RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 12, Number 3 (Fall, 2000)
In this issue a Marxist rethinking of international human rights is the lead topic. Neve Gordon, Jacinda Swanson, and Joseph Buttigieg begin by expressing their appreciation for the important work conducted by Human Rights Watch, the second largest human rights organization in the world, but they also want to expand on that work, by pointing out what they consider to be its shortcomings and proposing an alternative approach. Using a framework that combines the insights of the Communist Manifesto, Marxs writings on law, and Gramscis critique of economic determinism, Gordon et al. critically examine two mid-1990s HRW reports, Rape for Profit and The Small Hands of Slavery, that deal with human rights abuses in India and Nepal. What they find is that, although there is much to applaud in the analysis carried out by HRW, its recommendations fail to take into account "its own socioeconomic analysis" and the global context within which human rights violations occur. In addition, what Gordon et al. regard as HRWs top-down "legalistic" approach to human rights tends to overlook social change from the bottom up and to ignore the ways in which legal systems are both informed by socioeconomic relations and constitutive of social identities. What Gordon, Swanson, and Buttigieg recommend is a move beyond individual human rights and political emancipation to embrace a strategy of human emancipation. (In order to pursue this dialogue between Marxism and human rights, we organized a roundtable among the authors of this article and some key activists within HRW. The transcript of that discussion will be published in a future issue of RETHINKING MARXISM.)
The issue of individual rights is also the focus of the next article, by Jeff Noonan. Noonan is concerned to recover "a socialist conception of individuality"in order both to contest the ways that the libertarian Right has been able to portray itself "as the sole defender of liberty and self-creation" and to overcome left-wing thinking that focuses on civil society and all but ignores capitalist constraints on individuality. For Noonan, neither classical liberalism (of the sort proffered by Hayek) nor the New Left (he focuses on the work of Andrew Arato and Josh Cohen) adequately conceptualizes the socioeconomic conditions of individual development: liberalism, because its critique of the state (which, for Noonan, has its kernel of truth) ends up being profoundly undemocratic, and radical democratic thought, because it seeks to maintain a strong public-private distinction (thereby safeguarding not only the sphere of free association but also private property and market relations). Noonans alternative proposal would move beyond the rights of citizenship to include a rethinking of the relation between democracy and control over public wealth because, in his view, "without the public sphere there can be no genuine individuality, at least for the majority of"
Beverly Best argues that Ernesto Laclaus "social logic of hegemony" has the potential to undo many of the reified dichotomies (such as universalism/historicity and essentialism/antiessentialism) that, in her view, paralyze contemporary social theory. That potential has not been realized because, for Best, Laclaus texts have been systematically misread by many left-wing, especially Marxist, critics. Therefore, in her article, Best aims to work through and clarify the key categories and arguments that underpin Laclaus approach. Her explication de texte covers a wide range of notionsfrom discourse and objectivity to antagonism and differenceand focuses on the apparent contradictions, the antinomiessuch as "equality in difference" and "particular universality"that lie at the heart of Laclaus understanding of hegemony and historical transformation. Best argues that, in the end, it is precisely the conceptual contingency and openness of Laclaus scheme that run counter to the political paralysis often attributed to post-Marxism, because the field for action is widened and social agents acquire a "sense of responsibility for the dimensions of the greater social landscape."
In Patricia Huntingtons view, the Zapatistas approach to social change, their "impossible" uprising in Chiapas, is predicated on their resistance to the genocidal subtext of colonialism and a reinvention of themselves as fully humanin short, on a poetic revolution. Huntington arrives at that conclusion, first, by developing a theoretical framework that creatively combines Enrique Dussels critique of European modernity and Julia Kristevas theory of genotext and, then, by examining how the Zapatistas have confronted the myths that have attempted to marginalize and contain their rebellion. According to Dussel, Europe gives rise to modernity through a sacrificial violence that conceals or misrecognizes non-European peoples while, for Kristeva, poetic discourse can bring people to an awareness of their participation in a given social narrative (such as the racial contract of modernity) because it loosens their affective attachment to that narrative. Comandante Marcos and the Zapatistas can then be seen as challenging the neoliberal project within Mexico by disrupting the imaginary and racist ideas about who they are and thereby establishing the conditions on which, for the first time, a real dialogue can take place to enact the necessary structural changes within Mexican society.
Both the context and the content of the bhajan, or Hindu devotional songthe subject matter of Agha Shahid Alis poemremind us, subtly and indirectly, of the uneasy recovery of mystician and religious fundamentalism not only in India but also across the globe. The lyrics that Ali "found" on the 78 RPM speak to a world before the advent of compact disks (before even 45s, long-playing records, and cassette tapes), a time when oral traditions were first being mechanically reproduced and films and other forms of mass entertainment were being invented. Many, of course, believed that modern technology would hasten the arrival of a secular age when such songs (and associated practices and institutions) would retain little meaning. And yet today, a religious revival seems to be taking place, as millions of people aspire to union with the "dark god," the result of restless days, sleepless nights, and broken heartsof having little else.
