RETHINKING MARXISM Volume 8, Number 4 (Winter, 1995)
In this issue
, we open with David Harveys interrogation of the meaning and import of the notion of globalization, a term that has supplanted earlier Left/Marxist categories of imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism and has suggested an endpoint for the worldwide spread of capitalism. Harvey views this term cautiously, though productively, and calls on readers to do the same. His advice is that we see globalization as a process. One that has been in effect for the past five hundred or so years, as capitalism has territorialized and reterritorialized the world, creating cities, states, built environments, and the like, but also (and presently) organizing supranationalities and spurring decentralizations. Harvey, whose work thus far has been to retheorize Marxist political economy and historical materialism to include an appreciation for the spatial dimension of capitalism, thinks that globalization needs to be revised in its conception to take account of the persistent unevenness in the spatio-temporal development of capital flows. Harvey does think that we may now be facing a qualitative change in capitalisms effects, though in his view, this change "is toward the reassertion of early nineteenth-century capitalist values coupled with a twenty-first century penchant for pulling everyone (and everything that can be exchanged) into the orbit of capital while rendering large segments of the worlds population permanently redundant in relation to the basic dynamics of capital accumulation." Harvey acknowledges that globalization can best be seen as a concept designed to signify the changes wrought by international financial deregulation since the 1970s, by the so-called "information revolution" (suggesting the "dematerialization of space" in communications), and by a continuous decline in the costs and time of moving commodities and people; but he locates these trends within a broader history of capitals everpresent impulse to "annihilate space through time," as the drive to speed up the circulation of capital makes the constant (but uneven) reorganization of the globe compulsory. While Harvey takes note of the many challenges to socialists that are presented by the international dispersal of production, the enormous expansion of a culturally diverse wage-labor force, the increased mobility of peoples across national boundaries, the rise of megacities throughout the world, and the decline of state power in affecting capital movements, he believes that a reanimated socialist movement can help to "synthesize" many of the anticapitalist struggles that he sees occurring as the "backlash" to the destruction caused by the globalization process. In Harveys view, the Marxian Left remains ideally suited both to "emphasize the pattern and systemic qualities of the damage being wrought" and to build a "community in class struggle" by uncovering the class content of so many anticapitalist struggles during this current phase of international capitalist development.
Our special Remarx section for this issue is reserved for two different appraisals of Jacques Derridas Specters of Marx. The articles by Pierre Macherey and J. K. Gibson-Graham contribute to the growing commentary and debate over the terms and tensions of Derridas text as well as the books relevance, if any, to ongoing discussions of Marxian social and political theory. Derridas book presents a "hauntological" reading of Marx, one that focuses largely on those aspects of Marxs work where the invocations of ghosts, apparitions, and specters not only inhabit his pages, but are crucial explanatory concepts (such as Marxs and Engelss reference to the specter of communism haunting mid-nineteenth century Europe or the mysteries and veils that envelop, by fetishizing, a commodity economy). Of course, Derrida is also intrigued by the ghostly status of Marxs work these many years after his death, asking what is living and/or dead in Marxs theoretical output and seeing that his ideas are neither strictly dead nor alive and that there is still a debt to be paid (or an inheritance to be cashed in).
It is within this framework of spectrality—bringing in the impossible but irrepressible relation between appearance and reality, materiality and ideality, spirit and "the real"—that Macherey reviews Derridas deconstructive reading of the Marxian legacy. In Ted Stolzes translation, Macherey credits Derrida with encouraging a rereading of Marx that, in his view, leads "to a free appropriation of Marxs inheritance." Macherey understands Derridas contribution to consist of a reconsideration of several of Marxs key texts in which references to ghosts and the like are introduced "not only as a figure of rhetorical style but as a determination of those texts contents of thought." The different forms of spectrality that Derrida finds suggests a Marx divided at times against himself and in turmoil over the distinction between the spirit world and the world of objects, over the demarcation between appearance and reality to which he turned incessantly and which, in the end, haunts his work. Yet, despite the value of showing the fundamental instability of these distinctions in some of Marxs writings—the impossibility of preserving a notion of reality which is not also "apparent" and of preserving an apparition which is not simultaneously "real," and hence creating a sense of the immaterial material, the insensible sensible—Derrida, according to Macherey, accomplishes his transformation of Marxs spirit into something presumably usable today by reducing Marxs work "to a history of ghosts." In this sense, Macherey tells us, Derrida "dematerializes" Marx and "deontologizes" Marxs thought, if only to provide us with a "new science of spirit." We can detect, reading symptomatically if not spectrally, in Machereys appraisal a trace of doubt in the efficacy of Derridas project since, in his view, Derridas reduction involves drawing "Marx alongside his ghosts" and appears to succeed perfectly "on the condition of filtering his inheritance to the point of retaining from Capital only book 1, section 1: Marx without social classes, without the exploitation of labor, without surplus-value . . . [which] risks, in fact, no longer being anything but his own ghost."
