This is a contentious subject. Please keep the discussion respectful. I think this will get more traction, here, but I’ll cross-post it to !Communism, too.

Workers who sell their labour power for a wage are part of the working class, right? They are wage-workers because they work for a wage. Are they wage-labourers?

“They’re proletariat,” I hear some of you shout.

“Not in the imperial core! Those are labour aristocrats,” others reply.

So what are the workers in the imperial core? Are they irredeemable labour aristocrats, the inseparable managers and professionals of the ruling class? Or are they proletarian, the salt of the earth just trying to get by?

It’s an important distinction, even if the workers in any country are not a homogenous bloc. The answer determines whether workers in the global north are natural allies or enemies of the oppressed in the global south.

The problem is as follows.

There is no doubt that people in the global north are, in general, more privileged than people in the global south. In many cases, the difference in privilege is vast, even among the wage-workers. This is not to discount the suffering of oppressed people in the global north. This is not to brush away the privilege of national bourgeois in the global south.

For some workers in the global north, privilege amounts to basic access to water, energy, food, education, healthcare, and shelter, streetlights, paved highways, etc. As much as austerity has eroded access to these basics, they are still the reality for the majority of people in the north even, to my knowledge, in the US.

Are these privileges enough to move someone from the ranks of the proletariat and into the labour aristocracy or the petit-bourgeois?

I’m going to discuss some sources and leave some quotes in comments, below. This may look a bit spammy, but I’m hoping it will help us to work through the several arguments, that make up the whole. The sources:

  • Settlers by J Sakai
  • Corona, Climate, and Chronic Emergency by Andreas Malm
  • The Wealth of Nations by Zac Cope
  • ‘Decolonization is Not a Metaphor’ by Eve Tuck and K Wayne Yang.

I have my own views on all this, but I have tried to phrase the points and the questions in a ’neutral’ way because I want us to discuss the issues and see if we can work out where and why we conflict and how to move forwards with our thinking (neutral to Marxists, at least). I am not trying to state my position by stating the questions below, so please do not attack me for the assumptions in the questions. By all means attack the assumptions and the questions.

What do you mean by way of life of the settler? Living standards or some bullshit idea of “American Values”?

I mean, yeah they are still proletarian, that would be like saying the global south isn’t proletariat because they produce many good exploited by the core. I certainly don’t see too many bourgeois indigenous peoples. I guess it’s more there’s “national class” that holds class character, like core and periphery, where in a settler colonial context the oppressed nations are an internalized periphery.

I think it’s important to point out that while Indigenous peoples having children is an act of resistance against the settler state, settlers having children isn’t inherently an act of repression against Indigenous populations. As at the very basis the settlers are still exploited, even though under imperialism they gain a privileged position of labour aristocracy. Once imperialism is defeated, then the majority of settlers will have their interests align more and more with Indigenous peoples, as the contradictions boil inwards.

Maybe I’m missing something, could you extrapolate more by what you mean interests?

I understand and agree with the reluctance to accept something as vague as ‘values’ or a ‘way of life’ might determine material reality. Marxists appear to argue for the opposite when they insist that material factors, not ideas or idealism, is determinative. The question is whether values or a way of life is material or ideal.

The issue concerns the metaphor of base and superstructure (the base determines the superstructure). The opposite can happen, too: Law can affect the political economy, for example.

Althusser may be helpful for thinking about ‘American values’. In ‘Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses’, he considers the ‘reproduction of the relations of production’:

There are ‘(repressive) State apparatus[es]’ (SAs)., ultimately backed by physical violence: ‘the Government, the Administration, the Army, the Police, the Courts, the Prisons, etc.’ And there are ‘Ideological State Apparatuses’ (ISAs):

  • the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
  • the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
  • the family ISA,
  • the legal ISA,
  • the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
  • the trade-union ISA,
  • the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
  • the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.).

The metaphor of base-superstructure suggests that, being part of the superstructure, ISAs and (repressive) SAs (which both may promote and rely on ‘American values’) have little effect on the economic base. But both kinds, ISAs and SAs, contribute to reproducing relations of production (the existing base).

