RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 8, Number 3 (Fall, 1995)
In this issue, Liu Kang compares the Marxian "problematics" of Louis Althusser and Mao Zedong in constituting a critique of capitalist modernity and a search, in theory and practice, for an "alternative modernity." Kang credits both Mao and Althusser with initiating far-ranging criticisms of economism and teleological modes of thought that characterized Classical Marxism and served as the ideological determinants of the Soviet experience in constructing socialism. Yet, Kang also sees in the work of both Althusser and Mao tendencies toward universalism, cultural reductionism, the essentializing of dialectical materialism, and the reverence for "objectivity" in the guise of "laws of society" (Mao) or as "science" (Althusser), that is, kinds of determinism that are opposed to the concepts of contradiction and overdetermination that both pioneered. Kang shows, specifically, that Althussers concept of overdetermination, written in the context of struggles within the worldwide communist movement and in the moment of the philosophical "break," were largely the result of Maos earlier writings, carried out within the context of political/military struggle and strategy, on the "particularity" "unevenness," and "mutability" of contradiction. Maos writings, Kang notes, were directed toward the problems of conceiving an alternative modernity to that of the capitalist West and the Soviet Union as well as toward reversing the lines of causality of Classical Marxism in which the economic "base" was always the determinant of the cultural/political "superstructure." Thus, in Maos view (later developed by Althusser into a extended critique of Hegelian, dualistic notions of contradiction and of the necessary forward motion of an unfolding history), the possibility to both think and to make the Chinese revolution required a complex notion of contradiction (along lines later developed by Althussers concept of "structural causality"), specifying the concrete conditions that make any contradiction particular and unique and showing its multiple determinants and effects as well as the transformability of its aspects. But, while these more complex and developed notions of contradiction may have gone far in overturning the determinisms of modernity as conceived by the Enlightenment and realized in the Soviet experiment, the experience of the Cultural Revolution and the ultimate rescue of universalism and reductionism partly in the form of cultural determinism led both Mao and Althusser to remain within the modernist project and problematics. In his concluding remarks, Kang observes the turnabout that now typifies post-Mao China: with the Cultural Revolution debased and derided, and along with it the uniquely Maoist (and by extension, Althusserian) critique of economic determinism in the making of socialism, the revival of modernization with a vengeance is the order of the day.
It happens in some academic disciplines like economics that the moniker given by practitioners to some of their most cherished dreams and desires is called science. It also happens that in the history of these same disciplines, the fight to establish heterodox positions, often in opposition to a dominant discourse, means to "fight science with science." As Robert Garnett shows, the strategy of Marxist and other Leftists within the field of economics to fight the pro-market, value theory of "general equilibrium"—first pioneered more than a century ago by Leon Walras and codified by neoclassical economic theory ever since—with an alternative science is a dubious strategy indeed. Garnett surveys the attempts over the past century of Marxists and others to displace Walrasian value theory (the theory of the determination of prices in a competitive market system) with their alternative theories of value. He concludes that these attempts have unwittingly done much to strengthen the hold on economics of Walrasian value theory because of the unwillingness of critics to abandon the modernist terrain of economic "science." Building on emerging post- and antimodernist, heterodox traditions in economics, Garnett advises that perhaps a more successful strategy in combating Walrasianism and the celebration of the market, which has only increased in volubility since the so-called "collapse" of Marxism and communism in recent years, is to "fight science with critique of science." Garnett acknowledges the very good reasons why Marxists and others continue to keep alive their dream of an ultimate triumph whereby they vanquish the "ideology" of Walrasianism through their singular, superior "science" of market capitalism based on their alternative (also singular) theory of value. Yet, Garnett concludes by noting that the consequent divisiveness (as each group fights to make "their" value theory the one and only) and the retention of some of the most debilitating aspects of modernism in economic discourse do not portend well for the opening up of the economics discipline to the important, new heterodox ideas and insights of the past two or more decades, many of which are cautionary or clearly critical of the present extension of market discourse, if not the spread of market capitalism itself.
