RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 7, Number 2 (Summer, 1994)
In this issue we begin with Kenneth Surin's précis of the "marxism" of Toni Negri, Felix Guattari, and Gilles Deleuze. Surin shows us that Negri, Deleuze, and Guattari go "beyond Marx" in their accounts of the present form that capitalism and the conditions for resistance to it have taken. As Surin notes, one of the crucial moments in this going beyond the letter of Marx has involved (as in the work of Louis Althusser) a turn to Spinoza, especially since Negri, Deleuze, and Guattari see Spinoza as providing a non- or antidialectical "materialist ontology of the constitution of political practice." Surin reads the work of all three radical thinkers as a response to the particular "crisis of utopia" that has enveloped western, developed nations since 1968. In this post-68 period, capitalism has now passed from a Keynesian-inspired, social democratic capitalism, in which the state and civil society could still be viewed as distinct, to an "integrated world capitalism" where the "real subsumption" of society to capital has resulted in the indistinction of capital, the state, and civil society. Negri, Deleuze, and Guattari may be joined in this view that capitalism has entered a new phase and that the dialectics of Hegelian Marxism cannot suffice to explain difference and antagonism in the present world system. They may also agree that Spinoza's "philosophy of the constitution of the structural movement of the multitude" and his physics of power, force, and opposition may be more useful than traditional Marxism in constituting a new anticapitalist political practice. But, Surin also explicates the differences between these three theorists. For instance, for Negri, the movement beyond the Marxian dialectic is grounded in the real historical conditions of capitalism and the forms of outright opposition of the proletariat to capital today; while for Deleuze, and perhaps Guattari, the objection to the dialectic is more "philosophical" and based on the view that the Hegelian notion of contradiction (borrowed by Marx) is a negation of singularity, multiplicity, and difference. In reconciling some of the differences between the three, Surin states that they share in some way the view that in "late capitalism" capital "operates in a domain where the separation between state and society can no longer be maintained" and where there is a single state/society "complex." Thus, Marxist thought must be particularly cognizant of "the production of social capital" and the dominative practices of the state (the "negative state") directed to bringing about forms of social cooperation in organizing capitalist labor processes. It is by thinking through these practices, the present limits of capital, and the politics of a countervailing force—based, in Negri's schema, on the real antagonism of the "socialized worker" to capital itself—that Marxism may now be reconstituted.
Barbara Epstein raises the issue of the apparent disjuncture of U.S. military superiority, strong patriotism, vibrant economic growth, and class mobility in the Pax Americana after World War II with the various "panics" and generalized anxiety in American culture~during the same period. Epstein looks specifically at. the fears that gripped American culture in the late nineteen forties and much of the fifties regarding the "effeminization" of males, the diminishment of masculinity and "real" sex, and the spread of male homosexuality. As Epstein notes, many of these fears were fueled by two sources: the growing psychoanalytic/psychiatric community, especially as psychiatrists were increasingly called in during World War II to pronounce on the mental health and suitability for service of young men, and the immensely popular "scandal" magazines, many of which published "psychological" and other pieces celebrating male sexual libertinism while admonishing forms of experimentation that went beyond straight sex. Epstein points out that the various panics about masculinity often converged in deducing the origins of the "problem" to "momism," the view, supported by numerous mental health professionals, that a large number of American men suffered from having overbearing, overprotective mothers. In her search for the social conditions that may have produced such panics, Epstein considers seriously the so-called "crisis of masculinity" and suggests that the anxieties that were driving Americans to worry about the "weakening" of their culture can be understood perhaps as reactions to the powerful role many women exercised within traditional family structures over the lives of their children in the face of changes in social life that took place immediately after the war (suburbanization, women's entry and then exit from the labor force, and so forth). Epstein finishes with some thoughts on how such a seeming discrepancy between "reality" and culture (similar, she suggests, to the present gap between the vastly changing roles of men, women, and families and the current hubbub over the return to "family values") can be illuminated by "the Marxist inclination to look for contradiction as a window onto hidden levels of social reality" such that "deep changes in social structure" and also "new movements for social change" are unearthed and brought to light.
