(I accidentally posted this as a response to Haider, but it should be up here.)

This is a bad take based on a serious misunderstanding of what we are claiming. Since Asad Haider has already defended himself and I don't care about what Vaush thinks, I will only respond to your claims as they relate to what class reductionism amounts to and your critique of Tatiana Cozzarelli.

To begin, I agree with your discussion of reductionism (strange implication that Ryle was a physiological reductionist aside). The problem is that you seem to shift to a different sense of 'reduction' than here. You have claimed that a class reductionist is a person, "who denies or downplays America's hideous racial history, or who believes that racism and other forms of prejudice don’t 'persist and cause harm', or who doesn’t think that anti-discriminate efforts are necessary." This is not what the charge of class reductionism amounts to.

That this is unclear is the fault of those of us who levy the charge of class reductionism. The classic statement of what class (or economic) reductionism is comes from Engels Letter to Bloch:

"According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure — political forms of the class struggle and its results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle, etc., juridical forms, and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical theories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas — also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form."

Note that what is key is not just that class reductionism says that all oppression is reducible to to class exploitation, but that class reductionism posits that only class has a causal role to play. Now, I would not attribute this position to you, since you do not seem to deny that racism can play a causal role. However, all that is needed to prove that class reductionism is a thing is to find a significant thinker who thinks that racial ideology does not play a causal role.

Doug at Zero Books is explicitly a class reductionist, as he makes clear in his response to Cozzarelli. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spgXiTUzxws

In numerous published works, Reed looks as though he is claiming that racism does not play a causal role. And in his interview with Bhaskar he explicitly says that racism doesn't explain anything. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDO6x6u9PlI&t=2815s If race does not play a causal role, then something else must be the cause of racism. So, he is a class reductionist in the relevant sense.

This is more easily contestable ground as I could simply be misinterpreting Reed or Doug, but your treatment of Cozzarelli indicates that you didn't read her with care. You wouldn't criticize Hartry Field's philosophy of mathematics without reading him with care. Cozzarelli deserves the same treatment.

While Cozzarelli provides evidence that shows Reed's views would be surprising if he weren't a class reductionist but unsurprising if he were, you evaluate her arguments as if they're deductive. Yes, she does write as if her conclusions are certain, but that is normal for people not trained in formal logic. That you evaluate clearly abductive arguments as deductive arguments is poor form for a trained logician.

You then describe how class-wide demands would disproportionately benefit minorities and write, "Cozzarelli doesn’t exactly deny any of this, but she still seems to think that failure to support the specific strategy of race-based reparations is a problem. But...why?" A strange question given that she answered it in the text. It is in the same part of the text that shows how mistaken both your uncharitable and charitable readings are:

"However, 'class-wide demands' are insufficient to address the particular oppression of Black folks. We have to talk about the legacy of slavery, current discrimination, and racist police violence. We have to talk about the fact that in a racist society, the implementation of 'class-wide demands' is executed in a racist way, denying benefits to people of color, like the GI Bill, the New Deal’s Wagner Act, and the Social Security Act.

"Jacobin is right to focus on uniting the working class — a working class that is Black, Brown, and queer, as well as straight, white, and cis male. But in order to achieve this unity, we need to fight against every form of oppression as such. Racism is the strongest tool wielded by American capitalists to implement hellish conditions for the working class. So, fighting against racism is a class-wide demand.

"Jacobin is also right to highlight the working class' strategic role in society: it has the ability to stop all of society as well as to provide for it. For this reason, it is a strategic necessity for the working class to take up the struggle against police violence and for Black lives, both to advance the BLM movement and to advance the fight for socialism. Using strikes and work stoppages, the labor movement must play a role in the current uprising and fight against police brutality. This requires the working class to take up the demands of the most oppressed sectors of society. This in turn, strengthens class consciousness and working class unity."

While this is not specific to reparations, how it applies is clear. It is part of fighting against racism, which is part of fighting against capitalism. She further points out reparations are specifically useful. We can put "forward a clear proposal for reparations and [explain] how capitalist wealth still has its roots in the slave system."

The larger block quote makes your uncharitable reading inaccurate, since you could not apply her argument form to claim that she is a race reductionist. Because she posits a causal role for both race and class, she argues that we should fight for both class-wide demands and race-specific demands. This differs from the emphasis on class-wide demands that flows from treating racism as non-causal.

It also makes your charitable reading inaccurate. While the history of racism does play a role, her main contention is strategic. It is about weakening one of capitalism's greatest tools to suppress the working class to better fight against capitalism.

