Historical Materialism

Published by Brill Academic Publishers
Online ISSN: 1569-206X
Print ISSN: 1465-4466
As an accompaniment to the translation into English of Louis Althusser's 'Letter to the Central Committee of the PCF, March 18th, 1966', this note provides the historical and theoretical context necessary to understand Althusser's 'anti-humanist' interventions into French Communist Party policy decisions during the mid-1960s. Because nowhere else in Althusser's published writings do we see as clearly the political stakes involved in his philosophical project, nor the way in which this project evolved from a 'theoreticist' pursuit into a more practical one, the note also argues that the letter is of importance to Althusser scholars, to historians of Marxist thought, and to those interested in the relevance of Althusser's work to contemporary Marxist philosophy.
Reiner Tosstorff's book gives a detailed account of the history of the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU), founded in 1921 as a body associated with the Communist International. Whereas the Comintern organised the minority of workers belonging to revolutionary parties, the trade-unions were the mass-organisation of the class. Tosstorff traces the various organisational problems that attended the founding of the RILU, and the splits, alliances, manoeuvres, negotiations and compromises that characterised its early years. From 1924 onwards the RILU rapidly became no more than an appendage of the Comintern, echoing the errors and betrayals of the latter body. The book contains a wealth of historical detail that makes it the standard work on the question. It may also have contemporary relevance to the way in which Marxists relate to the post-Seattle generation of anti-capitalists.
This review-essay looks at three texts from, or about, the early days of the Situationist International. The first volume of Guy Debord's Correspondence reveals the SI's internal discussions during their decisive first three years; Bernstein's book represents an example of the continued relevance of the technique of détournement; while Wark's text demonstrates both the breadth of the Situationist project and that, despite being continually mined by the academy, activists, the creative industries, and other more sinister recuperators, their work has not been depleted of its vitality. Taken together, the three books undermine a series of preconceptions about the SI, namely in terms of Debord's role at the centre of the group and the SI's engagement with the forces of the `spectacled'.
The persistence of economic and geopolitical conflicts beyond the 1990s has revived interest in explanations that analyse international conflicts in relation to capitalism. In this debate, many contributors have accepted one or another version of a strong globalisation theory, which reflects the hopes for an age of peace and prosperity as a largely co-operative process. This paper attempts to question this thesis by introducing an almost forgotten debate: the German world-market debate of the 1970s. This approach attempted to show how the general laws of motion of capitalism prevail under changing conditions. Furthermore it pointed to the existence of many states, which again and again reproduces the reality of multipolar competitive capitalism, albeit in changing forms. In the following we outline the central - sometimes diverging - insights, before subjecting them to a critical appraisal and identifying a number of points where the theses could be developed further. Taking up the threads of that debate without repeating its weaknesses could prove productive for today's discussion.
This article presents a broad analysis of the political economy and dynamics of social change during the first year (January 2006-January 2007) of the Evo Morales government in Bolivia. It situates this analysis in the wider historical context of left-indigenous insurrection between 2000 and 2005, the changing character of contemporary capitalist imperialism, and the resurgence of anti-neoliberalism and anti-imperialism elsewhere in Latin America. It considers at a general level the overarching dilemmas of revolution and reform. Part II of this three-part essay addresses four major themes. First, it reviews the literature on revolution in contemporary Bolivia. Second, it explains why the 2000 to 2005 period is best conceived as a revolutionary epoch in which left-indigenous social forces were engaged in a combined liberation struggle against racial oppression and class exploitation. However, it argues that this revolutionary epoch has not led to social revolution. Third it examines in detail the electoral rise of Evo Morales and his Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) party in the December 2005 elections. Fourth, it explores the historical trajectory of the MAS in terms of its changing class composition, ideology, and political strategies since the party's inception in the late 1990s.
As soon as he had observed labour to be `first of all, a process between man and nature', Marx turned to conscious determination. `Man not only affects a change of form in the materials of nature, he also realises his own purpose in these materials. And this is a purpose he is conscious of. It is purpose which distinguishes labour from the activities of animals. Marx called the purposive character of labour `an exclusively human characteristic' and the term indicates its fundamental importance in his thought. As it is purposive activity, so labour is `a specific productive activity appropriate to its purpose, a productive activity that assimilate[s] particular natural materials to a particular human requirement'.3 Since ends are specific by definition, this has to be the case, and neither absence of skill nor indifference effect the issue one way or the other. Work does not cease to be particular (i) because it demands no special capacities - tightening screws and stacking shelves do not stop being different kinds of activity by virtue of the fact that anyone can perform them; or (ii) because no store its set by its distinctive qualities. In its accounts, capital may treat different kinds of labour uniformly as a cost of production, but this does not alter the fact that the labour it employs comprises different types of labour: `the fact that the production of use-values or goods is carried on under the control of a capitalist and on his behalf does not alter the general character of that production'.4 In which case, we ask, what is labour which is not particular? If labour is always and necessarily a specific productive activity, what is abstract labour — `homogenous labour' which, by definition, is not specific?