The Remarx section comprises three essays that, in different ways, challenge the conditions and effects of contemporary neoliberalism. The first, by Fred Block, seeks to explain why left-wing criticisms of global neoliberalism have been so muted and to outline an alternative line of attack. Taking a page from J. K. Gibson-Grahams study of the disempowering consequences of totalizing conceptions of capitalism, Block argues that the imagery of capitalism as a singular, natural system serves to reinforce the position that "there is no alternative." Even the "varieties of capitalism" perspective has made little headway outside the academy because, in Blocks view, it has failed to reconceptualize international capitalism as a "constructed system." For Block, the way forward, theoretically and politically, is to deconstruct capitalism by showing how the system is put together and by illuminating its "weld lines," the places where the system is weakest. In particular, Block explains, the Left needs to focus its criticisms on the theory of self-regulating markets, the strategy of financial liberalization, and the tension between class power and economic efficiency in order to cut a path between neoliberalism and the traditional vision of socialism.
In the second Remarx essay, David Barkin discusses in some detail the various forms of social polarization that have accompanied the determined effort to implant the neoliberal program in Mexico, beginning in the 1980s. Could these be the consequences that, among others, led the recent electoral defeat of the long-ruling PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party? Written before the elections took place, Barkins analysis demonstrates that the reorganization of the Mexican political economy in order to fully integrate into the world economy led to a profound restructuring of the labor force (involving a massive displacement of labor from traditional agricultural and manufacturing jobs and toward the maquila industry and unemployment), a precipitous fall in real wages, an increasingly unequal distribution of income, and an ineffective "targeted" welfare program. The results have been devastating, but Barkin witnesses the emergence of an alternative vision within and among communities encompassing "as much as one-third of Mexicos population," such as direct commercial ties between unions and rural producers, sustainable resource management projects, and the defense by indigenous groups of historic titles to their regions.
Biju Mathew, in the final essay in the Remarx section, uncovers that cultural expansion and financial underpinnings of Hindu nationalism, Hindutva, within the hidden orders of the global economy. Focusing his analysis on the Indian professional community dispersed throughout suburban North America, Mathew reconstructs the network of electronic communication, student organizations, and corporate fundraising that, by merging nationalism with charity, both responds to the crisis of Indian diasporic identity in the United States and funds the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (or World Hindu Council)-inspired communal violence that is currently taking place in India. Mathew makes clear that "one does not have to be a raving Hindu fanatic . . . one has only to be located in this cusp of global capitalism and diasporic identity battles" to sit in front of a computer screen or engage in multicultural celebrations and, however unwittingly, to participate in the blood-letting thousands of miles away.
We conclude this issue with two reviews, one on left environmentalism and the other on the relationship between critical theory and computer technology. The first, by Steven Vogel, examines an anthology of essays on the philosophical roots of contemporary environmental theory, Minding Nature, edited by David Macauley. Vogel applauds the wide range of philosophical, political, and cultural thinkers Rachel Carson, Charles Fourier, and Ernst Bloch to Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jürgen Habermaswhose writings are brought to bear on the problem of elaborating a progressive environmental philosophy and ethics. However, Vogel also finds that none of the contributions resolves what he considers to be the central problem for left environmentalism: "can we acknowledge the social and historically constructed character of what we call nature and the associated impossibility of finding in nature a set of guidelines for how it ought to be treated, without thereby losing the ability to criticize, at a deep . . . level, contemporary depredations of the environment?"
Sasho Lambevski, a self-styled "practitioner of inter/hyper/textual reading/writing," begins his commentary on George Landows Hypertext 2.0 by noting the inherent difficulty of composing a review of a book on electronic hypertext (itself ironically presented in a linear, paper-based format) for a printed academic journal. Still, Lambevski engages with the "book"first, expressing his appreciation for the original edition and, second, discussing what he considers to be some major problems in the revised and amplified version of Landows argument. As Lambevski sees it, Landow was able to maintain a precarious balance between the theory and practice of hypertext in the first edition, for example, by showing that hypertext writing/reading replaces the conceptual systems derived from print civilization with ones of decentered self, multilinearity, nodes, links, and networks. However, Lambevski argues that, in the second edition, Landow upsets that balance by focusing too much on the technological possibilities of hypertext systems and failing to theorize the issue of the subjectivity of the hypertext reader/writer. The result, in Lambevskis view, is that Hypertext 2.0, though "still a book worth reading," exaggerates the liberating effects of recent advances in computer technology.
As this issue goes to press, preparations are well underway for "Marxism 2000," the fourth in the series of international conferences sponsored by RETHINKING MARXISM. The previous three conferences were by all accounts resounding successes and, thanks to the efforts of the members of the organizing committee for this years gathering (Enid Arvidson, Margot Backus, Antonio Callari, Stephen Cullenberg, Stephanie Eckman, Rob Garnett, John Roche, and Marjolein van der Veen) and many others, once again we look forward to a series of wide-ranging and stimulating discussions that will chart the future courses of Marxism. Readers can expect to see some of the most original and engaging papers from this years conference published in future issues.
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