RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 13, Number 2 (Summer, 2001)
In this issue readers are immediately confronted by Slavoj Zizek's intriguing question, "what can Lenin tell us about freedom today?" to which he provides the provocative answer: "a great deal." What Lenin represents, for Zizek, is a closing of the gap between ethics and politics, a Marxist alternative to the Third Way reduction of political intervention to purely pragmatic considerations, an awareness of "what it actually means to take power and to exert it." But what of his conception of freedom, the shibboleth of all liberal-leftist dismissals of Lenin's legacy? According to Zizek, it is precisely Lenin's focus on "actual" freedom, the ability to challenge and transcend the parameters of a given moment, to redefine the "very situation within which one is active," that represents such a radical challenge to the "formal" freedom enshrined in liberal ideology. Using the results of Jean-Leon Beauvois's psychological experiments concerning the paradoxes created by conferring on a subject the freedom to choose, Zizek argues that liberal subjects are the least free, because they change their perceptions of themselves and accept the conditions imposed on them as originating in their "nature." Today, the Leninist approach to freedom means stepping outside the "logic of victimization," the supplement to the self-centered assertion of the liberal subject, and reasserting the possibility of "true radical choice."
In the next article, Lisa Lowe conducts her own project of reclaiming (and rethinking)—in this case, of utopia. In a revised version of the plenary talk she delivered at the "Marxism 2000" conference, sponsored by RETHINKING MARXISM, Lowe proposes to think utopia differently, beyond the universalizing claims of a uniform working class, in order to include "other forms of subjectivity, work, and exploitation within the uneven conditions of globalization." She illustrates the problem of claims to universality by examining the different treatments of the issue of "sexual harassment" with respect to the labor of U.S. women and women working on the U.S.-Mexican border. What she discovers is that the narrative associated with liberal definitions of sexual harassment serves to make discriminatory practices visible with respect to U.S. women's work—and to render invisible the conditions that reproduce the "hyperextraction of surplus-value" within the export-processing zones on the U.S.-Mexican border. Lowe makes clear that she is not arguing that sexual harassment doesn't exist or should be considered unimportant in the United States; rather, in her view, existing discourses of such harassment promote an "uneven politics of knowledge" that obscures the way in which maquiladora workers are subjected to specific modes of discipline and have engaged in gender-specific struggles to change those conditions. Reclaiming utopia therefore means creating a provisional space in which "differently located subjects in global capitalism collectively act" to eliminate the various forms of exploitation that exist in the world today.
Not only did the Communist Manifesto become an important part of weltliteratur or world literature but it also announced the coming into existence of such a literature on the basis of its economic analysis, especially the concept of the "world market." That is the imaginative thesis that Antonio Santucci uses to explore the ways an analysis of the theme of world literature can contribute to reducing the distance between Marx and Engels's text and contemporary world conditions. As with the concepts of bourgeoisie and proletariat (which were borrowed from the French socialists), the notion of world literature did not originate with the authors of the Manifesto (but instead with Goethe). What Santucci claims, however, is that Marx and Engels's insights into the "inevitable globalization of literature" and the sociology of literature—including the commodification of intellectual labor, the growth of the means of communication, and much else—can be combined in order to imagine an international information industry that is "capable of holding disparate ideas, theories, and cultures." Still, Santucci argues, it is necessary to carefully distinguish between the critical effects of world literature and the tendency to create an "artificial and indistinct universality," a result that would signal the end of the era of world literature.
Commodification is also the main theme of Marjolein van der Veen's article. But her focus is prostitution, especially the warring narratives of commodified sex produced by radical feminists and sex radicals and the ways in which a Marxian analysis of prostitution can overcome the existing stalemate and deliver a "peace dividend." In van der Veen's view, one of the major differences between radical feminists (who see prostitution as the commodification of a woman's body) and sex radicals (who emphasize the selling of sexual services) concerns the issue of pleasure: the former argue that prostitution does not involve mutual pleasure but, rather, the use of a woman's body by a man in exchange for money, while the latter regard prostitution as a way in which desire is potentially depathologized, allowing for the experience of various forms of pleasure on the part of both clients and sex workers. What van der Veen finds lacking in this debate (and, for that matter, in the "early" Marx's references to prostitution) is a well-developed class analysis of prostitution. The idea that prostitution may be organized in a variety of different class-specific ways—including slavery, capitalism, and self-employment—opens up the possibility of connecting the "prostitute's power, pleasure, and independence, or subjugation, degradation, and pain" with the kind of class process used to produce the commodity. It also means imagining and creating alternatives to existing, exploitative forms of prostitution.
We are pleased to include in this issue a follow-up to the article on Marxism and human rights, by Neve Gordon, Jacinda Swanson, and Joseph Buttigieg, that was published in the Fall 1999 (volume 12, number 2) issue of RM. In an innovative experiment designed to foster a dialogue between the Marxist academic community and the human rights movement, the authors of that article met with Reed Brody, the Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, and various staff members in order to review and discuss the implications of the criticisms of the work of HRW originally raised by Gordon et al. The transcript of their open and honest roundtable discussion reveals various points of agreement—for example, the important role that Marxist political economy can play both in analyzing the causes of human rights abuses and in finding solutions and the need for bottom-up, popular organizing in addition to shaming techniques. It also demonstrates the need for further conversations (since individual articles and reports are easily subject to omissions and misunderstandings) and charts new ways in which the two communities can collaborate in order to promote not only individual, civil rights but also collective, socioeconomic rights.