In the first part of this two-part article, I argued that, unlike the asocial classical (Ricardian) labour theory of value, Marx's labour theory of value is a `truly social' one. In fact, it is a purely social one. Marx's theory of value is nothing but his theory of the social forms distinctive of the capitalist mode of production. Thus, we may speak of those forms as value-forms, the (generalised) commodity, money (in its several forms), capital, wage-labour, surplus-value and its forms of appearance (profit, interest, and rent), and more. The labour that produces value, then, is labour of a peculiar social sort. This thought is entirely foreign to the classical labour theory of value, and, likewise, to Marxist accounts of value theory that mistake it for a radical version of Ricardian value theory. The gulf between the classical and the Marxian labour theories of value is wide.
To make abstractions hold good in actuality means to destroy actuality.
Following the publication of my book The New Dialectic and Marx's 'Capital', and the symposium on it in Historical Materialism 13.2, a critique by Roberto Finelli recently appeared: 'Abstraction versus Contradiction: Observations on Chris Arthur's The New Dialectic and Marx's “Capital”' in Historical Materialism 15.2. Finelli argues that my systematic dialectic is not taken sufficiently far, in that I retain presuppositions not posited by the capitalist totality. Here, I argue against Finelli's closed totality of wholly abstract forms, not least because it affords no realistic exit strategy. I reaffirm that the logic of contradiction is required to conceptualise the capital relation.
This article reconsiders Marx's thinking on religion in light of current preoccupations with the encroachment of religious practices and beliefs into political life. It argues that Marx formulates a critique of the anticlerical and Enlightenment-critique of religion, in which he subsumes the secular repudiation of spiritual authority and religious transcendence into a broader analysis of the `real abstractions' that dominate our social existence. The tools forged by Marx in his engagement with critiques of religious authority allow him to discern the `religious' and `transcendent' dimension of state and capital, and may contribute to a contemporary investigation into the links between capitalism as a religion of everyday life and what Mike Davis has called the current `reenchantment of catastrophic modernity'.
This intervention concerns the different statute of abstraction in Marx's work. By means of a critical confrontation with Chris Arthur's work, Finelli presents his thesis of the presence of a double theory and fuction of abstraction in Marx's work. In the early Marx, until the German Ideology, abstraction is, in accordance with the traditional meaning of this term, a product of the mind, an unreal spectre. More exactly, it consists in negating the common essence belonging to labouring humanity and projecting it, as alienated universal, into the idea of philosophy, into the state of politics and into the money of the market. In the later Marx, the nature of abstraction is, rather than mental, practical. It is directly related to the quantity without quality of capitalist labour, and it is the product of the systemic connection of machines to labour-power. In contrast to Arthur, Finelli maintains that practical abstraction in the Marx of Capital is not located in the zone of exchange and the market, where there is the mediation of money. On the contrary, it is located in the zone of production, which, for Marx, is a social ensemble not mediated by money but by relations of technological domination.
The digitisation of academic journals has created the technical possibility that research can be made available to any interested party free of charge. This possibility has been undermined by the proprietary control that commercial publishers exercise over the majority of this material. The control of commercial publishers over publicly-funded research has been criticised by charitable bodies, politicians and academics themselves. While the existing critical literature on academic publishers has considerable value, it fails to link questions of control within the journal-industry to the wider restructuring of economic and social relations that has taken place over the last three decades. This article seeks to complement this literature by highlighting how broader profitability pressures and the subsequent attempts by state-managers to expand the social space for capitalist accumulation have structured the development of the journal-industry.
This paper situates the subprime crisis in the context of the performance of the American economy over the last twenty-five years. The restructuring of the US economy is briefly reviewed, followed by an examination of some of the contradictions of the neoliberal model. Particular emphasis is placed on understanding the reasons behind stagnant investment, and how the US finance-led accumulation-régime has become dependent upon, and threatened by, credit-creation delinked from the financing of fixed-capital formation. I argue that while the defeat of the remnants of the New-Deal/Civil-Rights liberal-democratic coalition has provided the political context for the bold re-assertion of the prerogatives of capitalist owners, the neoliberal model has not provided a path out of problems of stagnation and growing debt-dependency that presently plague the US (and global) economy. Further, I argue that evidence suggests that the post-1982 restoration of profitability that underpinned the relative improvement of US economic performance has peaked, and that compelling historical and theoretical reasons exist to expect that the profit-rate will decline in the coming decade. This will introduce additional stresses on the current debt-structure of the US economy, triggering a period of prolonged crisis and economic dislocation. The conclusion is that the US economy faces the spectre of a protracted crisis associated with the reassertion of the falling rate of profit.
