Originally posted on The Charnel-House.
One of the points on which I take issue most with Domenico Losurdo’s interpretation of historical liberalism regards the old issue of civil society’s relationship to the state. This is, of course, a topic that should be quite familiar to anyone who’s read Hegel (or Marx’s critique of Hegel, for that matter). For Losurdo, a noted Hegel scholar, the entire debate is by now surely second nature. How this figures into the broader history of liberalism might be less clear to readers, however. This might be briefly spelled out.
In his sweeping overview of liberal thought down through the ages, Liberalism: A counter-history, Losurdo highlights “the self-government of civil society” as one of its core organizing principles. By “civil society” he is here clearly referring to the Third Estate, understood as the undifferentiated mass of commoners exempt from feudal privileges, in contradistinction to the First and Second Estates, comprised of the clergy and the nobility (respectively). The self-governance of civil society thus required the bourgeoisie’s emancipation from the rule of the ancien régime. “First with the Glorious Revolution and then later, more completely, with the American Revolution,” writes Losurdo, “the assertion of self-government by civil society hegemonized by slaveholders involved the definitive liquidation of traditional forms of ‘interference’ by political and religious authority.” Further on, with specific reference to the American context, he writes: “The conquest of self-government by civil society hegemonized by large-scale property involved an even more drastic deterioration in the condition of the indigenous population. The end of the control exercised by the London government swept away the last obstacles to the expansionistic march of the white colonists.” Read the rest of this entry
My interview with Mathijis Krul has been published at the North Star. Here is a sample:
.Derick Varn: Do you think value theory is an area of Marxism that is particularly under-explored in relationship to class relations? I am thinking of the development of the so-called “Third World” and how understanding “abstract value” can lead one to make predictions about geo-political relationships in the global South?
Matthijs Krul: Value theory is of course not under-explored in Marxism as a whole. Since the 1980s or so there has been a great revival in Marxist economic theory, especially in exploring the nature and implications of Marx’s value theory. But in relation to class, other than purely in the abstract, is another issue. One important problem with much analysis of class in the modern world is that it is taken for granted, as if class relations are the starting point of the analysis, rather than a subject of analysis themselves from the point of view of Marxist economic theory. There is much ado about the precariat, changes from industrial to service work, and things of that kind, but there is not much interest in the history of the development of classes in the 20th century as tests of Marxist economic theory in themselves, least of all value theory. Here is where so-called Third Worldism comes into its own. In the work of e.g. Emmanuel and Amin, but more so in the work of people like Zak Cope, we find a systematic attempt to understand global economic relations as class relations as well as understanding these class relations as being the working out, in concrete empirical history, of more general and abstract Marxist economic theory. In most radical analysis you have either the former — as in William I. Robinson’s theory of the transnational capitalist class — or the latter, as in for example the debates about the bourgeois revolution or the nature of the USSR. But rarely do you have both.
I am not sure I would speak here of predictions, however — it’s more a matter of explanatory value. Keep in mind economic theory is always more general than the reality analyzed, and so we’re dealing with different levels of empirical application. It’s not pure, abstract modeling as in neoclassical economics, but I would not dare say I can predict how the global class struggle will develop. I think there is an ongoing struggle between the divergent tendencies identified by the ‘Third Worldist’ labor aristocracy thesis on the one hand, and convergent tendencies resulting from shifts in global production and the decline of the Western social-democratic consensus on the other hand. Value theory is an indispensable tool to understanding both of these. Without it we’re stuck either in chauvinist assumptions about the significance of white workers, or in purely distributional arguments for global equality of the kind common in Green and ‘alternate globalization’ movements. But value theory is not much more capable of prediction than any other economic theory.
C.D.V.: Are you familiar with Andrew Kliman’s explanation of the current crisis? If you are, what are the implications for the Global South?
M.K.: Yes, I have followed Kliman’s work quite closely. I gave a very favorable review of his defense of the so-called temporal single-system interpretation (TSSI) in refuting the inconsistency attributed to Marx’s theory of value, and I have been very intrigued by the way in which he consistently opposes ‘fixing’ Marx by applying amalgams of Keynesian and other theories to his work, like is fashionable today. His emphasis on the importance of temporality in making sense of capitalism as a dynamic system, and thereby of value theory itself, is really valuable I think.
For our purposes, I think the most important work is his book The Failure of Capitalist Production. As I understand him, his argument is essentially that neoliberalism has not seen a decrease in workers’ total compensation in favor of corporate profits, as is often alleged (although it has flatlined), and that financialization is not the result of a ballooning profitability. On the contrary, he sees the capitalist system as suffering a secular decline in the rate of profit since the early 1970s, and financialization, speculation and debt, as well as the austerity drives we see today, are attempts at overcoming that inherent barrier to the accumulation of capital. But such methods cannot succeed, because contrary to the ‘left’ Keynesian interpretations, Marx’s value theory indicates that the only way out of a capitalist crisis is by restoring the rate of profit, i.e. by destroying large amounts of (fictitious) value, not, as is done by all Western governments today, by means of bailouts and liquidity drives. Those only kick the can down the road, and make the problem for capitalism worse in the long run, by piling up more debt, generating more unproductive speculation, and thereby pushing the rate of profit down further.
One major consequence of Kliman’s consistent application of Marxist economics is the emphasis on opposing purely distributional responses — all these Marxo-Keynesian attempts to ‘stimulate’ by redistributing wealth, or restoring the welfare state, or calling for nationalizations and public investment works. Instead, as Kliman shows, the contradiction of capital means you have to choose between one of two evils: either ameliorate the crisis now by emergency measures of that kind, and suffer a worse one soon, or ride out the storm, with all the attendant unemployment, immiseration, and unfreedom we have seen in the Great Depression and the Victorian age. Neither option is desirable: that’s exactly why capitalism itself is the problem, and must be overthrown.
In terms of the Global South, this does have some implications. Kliman’s work on the origins of the crisis is statistically limited to the US, although very likely to apply (mutatis mutandis) to the West generally. Worldwide, we have seen a decline in capitalist growth systematically since the 1970s, even despite the new capitalist drives in China, Brazil, and so forth. The poor conditions for investment in the West have driven shifts in production to the Global South, but the longer run effect of this will simply be to equalize this already low rate of profit, and eventually to drive it down even further. This is the inherent tendency of capitalism to do through its expansion of capital and technology, and a ‘Luxemburgian’ solution in the Global South cannot be sustained.
This means, to my mind, that the longer run trend is quite possibly more one of convergence than of divergence. Firstly because the capitalist class is more and more losing their incentive for maintaining the social-democratic ‘historical agreement’ with the labor aristocracy in the West, and is thereby actively destroying the legacy of social-democracy and its basis in sharing the loot of unequal exchange. Secondly because the operation of a global law of value, with a longer run global decline in the rate of profit, will generate similar crisis phenomena in the Global South as it has in the Global North, and in that sense, in a very slow but real way the dissimilarities in social position between the Southern working class and the Northern are being overcome. Keep in mind that for the first time in world history, the majority of the global population is now actually urban workers. If we actively oppose the easy, nostalgic social-democratic and Keynesian answers in the West, and focus on attacking capitalist relations of production themselves and not just questions of the 99% and so forth, we may actually have a better basis for internationalism between the North and South in the long run than it seems at first sight. But that social-democratic nostalgia, whether in its left or its ‘social fascist’ form, is of course popular with Western workers in the shorter run. Kliman gives us powerful economic materials for opposing it, even if that’s not his political intent.
Just before Easter, the US stock market hit an all-time record high. The world index remains below its 2000 and 2007 peaks. Is this a signal that the US economy at least is now in full recovery and heading for better times, with the rest of the capitalist world not far behind?
Well, stock markets are not good guides of the short to medium term future, especially right now.
Dean Whiteside studied at the University of Music and Preforming Arts, Vienna, and has an deep interest in re-integrating music theory with materialism.
C. Derick Varn: The debates on aesthetics and Marxism have often been framed in terms of visual arts and in terms of music. This, perhaps, is the legacy of Adorno. Do you see Adorno as a primary entry point to Marxist musicology?
Dean Whiteside: It is not enough to say that Adorno was partial to music. For Adorno, the mutual dependency between musical and critical thinking cuts both ways. For this reason, many of Adorno’s deepest thoughts work through the relation between music and conceptual thinking. Adorno claims that German music and philosophy constituted a single system since the time of Kant and Beethoven. Adorno has a critical take on this relationship. His method is deeply historical and sensitive to the ways in which music embodies the antagonisms of bourgeois capitalist society, especially its fissures and points of non-identity. Left at that, Adorno would be suggesting merely another way to think about the relationship between music and society. But his inquiry is deeper: he wants to interrogate the social truth content of music itself. Music does not lie outside of capital, nor does it provide a safe haven from instrumental reason, but it also isn’t reducible to them: it’s a mode of thinking about what is contradictory and unarticulated within the world. Through music we discover the possibility of thinking about thought insofar as thought finds itself sublated within musical form, often through the concepts and signs which have the most authority over us, especially basic ones like repetition and self-identity. Thought is saved from the fate of merely smashing its face repeatedly against a mirror: its redemption lies in the broken and bloody shards on the floor—music, if you will (certainly Neue Musik). Conceptual thinking then faces the burden of making sense of its own broken image. The anxiety which neue Musik causes us is that we don’t recognize ourselves in the fragments. Thought’s return to itself must overcome a moment of mis-recognition. Many listeners don’t get past the initial: “Wtf, that’s not me!” Their reaction is wrong but understandable. Obversely, Adorno wants to problematize the moment of false recognition that bourgeois listeners experience while listening to Mozart or Beethoven. Adorno insists that Beethoven’s music is Hegelian philosophy in a truer form than Hegel’s philosophy itself could ever be. This is not an analogy. He maintains that although we can no longer write music like Beethoven, we should still think and act like Beethoven’s music. This amounts to an ideal of praxis which I think Adorno himself only occasionally lives up to. His failings are usually on the side of musical theory, namely a simplistic understanding of tonality and harmony. So to answer your question, yes and no.
