RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 6, Number 3 (Fall, 1993)
In this issue our first document is Samir Amin's reflections on culture and ideology in the contemporary Arab world. Characteristically, Amin puts forward several strong theses about the rise of what has been called "Islamic fundamentalism" in Arab nations. He begins with the claim that the dominant culture in the world, that which informs and permeates both centers and peripheries, is "capitalist culture." Amin is quick to add that it is mistaken to see the dominance of "western" culture and the reactions against it as outside the framework of the prevailing culture of world capitalism. In Amin's view, it is the "submission of both the political and ideological realms to the logic of the economic one" that has stamped global culture as primarily capitalist. This thesis has direct bearing on Amin's consequent argument that the forms of ritualized traditionalism that are today frequently labelled Islamic fundamentalism are neither simple holdovers from precapitalist societies nor resistances to contemporary occidentalism. In these current movements to revive and perpetuate Islamic "tradition," Amin finds the signs of the polarization of the world capitalist economy and the firmly ensconced peripheral condition of the Arab world. That is, while capitalism as a global economic and cultural system is oriented toward universalism and unity, it is a polarized capitalism in which there continues to exist a "deep contrast between its centers and peripheries." This polarization, then, has had an unmistakable effect on the various projects in the third world, and of course among Arab nations, to "catch up" through various projects of "modernization" since the nineteenth century. The effect on culture of both this polarization and the resulting failure of successive modernizing projects has been the failure in the realm of Arab culture to successfully reconcile faith and reason, a goal, Amin notes, that was in fact often achieved in the premodern tributary cultural "metaphysics" of the Islamic world The tendency for faith and reason to remain irreconcilable and for Islam to be increasingly reduced to ritualistic traditions by its most fervent adherents even those committed to its renewal and renovation—is not, Amin thinks, a defect inherent in Islam itself but reflects more accurately the current cultural schizophrenia of the Arab world, whose peripheral position within the global capitalist economy prevents it from completely absorbing the forms of culture and politics that are found within the capitalism of the centers.
In Amin's estimation, the cultural revolution that could fully reconcile faith and reason in the best fashion of historic Islam and produce a "true interpretation of religion" is impeded by the fact that most Arab countries remain subordinate within the world division of production and trade—at best they have achieved the status of a "compradorial bazaar." Thus, as Amin sees it, it should come as no surprise that with the blocked development of capitalist modernization, popular struggles in the Arab world should today take the form of an affirmation of Islamic cultural identity rather than an assault against what he terms the "real" conditions that confer peripheral status.
Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy continues to arouse the imagination and interest of many thinkers on the Left. One sign of this is the frequent reference to their 1985 work in articles published in R, including a full-length treatment by Landry and MacLean (Winter 1991) of Laclau and Mouffe's presumed relapse into the economism of classical Marxism. We have noticed that most critics of their work have fallen into two broad camps: those who reject Laclau and Mouffe's epistemological stances, their critique of economistic Marxism, and their use of Althusserian overdetermination to structure their notion of articulated subjects and political practices, and those who, focusing on Laclau and Mouffe's theoretical innovations; think that they have not succeeded either in breaking with Marxian orthodoxy or in avoiding the indeterminancy of political action with their amorphous notion of radical democracy. Jonathan Diskin and Blair Sandler can be said to found a third camp here, one that appreciates and is inspired by Laclau and Mouffe's antieconomism and epistemological "relativism" but that also roundly criticizes Laclau and Mouffe for their ultimately damaging displacement of "the economy" from their work. Diskin and Sandler's article is a crucial essay for RM's readers. For they forcefully show that Laclau and Mouffe are guilty of uncharacteristically shoddy thinking when it comes to the concepts and methods of Marxian economics, something that has mostly escaped the notice of most other critics. While Laclau and Mouffe's critique of Marxian political economy involves a rejection of the central concepts of "class" and "labor power as commodity" because of their necessary essentialism and misspecification, Diskin and Sandler show in contrast that Laclau and Mouffe have extremely faulty understandings of these concepts and their effects. Laclau and Mouffe's "threefold recomposition of the economic space" built on these faulty understandings require, say Diskin and Sandler, "the abandonment of particular concepts as essentialist things in themselves" (a bizarre position for those who advocate the reopening of all "sutures" in social theory and believe that all concepts take on meaning only in their articulation with others), the resort to supposedly "empirical" notions of the economy, as in Laclau and Mouffe's recurring references to something, now entirely untheorized, called capitalism (see Gibson-Graham in RM, Summer 1993, for a compelling critique of such totalizing "empirical" conceptions of capitalism), and the "renaming of capitalist relations of production and socialism as essentially political concepts." It is perhaps this last point that is most striking since, as Diskin and Sandler argue, it is through this move that "the economy" disappears only to reappear as a manifestation of power and politics. Diskin and Sandler oppose Laclau and Mouffe, then, on the latter's power essentialism and ill-informed rendering of the economic concepts in Marxism. Their message, clearly stated, is that "reopening the sutures" along lines pioneered by Laclau and Mouffe is not only desirable and possible for Marxian political economy, but has been happening to good results in the nondeterminist Marxist economic discourse that has frequently appeared in the pages of RM and elsewhere.
