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SHANTZ, Jeff. "Radical Ecology and Class Struggle: A Re-Consideration"

Saturday 29 June 2013, by ps


In recent years a variety of social movement and environmental commentators have devoted a great deal of energy to efforts which argue the demise of class struggle as a viable force for social change (See Eckersley, 1990; Bowles and Gintis, 1987; Bookchin, 1993; 1997). These writers argue that analyses of class struggle are unable to account for the plurality of expressions which hierarchy, domination and oppression take in advanced capitalist or what they prefer to call “postindustrial” societies (See Bookchin, 1980; 1986). They charge that class analyses render a one-dimensional portrayal of social relations. The result of this has been a broad practical and theoretical turn away from questions of class and especially class struggle.

In my view, both orthodox Marxist constructions of class struggle and the arguments raised against that conceptualization have been constrained by conceptually narrow visions of class struggle. Commentators have either taken class to mean an undifferentiated monolith (Bookchin, 1986; 1987) which acts, or more often fails to act, as the instrumental agent in history or else as a fiction generated to obscure hopelessly divided and antagonistic relations within the working class (Laclau and Mouffe, 1985; Bourdieu, 1987). What is generally missing from these otherwise disparate accounts is a dynamic understanding of people as workers and workers as activists.

Indeed one might argue that much of the difficulty arises from arguments over the sociologically constructed working class (e.g. the Marxist “totality” which treats workers in a deterministic manner) rather than the working class in its variety of daily negotiated manifestations. While it is worthwhile to criticize the economistic construction of the working class as constituted by orthodox Marxism, the outcome of such critiques should not be a rejection of the central importance of class and the revolutionary implications of class struggle.

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