Concerned to remedy the `state of severe disarray' that immobilises the left in advanced capitalist countries, Howard Chodos and Colin Hay set out to inquire into `the organisational conditions that are necessary to the radical transformation of capitalism'. This disarray is expressed in the drift of social-democratic parties in the wake of the neoliberal mainstream, the inability of a fragmented and disappearing radical Left to orient either itself or spontaneous resistance to the global neoliberal agenda, and the failure of the `new' social movements as a vehicle of `broader social transformation'. Against this background of fragmentation, dispersal and division, the authors spell out their central contention: the idea that `there is a distinctively creative component to politics', as the claim that organisation in general and the political party in particular provide the necessary context for the actualisation of `belief-dependent emergent capacities'. Fulfilling a `multi-dimensional mediating function', the party provides `an indispensable context in which we can define who we are and what we stand for', a locus for the definition of commonalities, and hence it constitutes a basis for strategic action.
This article reviews a cross-section of the globalisation-literature written prior to the unfolding economic crisis of 2007. It assesses the literature in terms of its apprehending of changes in capitalism and the prospects for social change that are envisioned.
Adam Smith in Beijing is a huge and sprawling book, but Giovanni Arrighi has done a great service with his world-historical vision of today's capitalism and the growing rivalry between a fading American empire and the rising power of China. This is a task beyond most of us, and one bound to put the writer at risk of criticism from many quarters. The book shines in two regards. One is to make geographical dynamics central to world-history - which means seeing the global economy as more than the sum of development-histories of many places or, worse, the spread of capitalism from one country to another. A second virtue is embedding economic history in the politics of the international state-system, featuring the use of force, imperial expansion, and the role of hegemonic powers. Nevertheless, Arrighi's economic-geographic analysis fails to convince on a number of critical points, such as the origins of industrial revolution, why Europe overtook China in early modern times, why the US economy faltered after 1970, why finance has run amuck in our time, how Japan grew so enormously after World War II, or why China is expanding so prodigiously today.
This contribution examines Arrighi's effort in Adam Smith in Beijing to understand the trajectory of China's political economy and the effects of that trajectory on the current reforms and changes in China. This article discusses these reforms from the perspective of China's 'internal' dynamics and suggests that Arrighi's argument has been developed without proper reference to China's complex realities. As an alternative, the contribution proposes a research-agenda that could better account for these realities.
Giovanni Arrighi's last book is compared with Andre Gunder Frank's Re-Orient. The implications of Arrighi's study of the East/West-comparison for comprehending world-historical evolution and the political issues of the current conjuncture are considered.
This article presents Theodor W. Adorno's concept of education, the basis of which is critical self-reflection. It argues that a close reading of Adorno's various writings on education yields a theory of critical self-reflection that is not simply introspection but an analysis of the social totality. Beginning with Adorno's assessment of education within capitalism - which is always a critique of capitalism itself - the article moves through his concept of critical self-reflection, and concludes by reassessing his claim that an education for critical self-reflection offers the strongest barrier to the recurrence of Auschwitz.
In conversation with two artist friends recently, both declared that Adorno was a far more serious and productive guide to their practices than any other philosopher or aesthetician. Given their work and histories as artists - one had lived through the period of conceptual art and had been won over briefly to its arguments, the other had emerged out of its ruins — this was a surprise. Like many artists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, both had fallen under the sway of Walter Benjamin, and were convinced, in their respective ways, that the dissolution of the category of Art into the forms of modern technology and everyday life was a good thing. Indeed, both artists were proselytisers for photography and its powers of social reference and communality. Discussions of art's autonomy were not on their checklist of priorities. In fact, if autonomy was discussed or thought of at all, it was denounced as a bourgeois category. Autonomy was what Clement Greenberg and modernist painters believed in, and the bane of all materialist art criticism. It was not what serious post-conceptualist artists, armed with the `critique of representation' and theories of the social production of art, should be worrying about.
Bertolt Brecht and Theodor W. Adorno stand for opposing modes and stances within an artistic modernism oriented toward radical social transformation. In his 1962 essay `Commitment', Adorno advanced a biting critique of Brecht's work and artistic position. Adorno's arguments have often been dismissed but, surprisingly, are seldom closely engaged with. This paper assesses these two approaches that have been so central to twentieth-century debates in aesthetics: Brecht's dialectical realism and Adorno's sublime or dissonant modernism. It provides what still has been missing: a close reading and immanent critique of Adorno's case against Brecht. And it clarifies one methodological blind spot of Adorno's formalist conceptualisation of autonomy: he fails to provide the detailed analysis of context that his own dialectical method immanently calls for. The paper shows how and why Brecht's dialectical realism holds up under Adorno's attack, and draws conclusions for contemporary artistic practice.