C.D.V.: An unusual focus has been placed on Adorno’s critique of Jazz, particularly denouncing it as Eurocentric or ascetic, but what do you think the real issues were at hand in his critique of popular music and do you think they are relevant now?
D.W.: I think Adorno’s argument has often been taken out of context and used for ideological ends. This text is often attacked as representative of intellectual elitism, Eurocentrism, and even white supremacy. Even if Adorno was not knowledgeable about the object of his criticism—it’s not clear what “jazz” or “pop” he was actually exposed to—it’s not our task to replicate his tastes or defend his ignorance, but to understand the logic of his critique. We should not take for granted the fracturedness of a society in which Boulez and Britney Spears co-exist, both produced within late capitalism and symptomatic of it in different ways. It is a condition of our historical moment that Boulez is incomprehensible to most people and Britney Spears accessible to many more. We should abjure the false choice between an elitist, top-down modernism or a populist, bottom-up mass art. According to this logic, you’re either an elitist or a man of the people. Our first critical move should not be to unreflectively choose one side or the other, but to step back and assess the political and socio-historical conditions which produce this false choice: their co-existence reflects our antagonistic historical condition. To claim that all “high art”is inherently superior is a reflex of elitism. There are bad 12-tone pieces just as there are thoughtful pop songs. It’s clear that Adorno limited his inquiry to formally complex or resistant artworks; we shouldn’t necessarily follow suit. A danger of the culture industry is that it reproduces the ruling ideology and seals off its products from critical engagement. One sees this in the injunction not to think implicit in the claim: “Hey, it’s just a song!”
It’s possible that Adorno underestimated the extent to which the re-circulation of our needs and desires by mass media in the service of capital would become an essential way of navigating our alienated way of life. We all crave some niche of popular culture, whether it’s Hollywood or MTV, and we shouldn’t (always) feel guilty about that. It’s not the case that all consumers of mass media are mindless drones; it’s also true that mainstream pop bands can write interesting stuff. So although Adorno sometimes over-emphasized the side of production and neglected the particularity of individual art objects, especially pop ones, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Adorno left us useful tools to help formulate a materialist critique of music.
C.D.V.: What do you see as the explicit foundations for such a materialist critique of music?
D.W.: I don’t think the conditions can be made explicit. This would amount to a set of axioms or prescriptions about how to to critique music, which I’d like to avoid. We need more than a historicist account which merely reports in a putatively objective way on the historical or socio-political contexts of a work’s production and reception. Some musicology locates relationships of patriarchy, ideology, or biopower within music itself. We should be grateful that these approaches have criticized and undermined the authority of the work concept, brought to light music’s dependence on history and culture, and made us aware that musical meaning is constituted inter-subjectively and not only within musical texts themselves. We should reject the crude rebuttal that these approaches have a “political agenda” or that we should return to an essentialist or ahistorical critique of music.
That being said, I think the historicist approach is neither political enough nor properly historical. Too often it assumes that our own historical position is privileged and outside of history. Sometimes it abjures formal or syntactical analysis of musical texts completely, claiming that to refer to an autonomous text is formalistic and disassociated from history and culture. This is wrong. Texts speak mutely in a language whose intentions were always already negated by the culture which made them homeless. Insofar as music works to make its objectless intentions convincing, it becomes ambiguous at its moment of blinding clarity (Ask a music lover to articulate what she’s feeling at the end of Mahler 9 or Götterdämmerung; her tongue-tied, stammering inarticulateness is evidence, rather than disproof, of the certainty and integrity of her emotional response). Therefore, critique as a mere way of explaining social practices or drawing historical connections is not only insufficient but violent: it uses the positivity of historicity to bring music back into a world to which it never belonged. It reconciles music to its place in history. Music as a symptom of bourgeois capital is historical precisely in its not belonging to history. Often it inherits the future of a past which went unfulfilled (Brahms or Mahler); at other times, it looks toward a future in which that past will finally be buried and done with (Berlioz or Stockhausen). Only in rare cases, say Max Reger, is it interested in the present.
It seems like I’ve only offered ways not to critique. So here’s another one: critique which refers formally to a necessary link between theory and practice without offering any material to that dialectic (as it seems I’m doing now). So I have no easy formulations. I think critics (and performers) should start with the music which moves them and try to articulate their subjective responses. Critiquing music well means first caring about it: without this, one is merely regurgitating an academic discourse. There is Truth in music, and a formal understanding of music’s surface, of its thwarted intentions, is often the best way to grasp the truth of the world it failed to realize.
C.D.V.: Are you at all concerned over anti-aesthetic sentiments in the left (such as in Anti-Nietzsche by Malcolm Bull)? Do you think the radicalization of art has pushed us away at the radicalization of aesthetics?
D.W.: What does concern me is the tendency of today’s left to use aesthetic spectacle as a substitute for political action. The overestimation of the role of art is symptomatic of a failed or even non-existent politics. Occupy Wall St, for example, used art to put forward its explicit political message, often through catchy slogans on banners and video projections. First, the politics which is espoused in these spectacles of cultural resistance is usually tepid and simplistic. Often it asks people to wake up and change their subjective attitude towards the System, or the Man, as if the political issue at stake were one of “attitude.” Second, the attempt of performance art to synthesize art and politics is itself flawed and symptomatic of our lacking a real politics. Today at 3:30 we enjoy our symptom for two hours, we take part in an onanistic community of solidarity, and then we go home. It’s a symptom of our historical condition that politics becomes spectacle so quickly in the absence of authentic political organization. Spectacle, attempting to be the re-presentation of politics, actually functions as its end station, taking a political moment which failed to actualize itself in the world and re-inscribing it within a self-enclosed realm with clearly delineated boundaries, a beginning and an end. Our political failures migrate to spectacle when their claims can no longer be pressed within the world. Spectacle is where politics goes to die, but it is celebrated within these pageants as vibrant and thriving.
We should note that the form of this art is always fun and comprehensible. Its form, as such, is incidental, and the content it represents is independent of it—independent of representation, which is to say that it’s not artistic form at all. What is the alternative? I’m not advocating formalist or autonomous art, per se, either: this seems moot as well, though perhaps in more redeemable ways.
C.D.V.: Has Guy Debord affected any of your approaches to musicology?
D.W.: Not explicitly, no.
C.D.V.: What kind of politics can we extract from popular music at the moment?
D.W.: I’m interested in the form of this question. It suggests that the critic’s job is to look at a musical work, tease out its underlying social content, and transpose that content into a set of political prescriptions. Who is performing that task, and for whom? Sometimes the task is quick easy when a piece has an obviously unsavory or reactionary political content. Locating its political content serves as a way of avoiding thinking any further about it: we call something “kitschy” or “regressive” or even “disgusting,” which can also carry a political judgment, and are absolved from having to interact with it anymore. These concepts function like “homeless person”–they ask us to pass over the object in question once we have identified it as such. It’s fair to say that sometimes this is called for, like a piece named “Pussy be Yankin.” The politics one can extract is clear enough from the title.
The same process is much more difficult for thoughtful pieces of music, which I don’t think should be categorized according to “pop” or “classical.” Utopian music advocates a clear-headed egalitarian politics and is wrong precisely for its clarity and certainty. Adorno writes that “Authentic expression probably only exists as the expression of negativity, of suffering.” Art renounces substantive and affirmative being and takes refuge in shadowy form, and for this reason its most powerful claims are mute and covert, rather than political or didactic. Art is able, remarkably, to survive within our historical condition–we shouldn’t underestimate this feat–and continue to have an impotent sort of power over us. Webern, not a pop composer by any measure, does not offer a politics. The music embodies domination and totalization as well as reflectiveness and profundity. Webern’s mute, lonely speech, elusive and alienated from purposeful articulation, persists spectrally. This is reflective of our political condition but indicative of an absence, rather than presence, of real politics. Art which affirms a politics or Weltethos–usually one entails the other–should set off alarm bells.
Thinking about art always comes after the fact, after art has already represented the world. Critique should first make sense of art’s own representation, rather than impose its own. Art and philosophy are both types of thinking, which is to say forms of representation, but they are distinct, although not wholly irreconcilable. The best critique about music is musical, much like the best music is rigorously conceptual.
C.D.V.: What do make of many non-Frankfurt school influenced Marxists who would say this is letting idealism in through an aesthetic back door?
D.W.: Good, I’ll refer to the argument between Adorno and Lukacs as a way of addressing this issue. Lukacs was opposed to avant-garde literature insofar as it depicted the ruptures and discontinuities which define the consciousness of bourgeois subjects. He felt that this distorted image of individual experience was conflated with reality itself, thus amounting to idealism. This argument is grounded in Lukacs’s Hegelian reading of Marx. He argues that Marx put Hegelian philosophy into practice by showing how the relationship between universal and particular finds expression in the commodity form, which he claims represents the most extreme form of abstraction within capitalist production. Unlike the vulgar economists who remain enclosed by their abstract, fetishized world, a Marxist critique—and here is where art comes in as well—looks at the total process of social reproduction. So art for Lukacs must dig deep and express the social content of the world as it actually is; it’s insufficient to merely depict the network of abstract relations which constitute the surface of society. Merely describing the state of mind of bourgeois subjects (stream of consciousness, for example), amounts to a fragmentary and chaotic, therefore undialectical perspective on social reality.