Althusser gives an interim summary and thinks through the implications:

  1. All [SAs] function both by repression and by ideology, with the difference that the (Repressive) [SAs] functions massively and predominantly by repression, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function massively and predominantly by ideology.
  2. Whereas the (Repressive) [SAs] constitutes an organized whole whose different parts are centralized beneath a commanding unity, that of the politics of class struggle applied by the political representatives of the ruling classes in possession of State power, the Ideological State Apparatuses are multiple, distinct, ‘relatively autonomous’ and capable of providing an objective field to contradictions which express … the effects of the clashes between the capitalist class struggle and the proletarian class struggle ….
  3. Whereas the unity of the (Repressive) [SAs] is secured by its unified and centralized organization under the leadership of the representatives of the classes in power executing the politics of the class struggle of the classes in power, the unity of the different Ideological State Apparatuses is secured, usually in contradictory forms, by the ruling ideology, the ideology of the ruling class.

The role of the repressive [SA] … consists … in securing by force (physical or otherwise) the political conditions of the reproduction of relations of production which are in the last resort relations of exploitation. Not only does the [SA] contribute generously to its own reproduction (the capitalist State contains political dynasties, military dynasties, etc.), but also and above all, the [SA] secures by repression (from the most brutal physical force, via mere administrative commands and interdictions, to open and tacit censorship) the political conditions for the action of the [ISAs].

… [I]t is the latter which largely secure the reproduction specifically of the relations of production, behind a ‘shield’ provided by the repressive [SA]. It is here that the role of the ruling ideology is heavily concentrated, the ideology of the ruling class, which holds State power. … [T]he ruling ideology that ensures a (sometimes teeth-gritting) ‘harmony’ between the repressive [SA] and the [ISAs], and between the different State Ideological Apparatuses.

He presents some historical, then writes:

I believe that the Ideological State Apparatus which has been installed in the dominant position in mature capitalist social formations as a result of a violent political and ideological class struggle against the old dominant Ideological State Apparatus, is the educational ideological apparatus.


… behind the scenes of its political [ISA], which occupies the front of the stage, what the bourgeoisie has installed as its number-one, i.e. as its dominant [ISA], is the educational apparatus, which has in fact replaced in its functions the previously dominant [ISA], the Church. One might even add: the School-Family couple has replaced the Church-Family couple.

Why is the educational apparatus in fact the dominant [ISA] in capitalist social formations, and how does it function? …

  1. All [ISAs] … contribute to the same result: the reproduction of the relations of production, i.e. of capitalist relations of exploitation.
  1. Each of them contributes towards this single result in the way proper to it. The political apparatus by subjecting individuals to the political State ideology, the ‘indirect’ (parliamentary) or ‘direct’ (plebiscitary or fascist) ‘democratic’ ideology. The communications apparatus by cramming every ‘citizen’ with daily doses of nationalism, chauvinism, liberalism, moralism, etc, by means of the press, the radio and television. The same goes for the cultural apparatus (the role of sport in chauvinism is of the first importance), etc. The religious apparatus by recalling in sermons and the other great ceremonies of Birth, Marriage and Death, that man is only ashes, unless he loves his neighbour to the extent of turning the other cheek to whoever strikes first. The family apparatus …but there is no need to go on.
  1. Nevertheless, … one [ISA] certainly has the dominant role … the School.

It takes children from every class at infant-school age, and then for years, the years in which the child is most ‘vulnerable’, squeezed between the Family State Apparatus and the Educational State Apparatus, it drums into them, whether it uses new or old methods, a certain amount of ‘know-how’ wrapped in the ruling ideology (French, arithmetic, natural history, the sciences, literature) or simply the ruling ideology in its pure state (ethics, civic instruction, philosophy). Somewhere around the age of sixteen, a huge mass of children are ejected ‘into production’: these are the workers or small peasants. Another portion of scholastically adapted youth carries on: and, for better or worse, it goes somewhat further, until it falls by the wayside and fills the posts of small and middle technicians, white-collar workers, small and middle executives, petty bourgeois of all kinds. A last portion reaches the summit, either to fall into intellectual semi-employment, or to provide, as well as the ‘intellectuals of the collective labourer’, the agents of exploitation (capitalists, managers), the agents of repression (soldiers, policemen, politicians, administrators, etc.) and the professional ideologists (priests of all sorts, most of whom are convinced ‘laymen’).