In one of his many metaphorical turns of phrase - a leitmotif in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity — Jürgen Habermas speaks of the path not taken by modern philosophers, a path that might have led them towards his own intersubjective notion of communicative reason. Habermas is especially critical of his predecessors, Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, because, he believes, they repudiated the rational potential in the culture of modernity. Whenever Adorno and Horkheimer heard the word `culture', they apparently reached for their revolvers. By the 1940s, their confidence in modern culture had allegedly succumbed to bitter disillusionment. Indeed, on Habermas's view, the confidence of these early critical theorists had been shaken so badly by the emergence of Nazism and Stalinism that their scepticism finally embraced reason itself, `whose standards ideology critique had found already given in bourgeois ideals'. Consequently, Adorno and Horkheimer were forced to call into question their own immanent critique of modernity: ideology critique itself came `under suspicion of not producing (any more) truths'. These philosophers supposedly had little choice but to render their now suspect critique `independent even in relation to its own foundations'.
Starting from the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, with its Brechtian curatorial theme, this essay considers the Left's varying responses to art's so-called `political turn'. Discussion ranges from the local and regional context of the Biennial's function as part of Turkey's bid to join the EU, through to a longer theoretical perspective on the critical debates over `art and life', artistic autonomy and heteronomy, and the revival in avant-gardism. The authors propose that the standard accounts of the intimate connection between the commodity and art have become politically counterproductive. They suggest that Marxist analysis needs to develop a more complexly-articulated philosophical reflection on the relation between economy, politics, and art - and between political and aesthetic praxes - if it is to advance its longstanding contributions to considerations of `aesthetics and politics'.
This review essay analyses the proposed synthesis of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxism, which often presents itself as a critique of the kind of utopianism associated with 'Freudo-Marxism'. In Yannis Stavrakakis's The Lacanian Left (2007) this anti-utopianism slides towards a left reformism, in which the emphasis on constitutive lack prevents any thinking of transformation. Ian Parker's Revolution in Psychology (2007) presents a bracing but reductive polemic, in which psychology and psychoanalysis seem to function as mere reflections of capitalist ideology. What goes missing in both accounts is the possibility of a re-thinking of subjectivity, both individual and collective, posed between Lacanian psychoanalysis and Marxism.
There are two different ways of understanding alienation: as a condition and as a struggle. On this distinction turns the whole theory and practice of Marxism.
Althusser dedicated the fourth lesson of his 'course of philosophy for scientists' at the Ecole Normale Supériere in the autumn of the 1967 to the inaugural lecture held by Jacques Monod at the Collège de France on 3 November in the same year. Althusser defined the concepts of 'living system' and of 'emergence' that Monod uses in his interpretation of evolution as 'materialist'; whereas he judged his conception of human history as the evolution of ideas in the 'noosphere' as 'idealistic'. Against the latter, Althusser counterposed a reading of Marx's work centred on the notion of 'structure' - which is very close to that of 'system' used within biology - and on the refusal of teleology and finalism. This last position, which Althusser takes up particularly in the writings of the 1980s on the 'materialism of the encounter', represent a particularly significant break with orthodox Marxism.
In light of the general lack of awareness of the long history of Western-Marxist fascination with the Bible, this article offers a synopsis of part of that history. After showing how the Bible was an important element in the work of Ernst Bloch, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, it the offers a critique of the current engagements with it by Alain Badiou, Slavoj Žižek, Terry Eagleton and Giorgio Agamben. The third section deals with the most significant element of the religious Left in recent years, namely liberation theology. It closes with some comments concerning the growth of Marxist biblical studies and some suggestions for the way Marxism might reconnect with a non-reified biblical tradition.
Giovanni Arrighi made a remarkably broad-ranging and original contribution to comparative political economy and historical sociology over five decades. His last book shares these qualities. But Adam Smith in Beijing is unfortunately not mainly about the origins and dynamics of Chinese capitalism over the past three decades. It presents Adam Smith not as the apostle of free-market capitalism, but rather of a `non-capitalist market society'; and it uses this to make the case that since China's economic development takes place outside the European/North American capitalist `core', it must, almost by definition, not be capitalist. Markets are conceived here as the instruments of states, yet the theory of the state advanced is severely undeveloped. Arrighi's argument that China's economic development is part and parcel of the demise of the US project for establishing itself as the `world state' misinterprets the nature of the US empire as well as misses the extent of China's integration with US-led capitalist globalisation.
In the past few years there has been a renewed interest in the work of Louis Althusser, although, in some cases, this interest has been one-sided, focusing mainly on his later writings on aleatory materialism. The three books reviewed in this article, however, offer balanced and insightful overviews of the totality of Althusser's work, placing it in the wider context of Marxist political and theoretical debates and stressing both its originality and strengths, but also its contradictions.
This article is a reflection on Balibar's account of the concept of Gewalt in Marx, Engels and Marxism. The German term contains both the meanings of power and violence. At the centre of the analysis is the structural link between the notion of Gewalt and the capitalist mode of production and state-form. The problem is whether Gewalt can be understood in relation to the actions of the working class. Balibar rightly refuses any sort of counter-politics of power set against the power of the state which would retain the same overall logic as the latter. However, the question is how such a critique of the ahistorical ontology of violence can interact with Marx's idea of capital as a constitutively violent entity which threatens to subordinate to itself any stance of non-violence.
