Without a socialist party, there is no class struggle, only rackets
Platypus Review #82 | December 2015 - January 2016
HORKHEIMER’S REMARKABLE ESSAY “On the sociology of class relations” (1943)1 is continuous with Adorno’s contemporaneous “Reflections on class theory” (1942) as well as his own “The authoritarian state” (1940/42), which similarly mark the transformation of Marx and Engels’s famous injunction in the Communist Manifesto that “history is the history of class struggles.” All of these writings were inspired by Walter Benjamin’s “On the concept of history” (AKA “Theses on the philosophy of history,” 1940), which registered history’s fundamental crisis. Instead, for Horkheimer and Adorno in the 1940s, history has become the history of “rackets.”2 As Horkheimer concludes his draft, parenthetically citing Marx on Hegelian methodology, “the anatomy of man is key to that of the ape:” the past is explicable from the present, in the form of clique power-politics. But this change is for Horkheimer a devolution -- regression. It stemmed from the failure of proletarian socialist revolutionary politics after 1917-19. Without Marxism, there was no class struggle.3
The significance of this change is the relation of the individual to the collective in capitalism. This affects the character of consciousness, and thus the role of theory: the critical theory of the capitalist totality -- Marxism -- is fundamentally altered. Specifically, the role of working-class political parties in developing this consciousness is evacuated. At stake is what Horkheimer later (in his 1956 conversation with Adorno translated as Towards a New Manifesto ) called, simply, the “memory of socialism.” It disappears. This was Horkheimer’s primary concern, why he points out that the socialist party was not focused on fighting against exploitation, and was indeed indifferent to it. This is because exploitation does not distinguish capitalism from other epochs of history; only the potential possibility for socialism does. That is why, without socialist politics, the pre-capitalist past reasserts itself, in the form of rackets.
At the conclusion of “The authoritarian state,” Horkheimer wrote that, “with the return to the old free enterprise system, the entire horror would start again from the beginning under new management.” Regarding the specific topic stated in the title of this essay in particular, we should note Horkheimer’s unequivocal observation in “The authoritarian state” that,
“Sociological and psychological concepts are too superficial to express what has happened to revolutionaries in the last few decades: their will toward freedom has been damaged, without which neither understanding nor solidarity nor a correct relation between leader and group is conceivable.”4
If there was a “sociology of class relations” to be had, then it would be, as usual for the Frankfurt School, a “negative” and not positive phenomenon. The issue was how to grasp the significance of the original proletarian socialist revolutionary “will toward freedom” degenerating into a matter of mere “sociology” at all. We need to pay attention to the problem indicated by the “On . . .” in the title of Horkheimer’s essay. “Class” in Marx’s sense was not amenable to sociology; but “rackets” are. Sociology is about groups; but the proletariat for Marx was not a sociological group but rather a negative condition of society. The proletariat in capitalism was for Marx a negative phenomenon indicating the need for socialism. The political task of meeting that necessity was what Marx called “proletarian socialism.”
Horkheimer was in keeping with Marx on this score. As the former SYRIZA Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis pointed out in a recent (October 23, 2015) interview, Marx was not concerned with “equality” or “justice,” but “liberty” -- freedom.5 Moreover, as Varoufakis correctly observes, for Marx, capitalism is a condition of unfreedom for the capitalists and not only for the workers.6
As Marx wrote, at least as early as The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), the capitalist class is constituted as such, as a class, only in response to the demands of the workers. It treats the demands of the workers as impossible under capitalism, as a more or less criminal violation of society. It is only in meeting the political challenge of a unified capitalist class that the working class constitutes itself as a class “in itself,” not only subjectively but also objectively. For Marx, the historical turning point in this development was Chartism in England, which inaugurates the “class struggle” of the working class per se.
Only in fulfilling the task of proletarian socialism, transcending not only the workers’ (competing, racket) economic interests in capitalism but also democracy in bourgeois society, that is, coming up against the limits of liberalism, does the proletariat become a class “for itself” -- on the way to “abolishing itself” in overcoming the negative condition of society in capitalism: its politics is not about one group replacing another. But Chartism in the U.K., like the revolutions of 1848-49 on the Continent, failed. For Marx, this is the need for “revolution in permanence” (1850) indicated by the failure of the democratic revolution and of the “social republic” in 1848. This is why Adorno (1966) characterized the critical concept of “society” itself, negatively, as originating “around 1848.” The Chartists’ last act was to translate Marx and Engels’s Manifesto.7
So what, for Marx, was missing in 1848? This is key to what is missing for Horkheimer a hundred years later: an adequate political party for proletarian socialism; the means for making capitalism a political issue.
The role of the political party, specifically as non-identical with the workers' consciousness, both individually and collectively, was to actually preserve the individuality of the workers -- as well as of intellectuals! -- that is otherwise liquidated in the corporate collectives of capitalist firms, labor unions and nation-states. These rackets have replaced the world party of proletarian socialist revolution, which was itself a dialectical expression of the totality of market relations and of the otherwise chaotic disorder of the concrete conditions of the workers. For Horkheimer, workers related to the political party individually, and only as such constituted themselves as part of a class -- in revolutionary political struggle to overcome capitalism through socialism. It was not that Lenin’s party caused the liquidation of the individual, but the later travesty of “Leninism” in Stalinism was the effect of a broader and deeper socially regressive history of capitalism -- what Marx called “Bonapartism” in the 19th century -- that the 20th century authoritarian state and its concomitant “sociological” problem of political “atomization” expressed.
Liquidating the political party paves the way for conformism: individuality in society instead becomes individualism, whether of persons or corporate bodies. As Margaret Thatcher succinctly put it, “There is no such thing as society.” Not only as wish but in fact. By contrast, the party was the negative political discipline adequate to the societal crisis of liberal capitalism in self-contradiction. But for Horkheimer, now, instead positivity rules, in a direct authoritarian manner that capitalism eludes. Avoidance of the party means avoiding capitalism -- which suits the power of the rackets as such.
The problem of society’s domination by anonymous social forces was revealed by the struggle against exploitation, which demonstrated the limits of the power of the capitalists and hence the problem of and need to transform “society” as such. The “social question” dawned in the political crisis of 1848: the limits of the democratic republic. This becomes replaced by overt power relations that are mystified, by appearing to know no limits. For Horkheimer, following Lenin8, the party's struggle for socialism picked up where the struggle against exploitation reached its limits; without the party there is no struggle for socialism: no pointing beyond but only accommodating capitalism as nature -- or at least as a condition seemingly permanent to society.
