The Left: The History Which Has Not One, or All Your Base/Superstructure are belongs to us.

‎”It is dogmatism to approach Marxism from a metaphysical point of view and to regard it as something rigid.” -Mao Zedong

“Preceding forms of discontent with capitalism histori­cally found their expression (however uncertainly) on the Left, and these were transformed along with capitalism itself. The history of the Left is thus closely bound up with changes in the problem it has sought to overcome since the mid-19th century. The exhaustion and underly­ing despair of the “Left” today can be traced to its be­coming lost in a tangle of seemingly insoluble problems that have accumulated since Marx’s time. None of the problems raised in the history of preceding generations of the Left have been successfully worked through. All continue to haunt us.”-Chris Cutrone, Symptomology

‎”Marxism, the workers’ movement, mass democracy, Leninism, the party of the proletariat, the socialist state—all the inventions of the 20th century—are not really useful to us any more. At the theoretical level they certainly deserve further study and consideration; but at the level of practical politics they have become unworkable. The second sequence is over and it is pointless to try to restore it.”–Alain Badiou, the Communist Hypothesis

Arguments about history repeat themselves. First as tragedy. Then as farce. Then as sterilization, and then as caricature of the previous three.  One finds a regression in my debating circles on the left, one were we rehash the same ground from the 1920s or the 1870s.  Trying constantly re-articulate and re-battle these debates has been something that seems to have frustrated the left to point that many are essentially abandoning the last century. We have a move from Badiou to say that Marx is currently politically irrelevant, and Zizek saying that we need to go beyond Marx back to Hegel. There is a sense that we have recognized that the historical conditions in which capitalism has found itself has left the history of the left as a history which has not one.

The transitional theories of socialism as a means to the classless and stateless phase of communism has never been reconciled with the tendency for socialist transition periods to view state control as a necessary means or an administrative state. This failure was obvious to Rosa Luxemburg: “For us there is no minimal and no maximal program; socialism is one and the same thing: this is the minimum we have to realize today.” Socialism, here, is total socialization, and an economic state without money or the state, which is to say, for Luxemburg, socialism here meant communism or it least a complete rupture towards such a state. Yet we never got it. Indeed, if we look to Luxemburg’s last recorded words, what we get is hope:

“The leadership has failed. Even so, the leadership can and must be recreated from the masses and out of the masses. The masses are the decisive element, they are the rock on which the final victory of the revolution will be built. The masses were on the heights; they have developed this ‘defeat’ into one of the historical defeats which are the pride and strength of international socialism. And that is why the future victory will bloom from this ‘defeat’. ‘Order reigns in Berlin!’ You stupid henchmen! Your ‘order’ is built on sand. Tomorrow the revolution will already ‘raise itself with a rattle’ and announce with fanfare, to your terror:
I was, I am, I shall be!”

This is a revolution we have yet to see. Yet we have seen the universalization and the hollowing out of the notion of the proletariat class: there is no clear proletariat class in the differentiated sense. There is just various strata of labor aristocracies with a few capitalists providing means for the movement of capital like, say, Warren Buffet. This has led to Burnham’s managerial society critique, Ricci’s bureaucratic collectivism critique, post-modernism, and Maoist third-worldism. The definition of proletariat becomes fluid. For even in the 1% that #Occupy organizes against is indeed both a capitalist class and a proletariat as it is both owners of the means of the production and wage-earners in separate businesses. Furthermore, the definition of the lower forms of the proletariat have been expanded to include non-wage earners like peasants and slum-dwellers/the excluded.

These are superficial observations and yet the return to Marx has been largely in a sectarian mode, and in the contexts of a working class movement or in base/superstructure argument or about social democracy or left-liberalism. It is easy to point out how much this is a history not of an coming Endstaat in the Hegelian sense, but a real danger that perhaps we do not understand what is actually at stake in the current. While I would disagree with Badiou in the sense that I do not think we can say that Marx has nothing to say to the current, but the insistence to read Marx as a prophet or a final arbitrator is to render unto Marx what Marx has rendered unto Feuerbach. The Marxian critique is a methodology of understanding that is rooted in classical economics mixed with Hegelian dialectics. We can take Adorno and approach dialectics negatively, but this means that Marxism is our critique: it is not our answer. Furthermore, we must becareful when speaking about totalities to realize that totalities are not real or ontological entities, they are ideas in colored by a historical movement of time in space. They are total not in that encompass, create, or define all beings and relationships, but that they can be understood in the context of all relationships. Yet the relationships can also reproduce the same values. Therefore, the base/super-structure is not a epiphenomenal or emergent condition, but a relationship of types that reinforce each other. To fail to realize that this is a dialectic process and not one of simple predicate logic is misleading translate the thesis into a structural context that it didn’t belong.

