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There is a famous Maoist debate about the nature of the dialectic where, on the one hand, the primary law of the dialectic is a synthesis of two contradictory terms, formulated as the "two unites into one," now commonly thought of as the resolution of the conflict between a thesis and its anti-thesis. On the other hand, the principle of the dialectic is conceptualized as the study of a single whole that is split into two, from which we are able to determine the contradictory parts, formulated as "one divides into two."
The debate is said to have been derived from a reading (or misreading) of Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks of 1915 and his specific treatment of the question of dialectics. The second formulation, that of "one divides into two," implies that one term suppresses the other, rather than what is implied by the first formula, an internal overcoming of contradiction.1
While phrased by the Maoists of '65 as a philosophical split, this is also the distinction between a reformist political project that liberals/fascists have espoused, forcing a reconciliation between a neoliberal political order and unceasing antiblack violence—against a radical abolitionist impulse that seeks not to be reconciled with its own death, but instead must find a means of annihilating its contradictory term as a mode of self-defense.
In this context, I believe the stages of the Captive Maternal require problematizing as a concept so broad so as to include the complicit caretaker and the war rebel as stages in its maturation, and proffer a more forceful split within this already unfixed category.
At the outset, the figure of the Captive Maternal pushes us to contend with an often forgotten but painful foundational truth—that people of African descent in all parts of the globe, fixed by set of historical processes into an ontological position of extreme Other, are a conquered people (there is no captive without capture/captor, as James puts it). The condition of defeat is the bitter context upon which we make sense of the everyday acts of violence visited on black flesh everywhere without consequence, as the necessary and ongoing source of sustenance (both psychic and material) for the modern world.
The possibility condition of the global modern—that is, unceasing antiblack violence—makes this historical epoch tenable only as a state of war against black people.
As such, the conditions of war—the afterlife of slavery as well as colonialism on the continent and in the diasporas—have, as James has elaborated, produced the figure of the Captive Maternal. Accordingly, the figure of the Captive Maternal is imagined to have four stages or iterations: the caretaker, the protest or movement maker, the maroon, and the war rebel.
There are several moments where James recognizes the radical difference between the Captive Maternal in the form of caregiver and that same figure in the form of the rebel. The reference to the Black Matrix is one such instance:
The intended offspring of a union between U.S. democracy and white supremacy was a servile Captive Maternal. The unintended offspring was a Black Matrix that could produce a rebel.2
Here, James' distinction rests on the intentionality of a predatory state in the marriage of white supremacy and democracy in the U.S.: intentionally producing a slave, unintentionally producing a rebel. It would seem as if the caretaker and the rebel are mapped onto James' distinction between servility and rebellion as two ends of a continuum.
A double invention: the intended slave and the accidental rebel, met with the dual function of love.
For James, agape is a form of political will as love. It is the mechanism that moves the Captive Maternal from one stage, say the movement organizer, to the next, the maroon. But it is also that tool that the state relies on to stabilize, and in some sense, reproduce itself. This is akin to a situation in which the masses of people (often in the Third World), are thrown out of formal neoliberal institutions and are then forced to produce a network of informal economies and alternative economics in order to survive.
These noncapitalist modes of production do not produce a different world free of exploitation, where a community integrates through shared hope. Rather, the effect of these survival strategies is to keep a laboring population alive so that capitalism can avoid having to pay it a living wage. These forms of ongoing primitive accumulation are essential to the reproduction of capital—an ever-expanding outside reserve that it expropriates and accumulates, that capitalism (and white supremacy) could not survive without.3
This effect is illustrated by the endless individual mutual aid requests that plague so-called radical social media circles in the global North, requests that are often for rent, shelter, food, medical care. The impulse to keep each other alive by way of these individualized acts of care are ultimately mechanisms that keep us available for exploitation. In the context of neoliberal white supremacy, acts of care serve capital.
A deep pessimism underlies the concept of the Captive Maternal in that the figure cannot help but be complicit in the antiblackness of the state by whom it is held captive, such as in the case of the slave, where agency is negligible to nonexistent, and resistance can be located only in its minutia. But at the same time, the Captive Maternal could, through an act of political will, take on the guerrilla form. In one stage, the will of the captive is captured. In another, it is entirely transcendent. What remains unclear in this movement is how love alone transforms the slave into a rebel.
My insistence in this regard is for the captive to perform a dialectical scission on itself—rid itself of that psychological investment it has in its own defeat, in the postponement of rebellion. In so doing, it gives up its commitments to offering (gifting) its labor—in all its forms to the regime of antiblackness.
Our political commitment must be to split the category—the complicit caretaker is to be left with the formal place, and the rebel is to be extracted to the outplace. A purification of the self. Similarly, the operation of love must be split—the love that stabilizes the state split from the love that inaugurates the rebellious event. For it is only in the context of the guerrilla camp that there can be anything that resembles collective self-care.
We must divide the One into Two.
1 For a discussion on this debate, see Alain Badiou's One Divides into Two
2 Joy James, Fulcrum: Captive Maternals Leverage Democracy, 44
3 For an extended version of this argument see Rosa Luxemburg's Primitive Accumulation
The Stakes of Revolution and the Death of Desire
Dying for the revolution is a necessary part of struggle, Da'Shaun Harrison writes. Revolutionary Love is the catalyst. "What is freedom if the state can still superimpose itself onto you and your people?"
Radical Care Work in the Project of Schooling
As Black educators struggle to balance their commitment to Revolutionary Love with their entrapment in the schooling-as-colonial-indoctrination, evading state appropriation and embracing abolitionist pedagogy requires a reimagination of love and care.
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