C Derick Varn and Douglas Lain return for the third episode of Pop the Left, a podcast dedicated to moving beyond the impasse in Left politics. This week we take a look at conspiracy theories, the psychology behind them, and the Left’s inability to cope with the prevalence of this approach to politics. Does the bourgeois left benefit from conspiracy thinking? Can we get beyond our own tendency to blame conspiracies for our ideological and political failures? Was 9/11 an inside Job? Did we ever land on the moon? What about entryism?
Three years out of the Zero years and the attendant Bush administration, are we finally ready to face up to the how the Left turned over radical politics to the likes of Alex Jones and David Icke?
Click to listen.
I want you to imagine Captain Kirk beaming into your living room and attacking your flat screen digital TV, to imagine he’s doing it in an effort to set you free from the constraints of early 21st century barbarism. He’s killing your television by asking it to solve some unsolvable logic problem. Kirk is whispering the liar paradox to the DVR.
It’s always the same with Kirk. He beams down and outfoxes a computer God, or kills a robot girl with a kiss, and his time it’s your television he’s after.
Imagine your set is sputtering, about to explode, and then it switches on. For a brief instant, just the time needed for a flicker of light to appear before the set goes dark forever, a television program appears onscreen. What’s on the TV? What would does your television turn to in its last effort to figure out a solution for Kirk’s riddle? The answer is Star Trek, obviously, because Star Trek itself is a kind of Technicolor logic bomb. Your TV set is probably showing the episode with Captain Pike and the Orion Slave girl because that’s the one I’d choose.
Kirk understood the show and used his understanding to kill computers. In the second season of the original series, in an episode entitled I Mudd. Kirk explains his own show in order to kill an android named Norman.
KIRK: What is a man but that lofty spirit, that sense of enterprise, that devotion to something that cannot be sensed, cannot be realized but only dreamed! The highest reality.
NORMAN THE ANDROID: That is irrational. Illogical. Dreams are not real. […]
(Smoke comes out of Norman’s head.)
Back in 1986 William Shatner appeared in a comedy sketch on Saturday Night Live and told Trekkies everywhere to get a life. In the sketch he asked Jon Lovitz if he’d ever kissed a girl and told the crowd of SNL cast members playing the part of Trekkies at a Star Trek convention to leave their parents’ basements and experience the real world.
“I mean, for crying out loud, it’s just a TV show! I mean, look at you, look at the way you’re dressed! You’ve turned an enjoyable little job that I did as a lark for a few years into a COLOSSAL WASTE OF TIME!” Shatner shouted.
Shatner could never kill a computer. He doesn’t understand how people use BLAs like Star Trek to live their lives, how some of us even use Star Trek to kiss girls. It sounds impossible, but you really can take your enjoyment of Star Trek quite a long way. In fact, the first time I realized just how far was, coincidentally, my first time.
I was in my girlfriend’s parent’s old house, a house that they couldn’t sell after they’d moved out, but she still had keys and we were in the empty space that had been an upstairs rec room. There wasn’t any music playing, nor electricity, and we didn’t have anything to drink that might lubricate our coupling. What we had was the Star Trek Edition of a Golden Trivia game. I was in my girlfriend’s parent’s old house, a house that they couldn’t sell after they’d moved out, but she still had keys and we were in the empty space that had been an upstairs rec room. There wasn’t any music playing, nor electricity, and we didn’t have anything to drink that might lubricate our coupling. What we had was the Star Trek Edition of a Golden Trivia game.
Before we got around to intercourse on the wall to wall orange carpet, doing it on the spot where the entertainment center had left a indentation, we asked each other questions about M class planets and the Federation. Rather than grope and undress, rather than struggle with the clasp of a lace bra or the buttons on the fly of a pair of blue jeans, we played strip Star Trek Trivia. We were geeks and this seemed natural to us. We found a way to use our mutual affliction in order to get off.
“Why did Kirk display such inordinate love and affection for Dr. Helen Noel?” she asked me.
“Who? Which episode was that?”
“Do you know the answer?” she asked. I didn’t, or pretended that I didn’t. I ended up giving her my left sock, but, for the record, the answer, per the back of the card, is this: “Kirk was under the influence of a powerful suggestion implanted by use of a devilish machine.” The episode was the Dagger of the Mind and the machine was called a neural neutralizer.
Okay, he didn’t really. He died before Star Trek was ever on the air. But if you google the words fetish and repetition you’ll find a link to a book called Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. More specifically you’ll find a link to this passage:
“Neither the popular stereotype of the crazed Trekkie nor academic notions of commodity fetishism or repetition compulsion are adequate to explain the complexity of fan culture.”
But this assertion simply underestimates the complexities involved in both fetishism and repetition compulsion. Fetishism and repetition compulsion can produce Baroque results, and can certainly explain most of the more faithful fan tributes to the series.
For example, last summer I took the family to Cathedral Park for something called Star Trek in the Park, and watching the reenactment of “Journey to Babel,” seeing Portland actors, hipsters dressed in perfectly authentic uniforms complete with wavy stripes on their shirt cuffs and with perfectly reasonable facsimiles of a Tellarite pig nose or Andorian antenna when necessary, was a queasily religious or fetishistic experience.