Michael Parkhurst assesses the incessant return in Theodor Adornos many writings to the problem of theory and oppositional (if not revolutionary) praxis. Parkhurst describes these revisitations in the context of Adorno’s prevailing view that the world of "late capitalism" is one in which transformative, collective political action has been made inept, if not impossible, because of the overwhelming "administration" of social life; the cooptation of dissent, alienation, and critical thought by the "culture industry"; and the ossification and betrayal of the Left through official Marxisms and communisms privileging of oppressive, universalizing practice over critical theory and resistance. Parkhurst focuses primarily on the extent to which Marxist critiques of Adorno’s "pessimism" and "mandarinism" in the realm of political analysis miss thepractical role that theory plays for Adorno in keeping alive a space that, while still mostly complicitous with total administration and/or late capitalist commodification, preserves a residue of resistance through individual acts of thinking against the grain. Adorno’s argument for "theory as praxis," Parkhurst argues, holds out the possibility of at least individual oppositional stances by "keeping faith with non-identity and negation in a totalizing web of identity and positivity." That is, Adorno specifies the ways in which experience, suffering, dialectics, particularity, and subjectivity permit, to a limited but important degree, an individual to "critique" a world in which even this trope has been instrumentalized by commodity culture and the rule of the vanguard party. While Adorno, according to Parkhurst, does not cast about for a new revolutionary subject to replace the thoroughly pacified/defused proletariat in the march of history, he does privilege the lonely while "luxurious" thoughts of critical intellectuals to keep resistance alive, in a time when mass revolutionary activity is "in an indefinite period of hibernation." Yet, in contrast to other Marxist critics, Parkhurst does not see this move in Adorno—as frustrating as it may be for an elaboration of politics—as non- or anti-Marxist. Parkhurst calls attention to the fact, in Adornos defense, that Adorno continues in much of his work to draw a close correlation between the domination that characterizes post-Enlightenment philosophy and the domination of society and nature that corresponds to the rule of the economy in the late capitalist era. Adorno’s "Marxism," thus, comes to light through his attempts "to articulate the brutality of identification and of the domination of nature" which "should be seen as a deepening of the materialist tradition," and to demonstrate "in persuasive dialectical detail, how thoroughly political theorizing itself is." Parkhurst believes, in sum, that Adorno "develops a Marxian ethic for anti-Marxist times," even though he neglects to connect this ethic to political movements for deep social change that, in his time and since, continue to emerge.
Martín Espadas five poems range from the elegiacal and lyrically stirring "All the People Who Are Red Trees" to the stark and terse "When the Leather Is a Whip." Among other things, Espadas poems are episodes in compassion and solidarity. This can be seen in the beautiful tribute to "condemned anarchists," "poets in chains," "nameless laborers marching with broken rifles" in Catalufla, and "union organizers without headstones," all of whom are brought to mind and commemorated in the leaves, flowers, and bowers of red trees which are nourished by their blood and their words. It can also be seen in Espadas rendering of the simple astonishment of imprisoned Hispanic immigrants—island men—in an upstate, New York prison, for whom the snow of the northern climes and of the cocaine economy produce both silence and remembrance (in Spanish). It can likewise be detected in his depiction of the street harassment facing a newly arrived carpenter in Boston, whose practice in raising her hammer in pursuit of her freedom and craft and in swinging her toolbox while walking down these mean streets cannot prevent her from trembling at the avarice and brutality directed against women, immigrants, and others. The acts of charity, bravery, and understanding displayed by some of the men and women who people Espadas poems are created by a language that always grasps the material conditions and instruments, from toolboxes and belt buckles to sandwiches, of the tragedies and victories, big and small, that make up our daily, common lives.
