In this issue
we follow up on the sadness we expressed at the death of Stephen Jay Gould (in 14/2, Summer 2002) with the publication of a wide-ranging symposium commemorating his extraordinary life, work, and legacy. Coordinated by past board member Dean Saitta, the series of papers composed expressly for this issue, by outstanding scholars in the scientific and philosophical communities, provides a âthoughtful and balancedâ view of the relationship between science and politics in Gouldâs prodigious writings. In Saittaâs eloquent introduction to the collection, he relates the story of his own âmoment with the man,â and a lecture in which Gould touched on all the themes that make his work relevant not only to a Marxist anthropologist but to radical thinkers generally: discussing ideas as they emerged and changed historically; examining the influences of hope, desire, and culture on scientific work; probing the role of contingency and unity in human existence; emphasizing theoretical pluralism and criticizing teleological narratives; and a great deal more. According to Saitta, the vaccum left by Gouldâs passing needs to be filled by âpublic intellectuals capable of demystifying the intersections and larger dynamics of science, history, politics, and ideology.â
Val Dusek begins with his own personal reminiscences of Gould and then proceeds to discuss the links between Gouldâs approach to general biology and Marxism. History, for example, figures prominently in Gouldâs work, both as a context for ideas and in terms of the mechanisms of biological development. While the theory of punctuated equilibrium was not simply âderivedâ from Marxism, Dusek does find a connection between Gouldâs âslightly altered view of evolution,â including the role of chance, and Althusserâs theory of history as a âprocess without a subject.â He notes that Gould also treated with a great deal of sympathy Engelsâs emphasis on the role of tools and hands in human evolution. Dusek then draws parallels between the dialectical and materialist elements of a Marxian view of history and Gouldâs two-front war against both atomism (for instance, Richard Dawkinsâs âselfish genesâ) and Platonism (as evident, for example, in Arthur Jensenâs reification of the intelligence quotient), together with his theory of âexadaptationâ (according to which features of organisms arise as by-products of the selection of other features). In the end, it was Gouldâs ability to communicate to a large audience that made him âunequaled among late twentieth-century Marxists and radicalsâ in the United States and around the world.
The fact is, Gould seldom discussed Marxism in his writings, in contrast to two of his Harvard colleagues, Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins. What Ullica SegerstrĂ„le argues is that Gouldâs Marxism was of a different nature. His âgut-levelâ or intuitive relation to Marxism found expression at a number of different levels: socially, in a systematic defense of the underdog and an equally systematic attack on the use of science to legitimize discriminaton; scientifically, in his predilection for âantiestablishmentâ theories and methods; and metaphysically, in his resistance to simplistic models and explanations. According to SegerstrĂ„le, there are other features that set Gould apart: a fascination with historical âcuriosa,â a love of writing and a deep connection to the humanities, and a general aloofness with respect to academic activisms but a willingness to engage in political debates on the uses and abuses of science. And while he joined his colleagues in attacking âbad science,â especially the adaptationist paradigm (of the sort that serves as the foundation for sociobiology), SegerstrĂ„le explains he went a step further: Gould sought to produce and to publicly disseminate theories that represented a vision of life characterized by drama, grandeur, âand perhaps revolution.â
While Gould was tireless in his opposition to what he considered to be the inappropriate application of biology to social policy, he apparently expressed few reservations about the new biotechnologies associated with genetic engineering. In his contribution to the symposium, Stuart Newman asks why: what was it about Gouldâs views of the natural world that led him to adopt such a stance? The answer, Newman suggests, can be found in recognizing that, while Gould rejected genetic determinism in human behavior, he embraced the neo-Darwininan conception of evolution, the idea that âevolutionary change is driven, on the whole, by natural selection of genetic variants with only small effects on an organismâs phenotype.â Newman voices his objections to the arbitrariness emphasized in Gouldâs approach and calls for a more comprehensive evolutionary theory, one that âtreats organisms as material entities rather than mere expressions of their genetic content.â Such an alternative theory, argues Newman, forms the basis for questioning both the environmental safety and the social impact of contemporary applications of biotechnology.