This is why Horkheimer likens the ideology of organized "racket" capitalism in the 20th century to traditional civilization, by contrast with the liberal capitalism of the 19th century mediated by markets. Indeed, the problem with the rackets is that they falsify precisely the universalism of ideology, which in liberalism could be turned into a negative critique, an index of falsity. Universality is no longer claimed, so the universal condition of domination by capital is rendered occult and illegible. As Adorno put it, “The whole is the false.” Only by confronting the negative totality of capitalism politically was class struggle possible. The power-struggles of rackets do not point beyond themselves. There is no history. | P
Unpublished manuscript, available on-line at: <http://sammlungen.ub.uni-frankfurt.de/horkheimer/content/pageview/6591478>. See the symposium on Horkheimer's essay with Todd Cronan, James Schmidt, John Lysaker, Nicholas Brown and David Jenemann published at nonsite.org (January 11, 2016), from which this essay is taken: <http://nonsite.org/the-tank/max-horkheimer-and-the-sociology-of-class-relations>. ↩
Horkheimer specified the concept of “rackets” in “On the sociology of class relations” as follows:
“The concept of the racket referring to the big and to the small units struggling for as great a share as possible of the surplus value designates all such groups from the highest capitalistic bodies down to the little pressure groups working within or without the pale of the law among the most miserable strata of the population. It has arisen as a theoretical concept when, by the increasing absoluteness of the profit system the disproportion between the functions of the ruling class in production and the advantages which they draw from it became even more manifest than at the time of . . . [Marx’s] Capital.” ↩
Rosa Luxemburg had a half-century earlier expressed this succinctly in her October 3, 1898 speech to the Stuttgart Congress of the Social-Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), that, “It is the final goal alone which constitutes the spirit and the content of our socialist struggle, which turns it into a class struggle:”
“Think about it: what really constitutes the socialist character of our whole movement? The really practical struggle falls into three categories: the trade-union struggle, the struggle for social reforms, and the struggle to democratize the capitalist state. Are these three forms of our struggle really socialism? Not at all. Take the trade-union movement first! Look at England: not only is it not socialist there, but it is in some respects an obstacle to socialism. Social reform is also emphasized by Academic Socialists, National Socialists, and similar types. And democratization is specifically bourgeois. The bourgeoisie had already inscribed democracy on its banner before we did. . . .
“Then what is it in our day-to-day struggles that makes us a socialist party? It can only be the relation between these three practical struggles and our final goals. It is the final goal alone which constitutes the spirit and the content of our socialist struggle, which turns it into a class struggle. And by final goal we must not mean, as [Wolfgang] Heine has said, this or that image of the future state, but the prerequisite for any future society, namely the conquest of political power. . . . This conception of our task is closely related to our conception of capitalist society; it is the solid ground which underlies our view that capitalist society is caught in insoluble contradictions which will ultimately necessitate an explosion, a collapse, at which point we will play the role of the banker-lawyer who liquidates a bankrupt company.” (Dick Howard, ed., Selected Political Writings of Rosa Luxemburg [New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971], 38–39; also available on-line at: <https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1898/10/04.htm>.) ↩
Max Horkheimer, “The authoritarian state,” in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, ed. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Continuum, 1985), 117. ↩
See also Horkheimer’s “The little man and the philosophy of freedom,” in Dawn and Decline, Notes 1926–31 and 1950–69, trans. Michael Shaw (New York: Seabury, 1978), 50–52. There, Horkheimer wrote that,
“[A]lthough [the capitalists] did not themselves create the world, one cannot but suspect that they would have made it exactly as it is. . . . But for the little man who is turned down when he asks for a job because objective conditions make it impossible . . . [n]ot only his own lack of freedom but that of others as well spells his doom. His interest lies in the Marxist clarification of the concept of freedom.”
Horkheimer paraphrased Marx and Engels’s The Holy Family (1845), where they wrote that,
“The property-owning class and the class of the proletariat represent the same human self-alienation. But the former feels at home in this self-alienation and feels itself confirmed by it; it recognizes alienation as its own instrument and in it possesses the semblance of a human existence. The latter feels itself destroyed by this alienation and sees in it its own impotence and the reality of an inhuman existence.” (Quoted in Georg Lukács, “Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat” part III “The standpoint of the proletariat,” History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone [Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1971], 149. Available on-line at: <https://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/hcc07_1.htm>.) ↩
See David Black, “The elusive threads of historical progress: The early Chartists and the young Marx and Engels,” in Platypus Review 42 (December 2011 – January 2012), available on-line at: </2011/12/01/elusive-threads-of-historical-progress/>. ↩
See Lenin's What is to be Done? (1902), where Lenin distinguished "socialist" from "trade union consciousness:" "We have said that there could not have been Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. It would have to be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness, i.e., the conviction that it is necessary to combine in unions, fight the employers, and strive to compel the government to pass necessary labour legislation, etc. The theory of socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical, and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals." Available on-line at: <https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/witbd/ii.htm>.
Furthermore, in a January 20, 1943 letter debating Henryk Grossmann on Marxist dialectics, Horkheimer wrote that, "It is no coincidence that [Lenin] the materialist thinker who took these questions [in Hegel] more seriously than anyone else placed all those footnotes next to the [Science of] Logic rather than next to the Philosophy of History. It was he who wanted to make the study of Hegel’s Logic obligatory and who, even if it lacked the finesse of the specialist, sought out the consequences of Positivism, in its Machian form, with the most determined single-mindedness [in Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, 1908]. It was still in this Lenin sense that Lukács was attacked for his inclination to apply the dialectic not to the whole of reality but confine it to the subjective side of things." Trans. Frederik van Gelder at: <http://www.amsterdam-adorno.net/fvg2014_T_mh_grossmann_letter.html>. Original letter in German: <http://www.amsterdam-adorno.net/fvg2014_T_MH_Grossmann_letter_DEU.pdf>. ↩
Platypus Review #82 | December 2015 - January 2016
Marx and Spencer's facing graves (photograph by Christian Fuchs)
HERBERT SPENCER’S GRAVE faces Marx’s at Highgate Cemetery in London. At his memorial, Spencer was honored for his anti-imperialism by Indian national liberation advocate and anti-colonialist Shyamji Krishnavarma, who funded a lectureship at Oxford in Spencer’s name.
What would the 19th century liberal, Utilitarian and Social Darwinist, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), who was perhaps the most prominent, widely read and popular philosopher in the world during his lifetime -- that is, in Marx’s lifetime -- have to say to Marxists or more generally to the left, when such liberalism earned not only Marx’s own scorn but also Nietzsche’s criticism? Nietzsche referred to Spencer and his broad appeal as the modern enigma of “the English psychologists.” Nietzsche critiqued what he took to be Spencer’s assumption of a historically linear-evolutionary development and improvement of human morality leading to a 19th century epitome; where Nietzsche found the successive “transvaluations of values” through profound reversals of “self-overcoming” (On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, 1887). Nietzsche regarded modern liberal morality not as a perfection but rather as a challenge and task to achieve an “over-man,” that, failing, threatened to result in a nihilistic dead-end of “the last man” instead. Marx regarded Spencerian liberalism as an example of the decrepitude of bourgeois-revolutionary thought in decadence. Marx’s son-in-law, the French socialist Paul Lafargue, wrote, just after Marx’s death, against Spencer’s “bourgeois pessimism”, to which he offered a Marxist optimism (“A few words with Mr. Herbert Spencer,” 1884).1 Such Marxism fulfilled Nietzsche’s “pessimism of the strong.” By the late 19th century, Marxists could be confident about transcending bourgeois society. Not so today.
