RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 10, Number 1 (Spring, 1998)
We launch the tenth volume of Rethinking MARXISM in the same year that we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto. Just weeks after its appearance, the uprising of French workers in the Paris Commune inaugurated the century and a half of challenges to and rethinkings of Marxian theory. Today as we approach the new millennium, we can look back and recognize that Marxism has been elaborated, transformed, and renewed many more times, and in many more ways, than we can possibly name. Indeed, not only is the text of Marxism being transformed rapidly in the current period, but so is its discursive form. Marx’s Capital can now be purchased as a multimedia CD-ROM and much of Marx and Engels’s work can be accessed, searched, and downloaded over the Internet. The Internet itself has become an important site for left and Marxist organizing as many Web sites, including our own (www.nd.edu/~remarx), announce conferences, provide electronic versions of published articles, present multimedia versions of political and cultural events more easily and inexpensively than before, and support worldwide dialogue and discussion about important political issues through chat rooms and e-mail lists. Recently, a new, “slick” version of the Manifesto has been produced and will be marketed prominently in Barnes and Noble’s superstores. All this has contributed to a rapidly changing left culture, what we might dub a culture of CyberMarx, along with new challenges and opportunities for a renewed Marxian and left global dialogue. Yet, the initial vision articulated by Marx and Engels still speaks powerfully to the wanton destruction and widespread injustices associated with the development of capitalism and, therefore, for the liberatory dreams of peoples and movements the world over. Marx and Engels in 1848 already recognized the incipient forces of globalization and, in today’s world, where instant communication and footloose corporations seem to define every dimension of our economy and culture, we would all do well to take the time to (re)read and thus, to rethink once again, that prescient and unparalleled document of social and political analysis.
The first issue of RM, in Spring 1988 contained a statement by the editorial board in which we explained how the journal came into being, what our specific concerns were at the time, and what we hoped to accomplish in setting off on this journey. In the first essay in this issue, we look back over the past ten years, assess what we and the larger RM community hope to have achieved in contributing to the emergence of new Marxian cultures and communities, and invite our readers and supporters to join us as we reaffirm our commitment to the rethinking of Marxism.
The next contribution in this issue is Susan Jahoda’s photo essay, “The Dancing Lesson.” The fragments of life associated with Jahoda’s ballerina are instructive. Her photo essay weaves together the carefree experiences of a young dancer, already being formed into an adult, with those of her English mother and Pakistani father. By being reminded of her lateness, the daughter is already becoming “female,” while at the same time she is being introduced to the repetition and tedium of life through her dance classes. Jahoda succeeds in reminding us (in juxtaposition to or merely as the extension of the young ballerina’s formative routines, we might ask) of the ever present lessons of adulthood—the contradictory pleasures and pains of class, bodies, race, gender, and nationality.
Peter Ives explores the idea that many of Gramsci’s important political concepts, including hegemony, do not derive directly from Marx or Lenin but, instead, from the science of language or linguistics. Taking his cue from the work of Lo Piparo, Ives both develops and challenges Lo Piparo’s theses about the Gramscian relationship between spontaneous and normative grammars and Gramsci’s major political concepts. Ives offers instead a close reading of Quaderno 29, “Notes for an Introduction to the Study of Grammar,” in order to demonstrate Gramsci’s distinction between how a dominant hegemony operates and how a different hegemony based around the Italian proletariat would operate. Ives argues that the philosophy of praxis attempts to build such a progressive hegemony out of the incongruities of various spontaneous grammars of the people, which are then transformed into a normative grammar. Such a progressive hegemony is similar in construction to the way in which Gramsci’s philosophy of praxis is produced out of common sense, that “disconnected, contradictory, and confusing mélange of beliefs,” as Ives puts it.
Roger Burbach insists that Marxism is in a profound crisis, not so much because of the “collapse of communism” after 1989 but rather, due to its inability to identify a revolutionary subject. He argues that the very foundations of Marxism need to be rethought and proposes that some of the insights of postmodernism can be usefully integrated into Marxism to give it new life. For Burbach, a postmodern Marxism is not one which rejects all claims to truth, as he claims the “strong” postmodernism of Derrida does, but rather one which seeks new metanarratives from the ground up, rooted in the new social and identity movements so prevalent in the world today. These movements go beyond the classic Marxist subjects—the proletariat and the peasantry—to encompass the irreducible identities and strategies of feminism, ethnic and civil rights movements, the ecological movement, gay and lesbian movements, and the peace, human rights, and solidarity movements. Echoing a theme from his recent book written with Boris Kagarlitsky and Orlando Núñez, Globalization and Its Discontents: The Rise of Postmodern Socialisms, Burbach stresses that in many countries the informal sector, the marginalized, and the unemployed represent the vast majority of the population and that these groups of people are not easily organized into trade unions as the more traditional proletariat was. Burbach argues that what we need to do today in the epoch of globalization is what Marx did for the era of industrial capitalism—namely, to identify the social actors capable of envisioning economic and social alternatives and of transforming the world in which we live.