In cultural and literary fields, such terms as "libidinal economy" or "symbolic economy" have arisen mostly over the past twenty years as alternative conceptions to the "closed" and "phallocentric" notions of economy that have reigned among political economists and their mainstream siblings. Margaret Nash explores the move by some poststructuralist feminists to expand upon these notions of alternative economies as ways to challenge both phallocentrism and the concentration on scarcity, reproduction, conservation, rationality, and the like that characterize familiar notions of economy. Nash looks at the opening up of the notion of economy beginning with Nietzsche and Freud and taking shape more recently in the writings of Georges Bataille and Jean-Joseph Goux. She shows that in each case the "transvaluation" that has taken place installs excess, desire, plenitude, and pleasure in opposition to the notions of lack, containment, system, and closure that were and are hallmarks of much "metaphysical and patriarchal" thought about the forms of production, consumption, and exchange that structure many forms of social existence and interaction (from sexuality and language to "economy" proper). Yet, though Freud and Goux especially may have addressed the role the phallus plays in structuring such closed economies, Nash believes that it has been the preeminent contribution of feminist theorists, particularly Helene Cixous and Luce Irigaray, to have developed specifically open, "feminist" economies in which the notion of a "self-less" female sexual pleasure, not debased or construed as lack or derivative, plays a crucial role in promoting possibilities for "economic" strategies that are outside of patriarchal political economy, including Marxism. Nash is concerned in her article to show that the phallocentrism that deforms and limits neoclassical approaches to economic thought is reproduced in a different way in the early Marxs recourse to the primacy of (male) creativity. And, while she appreciates the nondeterminist Marxian approach of some of the editors of this journal in opening up potentially new concepts of economy, she sees this work also as being silent on phallocentrism and in danger, perhaps, of codifying such terms as "overdetermination" into a system. Nash calls on Marxists and other feminists to follow the example of Cixous and Irigaray in imagining and writing feminist economic possibilities that inscribe libidinality, pleasure, and excess on the bodies and texts of men and women alike.
Domenico Jervolino situates a contemporary "philosophy of liberation" within a cosmopolitan setting, beginning with its origins in the 1960s and 1970s in Latin America and spreading throughout the world as a critique of the totalizing ontologies and moralities that have been the legacy of Western liberal and even communist humanisms. Jervolino traces the development of liberation philosophy in Latin America—in relation to but distinct as well from "liberation theology"—as the birth of a new, potentially universal ethics that sees the historical significance of the colonial and post-colonial experiences of Third World peoples as refusing the closure of Western totalizing thought and as introducing "fleshy, plural subjects" as the "other" from which this new philosophy of liberation must start. Jervolino extends the specifically Latin American intonations of this new ethics to include other discussions and critiques of Western-imposed modernity, and especially of the norms and obligations that have served as the models for moral thought and praxis (and which have allowed a philosophy of freedom to be mostly blind to the violent conquest and subjugations that have been and continue to be conditions of existence for the hegemony of the West and the wealthier, Northern hemisphere). Jervolino shows that this extension has already begun in the interchanges between Enrique Dussel, one of the leading figures in the philosophy of liberation movement, and such theorists of the philosophy and ethics of discourse and communities of communication, such as Karl Apel and Jürgen Habermas. And Jervolino calls for this extension toward a cosmopolitan perspective to include engagement with the phenomenological hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur and new movements to rethink Marxism in the light of well-deserved cynicism about the dialectics of liberation in actually existing socialism. While Jervolino thinks that Marxism still has an important role to play in this new philosophy of liberation, he also believes that there must be a definite shift from a "communism of the absolute" to a "communism of finitude" in order to "reject once and for all the prometheism of a self-founding subject and the totalism of a science of praxis understood as absolute knowledge." As Latin American liberation philosophy goes cosmopolitan, Jervolino concludes, it can "give rise to an original encounter, under the sign of a dialectic of the concrete, between critical Marxism, the phenomenology of the life-world, and the ontology of social being."