J. K. Gibson-Graham writes in the spirit of both Marx and Derrida. Gibson-Graham looks approvingly at Derridas figure of the specter since, by conjuring forth the effectivity of what is excluded in/on what strives mightily to be pure and uncontaminated, Derrida unleashes the concept of possibility. It is the powerful notion of the possible—that concept that inspirits the specter of The Communist Manifesto and that binds together past and future with the contemporaneous—that Gibson-Graham identifies with Derridas deconstruction of ontology and his spectral reading of Marx. While Derridas Marx appears on stage as one who is fighting the ghosts that seem to confound his attempts to delimit the socioeconomic "real" (and to spirit it off to an unintruded realm), Gibson-Graham points out that this Marx is doomed to be haunted, since the "banished" always and ever returns to the space of its sentence. This perception, though, also informs Derridas critique of the triumphalism that has cascaded down from the heights of neoliberalism with the purported "death of Marx and Marxism" after 1989. Derrida faults Francis Fukayama and other revelers in the victory of capitalist markets, says Gibson-Graham, for believing that their incantations that the "dead man is really dead" can truly perform the ultimate exorcism they are in need of, fearing, of course, the real possibility that Marx is not buried for good. Gibson-Graham notes that Derrida organizes much of his counterdiscourse to Fukayama and others—perhaps surprisingly—around an undeconstructed, if only provisional, image of a unified and hegemonic capitalism, in which the "capitalist paradise" of the celebrants is turned upside down to reveal the ever-continuing horrors of the "new world disorder." In Gibson-Grahams eyes, Derrida performs the usual left rite of bringing forth, in discourse, a vision of the world that is familiar in its naming of the plagues attending the global spread of an unproblematized, undifferentiated, and omnipresent capitalism. the "ghosts" that haunt Derridas own work are the many forms of noncapitalist, noncommodity, and nonmarket activities and sites which, along with plural capitalisms, remain excluded from the undeconstructed monolith that Derrida feels compelled to summon up as a referent to the "real." In Derridas own spirit of deconstruction, then, Gibson-Graham calls to light all these excluded terms of economic difference that permit not only a different (and Marxist) picture of the world to emerge in contrast to both Fukayamas triumphalism and Derridas malaise, but that also make feasible and desirable a politics of transformation in which what is possible is always/already present.
Robert Garnett mediates what he sees as a debilitating dispute between those who read and uphold the modernist moments of Marxs value discourse and those who find in Marx a kindred postmodern spirit. Garnett focuses his attention on Marxs discussion in the first chapter of volume 1 of Capital of commodity production and exchange via Marxs particular value approach, which has been understood as advocating the naturalness and universality of human labor as the measure of value and/or, alternatively, as a denial of the universalist, humanist notions of value that undergird Classical political economy and that mark Marxs theoretical "break." Garnett cautions against reading Marxs value theory as unified in either its modern or postmodern dimensions. He indicates the theoretical and political harm that results from separating out decisively Marxs critique of the historical specificity and uniqueness of a capitalist commodity economy through his "social constructionist" value analysis from a revolutionary narrative, pervaded by radical humanism and economism, in which the perverse "irrationality" and "fetishism" of a commodity economy is juxtaposed with a vision of a transparent and socially directed economy constituted by the "association of free men." Reading Marxs value theory as multivalent, possessing both postmodernist deconstructive and modernist prophetic moments, Garnett argues that these distinct voices complement each other, "adding a dimension which, if removed, would alter the nature and purpose of the discourse." In particular, Garnett urges those engaged in producing a uniquely postmodern Marxism not to turn away, in simple dismissal, from the modernist aspects of Marxs work which "remain, even today, among the preconditions for Marxisms critical successes." The cost of such dismissal, Garnett adds, may be that "those who have labored so hard to revive and rethink Marx in the light of postmodernism may find themselves struggling to read Marx at all."