For Adorno, Lukacs misunderstands the way in which social reality is represented. Reality is not directly accessible to our consciousness. The content of artworks is not real in the same way reality is (in fact, it’s realer). Adorno writes: “If this distinction is lost, then all attempts to provide a real foundation for aesthetics must be doomed to failure.” Adorno grants that art exists in the world, that is has a function in that world, and that the two realms have strong mediating links; however, “as art it remains the antithesis of that which is the case.” Regarding idealism, he claims: “It is no idealistic crime for art to provide essences, ‘images’; the fact that many artists have inclined towards an idealist philosophy says nothing about the content of their works.”
One can explain the tendency towards idealism in Adorno by what he understands as the non-identity between consciousness and social reality. Reality is not empirical: it’s inseparable from the concepts we use to describe it, and these concepts are socially mediated. Adorno’s dialectical method means to interrogate the social content inherent in these concepts, not to observe the world as it actually exists–that’s impossible. Materialism can only be reached by boring through idealism, by subjecting our own concepts to critique so that we might finally understand and return to them. Put more politically: the transformation of material reality will only occur through a breakthrough in self-consciousness.
Social reality for Adorno is always already mediated within art. So consider Lukacs’s claim that a stream of consciousness novel is undialectical insofar as regresses to the individual’s immediate experience; No, Adorno says, through this, an image of the object is absorbed into the subject, which amounts to a synthesis between subject and object. This type of literature—and Adorno was a supporter of avant-garde literature, especially Beckett—keeps the object from merely persisting out in the world in a state of reification. From this arises an important contradiction between the actual, unreconciled object in the world, and the object which has been mediated by a subject. A negative form of knowledge is born from this contradiction which makes critique possible. So aesthetic distance from the world is essential for Adorno’s form of critique; mere “portrayal” of social reality, as he thinks Lukacs means it, is undialectical.
C.D.V.: Why do you think there are so many heirs to Lukacs argument?
D.W.: I don’t want it to seem that I’m dismissing Lukacs by giving Adorno the last word, although we do have to admit that he was limited as an art theorist. The return to a Lukacsian model advocated by Jameson, for example, tries to address art’s changing relationship to capital. If Lukacs’s theory, according to his critics, offers a closed and integrated totality,a layover of German idealism, within which artworks are bound to un-dialectically representing the world, the alternative, call it the avant-garde, focuses instead on the ruptures within experience, mirroring, so to say, the cracks and breakdowns which are internal and essential to the reproduction of capital. Jameson claims that within late capitalism these avant-garde techniques of rupture and estrangement have become appropriated by the culture industry, even becoming the mode through which we’re reconciled as fragmented subjects to capitalism. I’m thinking of the ways in which music videos and TV shows, for example, often utilize sophisticated techniques derived from formally radical artworks. What follows from this is the thought that we need to return to a form of totality in the precise Lukacsian sense, to return to a realism which articulates and makes transparent moments of class struggle. I think we would need to more closely interrogate the concept of “totality” at work in Jameson. I don’t think it withholds critical scrutiny. That being said, I’m not sure that there are as many heirs to Lukacs’s argument as you indicate, Jameson being the most notable that I’m aware of.
C.D.V.: Is there any music criticism that seems to you in line with your view of materialist musical critique?
D.W.: Sure. There is plenty of very intelligent musical criticism out there, much of which unfortunately seems destined for the academy. I like Jonathan Neufeld’s work because it tries to engage with concrete musical practices, although in political terms I think he situates his theory too much in relation to democracy and not enough in relation to capital. As a practicing musician, rather than a theorist, it’s important to me that criticism contribute to musical praxis. I think interesting and provocative performances can also do this, provoking dialogue about musical works in order to keep them from becoming ossified. This depends on listeners who are able to critically engage with what they’re hearing. So I like thinkers who write musically, which includes such divergent types as Peter Kivy, Susan McClary, Michael Rose, and Charles Rosen. I like Badiou’s writing about music, especially Wagner; one really senses that he loves it; Zizek, less so. Music is hard to talk about because it’s essentially abstract, and arguments about its meaning have kept music criticism in a self-critical state, with disagreements still occurring over basic ontological definitions which have long been assumed in other fields of art. This might explain the relative paucity of Marxist musical criticism. Music’s abstractness, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. Music’s difficulty, its opaqueness and resistance to thinking, are qualities which Adorno prized. These traits should be viewed as holding dialectical potential for critique.
C.D.V.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
D.W.: I suspect that the philosopher’s anxiety over ending well is surpassed only by the musician’s. Modern composers face the problem of how to end a piece without providing closure or affirming the identitarian nature of being. The quiet, open-ended coda has become almost a cliche of modern music. Conversely, philosophy’s inhibitions over ending affirmatively rarely hinder it from doing just that. I hope I haven’t suggested any party line about the right or wrong way to think about music. What I’m encouraging is an approach which does not consider its subject of critique as standing outside of the form in which it is being theoretically considered. This means that thinking about music is not merely a conceptual but also a mimetic process. In performing this, thinking must confront what is non-identical and other to thought. In this sense, authentic philosophy relies on art. Music’s survival as a social practice is in turn bound up in talking about it. It’s a shame that musicians and critics are so often indifferent to how their colleagues feel about music. Let’s be more interested in this personal level: often this is the best way to start a conversation.
Noah Gataveckas is a member of the IMT.
Derick Varn: You were recently involved in a somewhat heated debate that I took part in on the legacy of Ted Grant. Why do you think Ted Grant is so crucial to modern Trotskyism?
Noah Gataveckas: For the same reason that the debate was so heated. After all, when most people think of “Trotskyism,” they think of the Fourth International. But the Fourth International was a failure which, despite failing, survives to this day as a zombie formation. As I said in the exchange, the various sects that haunt the Left today are akin to ghosts which have arisen due to an improper burial service. Trotsky was never properly buried, so all sorts of distortions and revisions of his figure continues to haunt the scene of the Left to this day. His repressed legacy returns as the return of the repressed, which is what we find as the grotesque symptom of Leftist sectarianism in the contemporary political arena.
Thus “Trotskyism” is the question of the day: how does it work? The way that bad “Trotskyism” perpetuates itself in a kind-of undead way demonstrates perfectly what Althusser called an “ideological survival,” an ideology which perpetuates itself like a meme, in spite of the historical collapse of its material antecedents. But what makes “Trotskyism” different than just any old ideological phenomenon like “Gangnam style” or whatever, is that there is a historical reason for our inability to move past it on the Left. Trotsky and Lenin should be conceived as biconditional inputs to the Russian Revolution, which is the event which we need to rediscover today more than any other. Their practical solidarity attests to their overwhelming theoretical agreement, even if their clashes tend to get overemphasized today in the same way that Lenin’s disagreements with Rosa Luxemburg tend to get portrayed today in a sensationalist fashion. There are a lot of false notions about “Trotskyism” out there and it’s time to set the record straight. This is where Grant comes into play.
Grant’s thought is so crucial for us today because it allows us to bypass this roadblock that is the Fourth International. Grant basically got expelled at the beginning of it. This is because he challenged the proclamations of the leadership by predicting correctly the postwar economic boom, which the leadership of the Fourth International – Pablo, Mandel, Cannon, Healy, etc. – thought was impossible. They were predicting the return of fascism and the beginning of World War III, every year until 1953 or so. Thus Grant is kind of like the Trotsky of “Trotskyism” itself, who, like Trotsky getting elbowed out of the Third International by Stalin and Co., got elbowed out of the Fourth International by the Zinovievite and Stalinist tactics of the leadership of the Fourth International, mainly because he was correct in his analyses.
Another way I tried to explain this is that Grant should be conceived in the following way: if Trotsky is the thesis, and the Fourth International quickly became the practical negation of what Trotsky really stood for, then Grant is the negation of the negation. Here we must recall what the figure of the negation of the negation – otherwise known as synthesis, sublation, in any case aufhebung – represents: simultaneous cancelling and preservation at a higher level. Grant is the one who allows us to get beyond the Fourth International, since he is also the figure that allows the Fourth International to get over itself. For example, I don’t know anyone who goes around and first and foremost labels themselves as “Grant-ites.”
We are Marxists, communists. Let’s get back to basics: Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky. That’s what Grant was about.
C.D.V.: How do you characterize the tension between Ted Grant and Tony Cliff the division that emerged, first in British and then in international Trotskyism?
N.G.: First of all, I’m not sure if many followers of Cliff would describe themselves as “Trotskyist.” His theory of “deflected permanent revolution” was an open rejection of Trotsky’s basic ideas. In a way, Cliff’s tendency is defined by a theoretical regression, which is evident even when compared to the problematic versions of “Trotskyism” that are to be found in the writings of Mandel or Cannon. Cliff is more like a stray who struck out on his own and, without a map to guide him, got lost in the wilderness.
But you’re right that there is a certain tension between the two figures. The main theoretical distinction boils down to the question of the USSR: is it “state capitalism” or a “deformed workers state”? Here we have to remember that both of these terms were used by Lenin and Trotsky to describe the Soviet Union at one point or another. However, “state capitalism” was used to refer to the days of the New Economic Policy, which ended when Stalin initiated collectivization in
1928. Based on this definition, it makes more sense to describe the China of today as “state capitalist” then it does to describe the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Meanwhile the term “deformed workers state” came about through the exchanges of Lenin and Trotsky: while the latter called the Soviet Union a “workers state,” Lenin made sure to note that it had a “bureaucratic twist.” This is what would develop into a menace with the consolidation of Stalinism and the entrenchment of the planned economy, as it is explained in Trotsky’s vital book The Revolution Betrayed. Grant understood the uniqueness of the Soviet economy as it developed into the postwar period, while it seems that Cliff was all too eager to repress the complexities of the situation. The entire problematic status of the Soviet Union is downplayed with Cliff’s approach, which tends to make a kind of category mistake, insofar as it conflates the similarities of profit- and planned-economies into a single kind of category, similar to the way that Horkheimer and Adorno’s “industrial society” is brought to apply to the United States, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union all at the same time. These all-or-nothing terms, though, can’t tell us a thing about the particularized social differences which came to markedly manifest themselves as a result of the material development of the Soviet economy. And yet this is what is at stake here.
