In this issue
we highlight both the often-undervalued practice of translation and the significance of rereadingâand rethinkingâclassic Marxian texts with a symposium on Joseph Buttigieg's new edition of Antonio Gramsci's Prison Notebooks. Until recent years, English-language access to Gramsci's âphilosophy of praxisâ was limited to a few thematic anthologies of selected texts (plus a large secondary literature based on those volumes). Now, with Buttigieg's ongoing translation of all 29 notebooks, consisting of six volumes (three of which are now completed), students and scholars in the English-speaking world will have access to the complete texts, in the sequence and context in which they were originally composed.
David Ruccio begins by noting that reading Buttigieg's edition represented for him âthe discovery of a new Gramsci,â including both new concepts and themes and new contexts for familiar ideas. He cites as examples Gramsci's comments on intellectuals and hegemony in Notebook 1 and the way they can be used to make sense of contemporary issues, such as the global justice movement and the rise to power of the Bush administration. The unfinished nature of Gramsci's work invites us to extend his unique contributions to Marxian theory and to recognize that our own work as Marxist analysts of the present conjuncture remains unfinished. Joseph Childers explains that his own first encounter with Gramsci's writings was influenced by the work and teachings of Raymond Williams and Edward Said. For Childers, what connects these two critics with Gramsci and Buttigieg is their shared concern with the âlarger structural role of âŠ orthodox habits of mindâ and the forms of âresistance and changeâ that can take place with and through culture. Childers also notes that the critical apparatus supplied by Buttigiegâthe prefaces and introductions, informational and explanatory notes, and pointers to other notebooksâprovides readers âa sense of the topicality and the intellectual urgency that underpins Gramsci's projectâ and, at the same time, an example of the combined role of teacher and student associated with being a Marxist intellectual.
Noting that Gramsci himself devoted four notebooks to translation (to âprovide purpose to his prison lifeâ but also to âcontribute to the struggle against fascism and capitalismâ), Peter Ives argues that Gramsci used translation as a central metaphor for political and cultural analysis. If for Gramsci translation was not merely a technical exercise, the transmission of ideas from one linguistic or cultural context to another, but rather a way of altering the vocabulary and way of thinking of those who speak the original and target languages, both Buttigieg's translation of the Prison Notebooks and Gramsci's references to translating the experience of the Soviet Revolution to the Italian context take on added significance: each is productive of something new. For William Spanos, Buttigieg's translation of and introduction to the method of the Prison Notebooks has the additional merit of shedding light on the âstructural principleâ and the particular method of investigation that guided Gramsci's work. Spanos regards as Gramsci's major contribution his critique of the âmetaphysically grounded base-superstructure model,â that to a privileging of economics, and his ontological insight that being is an indissoluble continuum, which demands a âtransdisciplinary mode of inquiry.â This insight is affirmed in the features of Gramsci's writings that others have overlooked or misrepresented: the attention to the âemancipatory possibilities of the intellectual,â the open-ended historicity of history, and the negative consequences of privileging the answer over the question.
In his response, Buttigieg explains that all attempts to compensate for the fragmentariness of the Notebooks, to remedy their supposed incompleteness, presume that the text must have a center, which identifies its âtrue meaning.â In losing sight of or directing attention away from the âmaterialityâ of Gramsci's text, such interpretations violate Gramsci's own injunction to search for the ârhythm of thoughtâ of an author. Buttigieg summarizes the rhythm of Gramsci's thought as âpaying attention to small things, focusing on the particularâ and avoiding the tendency both to homogenize singular elements and to reduce social reality to deterministic lawsâin short, as philology. It is this method that Buttigieg finds in the complete text of the Prison Notebooks, a method that kept Gramsci's Marxism open in his time and that gives his writings additional relevance in our time.
We want to thank another translator, Craig Carson, for providing us with an English-language version of Katia Genel's essay on the different uses of the concept of biopower in the writings of Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. Biopower, for Foucault, involved a redefinition of power and a shift in the regime of powerâa transformation in the way power is exercised that in turn demands a new method for analyzing the technologies of power. Thus, when power includes life in its calculations, and especially the population as a set of collective phenomena, it shifts the regime of power away from the old ability of the sovereign, âto take life or let live,â toward a new set of disciplining and normalizing mechanisms, âto make live and let die.â According to Genel, this shift led Foucault away from studies of sovereignty and law (of who within the political order was invested with certain repressive powers) to an analysis of the subject (wherein power is a positive mechanism, which leads to the intensification and increase of life). What is peculiar about Agamben's approach to biopower is that, in contrast to Foucault, he seeks to define a biopolitical structure within, not apart from, sovereign power. This provokes Genel to ask whether Agamben's theory of biopower, according to which sovereign power establishes itself by producing a biopolitical body on which it is exercised, is a way of completing Foucault's project or of criticizing it. Her answer is that, once Agamben redefines sovereignty as biopower (established not on the basis of an idealized social contract but, rather, through an act of exception, by life's exposure to death), he is ultimately led to a scheme that is âfundamentally incompatible with Foucault's work.â While finding much that is worthwhile in Agamben's depiction of the logic of power as redefining what is human, Genel sees his work as committed to a unitary notion of power. Therefore, Agamben abandons not only Foucault's discovery of a plurality of forms and mechanisms of localized power but also the possibility of an oppositional politics grounded on something other than a problematic notion of bare life.
