In this issue
John Roche takes up one of the most controversial topics in the Marxian tradition, a question that has often attracted the attention of scholars in the pages of RETHINKING MARXISM and elsewhere: did the mature Marx abandon humanism? Roche's answer is a resounding no. In his view, Louis Althusser was wrong in arguing that there was a âbreakâ between the earlier âhumanistâ Marx and the later âscientificâ Marx. Instead, Roche claims that the concepts of alienation and liberation initially elaborated in such texts as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844âin order to distinguish between alienated and autonomous labor and to theorize the emancipation of workers as containing âuniversal human emancipationââwere carried over into Capital in the analyses of commodity fetishism, exploitation, and capital accumulation. For this reason, Roche concludes that humanism provides the ânormative basisâ for Marx's critique of capitalism as well as his conception of communism and, therefore, that âMarx was a humanist from the beginning to the end.â
For many scholars and activists, Marxism is only a critique of modern capitalism and a way of imagining a postcapitalist future. But for Dean Saitta and other contemporary archaeologistsâincluding Randall McGuire, Maria O'Donovan, LouAnn Wurst, Thomas C. Patterson, and Robert PaynterâMarxism has much to contribute to (and, at the same time, to learn from) a sustained inquiry into the remains of the deep and recent past. The contributors to this symposium, which was carefully assembled and patiently shepherded to publication by Saitta, demonstrate how the uniqueness of Marxist interventions into and practices of archaeology can be excavated in order to create new explanatory and emancipatory possibilities. McGuire, O'Donovan, and Wurst focus attention on what they consider to be the conception of âpraxisââthe combination of âgaining knowledge of the world, critiquing the world, and taking action in the worldââthat separates Marxist from non-Marxist approaches to archaeology. Patterson argues that archaeologists need to eschew a reductionist conception of individual human agencyâwhich first arose in the age of imperialism and has been resuscitated by contemporary neoliberalismâin favor of seeing âhuman agents as knowledgeable and reflexive people,â which, from a Marxist perspective, keeps the issues of subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and identity open and relevant to their work. Saitta, for his part, demonstrates that class analysis has something more and different to offer archaeological understandings of the materiality and complexity of âtribalâ society than contemporary approaches that appropriateâbut then ultimately tameâMarxian concepts such as power and ideology. Finally, Paynter contends that a Marxist practice of archaeology that seeks to narrate history for diverse audiences within the present needs to combine the âgrand sweep of history,â the âforces that propel it along,â and the âmaterial conditions that left traces on the planetâ in order to grasp contingent pasts and liberating futures.
Generations of Marxist thinkers have understood the emergence of a general equivalent as a key moment in the formation of societies in which wealth âappears as an âimmense collection of commoditiesâ.â What âweak pointsâ emerge, then, when artistsâsuch as, here, Cesare Pietroiusti, Pier Luigi Sacco, and Hajnalka Somoygiâset out to destroy specific examples of money through a wide range of physical, chemical, and biological procedures? The irreversible transformation of money in the name of artistic value challenges the systems of belief and identity associated with money. It also highlights the status of art as a convention, with the possibility of creating a new scheme of valueâbut only for those who are true âbelievers.â
If poststructuralism has succeeded in emancipating the subject from hegemonic formations, what is not clear to Zeynep Gambetti is how the resulting âvoidâ in the social structure can be filled by subjects capable of engaging in political activity and subverting the existing social order. Turning to Hannah Arendt's theory of action (appropriately liberated from both liberal and Habermasian lenses), and âmischievouslyâ forcing her work into dialogue with that of Slavoj ?i?ek, Gambetti finds a subject that is âalways more than the sum of its social identities.â Such a singular subject is free to insert something new into the world, not in the liberal sense of the formal freedom of individual sovereignty but as a political actor that can achieve an actual freedom from existing social identities. For Gambetti, Arendt's subject is engaged in unique and unpredictable actions, and therefore has the potential to overcoming the limitations of identity politics and creating common political spaces.
Chad Lavin is also concerned with the problem of the subject. He reads Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire (in which Marx famously declares that people make their own history but not under circumstances of their own choosing) as attacking both liberal and structuralist conceptions of agency and articulating an alternative âcollective, postliberal theory of agency.â It is Marx's âexaggerated use of metonymyââsuch that, for example, Louis Bonaparte, a âmediocre and grotesque individual,â stands for the historical results of class struggleâwhich is reinforced by his âgenerous use of irony,â that points in the direction of a postliberal logic of overdetermination and performativity. In Lavin's view, the Brumaire may not, in the end, supply us with an alternative view of agency but it does announce the inadequacy of existing categories and suggests the political value of intellectual activity that avoids the pitfallsâsomebody did it, nobody did itâassociated with established narratives of events such as Bonaparte's coup and 9/11.
If the role of humanism is one of the most contested issues in the Marxian tradition, the distinction between science and ideology is certainly no less controversial. William Lewis starts out from the position that what we need is âreal theoretically and experientially verifiable knowledgeâ in order to consider what he takes to be both the limitations of Althusser's way of demarcating science from ideology and the promise of his critique in establishing a new method of Marxist philosophy. While agreeing with Althusser's critics who decry his âexcessively conventionalistâ description of science (where truth criteria are internal to each science), Lewis does contextualize Althusser's formulation as an attempt to safeguard Marxist theory from being enslaved to outside influences (such as âtactical political interestsâ and humanism). He also works carefully through the shift Althusser makes from conceiving of philosophy as the guarantor of scientific truth to understanding it as a mode of intervention that separates science from ideology. It is this new âpractice of philosophyââwhich is neither a formula for revolution nor a theory of human liberationâthat, Lewis maintains, is able to suggest, âgiven present realities, what events are possible.â
Critical rational choice theory, as a critique of contemporary rational choice theory, parallels Marx's own critique of eighteen- and nineteenth-century political economy. This is the conclusion suggested by James Rizzo who, in discussing the so-called Newcomb Problem, claims that the failures of modern decision theoryâthe paradoxes and inconsistencies that have been uncovered within models of individual rational choiceâcan be used to construct a âgenealogy of capitalist rationalityâ for an economy composed of events rather than material things. The Newcomb Problem (originally devised by the physicist William Newcomb but first published by philosopher Robert Nozick) was a thought experiment that generated intense debate among normative decision theorists during the 1970s. What makes it peculiar as a key component of that particular branch of rational choice theory is that the various solutions to the problem are forced to presume either an omnipotent being or a spectral outcomeâin either case, something akin to a logic of superstition at the heart of attempts to model rational decisionmaking. In Rizzo's view, the fact that empirical âirrationalitiesâ (of the sort uncovered in the experimental economics of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky) correspond to the failure in the normative model associated with Newcomb's Problem is properly the beginning of a Marxian theory of capitalist consumption.
We are pleased to announce that planning for the next international gala conference, the fifth in the series sponsored by RETHINKING MARXISM, is now underway. The conference is tentatively scheduled for fall 2006. Additional details will appear in future issues of the journal and on the RM web site.