Spencer’s distinction of “militant” vs. “industrial” society (The Principles of Sociology vol. 2, 1879/98) -- that is to say, the distinction of traditional civilization vs bourgeois society -- is still, unfortunately, quite pertinent today, and illuminates a key current blind-spot on the ostensible "Left," especially regarding the phenomenon of war. Spencer followed the earlier classical liberal Benjamin Constant’s observation (in "The liberty of the Ancients as compared with that of the Moderns," 1816) that moderns get through commerce what the ancients got through war; and that for moderns war is always regrettable and indeed largely unjustifiably criminal, whereas for ancients war was virtuous -- among the very highest virtues. Do we moderns sacrifice ourselves for the preservation and glory of our specific “culture,” as “militants” do, or rather dedicate ourselves to social activity that facilitates universal freedom -- a value unknown to the ancients? Does the future belong to the constant warfare of particular cultural differences, or to human society? Marx thought the latter.
The question is whether we think that we will fight or, rather, exchange and produce our way to freedom. Is freedom to be achieved through “militant” or rather “industrial” society? Marx assumed the latter.
When we seek to extol our political leaders today, we do not depict them driving a tank but waking at 5 o’clock and staying up past midnight to do society’s business. We do not speak of their scars earned in combat but their grey hairs accumulated in office. Not enjoying the spoils of war on a dais but getting in their daily morning jog to remain fit for work. We judge them not as cunning warriors but as diligent workers -- and responsible negotiators. In our society, it is not the matter of a battle to win but a job to do. Carl Schmitt thought that this has led to our dehumanization. But few would agree.
What would have appeared commonplace to Spencer’s contemporary critics, such as Nietzsche and Marx, must strike us today, rather, as profoundly insightful and indeed critical of our society. This is due to the historical regression of politics and society since Marx’s time, and, moreover, to the liquidation of Marxism. What Marx would have regarded as fatally one-sided and undialectical in Spencer, would today seem adequate to the prevailing condition, in the absence of the Marxist-Hegelian dialectic. The Marxist critique of liberalism has been rendered moot, not in the sense of liberalism’s actual social supersession but by historical regression. Society has fallen below the historical threshold of not only socialism but of classical liberalism -- of bourgeois emancipation itself. Not only have we fallen below the criteria of Kant and Hegel that surpassed 18th century Empiricism, we have fallen below its 19th century successor, Positivism, as well. The question is the status today of liberalism as ideology. It is utopian. As Adorno put it, it is both promise and sham.
Militant and industrial tendencies confront each other today not as different societies, but as opposed aspects of the same society, however contradictorily and antagonistically, in capitalism. Similarly, the phases of “religious,” “metaphysical” and “positive” forms do not succeed one another sequentially in a linear development but rather interact in a dynamic of social history. What Spencer regarded as regressive “metaphysics” remains valid in capitalism, as “ideology” calling for dialectical critique. We cannot now claim to address problems in the clear air of Enlightenment.
If Adorno, for instance, critiqued sociological “positivism,” this was not as a Romantic anti-positivist such as Max Weber, but rather as a critique of positive sociology as ideology in capitalism. For Adorno, positivism and Heideggerian ontology, as well as Weberian “cultural sociology,” opposed each other in an antinomy of capitalism that would be overcome not in one principle triumphing over another, but rather in the antinomy itself being succeeded dialectically in freedom. Weber denied freedom; whereas Spencer assumed it. Both avoided the specific problem of capitalism. To take a condition of unfreedom for freedom is the most salient phenomenon of ideology. This is what falsified positivism as liberal Enlightenment, its false sense of freedom as already achieved that still actually tasked society. Freedom is not to be taken as an achieved state but a goal of struggle.
An emancipated society would be “positivist” -- Enlightened and liberal -- in ways that under capitalism can only be ideologically false and misleading. Positivism should therefore be understood as a desirable goal beyond rather than a possibility under capitalism. The problem with Herbert Spencer is that he took capitalism -- grasped partially and inadequately as bourgeois emancipation -- to be a condition of freedom that would need yet to be really achieved. If “metaphysics,” contra positivism, remains valid in capitalism, then this is as a condition to be overcome. Capitalist metaphysics is a real symptom of unfreedom. Positivism treats this as merely an issue of mistaken thinking, or to be worked out through “scientific” methodology, whereas it is actually a problem of society requiring political struggle. The antinomy of positivism vs metaphysics is not partisan but social. As Adorno observed, the same individual could and would be scientifically Positivist and philosophically ontological-Existentialist.
Spencer’s opposition to “socialism” in the 19th century was in its undeniable retrograde illiberal aspect, what Marx called “reactionary socialism.” But Marx offered a perspective on potentially transcending socialism’s one-sidedness in capitalism. Spencer was entirely unaware of this Marxian dialectic. Marx agreed with Spencer on the conservative-reactionary and regressive character of socialism. Marx offered a dialectic of socialism and liberalism presented by their symptomatic and diagnostic antinomy in capitalism that pointed beyond itself. 18th century liberalism’s insufficiency to the 19th century problem of capitalism necessitated socialist opposition; but liberalism still offered a critique of socialism that would need to be fulfilled to be transcended, and not dismissed let alone defeated as such.
Only in overcoming capitalism through socialism could, as Marx put it, humanity face its condition “with sober senses.” This side of emancipation from capital, humanity remains trapped in a “phantasmagoria” of bourgeois social relations become self-contradictory and self-destructive in capital. This phantasmagoria was both collective and individual -- socialist and liberal -- in character. Spencer naturalized this antinomy. His libertarian anti-statism and its broad, popular political appeal down through the 20th century was the necessary result of the continuation of capitalism and its discontents.
Spencer regarded the problem as a historical holdover of traditional civilization to be left behind rather than as the new condition of bourgeois society in capitalist crisis that Marx recognized needed to be, but could not be, overcome in Spencer’s liberal terms. Marx agreed with Spencer on the goal, but differed, crucially, over the nature of the obstacle and, hence, how to get there from here. Not only Spencer’s later followers (more egregiously than Spencer himself), but Marx’s own, have falsified this task. It has been neglected and abandoned. We cannot assume as Marx did that we are already past Spencer’s classical liberalism, but are driven back to it, ineluctably, whether we realize it or not. Only by returning to the assumptions of classical liberalism can we understand Marx’s critique of it. The glare of Marx’s tomb at Highgate stares down upon a very determinate object. If one disappears, they both do. | P
What does it mean today when the challenges to the status quo are no longer clearly identifiable as originating from the Left? While it seems implausible that Left ideology has been transcended because people still explain social currents in terms of Left and right, there is a sense in the present that to end exploitation will demand a measure of realpolitik—a better tactical response—rather than ideological clarification. One has the uneasy feeling that existence of the Left and the right only persist by virtue of the fact the concept of the Left has somehow become settled, static, and trapped in history. But wouldn't this be antithetical to any concept of the Left?
A panel event held at the New School in New York City on November 14th, 2012.
Transcribed in Platypus Review #56:
The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left. The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history. As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology. Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy. As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.” At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism. If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely. The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.
And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past. In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist). In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential. In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it. Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful. While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right. Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs. The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?
In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can Marxism survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?
1. Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Is capitalism basically the same in its “laws of motion” and can it be grasped equally well today as it was by Marx? What difference, if any, does the collapse of the socialist workers movement make for our understanding of capitalism?
2. Why are sophisticated leftist understandings of the world seemingly unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, is the world intelligible despite our incapacity to transform it politically? Can the Left survive as an economics or social theory? Is our work more “difficult” today in theorizing capitalism, or of a completely different kind than it was for past generations of leftist intellectuals?