Each mass ejected en route is practically provided with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfil in class society: the role of the exploited (with a ‘highly-developed’ ‘professional’, ‘ethical’, ‘civic’, ‘national’ and a-political consciousness); the role of the agent of exploitation (ability to give the workers orders and speak to them: ‘human relations’), of the agent of repression (ability to give orders and enforce obedience ‘without discussion’, or ability to manipulate the demagogy of a political leader’s rhetoric), or of the professional ideologist (ability to treat consciousnesses with the respect, i.e. with the contempt, blackmail, and demagogy they deserve, adapted to the accents of Morality, of Virtue, of ‘Transcendence’, of the Nation, of France’s World Role, etc.).

Of course, many of these contrasting Virtues (modesty, resignation, submissiveness on the one hand, cynicism, contempt, arrogance, confidence, self-importance, even smooth talk and cunning on the other) are also taught in the Family, in the Church, in the Army, in Good Books, in films and even in the football stadium. But no other [ISA] has the obligatory (and not least, free) audience of the totality of the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for five or six days out of seven.

Messages taught by ISAs in settler states, such as American values, prop-up the settler state’s oppression against the indigenous people. The ideological function of such ISAs materially reproduce the settler state.

I’m unsure if this relates to @freagle’s point about ‘way of life’, but the discussion reminded me of Althusser, whose article seems applicable, here. Is this useful / relevant?

What do you mean by way of life of the settler? Living standards or some bullshit idea of “American Values”?

Bullshit or not American “values” made America what it is. The reflection of the ideology manifests as armies, guarded borders, racist policies that actually harm people, redlining, etc. Artificial divisions between people aren’t just illusory. They are made real through actual physical violence.

For example: the early stages of the Northwest Indian War were fought by militias and white insurgents who settled west of the Proclamation Line of 1763 technically illegally. It wasn’t until these groups failed that Washington raised an army himself to finish the job. And this army was still using the manpower of settler proles.

Obviously, the bourgoisie did fully intend to design the system around their interests in land speculation. The immediate result of the Northwest Indian War was Washington being granted access to 20000 acres deeded to him in Ohio. But it was the colonists already living there ahead of legal tracts being established that create impetus for and foment the war path.

We can see a similar situation in the West Bank. Suburbs of Israeli colonists are illegally cropping up all over, and they’re filled with the worst people who think they deserve to live there, and will aim to do so no matter how much Palestinians try to reject them to enforce treaties. In their minds, they are victims, because they don’t see their posession of Palestinian land as violence.

At minimum, the indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere have a different material understanding of the world that they have not had a chance to develop fully. Doing so would necessarily require challenging the Eurocentric material understanding of the world. Doing this would be difficult, potentially impossible without a period of time wherein the indigenous analysis of the world is given a degree of primacy. Requiring that the indigenous adopt the understanding of the universe of the European order, which explicitly includes a history of excluding indigenous thought, is problematic.

Then we’ll have to contend with the reality of trauma. Trauma research is showing how trauma is embodied and heritable. Resolving that trauma in the indigenous population will likely require, at minimum, reparations and at some level national self direction. National self direction of indigenous people will be assuredly run counter to settler interests.

Even without considering trauma, social necessity includes cultural components, not merely commodities. The development of those socially necessary cultural components will require allocations of resources at minimum, but will likely also require dismantling some of the material components if settler cultural and social reproduction.

Conflicts will arise in some manner, and the settler proletariat must comes to terms with that conflict by deferring to the indigenous population to avoid recreating contradictions inherent in oppression. But this requires the settler proletariat to accept the indigenous position even when it harms the settler economically. This will be very difficult without a framework of decolonization.

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