In this issue
readers will encounter a compendium of appreciative and provocative engagements with two landmark volumes that seek to redefine and extend the boundaries of Marxian class analysis: Class and Its Others and Re/Presenting Class. Both collections of original essays were edited by Stephen Resnick, Richard Wolff, and J. K. Gibson-Graham, who, in their rejoinders, continue the project of exploring the analytical and political possibilities opened up by rethinking, and deploying in new ways, the class categories of Marxian theory. Once again, we want to thank Jack Amariglio, who organized the symposium at the Marxism and the World Stage conference during which earlier versions of these commentaries and responses were first presented.
Jonathan Diskin, in the first entry, credits the essays in both volumes with focusing and expanding what it means to carry out analyses using the terms of Marxian class theory. The focus comes from defining class in terms of surplus labor; the expansion, by examining the array of social conditions that condition the existence of class in specific, concrete circumstances. What Diskin recognizes in these various contributions is a &dlquo;common research program&drquo; of class analysis that has a decidedly poststructuralist orientation—an orientation that is attuned to the ways in which theory and discursive convention participate in constructing economic relationships and political terrains. At the same time, he points out that, while the essays &drquo;bear a family resemblance,&drquo; they do not give rise to a singular method for producing class knowledge, because the authors &dlquo;make different choices about how to analyze class processes.&drquo; This diversity, Diskin concludes, is not a weakness; instead, it raises the important issue of &dlquo;how those of us who favor a poststructural class analysis construct our own narratives.&drquo;
Evan Watkins, for his part, credits the novel approach to class analysis pioneered by Resnick and Wolff with two positions relevant to these collections of essays: first, by paying particular attention to volumes 2 and 3 of Capital, Resnick and Wolff show that distributions of surplus value cannot be separated from class; and, second, by emphasizing class processes (such that class emerges as an adjective rather than a noun), they avoid an essentialist conception of the relationship between &dlquo;subjective&drquo; and &dlquo;objective&drquo; dimensions of class. For Watkins, the unburdening of the lived experiences of class from ontology gives them greater &dlquo;heuristic value,&drquo; making it possible to construct &dlquo;multiple forms of lived class experiences&drquo; and an &dlquo;open-ended politics of class&drquo; within the contemporary economy. Precisely because of what he considers to be the successes associated with this approach, Watkins calls for an extension of the analysis to make sense of the emergence of distinct forms of finance capital. This is the only way of moving beyond the theoretical and political limitations imposed by traditional Marxian conceptions of accumulation.
Andrew Parker begins his commentary by applauding the &dlquo;adventurous and often surprising essays&drquo; that comprise the Class and Its Others volume. He then suggests that, much like Althusser&srquo;s work, the project of postmodern Marxian class analysis is forced to walk a fine line between the aleatory and materialism. He sees the volume as, on one hand, challenging the presumed ontological solidity of the economy what he refers to as Marxism a` la Gertrude Stein: &dlquo;the economy cannot function as the ground for class analysis since there is no there there.&drquo; On the other hand, the various contributions to the volume maintain a focus on the economy as a way of defining class in terms of surplus labor. Parker sees this tension between the aleatory and materialist dimensions of postmodern Marxism, which runs throughout the volume, as an attempt to sustain the critique of class essentialism and, at the same time, &dlquo;to imagine a materialism in which class would be fundamentally other to itself.&drquo;
S. Charusheela focuses her attention on the &dlquo;rich analytical insights&drquo; and &dlquo;diverse political spaces&drquo; created by the essays in the other volume, Re/Presenting Class. She credits the contributors with undoing conventional understandings of, among other things, capitalism, communism, the enterprise, the opposition between environmental and worker interests, higher education, community finance, third world development, sharecropping, and much else. Charusheela also suggests that there are additional arenas where class analysis can break from the &dlquo;Eurocentric modernist telos of classical Marxism.&drquo; In particular, she argues that, in addition to criticizing the teleology of a succession of modes of production, it is important to challenge the received typology of class processes—by rethinking the definitional boundaries between class processes as well as the conceptions of transformational agency and communal subjectivity that are so central to Marxist class analysis. In this, Charusheela suggests that Marxists need to supplement their concern with hopeful possibilities by acknowledging the tensions and limits of our desires for transformation.