Darko Suvin begins his provocative and insightful essay by asking us to consider what is to be gained by revisiting and revising Marx today. To pose that question, however, is immediately to confront another: which Marx? For as Suvin stresses, Marx’s thought oscillated throughout his lifetime and, while perhaps not in the manner of the strict demarcation between an early Marx and the later “scientific” Marx, as Althusser once claimed, one needs to read critically to draw out that which remains valuable today, rather than cast aside his oeuvre tout court, as Suvin argues that postmodernists like Lyotard have done. Just as Marx believed that history developed through its wrong side, Suvin suggests that what is lost to Marxism today is belief in a scientistic and deterministic conception of progress, understood as an eschatological necessity. However, two methodological pillars remain fundamental to a Marxian critique, as opposed to their complete rejection by many postmodernists and post-Marxists. In Suvin’s view, the ideas of demystificatory vision and the open-ended concreteness and recategorization of analysis are central to any transformative social analysis. He describes a Marxian notion of demystification as one where, once a phenomenon is described in a “normal" way, it is then analyzed to reveal the different meanings encoded within it. In contrast to what he sees as the postmodernist tendency to demonize the concepts of essence and totality and to make “ontology out of delight,” Suvin insists that an appropriate reconceptualization of these categories is necessary for revolutionary critique as “all such essences and totalities are . . . not ontological realities but epistemic tools.”
Anja Rüdiger finds irony in the fact that, as she puts it, mainstream Marxists have gained renewed attention from the publication of Derrida’s Specters of Marx. She argues that many Marxists have failed to comprehend the specific political and theoretical role that deconstruction has played in developing a contemporary politics of emancipation. In contrast to the traditional Marxism that insists on controllable progress and rationality, and whose eschatology follows from a determinate deduction from the present, she argues that deconstruction provides a genuine opening to the future and is the basis for a radical politics of displacement. Such a politics is built around the idea of an agonistic democracy that differentiates itself both from liberal notions of democracy based on fixed interests and Marxist notions emanating from a communal sharing of universal ideals. Instead, agonistic democracy reflects the idea of process and the never-ending struggle over the production of interests and communities, and which inevitably entails constant acts of exclusion. For Rudiger, post-Marxist political theory involves a paradoxical relation in that it attempts to construct a hegemonic order that continuously displaces any attempt at a welldefined succession of orders. Instead, as she insists, post-Marxist solidarity “informs a hegemonic order that is democratic insofar as it includes a disruptive, self-displacing movement to counter the inevitable processes of exclusion.”
In reply to Noel Castree’s article “Invisible Leviathan: Speculations on Marx, Spivak and the Question of Value,” published in the summer 1996/97 issue of RM, Murray Smith returns to the main points of his 1994 book Invisible Leviathan: The Market Critique of Despotism beyond Postmodernism. Smith argues against what he perceives to be poststructuralism’s idealism, and insists that theory should derive from program and be based on material and social forces. For Smith, Marxism should not develop along the lines of a textual deconstruction of Capital or any other influential text but from Marxist practice itself. In his rejoinder, Castree wonders how in these “virulently antisocialist times” we can forge a broad working-class consciousness that would be fundamental to the revolutionary struggle that Smith envisions. How can we, Castree asks, create solidarity in a world where working-class identities are increasingly complicated and negotiated through other identities? Marxism needs to be able to handle these issues, and certain insights from postmodernism and poststructuralism can be useful in forging such analyses and political alliances.
Ajit Chaudhury extends the approach to value theory initially developed by Richard Wolff, Antonio Callari, and Bruce Roberts by addressing the longstanding issue in the Marxian literature on value theory concerning how to incorporate heterogeneous labor into a more general framework concerned with the transformation problem. The issue is important because Marxian value theory aggregates labor in order to discuss the equivalence of abstract labor times and to calculate surplus-value. If, however, labor is not homogeneous—for example, due to different skill levels—then aggregation becomes a problem as unlike, or heterogeneous, labor is being compared, and some way must be found to make the heterogeneous labors commensurate. Chaudhury borrows an idea from Ricardo and Marx to weigh different concrete labors by their relative wage rates and thereby to create a homogeneous category of abstract labor. Chaudhury points out that this procedure offers support for Wolff, Callari, and Roberts’s approach by showing that exchange conditions (wage rates) overdetermine labor-time categories (abstract labor). The fact that Marx’s two aggregate equalities (total prices equal total values and total profits equal total surplus-value) hold in the case of heterogeneous labors offers a further argument against the attempt to seek in Marxian value categories an ultimate source of prices and profits and therefore additional support for the idea that values and prices are mutually constitutive.
Finally, we want to add our voice to the celebration of the life and work of the artist Rudolf Baranik. RM readers will remember Baranik from the various entries that we have published from his Dictionary of the 24th Century, in which he showed, by tracking the changing definition of certain words (such as state, earth, and world), how the barbarities of the twentieth century will undoubtedly look from the vantage point of the future. We are also grateful for his collaboration on our 1992 project “This Is My Body, This Is My Blood.” Combining the lives and identities of artist, teacher, and political activist, Baranik created the antiwar series “Napalm Elegies” and was one of the first artists to organize protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Later, he founded the organization Artists Meeting for Cultural Change and was active in the group Artists’ Call Against U.S. Intervention in Central America. His work is represented in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Hirschorn Museum. Rudolf Baranik died on 6 March 1998 at his home in El Dorado, New Mexico, at the age of seventy-seven.