Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left
I have argued that class antagonism is not inherent to capitalist relations of production, but that it takes place between those relations and the identity of the worker outside them. Various aspects must be carefully distinguished. First, we have to distinguish the contradiction between forces and relations of production - which, I have maintained, is a contradiction without antagonism - from class struggle - which is an antagonism without contradiction. So if we concentrate on the latter, where is the antagonism located? Certainly not within the relations of production. The capitalists extract surplus-value from the workers, but both capital and labor should be conceived of, as far as the logic of capitalism is concerned, not as actual people but as economic categories. So if we are going to maintain that class antagonism is inherent to the relations of production, we would have to prove that from the abstract categories 'capital' and 'wage labor' we can logically derive the antagonism between both - and such a demonstration is impossible. It does not logically follow from the fact that the surplus-value is extracted from the worker that the latter will resist such extraction. So if there is going to be antagonism, its source cannot be internal to the capitalist relations of production, but has to be sought in something that the worker is outside those relations, something which is threatened by them: the fact that below a certain level of wages the worker cannot live a decent life, and so on. Now, unless we are confronted with a situation of extreme exploitation, the worker's attidue vis-a-vis capitalism will depend entirely on how his or her identity is constituted - as socialists knew a long time ago, when they were confronted by reformist tendencies in the trade-union movement.
Could we perhaps say that these demands have priority over those of other groups because they are closer to the economy, and thus at the heart of the functioning of the capitalist system? This argument does not fare any better. Marxists have known for a long time tat capitalism is a world system, structured as an imperialist chain, so crises at one point in the system create dislocations at many other points. This means that many sectors are threatened by the capitalist logic, and that the resulting antagonisms are not necessarily related to particular locations in the relations of production. As a result the notion of class struggle is totally insufficient to explain the identity of the agents involved in anti-capitalist struggles.