The hope that Frigga Haug had entertained, that with unification the socialist -feminist movement in Germany would experience a considerable boost, was dashed when she found that the socialist patriarchy that had arisen in the paternalistic state of the east had not been conducive to and had left dilatory effects on the realization of the wishes and needs of women for free and liberated development, This highlighted, for her, the enduring quality of women's oppression, albeit under diverse modes of production. In the wake of the collapse of socialist alternatives and the seeming total hegemony of capitalism, Haug has set herself here the task of reconsidering the ways in which capitalist patriarchy, now the reality of both Germanys, is reproduced. Haug elaborates her understanding that the gender rela. tions that determine women's oppression are relations of production. But Haug makes it clear that she is not arguing for a simple reduction of gender to the demands of the economy. As she develops her analysis through reliance oh literary and artistic texts and then social observations, Haug finds that capitalist patriarchy can best be viewed as a "model of civilization" rather than a "mode of production." As a result, Haug traces the antecedents and effects of oppressive gender relations through the spheres of economy, morality, politics, sexuality, philosophy, culture, and much else comprising such a model of civilization. Key to her view is the overdetermination of male domination and the capitalist mode of production, which she regards as always already gendered in terms of male privilege and superiority. One of Haug's key insights is the argument that time in capitalist market and production activities—the requirement of saving time in the name of efficiency and therefore profit—is rendered discursively and lived as male while the care of humanity and the needs of love are seen as time-consuming, often wasteful, and relegated to women who are thereby subjugated by this patriarchal arrangement. Such arrangements are conjoined to other symbolic orderings marking women's oppression, such as the hierarchy of moral values according to gender in which women experience morality as a question of their bodies and sexuality while moral virtues for men are referred to the public arenas of economics and politics. Haug leaves off with the following claim: the oppression of women in capitalist patriarchy cannot be found to originate in any one sphere as women see that "always and everywhere they find themselves in gender relations." Nothing short of a transformation of the entire model of civilization will suffice to make life, as Haug puts it, "truly human."
By now the prevalent voices in feminist historiography of the early years of
interaction among Marxism, the European social democratic movement, and feminism have arrived at the conclusion that, from the outset, Marxism was at best cautious about and at worst hostile to feminism. This verdict, pronounced frequently without careful attention to the historical record, as Gary Roth and Anne Lopes contend, is based on the view that from its inception in the mid-nineteenth century Marxism was primary obsessed with class, its manifestations, and its political consequences and therefore treated the issue of women's emancipation as a side issue. One consequence of this verdict, Roth and Lopes lament, is the unwarranted conclusion that Marxism in its essence has never been particularly useful to understand and advance struggles over gender equality and women's liberation. As an example of Marxism's inabilities and irrelevance, some feminist historians cite the inevitable conservatism to which eady Marxian socialist activists and writers, such as August Bebel and Clara Zetkin, were led as a result of being blind to (or uninterested in) the specificity of the women's movement because of Marxian class exclusivity. Roth and Lopes point out that this teleological rendering of the interaction between the early socialist and feminist movements in Europe neglects the "multiple paths that developed within Marxism's feminism, not all of which sacrificed the 'women's question' to the social question." Roth and Lopes produce a different reading of this period, especially of the different contributions that Bebel and Zetkin made both to deepening Marxists' understanding of the intersection of class and gender and to the unfolding historical events in which, by the 1 890s, there had occurred a sharper separation of the women's movement and socialist activism than had existed earlier. Roth and Lopes are especially concerned to rewrite the historical accounts of Bebel and Zetkin, their relationship, and, most importantly, their differences; these accounts have been at the center of feminist research into how and why Marxism, by the turn of the twentieth century, was more antagonistic to the women's movement than in previous decades. Roth and Lopes depict Bebel to be more open to challenging traditional gender roles for women and according the "bourgeois women's movement" an important place in socialist politics than was Zetkin, at least by the 1890s. Roth and Lopes argue that, at the height of her influence, Zetkin had turned to a "harsh 'proletarian line' vis-a-vis bourgeois feminism," in contrast to Bebel's own positions, which had been the inspiration for many of her past views. Thus, while Zetkin moved toward "a more conservative and traditional understanding of gender," this move was neither inevitable nor derived from the breakthroughs that other Marxists, such as Bebel, had achieved on the "women's question." Roth and Lopes conclude that while Bebel's story "has been a lost moment within history . . . it refutes rather than confirms the antifeminist essentialism often attributed to Marxism." This counterhistory has been little appreciated, and its unearthing by Roth and Lopes is intended to pose an alternative to the so-called "unhappy marriage" that has been attributed to the historic relations between Marxism and feminism.