[AbstractThe discussion of the American Civil War as a bourgeois revolution, reopened by John Ashworth’s recent work, needs to be based on a more explicit conceptualisation of what the category does, and does not, involve. This essay offers one such conceptualisation. It then deals with two key issues raised by the process of bourgeois revolution in the United States: the relationship between the War of Independence and the Civil War, and whether the nature of the South made conflict unavoidable. It then argues that the American Revolution is unique for two reasons: the non-feudal nature of Southern society and the fact that the Northern industrial bourgeoisie, unlike their European contemporaries, were still prepared to behave in a revolutionary way., Abstract The discussion of the American Civil War as a bourgeois revolution, reopened by John Ashworth’s recent work, needs to be based on a more explicit conceptualisation of what the category does, and does not, involve. This essay offers one such conceptualisation. It then deals with two key issues raised by the process of bourgeois revolution in the United States: the relationship between the War of Independence and the Civil War, and whether the nature of the South made conflict unavoidable. It then argues that the American Revolution is unique for two reasons: the non-feudal nature of Southern society and the fact that the Northern industrial bourgeoisie, unlike their European contemporaries, were still prepared to behave in a revolutionary way.]
This article, which will appear in three parts over three issues of Historical Materialism, presents a broad analysis of the political economy and dynamics of social change during the first year (January 2006-January 2007) of the Evo Morales government in Bolivia. It situates this analysis in the wider historical context of left-indigenous insurrection between 2000 and 2005, the class structure of the country, the changing character of contemporary capitalist imperialism, and the resurgence of anti-neoliberalism and anti-imperialism elsewhere in Latin America. It considers, at a general level, the overarching dilemmas of revolution and reform. These considerations are then grounded in analyses of the 2000-5 revolutionary epoch, the 18 December 2005 elections, the social origins and trajectory of the Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) as a party, the complexities of the relationship between indigenous liberation and socialist emancipation, the process of the Constituent Assembly, the political economy of natural gas and oil, the rise of an autonomist right-wing movement, US imperialism, and Bolivia's relations with Venezuela and Cuba. The central argument is that the economic policies of the new government exhibit important continuities with the inherited neoliberal model and that advancing the project of indigenous liberation and socialist emancipation will require renewed self-activity, self-organisation and strategic mobilisation of popular left-indigenous forces autonomous from the MAS government.
What is the young Marx's attitude towards questions of psychology? More precisely, what is his attitude towards the human mind and its relationship to the body? To deal adequately with this issue requires a consideration of the relationship between Marx and Feuerbach. It also requires some discussion of the thought of Aristotle. For the views of Feuerbach and the young Marx are (in some respects) not at all original. Rather, they represent a continuation of a long tradition which derives ultimately from ancient Greek philosophy, and especially from the philosophy of Aristotle. As is well known, Aristotle's thought with respect to questions of psychology are mostly presented, by way of a critique of the doctrines of the other philosophers of his day, in his De Anima. W.H. Walsh has made the perceptive observation that Aristotle's views might be seen as an attempt to develop a third approach which avoids the pitfalls usually associated with the idealism of Plato, on the one hand, and the materialism of Democritus on the other. It might be argued that there is an analogy between the situation in which Aristotle found himself in relation to the idealists and materialists of his own day and that which confronted Marx in the very early 1840s. For, like Aristotle, Marx also might be seen as attempting to develop such a third approach. The difference is simply that, in the case of Marx, the idealism in question is that of Hegel rather than that of Plato, and the materialism is the `mechanical materialism' of the eighteenth century rather than that of Democritus. This obvious parallel might well explain why Marx took such a great interest in Aristotle's De Anima both during and shortly after doing the preparatory work for his doctoral dissertation - the subject matter of which, of course, is precisely the materialist philosophy of the ancient Greek atomists Democritus and Epicurus.
In light of Perry Anderson's recent re-Iaunch of New Left Review, and the publication of Gregory Elliott's Perry Anderson: The Merciless Laboratory of History, it is perhaps an opportune moment for Marxists to assess Anderson's contribution to socialist strategic thought. At the heart of Anderson's manifesto is the claim that the principal aspect of the past decade `can be defined as the virtually uncontested consolidation, and universal diffusion, of neoliberalism'. There is, obviously, something in this claim. However, Anderson also briefly notes, amongst other counter-currents, the labour upsurge in France in 1995, but dismisses the significance of these events with the claim that `capital has comprehensively beaten back all threats to its rule'. Anderson compares the context of the launch of the first New Left Review with that of the present day. He writes that, back then, a third of the planet had broken with capitalism, the discrediting of Stalinism in 1956 had unleashed a vital process of the rediscovery of authentic Marxism, while, culturally, there had been a qualitative break with the conformism of the 1950s. Today, by contrast, American capitalism has reasserted its international primacy, European social-democratic governments are implementing policies designed to follow the American model, Japan is suffering from a slump, while the Russian catastrophe has produced no popular backlash. Moreover, the Western powers have recently asserted themselves successfully in the Balkans, and, despite upsurges against capital in the 1990s, `no collective agency able to match the power of capital is yet on the horizon'. How are socialists to respond to this diagnosis? In this essay, I want to locate the logic of Anderson's interpretation of the present conjuncture within the context of his previous strategic claims. I will argue that, while socialists will always have much to learn from Anderson, strategically his thought has systematically suffered from a form of political impressionism. This suggests that his interpretation of the present conjuncture may fail the test of history.