Grow or die! According to Blair Sandler, this is the fundamental message of traditional Marxist political economy regarding the "logic of capital." This message, Sandler contends, serves as the basic tenet underlying "eco-Marxism," the recent blending of "red" and "green" movements for ecologically sound, postcapitalist societies. Sandler views the "grow or die" (GOD, for short) Marxist discourse as seriously flawed, since its own inexorable logic leads eco-Marxists to conclude that capitalism and ecology are incompatible. As Sandler shows, this conclusion is built up from a particular interpretation of Marxian value theory in which all expenditures on environmentally safer production processes and commodities are seen as "unproductive" to capital and, hence, as deductions from capitalists' profits. In the GOD discourse, then, capitalists are ultimately beset by the growth of environmentalism. On the one hand, if capitalists accede to the demands made for cleaner/greener production and goods, the accumulation of capital slows down, perhaps fatally. If, on the other hand, capitalists ignore environmental concerns, then "ecopocalypse"—the eventual devastation of natural resources and the planet—will occur. From Sandler's overdeterminist Marxian standpoint, the posing of this dilemma occludes from view the possibility of "green capitalism," a situation he believes is now occurring in which some capitalists are able to maintain and even expand their capital base while engaging in environmentally friendly production. Sandler's theoretical contribution resides in his explanation of how "environmental regimes"—including the present ecologically conscious regime—overdetermine the very value of commodities, thus transforming previously "unproductive" expenditures into value-creating ones. As a result, Sandler shows that capitalist exploitation is indeed consistent with the extension of green concerns even to the realm of capitalist production itself. Sandler sees that for many eco-Marxists, the "grow or die" premise begets the inevitable conclusion that only a socialist revolution can effectively promote environmentalism. Seeing that socialism may not now be on the agenda and wishing to have something to say to other radical environmentalists, eco-Marxists have often latched on to demands to force capitalists to be more environmentally responsible. Thus, as Sandler concludes, the avoidance of the overdeterminist Marxist approach to value and nature and an adherence to "grow or die" discourse leads eco-Marxists to be complicit, mostly unwittingly, in the current spread of green capitalism.
The rapid privatization of productive property that has taken place in China under Deng Xiaoping, says Harry Williams, is only the latest in a series of retreats since the revolution from real social ownership and worker control. Williams chronicles debates ova the "property question" in postrevolutionary China and shows that the official party lines, those of the main radical critics (such as the Gang of Four), and today's reform strategies have all defined socialist ownership so as to leave property essentially in private hands. Williams contends that such leaders as Mao Zedung saw early on that state or public ownership of production facilities was only one step in the road to socialist ownership and that formal ownership did not translate into the real control of property by the masses. Yet, Williams also notes that from Mao onward the question of worker control was usually subsumed to the issue of party/cadre control and often discussed in terms of the appropriate leadership both of the party and of management positions. Williams thus contends that, in fact, throughout much of the history of the People's Republic of China, party bureaucrats were able to retain effective control over production, hence displacing most attempts to "democratize" workplaces by channeling them through existing state institutional structures. When circumstances arose that promised more radical changes in the property system, as during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the democratization efforts remained voluntaristic, mostly unorganized and, therefore, were not institutionalized. Even the later efforts of the Gang of Four to "kick up a fuss over ownership" degenerated into a clash over party leadership, despite the advances in critical thinking that led the Gang to see "socialism" in China as revisionist and subject to the rule of bourgeois economic and political right. Williams points out the irony in the fact that Dengist reformers have been motivated in their calls for extensive privatization by problems similar to those explicitly addressed by the Gang: the need for a "radical stratagem" to counteract bureaucratism and the~ lack of enthusiasm for further changes under the banner of socialist revolution. So, while Mao and the Gang of Four may have placed politics in command, and while the Dengists have replaced this with economics in command, in Williams's view, the property system has never been placed in the hands of workers. Williams's outlook is slightly brightened, however, by the writings of Chen Erjin, one of the key thinkers in the Democracy Wall movement of the late seventies. As a poignant end to his brief history, Williams finds solace and satisfaction in Chen's view that "only by placing control of production and politics in the hands of the masses, mediated by democratic institutions, can society move toward socialism."