The charge that Marx's historical method is shot through with ethnocentrism is one that has been around for many years and was, during the 1970s and '80s, a
major impetus to the emergence of a new Marxist anthropology. The charge is by now familiar: Marx's deployment of a "stage theory of history" necessarily weds him and other Marxists to a teleology in which modern capitalist or socialist societies are judged "more developed" and therefore superior to so-called premodern ones. And Marx's historical materialism privileges production in the dominance and or determinance of all aspects of social reality. Philip J. Kain contends that both of these charges have depended on a misreading of Marx's own writings and a misuse of his arguments. Kain especially wants to address the criticism put forward by the anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, whose influential book Culture and Practical Reason set forth the view that Marx's "productivism" denies the dominance of symbolic order and therefore culture in nonmodern societies. Interestingly, Kain accepts Sahlins's claim (that symbolic order is indeed primary) but then goes on to show that this view is already presaged by Marx in his privileging of what today we call, following T. S. Kuhn, a "paradigm" for understanding the "concrete for thought" in investigating both modern and premodern societies. From Kain's perspective, Marx's method is not ethnocentric because its privileging of a modern paradigm is only concerned to ascertain and analyze differences between modern and premodern societies, not to rank them in strict hierarchical fashion. Moreover, Kain asserts that Marx in fact granted both primacy to the realm of the symbolic in his brief discussions of premodern societies, albeit through the lens of modernity, and superiority to (some) premodern forms of values, ethics, and social arrangements in envisioning a future socialism. In putting forward his defense of Marxism against the charge of ethnocentrism, Kain engages the related work of some of the editors of this journal (Amariglio, Resnick, and Wolff) and poses his own solutions to the puzzle of societal causation and historical determination to our own adherence to "overdetermination," which, as he notes, provides an alternative basis to resist the charge of ethnocentrism. Readers then may find of special interest and may judge for themselves the virtues and weaknesses of these somewhat competing responses to what Kain and we agree is the mostly unwarranted claim that Marxism today is still burdened with reenacting in theory the historical degradation of nonmodern societies.
Nietzsche as an agitator for radical mass political action? Nietzsche as an invaluable guide to inciting anticapitalist cultural and political practice in the postmoder period? Yes, says Steven Cresap to both of these queries. And, in his article, Cresap sets out to demonstrate his affirmation of Nietzsche as a "social engineer" by his novel rereading of the Birth of Tragedy and Nietzsche's early career as a Wagnerian cultural romantic. Cresap places Nietzsche's conception of Wagner-inspired tragedy within the context of a broader issue: the question of the possibility for cultural forms, most especially artistic practices, to incite political action—in the wake of the collapse of modernity and its many projects—to join culture with transgressive activism. Cresap notes in the modernist projects, including Marxism, the clear belief that knowledge and reason are the only sure guide to overcoming the dehumanization and alienation of life under capitalism. With this "logocentrism," Marxists have underestimated the effects that nonepistemic expressions of discontent and/or solidarity, such as appear in popular cult activities, formal and informal rituals, and artistic modes may give rise to in formulating collective resistances to capitalism. Cresap discovers in Nietzsche's portrayal of what he termed Dionysian and Apollonian cults/art worlds and their later recombination in Wagnerian tragedy a decisive theoretical presentation of how such nonepistemic cultural forms can give rise to collective action. Cresap shows how, for Nietzsche, the synthesis of music (the prototypical Dionysian form) and visuals (the Apollonian form) in operatic tragedies portends such radical possibilities. Tragedy—"that form which most radically questions the viability of the individual in its isolation"—represents to Nietzsche the possible overcoming of the inaction that the separation of Dionysian "rapture" from Apollonian "redemption" or even their simple conjunction may enact. Nietzsche's theory of culture, portrayed in the Birth of Tragedy, is one that, as Cresap puts it, "helps us appreciate the inertia and dynamism inherent in cultural forms" and may point a way out of the "postmodern escapism" that he feels has dominated our current cultural life.