In Considerations on Western Marxism, released in 1976, Perry Anderson stated and vindicated an affiliation to the Trotskyist tradition long apparent from the pages of New Left Review under his editorship. Central to this tradition, in its orthodox forms, was a historico-political perspective which regarded the Soviet Union (and cognate regimes) as `degenerate' or `deformed' `workers' states' - post-capitalist social formations whose complex character dictated rejection of Stalinism and anti-Sovietism alike. In Anderson's case, this orientation received a Deutscherite inflection: abroad, no less than at home, Soviet power was a contradictory phenomenon, by turns reactionary (Czechoslovakia) and progressive (Vietnam, Angola). The potential regeneration of the Russian Revolution and its sequels, whether via `proletarian revolution' from below (Trotsky), or bureaucratic reformation from above (Deutscher), remained an article of faith among Marxists of this observance to the end. Accordingly, the debacle of Gorbachevite perestroika proved a profoundly disorientating experience for many who lent little or no credence to the mendacious claims of `actually existing socialism'. Amid capitalist euphoria at Communist collapse, what was to be said - and done? Anderson's displaced answer was forthcoming in 1992 in `The Ends of History'
The article addresses the divergent responses of the radical Left in Britain and France to the emergence of Muslims as a political subject in the advanced capitalist countries. It takes the case of a recent book by Daniel Bensaïd to illustrate the influence of a secular republican ideology that acts as an obstacle to French Marxists' recognition that assertions of Muslim identity should not simply be dismissed as reactionary but understood as potentially a rejection of the oppression suffered by Muslims in Western societies. The article calls for a recognition of the positive aspects of postcolonial theory and concludes that the Marxist interpretation of religion as a search for an other-worldly solution to real suffering and injustice should be applied consistently to all expressions of faith.
In February 2001, Turkey experienced her third and deepest economic crisis in fifteen months. The importance of the event far exceeds its Turkish confines for the following two reasons. First, the crisis is closely linked to changes in class relations in Turkey due to internationalisation of production and finance. Second, more generally, the crisis is a consequence of the absence of a world monetary system that could sustain the aforesaid internationalisation of production and finance. Integration of the Turkish capitalist class into the international economy under present conditions has generated enormous economic turbulence within the country, which first surfaced in the foreign exchange market. Crisis subsequently spread to finance, trade, and industry, with profound social and political implications. In this respect, the Turkish crisis is similar to other recent crises in the world economy, including South East Asia in 1997-8, Russia in 1998, and Brazil in 1998-9.
Karl Marx, philosopher of praxis — the theorist who rejected both the utopian socialists and the utopian putschists because of his core concept of the self-development of the working class through its own struggles. Was Marx necessarily limited because he lived and wrote in the nineteenth century - limited, not because capitalism was as yet `immature' (as many would have it), but because the proletariat was? Felton Shortall proposes that, able to observe neither the struggles for (and fate of) workers' councils and Soviets nor `the limitations of the workers' council form of organisation' as revealed by revolutionary experiences such as the `refusal to work', Marx could not proceed beyond the dialectic of capital.
Based on an account of the Brighton Photo-Biennial Memory of Fire: The War of Images and Images of War, curated by Julian Stallabrass in late 2008, this essay considers the photographic coverage of the recent imperialist interventions in the Middle East. Taking its cue from Stallabrass's event, it reflects on the decline of documentary and photojournalism since the Vietnam War and the current attenuated politics of the media. It argues that the problem of the sublime extends beyond the current genre of 'aftermath'-photography and asks what might constitute a more cognitively adequate politics of the image.
This essay argues that it is a matter of vital concern to develop a theoretical apparatus that is adequate to the inherent spatiotemporal dynamics of capital accumulation and the changing practices developed to manage the crisis tendencies of those dynamics. This requires integrating the a-spatial theory of capital accumulation and its internal contradictions with the spatial/geographical theory of imperialism that invokes geopolitical and geo-economic struggles between nation-states. I argue that the two are linked by the way capital deals with the problem of absorbing capital surpluses, namely through geographical (and temporal) fixes. The geographical fix requires imperialist expansionism and the battering down of all barriers to the spatial movement of capital. Such a conception provides the necessary clarity in formulating the relations between capital and state that are sometimes missing from Ellen M. Wood's arguments in Empire of Capital.