Commenting on the contributions to the same volume, Susan Feiner suggests that their significance goes well beyond providing a series of case studies in applying a class-based accounting framework. She identifies four major areas that she considers to be &dlquo;at least as important.&drquo; The first is the authorsâ€™ concern to connect issues of economic and social injustice to class exploitation, an aspect of the world (unlike biological necessity or divine will) that can be changed. Second, postmodern Marxism emphasizes close readings in a deconstructive vein, thereby displacing a presumed singular class contradiction and proliferating new class conflicts and alliances. Third, the emphasis on multiplicity entails a &dlquo;theoretical atheism,&drquo; whereby meaning and truth become plural and ethical commitments are placed at the forefront. Finally, and perhaps most important, Feiner argues that, because postmodern Marxism grounds politics in class analysis, it is always posing the question of theory and practice: &dlquo;how and to what extent do particular knowledge projects undermine or support existing patterns of exploitation?&drquo;
In taking up the themes and questions posed by these five commentaries, Resnick and Wolff focus their attention on how undoing what they consider to be the existing class repression—by building on and, at the same time, moving away from the existing Marxist tradition of class analysis—can give rise to a new phase of anticapitalist politics. They credit Marx both with adding class exploitation to capitalismâ€™s horrors—criticizing it as a form of criminal theft—and showing how the continued existence of exploitation produces both material deprivations and psychological distress. Given the implications of Marxian theory for class transformation, it is no small wonder, Resnick and Wolff argue, that the languages of both academic economics and everyday life work to repress a consciousness of class in surplus terms. Even many leftists, they suggest, have displaced the specificity of exploitation by essentializing power and criticizing nonclass forms of injustice. According to Resnick and Wolff, the great merit of these two volumes is to undo the repression of class in contemporary society and &dlquo;accord to Marxâ€™s class analysis the significance it deserves.&drquo;
Gibson-Graham, for their part, take up the set of tensions raised by several symposium participants concerning the project of retheorizing class and discuss the work theyâ€™ve been doing since coediting the two volumes. They frame their response in terms of the continual movement that takes place between the conceptual fullness of the category of class and its ultimate emptiness until it is filled with specific constitutive relations (such as those of race, gender, nationality, and so on). Thus, they explain, there are no particular rules to follow in deciding to deploy a particular class concept (feudalism, for example) to analyze a particular social setting; instead, the decision is overdetermined by many factors, and the effects of each such decision need to be traced. A similar decision-without-rules attends to the analysis of communist spaces (for instance, the case of Mondragon). In both instances, Gibson-Graham reaffirm their attachment to using theory not to identify limits but for the purpose of creating new possibilities within a surplus-oriented economic politics.