3. Many on the Left welcomed the #Occupy movement in 2011 because, above all, it responded to capitalist austerity in its slogans and characterized itself in class terms. Did #Occupy betoken a renewed salience of class? How did #Occupy and other movements worldwide differ from the political response — whether by the new social movements or other political expressions — to the crisis of Fordism beginning in the late 1960s and crystallizing with the Oil Crisis in 1973?
4. How does the present crisis compare with past crises of capital? What might we expect to be the duration of the present crisis? Is there an end in sight? Or are we witnessing the “terminal crisis” of capitalism? How do we know? If not the end of capitalism as such, does the present crisis at least signal an end to neoliberalism? If so, what will take its place?
5. How do your political views influence your understanding of capitalism and crisis? In what sense is economics as a science or discipline independent and autonomous from those politics? How do you avoid the danger of your theory from simply confirming your politics, rather than allowing our understanding of present circumstances to help push beyond our present political impasse?
6. At different moments of its unfolding the crisis has been differently expressed in different locations — a sub-prime mortgage crisis in North America, then a sovereign debt crisis in Europe, and now in a still different form in China. What is the extent of the present crisis and how has it been distributed globally? Unevenly? What does globalization look like in a period of prolonged crisis? Is the era of US hegemony at an end? If so, what will take its place? How is/was American imperialism connected to first Fordism and, later, post-Fordist capitalism and how does the new capitalism challenge a new American Empire-led global (re-)organization?
// Co-Editor at Insurgent Notes; ┇ Author (complete archive of writings available here): — Ubu Saved From Drowning: Class Struggle and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000), — “The Sky Is Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn: Class Struggle in the U.S. From the 2008 Crash to the Eve of Occupy” (2011), “Globalization of Capital, Globalization of Struggle” (2012)
// Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Grad Center; ┇ Author: — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (2008), — The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2011), — Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2012)
// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Contributing author to the Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s (MHI’s) With Sober Senses since 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2007), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession (2012)
// Teaches Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Former editor of the International Journal of Political Economy (1987-2004), frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail ┇ Author: — Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science (1986), — Art in Its Time: Theories and Practices of Modern Aesthetics (2003), — Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011)
Platypus Affiliated Society member Chris Cutrone on RT's Crosstalk, hosted by Peter Lavelle, on the global economic crisis.
“The IMF has released a report that predicts the hoped-for global economic growth is again endangered. Why is this happening? Why has the Great Recession come back so early? Did it ever end? Has austerity made things worse? And is there a way to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff’ issue in Washington? CrossTalking with Seijiro Takeshita (Mizuho International, London), Martin Hennecke (Tyche Group, Hong Kong) and Chris Cutrone (School of the Art Institute of Chicago).” The impasse of policy, stimulus vs. austerity, and the question of different models for capitalism and the need for socialism.
OWS has put the focus on finance capital as a driver of inequality, and on the need for political action to address it. But what is the function of finance capital in the modern world, and how should our politics address it? This panel will bring together various Marxist and anarchist perspectives on finance capital.
Radhika Desai is Professor at the Department of Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. She is the author of Slouching Towards Ayodhya: From Congress to Hindutva in Indian Politics (2nd rev ed, 2004) and Intellectuals and Socialism: 'Social Democrats' and the Labour Party (1994), She edited Developmental and Cultural Nationalisms in 2009. She is co-editing Volume 27 of Research in Political Economy with Paul Zarembka.
Alan Freeman is co-editor of the ‘Future of World Capitalism’ book series and is a former economist at the Greater London Authority. He wrote ‘The Benn Heresy’ and co-edited two books on value theory and, with Boris Kagarlitsky, ‘The Political Economy of Empire and the Crisis of Globalisation.’ With Andrew Kliman he co-edits the new critical pluralist journal Critique of Political Economy.’
Andrew Kliman, a professor of economics at Pace University, is the author of The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession and Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency. He and Alan Freeman edit Critique of Political Economy, a new scholarly online journal. Many of his writings are available at akliman.squarespace.com and With Sober Senses, marxist-humanist-initiative.org/our-publication, Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s publication.
Costas Panayotakis is Associate Professor of Sociology at CUNY's New York City College of Technology and author of Remaking scarcity: from capitalist inefficiency to economic democracy.
A presentation by Platypus member Chris Cutrone on August 16th, 2011, at Communist University, which took place from August 17th to August 20th, 2011, at Goldsmiths, University of London. Video Credit: Communist Party of Great Britain.
What is progress if not the absolute elaboration of humanity’s creative dispositions . . . unmeasured by any previously established yardstick[,] an end in itself . . . the absolute movement of becoming?
* * *[T]he ancient conception, in which man always appears (in however narrowly national, religious, or political a definition) as the aim of production, seems very much more exalted than the modern world, in which production is the aim of man and wealth the aim of production. In fact, however, when the narrow bourgeois form has been peeled away, what is wealth, if not the universality of needs,
capacities, enjoyments, productive powers etc., of individuals, produced in universal exchange? What, if not the full development of human control over the forces of nature — those of his own nature as well as those of so-called “nature"? What, if not the absolute elaboration of his creative dispositions, without any preconditions other than antecedent historical evolution which make the totality of this evolution — i.e., the evolution of all human powers as such, unmeasured by any previously established yardstick —
an end in itself? What is this, if not a situation where man does not reproduce in any determined form, but produces his totality? Where he does not seek to remain something formed by the past, but is in the absolute movement of becoming? In bourgeois political economy — and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds — this complete elaboration of what lies within man, appears as the total alienation, and the destruction of all fixed, one-sided purposes as the sacrifice of the end in itself to a wholly external compulsion. Hence in one way the childlike world of the ancients appears to be superior; and this is so, insofar as we seek for closed shape, form and established limitation. The ancients provide a narrow satisfaction, whereas the modern world leaves us unsatisfied, or, where it appears to be satisfied, with itself, is vulgar and mean.
— Marx, "Pre-capitalist economic formations," Grundrisse (1857-58)
Recommended background readings:
Cutrone, "Capital in history" (2008)
Cutrone, "The Marxist hypothesis" (2010)
The ambivalence of the current German student movement
Platypus Review 21 | March 2010
“DIESER HÖRSAAL IST BESETZT!” (“This lecture hall is occupied!”) In November and December 2009, signs bearing such slogans were found on doors at over 60 German universities. For the second time that year, a broad student movement managed to gain public attention for its demands. Protests at the University of Vienna kicked off what became a Europe-wide solidarity wave. In Germany, the Viennese protest first triggered occupations in Heidelberg, Münster, and Potsdam, after which students at many other institutions also became involved. In most cases, the biggest or most central lecture halls were taken, and tens of thousands of students marched through the streets. The reactions of the different university administrations ranged from immediate eviction (e.g., in Marburg) to negotiations via a press spokesperson (in Jena) to direct dialogue with protesters (in Gießen). For the most part, university administrators and local authorities tolerated the occupations, so that the strongest criticism arose from students opposed to the strikes. Only around two percent of the entire student body participated actively in the sit-ins; of these, dozens lived and slept in the lecture halls, forming working groups, drafting resolutions, and engaging in negotiations. “Strike collectives” were organized according to strictly anti-authoritarian principles with an eye towards the prevention of emerging hierarchies. Publicly visible action peaked on November 24th when students protested a national conference of university rectors and then again on December 10th where protests were held outside an education ministers’ conference in Bonn. On some German campuses strike activities continued on an almost daily basis until mid-December. Where students attempted to maintain building occupations over the holidays they were forcibly evicted. On Christmas Day in Munich, for instance, police blocked the entrance to occupied buildings, cutting off food supplies and thereby forcing the strike to a halt. At a handful of campuses, strikes continued for a time after the winter holiday.