"The collapse of existing socialism in Eastern Europe and in the former USSR coincides with a general retreat of Marxist theory in Western Europe." Beginning with this simple observation, John Milios briefly considers the question of the relation implied by the coincidence. Milios does not resort to a thesis of a heightened and general "crisis of Marxism" as an explanation of how the implosion of the Soviet system intersects with the widespread demise of Marxism as a mass ideology in the West. As Milios, borrowing from Louis Althusser, points out, 150 years of Marxism demonstrate that the heated contention—often monumentally crucial for the lives of millions of people—over different renditions of Marxist theory and practice marks Marxisms natural course, a condition of its existence. Hence, the everpresent existence of different, sometimes violently opposed, trends in Marxism—what some have pointed to as the sign of its "crisis"—has been and will continue to be an indispensable, and ineluctable, part of its history. Nor does Milios see the "failure" of Marxism to be a matter of the final decomposition of its theoretical insights in view of their supposed "realization" in the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Rather, distinguishing Marxism as theory from Marxism as a mass ideology, Milios believes that Marxisms "retreat" in Western Europe and perhaps elsewhere consists of its weakened influence on workers and popular movements, a condition well under way before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. Milios regards much of this weakened influence to be the result of the dominance of "Soviet Marxism" as a more-or-less mass ideology (represented at least in the ideological pronouncements of party leadership) in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but also having profound effects on the understandings of the relation between state power and class struggle in Western European left circles as well. In Milioss view, "Soviet Marx ism" as a mass ideology, with its reading of "socialism" as mostly the state control of monopolistic firms and industries (what others, in addition to Milios, have termed "state capitalism"), significantly affected Leftists in other places, leading them to identify "governmentalism" and "reformism" with the advent of socialist struggle. In Milioss view, the inability of left political parties to maintain this reformism as a mass ideology, especially during the economic crises of the 1980s, led many in Western Europe to turn away resolutely from Marxism and socialism. All that was left for the "retreat" of Marxism in Western Europe was its "publicizing" in the aftermath of the events of 1989-91. In Milioss view, the revival of Marxism as a mass ideology will depend mostly on the "reappearance of the socialist movement of the working class," but it is his hope that this revival will not bring with it a resuscitation of "Soviet Marxism."
Studies of mass communication, including television, have been greatly influenced for much the past twenty years by British Marxist perspectives. In this article, Nicholas Stevenson looks at the work of the Glasgow University Media Group during much of this period, and highlights the issue of class-dominated and class-inflected "bias" in television that was the focal point of its analyses. As Stevenson notes, the more recent waves of postmodernism and post-Marxism in left communications studies have often called attention away from the issues of class bias and ideological hegemony of the mass media and replaced them with epistemological and hermeneutic concerns for specifying the plural forms of textual "readings" and audience interpretation. Stevenson argues that this shift of attention has largely meant giving up on claims and ideals of objectivity, balance, and impartiality in the media, and thus deprives the Left and subordinated social groups of demanding a more democratic cultural community, one in which rational discussion without bias is possible. Stevenson, thus, regards the Glasgow University Media Group as having brought to light intractable problems regarding the lack of objectivity, impartiality, and balance in British network newscasts and other programming, even while he criticizes the group for holding contradictory positions about the possibility or desirability of "truth" in reporting, for having somewhat crude notions of the instrumentality of class in determining television ideology, for insufficiently exploring the precise institutional and occupational situations that give rise to television bias, and for its neglect of audience interpretation as partly implicated in the ideological effects of news broadcasting. So, while Stevenson is aware of the advances that have been brought by recent alternative emphases on the cultural productivity of audiences of the mass media, he thinks that the Glasgow Groups work deserves appreciation and rethinking since, in his view, their studies make possible an interest in the "normative relevance of questions related to truth and democracy" and reassert a Marxist viewpoint whereby "questions related to democratic public spheres in a media age presuppose a concern with political economy and ideology critique."
Citing Heidi Hartmanns well-known formulation of the "unhappy marriage between Marxism and feminism," Kenneth Long suggests a different way to conceive of this relationship, one that, contra Hartmann, does not run the critique of patriarchy and the development of counterpatriarchical female identity through the sieve of a socialist feminism overly reliant on Marxian economic analysis. Instead, Long argues, a more profitable way to engender the potential contributions of Marxism to feminism is to see how the noneconomic issues of identity, identifying, creating community, and separation—as they emerge in radical, more than socialist, feminism—are central to several "other" texts in Marxian and socialist thought: Marxs work "On the Jewish Question," Franz Fanons The Wretched of the Earth, and Kwame Nkrumahs Neocolonialism. Long contends that, in different ways, each of these texts presage some of the most important themes in radical feminism. For Long, Marx shows that the tripartite division of nineteenth-century German Jews into Orthodox, Reformed, and the synthetic Conservative traditions preserved reactionary religious identifications and/or a questionable "emancipation" through assimilation and, consequently, the acceptance of bourgeois exploitation. According to Long, just as Marx showed that the Conservative compromise could not and did not lead to a new Jewish identity bereft of classism, opposed to the intolerances of religion, and suspicious of formal (because not real) equality, radical feminism analogously decries the situation in which the poles of femininity, masculinity, and their supposed synthetic overcoming in adrogyny leave in place patriarchy and male-created forms of gender identity. Likewise, Long sees Fanons emphasis on cultural imperialism as perhaps more devastating and longer-lasting as akin to radical feminisms insistence that the cultural, gender-specific, and psychological aspects of patriarchy may be more harmful to women than their economic oppression. In Nkrumahs post-World War II advocacy of new Third World nations separating from the economic imperialism of world capitalism to achieve a true (and socialist) independent identity, Long finds an analogue to radical feminisms politics of separatism as a way of building community and striking down, by eluding, patriarchal control. Long thus concludes that a rethought marriage between Marxism and feminism may proceed more happily from a feminist focus on patriarchy and the relationship of women to men, as it will allow for a discovery and learning from Marxist writings that "strikingly parallel radical feminist advocacy of separatism, womenspace, and womanculture as a means of combating and overcoming gender imperialism."