What makes mainstream economics scientific? The extensive use of tests of statistical significance, most practitioners respond (along with mathematical models, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and other practices that are used to trumpet the success of mainstream economics and relegate all other methods of analysis and schools of thought to the margin). However, in a direct challenge to those who refuse to acknowledge that the emperor is indeed standing there without a stitch of clothing, Stephen Ziliak (the author of &dlquo;Haiku Economics,&drquo; published in 14/3) reports that statistical significance does not mean economic or substantive significance. Tests of statistical significance (such as t-values), Ziliak explains, refer to errors from sampling but they do not measure &dlquo;slopes, magnitudes, economic reasoning, ethical considerations, legal reasoning, quantitative simulation of policy effects,&drquo; the measures of social relevance. Yet, in the American Economic Review and many other journals (including, Ziliak is careful to admit, those that publish nonmainstream research), most articles rely on reports of statistical significance. Economic modernism has meant that economic analysis and human judgment were replaced by the machine language of statistical significance. For Ziliak, Marxists should understand that the problem is not just methodological: &dlquo;The erroneous belief is causing a loss of jobs and justice and in truth human lives.&drquo;
Is Marx relevant to contemporary feminist and queer theory? If so, which Marx? As Judith Grant sees it, second-wave feminists were mostly concerned with the economic texts of the so-called later Marx and, aside from grappling with specific references to women, failed to appreciate the significance and usefulness of Marxâ€™s earlier texts. In an attempt to salvage what she considers to be the democratic humanism and radical social constructivism of the early Marx, Grant returns to the discussion of species-being in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. As she interprets the Manuscripts, Marx conceptualizes humans not in terms of an essential, universal nature but, rather, in terms of an historical species-being &dlquo;whose very nature lies in its mutability.&drquo; What this means for gender relations is that when Marx refers to the hierarchy of men over women, the relative unfreedom of women in relation to men, he understands it to be a social creation not a natural fact. Thus, for example, Marx criticizes both bourgeois thought and utopian socialism for misunderstanding marriage as a relation of property and procreation. It is in this sense that Grant credits Marx with denaturalizing gender relations. Even more, the fact that Marxâ€™s humanism includes the body—and thus points in the direction of the historical nature of the physical body—means that his work includes a nonessentialist category of &dlquo;human&drquo; that Grant recommends as useful for post-identity gender theorists and for fulfilling their/our common dream of universal freedom.
There are doubtless few among us who were not glued to our television screens, avid and anxious tele-spectators, during the first month of Gulf War 2. Of course, many more images have bombarded us since then: the looting of Baghdad, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the tortures at the Abu Ghraib prison, the beheadings of foreign soldiers and contract civilians, and the U.S.-led attacks on recalcitrant neighborhoods and cities. But what happens when we return to that seemingly distant period, when we &dlquo;revisit, slow down, and (re)consider what seems obvious, familiar, precarious, spectral, preposterous and sometimes invisible within the presentation of the war&drquo;? Rene Gabri and Richard Gabri, armed with the insights of Paul Virilio concerning the 4th Front, present readers with the intellectual process and material they have been using to produce their video, &dlquo;Sans Vue.&drquo; What they offer us in these pages is an active engagement—an approach that encourages various modes of reading, writing, or viewing the television coverage of the war—so that we can join them in understanding how the media and the war have been represented in each other. Gabri and Gabri are even more intent on constructing the mechanisms and tools of resistance and critique in order to struggle for a &dlquo;media to come,&drquo; which will not so readily bow down to and serve the goals of empire.
The significance of Spinozist thought for Marxism—especially of Spinozaâ€™s immanentist critique of transcendence—is a theme that runs through the pages of our journal. Warren Montag, among others, has registered the important role played by Louis Althusser in making a detour through Spinozaâ€™s notion of immanent causality in order to establish the specificity of Marxism and its radical break from the received traditions of both atomism and holism. The question is, is Althusserâ€™s notion of a &dlquo;structured whole&drquo; (whereby the elements of a whole are determined by the structure of the whole) consistent with the idea of &dlquo;immanent cause&drquo; (a cause that has &dlquo;nothing outside its effects,&drquo; a &dlquo;surface without depth&drquo;)? Giorgos Fourtounis reads Montag as saying no, that holistic and immanentist notions of structure have utterly opposed meanings, which Althusser fails to resolve. Fourtounis, for his part, understands Althusserâ€™s bringing together of holism and immanence as capturing the &dlquo;inevitable tension which is always the cost of a radical theoretical position.&drquo; In other words, precisely because the appropriate concept for a radically new holism is not yet available, Althusser must resort to the &dlquo;awkward concept&drquo; of a structured whole in order to formulate an alternative to the two concepts that allowed classical philosophy to think causality and the whole: transitive atomism (in which the whole is based on preexisting elements) and transcendental holism (in which the elements of the whole are seen as phenomenal forms of an inner essence). For Fourtounis, the novelty of Spinozism for materialist thought is that it gives rise to another kind of holism, an &dlquo;immanentist holism&drquo; (conceived as an infinitely complex structure without parts&drquo;), which Althusserâ€™s concept of the structured whole was designed to capture. Even though the task of producing an adequate concept remains to be completed, Fourtounis demonstrates the continued relevance of Althusserâ€™s work for marking the theoretical revolutions of Spinoza and Marx.