In a rally of over 4,000 protesters in Frankfurt last June, German students hold up a banner reading in English, “Bailout education, not just the banks.”
What triggered these protests? The website www.bildungsstreik2009.de (“Educational Strike 2009”) called for a struggle against the commodification and pro-market orientation of education in favor of more self-actuated forms of learning. More concretely, striking students opposed admission restrictions and tuition fees. The deteriorating conditions of universities were attributed to the so-called Bologna Process, a neoliberal initiative that aims at creating a more competitive European Higher Education Area with a harmonized three-cycle system (bachelor’s-master’s-doctoral) and greater curricular and evaluative standardization. Uniting different student representatives, www.bildungsstreik2009.de argued in the run-up to last year’s “hot autumn” that the earlier strike wave in June had accomplished little: There were no modification to the Bologna system, no nationwide abolition of tuitions, no revision of school reforms.
It is difficult to say to what extent the movement has accomplished its goals. For, despite having served at times as the effective organ for the movement, www.bildungsstreik2009.de did not, and does not, represent any formal leadership of the movement as such. During the protests themselves, the site published no joint statements, serving rather as a point of intersection where decentralized collectives could link their wikis and websites, and share Twitter posts. Because of the decentralized nature of the movement itself, it is difficult to establish the common positions or strategies of the protesters. Nevertheless, looking at the different resolutions and events reveals definite patterns and allows one to formulate at least a tentative answer to the question of whether the student movement in Germany helped lay the foundations, in however modest a way, for a future emancipatory politics.
Truly emancipatory politics will eventually overcome the capitalist logic of accumulation and replace it with social forms capable of the satisfaction of human needs. In order to make emancipatory politics attainable, however, theory, practice, and organization are necessary. An internationalist, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist youth movement uniting apprentices, students, the unemployed, the precariously self-employed, and young workers will only be the first step in this direction, and the need for this first step is all the more compelling given the global economic crisis. In Germany, our priority must lie in fighting emerging authoritarian tendencies. Here we are confronted with gradual but significant increases in the state’s use of emergency powers, a growing involvement of the military in government decision-making, illegal information sharing between different government departments, and the slashing of social welfare programs. If these trends continue, the scope for emancipatory politics will be drastically curtailed. Ending this disenfranchisement and stopping the reconstruction of coercive apparatuses are therefore crucial.
With the declaration “Self-determination in life and study,” this image has become a commonplace of the signs and posters on display during the German students’ protests for educational reform.
Any political movement must be measured against the standard of whether or not it constitutes an emancipatory point of departure—that is, whether or not it takes us a step further towards a society without exploitation, oppression, and misery. In the case of the 2009 student movement in Germany, the question is doubtful, since, instead of laying the foundations for emancipatory politics, a major part of the student movement in Germany can be described as reformist, elitist, and de facto nationalist. While there are some counter-tendencies, they are not dominant and do not characterize the movement as a whole.
First, respecting the reformist-elitist character of the movement, it must be acknowledged that most criticism of the pro-market orientation and commodification of the German university floats free of any analysis of the role of education in bourgeois society. Rather, such criticisms are inspired by Humboldtian idealism, evoking older educational models in which the cultivation of the “spirit” was appreciated more than it is now in the age of the “turbo degree.” Student protesters shy away from acknowledging the fact that “turbo studies” form an integral part of current economic conditions and represent the state’s response to the necessities of capital. They shy away from the recognition that, regardless of whatever other purpose it may serve, students require education as employment credentials in a capitalist labor market.
The protesters’ reluctance to ground their demands in an analysis of the present purpose and character of university education explains why the word capitalism was scarcely mentioned in their resolutions. Explicit acknowledgment and analysis of the relationship between the capitalist mode of production and bourgeois education systems were silenced by the argument that such talk would deter less radical students or result in the protests’ not being taken seriously. This reluctance matches the widespread objections by many student representatives to broader social demands. They repeatedly emphasized that the movement was not chasing after utopian dreams, but rather aiming for palpable improvements in education. In this vein, they often distanced themselves from the student movement of the 1960s. Their protest, they were careful to observe, was not about changing the world or “the system.” It should not, therefore, be confused with the protests of past generations. Today’s European student radicals seek concrete changes in a clearly defined domain.
Those among the students who vigorously advocated for a strategy that would highlight the expansion of commodification to all domains of human life nevertheless supported the tactic of zeroing in on the educational system first. Criticism of social relations was relegated to reading circles and alternative lectures, or else it was simply postponed for the times one was not involved in the “real work” of realpolitik. The students failed to grasp how the improvements in education that can actually be realized within the system are limited. It does, of course, make a difference for the subjective well-being of students whether the bachelor’s degree has to be obtained within 6 or 8 semesters, and whether one is restricted to a fixed schedule or can also include non-degree courses of personal interest. However, reforms of this nature do not directly address the social function of state education. The role of the education system in this society is to produce an unqualified and semi-qualified mass together with a small, but highly qualified elite. The latter are necessary to provide a functional and ongoing national innovation system generative of high levels of generic knowledge that can then be readily exploited by industry.
Demands for improvements within current social relations are driven by one thing above all: the desire to come out on top in the social selection process. This implies the students’ widespread, tacit acceptance of the function of education, namely selection. And those in the student movement who openly denounce admission mechanisms are confronted with a dilemma: The politicization of debates about admission as well as the education system as such is unpopular among many of the protesters themselves. Freedom from ideology is enshrined in this student movement. Protesters categorically resist being “instrumentalized” or “manipulated” by political groups. To the protesters, taking any stance on greater social issues means that one is merely recapitulating “dogmas of the past.” When points made in debate are identified as part of a “political program,” they are rejected on the grounds that only “authentic” thoughts are permitted. For instance, when in Regensburg a member of the German radical group Die Linke pushed for linking the students’ protest to demands for broader social transformation, he was suspected of merely campaigning for his party, and consequently silenced. Needless to say, this depoliticized and anti-intellectual attitude leaves little space for discussing anything but very narrow reforms at one’s own university. Only thus, the protesters reason, can one safely avoid “political manipulation”—when, in reality, politics are avoided in toto.
The only accepted “political reference point” of the current student movement in Germany is the human rights argument: Education is a basic right for everybody! Unfortunately, both the human as well as the civic right to education is, like any rights conceded by capitalist states, bound to the fulfillment of certain duties, whether one agrees or not. In this case, the right to education is granted only to the extent that the educated apply the skills and knowledge gained through the bourgeois educational system for the good of bourgeois society.