Do Keynesian policies represent a viable alternative to the free-market shibboleths of neoliberalism? Can they effectively forestall an economic crisis and improve laborersâ working and living conditions? It would seem so, to judge by the pronouncements of many radical economists and activists but, from the perspective of Marxian value theory, the answer is a resounding no. So argues Guglielmo Carchedi, who begins his critique with a primer on Marxian crisis theory, focusing particular attention on the rise and fall of the average rate of profit. Carchedi's view is that typical civilian Keynesianismâwhether Capital-financed (public works financed by expropriating private money-holders), Labor-financed (state appropriations of workersâ savings), or credit-financed (increasing government deficits)ââcannot create the conditions for a sustained upturn and boom.â What then of âmilitary Keynesianism,â that is, the state-commissioned production of weaponry? This can only be effective in times of war, and only for the imperialist countries. While Carchedi encourages the working-class to reject Keynesian economic policies on their own terms (a stance which, he acknowledges, may be politically unpopular at this juncture), he does advocate âstate-induced, Capital-financed public worksâ in order to move in the direction of new social relations based on âcooperation, equality, and solidarity.â
While expressing his appreciation for the theoretical openings created by the concept of overdetermination, Julian Markels expresses a deep concern for the âsubsequent development of AESA thinking.â The main problem Markels identifies in essays by members of the Association for Economic and Social Analysis, George DeMartino, J. K. Gibson-Graham, and David Ruccio (whose work was published in the January 2003 issue of RM), is that they âabandon the historical logic of Western Marxismâ in favor of a âfloating contingency of personal or collective agendas drawn from randomly available discourses.â DeMartino, for example, stands accused of âreading history out of Marxismâ by disavowing the historical dominance of capitalism in favor of a disaggregated notion of distributive class justice. Similarly, Gibson-Graham are criticized for encouraging the emergence of communal and other noncapitalist imaginaries without understanding that capitalism is the âgoverning practiceâ that renders the chances of success unrealistic. While Markels characterizes DeMartino and Gibson-Graham as equivocating on the issue of the historic al logic that governs the development of capitalism (and, with it, the rest of the social world), he considers Ruccio's theory of imperialism to represent a final rejection of any such logic, âthrowing out the historical baby with the ontological bathwater.â Markels favors, instead, the approach contained in Ellen Meiksins Wood's account of the origins of capitalism and in the work of another AESA author, Richard Wolff (published in the same issue of RM). Markels applauds in Wolff's essay on colonial reparations in Africa what he admires in Wood: a focus on a historical logic whereby capitalism has become dominant and continues to expand its dominance over all instances of noncapitalism. It is this attention to the processes of history, âoutside theory,â that Markels finds in Barbara Kingsolver's novel, The Poisonwood Bible, and recommends as the way forward for contemporary Marxist thinking.
The official doctrine has always been to take the war to âthem,â over there, in order to safeguard âourâ life here at home. In âBringing the War Home: House Beautiful,â a series of photographic collages produced from 1967 to 1972, Martha Rosler inserted images (all of them culled from the pages of Life magazine) of the imperialist war in Vietnam into scenes that enacted the gender roles and forms of commodity consumption of suburban domesticity in the United States. In the ânew series,â composed in 2004 using an updated technique of photomontage, Rosler invites us both to relive the experience of recognizing the representational gap that exists between the brutal war âover thereâ and hyperconsumerism back at home and to confront the ideological distance between the circumstances surrounding the U.S. invasion and occupation of Vietnam and the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To judge by recent events, the representational strategies and ideological structures supporting the current wars are finally beginning to crumble, at least in part because of the trenchant critiques assembled by artists like Rosler.
The so-called transformation problem has been one of the most contested topics in the history of debates concerning Marxian value theory. Kepa Ormazabal's contention is that most approaches to the issue of how to theorize the relationship between the production values and exchange prices of commodities (once, as in volume 3 of Capital, a uniform rate of profit is posited) have mistakenly presumed that it is a quantitative problem. Since value, as Ormazabal interprets Marx, is a universal whose substance is social labor, it has neither an objective existence nor a quantitative dimension. Rather, price is the appropriate expression of value under capitalism and, in consequence, âthere is no such thing as âquantities of valueâ.â How, then, should we interpret the transformation of value into price in Marx's text? Ormazabal argues that Marx is criticizing Ricardo and his followers for their âsuperficial conception of valueââfor believing that competitive prices, which are partly determined by the distribution of social labor among different capitalists to achieve a uniform rate of profit, actually create valueâand that, in rejecting Ricardo's methodology, Marx is simply showing that, under capitalist conditions, competitive pricing only appears to contradict the determination of value by labor. The deception comes from believing that the labor theory of value is a theory of the quantity of exchange-value, which can be empirically validated or refuted by the proper transformation of labor-values into competitive-prices. For Ormazabal, what is lost in the transformation problem exercise is Marx's principal contention that labor is the substance of value which, within the capitalist stage of history, comes to be expressedâobjectively, without distortionâin the prices of commodities.