Sometimes I’m tempted to think that Cliff was lazy in his classification of the Soviet Union as “state capitalist,” insofar as he thought capitalism was bad and what he saw happening in the Soviet Union was bad, by the time he was born, so he came to classify the Soviet Union as capitalism with a state twist. Though I suppose this makes it all the easier as a theory to accommodate an outlook that is rooted not so much in a philosophy as it is in a pretense for unbridled opportunism.
But don’t take it from me. Grant’s essay from 1949 on the weaknesses of Cliff’s thought is a great text, along with his “Will There Be a Slump?” from 1960 and “Programme of the International” from 1970. If there were three Grant texts that every person should read, especially if they considered themselves “Marxists,” these would be the three that I would recommend.
C.D.V.: How would you characterize the differences between the three major Trotskyist tendencies: the International Marxist Tendency, the International Socialist Tendency, and the International Bolshevik Tendency?
N.G.: I think I’ve said enough about the Cliffites for now. The people from the IBT that I have met so far have seemed like good people. In fact they once or twice came out to a reading group that I go to, that is put on by the Platypus Affiliates. Let me tell you: I’ve been to meetings with other sectarian groups before, and they have quickly degenerated into an embarrassing situation. Perhaps the best compliment I can give to the IBT is that I am not embarrassed to stand in a room with them, which is more than what I can say for most of the so-called “Marxists” that I’ve met here in Toronto, who cannot be Marxists because they are sectarians.
Which puts the IBT in a funny place. They seem to me like honest Marxists, but I’m afraid that they fall into the trap of sectarianism. Their orientation to the traditional organizations of struggle, which have historical significance for the workers and masses, is completely disorienting. Big events in history split parties, sending factions reeling in different directions across the political spectrum. Dynamis defines the site of the political struggle, not stasis; rule can only last for a short while. To assume that one is going to build a mass revolution on a one-by-one basis is to disavow the already existing class struggle. To never work in a dialectic relationship with the dynamics of the class struggle as they operate in the world leaves one incapable to win over and consolidate the actual organized sections of the working class who make up the masses of society. And without them, there is no revolutionary potential.
I think this results to taking an empiricist approach to a question which, as dialectical materialists, must be treated dialectically. At the same time, this question can also be resolved by the strictest appeal to the writings of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky. In the Communist Manifesto Marx even says that the communists do not form a separate party from the working class parties, we do not set up sectarian principles by which to stand apart from the masses. Lenin discusses it in Left-Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder, in the chapters of how communism should relate to bourgeois parliaments and, in particular, British politics. And Trotsky is of course the one who provided the theoretical basis for entryism in the first place with his writings on the French Turn. So you can see why I am perplexed by the IBT, considering that these guys can claim to be taking the ideas of Marx, Lenin, and Trotsky to heart in their desire to build the forces of a revolutionary tendency.
The International Marxist Tendency has always stood apart from the sects of the Left. This is due to our willingness to engage in the class struggle that is going on all around us. We have always understood that there are no shortcuts to Marxist organizing; that the mountain will not
come to us, that we shall have to go to the mountain. And what a steep mountain at that! Still, Marx reminds us that there is no royal road to science, and that only those who are willing to invest the effort will be able to reap the rewards of the luminous summit. That Ted Grant’s approach to mountain climbing has the potential to be a successful strategy in the advanced capitalist countries has been proven by what happened with Militant in the 1980s. After all, what would Lenin and Trotsky have done in these situations, aside from what Grant did and wanted to do? That is, considering that his perspectives and tactics were modelled directly upon the thoughts and deeds of Lenin and Trotsky?
I think it is high time that the Left came to get over its melancholia for itself. Freud described melancholia as the sickness that stems from mourning the loss of something before it has gone away. Instead of lamenting the collapse of the Left, it is time to get serious. I became a supporter of the IMT after having a series of conversations at Occupy Toronto, which I was involved with at the time. I was impressed by the way that they were one of the few formations on the Left that had an optimistic, engaged attitude about their work. At the same time their tactical interpretation of Marxism was essentially correct, based on the Marx and Lenin that I had already read. The people from the IMT taught me that time spent feeling sorry for ourselves due to the sad state of the Left today is time wasted when we could have been organizing. Never forget that the class struggle keeps going, with or without the attention of its so-called “Marxists.” It is our responsibility to keep this broad perspective with regards to the movement in mind, so as to better represent the interests of the movement as a whole, to participate in the process of its development. Anything less is a capitulation to the ideological habits of a morose defeatism which, if you give it enough time and let it spread to enough sections of the Left, will surely become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is why we can no longer afford to continue to ignore the vital contributions made by Grant, Woods, and the rest of the IMT, insofar as these perspectives and ideas point the way forward to bringing about the socialist transformation of society.
C.D.V.: What responsibility to the think the “new left” or the “New Communist Movement” had on the current shape of the Marxist mileau?
N.G.: From an organizational standpoint, the accomplishments of the New Left and the New Communist Movement can speak for themselves. With the strengthening of Stalinism after World War II and the collapse of the Left Opposition on the international stage, it is no wonder that people were led to rethink their basic premises about what Marxism could be. Yet in so far as the current Marxist milieu in the West has been inherited from the interventions made by these movements in the 1960s and 1970s, up to the present, perhaps this is where we are to locate the bad element which has made the Left such a lightweight as of late, both theoretically and organizationally. I’m tempted to recall a line from Brecht: “It’s just the simple thing / that’s hard, so hard to do.” To just be a communist, without having to invent some ad hoc feature of a personalized identity to explain how Marxism uniquely connects to one’s present moment (e.g. Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, “post-Marxism,” neo-Kautskyite forms of academic “Marxism,” etc. etc.), has proven itself increasingly difficult for people on the Left to do as of late. It is as if people feel that words like “Communism” or “Marxism” are too obscene to stand on their own, and thus must be watered down and basically effaced with all sorts of qualifications and prefixes. The temptation to displace the meaning of one’s Marxism onto the qualifier is perhaps the most problematic legacy that the New Left has opened up the door to. That and the fact that most of the anarchist and Maoist organizations of today are no less authoritarian and bureaucratic than the “Trotskyist” sects that still pledge allegiance to the Fourth International of Cannon and Mandel.
That being said, I think the Frankfurt School has made vital contributions to the field of Marxist theory, particularly Adorno. Out of all of them, he was the best one. The work that he and Horkheimer did on the Culture Industry and television is, in my opinion, essential towards a Marxist critique of mass ideology under capitalism. Still, it is interesting to rediscover his views about the uprisings of the late 1960s, which freaked him out because he thought it was the return of fascism. Out of the prominent Frankfurt School academics at the time, it was only Marcuse, a much less essential theorist, who crossed the aisle, so to speak, and with the rest of his students exchanged the classroom for the streets. So the legacy of the Frankfurt School is, at the very least, not without its problems, especially once it is conceived as a group which had the capacity to organize and make interventions into the massive movements which they were surrounded by at the time. One could imagine that if Adorno was actually a secret Leninist, as Chris Cutrone basically suggests in one of his essay, then the uprisings of the late 1960s would have had different results.
C.D.V.: Are there any theorists currently living do you think could help us?
N.G.: I once met Alan Woods. We talked about Hegel’s conception of overproduction as it gets elaborated in the Philosophy of Right. We also talked about James Joyce. Apparently Ted Grant was a Shakespeare supporter, and Woods would argue with him over this point of aesthetics. Woods’ breadth of knowledge in literature, the sciences, and bourgeois philosophy was something amazing to engage with. But considering that he is also the closest to Trotsky’s theories in the present day, as it was said by Trotsky’s grandson Esteban Volkov, it was also thrilling to talk with him also about Venezuela, the mistakes made by the Militant tendency in the 1980s, and other topics. Woods had a down-to-earth persona which was the complete opposite of someone like, say, a Callinicos, in that Woods condensed encyclopedias worth of philosophical and theoretical thought into terms and phrases which workers and youth could understand even if they had never gone to university. Meanwhile Callinicos strikes me as the opposite: a mad generator of jargon and faux-academic prose to cover up a humdrum iintellect with no real revolutionary content to offer. For example, did you know that the SWP supported the Muslim Brotherhood in the last Egyptian election? What was revolutionary or remotely “Marxist” about that?
On the other hand, I also see Slavoj Zizek as a living leading theorist who, like Alan Woods, I think most people would do well to learn from. While Woods’ tendency provides the best world political analysis and critique of political economy at the present moment, Zizek makes the best mass psychological analysis and critique of ideology for the contemporary era in the West. Sometimes I think people just see Zizek for a joker or a generator of non sequiturs, but the point is to see the logic of the joke itself as part of the teaching that he brings to the table. In this regard, I would claim that there is no better explainer of Lacanian psychoanalysis today than Zizek, especially insofar as this teaching constitutes the precondition of being able to understand the structural basis by which one can proceed to carry out a critique of ideology on a scientific basis. Arguably this is something Marx, although a pioneer on this front in his own right, was never fully able to elucidate, although there are hints of a programme in his early writings.