Among Gouldâs contributions to biology (and science more generally) is his idea of âquirky functional shift,â the fallacy of deriving the origin or initial meaning of something from its current usefulness or function. According to Daniel White, Gould borrowed this idea from Nietzscheâs approach to history (in the Genealogy of Morals). Taking matters a step further, White suggests that combining Gouldâs Nietzschean model of natural history with Marxâs notion of labor (in the 1844 Manuscripts) points in the direction of an âecology of power.â Therefore, Gouldâs work, supplemented by such an engagement with Nietzsche and Marx, would, in Whiteâs view, allow us to move beyond the capitalist subordination of workers in a â âquirkyâ shift toward collective self-making.â
Michael Shermer succinctly and elegantly characterizes Gouldâs research as revising and updating the three branches of the Darwinian treeâthe level at which evolutionary change occurs, the mechanism of evolutionary change, and the range of effects wrought by natural selectionâwhile retaining the theoretical power of the original trunk. Shermer then focuses his attention on one of the most controversial of Gouldâs revisions, the notion of punctuated equilibrium, and asks whether it represents a paradigm shift. The answer he offers, based on interviews with Gould and others, is the equivocal (and quite Marxian) âit depends.â Finally, Shermer summarizes the results of his analysis (both quantitative and qualitative) of the interaction between science and Gouldâs personal and political philosophy in the enormous body of work he published during the course of his life. Shermer notes a surprising result: the predominance in Gouldâs writing not of evolutionary theory but of history of science and science studies, thus revealing âGouldâs intense interest in the interaction of history, theory, philosophy, and culture.â
The final contribution to this symposium is from Ruth Hubbard who, in true homage to Gould, analyzes the complex dialectical relationships governing the âsupposedly scientific gene concept.â Today, the popular conception is that everything about us is genetically determined. Hubbard starts her story of how that came to pass in the 1860s with Czech monk Gregor Mendel (whose work on heredity was virtually ignored at the time). She then takes us through the rediscovery of Mendelâs article in the early 1900s (when chromosomes and genes could be said to account for heredity), the work of biochemists that led to the discovery of DNA as one molecule among others, and the subsequent shift in outlook that made DNA the most important component of molecular biology. Along the way, Hubbard explains, the complexities of the biological and social realities of organisms that live in complicated relationships with their environments âgot erasedâ in favor of âbreaking the code.â This has resulted in what Hubbard considers to be the current âdangerous situationâ in which the biotechnology industryâoperating on the pretense that scientists can understand, anticipate, and direct the functions of DNA sequencesâis producing a new set of ominous health hazards and environmental pollutants.
Is there room for a discourse of morality and justice based on rights in Marxian theory? Wouldnât such a move take the form of so much âverbal rubbishâ? Mehmet Tabak, while acknowledging the limitations associated with liberal conceptions of rights, suggests that Marxian proposals and rights claims âneed not be mutually exclusive.â Tabakâs argument rests on two key claims: First, Marxists need to participate in contemporary debates, which are often articulated in terms of justice and rights. Second, and perhaps even more important, a discourse of rights can be useful in eliminating exploitation and achieving a more equitable distribution of goods, thereby achieving âa more substantive freedom than liberalism has been able to advocate.â For Tabak, a specifically Marxian conception of rights rests on a âthickâ notion of freedom, one that envisions not only freedom from âsimple exploitationâ (the extraction of surplus-value) but also other forms of freedom: worker control over the labor process (including control over necessary labor) and the expansion of the time that is free from laboring activity itself (the reduction of necessary labor). The expansion of freedom beyond production is defined in terms of Marxâs familiar needs/ability formulation; for Tabak, it is possible and desirable to articulate rights simultaneously guaranteeing the satisfaction of needs and the development of abilities. In Tabakâs view, what finally distinguishes this Marxian discourse of rights from liberal conceptions is that, while liberal rights represent (and are ultimately constrained by) a commitment to capitalism, the logical conclusion of the demand for Marxian rights ârequires abandoning capitalism.â