The rethinking and revamping of state welfare policy has proceeded apace with neoconservatism, neoliberalism, and the growing prominence of feminist and other radical movements over the past twenty or more years. In a past issue (Spring 1993), Nancy Fraser documented the changes in thinking about welfare policy from the Reagan-Bush years to the Clinton administration. In this issue, Martha Ackelsberg provides an even deeper focus on the concepts of "dependency" that seem to shape the suggestions for welfare reform emanating from critics of all political stripes. Ackelsberg, though, concentrates her powers of analysis and critique on recent feminist perspectives on welfare policy, especially those that maintain the view that the economic dependence of women on men and/or the state is what is to be most avoided in any overhaul of patriarchal capitalist society and the welfare state. In reviewing the contributions and quandaries bequeathed by liberalism to recent feminist thinking on welfare reform, Ackelsberg calls important attention to the fact that, for classical liberals, the notion that economic dependence is unworthy of citizenship in a modem democracy is clearly founded on a male-centered view of independence and the right to political participation. So, while Ackelsberg does see some of the virtue in liberal feminist criticisms of the economic dependence of women on men, or on their families, or on the state, she also sees that such criticisms mostly ignore the value of unpaid female labor and the many forms of nurturing that women do within the confines of their"interdependent" relationships. Likewise, while Ackelsberg appreciates the Marxian socialist (and especially the socialist-feminist) advances in social theory that shift the focus from individual economic achievement to group-based actions and interconnections, she notes a similar recourse to economic independence or self-sufficiency for women as a solution to women's oppression. In criticizing both strands of feminist thought,~ Ackelsberg calls for a movement "beyond the dependency model" of women's poverty and the welfare system. Ackelsberg's preferred approach is one that refuses the idea that there is any meaningful distinction to be maintained between dependent and independent subjects in contemporary societies. Rather, Ackelsberg closes with her plea to revalue the different types of dependence (and not just economic dependence) that "ought to be viewed as potential sources for empowerment, rather than symptoms of powerlessness." If we follow this lead, Ackelsberg suggests, we can see welfare reform as a site within which to validate "mutuality" and to valorize, even in monetary form, "one's place as a member of an interdependent community."
It is common among historians of ideas to trace the modern concern with individual human nature and its many effects on society to the work of the seventeenth-century philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes, whose writings served as the basis and foil for the founders of classical liberalism, such as John Locke and Adam Smith, grounded his gloomy view of liberty and individual freedom on the thesis that unconstrained self-interest could only lead to "a war of every man against every man." In his article here, John Sinisi revisits Hobbes's main theses and shows how the modem liberal view of capitalist markets as the key mechanism in reconciling self-interest, social peace, and economic development is built up from Hobbesian premises. While in social and economic theory the dominant modernist tendency has been to supercede Hobbes with Smith's more sympathetic rendering of the "invisible hand" of markets driven by self-interest, there do exist neo-Hobbesian and Marxian challenges to the mainstream. Sinisi shows that there are "deep resonances" between the neo-Hobbesian and Marxian critiques of Smithian liberalism. For, as Sinisi contends, though it is the case that neo-Hobbesians begin with individual self-interest as the wellspring for all consequent human action, their view is that individuals will often and quite rationally seek to alter the "rules of the game" in order to take full advantage of their situations at the expense of others. Thus, as with Marxists, who begin of course with concepts of class and class struggle, neo-Hobbesians (most of whom, we should add, can be usually found on the far right of the political spectrum) theorize the complex intersection of economic and political institutions and struggles for power within which individuals and groups seek to use the state to receive transfers of wealth to bolster their positions. Sinisi notes that, while starting from very different points of departure, neo-Hobbesians and Marxists have a similar concern with unproductive and wasteful activities that result from the self-interested behavior of individuals and classes under capitalism. So, Sinisi concludes that, while neo-Hobbesians and Marxists may seem worlds apart on the issue of the efficacy of capitalist markets to solve such problems, their common analyses and criticisms of the use and misuse of social, economic, and political power in self-interested systems make them useful to each other as sources for intellectual stimulation and political dialogue.