Many people have the experience of daily commuting, especially to and from work and school. Some use the opportunity to catch up on sleep or job-related tasks (especially with the proliferation of new forms of electronic gadgetry); others while away the time listening to music, reading the news, engaging in or trying to ignore the ubiquitous "cell yell," becoming lost in thought, or observing the rituals of other commuters. What would it mean, however, to occupy oneself by drawing images of fleeting scenes on bus windows and leaving the traces behind for others? Grady Gerbracht documents such a series of performance-installations that he conducted on Route #163 of the New Jersey Transit bus system. His aim, in this and other recent projects, is to reinhabit and reinvent the structures of everyday life, revealing the complicated ways in which our identities are formed within those structures. As the photographs attest, Gerbracht was able to create a space for creative improvisation or play and, perhaps even more important, for reevaluating and transforming the relationships we have to "elusive social, cultural, and institutional regimes, to each other, and to ourselves."
Neither Theodor Adorno nor Jurgen Habermas is particularly sanguine about the prospects for the emergence of progressive solidarity movements under the conditions of late capitalism. But, as Deborah Cook explains, the two critical theorists arrive at their pessimistic, even bleak, assessments through quite different means. Adorno, for example, argued that the displacement of class conflict, the eclipse of class consciousness, and the regressive state of individual psychology compelled by the commodification of all aspects of society combined to undermine the bases for modern, nonfascist forms of solidarity. Habermas, for his part, has shifted attention from class and has focused instead on the colonization of the "lifeworld" and its "communicative infrastructures" by the political and economic imperatives, the money and power, of late capitalism. Cook's own assessment of the possibilities for solidarity is somewhat more optimistic. First, the effects of recent and ongoing attempts to undermine the welfare state may make eulogies of the end of class-based conflict premature. Second, Habermas's "simplistic division of labor" between lifeworld and political and economic system is untenable. Therefore, in Cook's view, it is Adorno's account of bodily needs and desires that may provide a key to understanding the "extensive changes to economic and political conditions" that are necessary for new forms of solidarity to take hold.
Although the body has become the object of much academic work in recent decades, colonial encounters in knowledge of the body are little theorized. Anirban Das sets out to remedy this discursive silence by examining the forms of encounter between western medical knowledges of the body and their Indian (specifically Ayurvedic) counterparts. Das's first task is to modify the concept of overdetermination in order to theorize the unequal and asymmetric translations of meaning between colonial spaces, resulting in what he calls a mimicry of overdetermination. He then shows how inequalities are retained in the hybrid interaction of the conceptions of the body produced within modern western medicine and Ayurveda. In particular, Das argues, while the context-sensitive patterns of certain Indian knowledges are assimilated into the overall structure of the knowledge of the body in western medicine— through the formation of a subdiscipline, "tropical medicine," and a conception of disease causation, "germ theory"—without threatening the subjectivity that is constructed and displayed within western medicine, the constitutive principles of the knowledge of the body in Ayurveda are translated into and, in the end, displaced by those of western medicine. In Das's view, this is an example of a larger pattern (encompassing other encounters, of genders, races, and classes) of "mutual constitution between unequals."
Albert Einstein is most famous as the founder of general relativity and is the subject of a wide range of biographies, films, and other media. What he is much less known for is his interest in political affairs and, especially, his socialist ideas. David Renton, in the Remarx essay that concludes this issue, locates Einstein within the generation of left-wing European intellectuals who were forced to confront the rise of antisemitism and fascism and the ravages of two world wars. Like Walter Benjamin, Einstein was critical of Zionist nationalism; he expressed his admiration for Mahatma Gandhi and worked in favor of an "active pacifism" that opposed both war and national armament. Less publicized are the anticapitalist views he expressed in such varied activities as lecturing at the Communist Party's Marxist Workers College and writing essays, including "Why Socialism?" published in 1949 in the first issue of the U.S. Marxist journal Monthly Review. Renton is clear that Einstein made a number of conflicting political claims (e.g., concerning Stalinism and U.S. capitalism) over the course of his life, but he does not share Stephen Hawking's patronizing conclusion, i.e., that Einstein was "confused." Instead, Renton regards the contradictions in Einstein's thinking as "part of the contradictions of the times," making him "no better and no worse than his milieu."
Finally, we were pleased to discover recently that the Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company is alive and kicking on the north side of Chicago. Started a few weeks before the Haymarket Square riots of 1886, Kerr brought out the first complete English translation of Capital and stands now as the world's oldest socialist publisher. You can learn more about the history of the press and its current list of books and pamphlets (including Paul Lafargue's The Right to Be Lazy) on Kerr's website: www.kerrpubco.org.
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