by Min Hyoung Song
The meaning of “class” in Asian American studies formed in conversation with Marxism, with the former building on the latter’s insights while seeking to find ways to exceed its perceived limitations. For instance, Lisa Lowe starts her groundbreaking book Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics by insisting, “Understanding Asian immigration to the United States is fundamental to understanding the racialized foundations of both the emergence of the United States as a nation and the development of American capitalism” (1996, ix). In the equally groundbreaking Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting: Afro-Asian Connections and the Myth of Racial Purity, Vijay Prashad observes, “White supremacy emerged in the throes of capitalism’s planetary birth to justify the expropriation of people off their lands and the exploitation of people for their labor” (2001, x–xi). In both these examples, race plays a larger role in the development of capitalism than Marx himself ever considered. This is so because, for Marx, capitalism could best be explained as a process of valorization produced by the inequality between those who own the means of production and those who own only their ability to work. To keep this discussion as simple as possible, we can refer to these two fundamental socioeconomic classes as capitalists and workers. While other classes did exist for Marx, he understood them as having become less relevant as capitalism replaced preexisting economic arrangements. For scholars like Lowe and Prashad, such a claim has been significantly supplemented by an acknowledgement of the importance of race, as well as gender, sexuality, and other markers of difference, in sustaining unequal access to wealth, and indeed to the very means of sustaining life itself.