Kritik & theory

24Jul13

Carlos Marx

The left, global kicking off, and communisation theory

Roger Rashi, Sam GindinStephen Eric Bronner, Aaron Benanav, & Richard Rubin: Program and utopia. Extracts:

Aaron Benanav (Endnotes): …We in Endnotes want to say, “There was never a time when the Left really mattered. What mattered was something else — the workers’ movement.” The concept of the Left provided a way for Social Democrats and Leninists to solve ideationally what were in fact the real limits that the workers’ movement confronted. The concept of the Left allowed Social Democrats to expand their constituency beyond the working class, which became necessary because the workers never achieved the majority status in any country, with the exception of Belgium…

The aggregation of workers in industrial cities gave socialists the sense that, one day, they would be the majority. It was this idea, more than any other, that framed the revolutionary horizon of the workers’ movement. The organizations that the workers built for their defense within capitalism were supposed to function as the basis of future societies, but in fact, it was always either too early or too late for the workers’ movement. The growth rate of the industrial working class tended to decelerate over time. A heavy remainder — peasants and shopkeepers, and even the petty-bourgeois capitalists — seemed to suggest that the time of the revolution had not yet arrived. When this remainder of historically moribund classes had a decisive impact in the second half of the 20th century, the industrial working class itself was already going into decline: First, relative to the labor force as a whole, and then, absolutely….

Attempts to renew the Left, absent the intensification of class struggle, are bound to fail. All that such a project can achieve, it seems, is to attract students for a few years to do some reading groups and then move on with their lives. No intellectual milieu can survive in the absence of a real movement of the class. If Luxemburg said that, “After August 4th, 1914, Social Democracy is nothing but a nauseating corpse,” then in the years that followed she proved to be quite the necrophiliac. Instead of following in Luxemburg’s footsteps and trying to build a society of affiliated necrophiliacs, what is there to do? A lot of people in the audience are students or young workers. You don’t have the time or the luxury to prepare for the crisis. Austerity and rising youth unemployment affect you right now. There’s nothing for you to do but to fight now for whatever future you hope to save, to risk yourself in struggle as it really presents itself now, and thus to experience the limits that all such struggles confront in an attempt to coordinate disruptive activity across all sectors of the class. If this coordination merely depended on getting all ideas right, we’d all be doomed…

Richard Rubin (Platypus): … On a panel in Philadelphia I remember saying that Occupy was bound to fail, so the question was, “What lessons do we learn from it?” People gave me looks and expressed skepticism about my prognosis — but, really, how do you expect a bunch of people standing in Zucotti Park to transform global capitalism? You don’t have to think very hard to see the problem there, and in fact Occupy disintegrated much faster than I had expected. The utopianism that was being defended around Occupy came precisely from a feeling that it was not even going to bring about limited reforms. There’s a weird emotional psychology around utopianism, and the role that it plays on the Left today, that seems to stem from a disappointed reformism. People find it difficult to imagine even minimal reforms, and therefore, say, “Well, let’s demand the impossible” — or, at least, what they consider impossible. The one state solution today, which is taken to be the radical position, is nevertheless almost always formulated totally in the rhetoric of liberalism. It is no longer formulated, as it had been at times in the past, in the rhetoric of a joint struggle for socialism….

Looking at the long duration of the question of socialism, the problem has been that we have two negative examples of socialism: social democratic parties that have betrayed their socialist principles, on the one hand, and revolutions in backwards parts of the world that do manage to break with capitalism, but do not issue forth into a society that most of us would find genuinely emancipated. What is needed for humanity to survive, I would claim, is a world socialist revolution that takes power in advanced capitalist countries like the United States. But is that a possibility? Is that something one is going to put on the agenda?