This makes your argument from analogy is weak. There is a significant disanalogy between a serial killer with a prejudice and racism. In your analogy, you are right that we just need to work together to get out of the basement. But racism isn't just about disparities and histories; it is about preventing unification. We cannot get out of the basement if we are prevented from unifying in the first place.

You haven't successfully critiqued Cozzarelli, since you haven't understood her basic position. As she points out, this position is as old as Marx and has been refined by many great revolutionaries. It's time people understood it again.

Expand full comment

I'm unpersuaded that I missed an important aspect of Cozzarelli's argument. The fragment of a sentence you quote on the subject argues for reparations because doing so highlights "how capitalist wealth still has its roots in the slave system." You accuse me of not reading her article carefully, but to the extent that we can read that fragment as even indirectly hinting at a reason why failure to support the specific reparations demand is problematic, that reason seems to be exactly the argument I considered her as possibly making at the end of my piece, that failure to support the demand might seem like "ignoring or downplaying the importance of that history."

Your alternative suggestion on on her behalf seems to be that highlighting that history would undermine racial prejudice and undermining racial prejudice strengthens working-class unity, but, while the (correct) second premise is certainly present in her piece, the first is not--and for good reason. Once you spell it out explicitly it's hard not to see the idea that either achieving reparations or focusing politically on the demand for them would somehow undermine racial prejudice as extraordinarily implausible.

That said, you're certainly right about Ryle. The original draft said "reducible to physical facts" (which would certainly encompass input-output functional states of physical systems) and in editing "physical" got turned into "physiological." My fault for not noticing. After several comments from Haider responding with operatic indignation because I don't take his motte and bailey games very seriously it's refreshing to see someone point out a problem with the article that isn't total nonsense (and also to offer a critique, re: reparations, that I find unpersuasive but is a lot more interesting than any of that).

As far as seeing "race" as an independently operating causal factor, what do you think the concrete political takeaway of doing so is? Support for reparations, or...?

Expand full comment

You are right about the sentence fragment I quoted on reparations. I added that fragment at the last minute and failed to verify that it fit with the rest of my argument. That is, of course, my fault. I still stand by my claim that you did not understand her point on the grounds of how you reconstructed her argument in relation to the longer quote.

As to my reconstruction of her argument, the first premise is not just that, "highlighting that history would undermine racial prejudice," but is a longer conjunctive premise. That this was not spelled out is my fault. However, before I spell it out, I want to push back against your criticism of this conjunct. Highlighting the history of primitive accumulation where wealth was built on the bondage of black people and further noting that a debt equivalent to 40 acres and a mule is owed has the capacity to pull at the moral sentiments of other workers. Marianne Williamson is particularly skilled at emphasizing the debt owed.

The full premise is that highlighting that history and mitigating the wealth-gap between white and black workers undermines racial prejudice. This premise requires further justification. Wealth-gaps have historically (and currently in my work experience) been used to create a divide. White workers are threatened out of fighting for wage increases because other, more desperate workers will do their job for less. Propaganda is used to make it look as though white workers benefit from the wealth divide so that Black workers see them as enemies. So, mitigating the wealth-gap through reparations mitigate one of the causes of prejudice.

Now, clearly neither of these conjuncts on their own is sufficient to undermine racial prejudice. The story alone might tug on moral sentiments, but that is not particularly compelling. And the fight for reparations is subject to propaganda claiming that Black people want special treatment. But if it is explained as correcting a historic injustice and paying a debt and further showing that white workers also benefit by weakening the wealth-gap (this will be harder since the point is more abstract), the propaganda is undermined and the gap can be mitigated. Further, if we are so successful that we get white workers on board (which I think is necessary to actually win reparations), we will also undermine the propaganda that white workers aren't on the side of black workers.

That is a specific application of how Trotskyists have traditionally interpreted the Lenin passage that Cozzarelli quotes. Of course, you may still disagree with the point we're making, but I do think it is a different claim than you have attributed to us.

As for the concrete political takeaway, this is that we should support the demands that BIPOC people put forward (in just the same way we support the demands that workers put forward for themselves). Members of the Black community want reparations, so we support reparations. BLM demands the end of qualified immunity, so we support it too. We latch on to the demands made by them regardless of whether they are class-wide or race-specific. In either case we are fighting against capitalism.