Many portrayals of modern life as it has been fundamentally shaped by capitalism emphasize the element of time (though such motifs as "development"). Tony Fabijancic seeks to locate the role of space more centrally in the characterization of the modern experience, and in the balance to show how the "reification" of social life described in such graphic and generalized terms by Georg Lukács is both manifested and constructed by a spatial dimension. Following Lukács, Fabijancic regards reification as perhaps the defining experience of capitalist modernity, as the fragmentation, estrangement, and objectification of social relations harden into a persistent abstraction in modes of thought and vision, passivity, and the acceptance of capitalist commodity production and exchange as natural and permanent. Fabijancics contribution, here, is in extending Lukácss analysis of reification to encompass the daily life world of urban dwellers as they are positioned as subjects in modernist city spaces. Using as one example Baron Haussmanns "massive reconstructions" of nineteenth century Paris (with its long boulevards and arcades), Fabijancic shows how the modern city (even in its more recent, complex territorializations) depends upon and reconstitutes the splits between subject and object and public and private that reification creates. Fabijancic tells us that one primary form in which the reification of space is realized is the experience of most city folk in having their imagined relation to the urban space be one of a displaced or alienated subject confronted by an incredible collection of objects and surfaces, commodities and facades not understood to be of their own making. Fabijancic also shows that, with modernity, vision becomes both privileged among the senses (as the primary ways of a detached subject to "know" and experience objects) and reified within urban centers, as the depthless gaze upon abstract surfaces, whether masterful or subordinate (depending largely on differing class positions), is all that most urbanites are allowed in apprehending their relation to city spaces, from the great boulevards and arcades/shopping malls to their homes. The splintering of life that reification of space and vision bring leads to the loss of totality in experience, all the better to mystify the ever-expanding forces of capitalist production and consumption that, in Fabijancics view, is nowhere better understood than in the creation of the arcade, that semi-public, skylit, enclosed retail space that was an invention of nineteenth-century entrepreneurs and city planners. While urban modernism and its aesthetic is clearly connected with alienation and the like, Fabijancic ends on a different note in suggesting that the utopian and defamiliarizing elements of some modern art, in which labor and subjectivity are converted into a style, allow perhaps both space and vision to be conceived in dereified ways, ways that reveal rather than conceal the forces of capitalism through which modernity and its disfigurements are produced.
In her artists statement that accompanies the text and pictures, Sally Grizzell reflects on the "indigenous ironies" that exist in places like the American South, where she was born and grew up, and East Africa, where she later resided. These ironies consist of the identities and "self-delusions" that structure ways of seeing/living "class, gender, and economic worth." The aphorisms, descriptions, and little stories that are superimposed on images of magicians, the offering up of elongated, broken bodies, and wall paintings, among other pictures, clearly work toward disclosing the ironic fictions that make possible the veneer of acceptability of sometimes impossible events and states of being. Witness, in this regard, the advertisement for a new circus act, declaring the thrill of watching a "beautiful young woman" risk her life framed around a picture of her body, seemingly lifeless and "hanging" as part of another act, perhaps. Witness as well the fashionably dressed skeletal remains of a woman, turning away perhaps in disgust or escape, inscribed within a textual frame that tells of her watching a butchers emptying out a side of beef and starving to death after learning of the "nasty things" that make up our bodys interiority. Or sense the struggle to preserve enterpreneurial hype, personal dignity, and questionable civility in the wry story, overhung by dangling arms, of the elephant sandwich which cannot be served because of the lack of bread. While the ironies of place and position are sometimes frightening, and often startle or provoke wonder, Grizzells work does reveal the values that are "indigenous" (both exotic and familiar at the same time) and constructive of our identities and cultural realities.