In this way Zizek is like Althusser and Badiou, all of whom have stressed the importance of Lacan and Freud within the greater philosophical approach of dialectical materialism, as it gets taken as the basis of a theory of ontology as well as an applied social science called Marxism. Although also on this basis it is interesting to read Zizek’s critiques of Althusser and Badiou. One might say that Zizek’s value is his partisanship on behalf of a philosophical position that takes Freud and Lacan as true a priori, as opposed to the rest of the phenomena which develops a posteriori as experience, a category which includes all concrete political struggles and all events of world historical development. Zizek is the proof that philosophy still means something and can still be useful and helpful as an explanatory aid for the practitioners of organized Marxism, whose critique is and must be rooted first and foremost in a critique of a political-economic process or state of affairs stemming from a concrete analysis of a concrete situation.
Thus Zizek’s dialectical transcendental trajectory always leads him back to the totalizing critique of everything hitherto existing, a category which includes political economy, history, and the ideology of culture all at the same time. This is dialectical materialism by way of Lacan, only Zizek is a funnier comedian. In the same way that the ultimate aim of the Freudian drive is to circulate forever around its goal, Zizek orbits the core teachings of Hegelian dialectics, Marxist Communism, and Lacanian psychoanalysis, using everything else as a pretence to resuscitate these three essential but repressed discourses. Meanwhile Woods, following the Marxist method, starts with a concrete analysis of concrete conditions as they exist for a society whose reproduction of itself is dependent on the economic interaction of the masses, of social bodies. Woods bypasses the logically prior individual to engage with the temporally more immediate particulars of class struggle. Another way to say this is that Zizek’s focus falls on how the universal intersects with the individual, the subject qua individual subjectivity, while Woods is interested primarily in how the particular conditions of the world out there, so to speak, interacts with the structuring principle of capitalist production and accumulation, as this is experienced as the universal logic of the social world today.
The two can hardly be combined into a single point of view, but they can be taken together dialectically as a curriculum of combination which, through allotting each equal time in a reading group, a praxis of theory, can overcome itself as an actual contradiction extant between the teachings of the Lacanian-Zizekian philosophical perspective and the practical political perspective put forward by Woods and the IMT. The former must defer to the material validity of the latter, but the latter cannot do without the former as a measure of its truth and historical relevance or meaning in the interim of a world revolutionary uprising. In my opinion, this is the interstice where Marxism starts today, which structures the difference between dialectical materialism and critique of political economy, a disjunction which, due to the pure difference of atemporality and temporality in discourse, will never be synthesized into a single perspectival position, but must continue to compliment each other, as Zizek would say, as “parallax.”
C.D.V.: Are you bothered by the Maoist affiliation of all the thinkers you mentioned related to Lacan but Zizek?
N.G.: Not personally. Zizek’s political motto seems to be “repeat Lenin,” not “repeat Mao.” This makes sense, because while Mao’s revolution historically succeeded the Russian Revolution, we are actually closer today to the conditions of the Russian Revolution, due to the material development that has taken place around the world and the way that this has produced a global working class. There are exceptions, of course, but a majority of people in the world have moved to urban centers and become wage laborers Whereas Mao’s revolution relied solely on the peasants, Lenin’s was comprised of the workers and peasants fighting side by side. This is what makes Lenin’s gesture more modern, more contemporary, and relevant to our current geopolitical context, despite the fact that it happened at an earlier date. Ideological Maoism is the mistake that results from failing to understand how, due to dialectics, this event could establish itself as more pertinent to the present world situation, but it also follows from ignoring or repressing a basic tenet of Marxist struggle, which is that the workers have a key role to play in the overthrow of capitalism.
When I think of Althusser, I think of him primarily as an ideological Stalinist. I suppose he referenced Mao in “Contradiction and Overdetermination,” but his allegiance to the PCF puts him on one side of the Sino-Soviet split. And there is a difference. Badiou is more of a Maoist, but at the same time I am not sure exactly in what that consists, aside from a first-person avowal. It just seems that many of the self-proclaimed Maoists that I have met in real life would object to the idea of a person like Badiou claiming to be a Maoist, and would not think highly of his writings on ontology. From the standpoint of an ultra-leftist, it is easy to find something “liberal” or “bourgeois” about Badiou’s orientation to the class struggle. But I suppose there are Maoisms and Maoisms. Badiou’s thought seems like an interesting variant, which is perhaps made more worthwhile than it would be otherwise due to his admittance of Lacanian psychoanalysis into its discussion.
In any case, Zizek has insightful criticisms of both of these figures,which significantly distinguishes his account of Lacanian Marxism from theirs. For example, Zizek basically spends an entire chapter of his latest book, Less than Nothing, explaining the differences between Badiou and himself. Then again, people have been botching the connection between psychoanalysis and Marxist politics since the beginning of the twentieth century. First Wilhelm Reich, then Fromm, Adorno, and Marcuse, then Althusser and his students, like Badiou. But it has fallen to Zizek, powered by dialectical materialism, to provide the systematic expression of exactly how these two fields of study come to intersect with one another. Arguably, it is Zizek’s radical Hegelianism that has allowed him to avoid falling into the errors that have been made by others in their attempts to combine Lacan with the Left.
C.D.V.: What do you think could bring a unifying program back to the Marxian Left as a whole?
N.G.: Program begin with education. In a couple of words, Lenin, Trotsky, the Bolshevik Party, and the events and accounts surrounding the Russian Revolution. Learning about these particular people and events and the ideas surrounding them is essential to coordinate ourselves today in the struggle against capitalism. It may seem counterintuitive, because didn’t the Russian Revolution happen all the way back when? But it would be foolish not to try to learn from a history which threatens to repeat itself. This is why I like the Platypus primary Marxist reading group so much, because it simulates the progress of the historical development of Marxism, starting from its origins in bourgeois liberal philosophy.
In terms of perspectives and views, we still have lots in common with Lenin and Trotsky’s circumstances. Things have changed, to be sure, but as Lenin would say, historical obsolescence is not the same thing as political obsolescence. The same parliamentary political structures which governed back then on behalf of capital are in power today. Humans have to rise up and smash the state to no lesser of a degree than Lenin and Co. were able to from 1917 – 1924. The lessons of the Russian Revolution have to be learned, multiple times over, such is the significance of the event, even for our present era which may seem at times like it in no way resembles the circumstances and conditions of the Russian Revolution. But such is the outward-looking appearance of a speculative identity.
The good thing about insisting on orthodoxy, on what could be called a ‘hard’ reading of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky and I would add Grant, is that it condenses what makes Marxism essential from what makes it spurious. There is undoubtedly no shortage of Marxist literature out there which elaborates and explains the nuances of Marxism, but why not go straight to the source? I find often that Lenin is or can be the elephant in the room, especially in academic settings. As soon as you mention “repeating Lenin” or a return to the reading of Lenin’s texts, people can tend to get skittish,, including other so-called “Marxists.” The amount of effort that some people must have to put into their collective repression of Lenin and also Trotsky as ghosts of communism who haunt the historical present is astonishing. Moreover, it is symptomatic of what’s wrong with the Left today: a Lenin a day keeps the scourge of particularist identity politics away. Under the guise of “post-Marxism,” consciousness on the academic and activist Left, I’m afraid, has degenerated into something pre-Marxist.
It is for exactly this reason that we have to return to the repressed, to recover Lenin’s legacy from the obscurity with which it has been tarnished, caught as it is between the American ideological industry and the shameful behavior of the sectarians, whose theories need look no further than their deeds to find their concrete negations. Allusions here could be made to Antigone, whose ethical act involves defying the rule of Creon in order to properly bury her brother Polynices. We are like Antigone in a kind of way, since our duty involves acting on our fidelity to the past against the normalized attitudes instituted by the current regime. This is why now is the time to rediscover Leninism as the approach to politics that, as you may, could bring a unified program to the Left as a whole. I personally don’t claim to have all the answers, but it seems to me that this is the path to pursue if one is serious about revolutionary socialism, as it would do the most to cure the Left of the infantile disorders which currently inhibits it from unifying and engaging meaningfully in the ongoing class struggle, as it articulates itself in both political and economic environs.
C.D.V.: Would you say you think the primary obstacle is pedagogical then?
N.G.: Yes, if pedagogy is understood in a broad sense that includes the way that Marxist education comes primarily as a byproduct of organization. After all, one of the main functions and features of any vanguard is to teach and explain the ideas and methods of revolutionary Marxism. This involves teaching not only what Marx and Lenin said, but how this teaching comes to apply to the current era. Hence the importance of a figure like Ted Grant, who only died in 2006 and was active into the beginnings of the twenty first century. But this is just one of the duties of revolutionary Marxism. Agitation and organization fills out the rest of the equation, since education when taken on its own is too atomized and disjointed to fightback against the machinations of capital. For that it takes the unity of the workers’ movement and the youth, which presupposes organization.
To put it simply, pedagogy taken without organization is like an outboard motor without a propeller. You may be able to get the engine going to the max, but you’ll still be idle in the water. Without a willingness to get organized, I’m afraid the Left will remain stuck in the marsh of movementism, identitarianism, “resistance,” the worship of spontaneity, etc. etc. To be sure, this was all laid out by Lenin in What is to be Done, but our inability to learn from the mistakes of history means that we are bound to repeat the errors of the past for he present. From this perspective, the primary obstacle is the alienation of contemporary consciousness to its history, to the high points of its development as a theory and practice, in relation to which it can only appear as a profound regression.
C.D.V.: What do you think the problematic forces you identify took hold?
N.G.: There are both objective and subjective reasons. From the standpoint of historical materialism, the triumph of Stalin and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union set the stage for a near-universal conception of Marxism, let alone Leninism, which is patently false. While better judgment always tell us to do our research, many people still do not do this and thus get fooled by the appearances of what people have tried to justify in the name of Marxism. This is a trap that many self-avowed Marxists have fallen into as well, some of whom are unconsciously counter-revolutionary in their actions and effects, regardless of what they tell themselves about themselves. The entire scene is shrouded in confusion, mystified if you will. Instead of coming to terms with the history of the Soviet Union, the boogey-man of permanent gulags and show trials gets invoked to abstractly negate the real details, including the real tragedy, of what took place.