It is Kalyan K. Sanyal's contention that Marx's section in Capital on primitive accumulation has never been accorded the theoretical status it deserves. In the first entry of our Remarx section, Sanyal claims that primitive accumulation has been read as a historical addendum to the main theoretical argument regarding the structure and "laws of motion" of the capitalist mode of production. To read Marx's section this way, Sanyal believes, is to rob it of its theoretical standing as an analysis of what he terms "capital as power," a concept that he thinks would shed light on the processes of capitalist production and exploitation as they especially affect the third world. Sanyal's original formulation has it that the section on primitive accumulation explains how capital confronts "classless subjects" (capital's precapitalist "other") that do not comprise the "interior" of the capital-wage relation and instead are outside of this relation. Primitive accumulation, as a consideration, for example, of the capitalist state's active role in the forcible expropriation of precapitalist peasants, is a theory of the profound impact of the power of capital on its "others,'—what Sanyal calls the "annihilation of precapital"—and must be viewed as theoretically complementary (and not subsidiary) to the theory of the capitalist exploitation of its "own" subjects. Sanyal extends this theory to the question of the economic development of the third world, which for a long time was seen as the complete destruction by capital of its precapitalist other. Yet, he argues that such annihilation has in fact not come to pass; precapitalism now appears to be permanently entrenched in the third world, and capital's relation to it is one of incorporation rather than destruction (he sees the most recent discourses on poverty in the third world and the movement away from identifying development with accumulation as ideological expressions of this new relation). In this "failure" of primitive accumulation, capital now is faced with the task of appropriating and reproducing precapital (i.e., "internalizing" the other), not destroying it. In Sanyal's estimation, then, reading the section on primitive accumulation as a discourse on capital as power lays the theoretical groundwork for his conclusion that the world hegemonic pretensions of capital require it today to "represent" its precapitalist other and to accommodate it within its own spheres of ideology and economy—integrating "commodity and community"—because annihilation, at least for the time being, is deemed impossible.
For those who believe that capitalist commodity production in late capitalism lacks ingenuity and resilience, consider the recent spate of "transparent commodities." These goods, such as Crystal Pepsi and clear Ivory dishwashing liquid, are being produced without dies or color additives and marketed as "environmentally friendly." Marc Kipniss sees in this development a creative trumping of the fetishism of commodities. For not only do these clear goods function as all capitalist commodities and therefore "appear" as "a very trivial thing, easily understood," to use Marx's formulation. As Kipniss shows in his Remarx contribution, they further fill in the empty commodity space—devoid of all specific social content (i.e., the conditions of their production) with a new meaning, that of transparency itself. Kipniss reveals the double transparency of these commodities as they now appear as something pure and natural. The equation of transparency and purity, Kipniss argues, has become increasingly possible with the self-absorption of consumers in purifying domestic space (a task accorded, as in the past, to housewives) and one's body as a way of keeping out the impurities and excrescences (pollution, AIDS, racial others, etc.) of our decaying social fabric. Kipniss is aware, then, of how capitalist producers and their adpersons have been able to exploit environmentalism and ecological signifiers and to convert them into the necessary meanings for a whole range of new commodities. Kipniss concludes that this new development articulates commodities and their conditions of existence in contemporary capitalism as an "ideological fantasy . . . of immaculate production," a fantasy, he sadly adds, that is enlivened by the desire of individuals to find elixirs "the consumption of which might magically ward off or decrease the global, extensive miasma existing outside individual control."
Rick Wolff's brief review of David Bakhurst's Consciousness and Revolution in Soviet Philosophy draws startling parallels between the philosophical disputes regarding modernism and postmodernism in Western philosophy and related debates over Marxist philosophy occurring before, during, and after Stalin in the Soviet Union. Wolff credits Bakhurst with having brought to light a remarkable set of complex philosophical thinkers and treatises that, not unlike the most important Western Marxist theoreticians, such as Gramsci and Althusser, were reworking classical epistemological and philosophical premises and moving toward decidedly "postmodern" positions on knowledge, subjectivity, causality, and much else. As a case in point, and a central figure in Bakhurst's book, there is the work of Evald llyenkov. Wolff sees Bakhurst to have detailed llyenkov's writings as "a stunning example of the richness, current relevance, and innovations that were achieved inside Soviet philosophy." Ilyenkov, Wolff notes, was a leading voice in Soviet philosophy whose reconceptualization of the material/ideal dualism in classical Marxism led him to "a systematic rejection of the reductionisms . . . that were prevalent within Soviet thought generally." Wolff concludes his approving review of Bakhurst's book with the insight that the very dominance of Marxism within the Soviet Union and the reactions to its own impasses may have allowed for the critique of modernity "sooner and perhaps more deeply" than in the noncommunist West.