However, this is a fairly complicated topic and one that would take significantly more space to properly discuss. If you are interested, CLR James wrote one of the best discussions on the upshot of dealing with race-specific issues. He is not explicit on on the causal nature of race, but it is assumed throughout: https://www.marxists.org/archive/james-clr/works/1943/negro43.htm

Expand full comment

Side note on Ryle: even that amendment is wrong. In neither the Concept of Mind nor in subsequent articles did Ryle advocate physicalism or functionalism (which came later anyway). He frequently makes references to the inner experience of what gets described by talk of mental states. Moreover, he explicitly denounces (much like later Wittgenstein) reductive explanations in philosophy generally and in talk about the mind specifically. There is some interesting scholarship which makes note of some of these things, from memory Julia Tanney and Brian Weatherson – but much more ought to be written on the topic, since the casual association of Ryle and behaviourism is totally at odds with his philosophy.

Expand full comment

Interesting! What do you think the best brief description of Ryle's position is?

Expand full comment

Tricky! A key target is the idea that mental states are modelled as "things" to begin with, the sorts of entity that are essentially private and epistemically privileged in the first-person. It is right that Ryle will speak in terms of subjunctive conditionals to describe how a person is disposed to behave if they are (e.g.) angry or jealous – but precisely because there are internal components to being in those states and because there are *indefinitely* many behaviours characteristic of them, we ought not to identify the mental state with the behaviour. Rather, it's a point about the "grammar" of our language (in the Witt. sense) – without taking into account linguistic normative practices in which mental talk is rooted, we cannot get a grip on mental concepts, and cannot in principle identify the mind with what is always inaccessible to others.

Expand full comment

bruh what's ur problem with wowsh

Expand full comment

It's obvious this article has nothing to do with me, but since my name is mentioned in mentioned in connection with three claims which are precisely the opposite of what I actually wrote, I guess correcting the record is appropriate. The reality should be apparent to anyone who actually reads the article linked, but Burgis seems to feel like he can attribute claims to me based entirely on his imagination, maybe because he didn't actually read the article, or maybe because he just believes he can make up whatever he wants.

1. My article starts by accepting Reed's proposal that there's no such thing as class reductionism. I explicitly do not accuse him of that, because my critique is based on evaluating the argument he builds from that premise. I do not "direct my fire" at him, but rather reproduce his refutation of the "myth of class reductionism" and show that it makes valid and accurate points. I explicitly describe the accusation of Bernie Sanders as class reductionist as "disingenuous," and I say that the liberal accusation of class reductionism is based on "historical distortions and logical fallacies."

2. Far from reading the Philly DSA statement in "the worst possible light," I say that it "referred to real social problems and proposed some constructive solutions to them." I use it as an example of left debates in which the term term has occurred to orient readers unfamiliar with it, and I try to describe why the statement caused controversy, but I don't present my own critique of the statement. The most critical comment on the statement that occurs in my article is when I quote the one made later by Philly DSA itself.

3. When I refer to people online who embrace the label of class reductionist, it's specifically to point out that these people aren't significant, and that I'm focusing on engaging with the arguments of serious people who say the label is inaccurate. Burgis is completely inverting what I'm actually saying, which is that while I'll concede that for whatever reason some anonymous online trolls might say that they're class reductionists or that class reductionism is good, Reed is right to say they're not a meaningful political tendency, so we should instead evaluate his argument on its own terms. This means, as I've already said, that we can't just assert that he's a class reductionist when he's presented an argument that the category is a myth, so I try to understand what he means when he says it's a myth and trace out the consequences of his argument, which is complex. For Burgis to represent this as me conjuring up phantom class reductionists is totally dishonest.

So once again, Burgis's comments about me are based either on ignoring what I actually wrote, or willfully misrepresenting me. That's disappointing, to say the least, and I hope that future debates on the left adhere to higher standards of accuracy and honesty.

Expand full comment

Your conflation of disagreement with dishonesty here is so totally over the top I'm inclined to just pass it over in silence but for the record:

1. It's true that you say that centrist accusations that Sanders is a class reductionist are wrong. It's also true that I never said or implied otherwise. If you read a bit more carefully you should see that I addressed your criticisms of Reed and Philly DSA, Cozzarelli's critique of Sanders and Gray (and Reed), and Vaush's critique of various other figures on the left separately.

As to Reed, you seemed to me to be critiquing his argument that class reductionism isn't an accurate characterization of any significant tendency on the left and I was unpersuaded by your critique. If you actually meant to suggest that his conclusion was correct, then great! We agree and I'll make a correction. But considering that in the Salon piece you accuse him of "dismissing the politics of antiracism" and in a more recent followup article you go further and characterize him as holding the position that "any and every opposition to racism" is "reducible" to "elite politics," it does indeed seem to me that you not only think a tendency to class reductionism is a real problem on parts of the left but that you have indeed been "directing your fire" at him in an attempt to push back against that tendency. If that wasn't your intention I would strongly recommend that you go back and rework or add updates to your two pieces on the subject to clarify that.