The reformist and elitist character of the most influential segment within the contemporary German student movement is manifest by the near total absence of demands for the abolition of the gymnasium system (selective secondary schools) or demands for unrestricted admission to universities, from janitor to junk collector. The students are, of course, perfectly aware that admission to the university is not available to all. As of 2006, only 35.5 percent of the total population had ever enrolled in college courses, with roughly a third of this number completing university degrees. Still, the protesters do not object to the limited number of admissions so long as they are not denied admission and the selection process can be deemed fair.
Fortunately, positive counter-tendencies exist: Some of the protests voiced solidarity with trade unionists, the unemployed, school kids, apprentices, and migrants. Numerous letters of solidarity and “strike” donations arrived at the lecture halls, while, for their part, students sought dialogue with representatives of other organizations. Today, local networks helping merge social struggles on and beyond the campus continue to develop, and a call has been issued for a central demonstration around the slogan “Uni für alle” (“University for all”). Here, at least, activists are posing the question of making education open to everybody, not just making it easier for those who have already gained admission.
But despite these more radically egalitarian tendencies, the student movement in Germany overall exhibits an unmistakable reformist-elitist character, for reasons that are not hard to grasp: Many of the student protesters have already self-identified with the purposes of the German ruling class. Which is to say, their hopes are pinned on joining its ranks. Such an attitude, of course, is unsurprising in itself. After all, few of the students are working class, and the selection function is the main role of educational systems in bourgeois society. Some succeed in competition, others do not. Better education in bourgeois society is, first and foremost, a business interest for the state, which wants to accrue professional talent within its national borders. Better education means a more efficient German professional class and, therefore, greater German capital. Most students who participated in the protests wanted better education. If this means nothing more than better education for the business sectors of Germany in its competition with other nations, then the students, however extreme and spectacular their tactics, are hardly making radical, emancipatory demands.
It comes as no surprise, then, that German politicians, whose vocation is to advance Germany in the international arena, applaud the pluck of these future elites. Scarcely a politician in Germany, regardless of orientation, failed to support the students in their demands for better education. The only reason why explicit concern about Germany’s well-being was not actually prefaced to every student resolution in 2009, as was done in the educational strikes the year before, is because of the overall consensus on this point. Students do not have to point out that they were protesting for Germany: Everybody already knows. Politicians, deans, journalists, and students all agree that Germany has to hold its own and that education is an important enticement inducing capital to locate there. The student strikes are a healthy expression of Germany’s restless (dis)content with the status quo and the potential for creative innovation in the rising generation of professionals. The widespread support in the media and among politicians is therefore unsurprising. Education officials agreed to revisit certain parts of the bachelor’s/master’s system. Some university administrations made minor concessions. As long as the students continue to argue the interest of the nation in their appeals, they will be caught within a framework of de facto nationalism. The students can only overcome this perspective if they situate the education system within the predominant social relations of our time and conceive of their movement as part of a broader social struggle across nations.
Most within the “strike collectives” would repudiate any claim they are tacitly nationalist. Yet, because discussions of theory were discarded in favor of activism and “ideological freedom,” this nationalist position prevailed. However, now that the broad student movement consists mainly of scattered anti-fascist groups, the call for a “University for all” demonstration at the end of January clearly represents a turn for the better: “Instead of appealing to the welfare-cutting, excluding surveillance state, we need to take to the streets together and fight to turn the school into our school, the university into a university for everyone, the [process of] social production into one satisfying everybody’s needs—life into self-determined life.”
Radical intellectuals advancing emancipatory politics are anything but the norm in the modern university. Students contribute to broader social struggles not because of, but despite their university degrees. Indeed, the same holds true, mutatis mutandis, for the rest of society as well. In his plea “For Public Sociology,” Michael Burawoy comments wryly on the effects of the education system: “It is as if graduate school is organized to winnow away at the moral commitments that inspired the interest in sociology in the first place.” Our hopes lie with the critical theorist described by Horkheimer in “Traditional and Critical Theory”: “The abstract sociological concept of an intelligentsia which is to have missionary functions is, by its structure, an hypostatization of specialized science. Critical theory is neither ‘deeply rooted’ like totalitarian propaganda nor ‘detached’ like the liberal intelligentsia.”
Universities are not, in and of themselves, a privileged source of emancipation, and in their own struggle students should join with those interested in more than student politics. On a few campuses, students gained permanent “free spaces for critical thinking,” and local networks for broader causes are emerging. These alliances should refrain from representing themselves as apolitical and anti-intellectual, even at the risk of diminished participation. Until this happens, those looking for collaborators in the project of re-establishing the Left will find that their recruitment prospects among the German student movement remain constricted. |P
. Along with bildungsstreik2009.de, the websites unserebildung.de and #unsereuni also contain information about the current German student movement. Unfortunately, most of the text on these sites is not yet available in English.
. Michael Burawoy, “For Public Sociology” (American Sociological Association Presidential Address, University of California, Berkeley, 2004).
. Max Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory,” in Critical Theory: Selected Essays (New York: Continuum, 2002), 223–224.
Reply to Chicago Political Workshop, Chris Cutrone, and Principia Dialectica
Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: Andrew Kliman | Filed under: Organization, Philosophy | Tags: concreteness, plagiarism, Postone |
On plagiarism, Postone, and â€œtheâ€ present
May 27, 2009
1. First, I want to respond to the charge that I plagiarize Moishe Postone, by categorically denying it. When, last July, Sean of Principia Dialectica put forward the allegation of plagiarism (using somewhat different words), I tried to overlook it. I thought that the charge wouldnâ€™t be taken seriously, given that Sean left it wholly unsubstantiated. But now I see that the charge has indeed been taken seriously, repeated, and perhaps implicitly endorsed, by the Chicago Political Workshop, in a posting two days ago.[Principia Dialectica allegation of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman:]
That Sean first encounters some idea in Postone, and then encounters a somewhat similar idea when he hears Kliman, tells us something about the process of Seanâ€™s intellectual development. It tells us nothing about the process of development of the ideas. It is not evidence of plagiarism.
But as far as I can see, when Sean alleges that â€œPostoneâ€™s book is having a much more profound effect onâ€ Kliman than he is â€œprepared to admit,â€ and that at â€œKlimanâ€™s talk in London it was evident that Postoneâ€™s influence had rubbed off â€¦ although â€¦ he was loathe to admit it,â€ the case against me rests wholly on the sequence in which Sean personally encountered the ideas.
For the record: My understanding of capital(ism) and Marxâ€™s critique of it were pretty much fully formed by or before 1988, when I completed my Ph.D. at the age of 33. The key thinker who influenced my views on these matters was Marx himself. (It is strange, indeed, to allege that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement when his Time, Labor, and Social Domination is not a primary text, but an interpretation of a work to which we both have access, Marxâ€™s Capital!)
My views were also deeply influenced by the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, and there were lesser influencesâ€”such as I. I. Rubin and various authors of the 1970s and 1980s who discussed â€œabstract laborâ€ and â€œvalue-form.â€
I read Postoneâ€™s Time, Labor, and Social Domination in the mid 1990s, but it did not make a strong impression on me, for three reasons: (a) my views were already well formed; (b) much of Postoneâ€™s argument was not new to me, since it was quite similar to things developed in the â€œabstract laborâ€ and â€œvalue-formâ€ discussions of 10-20 years before (as Chris Arthur noted in his mid-1990s review of Postoneâ€™s book in Capital and Class); and (c) Postoneâ€™s view of abstract and concrete labor is so different from Marxâ€™s, and his exegetical interpretation of Marxâ€™s concepts of abstract and concrete labor is so wrong, that I didnâ€™t find his book particularly helpful in order to further develop my own thinking.