Either that, or it is glossed over with an overly romantic or fanatical viewpoint which neglects the serious philosophical and practical deadlocks which defined the Soviet Union as a project from the outset.
This is not so much specific to the USSR, but to a historical perspective in general, which in the current age and with the encouragement of bourgeois ideology has reverted into an ahistorical or, as Debord would say, pseudo-cyclical experience of time. I think the extent of this phenomenon can be measured by looking at the inability of many people to think the gravity of the ecological crisis we are currently facing as a species, which itself is fueled by capitalism. This spectacular way of looking at time is irresponsible, even from a non-communist point of view, since it is ignorant to hate learning about real history that completely pertains to one’s current concrete conditions of living, insofar as ‘history repeats itself,’ as they say. One does not have to be a communist to have heard this saying before, although it is profoundly dialectical, now that I come to think about it. At the same time I don’t take this condition for anything more than the historical result of the objective violence which capitalism has to inflict on the intellectual development of its youth through the funding of a training and conditioning apparatus called the school system. Bourgeois ideology cannot consciously think the crisis of capitalism, so it has to invent and reproduce ways of thinking and seeing that are able to function in a cooperative relationship with the logic of capital accumulation, that themselves tend to thrive by the logic of fetishistic disavowal: “I know very well that capitalism is the crisis, but still, I have to teach/learn/answer that it is more complicated than that, that other factors are also to blame…”
The subjective reason has more to do with the amazing power of the Culture Industry, its ability to structure desire on a mass basis, the impact that television culture has had on a form of life, in sum, everything the people have undergone in the last fifty years with the technological revolution in the means of communication. For a time, it may have mattered that Ronald Reagan was an actor and that this helped him to become the president of the United States, such was the material dominance of television over the American mass psyche, but I think that the dominance of television politics is actually on its way out. Internet politics opens up the playing field again, but mostly because it is a return to reading and writing as more democratic forms of communication as opposed to the speaking image as the monopoly on discourse. Although this may go hand in hand with my comments about Debord’s notion of spectacular time, this proliferation of communications networks occurred at the same time that the rhetoric of ”postmodernism” came to be adopted in the academic context. If the university Left could find it in themselves to get past this buzzword, to realize that we are still, perhaps more than we would like, modern, then the coordinates of our historical situation and the political tasks at hand would become more immediately apparent. Postmodern relativism is the delusion of liberal capitalism in its senile stage.The real Left can do without it.
Then again, things are changing as we speak. Right now there are riots in Brooklyn. Socialism is one of the most searched terms on web browsers in the U.S. With the collapse of the era of Western prosperity which has basically lasted from the end of World War II to the present, there should be little surprise that people have begun to question their conditions and started to organize. Dialectics teaches us that it is only a matter of time until things change, and what was previously thought to be impossible is suddenly a reality.
C.D.V.: What trends that you have not mentioned think give you some hope for the future of a Marxian left?
N.G.: Trends within the workers’ movement are towards increasing dissatisfaction with the status quo. In Greece, dock workers have taken control of their worksites. Similar measures are beginning to be taken all across Europe. While on the one hand this is merely a reflection of the ravages wreaked by the free-market economy, it is also a sign of life that the Western proletariat hasn’t gone anywhere, it still exists and it is still the case that, if provoked, it will occupy and seize the sites and means of production. This is to say nothing about the recent developments which have taken place in India and Venezuela. And while it is not yet a trend, I have hope that it will become one: that the Chinese proletariat will reawaken and take back their country from the capitalist roaders who have slowly asserted their dominance over the interests of the CCP.
Another sign of hope comes from the youth, who even at a young age can see that the status quo does not make sense. More and more young people are turning to Marxism to understand the world they live in, considering that their schools and churches do not offer any real answers, but only try to obscure the problems that we face as individuals, communities, national populations, even as a species. Events like Occupy Wall Street and the Quebec student strike show that the youth are angry and ready to fight, but what is lacking are the correct ideas of how to win. Not only what is wanted, but what kind of commitment is necessary to get there. Something like the 1905 revolution will be necessary to take place once again, before an event comparable to 1917 can come to fruition for us in the present age. And, while the movements which I’ve mentioned are only the beginnings of the development of mass consciousness towards arriving at revolutionary, anti-capitalist conclusions, it still gives me hope that the Marxist left has a significant role to play in the future of humanity, our future.
C.D.V.: Anything you’d like to say in closing?
N.G.: Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clear up some of the questions surrounding the legacy of Ted Grant. Considering that this year is his centenary, it would be a perfect time to rediscover his writings on the variety of topics which he had dealt with since before the end of World War II. Also keep your eyes open for a new biography that will be coming out about him later this year by Alan Woods. You never know, it may be the case that the time for Grant’s views and perspectives is not so much in the past, but the future.
Tom O’Brien interviews me for the From Alpha to Omega podcast. We discuss the Russian revolution, the Vanguard Party and it’s problems, the profound failures of the cultural revolution, and the emergence of decentralised movements like occupy and the 5-Star Movement. O’Brien has a move positive view of occupy than me, but he does get into what I see as some of the key problems of so-called “Leninism” is now. Click here to listen.
This is not the abstract dialogue you are probably expecting from me.
It is the story of one of two nights in my life I slept with a loaded 32. caliber revolver by my bed in the nightstand. I was a revolver that I had inherited from my late grandfather–clean, well-kept, and rarely fired. Most of the time I kept it in a safe in the closet. I was tense, and the air-conditioning was working poorly in the large Victorian house my five friends and I rented. In Georgia, when this happens, the air is sticky and thick. My partner at the time was sleeping next to me, and few things made more tense than having a gun near her. I was educated. I heard the statistics that some of my liberal professors had shot off at me. I would sell that gun later on those impulses. Next door my other house mates were a young lesbian couple who did volunteer work at a local Goodwill center and who would sit up drinking whiskey and talking arguing with me about politics. I considered myself a kind of atheist, paleo-conservative at the time. In some ways, I have been deviant: pro-gay, a little wary of libertarian-ism, and opposed to Bush’s wars, but at times I would even argue for an American monarchy. So the debates, fueled with whiskey, would often take a turn for the heated. I, as a person who studied anthropology, philosophy, and literature was fairly well-versed in feminism: I knew your second-wave from your third-wave and your Lacanians from your gender theorists. I knew this, but I didn’t understand it.
So what did feminism have to do with having a loaded gun by my bed?
Downstairs there was a woman sleeping with black and yellow bruises lining her arm. One of my roommates had invited her to stay because she didn’t own her own car and the nearest shelter was two counties away. It was an hour drive, but in the interim her husband, who had bestowed upon her those black bruises, circled outside the house periodically. He sometimes threw cans at the house. Our windows, given that we were in a crime-riddled, low-rent neighbor near the university I was attending, were either curtained off or sealed with pinned fabric. Our fifth roommate, an ex-soldier with a broken knee, was away. Hence getting out the gun.
Eventually, soaked in sweat, we all went to sleep. At 8 in the morning, there was a strong knock on the door and our “house guest” answered it. I go down stairs with the gun, and she gets into the truck with her husband and leaves. My roommate cried, and I was dizzy.
This is when I learned why some sort of “feminism” was needed: not that there is violence against women, every conservative, liberal, leftist knows that. Some are even sensitive too it. I remember a conservative professor talking to me one day, and he looked at me over coffee in my apartment in South Korea, discussing both our classes and a date I had night before: ”One of the things I learned from being single is how many women are raped. I was shocked when I figured that out in college”
“What did you learn from that?”
“The fallen nature of men.”
The difference is the analysis. What I was struck with was holding a gun in my hand trying to figure out why that woman, who was not stupid and not particularly weak, was going back to a man who would beat her, who had beat her, and had done this before. She had four people willing to escort her to a shelter in two counties away. Earlier in my life, I had done volunteer work at a rape crisis center. I remember the women who worked there telling me about the women staying with spouses and boyfriends who had raped them. I figured it was just Stockholm syndrome. It didn’t occur to me that the women I saw lived very different lives than the women we were working with often. The women were trying to help: white, black, poor and “lower” middle class more often than not. In rural and urban areas. I was middle class and my colleagues at Uni were upper-middle. I was class consciousness alone: being raised by a mechanic and a waitress-turned-nurse I was different from my classmates who were raised by teachers and business professionals. Yet, there was a bigger gap between me and the woman I was helping. A little vulgar Marxism for you.
I realized that only people that could be, or who are “victims” can change it; but one can’t do it alone and all this talk of “empowerment” wasn’t enough.
But in that moment, trying to figure out why this was happening, I needed some help to think it through and to realize that any heroic narrative I had about helping women by my goodwill was foolish. This was larger than me, and larger than mere individual choice. While I support Patrick Stewart recent call for a million men against violence against women, I think it takes a lot more than that to fundamentally change these dynamics. I realized this in that moment.
I am not going to lie and say I became some sort of Marxist that day, or that I think every kind of ideology that brands the name of feminism is useful: at the end of the day, I realized I didn’t understand all the social and material forces involved. I needed something much more than goodwill. I need something of a class and gender analysis. Before that moment, it was all an intellectual game or an act of good will.
The number of self-help books being churned out by presses both small and big is skyrocketing. Some have speculated—reasonably enough—this can be seen as a manifestation of popular [res]sentiment coming to grips with socio-economic and geo-political realities that make it difficult to nurture, and preserve a coherent self-concept. The surge in the genre’s prolixity and chutzpah can seem impressive if one doesn’t know that several of the glossiest Bestsellers are often books that experts have on their “Not Recommended” lists. The wicked spawn of self-improvement books that adorn our bookstores and discount retail chain stores is as much a haphazard monument to our restless ambitions as it is a symptom of our merely nominal existence. If we were having the best sex of our lives we would perhaps have no need for How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (2012) by Neil Strauss [and Jenna Jameson], and the legion that is other such titles.