Walter Benjamin's writings on the Paris shopping arcades and nineteenth- century urban industrial culture are frequently referenced in contemporary examinations of `modernity'. In current cultural studies Benjamin's investigation of the aesthetics of merchandise and his insights into the social fact of mass consumerism are repeatedly invoked. Indeed these investigations may be alluded to even more frequently than reference is made to Benjamin's once much reproduced essay `The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'. A decade and a half ago Benjamin's `Artwork' essay (1935—9) was one of the most frequently cited essays in new art history and cultural studies academic textbooks. To put it crudely, a turnaround has occurred. In the 1970s academic (and non-academic) attention spotlit Benjamin's materialist history of artistic production, distribution and reception as presented in the `Artwork' essay and in `The Author as Producer' (1934). The political events of 1968 had made Benjamin extremely readable. His thoughts discharged after some years delay. Most alluring to the German 68ers were the statements on political art and Benjamin's dissections of fascism. Also entrancing were Benjamin's analyses of experience. Benjamin wrote extensively, and from early on, about ways of expanding the conceptualisation of experience: sometimes philosophically - by means of Kant-critique, sometimes aesthetically — by a probing of surrealism and psychoanalysis, and sometimes practically - through experiments with hashish, which were later written up as protocols. John Berger's Ways of Seeing (1972) represented an original attempt to introduce Benjamin to an English audience, via the appropriately mass mediation of television. Benjamin was adopted as a leftist mascot, and a materialist who could recommend directions for art interpretation and more importantly, cultural practice. The approaches of the 1980s and 1990s, inflected by the priorities of feminist and postmodernist scholarship as they have loomed in cultural studies, art history and sociology, increasingly turned to those aspects of Benjamin's work that appear to illuminate a burgeoning interest in urbanism and consumerism. Interest has shifted away from cultural production and critique towards consumption and characterization. These days, Benjamin is regularly served up as one of the theorists who can vindicate a feel-good consumerism, lending a glamourizing and theoretical loftiness to the activity of shopping. Indeed, far from blasting the chimeras of commodity fetishism, Benjamin becomes the commodity's high-priest.
This paper begins with the proposition that Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future (2005) is the most important theoretical contribution to utopian and science-fiction studies since Darko Suvin's Metamorphoses of Science Fiction (1979). It argues that Jameson's derivation of 'anti-anti-Utopianism' from Sartrean anti-anti-communism will provide 'the party of Utopia' with as good a slogan as it is likely to find in the foreseeable future. It takes issue with Jameson over two key issues: his overwhelming concentration on American science-fiction, which seems strangely parochial in such a distinguished comparativist; and his understanding of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four as an 'anti-Utopia' rather than a dystopia. The paper argues that, for Nineteen Eighty-Four, as for any other science-fiction novel, the key question is that identified by Jameson: not 'did it get the future right?', but rather 'did it sufficiently shock its own present as to force a meditation on the impossible?'. It concludes that Jameson fails to understand how this process works for dystopia as well as utopia, for barbarism as well as socialism.
This article aims to contribute to the debate on the short- to medium-term political implications of the 2001 Argentine crisis (see issues 10.4, pp. 5-38 and 14.1. pp. 155-248 of this journal). The bulk of the argument deals with the criticism of the notion of 'reinvention of politics'. The article presents the theoretical premises and empirical data which sustain this proposal. It is argued that in order to appreciate the political innovation brought about by the events of December 2001, it is important first to consider the political, social and economic forms of capitalist transformations and crises that shaped them. Secondly, to locate this event in historical perspective, as a constitutive node within a non-teleological continuum of resistance. Thirdly, to view capitalist crises as presenting open opportunities for the reinvention of the forms of resistance, and to underscore that reinvention occurs as a result of simultaneous struggles against capital and for self-affirmation and recognition. By using examples of organisational innovation and social intervention by the piquetero movement it is suggested that December 2001 led to new practices or facilitated the development of existing forms of collective action that have often been overlooked by those disappointed by the ensuing political developments. The article also discusses the problem of periodisation, addressing the relationship between Marxism and the use of data produced by non-Marxist researchers, and calls into question the adequacy of Cartesian rationality for understanding December 2001 and the meaning of political change in Argentina.
The notion of the labour-aristocracy is one of the oldest Marxian explanations of working-class conservatism and reformism. Despite its continued appeal to scholars and activists on the Left, there is no single, coherent theory of the labour-aristocracy. While all versions argue working-class conservatism and reformism reflects the politics of a privileged layer of workers who share in `monopoly' super-profits, they differ on the sources of those super-profits: national dominance of the world-market in the nineteenth century (Marx and Engels), imperialist investments in the `colonial world'/global South (Lenin and Zinoviev), or corporate monopoly in the twentieth century (Elbaum and Seltzer). The existence of a privileged layer of workers who share monopoly super-profits with the capitalist class cannot be empirically verified. This essay presents evidence that British capital's dominance of key-branches of global capitalist production in the Victorian period, imperialist investment and corporate market-power can not explain wage-differentials among workers globally or nationally, and that relatively well-paid workers have and continue to play a leading rôle in radical and revolutionary working-class organisations and struggles. An alternative explanation of working-class radicalism, reformism, and conservatism will be the subject of a subsequent essay.