Marilyn Zuckerman's poetry does not flinch at its own powerful effects. In her poem "The Cherry Orchard," Zuckerman summons up the dreary fate of a once aristocratic family (presumably the already disintegrating Prozoroff family of Anton Chekhov's The Three Sisters) as the century has continued to play out in pre- and postrevolutionary Russia. Zuckerman's poem expresses the constant setbacks not just to this family but more to Russian society and to the hopes and dreams of consequent generations as revolutions have aged, become exhausted or impotent, or have simply been deferred. The poem takes the form of the tired but bitter lament of Zuckerman's narrator (Masha of The Three Sisters?), as she recounts the cycles of expectations, work, broken promises, and new bosses—but also dogged survival—that have been the life of her family and for many Russians during the modern era. The bite in Zuckerman's poem comes as the narrator resignedly notes that the Americans and others have rushed in after the toppling of the Soviet regime, leaving herself and the Russian people to find that drudgery, exploitation, and mistreatment—now linked to the demands of international capital—have not abated and instead have taken their place in a recurring dirge of declining fortune. In "Problems for Peace in the Middle East," the poem speaks through the voice of the forgotten multitude of Palestinian and Israeli women who have suffered at the hands of their warring husbands and brothers. Zuckerman conveys the harsh irony that these women—separated though they may be through forced boundaries and a geography of hate and occupation—are permitted to share silencing, physical regimentation, mandatory service for "their men," disdain and neglect, ritual mourning, and numerous other displacements. They are prohibited from "sitting at the table" where their own food is served along with deadly plans for continued warfare or with the new prospects for liberation and peace. Zuckerman employs an arid desert language, rich in the traditions of retribution and religious prescription, to depict the defiant stance of those whose recourse to mute vigil speaks louder than the parched, broken voices of their occupiers and oppressors.
We were intrigued when we received Leonard Harris's "open letter," which he wrote as a reaction and lead-up to this November's first national conference of the Radical Philosophy Association in lowa. Harris's letter, which we include here as the first entry in our Remarx section, raises in a provocative, interrogatory way many decisive issues relating to the future of socialist thought and practice. Of particular interest to readers may be Harris's insistence on facing the "underside" of socialist and most radical thinking. He touches upon and challenges, among other things, the transhistorical, universal significance of radical action; the privileged moral place in left discourse of "oppressed" groups; the romanticization of the "historically despised"; the feebleness of the nostalgic language of socialism; and the obfuscation of the terror, deceit, corruption, violence, and domination that may (must?) attend all efforts to empower the disempowered. But, what is noteworthy as well about Harris's letter, at least as we read it, is that it is written to inspire a reestimation and reconstruction of Marxism and socialist thought. Harris throws down the gauntlet by questioning whether socialism has any future "without critiques that face the role of coercion, pressure, and force encoded in every effort to reform and resituate the despised?" In printing Harris's letter here, we take the opportunity to invite RM readers to reply with brief letters of their own with hope that we will be able to select some to publish in forthcoming issues as responses to or commentaries on Harris's piece.