On the one hand we have a fixation with the idea of youthful longevity through lifestyle change and the over-eager technological utopianism offered us make us giddy, and on the other hand we face the imminent danger of ecological catastrophe, an earth too fragile to bear our continued exploitations of its resources. Indeed, as Philip Auerswald puts it “As the fact of global climate change alone indicates, Malthusian spectres of demographic doom are regrettably still very much with us”. It is not that we do not wish to change the world but that the world changes without our help; slowly ever more globalised market mechanisms leave more and more of us behind on sinking ships earmarked for the unemployed, the unemployable, and the underemployed. Without the slightest irony, thrown between pleasure and near certain extinction we are obsessed with lists like Five self-help books that want to change [y]our life. This is no exaggeration…one could be more observant, more pessimistic…
The urban chic set that keeps abreast with the latest fashionable causes to vent its self-projections and insular anxieties seems to be staking a rather hazy claim to civic consciousness in India. A jejunating gerontocrat with an Oedipal grouse against corrupt politicos, and who wants to discipline drunkards by the lynch ‘em dry method, here gains prominence and lingers like a tepid stench long after his garrulity is spent achieving sweet fuck-all—with relative ease in our media saturated epoch. Adding vacuity and loquacious fanaticism to the masses’ burgeoning discontent are tabloids, blogs and television chatterati screaming shrilly their manifestos geared at [in]voluntary political quietism. When one’s attention is driven to his own pecuniary lack he is quickly driven to chagrin about black-money he hasn’t any means to extradite from subterranean governmental hands. This personal-frustration-driven politics is dangerous inasmuch as personal agendas are apt to end in rash manipulative gestures of political will. In a diverse country like India individualism would be the straw that broke the bullock’s back.
That the desire to improve one’s lot to the point where spending several hours a day on a treadmill is not only acceptable but profoundly desirable bespeaks a very peculiar attitude towards life, and what might be wrested from it. For one, it is a morbid obsession with a self-image, it is also a vain commitment to a self isolated from any substantiality beyond its commitment to its own image, reflected through a prism of phantasms and Aunt Dianaesque discourses. From the hives of our identitarian commitments we all clamour for audience and control, [we the Liberals/ Conservatives/ Nationalists!] , and in our unwieldy synchrony with the zeitgeist of these communities, we are stabbed cold by the rabid devotions of our mobs. The idea of improving the self sounds deceptively salutary, even ethical these days; no, but can’t we see this slick, new self contrasted prejudicially against gits who weren’t addressed by our self-style-guides’ target demographic cohort?
Opportunism, hedonism, and activism seamlessly blend into the mediated space of national and international discourses among informed consumers; there is conversation, but there is also lies, chaos and oligopolies of branded guff. Each nation becomes an individualist cohort driven towards an ever-becoming-Galt, striking the globally ghettoised masses—figuratively—unionised in their dire straits as plunderers.
The more we try to reclaim individuality the more we find ourselves fractured between odds and ends of the selves we had long taken for granted, shorn for convenience, or from shame. NRIs settled in cosy Silicon Valley apartments send their patriotism packed avowals in jingoistic emails tweeting their approval of desi tyrants; personal activisms quickly precipitate national travesties. Influence also enslaves us; as we wait on the beck and call of the new fad we might as well read about how we can outsmart that thickly accented son of the soil @ the call center job, with grooming tips and One-Month-Guarantee Speak English classes.
Originally posted Here : < https://sites.google.com/site/scene46/home/self-help-is-the-worst-help >.
Auerswald, Philip. (2012). The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Economy. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Fresco, Jacques & Meadows, Roxanne. (2008). The Best That Money Can’t Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty and War. Québec, Canada: Osmora Publishing.
Kennedy, Dan, S. (2008). No B.S. Marketing to the Affluent: No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Guide to Getting Really Rich. USA: Entrepreneur Press
Lomborg, Bjørn. (2001). The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
McGee, Micki. (2005). Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
Norcross, John, C.; Campbell, Linda, F.; Grohol, John, M.; Santrock, John, W.; Selagea, Florin; Sommer, Robert. Eds. (2012). Self-Help That Works: Resources to Improve Emotional Health and Strengthen Relationships. New York, USA: Oxford University Press.
 See McGee, Micki. (2005). Self-Help, Inc: Makeover Culture in American Life. New York, USA: OxfordUniversity Press.
 See Norcross, John, C.; Campbell, Linda, F.; Grohol, John, M.; Santrock, John, W.; Selagea, Florin; Sommer, Robert. (2012). Self-Help That Works: Resources to Improve Emotional Health and Strengthen Relationships. New York, USA: OxfordUniversity Press.
 See < http://www.amazon.com/Sex-Love-Health-Self-Guide/dp/1591200261 >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.flipkart.com/sex-your-questions-answered-01/p/itmdyuzr88ayheya >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See Kennedy, Dan, S. (2008). No B.S. Marketing To the Affluent: No Holds Barred Kick Butt Take No Prisoners Guide to Getting Really Rich. USA: Entrepreneur Press. p. 23.
 See Fresco, Jacques & Meadows, Roxanne. (2008). The Best That Money Can’t Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty and War. Québec, Canada: Osmora Publishing.
 Auerswald, Philip. (2012). The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs Are Transforming the Global Economy. New York, USA: OxfordUniversity Press. p. 36.
 See < http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-03-05/ahmedabad/37469380_1_unemployed-youth-unemployment-figures-claims >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/11/23/young-jobless-and-indian/ >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_india-has-the-most-unemployable-population-report_1587604 >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.tradingeconomics.com/india/unemployment-rate >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/jan/07/five-self-help-books-change-life >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 “Armed with diplomas and aspirations for upward mobility, a rapidly expanding consumer class is said to be driving political activism and, thanks to its media savviness, forcing the government to listen”. Fontanella-Khan, Amana. 24, January 2013. “India’s Next Revolution”. The New York Times. Accessed 22, March 2013. Available from < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/opinion/indias-next-revolution.html?_r=0 >.
 “…[t]hey often pay hired help just Rs 4,000-5’000 per month, and complain if servants demand more. Middle class folk don’t want to calculate the per capita daily spending of their servant’s family. They resent servants constantly wanting more pay, even if this falls short of the very level they find outrageous when specified by the Planning Commission. This double standard is not restricted to paying servants. When middle class folk go to Dilli Haat to buy a sari, they will beat down the weavers to the lowest price possible. If told that the weaver earns only Rs 4,000 per month, will they change their attitude or agree that they have helped keep the weaver poor? No chance”. Aiyar, Swaminathan, A. “Middle class hypocrisy on the poverty line”. The Times of India. 02 October 2011. Accessed 22, March 2013. Available from < http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes .com/Swaminomics/entry/middle-class-hypocrisy-on-the-poverty-line >.
 See < http://www.ndtv.com/photos/news/top-20-surfer-comments-supporting-anna-hazare-10166 >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://www.indiatvnews.com/politics/national/anna-hazare-too-demands-death-penalty-for-rapists-7398.html >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-11-22/india/30428675_1_anna-hazare-ralegan-siddhi-alcoholics >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
 See < http://lokpaldissent.wordpress.com/tag/anna-hazare/ >. Accessed 22, March 2013.
Or: Reification? I’ll give you reification…
One of the disadvantages to being a blogger is that you can use your website as a scrapbook, and here I will do no differently. Not so recently, I finished a book of Gary Snyder essays entitled, The Practice of the Wild. I won’t bore you with a review, but I will only say that, at the end of this book, I wanted to read more. Instead, I present a couple of quotes from this book and my brief thoughts concerning them.
A worldwide purification of mind is called for: the exercise of seeing the surface of the planet for what it is—by nature. With this kind of consciousness people turn up at hearings and in front of trucks and bulldozers to defend the
land or trees. Showing solidarity with a region! What an odd idea at first. Bioregionalism is the entry of place into the dialectic of history. Also we might say that there are’ ‘classes” which have so far been overlooked—the animals, rivers, rocks, and grasses — now entering history.
Rewind to the late 1990′s. As stated previously, I was at Berkeley doing all sorts of educational and labor activism in my late teens. As a young Mexican-American from the barrio, I had nothing but disdain for lifestyle anarchists, radical environmentalists, animal rights activists, New Agers, neo-hippies, etc. I was all about the Marx and the Trotsky, baby! Revolution all the way. Why waste your time with endangered oaks, when there are young teenagers clamoring and fighting for an education? All of this stuff was sectoralist background noise to me.
One idea that has resonated with me recently, one that is echoed in Snyder’s book, but also in Ched Myers and other primitivist voices, is the idea that we, as modern people, really don’t live anywhere. Right now, I am writing for a bunch of people who I will probably never meet, while I barely remember my next door neighbor’s name, in spite of the fact that he has been nothing but nice to me. I have no emotional relationship with this particular state in the United States, or to this country for that matter, other than a highly idealized one. And the things that most determine and surround me, my bank account, my desk at work, the person who drove the truck full of gas that I filled my car with, are people and things that I would rather not think about. Of course, I am describing the whole process of alienation, but that is just it. I don’t live here, and where I live doesn’t really exist. It is virtual, a series of imagined communities that play no part in my daily life. How do you make a revolution in that mess?