Slavoj Zizek: Trouble in Paradise. Extract:

…A closer look reveals underlying similarities between Turkey and Greece: privatisation, the enclosure of public space, the dismantling of social services, the rise of authoritarian politics. At an elementary level, Greek and Turkish protesters are engaged in the same struggle. The true path would be to co-ordinate the two struggles, to reject ‘patriotic’ temptations, to leave behind the two countries’ historical enmity and to seek grounds for solidarity. The future of the protests may depend on it.

Jeffrey Isaac on Jodi Dean. Extract:

At the conventionally political level, The Communist Horizon suffers from its enthusiastic reading of Occupy as an “evental site.” The movement, considered broadly, still has an impact. And in places such as Greece, Spain, and Italy, it maintains real political traction by virtue of its strong links to social movements, labor unions, and political parties—in the plural. Yet, especially in the United States, both the actual physical presence and the political momentum of Occupy have largely faded from the scene. This could perhaps be regarded as confirmation of Dean’s point—that Occupy is doomed to failure until it embraces “the party.” But such a reading is implausible, because Dean’s entire account of why “the party” is indispensable hinges on the vitality of Occupy as a constituency and sign of a revolutionary moment requiring proper organization. This makes a serious political analysis of the present—its possibilities and its challenges—all the more pressing. And it makes the absence of any such analysis from The Communist Horizon all the more disappointing.

Crisis and crisis theory, etc

Michael Heinrich, Marx’s law and crisis theory. Extract:

We can derive a coherent theory of crisis from Marx’s works based on his LTRPF [aw of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall], his views on credit and banking (fictitious capital) and on world markets and imperialism.  Of course, there is plenty of work to be done in developing Marx’s theory of crisis in relation to modern developments and, as Marx did, we are learning more each day.  But Marx’s LTRPF remains the most robust explanation of capitalist crises and something way superior to alternative Keynesian and other mainstream economic explanations, which signally failed to explain the Great Recession.

Does [Naomi Klein] see any hope of something else, born perhaps of popular resistance to this class warfare? A concluding chapter of two-dozen pages (out of more than 500) addresses ‘the rise of people’s reconstruction’. Neo-liberalism’s nemesis is, wait for it, Morales! Hezbollah! Factory and farm co-ops in Argentina and Brazil! The French and Dutch rejection of the European constitution (the only reference to the EU in the whole book)! And Chavez of course. As people sort among the rubble of their societies, the final sentence tells us that “they are building in resilience—for when the next shock hits”. Naomi Klein’s totalizing vision of the contemporary world renders these scraps of resistance merely symbolic.

Frankfurt and Critical Theory

Foucault on the Frankfurt School (radicalarchives.org). Extract:

At that point I realized how the Frankfurt people had tried ahead of time to assert things that I too had been working for years to sustain. This even explains a certain irritation shown by some of them who saw that in France there were experiences that were- I won’t say identical but in some ways very similar. In effect, correctness and theoretical fecundity would have asked for a much more thorough acquaintance with and study of the Frankfurt School. As far as I’m concerned, I think that the Frankfurt School set problems that are still being worked on. Among others, the effects of power that are connected to a rationality that has been historically and geographically defined in the West, starting from the sixteenth century on. The West could never have attained the economic and cultural effects that are unique to it without the exercise of that specific form of rationality. Now, how are we to separate this rationality from the mechanisms, procedures, techniques, and effects of power that determine it, which we no longer accept and which we point to as the form of oppression typical of capitalist societies, and perhaps of socialist societies too? Couldn’t it be concluded that the promise of Aufkliirung (Enlightenment), of attaining freedom through the exercise of reason, has been, on the contrary, overturned within the domain of Reason itself, that it is taking more and more space away from freedom? It’s a fundamental problem that we all debate, that is common to so many, whether Communists or not. And this problem, as we know, was singled out by Horkheimer before the others; and it was the Frankfurt School that measured its relationship with Marx on the basis of this hypothesis. Wasn’t it Horkheimer who sustained that in Marx there was the idea of a society as being like an immense factory?



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