Queer Marx and the Assimilatory Machine of Capital

“[…] the very product of the worker is turned into an instrument for his subjugation.”

– Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific

“Neither objectively nor in his relation to his work does man appear as the authentic master of the [productive] process; on the contrary, he is a mechanical part incorporated into a mechanical system. He finds it already pre-existing and self-sufficient, it functions independently of him and he has to conform to its laws whether he likes it or not.”​​​​​​​

– Georg Lukács, Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat

“[…] in its blind, unrestrainable passion, its werewolf hunger for surplus labor, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working day. […] It is not the normal maintenance of the labor power which is to determine the limits of the working day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labor power, no matter how diseased, compulsory, and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the laborers’ period of repose.”

– Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 1

Assimilation is a topic long argued among queer activists seeking a better world to live in. In fact the ongoing struggle (now mostly lost) between liberationists and assimilationists began almost immediately after the Stonewall riots in 1969. But what is assmililation? 

Assimilationsim is a term applied to much of the contemporary gay rights movement by queer radicals (as I will also do here), though it is often unexplained in these applications, left to the imagination what the difference is between an assimilatory strategy and a liberationist one. Since I intend to relate the assimilatory strategy to the assimilatory nature of commodity production, I can take no such liberties. For the purpose of this essay then, assimilationism will be defined as attempts by rights organizations to ingratiate themselves into the machine of the bourgeois state and to mesh seamlessly into a hostile patriarchal system. This ideological base is often strategically enforced in USAmerica via the country’s court system, with many important rights victories entirely predicated on successful court battles. 

This political strategy and ideological framework is, to put it lightly, deeply problematic. Many liberationists have levelled criticisms on topics ranging from the racism and homophobia of the gay marriage fight to the way hate crime legislation reinforces the prison-industrial complex and beyond, but this liberationist’s critique aims at a much deeper problem. Namely, the ways in which the political logic of assimilation, by its nature, demands subservience to capital, and how it mirrors the plight of the USAmerican proletariat.

Vital to this analysis is a grasp of how a society dominated by the commodity form acts on the proletariat, a grasp borrowed in large part from Lukacs’ essay Reification and the Class Consciousness of the Proletariat​​​​​​​. In this essay, Lukacs speaks of the way workers are subjected to rationalizing, totalizing algorithms in the form of the production process, reduced to parts in a vast machine intended, ultimately, to render them non-human. This process of creating the unhuman worker who goes to work every day to become a piece of the capitalist machine and leaves at night never truly recovered is one which reaches into every corner of society, altering thought, restraining action, creating a class conditioned not to see their own dehumanization. It also, very importantly, assists in the creation and propagation of ideology; each new movement that wishes to see gains for the working class, or sections of it, must first go through the analytic machine of capital, their thought structure altered to understand all the world as a machine governed by rational laws, a functioning, coherent, and rational whole.

This rationalization, this mechanization, is not avoidable. It affects anyone engaged within the existing society and their relations. Fundamental to the functioning of a machinic capitalist society in which every worker becomes a replaceable part (though some parts may be harder to replace, such as highly trained workers, they are replaceable just the same), is a restraining of thought. The system only functions inasmuch as workers can be compelled to believe in some small degree that society is a machine and they are a part in it and that, no matter how miserable they are, destruction of the societal machine would be infinitely worse for them than its continued existence. This is the logic driving the maintenance of the societal machine in the neoliberal era; “however bad it gets, any change would be magnitudes worse”. From this logic, termed capitalist realism by Mark Fisher, we must analyze the landscape of queer assimilatory politics.

Translated into the realm of queer politics, we see clearly the damage of machinic thinking on any liberationary efforts. Highlighting a major court win for liberal gays, the legalization of gay marriage, I will be dissecting the assimilationist logic and its reified and ultimately bourgeois character.

In the campaign for gay marriage legalization in the United States, we see a clear class character emerge. Though a large justification for the campaign was gay access to the 1,000+ rights granted by marriage, the way in which the attempt to gain these rights was carried out belies a less altruist motivation. Much ink has been spilled dissecting the casual racism and homophobia of the gay marriage campaign’s white picket fence with 2.5 kids and a dog dream of the queer future, and this essay will spill yet more on the matter. In addition to the displaying of white supremacy present in the campaign, there is every kind of bourgeois individualism.

This individualism rears its ugly head in the vision of the suburban queer, the “just like you” queer, the fight for marriage rights for individuals above a fight for collective access to healthcare, housing, and food. This arrangment in which assimilationist queers can circumvent economic restructuring for the collective benefit by championing a dubious “right” to marriage is one which is very amenable to the capitalist class, allowing them to maintain their power with only surface-level concessions. This strategy allows them to trap the queer in the neoliberal family matrix as well as creating no change for the queers who need it the most. This integration of new parts into the same unbroken machine is so consistent with capitalist dogma in production that it cannot even be said to represent a substantial shift in the cultural landscape, rather reinforcing the idea of the “good” (white, middle class, suburban, “normal”) queer in opposition to the reviled queer, often black, gender non-conforming, trans, poor, urban; all the things typical of the poor underclass demanded by neoliberal cultural-economic hegemony.

All of these things demonstrate not only adherence to the rationalizing laws cemented by capitalism but enthusiastic, willing participation. The assimilationist movement, far from simply being absorbed by the machinic capitalist structure is part and parcel to it, a necessary outgrowth with which the bourgeois class seeks to contend with and contain queer radical movements via alignment with capital instead of a rejection of the capitalist system of cisheteropatriarchy. 

Unfortunately for those radicals seeking an anticapitalist queer movement, what has existed of it has largely been splintered, driven from the community, or swallowed whole by the assimilatory machine of capital. This slow crawl of assimilation has left us with meager defenses against an increasingly hostile government and a fever pitch being reached in a resurgence of anti-trans policy, rhetoric, and action. To be able to protect ourselves we must begin to reform and regroup as radicals and embrace liberationist struggle against the machine, starting with the assimilatory machine at home.

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