After a brief period in which the classical economic theory of "comparative advantage" in international trade was once again heralded as providing the miracle cure for the economic development of all nations rich and poor, of late a "new international economics" has appeared that has reintroduced both history and government policy as crucial components for achieving an advantage in foreign trade. As Thomas DelGiudice recounts, though, this new international economics is as blind to the role class and class struggles plays in shaping and blocking a nation's trading advantages as were earlier theories of economic development. In his Remarx piece, DelGiudice goes a distance to remedy this faulty eyesight by showing exactly how an advantage in international trade can be historically achieved through changes in the class conditions of a developing nation. Looking at the history of prerevolutionary Nicaragua and the creation of its trading advantage in cotton exports through the lens of class allows DelGiudice to reveal the means by which the Nicaraguan state in the 1950s helped create the supposedly sanguine conditions in which advanced technologies were introduced, labor productivity was increased, unit production costs for cotton growers were reduced while profits rose, and all in conjunction with the relative immiserisation of cotton wage laborers. Additionally, DelGiudice employs a detailed class analysis to show that the ability of large cotton growers in Nicaragua to gain access to sources of income in addition to "profits" through their increasing control over the "conditions of existence" of capitalist cotton growing (such as land ownership, access to credit, control over marketing, and so forth) created as well an uneven development in the cotton industry. This uneven development fostered divisions that ultimately weakened the political resistance of the capitalist class in the days leading up to the Sandinista revolution. Using Nicaragua as a good example of a nation in which export success was linked with heightened inter- and intraclass tensions, DelGiudice's main point is that without a thoroughgoing class analysis of the policies and historical conditions that promote national "gains" through international trade, observers and natives of developing nations may overlook, to their eventual peril, the class consequences of enacting such changes.
The rational-choice model of human behavior remains the favored model within the economics profession. This model—in which "autonomous" individuals are believed to choose between alternative courses of action through a deliberate attempt to maximize "expected utility"—has been influential to such a degree that, during the past fifteen years, rational-choice Marxism has been one of the prevalent forms through which Marxian social and economic theory has been rethought. Despite a lengthy history within Marxism of suspicion of any social theory that derives social outcomes from individual motives, rational-choice models now flourish not only among radical economists (in conformity with their mainstream colleagues), but also among other radical thinkers in disciplines outside of economics. But, as Carles Muntaner reminds us in his Remarx essay, rational-choice models of human cognition and action have long been criticized and rejected by practitioners in fields, such as experimental psychology, whose speciality is explaining the determinants of human behavior. Muntaner presents here an array of criticisms of rational-choice theory from fields ranging from sociology to behavioral psychology. What seems to be common to many of these criticisms is the view that rational-choice models neglect the interaction between a social "environment" and individual choice, tend to understate the effects of past interactions with or responses to the behavior of others, generally ignore the impact of "social leaming," underestimate the role of rules or nomms on behavior, and much else. In Muntaner's discussion, rational-choice models are likewise seen to be faulty predictors of group behavior or at least of individual choices within the context of collective entities. Muntaner argues that the class-based Marxism of Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, among others, fumishes a better grasp of the overdetemmined relations and processes that lead to both individual and group activities. So, in opposition to the boasts that rational-choice models and game theory have greater explanatory and predictive power, Muntaner infers the relative superiority of overdeterminist Marxism from his view that it conforms far better than rational-choice models to the breakthroughs in understanding human behavior that have been produced by experimental cognitive scientists in diverse fields.
Tony Smith reviews one of Emest Mandel's most recent books, Power and Money. Smith's review consists mainly of coherently laying out Mandel's informed responses to the claims that, with the collapse of the Soviet model, Marxism and socialism have been refuted and/or shown to be unfeasible. Mandel, perhaps the leading Marxist economist in the world today, challenges directly the view that the overthrow of the Soviet system demonstrates the impossibility of ever establishing socialism as a socioeconomic system. While rejecting the idea that the Soviet Union was characterized by "state capitalism" (see the articles by Resnick and Wolff in the Summer 1993 and Spring 1994 issues on this subject), Mandel, as Smith relates, believes that the successful transition from capitalism to socialism was blocked there and congealed into some "mutant form" of bureaucratic state control. While such a thesis may be familiar to followers of Mandel's previous work, readers may be more intrigued, in Smith's rendition, by Mandel's insistence that several of the central conditions that would be necessary for his model of democratic socialism are already in place in advanced capitalist nations. Mandel's model—in which direct worker participation, workers' collectives, a kind of consumer sovereignty, free provision of basic necessities, and a multiparty political system would be combined with forms of centralized planning in preference to markets and the rule of the "law of value"—would require a shorter workday, generalized access to information, an material abundance. So, as Smith concludes, Mandel's book (which Smith calls "magisterial summary of his views") provides historical detail, hardheaded calculations, practical proposals, and a spirit of optimism for those for whom the future Marxism and socialism appears at the moment to be in doubt.
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