The absence of would-be palpable skills in contemporary and modern art has become a commonplace of both conservative and radical art-criticism. Indeed, these criticisms have tended to define where the critic stands in relation to the critique of authorship and the limits of 'expression' at the centre of the modernist experience. In this article, I am less interested in why these criticisms take the form they do - this is a matter for ideology-critique and the sociology of criticism and audiences - than in the analysis of the radical transformation of conceptions in artistic skill and craft in the modern period. This will necessitate a focus on modernism and the avant-garde, and after, as it comes into alignment with, and retreat from, the modern forces of production and means of reproduction. Much, of course, has been written within the histories of modernism, and the histories of art since, on this process of confrontation and exchange - that is, between modern art's perceived hard-won autonomy and the increasing alienation of the artist, and the reification of art under the new social and technological conditions of advanced capitalist competition - little, however, has been written on the transformed conditions and understanding of labour in the artwork itself (with the partial exception of Adorno). This is because so little art-history and art-criticism - certainly since the 1960s - has been framed explicitly within a labour-theory of culture: in what ways do artists labour, and how are these forms of labour indexed to art's relationship to the development of general social technique (the advanced level of technology and science as it expressed in the technical conditions of social reproducibility)? In this article, I look at the modern and contemporary dynamics of this question.
China's political economy was just at a critical juncture when the East Asian financial and economic crisis erupted in 1997. The acceleration of the market-oriented transformation of the Chinese economic system in the preceding years, and with it the breakdown of the régime of accumulation that had underpinned two decades of sustained rapid growth, had resulted in economic stagnation and particularly mass unemployment. Viewed from a neoliberal perspective, these economic problems might be no more than the short-term adjustment cost in the transition to a fully-fledged market economy. Yet from an alternative perspective that draws lessons from the rise and fall of the `East Asian miracle', the problems imply a much more far-reaching impact of the systemic transformation - it amounts to switching to an entirely new régime of accumulation. And there is bound to be great dangers regarding the prospects for economic development under the new régime. Whether short-term or long-term, these serious economic problems, in conjunction with the worsening external environment associated with the East Asian crisis, have prompted the Chinese state leadership to at least temporarily backtrack from the market reform. A variety of policy measures of this nature have been rigorously implemented. By the beginning of the new century, with the easing of the economic problems and the improvement in the external environment, the country once again faces the uncertain future of whether to consolidate the existing régime of accumulation or to resume the switch to the market-regulated new régime.
Neoclassical economics remains the leading theoretical alternative to Marxian economics. In this article I shall contrast the accounts of technical change in capitalism proposed by both theories. I shall introduce five criteria relevant to a comparison of competing social theories, and argue that the Marxian perspective on technical change in capitalism is superior on all five counts.
Borio, Pozzi and Roggero (eds.) 2005 have characterised operaismo as 'neither a homogenous doctrinaire corpus, nor a unitary political subject', but rather 'multiple pathways with their roots in a common theoretical matrix'. Starting with a diagram drawn up by Primo Moroni in the 1980s, this paper will explore a number of the ways in which those paths might be mapped out, in terms of key categories and projects, above all for the years that follow 1979.
This article presents a broad analysis of the political economy and dynamics of social change during the first year (January 2006-January 2007) of the Evo Morales government in Bolivia. It situates this analysis in the wider historical context of left-indigenous insurrection between 2000 and 2005, the changing character of contemporary capitalism imperialism, and the resurgence of anti-neoliberalism and anti-imperialism elsewhere in Latin America. It considers at a general level the overarching dilemmas of revolution and reform. Part III examines the complexities of the politics of indigenous liberation and the political economy of the Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement Towards Socialism, MAS) government between January 2006 and January 2007. It pays special attention to the limits of reform in the hydrocarbons (natural gas and oil) sector. Also explained in Part III is the formation of an autonomist right-wing movement in the eastern lowlands, and how the new Right has intervened in the process of the Constituent Assembly. The article shows how the actual Constituent Assembly set into motion by the Morales administration in 2006 differs in fundamental terms from the revolutionary assembly envisioned by leading left-indigenous forces during the cycle of revolt in the first five years of this century.
The aim of this article is to bring class struggle back into the analysis of capitalist crisis, specifically in the exposition of the economic crisis in Korean. Since the emergence of the crisis, explanations of its origin have focused largely on excessive credit expansion, either in terms of excessive state intervention (stressed by neoliberals) or in terms of the removal of state regulation (emphasised by neo-institutionalists). In our view credit expansion was a normal reaction of Korean capitals to growing competitive pressures imposed by the tendencies to over-production inherent in the social form of capitalist production.
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Geert Reuten
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Christakis Georgiou
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