Gramsci made something like this point in “The October Revolution against Das Kapital” in which the over-determined idea that contradictions generate all over-coming, yet the contradictions in capitalism, which is merely a set of relationships doesn’t seem to work this way, it seems to produce crisis which cause the logic of capital to mutate, not be supplemented. Furthermore, the state does not wither under transitional epoch theories, it actually strengthens until it cracks and uses its cracking as justification for another strengthening. There can be not rupture into a synthesis in predicate logic treatment of time, only negative. Negation is necessary but not enough. Yet we seem to speak as if all this hadn’t happened and we can pick of the Manifesto and quote it chapter and verse and have an answer.

One may be a Marxist in critique, but that isn’t a politics in and of itself.

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About El Mono Liso

Por una civilización de la pobreza.

Posted on November 27, 2011, in ideology. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. There’s more to Marx’s philosophy of history than the Communist Manifesto, although that text is still extremely useful for indicating Marx’s dialectical approach to capital.

    The reason that the state has not withered away (as supposed by liberal thinkers of the classical bourgeois-emancipatory era, such as Kant and Benjamin Constant), why indeed the state made a comeback in the mid-19th century (what Marx termed “Bonapartism” and “imperialism”) not abating all the way up to the present, is, according to Marx, due precisely to the sharpening of the contradiction of post-Industrial Revolution capital. The state is a symptom of the crisis of capital.

    This is because capital was the crisis (and betrayal — “negation”) of bourgeois society, and continues to be up to this day. All (*all*) post-Industrial Revolution politics, even and perhaps especially in supposed “liberal democracy” evince the character of Bonapartism.

    Liberalism and democracy — the classical bourgeois conceptions of emancipatory politics — remain emancipatory desiderata, but have become, according to Marx, both necessary and *impossible* due to the crisis of capital, which has only increased (even if it has become more obscure, especially through 20th century history up to the present).

    Gramsci, I’m sorry to have to say, is not a very reliable interpreter of either Marx or Lenin//Bolshevism. Furthermore, he has been subject to abusive misinterpretation, especially since the time of the New Left. The reason Gramsci is so popular is because he can be put to ill use.

    There is no positive Marxist “politics” to be found, either in Marx or in Lenin. It’s a mistaken search to look for this.

    What Marx(ism) provided by was the immanent critique of the socialist workers’ movement that sought to advance it practically — including and perhaps especially advancing its self-contradictions. This is because Marxism regards politics as a symptomatic domain of a problematic society.

    Marxism is sui generis, absolutely. Various “Marxisms” have liquidated its difference, in various directions (e.g., assimilating it Machiavelli, Spnoza, et al.), including liquidating its *critical* difference from other forms of “socialist” consciousness.

    There is a legitimate question of the relevance of Marxism. But first there must be clarity about what it is (and is not).

  2. I do not reject Marxism ultimately, like say, Badiou. I just think that one must be open to the fact that parts of it may no longer relevant as anything beyond a methodology. That said, I definitely see your point about the hybridization of Marxism in a lot of later “Marxist” thinkers deluding down the core of the critique. Gramisci with Machiavelli, Negri with Spinoza. Now, that is not to say that I think that there is nothing to be learned from dealing with differing thinkers in context, but there seems to be an avoidance of real problems in the moves we are both describing. Hence my feeling that I need to go back to Hegel and start where Marx started as much as I need to go back to Marxists. (By the way, I have been enjoying the introductory reading list to Platypus and it has clarified things for me. Sometime I want to pick your brain on Foucault’s problems. I have a problem with Foucault and its oddly the same problem I have with Althusser).

  3. Not at all odd since Foucault was a student of Althusser!

  4. Yes although I thought the difference between them was more profound than they actually end up being

  5. Yes, Foucault and Althusser both end up (as does Badiou and many others) emphasizing freedom as contingency. (By the way, Verso/New Left Review, with whose book spines you are decorating your site can be considered the ultimate surviving Altusserian New Left project, a strange blend of Althusser+Trotskyism (also exemplified in many respects by the SWP/U.K., e.g., Alex Callinicos.) It’s all anti-Hegelian.

  6. It’s not all Verso texts, but those are my introductions Chris. I didn’t come from a sectarian mileau. I came from reading Marx, Lenin,and Zizek pretty much on my own after the crash. I also still read Badiou and find some of his points salient, but I would have to agree that this is a move away from Hegel and a problematic one at that. There are some extremely anti-Hegelian texts in that stack (Latour and Delueze). However, it is time to redecorate.

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