Sursam Corda, Diana Roche and James Stormes tell us, is Latin for "Let us lift up our hearts"; it is also the name of the predominantly African-American low income community in Washington, D.C. where a successful struggle of the poor to become tenant-owners of housing was conducted mostly on the bases of communal forms of distribution, production, and social life. In the first entry to the Remarx section, Roche and Stormes document this struggle beginning from the housing projects construction in the late 1960s to the recent completion of the transition to a cooperative a few years back. While the twists and turns in their story (and, of course, in the lives of Sursam Cordas residents) demonstrate the alternating impact that capitalist, communal, and other class processes have had on the fortunes of the community, they also show the contradictions and ironies that are attendant upon the production of poverty in a capitalist social formation. Indeed, much of Roche and Stormess narrative depicts the various ways that communal forms of sharing resources and working for the project in families and the community more broadly were forced upon and seriously challenged by an individualist, capitalist economy for which the poor are largely underemployed, excluded by race, and relegated to illegal activities. In Sursam Corda, like many other poor communities, racism, unemployment, deterioration of the physical environment, drugs, and other crime were a clear presence throughout its thirty-year history. But, say Roche and Stormes, unlike some other communities, forces existed, sometimes in the guise of extraordinary acts of generosity, concern, and shared feeling by community members and others, that allowed for the communal economic and social processes to emerge eventually victorious. Roche and Stormes are aware, as well, of the contradictory effects of these communal processes. They show that while communal structures and culture from tenant associations to group prayer "provided stability and predictability over twenty-five years of radically changed external pressures and supports"; allowed for people to survive the exclusions of the capitalist world; kept in tact a large part of the initial tenant base; and provided a means to challenge drug marketing and consuming activities that sorely tested everyones ability to survive, they also served at times to reproduce negative social activities, attitudes, and effects. Likewise, as with the delicious example of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Jack Kemp, whose push to privatize public housing partly made possible the transition to a coop, Roche and Stormes draw out the paradoxes involved as both public and private "external" forces, often identified with abuse of the poor, served as conditions for the expansion of communal class and nonclass structures in Sursam Corda. Roche and Stormes intend their story to remind us, if not to lift up our hearts in the face of such determined struggle to combat the devastations of poverty, then to recognize that communal structures do exist and survive, and that our lives may often and crucially depend upon them.
Ajit Chaudhury, whose piece on "brown orientalism" we published in Volume 7, Number 4, continues his argument by providing a critical review of the Marxist heritage within Indian academic circles. In his contribution to the Remarx section, Chaudhury shows that, from its inception after independence in 1947 to the more recent "Subaltern Studies" movements, academic Marxism (as opposed to the communist movement, which is much older) has developed in India as a series of reflections, initially, and economistically, on the nature of agrarian modes of production and peasant resistance and consciousness; the consequences and effects of Indian nationalism in the face of continued Western hegemony, which incorporated rather than obliterated "traditional" forms of production and life (theorized in terms of Antonio Gramscis notion of "passive revolution"); and, lately, the culturally informed studies of postcolonial subject positions of all "subaltern" classes and groups as they may attempt to resist modernization and "represent" themselves. Chaudhury, who figures importantly in the debates over Marxisms heritage and its current stage of "rethinking," notes that one of the guiding preoccupations in the discussions has been the extent to which there is a singular "subaltern" position (whether it be peasants or postcolonial subjects) from which a challenge to Western hegemony (and nationalist "collaboration") can be waged and modernism and its ravages can be resisted. Chaudhury is critical of those in the Subaltern Studies movement who posit either an unambiguous meaning from subaltern consciousness/behavior or a form of subaltern subjectivity that effectively confronts Western postcolonial discourse and power through the maintenance and revaluation of a "tradition" which has not been distorted by the push for modernism by nationalist elites. For Chaudhury, the possibility of a counterdiscourse or political strategy in which the subaltern speaks and represents him/herself has involved mostly an "inversion" of modern values and/or suppression of all those forms of tradition that are not appealing to a modernist logic. Thus, Subaltern Studies offers up as the basis for a new, postcolonial "subject of history," "traditional values" that, in Chaudhurys view, are inextricably bound up with modernism. In calling for a "different view" (and not a privileged, independent subaltern stance, which, itself, is merely a position within modernism), Chaudhury also advances the cause of a new third world writing that can "produce a theoretical frame that includes its own self-criticisms (i.e., the overdetermining aspects of modernism and tradition) and therefore can incorporate the many other voices in it."