In Amitava Kumarâs powerful story of childhood memory, delicate domestic memories clash with tense scenes of Hindu-Muslim riots and recurrent violence. In a world of overlapping and divided languages and cultures, words emerge as the possibility both of self-expression and of injustice. The future narrator reminds us: âPeople will kill and they will use words to sharpen their knives.â Unfortunately, thirty years later, upon a return visit to the neighborhood where the house in which he was raised still stands, âeverything else . . . has altered beyond recognitionââ except the availability of Cuticura talcum-powder and, later, news of the continuation of the âlong riots.â
In the first of the two Remarx essays, Carles Muntaner takes up the issue of social inequality and health. While acknowledging that mainstream public health has much to gain from incorporating the insights of Richard Wilkinsonâs model of inequality and social cohesion, Muntaner finds that, from a Marxian perspective, key flaws in Wilkinsonâs research program diminish its value for social epidemiology. In particular, Muntaner charges, the Wilkinson model fails to shed light on the class dimensions of the causes of health problems as well as potential public policy solutions. David Brennan, in the second Remarx essay, returns to the scene of the Enron collapse in order to move beyond the simple focus on a few corrupt individuals and to raise the larger concerns that emerge from a Marxian perspective. Starting with a novel class analysis of Enronâs corporate structure (whereby it is possible to discern a complex combination of the appropriation and distribution of surplus-value), Brennan probes the political contacts and accounting scandals surrounding Enronâs initial success to uncover the class dimensions of both the failure of Enron and of the consequences of that failure. Ultimately, following Brennanâs lead, the legal indictment of the individuals involved in the Enron scandal can be transformed into a social indictment of the entire system of capitalist class relations.
The four reviews included in this issue cover a wide range of items and topicsâ from monographs and a critical reader to an art exhibition, from Marxist thinking on sexuality and surrealism to Theodor Adorno and the roots of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico. For Kenneth Mostern, Rosemary Hennessyâs Profit and Pleasure is a valiant and valuable attempt to criticize the forms of thought whereby Marxism and queer theory âhave come to seem at odds with one another,â thereby making it difficult to carry out simultaneously a critique of capitalism and the sex/gender system. What Mostern finds missing, however, is an analysis of how desire can provide the energy to unify an anticapitalist movement. âLa RĂ©volution SurrĂ©aliste: 1920â1940,â a 2002 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, assembled many of the writings, paintings, and sculptures that comprised the postâWorld War I surrealist movement. According to Richard Wolff, the exhibition served both to document the anticapitalist imaginary of that time and to offer âvital inspirationâ for our own. Joseph Childers recommends Nigel Gibson and Andrew Rubinâs critical reader as a significant resource for continuing the discussion of Adornoâs work, especially for poststructuralist Marxists. Childers draws particular attention to the essays by Edward Said (on music criticism), Krzysztof Ziarek (on radical art), Jennifer Rycenga (on sexuality and dialectics), and Samuel Weber (which concludes the volume). June Nashâs Mayan Visions provides a thorough analysis of the structural and historical conditions of the âpluricultural communities of resistanceâ that emerged in Chiapas in the 1990s. But, writes Vincent Lyon-Callo, the analytical framework that Nash employs also shortchanges the potential insights from her decades of enthnographic research, since it leaves unanswered the question of why people in Chiapas responded in the way they did to the structural conditions in that region.
As this issue goes to press, we are putting the final touches on âMarxism and the World Stage,â the fifth international conference sponsored by RETHINKING MARXISM at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. We are looking forward to lively discussions and debates among readers of the journal and the many other scholars, students, and activists who will join together to celebrate the vitality and relevance of, and make their own contributions to, the Marxian tradition.
Unfortunately, we will also assemble without one of our own. Helen Smith, who for the last four years was managing editor of the journal, passed away on the 28th of September. She was like Oeno, daughter of Anius, who could turn anything she touched into wine. Helen did the editorial job magnificently but she offered so much more: remaining unruffled even when impossible demands were placed on her; making hilariously funny observations in the midst of serious conversations concerning production of the next issue; always serving as a reminder that living well and with clear commitments in this crazy world was more important than any particular deadline or responding in kind to unforgiving authors or editors. Graceful and unflappable to the end. Thatâs how we remember Helen, a dove now taken flight.