2. After your in-all-fairness caveats, you say that the Philly DSA statement seems "oblivious at best and condescending at worst" and certainly seemed to suggest (as you do in your comment above!) that the later abject apology after the firestorm of outrage was correct and merited. I disagree on all points and think that my characterization of your critique of the statement in my article was fair despite the giving-them-their-due caveats with which you prefaced this extraordinarily uncharitable interpretation.

3. The retroactive claim that the only point you were making about extremely online class reductionists was that they're insignificant strike as as an extremely odd fit with the actual usage to which you put them in responding to Reed in your Salon piece:

"Along these lines, when Reed argues that class reductionism is a myth, he means that no meaningful political tendency actually thinks that all social inequalities are reducible to class or that class-based reforms will solve every problem. (The extremely online people who do claim to be class reductionists apparently don't count.)"

If the point you intended to make in this passage was that they were insignificant, rather than (as certainly seems to be your point there) that Reed is ignoring a real contingent of class reductionists, then I certainly don't think you succeeded in making that clear in your article.

Expand full comment

1. You say that I accuse Reed of being a class reductionist. I absolutely did not do this, and think it would be a meaningless thing to say, since he has argued that the category is a myth. Without engaging with his reasoning this would be an empty assertion. For this reason I do not accuse anyone of class reductionism in the article. This is a completely empirically false claim you make.

Reed explicitly argues – I quote him on these points – that racism is a useless category for understanding disparities (a substitute for explanation rather than an explanatory category), and that antiracism is a neoliberal politics of the professional-managerial class. So I'm not mischaracterizing him on these points. I disagree with his analysis, but I do not base my disagreement on an argument about "class reductionism." I argue that when people invoke the term "racism," they may have reasonable theories of race and class in mind, some of which may even converge with Reed's. I provide my own account of the difficulty of coming up with an adequate language to grasp these causal relations. I also argue that antiracism is not necessarily more compatible with capitalism than class politics — that is, there are different kinds of class politics, some of which do not lead in a solidaristic and anti-systemic direction — which I consider through a historical and conceptual analysis of the labor movement and the categories of the PMC and neoliberalism. None of this is a question of whether race is reducible to class. I say that class reductionism is a "red herring" because there are all these separate issues about how we understand class and social struggles that are getting obscured by the intensity of the debate over whether race is reducible to class.

2. I tried to give an explanation of the Philly DSA statement which showed both why they made it and why people objected. I was not then and am not now taking a position in favor of their second statement. I was trying to explain why there are multiple sides of this dispute on the left. You are going into it assuming that you know where my sympathies lie, but I'm trying to describe different viewpoints in order to give Salon readers – who aren't all familiar with these intra-left discussions — an idea of why people are arguing about this.

3. The previous reference to this issue is:

"Some people — especially those who spend their entire political lives on the internet — proudly embrace the label, insisting that reducing everything to class is reasonable and desirable. However, the more serious people involved in these debates argue that class reductionism isn't an accurate description of their perspective or anyone else's. "

The reason I acknowledge that some people do embrace the label of class reductionist is for the sake of accuracy. Reed is exaggerating when he says there's no such thing as a class reductionist, because there actually are areas of online subculture which claim the label. I acknowledge this, because otherwise it would leave both me and Reed open to the superficial response that look, this very vocal online forum or whatever is advocating class reductionism. But I emphasize that this is not significant — this is why I call them "extremely online" rather than naming individuals, organizations, caucuses, whatever — and immediately proceed to engage with Reed's argument for why the category is a myth, and say that he makes valid points. You're completely inverting the reasoning, possibly because you believe you already know what I think and don't have to engage with what I actually wrote.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

The sentence you are quoting quite clearly says that I am NOT naming caucuses of the DSA or any other organization. I am ONLY acknowledging that some people self-describe as "class reductionists" in order to recognize that they are not significant and then focus on the argument of people who argue that this category is misleading. Since I am accepting the premise that class reductionism is a myth, in order to evaluate the argument that flows from that premise, I do not accuse anyone of class reductionism.

Expand full comment

O word?

Expand full comment

Imagine thinking that writing multiple paragraphs flaunting that you don’t even know what the key term means while blatantly mis”reading” interlocutors makes a convincing argument.

I see Ben on the front pages of Jacobin and CA. Is this really the best that left intelligentsia has to offer?

Expand full comment