But what have I said that sounds so Postone-like to Sean (and perhaps also the Chicago Political Workshop)? Iâ€™m guessing it is the following: â€œIn his talk Kliman spelt out in a clear manner that value â€“ as the mediator of human relations â€“ is the subject that needs to be overcome if we are all to move towards creating a fully human society.â€
Well, I arrived at this perspective by studying the work of Dunayevskaya (principally from Marxism and Freedom and from her writings of the 1940s which argued that the USSR was a state-capitalist society because the law of value operated there), and then from Marx himself, when I re-studied Capital in light of her interpretation. Hereâ€™s something Ted McGlone and I wrote about this issue that was published in 1988â€”i.e., well before the appearance of Postoneâ€™s book:[R]adical economistsâ€™ views on value theory have seemingly crystallized into two main approaches, characterised by de Vroey (1982) as the `technologicalâ€™ and `socialâ€™ paradigms. As students of a third, humanist problematic, we hope in this paper to create a dialogue with proponents of other approaches â€¦. Our own view is neither â€˜technicistâ€™ nor market-oriented, but a production-centred value theory of labour . In short, we take capitalist technological relations themselves to be social relations, class relations of dead to living labour in production . `[L]abour is expressed in valueâ€™ because `the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the oppositeâ€™ (Marx, 1977 : 174-75) . We do not de-emphasise the quantitative aspect of Marxâ€™s value theory, however; this paper, for instance, attaches great importance to the aggregate equalities which obtain in Marxâ€™s transformation procedure.â€ [pp. 56-57 of Andrew Kliman and Ted McGlone, â€œThe Transformation Non-Problem and the Non-Transformation Problem,â€ Capital and Class 35, Autumn 1988]
I request that a link to the above response be published wherever the allegation appears that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement, and that the allegation itself be withdrawn.
2. I am pleased that the Chicago Political Workshop and I agree that â€œthose on the left who treat all attempts to understand the political economy of capitalism as rank economismâ€ should be taken to task. I hope that this can be the beginning of a fruitful dialogue.
3. The Chicago Political Workshop writes, â€œIt is our sense that Klimanâ€™s work thus far is inadequate to his own charge, but that he is right that understanding capitalism is essential to overcoming it.â€ Okay, Iâ€™ll bite: why is my work thus far inadequate to my own charge? (And what exactly does this meanâ€”what charge, exactly?) Iâ€™m not trying to pick a fight here; Iâ€™m always seeking to improve my work. And maybe there are different views here about the kinds of things that need to be developed, which would then be a potentially fruitful topic for discussion.
4. In response to the Chicago Political Workshop post, Chris Cutrone engaged some of the issues yesterday. It is not clear to me whether Chris is criticizing me, and if so, why. But his posting can be read as one that links me to â€œtraditional Marxismâ€â€”â€œInstead, it becomes a matter of one form of analysis (Postone) as better than another (Kliman, et al., or, as Postone puts it, â€˜traditional Marxismâ€™)â€â€”and to an alleged call for â€œfor some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalismâ€ to the exclusion of other analyses and inquires.[Chris Cutrone response to the Chicago Political Workshop:]
Again, Iâ€™m not sure of Chrisâ€™s intent, so Iâ€™ll just discuss this possible reading. The â€œtraditional Marxismâ€ notion is strange and ill-informed. What is â€œtraditional Marxismâ€ about the Marxist-Humanism developed by Raya Dunayevskaya, which the Marxist-Humanist Initiative is now attempting to renew organizationally? She was no traditional Marxist in the eyes of the traditional Marxists who turned her into an un-person (the historical-literary allusion is intentional). What is â€œtraditional Marxismâ€ about the temporal single-system interpretation of Marxâ€™s value theory, the proponents of which, myself included, have been turned into un-persons (the historical-literary allusion is intentional) by the traditional Marxist value theorists?
As for the alleged call for â€œfor some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalismâ€ to the exclusion of other analyses and inquiries, I have no affinity with it. I am not calling for people to come down on one side or the other of a rigid, binary, either/or choice between â€œeconomicsâ€ and everything else. I think the notion that we have to pick and choose is ridiculous.
Unfortunately, Chris doesnâ€™t agree that it is ridiculous. For reasons that are unclear to me, he presents the options open to us as a rigid either/or choice: â€œAs if the reproduction of capital is primarily a matter of *economics* (and not politics, culture, or ideology)!â€ Why do we have to choose? Canâ€™t it be a matter of all four? And why the word â€œprimarilyâ€? This seems to suggest that there must be a hierarchy of determinants thatâ€™s the same in all cases, and that â€œeconomicsâ€ is separate fromâ€“if not indeed opposed toâ€“politics, culture, and ideology, rather than all of them being mutually constituting moments of one total process.
The need to choose also seems to be implicit in the following phrases of Chrisâ€™s: â€œTHE problem of capitalismâ€ and â€œTHE problem of capitalâ€ (my caps). I donâ€™t really understand these phrases, but Iâ€™m skeptical of the reduction of a very complex set of processes to one â€œproblemâ€â€”THE problem. But note that if thereâ€™s just one problem, then itâ€™s more plausible that thereâ€™s just one best approach to THE problem, and thus it becomes more plausible that we have to choose THE best approach.
And then Chris says, â€œWe do indeed need an adequate analysis of our contemporary situation. Platypus chooses, quite deliberately, to analyze the present in terms of history, the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.â€ I have no problem with analyzing â€œthe present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.â€ Thatâ€™s also what Dunayevskaya did, again and again, and itâ€™s what my comrades and I in Marxist-Humanist Initiative are trying to do today.
But here again, Chris burdens us with a dubious â€œtheâ€: â€œanalyze THE present in terms of history â€¦ a history of unresolved problems on the Leftâ€ (my caps). The only sense I can make of this is that Chris means that Platypus chooses, quite deliberately , to ignore any dimension of â€œtheâ€ present that canâ€™t be sliced and diced so as to fit the Procrustean bed of â€œa history of unresolved problems on the Left.â€ For surely, to take just one key example, the current NON-reproduction of capitalâ€”the current economic (and therefore political, cultural, and ideological) crisisâ€”is a significant aspect of â€œthe problem of capitalâ€ today, an important aspect of â€œthe present.â€ But there just ainâ€™t no way that one can fruitfully discuss it â€œas the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.â€ Unless one wants to just ignore this significant dimension of â€œthe present,â€ I think it would be more useful to seriously study the theories of value and crisis in Capital and the daily news in the financial press.
