaping-forth is the operation of Lichtung applied to the Dasein of Others.

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