Psychologist Edward S. Reed closes the Remarx section with his observations on the abuse that, in his view, is behind the persistence of fear and uncertainty in the United States during the recent past. Reeds idea is that there is a strong analogy to be drawn between the forms of fear, shame, and helplessness often felt by victims of domestic abuse and the same sentiments experienced by ordinary Americans who, in response to the continuing degradation in socioeconomic life and relations, seem to sink ever deeper into despair, hopelessness, denial, and immobility. Reed links his own rather personal declamation of the alternating ineptitude, cynicism, and arrogance of political and business leaders in the United States to general trends in the social psychology prevalent in America which have left its "victim-survivors" unable and afraid to name their abusers or to find common solutions to widespread social problems. In Reeds view, pain, worry, and anguish are by now such dominant and shared feelings amongst Americans that it will take a "campaign of citizens against fear" to begin to "acknowledge just how victimized we have been, . . . to point to both those who have abused us and those others who watched the process and benefited from it," and from there to "make our lives over again" as separate as possible from the perpetrators of abuse. Reeds overarching vision is to transform into a "real home" the dangerous domicile that the United States has become through progressive-led support groups and models of self-transformation and empowerment that are used to good effect in dealing with the sources, traumas, and consequences of domestic abuse.
From Louis Althussers and Etienne Balibars Reading Capital to Roman Rosdolskys The Making of Marxs Capital, much work of Marxist scholars over the past thirty years has been directed to uncovering Marxs method in Capital, both to explain the peculiar "logic" of that remarkable text and to reexamine Marxs main findings in lieu of developments in textual exegesis and the philosophy of interpretation during the same period. A recent edited book, Fred Moseleys Marxs Method in "Capital": A Reexamination, brings together economists and philosophers to consider the degree to which Marx employed a "dialectical" method of exposition as well as to take stock of Marxs novel formulations in political economy contained in Capital. Andrew Klimans brief review of Moseleys collection touches on the different conceptions of dialectics that Marxian philosophers, such as Tony Smith and Chris Arthur, deploy in making sense of Marxs general categories in Capital. Kliman takes seriously these attempts to reinstate dialectics as a key to Marxs method, though he remains skeptical in the face of several of the contributors belief that dialectics should be seen as "a self-contained development of concepts" structuring the whole of Marxs text. Kliman is likewise interested in the revived debates over abstract labor and the transformation process, themes that continue to inspire much reinterpretation in a variety of Marxian economic traditions. So, while it is clear that Moseleys collection touches on only a few of these traditions (postAlthusserian and critical realist views of Capital seem to be notably absent), Kliman suggests that the primary value of this book is that it shows the question of Marxs method to be very much alive and in need of further study.
We note sadly the death of Harold Wolpe on 19 January 1996. Harold Wolpe (1926-1996) was a sociologist, lawyer, South African activist, and a member of this journals Advisory Board. Wolpe made important theoretical contributions on the capitalist construction of apartheid in South Africa and contributed crucially as well to policy studies on educational reform in postapartheid South Africa. His pathbreaking Marxian theoretical work in the 1970s on the forms of South African cheap labor and their importance to the development of capitalism there was what brought Wolpes work initially to the attention of many of us at RM. This line of Wolpes work was crowned by the publication in 1988 of his influential Race, Class, and the Apartheid State. During his long exile in England after escaping from a South African prison in 1963, Wolpe began his work on education in South Africa, planning for the period after liberation from apartheid. Upon his return to South Africa in 1990, Wolpe continued his involvement in educational reform by founding and directing the Educational Policy Unit at the University of the Werstern Cape. In his obituary in The Guardian (22 January 1996), Ronald Segal speaks of him as "gentle but quite capable of anger at stupidity and prejudice" and of his death as "a great loss to the intellectual vitality of the new South Africa, which needs those whose allegiance involves independence of judgment and the guts to express it." A Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust has been created, with Nelson Mandela as a Patron, in order to support research in Harolds intellectual and critical legacy. The writer and activist AnnMarie Wolpe, Harolds wife, and their children Nicholas, Peta, and Tessa are among the Trustees of the fund. Contributors to the trust should contact Peta Wolpe,15 Elm Grove, London, N8 9AH, U. K.; Tel.: 0181 348-0193; Fax: 0181 340-5001.
<---Previous | Next--->