Read the rest of this entry
Negativity in Psycho-analysis
What is a person according to psycho-analytic theory? The answer, unfortunately, cannot be a neutral one. Just as any technical field of human knowledge requires technical definitions of its objects, tools and techniques psycho-analysis too proceeds through a stage of definitions. But, there is one marked difference in psycho-analytic theory: psycho-analysis is both a tool and a technique, and its object is to achieve or restore an individual’s capacity for affirming life as it really is.
What is life, really? Psycho-analysis cannot answer definitively—and does not purport to—for a variety of reasons. The idea that reality can be apprehended all at once, as naturally given to sense certainty, is anathema to psycho-analysis; yet, psycho-analytic realism is also innately conservative: it describes reality as the situations of life the way they are grasped by the common man, the reasonableness of everyday life and its institutions. This description of life, as that which is not fantasy, depends on a majoritarian index of the reasonable, the normal, the typical and the permissible. Freud allied his conservatism with a hope in the definitive progress of empiricism: the god Logos, he called his brand of reality.
It must be admitted that this description of reality is rather enigmatic; it offers no more clarification than does a myth for its queerness; the reality psycho-analysis appeals to is so wide as to preclude any positive description. To describe a real person from this view of reality would be to approximate a discourse proper to poetry, fiction or prophecy, not science, not philosophy. Accordingly, as a corrective to this tendency towards fantastic descriptions, psycho-analysis begins with scepticism as its first axiom or, as Freud pithily aphorised: “Where the id was the ego shall be”. All reality is a fabrication of instinct, but some ego-cathexes or fabricated realities are more tenable, scientific, and truer than other speculative truths.
The naturalism of Freudianism is eliminative. It describes reality after it has been shorn of delusion, intentional content and affective influence. Then, the vagueness of a consensual definition of reality as seen by society is overcome by psycho-analysis if only by a negative definition of reality committed to scientific verification. What is not scientifically demonstrable is suspect as fantasy, illusion, and pathology. Now, psycho-analysis can define a person: a person is a collection of symptoms that interact with the scientifically verifiable world. Accordingly, a religious person despite his education, occupational status, social capability and intelligence is neurotic because he is religious; a scientist is paranoid-obsessive if his overarching concern is to create a theory-of-everything because he presumes beforehand that such a theory is possible. Rather than be threatened with its rather tenuous descriptive power over a field of normative reality, psycho-analysis reduces the scope of positive description of reality to the range of demonstrable facts. This is both its epistemological merit and limitation.
Psycho-analysis is capable of calling the bluff on unfounded beliefs but cannot posit a positive description of reality. Each successive revision in scientific progress becomes one more ego-cathexis that approximates a total field of what can be called real legitimately. From this perspective psycho-analysis is an archaeology of the existing range of reality. It can explain how some symptoms are oriented towards the past and some symptoms are not compatible with the present situation and thus are gravitated towards a psychical crisis, or real life tragedy. The descriptions of psycho-analysis are essentially negative.
Then, how does psycho-analysis handle the idea of negativity qua negativity?
To conceive of the negative, in view of psycho-analysis, we must return to the idea of the negative in dialectics vis-à-vis psycho-analysis. Dialectics simply begins with the naïve sense certainty of reason that becomes capable of propositions by latching onto binaries of identity and difference, conformity and contradiction; then, by eliminating the non-contiguous or incompatible elements between these objects of consciousness; and, finally, by affirming the sum of what has been negatively described. Thus, the three stages of the Hegelian dialectic are uncanny analogues of the Freudian topographic triad of unconscious, preconscious and conscious. But the nature of this analogy is not determined in a compossible way. This is because psycho-analysis must question the very first instance of sense certainty with which the dialectic takes the liberty to begin a phenomenological account.
In the primary state of sense certainty we are in the domain of preconscious thought, by performing a reduction on sensory data by empirical verification we come to appreciate the gap between our expectations and reality. But, for psycho-analysis this movement has begun too prematurely; sense certainty is always suspect because we find it as a given. This is what Freud drives home using the idea of primary repression. The given sense certainty and our attitude towards it is not indicative of its veridical quality, after all satisfaction with what is perceived as reality is actually only a compromise-formation between the id, the superego and reality. But the suspicion of the psycho-analyst is also suspect for the same reason: it conforms to a knowledge it cannot have by definition. We must recall that there is no escape from the circular grip of Freud’s formulation: where the id was the ego shall be. Thus, we are led to reassess the claim of psycho-analysis against philosophy in light of its own inability to posit a positive description of what is reality without question begging.
If reality is a peculiar cathexis of the libido and the only way to be sure is to verify one’s beliefs scientifically it follows that there is no explicit teleological view in psycho-analysis. It can look behind and not forward because consciousness is redefined along the contours of empirical knowledge. Yet, because psycho-analysis must insist on looking behind it implicitly assumes that there is a reality which tends to escape consciousness; it believes this axiomatically, without empirical evidence. Thus, we have a paradox: the cogito which psycho-analysis calls into question is also constitutive of the psycho-analytical perspective; it cannot question its posited rationality-beyond-fantasy. Because psycho-analysis functions on the basis of suspicion it must believe in its a priori access to an inchoate gestalt of the whole truth.
The negativity of dialectical philosophy works by eliminating the contradictory contents of cognition and thereby effects a newer, more complete, synthesis. This movement of knowledge is akin to the development of science: hypotheses work as sense certainties extended into the realm of what is considered to be possible, or probable by the scientific community; then, conflicting evidence is understood to re-define the earlier assumptions; and, finally, new knowledge emerges as a new perspective on an earlier problem within the scientific community. This understanding of negativity cannot be taken as identical to the one espoused by psycho-analysis. For psycho-analysis the movement of scientific knowledge into the future by way of hypothesis is still a neurotic approximation of consciousness to an imagined reality, or ego-cathexis. Accordingly, the negative moment which separates facts from hypotheses in scientific practice become positive moments of ego-cathexis to the psycho-analytic theorist. Rather than look at the predictive value of hypotheses in the present moment the analyst must rely on his a priori suspicion to measure present hypotheses within older contexts of knowledge, and find them lacking in integrity until proven otherwise in the future. But this is absurd, for didn’t Freud profess the process of scientific illumination [Logos] to be the object of mature desire?
It is helpful, now, to remind ourselves of the peculiar nature of the Freudian reality principle. It is not just the influx and interpretation of stimuli available to consciousness, rather it is “…the truth of a personal history in a concrete situation” in relation to its fantastical elements. In this sense, it is not really the objective externality as it seems to the subject which is put to test against the id, the superego and the reality principle but it is the adaptation of the constitutive fantasy in accordance with the subject’s lived history. What this means is that we cannot look at the contingent developments of knowledge from a perspective that doesn’t take earlier historical developments in the state of this knowledge into account. Reality becomes, psycho-analytically speaking, the sum total of past facts of experience and the radical gap between what is now known, and what one subsequently hopes to do with this knowledge.
Reality is no less than a feedback-loop propelled by instincts and examined in hindsight, continually changing itself by self-reference and self-positing. Accordingly, what is conventionally thought of as the negative in the phenomenological perspective is no longer self-identical as the negative in the psycho-analytic scheme. Since the analytical gaze of the psycho-analytic session is situated in the present but derives its impetus and coherence from raking up the analysand’s past, the dialectical view of negativity is recast as a positive determination when seen from the analyst’s perspective. Therefore, the psycho-analytic notion of negativity involves a redefining of the present symptom, or facts of observation, into a meaningfully cohesive unity with the symptomatic past of the analysand. Simply speaking, the negative in psycho-analysis consists of positive descriptions of the present moment as they relate to the intentions of the subject in light of his previous adaptations to reality; the traumatic remainder between past experience and present action is psycho-analytic negativity. Rather than the speculative moment’s projective impetus which is available to the idea of the negative in phenomenology, in psycho-analysis the idea of the negative is determined in the subject’s relation to the aleatory contingency of his previous actions which have conditioned the present horizons of his reality.
To be continued.
Akhtar, Salman. (2009). Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. London, UK: Karnac Books.
Beiser, Frederick, C. Ed. (1993). The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Ihde, Done. (2004). The Conflict of Interpretations. London, UK: Continuum.
Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. (2008). Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd.
 “…[R]eality is first of all the opposite of fantasy—it is facts, such as the normal man sees them; it is the opposite of dreams, of hallucination”. Freud’s crypto-philosophy offers to call reality a god; the god Logos. This move is nothing but Freud inserting “…a bit of irony…in an ad hominem argument”. Available from <http://skepoet.wordpress.com/2013/03/01/psychoanalysis-psycho-dialectics-or-psycho-synthesis-or-why-hegel-is-not-freud-is-not-lacan/>.
 Beiser, Frederick, C. Ed. The Cambridge Companion to Hegel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
 “Phenomenology begins by with an epochȇ of objects given to consciousness as sense certainty, in the first stage of the dialectic. Psychoanalysis begins by putting this givenness of consciousness and its objects and the epochȇ of the conscious thinker into doubt. “…[T]he true situation of consciousness is discovered” to be the motivating principle Eros and its instincts which clamour for satisfaction through feelings and intuitions in the analytical movement of Psychoanalysis. But, the synthetic movement of the dialectic takes the absence of visibly motivating instincts in feeling and intuition to be a proof for reason’s right to “…self-determination”. The suspicion of psychoanalysis and phenomenology is directed towards entirely different aspects of conscious thought”. Available from < http://skepoet. WordPress.com/2013/03/01/psychoanalysis-psycho-dialectics-or-psycho-synthesis-or-why-hegel-is-not-freud-is-not-lacan/>.
 Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Savage, Denis. (2008). Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation. New Delhi, India; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Ltd.
 Akhtar, Salman. (2009). Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. London, UK: Karnac Books. p. 52.
 Ricoeur, Paul. Trans. Ihde, Done. (2004). The Conflict of Interpretations. London, UK: Continuum.
 Ibid. p. 184.