RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 11, Number 2 (Summer, 1999)
(The full text of this isssue is now available as a sample —requires Acrobat Reader)
In this issue Jason Read explores the centrality of the notion of antagonism in the work of Antonio Negri. (Readers will remember RMs 1997 open letter on behalf of Negri, who was imprisoned upon his return to Italy after almost fourteen years in exile in France.) Antagonism, in Reads view, operates not as a foundational concept within Negris readings of Spinoza and Marx but, rather, as a way of destabilizing the standard presuppositions of thought and of thoughts relation to politics. In the case of Spinoza, Negris use of antagonism serves to highlight the creative tension between the negative and affirmative moments of thinking—between pars destruens and pars construens— which refuses any easy resolution within the practice of thinking itself. Instead, "constitutive power" marks the place where thought encounters the materiality of power and desire, the moment when thinking is inserted into history and politics, when the demands of ontological speculation meet those of practical political activity. Read argues that antagonism also serves as an organizing principle in Negris reading of Marxs Grundrisse—specifically, of Marxs treatment of the seemingly unified categories of political economy as concealing and, at the same time, indicating a series of antagonistic tensions. The Marxian critique of political economy, in this rendering, reveals the intersection of subordination and exploitation, the mutual relation of the "economic" and the "political." The result of this "overdetermined" relation (in Negris sense) is not the simple reproduction of capitalist relations or the emergence of a single contradiction; on the contrary, it involves an intensification and expansion of the set of social antagonisms which, in turn, create new anticapitalist subjectivities and forms of cooperation. For Read, it is this radical difference of antagonism from both economism and the traditional notion of the dialectic that forms the basis of Negris conception of communism as the politics of constitutive power, a radical alternative to the "bourgeois tradition" that emerges within and alongside it, and which is articulated in the writings of Spinoza and Marx.
David Bernanss goal is to study the politics of "language games." Wittgensteins post-Tractatus writings are, of course, the starting point for contemporary discussions of language games. However, in Bernanss view, the "metamodel" of equivalence/ difference that he detects in the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe should be counterposed to the "antimodel" that follows from Wittgensteins own way of conceiving of how ordinary language functions when it is used to get things done in specific social circumstances. Bernans also finds that, when Laclau and Mouffe map equivalence and difference onto equality and liberty, they forget about class and confine political activity to a radical democratic project. Yet, in this case, because Wittgenstein is so focused on the dynamics of specific language games, "he offers very little in the way of direct insight into the politics and struggles" that emerge within and across such games. Bernans, therefore, turns to the work of the Russian Marxist philosopher of language V. N. Volosinov to find a way out of the dilemma. Using Volosinovs notions of speech utterances and genres, Bernans is able to map out the project of examining the political dimensions of the use of language: for example, the ways in which the dialogical process of surplus extraction—the "class-struggle language game"—is crosscut by and, at the same time, spills over into the nonclass language games associated with gender, race, sexual preference, and so on.
The political implications of language are also the focus of Stella Gaons essay. Here, she enjoins an ongoing discussion (including essays by Pierre Macherey and J. K. Gibson-Graham in RM 8/4 and Tom Lewis in RM 9/3, and future contributions by Peter Hitchcock and Imre Szeman) of Derridas Specters of Marx and, more generally, the ethico-political consequences of deconstruction. Gaon argues both that Derridas Marxist critics incorrectly conclude that the Derridean motifs of "indeterminacy" and "undecidability" represent a retreat from politics and that, notwithstanding the (frustrated) expectations of such critics, the Specters text should not be considered the privileged site for detecting the politics of deconstruction. Gaons alternative interpretation is that Derridas elaborations of différance, whether focused on Marxs texts or not, are not only inescapably political but offer important contributions to a specifically Marxian politics. In the first instance, Gaon writes, passing through the ordeal of undecidability is an important condition for a notion of justice appropriate to Marxism. This is perhaps best seen in Derridas treatment of the gift which exceeds the calculation of market-based systems of exchange, thereby enlarging the field of responsibility and creating the very possibility of—precisely by offering no guarantees for—ethical and political choices. And it is when this structural undecidability is, in a second instance, conjoined to a Marxian spirit of radical critique by rendering (impossibly) "the reason of reason itself," what is demanded of us is an ethical impulse, a "socially constituted desire," for justice. While deconstruction does not therefore represent an argument for a particular Marxian political project, the naming of the necessity of such a project is, Gaon writes, "already a lot."