History has not been kind to a sustained critical engagement between Marxism and Deweyan pragmatism. However, Masato Aoki is keen to demonstrate that the recent &dlquo;break in the clouds&drquo; occasioned by a postmodern rethinking of Marxism has created the conditions for a new constructive dialogue, particularly as regards the relationship between capitalism and education. Aoki is particularly critical of the tendency to reduce the Marxist tradition of analyzing capitalist education to the either-or logic of structuralism and humanism, which has had two major effects: it has made it difficult to move the political economy approach to education in nonessentialist directions, and it has pigeonholed Dewey as a liberal-humanist champion of capitalism. Aoki seeks to overcome this impasse by using antiessentialism as a position from which to recognize the critical potential of Deweyâ€™s use of &dlquo;reflective experience&drquo; as a mode of inquiry and &dlquo;contextualism&drquo; as an ontological system. While recognizing that Dewey had an overly &dlquo;romantic understanding of the capitalist labor process,&drquo; Aoki believes that, if the focus is shifted to Deweyâ€™s concern with the process of scientific inquiry and human growth, an alliance can be created between Marxism and pragmatism for achieving &dlquo;increasingly educative and nonexploitative sites of education and production.&drquo;
In the Remarx section, Jonathan Scott notes that the discourse of multiculturalism, once a vibrant and dynamic area of scholarship and educational initiatives, has been fading out for the past five years. The problem, as Scott analyzes it, is that multiculturalism fails to understand how the political invention of race—especially the &dlquo;white race&drquo;—has enabled bourgeois class rule in the United States. The alternative, he suggests, is not a &dlquo;class first&drquo; analysis but, rather, an approach that places anti-white supremacy at the forefront of the struggle for popular democracy. Indeed, Scott argues that an alternative, race-free paradigm of dynamic multiculturalism can be found in transnational hip-hop culture, which has created an identity—based on the maxim, &dlquo;itâ€™s not where youâ€™re from, itâ€™s where youâ€™re at&drquo;—that represents a direct challenge to white racial oppression.
The first book discussed in the Reviews section, Pem Davidson Buckâ€™s Worked to the Bone: Race, Class, and Privilege in Kentucky, also traces the effects of race and its conflation with class in consolidating elite power in U.S. history. As Boone Shear notes, Buck combines an analysis of how the construction of race has been used to create an upward &dlquo;drainage system&drquo;(through which labor is made to &dlquo;trickle up&drquo; through the &dlquo;economic plumbing system&drquo; to empty into the hands of a small elite) from colonial times to the present and a demonstration that, at various &dlquo;forks in the road,&drquo; coalitions have been able to create instances of resistance and change. Shearâ€™s conclusion is that Buck has devised &dlquo;an elegantly simple model&drquo; that shows both how the system works and how future transformations are possible.
In the second review, Clifford Staples is less convinced that Andrew Levineâ€™s book, A Future for Marxism? Althusser, the Analytical Turn, and the Revival of Socialist Theory, represents a way forward. Staples faults Levine for dismissing both the relevance of the New Left (because it failed to appreciate the disappearance of the proletariat and, with it, a revolutionary subject) and Althusserâ€™s contributions to Marxism (siding, instead, with the work of the Analytical Marxists). In the end, he finds that Levineâ€™s socialist political theory simply cannot be squared with a &dlquo;presocialist—almost premodern—definition of class.&drquo; Still, Staples recommends that Levineâ€™s book, while sometimes &dlquo;disrespectful&drquo; and &dlquo;maddening,&drquo; should be read and discussed by contemporary socialists and Marxists.
We want to take this opportunity to welcome four new members to the RM editorial board. Stephen Healy, Phil Kozel, Carles Muntaner, and Chizu Sato were elected this past summer to three-year terms on the board. We are also working hard to redesign and update the journalâ€™s web site (rethinkingmarxism.org). Please send us your comments and contributions.