Chris writes, â€œWhereas Marx critiqued the bourgeois philosophy and political-economy of the heroic period (of Kant and Hegel and Adam Smith and David Ricardo, et al.) and the ideology of his contemporary socialist â€œLeftâ€ (of Proudhon, et al.) â€¦ we in Platypus start with the problematic consciousness on the present-day â€œLeftâ€ and its historical roots, what the present â€œLeftâ€ has abandoned as being symptomatic of its fatal problems.â€ Again, I have no trouble with subjecting to scrutiny â€œthe problematic consciousnessâ€ of the contemporary Left. But Chrisâ€™s historical analogy suffers, I think, from an insufficient appreciation of the Kantian sense in which Marx â€œcritiquedâ€ political economy. It was a critique not just of ideology and philosophy and economic thought, but a critique of the conditions needed for them to existâ€”a critique of the mode of production and corresponding social formation upon which this ideology and philosophy and economic thought arise, and which make them possible.
Now, Iâ€™m not saying that the consciousness of the Left needs to be understood by deriving it from the vicissitudes of the mode of production. Iâ€™m just saying that critique in the sense of Marxâ€™s phrase â€œruthless critique of all that existsâ€ is not a critique of â€œconsciousnessâ€ detached from all else.
Chrisâ€™s rigid binary emerges the most clearly, however, in the following: â€œThe spirit of Marx today is not to be found in the immanent-ideology critique of the New York Times columns of Paul Krugman et al., let alone an analysis of â€˜economicâ€™ phenomena, BUT RATHER in the political and â€˜philosophical,â€™ cultural and psychological critique of the supposed (but actually pseudo-) â€˜Left,â€™ and its critical recognition as the product of a *regression* in theory and practice since the time of Marx and the best Marxistsâ€ (my caps). Again, I have nothing against looking at the issue that Chris wants to look at, but whatâ€™s this â€œbut ratherâ€ about? Why do we need to choose? And is it really in â€œthe spirit of Marxâ€ to ignore the worst economic crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, possibly soon to become the worst slump since the 1930sâ€”or maybe worse? No, of course it isnâ€™t. Thatâ€™s absurd. One matter â€œof consciousnessâ€ continues to intrigue and trouble me: the effort to declare that thereâ€™s one best way of looking and thinking, and that it is the same best way for everything. This effort, as I suggested above, goes hand in hand with a stringent reduction of complex processes and phenomena to single unitsâ€”â€œtheâ€ problem of capital, â€œtheâ€ present.
Chris Cutrone did not invent this approach. Iâ€™ve encountered it again and again among critical-theory-type folks, Western Marxists, whatever. For instance, at a New York book party for my book, Reclaiming Marxâ€™s â€œCapitalâ€: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency, Bertell Ollman kept counterposing his way of approaching Capital (as a discussion of alienation) to mine (which is evidently to focus narrowly on the myth of inconsistency, or on â€œeconomicsâ€â€”because, if I write a book about the myth of inconsistency, then, well, obviously, thatâ€™s how I approach Capital !). I just as insistently kept repeating that there was no need to chooseâ€”pointing out the cheese and focaccia that we had as refreshments at the event, I kept reminding the audience, â€œyou can have cheese AND focacciaâ€â€”but Ollman would have none of it.
This got me to thinking: Why would anyone want to defend the importance of alienation to Capital by dismissing the issue of Capitalâ€™s internal inconsistency and by dismissing a defense of its internal consistency?
And how could anyone think that he was actually defending Marxâ€™s discussion of alienation by projecting the attitude that the logical consistency of what Marx wrote is unimportant?!
So I came up with the following conjecture: The tendency toward rigid, totalizing either/or oppositions flows from a relativist or perspectivist position that has infected Western Marxism. As we all know, there are different ways of looking at and thinking about the world. But relativists and perspectivists go further. They claim that these different ways of looking and thinking are the ultimate determinants of the conclusions at which we arrive. In other words, they claim that, in the end, oneâ€™s perspective dominates over any input from logic and factsâ€”or that what counts as facts and logic, too, is determined by oneâ€™s perspective.
If that is so, then there are no â€œexternalâ€ facts and logic that determine the results of any inquiry. All results depend on the perspective one adopts, and the adoption of a perspective is just a matter of choiceâ€”no â€œexternalâ€ facts or logic induce one choice rather than another. So what becomes paramount is not to investigate the phenomena and answer the questions, but to struggle over the choice of perspective. Since the perspective determines the results, the hegemony of THE RIGHT way of looking and thinking is all important. And since there are no â€œexternalâ€ facts or logic that would allow us to say that this method might be helpful to answering this kind of question, while that method might be appropriate to the investigation of that problem, thereâ€™s a strong tendency to TOTALIZE the struggle for the hegemony of oneâ€™s perspective. If one accepts that oneâ€™s perspective is partial, one is accepting the legitimacy of a different perspective, and since there are no â€œexternalâ€ facts and logic that would determine the boundaries of either perspectiveâ€”this is appropriate for exploring the crisis of the Left, thatâ€™s appropriate for explaining the current economic crisis, etc.â€”there is just an interminable turf battle, ranging over the entire turf. So in order that oneâ€™s perspective not be globally defeated by an alien perspective, one must struggle for the global defeat of the alien perspective.
In the real world (and in intellectual endeavors where getting real results, not just panache, matters), no one thinks like this. We donâ€™t wipe our butts with spatulas; we donâ€™t cook with toilet paper; and we donâ€™t ask which one we primarily need in order to grapple with â€œtheâ€ problem of daily living. Thank goodness.[Chris Cutrone replied:]
1 comment: Chris Cutrone said at 11:15 pm on May 27th, 2009:
I agree that there is no question of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman. I think Principia Dialecticaâ€™s argument is tendentious, at best.
Similarly, I must admit to giving a rather one-sided polemical argument in my critique of the Chicago Political Workshop.
I was arguing against an economic-determinist approach. If I were to put it dialectically, I would say, following Marx, that one needs to inquire into the philosophical underpinnings of the economy as much as one might need to interrogate the political-economic conditions of thought.
I agree that a Kantian approach is appropriate, i.e., inquiring into conditions of possibility [inquiring into the conditions of possibility for capitalism].
So I would not want to be mistaken for giving an either/or view of economics vs. philosophy, etc.
On the other hand, I would stand by the formulation of a question of â€œtheâ€ problem of capital. For the totalizing process of capital is not a matter of an apparent static heterogeneity, as if there is no difference at any moment (there is), but rather how the concrete and particular play out over time (and this in a complicated way).
And so I would not chalk up emancipatory potential to such difference, which I see as potentially (and usually) contributing precisely to the reproduction of capital, rather than its overcoming over time.
I donâ€™t think itâ€™s a matter of adopting a (single) perspective, but rather, looking back over history, there was a trajectory from Marx to Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky that brought to a head the crisis (for humanity, in a historical sense) of capital, which has been abandoned since then. In other words, I think the contradiction of capital was manifested by historical revolutionary Marxism, rather than the latter just responding to it. I think -- and itâ€™s Platypusâ€™s point of departure -- that the history of the Left is the history of capital brought to its highest expression. This history offers us a potential perspective, perhaps not the only one, but the best one, or, more accurately, the most necessary one that is available.
In the words of Sebastian Haffner, author of Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19, this history illuminates the present -- reveals it in definite relief -- like a piercing laser beam.
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P.S. I would encourage everyone interested to review my exchange with the Marxist Humanist Peter Hudis in the Platypus Review on capital in history:
My original article:
Peter Hudis reply: