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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Revolution as method

In my post a few days ago, I proposed one way of looking at the ideology critique that runs through Marx’s writings – namely, in terms of a synchronic and diachronic grid. At the center of the grid, at the defining source of the synchronic and the diachronic, is an impossible present – which, from the Derridian perspective, joins – and logically can’t join – the synchronic and the diachronic, the modern and the historical. To my mind, this point is defined by revolution. Revolution here is the ground of the possibility of Marx’s own writing – his own thought, his own liberation. Marx is a unique social theorist in as much as his understanding of modernity, while it uses the apparatus of the positivist truth procedure and even offers predictions, such as those having to do with the crises of capitalism, does not stand or fall with the truth procedure, but with this revolutionary moment. Marx recognizes that the political economists are playing a kind of fixed game by presenting us with models that serve as the unquestioned reference points of our truth procedure. They, too, have a problem with the moment that ties together the synchronic and diachronic axes of their interpretation – but their strategy is to get around this moment by adopting infinite deferral, by changing the conversation, by promising to reform and repair a system that their very models mystify. The bourgeoisie have, indeed, made universal history possible – and in this sense have, indeed, operated on a worldwide revolutionary basis – but have done so within a sort of neurosis – to use a very non-Marxian term. The neurosis, or ideology, systematically trivializes its founding discovery – freedom – while encouraging the penetration of an economic system of commodity fetishism into every sphere of our private life. Marx likes to exaggerate this penetration – in fact, almost three hundred years after Adam Smith, altruism and a patchwork of non-fungible economic relationships are still the basis of private life. Prostitution has not replaced marriage; nor has the egotism of the marvelous Sadean fucker replaced the altruism of the harried parental unit.

In this sense, Lukacs is right in History and Class Consciousness:

“Materialist dialectic is a revolutionary dialectic. This definition is so important and altogether so crucial for an understanding of its nature that if the problem is to be approached in the right way this must be fully grasped before we venture upon a discussion of the dialectical method itself. The issue turns on the question of theory and practice. And this not merely in the sense given it by Marx when he says in his first critique of Hegel that “theory becomes a material force when it grips the masses.” [1] Even more to the point is the need to discover those features and definitions both of the theory and the ways of gripping the masses which convert the theory, the dialectical method, into a vehicle of revolution.”

While, at first glance, one might classify Marx, in Bakhtinian terms, as a great monologist, in actuality he is always pursuing a dialogue. The dialogue is not just with the masses – or rather, it is with the masses in the same way the dialogue of actors in a play take as a dialogue partner the audience that listens to them. Rather, his dialogue partners are very much in the mode of the figures that the Nephew of Rameau parodies in Diderot’s dialogue. Marx is an indefatigable ventriloquist. Like other highly sensitive post-Romantics – Flaubert, Baudelaire, Karl Kraus – he has such sensitive skin that the misuse of language can give him a rash. And so one feels him furiously scratching as he imagines his dialogue partners, from Adam Smith to Bastiat.

Thus, even as he pursues a serious theme, like commodity fetishism, and seeks to demonstrate the ideology that makes the classical economist attribute exchange value to nature, he goes off – like a blister in the sun – to do something more than argue against the ideologue. It is in this sense that he is more dialogic than monologic – by refusing the protocols of turntaking that structure argument, and using, instead, the full register given to him by world literature, that recent event to which he gives special mention in the Communist Manifesto.

Here’s an example of how sense and speech act cannot be separated in Capital:

“Since the commodity form is the most universal and most undeveloped form of bourgeois production – and for that exact reason is the first to emerge – although not in the same dominant, and thus characteristic manner as today – its fetish character seems relatively easy to see through. By concreter forms even this semblence of simplicity itself disappears. From whence stems the illusions of the monetary system? It isn’t in looking at the gold and silver themselves, for they are presented as money for a society’s production relationship, although in the form of natural things with curious social properties. And doesn’t the fetishim become palpable in the modern economist, who with a high and mighty air grins down at the money system, as soon as it is a question of capital? For how long has the physiocratic illusion been dissipated that rents on land grow out of the earth, and not out of society?

But yet in order not to get ahead of ourselves, it is enough here to mention an example with relation to the commodity form itself. If commodities could speak, so they would say, that our use values might concern men – but they don’t concern us as things. What thing-lishly concerns us, is our value. Our own intercourse [Verkehr] as commodity things shows this. We are related only as exchange values with each other. Now listen as the economist speaks out of the soul of the commodity. [Man höre nun, wie der Ökonom aus der Warenseele heraus spricht]
As so often in the first book of Capital, the serious point here is put in terms of a joke, a killing joke, so to speak.


duncan said...

Roger -

Back when various blog folk were talking about Specters of Marx so much - a couple years ago? - I think I promised a reading of Structure, Sign and Play which would track the changing valence of the word 'economy' in that text: on the one hand economy as social system of production and exchange - which, as a part of empirical, historical reality, would partly condition and partly produce philosophical thought - at least according to the kind of perspective articulated in, for instance, Marx's famous preface to the Contribution (a perspective Derrida equivocally engages with throughout his work) - and, on the other hand, economy as that which encompasses, even if with difficulty, both philosophy and society... as in the penultimate paragraph of the essay.

There are more than enough indications today to suggest we might perceive that these two interpretations of interpretation-which are absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and reconcile them in an obscure economy-together share the field which we call, in such a problematic fashion, the human sciences.

Proper discussion of this use of 'economy' would have to include a discussion of Bataille, of course, and probably Freud - and also Derrida's From Restricted to General Economy, not to mention Glas, God help us - but the point would be that a punch is pulled here; that this expansion of the sense of 'economy' is a move that is, in part, ideological; and that it draws Derrida's (open) conclusions into a space where they can be critiqued by other aspects of his text - aspects that are more carefully attuned to the historical specificity and function of 'economy' as master-metaphor.

In fact, if I were serious about this read, I'd probably aim to argue that this expansion of the sense of 'economy' is more significant for Derrida's work as a whole than his much more prominent and discussed expansion of the sense of 'text' - that, indeed, the latter is closely connected to the former, and that the play of textuality and of the trace that he discusses in his major works is suggested and partly determined by the symbolic movement of the material signifiers of capitalism.

This would be a less simplistic and reductionist argument than it sounds like.


duncan said...

Anyway, with that as preamble: the issue of the intersection of the diachronic and the synchronic, seen through a lense attuned to both Marx and Derrida, is, imo, that this is also the impossible location of value in the capitalist system. Inhabitants of capitalist society behave, when they engage in many economic activities, as if there 'is' value, as if it exists, here, now, unrealised but real in its potentiality, somewhere behind and within the synchronic relations between all existing commodities - the kind of relations Marx endlessly enumerates in the early chapters of Capital - 1 coat = 5 bushels of wheat, and so on. Such social behaviour and such social perspectives are required for the production of the macro-social trend that in fact is the reality of value - which can however only be understood diachronically. Put another way: value exists in time and in time alone, yet its existence in time produces the synchronic understanding of an impossible present 'object' that itself contributes to the production of the macrosocial patterns that are that impossible object's historical or temporal reality.

I think that a lot of Derrida's remarks about presence and the trace make a lot more sense if they're understood as (basically unwitting) articulations of various aspects of the social logic of capitalism - Given Time can be productively read this way, for instance. And - this is what I'm getting at in relation to your post - I'm therefore slightly cautious about the connection of the impossible present, where diachronic and synchronic meet, to revolution, as if this impossible present ruptures capitalist society, rather than (as I'd probably suggest) being central to and constantly reproduced by it.

Concepts and objects can play multiple roles, however.

(I'm really really enjoying your recent posts on Marx, btw. Sorry to barge in from leftfield with this; there's lots more I could and should have said in response to other stuff.)

roger said...

Duncan, don't be sorry at all! I truly appreciate the response. I love comments, and having had a long stretch of non-comments, I was feeling unloved!

Anyway -I should say, first off, that the Derridian perspective I bring is mine - in a blog named Limitedinc, I am not about to engage in what Derrida made great fun of, "speaking for" the great dead man. That said, a few remarks.

I suppose the first thing is that if one locates the revolution at the center of Marx's method in terms of that tear between the synchronic and diachronic - and I think this is a reading of Marx that definitely has echoes in the Specters - it doesn't mean that deconstruction itself is, similarly, revolutionary. I would argue that something similar is happening in Derrida's work, but I am, firstly, concerned with Marx here.

But that said, I like the way you ask the question in terms of what the 'economic' means in Derrida. Because for him I assume that there are at least three registers of meaning - one is the anthropological meaning he takes from Bataille, which defines a restricted economy - of production - within a general economy - of endless dissemination, in which production and consumption are not distinct categories. Then there is the economic in psychoanalytical terms - and here Freud defines it in terms of pleasure and pain, with the productive principle being psychic energy. And thirdly economy as the term is used by the classical economists and Marx, re modes of production and the circulation of commodities.

Now, I've always read Derrida as having a sense of the dangerous presupposition governing all of those registers - what you might call the fetishization of energy.

However, to get back to the social logic of capitalism. I think you are right - and I hope I was clear about this in my posts - that the impossible present that grounds the synthesis of the synchronic and diachronic axes produces an effect in the ideological understanding of capitalism as well as the Marxist one. Eventually, the effect was such that it produced a break in classical economics - the break that results in the establishment of the marginalist school (which, of course, is also dominated by an unthought concept of energy).

I'm thinking of writing another post about the Specters that takes up this moment in which the commodity speaks. And then maybe I'll make a more satisfying response to you! I am sort of deliberately suspending talk of value - as you can see - because I feel - maybe wrongly - that I need to creep up upon that topic, rather than make a wholesale frontal assault.

roger said...

By the way, Duncan: one of the inspirations for my view of ideology is Amie's essay on the German Ideology, here:

duncan said...

Oh I wasn't meaning to identify your stuff with Derrida's - I much prefer your reading of Marx! - just trying to articulate why I regard the concept of the impossible present as one produced by capitalism, rather than breaking with it.

duncan said...

Hmmm - although I just reread Amie's essay on the concept of ideology and I now think the narrative presented there is pretty much wrong. So it goes...

duncan said...

To clarify that a little: Amie's narrative has the concept of ideology initially foregrounded in Marx's work as the product of the property-owning class, with the proletariat as correspondingly clear-sighted; then the failure of the 1848 revolutions sends the concept of ideology underground; then the failure of the Paris commune brings the concept of ideology back again, but this time in the guise of commodity fetishism. (Is this narrative from Balibar maybe?) I think this misreads the fetishism passage from Volume I, and also misjudges the motives behind the expansion of the passage (which are basically: to make the argument clearer...) [I suspect Dunayevskaya is the origin of the idea that Marx's revisions to the later editions of Capital are prompted by the failure of the Commune; but it just doesn't tally with the content of the expanded passages, as far as I can tell]. Amie's reading of The German Ideology inflects her reading of later works far too much, also. She reads the quoted passage from the 18th Brumaire, for example, as aspiring after a "real" language, a pure language free of ideology - but this interpretation is just imported into the text; nothing in the passage suggests it that I can see. Marx doesn't stop writing Volume 3 at the chapter on class because his theoretical presuppositions are challenged by the failure of the Commune - Volume 3 was written before the published Volume 1. Etc.

Sorry to be so bitchy; I really liked Amie's essay when I first read it (obviously), and I remembered it as being powerful. Wish I'd known more about Marx when we were discussing this stuff originally.

roger said...

Wow. Well, I have a lot to say about that, you may be sure, Duncan. Unfortunately, today is just too busy for me to get into the bones of this. Perhaps I should write a post about why I find Amie's version of Marx's ideology concept a stepping stone to reading Marx critically later this week. However, I think she foregrounds ideology first as a term in the history of the compositional and publishing history of the text in which it operates as a major organizer, The German ideology. I'm not sure what you disagree with here, as you seem to switch gears to the first chapter of Capital, as though one could read the text of 1845 from that point.

But I think Amie's point is that this reading seeks to normalize Marx's text, as though Capital was prefigured all the time, here.

I think this is a better account:

"Rather remarkably, we find Marx describing the proletariat not simply in terms of class but as a Masse, as a mass or as masses. But if it is not the proletariat's own proper particular interests which make it the bearer of change, transformation and revolution which Marx clearly considers it to be, what is it? It is precisely the proletariat's position outside of all ideology. The proletariat is eigentumslos (propertyless) and without any "particular quality" (Eigenschaft), and as such it is without illusions, absolutely Illusionslosigkeit. It is this extreme denuded position of the proletariat that is beyond ideology and without illusions that for Marx primes it for change and revolution. It is from this perspective or point of view that Marx can write in GI of a "real movement" that has nothing to do with the old order and abolishes it, and of the discovery - or promise - of "the language of real life" (Sprache des wirklichen Lebens).

It is not a matter of wondering why Marx does not consider or articulate a proletarian ideology. The matter rather is that if there is something like that, if the proletariat "has" ideology, well then the entire edifice constituting materialism in GI and its chain of equivalences between materiality, production, practice, history and revolution starts to give way, fall apart. Things, from this perspective, are not very different in The Communist Manifesto written the following year (1847). There again Marx writes of a proletariat which is totally Illusionslosigkeit and which has nothing to do with nation nor religion nor family nor morality nor political-juridical illusions. There again, as such, the proletariat is in the position of destroying the dominating class and its ideology and ending its reign. If in this process the proletariat is to become the dominant class in turn it is only to dissolve all classes and domination. Transparency of life and language and of intercourse. Such is the promise – of revolution. Exit ideology."

Marx himself, in the preface to the Critique of the Political Economy, gives an account of his thought that is evolutionary on just this point - not only does he shift from his view, in 1843, that the state is the fulcrum of the social order to his view, in 1845, that the system of the relations of production is the fulcrum of the social order, but his view and vocabulary also changes, from that rooted in the notion of 'status' relations to that rooted in class relations.
But more later.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I'm afraid I can't take part though and won't for quite a while. Sorry about that.

Exit, pursued by a bear.


roger said...

Where did the comment I just wrote end up? Damn, I don't want to do it over. I hate this comment machine sometimes!

Anyway, what I took issue with, Duncan, in your reconstruction of Amie's argument was the substitution of clear sighted for excluded, and the lack of attention to what Amie is doing - which is that the notion of ideology develops in tandem with the notion of class. That is why the definition of the proletariat as 'propertyless' in the German Ideology also allows Marx to shift to speaking of them as the masses. And, in the first stage of his 'materialist' history, he leans towards translating their propertylessness to their exclusion from the circuits of ideology - they clearly see their propertylessness, which is obscured in those circuits. But two things, by the eighteen fifties, mess up this neat characterization of the working class as excluded from ideology - one is the historical experience of 1848, where Marx saw that, indeed, the workers are moved by a variety of ideologies, and the other is the difficulty of defining them as a class. The latter comes down to this: on the one hand, an easy way of defining the classes is their class 'interest', and on the other hand, interest is wholly saturated with ideology itself. Interest eclipses alienation.

I am intruding the alienation theme, here, but I'm building on what I think Amie correctly pinpoints as the problem with which Marx is dealing in Capital:

"If the events of 1848-51 are a crushing blow for Marx, it is the measure of the man that he will face up to them and try to take their measure. Not the least of which is that Marx has to acknowledge and to confront the fact that the proletariat is not immune to ideology. The proletariat – the propertyless (eigentumslos) – somehow possesses or is possessed by ideology, which is not a little uncanny. Now, from this point on, the term of ideology virtually disappears from Marx's text. Which is not to say that the theme or its analysis does so. Even if not named, it is present everywhere in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1851), a text which is also about repetition and how the past can haunt the present. Here again, Marx attempts to account for the mystification and the power, the domination that past figures (whether nationalist or historical or religious, republican or imperial ) exercise on the present and on the actors of 1848. Can it all be determined in terms of class interests? When Marx addresses the problem of the passage from the "class in itself" to the "class for itself" the very schematic of "two classes" splinters in a series of subdivisions. It would appear that in the time of revolution, when time "accelerates", classes decompose as well-defined entities defined by distinct and simple interests capable of finding direct political representation. Here again, when Marx speaks of revolutionary conflict and struggle he doesn't do so simply in terms of class, but rather in terms of masses, of mass movements. Marx doesn't say "classes make history" but that "masses (or men en masse) make history."

Thus, that the term ideology becomes sparse while the concept expands is a response to Marx's interpretation of the revolution. And I think Amie is right, then, to ground the notion of commodity fetishism in this history.

To my mind, the question is this: what kind of 'interest' defines a class? In Marx's 1844 writings, it is not simply the propertylessness of the working class - but its alienation that defines it. It's class interest then is to liquidate alienation from the system of production. The puzzle of how to do that is the specter that haunts us still - the affluent society and the communist society have both constructed themselves in a concentrated avoidance of that problem.

duncan said...

Thanks Roger, Amie -

I'm not normalising Marx's text - seeing Capital as always already there. Of course his views change over time - I think you're right about the shift from 1843-45, for instance - I just think Amie's specific narrative of Marx's intellectual development is wrong, now that I've read Marx's actual work.

Amie thinks that Marx has a fantasised outside, outside ideology, real life, real language - either the ideologyless worker, or use-value free from the contamination of exchange. The latter is a straight misreading of Capital, derived from Specters - it was exhaustively discussed a couple years ago. The former is meant to be undermined by 1848 - while still being present in Marx's text discussing 1848. But Amie's imagining it, in that text. Look, the revolution fails, and Marx immediately, right on top of events, sits down and writes The Eighteenth Brumaire, an extremely subtle, nuanced, non-determinist analysis. The fact that Marx can do this is somehow meant to be evidence that his historical perspective is screwy. But in addition to that, Amie wants there still to be a residual commitment to purity of real language, in its connection to (lack of) ideology, so this commitment can be deconstructed. So she quotes the opening of the Eighteenth Brumaire and out of nowhere attributes this desire to Marx - the "new" language of the revolution has to be this ideologyless fulcrum, for Amie's Marx - and why? Because otherwise there's no narrative of Marx's wrestling with the problem of ideology here.

I don't get what the deal is meant to be with the use of the term 'masses'. Marx uses the term all over - it's just a regular term.

"that the term ideology becomes sparse while the concept expands is a response to Marx's interpretation of the revolution. And I think Amie is right, then, to ground the notion of commodity fetishism in this history."

But what's the argument here? In what sense is commodity fetishism grounded in this history?

duncan said...

What Amie's essay does is attribute a series of silly, simplistic commitments to Marx - absolute historical determinism; crude class conflict reductionism; the possibility of a pure language of real life - and then point out that Marx's own texts don't altogether fit these categories. This is taken as evidence that Marx is struggling with his theory, that his categories are open-ended, that he's constantly responding to the challenges posed by real historical events - rather than as evidence of misreading. It's the same procedure as Derrida's Specters. The text itself demonstrates that use-value is always already contaminated by exchange. Well - yeah, it does, because Marx never thought or suggested that it wasn't. But a reading of this kind can look sophisticated, because it talks about a thought it flux, undergoing modifications, wrestling with reality, etc.

Certainly Marx's theoretical perspective changes and develops. But this isn't how.

duncan said...

On alienation - and this may be the difference in our reads - I think it's a mistake to interpret Marx's later work in light of the 1844 manuscripts, which are, after all, fucking early. In fact, I think that this is the main thing that The German Ideology is doing, for Marx. Marx goes after Stirner with such disproportionate energy because his real target is his own earlier views - the views expressed in the 1844 text. In this sense I think Specters is right to focus on The German Ideology in the way it does - Derrida gets the affect right, as it were. The Ego and Its Own does get under Marx's skin, because Marx sees aspects of his own earlier perspective in it. So there's an example of a theoretical shift.

roger said...

I don't agree with your argument against Amie. A couple of issues.

1. What does it mean that the worker is excluded from the circuit of ideological production? This isn't just a substitution of one way of describing the consciousness for another. It references the way in which the worker is confronted with a different situation than the bourgeoisie. Where the bourgeois sees free labor and a labor market, the worker sees wage labor and a new form of dependence. The worker does not, however, conceptualize that this dependence as being about abstract labor time, or even recognize markets in what looks like the breakup of markets - for of course the old form of the labor market, where the workers gather at a fair with their tools, is being dissolved into a peer to peer hiring process (although often the old form will emerge again with a call for some x number of workers, who all show up at the plant - minus, however, their tools). So, what does the laborer see? Does he see his propertylessness? Does he express it? At first, Marx would say, of course! But after 1848, he is much more cautious about that.

2. Why is he cautious. To revert to Hirschman and to Marx's Grundrisse, Marx sees that the exclusion from the circuit of ideological production does not provide a social space in which ideology does not work. On the contrary. The laborer can see his or her situation in many ways. For instance, as the abrogration of his feudal rights. Or, as per the Gotha program, he can reify labor itself as a standard - without understanding the process by which labor comes to reflect his dehumanization.

Now, to my mind this is very important, and it is why I think Derrida's interpretation of Marx hits an essential and important point, one that is never solved in Marx. It answers your question about the argument here: the argument here is that the laborer can easily respond to commodity fetishism through either fetishizing the labor process, or trying to revoke the revolutionary achievements of the bourgeoisie.

This, of course, takes us to the problem of class interest. Which your comments are inspiriting me to write about next, Duncan! Now, if you read Marx critically, it has to be a problem for you that he refers to classes at certain points, and the 'masses' at other points. This can't be something that is just Homer nodding. Because this is a huge political problem for Marx that comes up in the two revolutionary situations that arise in his lifetime. Propertylessness doesn't define the small artisan or the smallholding farmer, who are in actuality much more numerous than the proletariat and will have to constitute the 'masses' as a political entity. But, politically, their 'interest' is the protection of property from, say, the bourgeois appropriation of feudal rights.

So I think that far from misreading Marx, we put our finger here on a key motive that helps us understand problems Marx is working on. Ideology, class, and alienation form a complex.

roger said...

Duncan, I think you rightly see the difference in the reading of Marx I do - and that Amie does, I think - and yours in this:

"On alienation - and this may be the difference in our reads - I think it's a mistake to interpret Marx's later work in light of the 1844 manuscripts, which are, after all, fucking early. In fact, I think that this is the main thing that The German Ideology is doing, for Marx. Marx goes after Stirner with such disproportionate energy because his real target is his own earlier views - the views expressed in the 1844 text. "

To my mind, the history of Marxism as a political program has a lot to do with the rejection of alienation and the acceptance that an 'interest" defines classes. The language of interest makes Marx much easier - to use the term you complain about with Derrida, it simplifies him. If this were simply a matter of interest, than it can be monetized and we are engaged in a power struggle which, essentially, retains the industrial structure of capitalism. This is the traditional outcome of communism, after all.

But if - as I think - Marx never gives up alienation, and that it works throughout the economic works of the 50s-70s - then, of course, interest cannot be monetized, and it cannot even be the case that seizing the means of production is the solution to the problem posed by the working class.

It is hard for me to see that the crises structure of capitalism would ever be solved by that solution. And it also seems to me that the invective Marx throws against socialists who propose directly monetizing labor time -and that takes up a goodly portion of the Grundrisse - become, on your reading, harder to understand.

I don't quite understand why you think Marx is repudiating his 1844 work in the German Ideology. What textual cues are you talking about?

duncan said...

The argument about monetizing labor time is in the first place an economic argument - monetizing labour time simply wouldn't work, because your labour time chits or whatever would end up functioning exactly the way money does so long as you don't make large-scale changes in the rest of the socio-economic system (changes that, if pursued in the way Marx wants, would render the issue academic, because you'd have abolished labour). Contrariwise, if you do it via central planning you end up with a bureaucratic nightmare that has some grim retrospective historical resonance, but that Marx doesn't see as emancipatory. Further, the very idea that labour-chits could in principle have a one-to-one correspondence with labour-time inputs is a product of capitalist sensibilities, generated by capitalist society. In other words, Marx isn't against the labour money proposal because it's directly reproducing capitalist domination in the form of monetisation as alienation. He's against it because he thinks that the proposal presupposes (and naturalises) currently existing capitalist dynamics, while simultaneously suggesting that a moment of those dynamics could be separated from the whole and made socially general, without thinking through how that generalisation would operate. It's fundamentally a practical objection, though the form of the objection has larger social-theoretic implications.

On your more substantive points I'll get back you when I have a longer block of time.

I agree that we've hit the core of the interpretive disagreement, which I think is good!

duncan said...

All right - so - the history of Marxist theory in relation to Marxist political programs. There is a tried and trusted opposition here, in the debate over the point of view from which and in service of which Marx's critique of capitalist society operates. On the one hand, Marx's perspective, or the emancipatory perspective his work endorses, is taken to be that of the working class, or, more narrowly, the "organised" working class. This view has, historically, been inflected in several ways that had extremely non-emancipatory outcomes. On the one hand, you have the identification of the subject of history in whose service socialist politics operates as the urban industrial worker. This kind of analysis can produce 1) the reification of this kind of labour (or of wage-labour more generally) as an ideal - the valorisation of an exploitative working relation as the essence of the socialist critical subject - which produces a politics that aims not at the abolition of labour (as Marx quite self-evidently wanted), but at its 'realisation'. 2) the justification of the oppression of other segments of the working poor, or of society generally, supposedly in the service of this valorised demographic - for instance, the Soviet Union's policy of the exploitation of (and then liquidation of segments of) the peasantry, on the grounds that this was a regressive, counter-revolutionary class opposed to the truly socialist interests of a minority urban demographic. You can also simply get a theoretical perspective that has unduly naive faith in the unity and historically inevitable role of working-class consciousness. All these are politically unhelpful ways you can inflect a concept of class interests.

On the other hand, you have another historically significant strand of Marxist theorising, which aims to protect Marx's critical perspective against being put to these kinds of use, by grounding Marx's critique in a form of philosophical anthropology: it's not the perspectives of the workers that Marx's critique emanates from; it's the perspective of the essence of the human, more or less. This school of interpretation tends to emphasise the 1844 manuscripts quite heavily, and to claim that the analysis of alienation found there remains the foundation of Marx's critique, even as it gets submerged in his more detailed socio-economic work.

I'm not saying you'd endorse a philosophical anthropology, but on my read of your last comment you're aligning yourself with the latter interpretation of Marx. I think this is textually wrong - I think Marx is quite explicit from quite early that he rejects the Feuerbachian / Young Hegelian framework that underlay his analysis of alienation of the 1844 manuscripts. I think that Marx doesn't hold the crude concepts of class interests that lead people to feel a philosophical anthropology is required to protect critique - as Amie says, The Eighteenth Brumaire displays no such crudity, and I don't think this is because Marx finds his categories falling apart in his hands as he writes it. Further, I don't think that the concept of interests plays the foundational role that I think you and Amie see it as playing in Marx's work. That may be key, in terms of what's leading to the disagreement about alienation.

More anon.

duncan said...

"Now, if you read Marx critically, it has to be a problem for you that he refers to classes at certain points, and the 'masses' at other points."

Why? This really isn't a problem. It's only a problem if you're assuming that class is somehow ontologically fundamental for Marx. Marx thinks that classes are a feature of capitalist society, but he doesn't think they're the bedrock of existence.

I think the issue here might be that you (and Amie?) are seeing a sort of epistemological paradox in Marx, because you're taking class perspective as the foundation of his work - the ideologyless point -the fulcrum that can move the world - and then noting that, empirically, different workers can have different politics and different interests and so on. But Marx is fully aware of this: he's aware of it theoretically - he really isn't a class-conflict reductionist - and he's also aware of it practically, because his entire poltical life is a series of interventions within working class politics, trying to move working class politics in the direction that he, Marx, thinks will work out best for the working class and for (most of) society as a whole. He doesn't think he's got a secret connection to the hidden essence of working class identity, the unconscious of the class, hidden to all but a few. He thinks he's got a good, informed, intelligent sense of what will be effective emancipatory politics - and he's trying to push that politics, alongside lots of other people. Sometimes he pushes it through exhortative passages that act as if what he wants is inevitable, as if history is on his side, as if everyone who matters already agrees with him - but this is not part of his theoretical apparatus.

duncan said...

"Propertylessness doesn't define the small artisan or the smallholding farmer, who are in actuality much more numerous than the proletariat and will have to constitute the 'masses' as a political entity"

But Marx isn't Agamben, he's not looking for the stripping of everything but bare humanity from a subject so they can have an true perspective on society. He's just pointing out that capitalism does strip access to the means of production from a huge swathe of the populace of capitalist societies; that this enables characteristic forms of exploitation; and that working class political movements are a central site of contestation over these modes of social organisation. As they were and are.

duncan said...

With reference to The German Ideology and the 1844 text:

There's a formal similarity between Stirner's argument in The Ego and Its Own and the Feuerbachian conceptual apparatus that Marx is using/appropriating in the 1844 manuscript - the formal similarity rests on the concept of alienation. So for Stirner the Ego is in principle self-contained, self-sufficient, present to itself if you like - but it gets away from itself and loses itself in the detours it takes through other subjects in its interaction with the world. For Stirner's wacky egoism, the ego needs to move back entirely into itself in order to escape this alienation. For Marx of course this is ridiculous - because how is that meant to work exactly? But the Feuerbachian idea that mankind's essence - its species-being - gets displaced or misrecognised in the social phenomena like worship of theological entities that are actually generated by mankind itself, and that mankind needs to recognise itself as the ground for such really-social phenomena, returning its social relations into itself and becoming unalienated - this is in many ways a formally similar argument.

With The German Ideology and the Theses on Feuerbach - i.e. in 1845 - Marx starts to crystallise his critique of this perspective, in a way that will inform the rest of his work.

"Feuerbach resolves the religious essence into the human essence. But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual.

In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations."

The essence of mankind is, for Marx, now, produced by the social relations that apparently alienate it. The essence of humanity cannot be taken as more ontologically fundamental than the relations that supposedly obscure it - this essence cannot, in this sense, be the foundation of critique.

Again from the Theses:

"The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgets that circumstances are changed by men and that it is essential to educate the educator himself. This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society."

This is a critique of (among other things) economic determinism, of the kind that so many people attribute to Marx. At the same time, the agency that makes history is not understood here by Marx as a rupture in social structures, but as made by and making those social relations.

In The German Ideology Marx is still working through the consequences of this alternative, non-essentialising form of materialism - he doesn't yet fully have it. The book's often therefore read - and not wrongly - as, precisely, dividing society into two parts, one of which is superior to society. But the thrust of Marx's critique of Stirner - the reason he pursues this critique so obsessively - is not just that Stirner represents bad idealism, but that Stirner as a theorist of alienation represents a version of the Young Hegelian division of society into essential core and alienating externality that Marx opposes. And Marx will continue to develop this opposition through his subsequent works.

roger said...

Duncan, thanks. I have a lot to respond to here. Let me do this in part here, and I'm thinking I might make a post out of my next response:

I’m going to begin with your notion that alienation theory requires a theory of human essence and go backwards.

I’m not quite sure why you assert this. There is a humanistic Marxist notion that this is so, but alienation, as I read him, is a historical process, and alienation depends on the possibilities open to members of a particular society at any one time. Thus, alienation in a capitalist society would depend, crucially, on alienated labor, in which the production of commodities is mediated by the circulation of money. What is special about this regime of alienation is that it is universalizing. Marx over and over again speaks of this as the great collective fact of capitalism – that it knows no global limit. Thus, it universalizes a particular form of alienation. In the Grundrisse, I think Marx is fairly clear:

“Universally developed individuals, whose social relations, as their own communal [gemeinschaftlich] relations, are hence also subordinated to their own communal control, are no product of nature, but of history. The degree and the universality of the development of wealth where this individuality becomes possible supposes production on the basis of exchange values as a prior condition, whose universality produces not only the alienation of the individual from himself and from others, but also the universality and the comprehensiveness of his relations and capacities. In earlier stages of development the single individual seems to be developed more fully, because he has not yet worked out his relationships in their fullness, or erected them as independent social powers and relations opposite himself. It is as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness [22] as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill. The bourgeois viewpoint has never advanced beyond this antithesis between itself and this romantic viewpoint, and therefore the latter will accompany it as legitimate antithesis up to its blessed end.”

Now, Marx puts this alienation in enlightenment terms in the economic philosophical manuscript – that is, in terms of happiness. This is a premise he does little to question on the surface, and of course, this would be exactly the kind of thing a humanist would say was universal about human beings: they all strive for happiness.

Myself, I think that is quite wrong. And there is a moment in Marx that refuses to question this characteristic. I actually think what Marx calls his 'materialism' is anchored in this false universal. But in fact, he never identifies alienation with unhappiness, and I think, when he does outline his notion of universal history, in the Grundrisse, he provides us with an implicit critique of that notion. In fact, alienation has to do very much with the intensified division of labor - so that alienation in a capitalist era is not going to be the same as alienation in, say, a slave society.

On the other hand, his anthropology of life under the reign of capitalism makes no sense without the theory of alienation. It is not just that Marx is after some picture of how capitalism functions as an economic system – he is after why it creates an obedience to its dictates on the part of the worker, and an inability to understand the system as such on the part of the bourgeoisie – who are, after all, building a machine whose crises will destroy them.

roger said...

I’ve emphasized money as the principle of substitutability because this is another face of alienation – which names an effect with many aspects. And this is why I simply don’t see where you are getting your notion of the "practical" from, with which you seem to want to dismiss the actually existing history that Marx was analyzing. So when, for instance, you say:

“The argument about monetizing labor time is in the first place an economic argument - monetizing labour time simply wouldn't work, because your labour time chits or whatever would end up functioning exactly the way money does so long as you don't make large-scale changes in the rest of the socio-economic system (changes that, if pursued in the way Marx wants, would render the issue academic, because you'd have abolished labour). Contrariwise, if you do it via central planning you end up with a bureaucratic nightmare that has some grim retrospective historical resonance, but that Marx doesn't see as emancipatory. “

I find this very puzzling. First, I think that the idea that there is something ‘simply economic’ about alienated labor and abstract labour power concedes to the economic an autonomy it doesn’t have. (also, where does Marx talk about the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning? I’m curious, I’d like to find that passage. And what does emancipatory mean, here, if we are simply talking economics?) And here I fail to understand the distinctions you are making:

“In other words, Marx isn't against the labour money proposal because it's directly reproducing capitalist domination in the form of monetisation as alienation. He's against it because he thinks that the proposal presupposes (and naturalises) currently existing capitalist dynamics, while simultaneously suggesting that a moment of those dynamics could be separated from the whole and made socially general, without thinking through how that generalisation would operate.”

What is capitalist dynamics here? If it doesn’t have to do with the commodity-money circulation outlined in Capital, what other capitalist dynamic is there? Some elaborate form of barter? In fact, I think that your elaboration of the point actually shows how central alienation is – without it, you completely hollow out capitalist dynamics. There’s no free wage labor that exists inside this capitalist dynamics. And the effects of the intensified division of labor disppear.

As I say, I think alienation, ideology and class form a complex. Let’s talk about class next.

roger said...

PS. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/letters/44_11_19.htm

PS – I find it odd to call Stirner whacky. Why in the world would Marx have spent so much time refuting a whacko? Here’s what Engels wrote to Marx, after reading Stirner’s book. Evidently, he didn’t think Stirner was either whacky or unimportant.

“You will have heard of Stirner's book, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum [11] , if it hasn't reached you yet. Wigand sent me the specimen sheets, which I took with me to Cologne and left with Hess. The noble Stirner – you'll recall Schmidt of Berlin, who wrote about the Mysteres in Buhl's magazine [12] – takes for his principle Bentham's egoism, except that in one respect it is carried through more logically and in the other less so. More logically in the sense that Stirner as an atheist sets the ego above God, or rather depicts him as the be-all and end-all, whereas Bentham still allows God to remain remote and nebulous above him; that Stirner, in short, is riding on German idealism, an idealist who has turned to materialism and empiricism, whereas Bentham is simply an empiricist. Stirner is less logical in the sense that he would like to avoid the reconstruction effected by Bentham of a society reduced to atoms, but cannot do so. This egoism is simply the essence of present society and present man brought to consciousness, the ultimate that can be said against us by present society, the culmination of all the theory intrinsic to the prevailing stupidity. But that's precisely what makes the thing important, more important than Hess, for one, holds it to be. We must not simply cast it aside, but rather use it as the perfect expression of present-day folly and, while inverting it, continue to build on it. This egoism is taken to such a pitch, it is so absurd and at the same time so self-aware, that it cannot maintain itself even for an instant in its one-sidedness, but must immediately change into communism. In the first place it's a simple matter to prove to Stirner that his egoistic man is bound to become communist out of sheer egoism. That's the way to answer the fellow. In the second place he must be told that in its egoism the human heart is of itself, from the very outset, unselfish and self-sacrificing, so that he finally ends up with what he is combating. These few platitudes will suffice to refute the one-sidedness. But we must also adopt such truth as there is in the principle. And it is certainly true that we must first make a cause our own, egoistic cause, before we can do anything to further it – and hence that in this sense, irrespective of any eventual material aspirations, we are communists out of egoism also, and it is out of egoism that we wish to be human beings, not mere individuals.

roger said...

Or to put it another way. Stirner is right in rejecting Feuerbach's ‘man’, or at least the ‘man’ of Das Wesen des Christentums. [13] Feuerbach deduces his ‘man’ from God, it is from God that he arrives at ‘man’, and hence ‘man’ is crowned with a theological halo of abstraction. The true way to arrive at ‘man’ is the other way about. We must take our departure from the Ego, the empirical, flesh-and-blood individual, if we are not, like Stirner, to remain stuck at this point but rather proceed to raise ourselves to ‘man’. ‘man’ will always remain a wraith so long as his basis is not empirical man. In short we must take our departure from empiricism and materialism if our concepts, and notably our ‘man’, are to be something real; we must deduce the general from the particular, not from itself or, à la Hegel, from thin air. All these are platitudes needing no explanation; they have already been spelled out by Feuerbach and I wouldn't have reiterated them had not Hess-presumably because of his earlier idealistic leanings – so dreadfully traduced empiricism, more especially Feuerbach and now Stirner. Much of what Hess says about Feuerbach is right; on the other hand he still seems to suffer from a number of idealistic aberrations – whenever he begins to talk about theoretical matters he always proceeds by categories and therefore cannot write in a popular fashion because he is much too abstract. Hence he also hates any and every kind of egoism, and preaches the love of humanity, etc., which again boils down to Christian self-sacrifice. If, however, the flesh-and-blood individual is the true basis, the true point of departure, for our ‘man’, it follows that egoism – not of course Stirner's intellectual egoism alone, but also the egoism of the heart – is the point of departure for our love of humanity, which otherwise is left hanging in the air."

Engels, of course, changed his mind after corresponding with Marx. Still, there is a kind of rational choice Marxism that follows this route.

duncan said...

Come on Roger! Of course Stirner's whacky - you just have to read the man. He's interesting, worth reading, and silly. And of course it can be worth refuting something silly - or making fun of it, as Marx and Engels do in The German Ideology. This can be worth doing because the object of critique is popular, or influential, or potentially influential, or symptomatic of a broader phenomenon - or perhaps because its silliness is close enough to one's own earlier views that writing about the guy at great length serves one's main purpose: self-clarification.

duncan said...

Now as to 'practical', surely it's really clear what I mean. Proudhon proposes a social reform, which would, he suggests, improve society. Marx thinks it won't work - that it's impractical. He therefore opposes the reform. That's what I mean by "practical objection".

I might wait until tomorrow before replying more substantively.

duncan said...

"where does Marx talk about the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning? I’m curious, I’d like to find that passage."

This is from The Chapter on Money in the Grundrisse. Marx is talking about the impracticality of the labour-time-chit proposals as an emancipatory social transformation, and running through the different things that the implementation of this proposal could actually mean in practice:

"The bank would thus be the general buyer and seller. Instead of notes it could also issue cheques, and instead of that it could also keep simple bank accounts. Depending on the sum of commodity values which X had deposited with the bank, X would have that sum in the form of other commodities to his credit. A second attribute of the bank would be necessary: it would need the power to establish the exchange value of all commodities, i.e. the labour time materialized in them, in an authentic manner. But its functions could not end there. It would have to determine the labour time in which commodities could be produced, with the average means of production available in a given industry, i.e. the time in which they would have to be produced. But that also would not be sufficient. It would not only have to determine the time in which a certain quantity of products had to be produced, and place the producers in conditions which make their labour equally productive (i.e. it would have to balance and to arrange the distribution of the means of labour), but it would also have to determine the amounts of labour time to be employed in the different branches of production. The latter would be necessary because, in order to realize exchange value and make the bank's currency really convertible, social production in general would have to be stabilized and arranged so that the needs of the partners in exchange were always satisfied. Nor is this all. The biggest exchange process is not that between commodities, but that between commodities and labour. (More on this presently.) The workers would not be selling their labour to the bank, but they would receive the exchange value for the entire product of their labour, etc. Precisely seen, then, the bank would be not only the general buyer and seller, but also the general producer. In fact either it would be a despotic ruler of production and trustee of distribution, or it would indeed be nothing more than a board which keeps the books and accounts for a society producing in common. The common ownership of the means of production is presupposed, etc., etc. The Saint-Simonians made their bank into the papacy of production."

roger said...

Thanks for that quote, Duncan. Hey, you should definitely make a post on your own site about alienation, maybe kickstarting your Capital reading group.

Regarding Stirner - I find it really unhelpful to begin with the idea that Stirner is whacky. As I say, Engels did not find him silly - and if there was silliness afoot in 1845, surely Marx had other things to do with his time than to go on and on and on about Stirner, which - incidentally - Engels found a little whacky. Engels' letter is, to my mind, one of the things that made Marx go so heavily after Stirner - although this might be reading my own desire into Marx - in that he wanted to close off the idea that communism was a matter of egotistical advantage. Bringing us back to alienation!

duncan said...

Hmmm. I think we ought to agree to disagree on this set of issues.

duncan said...

Oh but look seriously. I just picked up The German Ideology again. Just look the Preface, yes? Here's the first paragraph - I'm sure you know it:

"Hitherto men have always formed wrong ideas about themselves, about what they are and what they ought to be. They have arranged their relations according to their ideas of God, of normal man, etc. The products of their brains have got out of their hands. They, the creators, have bowed down before their creations. Let us liberate them from the chimeras, the ideas, dogmas, imaginary beings under the yoke of which they are pining away. Let us revolt against this rule of concepts. Let us teach men, says one, how to exchange these imaginations for thoughts which correspond to the essence of man; says another, how to take up a critical attitude to them; says the third, how to get them out of their heads; and existing reality will collapse.

These innocent and childlike fancies are the kernel of the modern Young-Hegelian philosophy..." etc. etc. on to the paragraph about the "valiant fellow" who "had the idea that men were drowned in water only because they were possessed with the idea of gravity."

The whole text is oriented against ideology critique, yes? The stupid ideology that possesses the German Young Hegelians is the ideology that the critique of ideology is enough to have any serious impact on the world. Marx & Engels are ridiculing those who see the problem of ideology, of false consciousness, of bad concepts, whatever you want to call it, as the central issue for critical theory, critical criticism, social transformation, or whatever you like.

To attribute this preoccupation to Marx, as if the precise thing he's bitching about is his major preoccupation throughout his entire corpus - it's silly!

duncan said...

Again, just from the first few pages:

"...if we wish to bring out clearly the pettiness, the parochial narrowness of this whole Young-Hegelian movement and in particular the tragi-comic contrast between the illusions of these heroes about their achievements and the actual achievements themselves..."

It's ridicule - ridicule is the mood here. The claim isn't that these are giants of intellect, people who must be treated seriously, with all due care and depth and taking stock of their profundity, in order to arrive at the truth they narrowly missed. The claim is that these people are basically rubbish, and that we should recognise that.

Marx and Engels come out of this milieu, of course - they're steeped in the stuff, know lots of these guys personally, participated in all the critical criticism, throwing Hegelian jargon back and forth, and so of course it's a slightly wrought thing - also a liberating thing - to declare it parochial nonsense. This is partly why the text is so strange - such a performative contradiction - investing so much energy in explaining why something isn't worth our time. It's Marx (almost all of the text was written by Marx, obviously) working through his split with this space and its intellectual preoccupations. And developing his own original theoretical perspective in doing so.

duncan said...

Brains and hands, "The products of their brains have got out of their hands" - Marx will keep hammering at this contrast, reworking it, right up to the fetishism passage in Capital:

"there [in the misty realm of religion] the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men's hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities..."

The point of this opposition - brains and hands - isn't to compare what Marx is doing to the critique of religion, of the products of the human brain, Feuerbachian, Young Hegelian stuff, ideology critique, but to differentiate it. Marx is not concerned with ideology, this opposition says, unlike the (ideological!) Young Hegelians - he's concerned with social and political practice.

Derrida, of course, excises the "products of men's hands" line from the fetishism passage when he quotes it. But again, that's been plenty discussed already.

duncan said...

A comparable figure to beat up on today would probably be Zizek. It's almost symptomatic, the way the Marxist heritage gets reconfigured into what he was opposing.

duncan said...

I don't think Stirner's egoism is comparable to rational choice theory, btw - Marxist or otherwise. He's closer to something out of Dostoevsky - somewhere between the underground man and Kirilov.

duncan said...

But getting back to Amie's essay. I've got two sets of objections, really.

First: much of the textual evidence Amie provides for her narrative is wrong. The reading of The Eighteenth Brumaire doesn't work - there's no pure language of real life in that text. The thing about use-value in Capital is a misreading, taken from Specters. The idea that Capital is revised in light of the failure of the Commune doesn't square with the revision history. (It's one of these myths that circulates in academic circles, with no one bothering to check if it's right or not.)

Second - this narrative is in fact a very common understanding of Marx, and I disagree with it. The idea is that Marx needs an ideology-less point or his critique is impossible; Marx thinks the proletariat provides that point; then he discovers that the proletariat have ideology too - that different members of the proletariat have different interests and political goals, sometimes; which is meant to cause catastrophic run-on effects for his entire system - effects he never resolves. This is wrong: it mashes together different senses of ideology - ideology as intellectual production; ideology as consciousness (which isn't what Marx means); fetishism as ideology (which isn't what fetishism means either - it's a different word for a different concept) - & it makes Marx into someone who feels unable to have a non-metaphysical concept of political interests - someone who requires a metaphysical concept of interests as the ground for his analysis. There doesn't seem to me to be any justification for attributing this problem to Marx.

duncan said...

I'd be interested to hear you elaborate on your understanding of alienation, though - which strikes me as idiosyncratic, and therefore interesting. What is alienated, as you see it?

roger said...

Duncan, to tell you the truth, I've read zip Agamben.

However, Engel's interpretation of how Stirner's ego could be the basis for communism - the logic that get him to that point - is very much in the line of rational choice Marxism.

This is of course not totally excluded by Marx himself. He definitely sometimes embraces the evil of capitalism in a 'be though my good' mood. It is here, again, that alienation is in question. On the one hand, the alienation from older forms of society that results in the demand for the abolishment of the serf relationship, of the aristocracy, etc. leads us to a society in which radical equality comes at the price of severe dehumanization – as the human has been defined in terms of that old feudal order. Marx can sound very much, here, like a University of Chicago economist, say Gary Becker, making all human choices one of profit seeking. For instance, in the chilling – Baudelarian – litany that ends the 1847 manuscript on the wages of labor – the section on the positive side of the Salariat:

“Take the central obnoxiousness of wage labor itself, that my activity becomes a commodity, that I am sellable through and through;

First, therewith all patriarchal elements fall away, when hawking goods, purchase and sale are the only relationships, the money relationship remains the single relationship between the work giver and the worker.

Second, the halo falls away from all relationships of the old society, when it is dissolved in a pure money relationship.
And thus all so called higher work, mental, artistic, etc., is transformed into articles of sale, and thus lose their old respect.
What great progress it was, when the whole regiment of priests, doctors, jurists, etc, thus religion, jurisprudence, etc. are determined only after their sales value.”

Of course, we who live in that society where jurisprudence has been determined by its sales value have had experience enough to know that the demoralization it effects actually disorganizes and discourages labor. But Marx is here simply following a certain logic that, in 1847, might have seemed conclusive.

Later, this theme is taken up in the Grundrisse when Marx goes into the equality brought about by the Money relationship. This is not where Marx stops, fortunately, since he has a larger sense of the amazing amount of social pain produced by this process. Marx does not approve of children working in factories because they are marvelously freed from the patriarchal order, for instance, the way the University of Chicago boys do. But certainly he recognizes that dark pole.

roger said...

Oh, anyway, I think I'm going to write a post delving further into your comments on the German Ideology. And presenting a derridian reading of same.

Qlipoth said...

Oh my God, this thread just made so so happy. Bless you Duncan Law.