Fred Lonidiers "Blueprint for a Strike" presents a documentary-style, encapsulated visual and verbal history of the union struggle against the National Steel & Shipbuilding Company combined with the artists monologue on the present situation of the arts in relation to Marxist theory and practice. These two elements, sharing back and forth the space of their respective presentations, provide related ways to conceive of the forms of practice that are effectual in participating in, while also representing, the "class struggle" in and out of the artworld. The stills and text which comprise Lonidiers "fragmentary history" of the continuing workers struggle for health and safety, better wages, job security, and the right to represent themselves through their unions draw upon a recognizable style of documentation in which factories, urban landscapes, picket lines, union leaders and militants, provocateurs, and company headquarters are all depicted as locales and participants in the recounting of this history. The straightforwardness of this "reinvented documentary," fiercely partial in its telling of this ongoing story, is set against and plays off of an equally unflinching, recent historical glance at the status of Marxism in the arts and among the cultural Left. Both elements speak to the gains and setbacks of these interlinked struggles, but it is Lonidiers stated aim to draw particular attention to the stakes involved in the fight to make art an "engaged practice" informed by Marxism. This aim is partly accomplished by the continuation of his discussion of getting artists and other Leftists to enlist each other in a joint commitment to advance working-class solidarity for several pages after the story of the Ironworkers is brought to a tentative end. Perhaps, then, Lonidiers piece will begin what he sees lacking in the pages of RM and elsewhere: an encounter between politically committed, socially critical art and serious, intellectual, Marxist discourse.
Reviewing Tobin Sieberss Cold War Criticism and the Politics of Skepticism and T. V. Reeds Fifteen Jugglers, Five Believers: Literary Politics and the Poetics of American Social Movements, Donald Morton situates these texts within a deepening "crisis of liberalism." While Siebers and Reed seem to take divergent positions about the theoretical and political responsibilities of (mostly academic) humanists in relation to transformations in Cold War criticism and the rise of postmodernist approaches to texts and politics, Morton sees in them a common neglect or refusal of Marxist political economy as a predominant lens through which to analyze the complex and troubled connection between literary and social movements and events. For example, Morton faults Siebers for his critique of the literary and cultural "skepticism"—derived from the "masters of suspicion," Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx—that has permeated the humanities in post-World War II America and that currently goes under the names of deconstruction, postmodernism, and the like. Morton regards Sieberss call for a new "affirmation" of liberal values in response to "post everything" theory as not much more than "the happy side of an idealist fantasy," and one designed to mislead the critics of the current rage for indeterminacy, uncertainty, pleasure, and playfulness into thinking that what is needed is not ideology critique along historical materialist lines, but humanist reverie. Just as Morton views Siebers as critical of Cold War skepticism as "ultimately a necessary part of the substructure of uncertainty, mistrust, fear, and trembling endemic to class societies," he likewise views Reeds positive affirmation of postmodernism and call for a turn away from high theory toward the everyday politics of representation a voluntarism born of the impatience with a less-faddish Marxisms insistence on carefully treating the complicated coupling of literary and cultural positions with the economic base. According to Morton, Siebers and Reed come off as slightly more "hip" versions of post-Cold War liberals who, in conjunction with their reactionary "enemies" differ not so much "over whether bourgeois democracy should continue," but on the degree to which multinational, late capitalism will be allowed either to reveal or to hide its intentions and effects.
We have received a request for help from the Paul Robeson 100th Birthday Committee. They are organizing celebration events for 1997 and 1998 the latter being the centennial year of Robesons birth. The committee includes artists, educators, and community activists who "have come together to reintroduce Paul Robeson—this proud African-American athlete, scholar, singer, actor, and fighter for justice into the mainstream of American history." Toward this end, they are looking for "writers and poets, painters and muralists and playwrights, musicians and film artists to produce works of art" to commemorate and celebrate this important socialists life. The committee also asks for anyone interested either in participating on local Birthday Committees or in helping to organize local or national exhibitions or publications to please contact them. Their address is the Paul Robeson 100th Birthday Committee, DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 East 56th Place, Chicago, IL 60637.
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