Capital's invasion into the realm of medicineâwhat Adrian Daub calls the new âsickness industryââhas the paradoxical quality of adopting the conceptual strategies employed by left-wing critical discourses of the body: supposedly normal states of the body are questioned; previously marginal conditions are normalized; individual problems are made universal; and the sick are encouraged to empower themselves through advocacy groups. In reaction to this new âmarketingâ of the body, critics have, equally paradoxically, resorted to naturalized images of personhood and corporeality. Daub, in order to make sense of this âuncanny constellation of strategic reversals,â turns to Theodor Adorno's hermeneutic of natural history. What Adorno allows us to see is that the pharmaceutical industry and the medical establishment first remove the body and humanness from the realm of nature, and then position themselves above human subjects as a force of nature. Yet, they cannot follow up the promises of technical progress embodied in their infomercials with actual social progress; in the terms of Adorno's philosophy, they abolish the necessity of death by fiat and therefore expropriate from us the experience of death, which otherwise comes to us as âhalf necessity, half accident.â For Daub, what is occurring in the capitalist medicalization of the human body is merely an extension of the usual palliatives offered by late capitalism: âit prescribes painkillers for History, for âwhat hurtsâ.â
The two essays in the Remarx section take up themes that are central to Marxian class analysis: the issue of American âexceptionalismâ and the role of the nonexclusion principle in achieving class justice. In the first essay, John Manley challenges the theory of American exceptionalism (according to which U.S. history runs counter to Marx's predictions), as well as Theda Skocpol's theory of state autonomy (wherein state activities are explained independently of social forces), both of which seek to distance our understanding of the U.S. welfare state from classes and class struggles. Manley turns to the historical evidence to argue that, during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, class was central to the activities of and the events surrounding three U.S. social movements: the labor movement, populism, and progressivism. He also demonstrates both that the U.S. welfare state is less exceptional compared with Western Europe than is often assumed and that it is a mistake to prioritize the state and to explain its activities independently of social forces outside the state. For Manley, Marxian class analysis has much to contribute to an explanation of both the rise (e.g., to prevent or contain socialism) and the more recent retrenchment (e.g., to give freer reign to capitalist competition) of welfare-regulatory regimes in the United States and elsewhere.
For his part, Robert Tanner takes issue with the way two recent RM authors, Stephen Cullenberg and George DeMartino, conceive of class justice. Since Cullenberg and DeMartino define exploitation as occurring when the performers of surplus labor are excluded from its appropriation, they argue that justice can be achieved when the performers are not excluded from appropriating the surplus. Not only does Tanner contrast this ânonexclusionâ principle with what he considers to be Marx's principle, âsole appropriationâ; he claims that the approach utilized by Cullenberg and DeMartino would not eliminate exploitation (it might even strengthen it, in âpartnershipâ with capital) and only the appropriation of surplus labor solely by those who perform it would lead to the elimination of class exploitation. Tanner's normative principle of class justice is therefore based on the idea that only productive workers are exploited and that exploitation is only eliminated when they are the sole appropriators of the surplus they've produced. What then of the distribution of the surplus? Do workers, now the sole appropriators, have any obligation to distribute the surplus in a just manner? Tanner turns to Lenin to answer these questions: workers universalize their struggle to end their own class exploitation by distributing the surplus to end all other social oppressions. In Tanner's view, only sole appropriation, and not the principle of nonexclusion, both functions to eliminate exploitation and to ensure that it cannot return.
Cecilia Rio describes Richard Ohmann's Politics of Knowledge: The Commercialization of the University, the Professions, and Print Culture as an âinspiring and courageous book.â While in the end Ohmann's essays do not provide a ârigorous analysis of exactly how capitalism impacts knowledge production,â they do draw much-needed attention to the profound changesâsuch as drastic cutbacks in public funding, the restructuring of programs and disciplines, the privatization of universities, and the contingent nature of academic laborâcurrently taking place in higher education. According to Rio, the author's great achievement is to establish the connections between his own experiences as a teacher, scholar, and activist to larger trends within the economy and society. In this sense, âOhmann is a master of locating the historical and the political within the personal.â
Plans are well underway for the Rethinking Marxism 2006 conference that will take place in October at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. The organizers welcome proposals for papers and panels that examine the state of contemporary Marxism, including the intellectual traditions and activist movements that contin ue to draw their inspiration from Marxism and the events that require a rethinking of old and new Marxian concepts. Readers will find additional informationâincluding the call for papers, registration details, and much moreâon the conference web site: www.rethinkingmarxism2006.org.