It is this spirit of deconstruction and radical critique that runs through the pages of J. K. Gibson-Grahams The End of Capitalism (as we knew it). We are pleased, therefore, to present the exchange between critics and authors initially arranged by Jack Amariglio for the RM-sponsored “Politics and Languages of [Contemporary] Marxism” conference and shepherded to publication by Rob Garnett. The special section includes essays on different moments of The End of Capitalism by Michael Moon, David F. Ruccio, and Arturo Escobar, along with a response by Gibson-Graham herself. Moon begins by noting Gibson-Grahams novel and productive use of queer theory to challenge the ordinary language of economy deployed by Marxists and other left thinkers. He then focuses his attention on the relevance of Gibson-Grahams proliferation of capitalist and noncapitalist class processes for his own analyses of "homosexual economies" in nineteenth-century American literature and, more generally, for rethinking the nexus of gender, sexuality, and economy in contemporary cultural studies. In particular, Moon points to the usefulness of the categories of noncapitalism, especially the "feudal," for revisiting what he considers to be some of the more intractable moments of first-wave queer theory itself. Gibson-Grahams linking of concepts of capitalism with the problem of political affect is the first issue noted in Ruccios contribution to the exchange. While the traditional notions of unified and powerful capitalism may represent a compelling mapping of the world for some intellectuals and activists, those same notions are considered quite disabling by others, precisely because they attempt to encompass too much. One of the great merits of The End of Capitalism, in Ruccios view, is to show that there can be different conceptions of capitalism, alongside which many forms of noncapitalism can be envisioned and created. And such visions of capitalism and noncapitalism can and do exist not only in the academy but also in everyday discourses. Therefore, he directs attention to a theoretical and political project that is provoked by and yet points beyond Gibson-Grahams book: to create an anthropology of class discourses of economy. Escobar, for his part, notes the overlaps between Gibson-Grahams anti-essentialist critique of "capitalocentrism" (the idea that all parts of the economy, including instances of noncapitalism, are understood in relation to capitalism) and parallel efforts within economic and ecological anthropology to move away from economism and to decenter the economy itself. In his view, the multidisciplinary project of creating economic difference requires both that capitalism be displaced from epistemological privilege within economic discourses and that, within the history of modernity, the economy be removed from its central position. That project, to which The End of Capitalism offers invaluable lessons, has far-reaching theoretical and, Escobar insists, political effects. In her response, Gibson-Graham uses The Full Monty as way of contrasting the exhaustion of traditional models of resistance-style politics to the possibilities offered by the emergence of new subjectivities which is occasioned by the destruction of existing economic identities and the chain of equivalences—gender, sexual, and so on—with which they have been constituted and enforced. She then compares viewers dampened reactions to the end of the movie to the frustrated responses she has received to her current research on local economies of difference that represents a sequel to The End of Capitalism: in both cases, the alternatives are considered "not good enough." In her view, it is precisely the capitalist-centered logic of existing political economies that prevents left thinkers and activists—because the languages used may not be explicitly anticapitalist—from valuing the communal identities and activities that have emerged and can be formed within many alternative regional development projects.
The first Remarx essay comes from the pen of "international correspondent" Loren Kruger who traveled to Germany to witness and document the commemoration of the centenary of the birth of communist playwright Bertolt Brecht. What she found was a series of walking tours, exhibitions, and theater productions that served to create a monumental figure—but which also provide her the opportunity to recognize Brechts debt to Marx and to revalue the contributions of Brecht and his collaborators to a vital anticapitalist cultural movement. Kruger is able to uncover the sites of Brechts communist choir and acting groups, unpublished essays that sharpen the political focus of some of his more famous plays, his unorthodox reading material (a collection of books including not only Lenin but also Luxemburg and Trotsky), and— quite in contrast to the ways in which plays were being staged—Brechts efforts both to contest bourgeois culture and to create alternatives to it.
For E. San Juan, Jr., the controversy over the veracity of Rigoberta Menchus autobiographical narrative provoked by David Stolls charge that important elements of her story were fabricated is an occasion to address issues of knowledge production. While distancing his view from both objective scientific inquiry and what he considers to be the excesses of social constructivism, San Juan does worry about the politics of Othering, the conditions and consequences of the representation of non-Western groups by writers of the "economically powerful North." He cites an analogous case, the current debate over the Philippine revolution against Spain and the U.S. intervention in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Drawing on these examples, San Juan proposes an alternative to both objective truth and subjective interpretation, one that poses a series of questions about the "exigencies of the dialogic communication" among subaltern voices, their sympathetic interlocutors, and privileged critics.
The economic crisis in Korea has been explained in at least three different ways within the Korean left, citing alternatively the "chaebols," neoliberalism, and overproduction for primary blame. Seongjin Jeong and Jo-Young Shin locate the problems, especially the political implications, associated with all three explanatory frameworks and propose a Marxian "long-wave" synthesis. Their own view is that the crisis is structural, not merely cyclical, and was triggered by the particular relation between Korean and global capitalisms, from which they conclude that the Korean left should respond by rejecting schemes for rebuilding the economy and by supporting workers demands for subsistence wages and job security.
The final essay in the Remarx section is another international report, John Milioss reflections based on his trip to Cuba to participate in a conference commemorating the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto. What struck Milios about the conference was the pluralism of views and openness to different theoretical currents that characterized the Cuban delegates and Cuban Marxism generally. Beyond the conference itself, Milios remarks on the economic and social conditions of the country, including the absence of traditional Third World deprivations, the relative absence of racism and sexism, and the existence of petty corruption associated with the parallel dollar economy which, however, does not seem to rise to the levels of "illegal capitalism" that characterized the socialist economies of Eastern Europe.
This issue also contains two reviews of books that form part of the burgeoning left response to the corporate restructuring of higher education. The first, by Eric Schocket, examines the collection edited by Cary Nelson, Will Teach for Food: Academic Labor in Crisis. While Shocket notes the theoretical unevenness among the various contributions to the volume, he also finds numerous examples of serious and incisive political engagement with the problems associated with the downsizing, outsourcing, and casualizing of labor currently taking place within the academy. Fred Curtis focuses his attention on the strengths and weaknesses of Wesley Shumars indictment of the commodification of higher education in College for Sale. He writes approvingly of Shumars use of a combination of postmodern theory and left political economy to create a critical ethnography of the "imagined community" of the academy. At the same time, Curtis raises questions about Shumars analysis, including the absence both of a discussion of what a noncommodified education might look like and of a more extensive treatment of exploitative class processes among both full-time and part-time faculty members. Engaging with these and related issues would then form part of a Marxist analysis of the corporatization/commodification of higher education and, most important, of the formulation of effective responses and alternative proposals.
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