The Atomic Arts Ensemble delivered the lines from the original episode and typed into invisible computer panels, their fingers wiggling methodically in thin air. They stared at a view screen that wasn’t there, stared through empty air out at me, and I experienced something like Déjà vu. The repetition of “The Journey to Babel”, the uncanniness of the Atomic Arts reproduction, unsettled me.
Adam Rosko played Kirk for Trek in the Park, and he was perfect. He did an especially good job when he fought the Andorian. He perfectly replicated Shatner’s fighting techniques, and watching him I stopped thinking or comparing. I didn’t have to think.
Rosko grabbed his blue opponent by the shoulders, fell back, and used his right leg to flip the alien onto his back. Then Rosko rolled onto his stomach and dove for the alien’s right arm, for his right hand which held an Andorian dagger, but the alien rolled over onto his belly and stood up. The Andorian tried to wrench his arm out of Rosko’s grip and then used his left hand to deliver a Karate chop which sent Rosko reeling. The Andorian turned on him and lunged with the knife. Rosko as Kirk dodged to the right and, when the alien swiped at his head, Rosko both ducked and brought up his knee, delivering a blow to the Andorian’s belly. The alien bent over in pain and Rosko delivered Kirk’s signature double fisted blow to the alien’s right side. He then jumped at the alien, using both feet and delivering a double kick, but ending up on his back. Rosko rolled over and started to slowly crawl away on all fours (too slowly, what is Kirk waiting for?) and the Andorian grabbed him by the neck and stabbed him in the right side. Was this the end?
Of course not. Rosko reached back and flipped the Andorian over his left shoulder. And when the Andorian got back to his feet and reached for the knife that had flown out of his hand, Rosko was on him fast. Rosko kicked the Andorian in his face and knocked him out cold. Then Rosko flopped against a pole and used the Intercom prop to call the bridge.
Freud says that the sensation of the uncanny arises when what is familiar is made to appear unfamiliar, and what I experienced when Rosko fought like Kirk was precisely that unfamiliarity of the familiar. It was the perfection of the repetition that unsettled me and made Star Trek seem strange again.
Here’s an experiment: Try repeating the same word over and over again like a mantra. Take any word. Better yet, try the word Spock.
Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock. Spock…
After awhile the word, the sound of it (or the look of it on the page or screen), will separate from it’s meaning, and all that you’ll be left with is an empty shell. If you say the word Spock often enough all you’ll be left with is the detritus of the name. Spock himself will disappear. Through repetition Spock can cease to be Spock. Through repetition Spock can become something mysterious and unknown. Spock can become uncanny.
To really understand what a fetish is and how the fetish relies on a repetition watch episode seven of the original Star Trek series. It was entitled What Are Little Girls Made Of and on the show the Enterprise sets off to rescue a man named Doctor Korby. Korby was lost during an off world expedition to the ruins on the planet Exo 3, and when the Enterprise arrives Kirk discovers that Korby is living underground with a bunch of life like replicants. Korby learned the secret of the underground ruins and used the ancient technology there to fashion himself friends and servants. After Kirk arrives Korby tries to convince him that these android doubles represent a step toward immortality. These doubles are a triumph, another victory for human reason, another step forward toward enlightenment and away from bodily corruption, but as events unfold Korby reveals himself to be a villain. He has one of his androids, a giant named Ruk left over from the days of the Old Ones, murder several red shirts. Worse he duplicates Kirk and attempts to take over the Enterprise.
Typical, isn’t it?
Eventually we come to know that Korby himself is an android. The real Korby duplicated himself right before he died, and when the duplicate Korby is revealed as an android the effect is uncanny. Korby is a machine, and when this is revealed he becomes pathetic. Nurse Chapel, Korby’s former lover, recoils.
KIRK: You were a man with respect for all things alive. How can I explain the change in you? If I was to tell Earth I was in your hands, to tell them what has become of you (Kirk jumps Korby and traps his arm in a door. The skin tears to reveal electronics.)
KORBY: It’s still me, Christine. Roger. I’m in here. You can’t imagine how it was. I was frozen, dying. My legs were gone. I was, I had only my brain between life and death. This can be repaired easier than another man can set a broken finger. I’m still the same as I was before, Christine, perhaps even better.
CHAPEL: Are you, Roger?
It’s a creepy scene. It’s not just that we come to see this new Korby as a robot, but that we can’t stop ourselves from seeing him as also human. The revelation of Korby’s double fundamentally undermines the integrity of the original.
If a fetish is going to keep working it’s creepiness and inauthenticity has to be denied, if not unknown.
We have to pretend to be authentic in order to keep pretending, and to do that we have to find someone who is innocent, somebody who is authentic, who will believe in our fetish for us. That’s what Barthes was looking for in his essay on the Death of the Author, while in the Star Trek episode the dirty job fell to Kirk:
KIRK: In here, Spock.
SPOCK: Captain, are you all right? Nurse? Where’s Doctor Korby?
KIRK: Doctor Korby was never here.
But, Korby was there. It’s just that he’d turned himself into a robot. That’s a pretty messed up thing to do, of course, but it is also perfectly normal. It turns out that beaming a robot is the only way to become human.
Another French Marxist, a nut job named Louis Althusser, explained how this works in his essay Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. He wrote:
Notice that he’s doubling up on fantasy in that line. Althusser wrote that an ideology is not just some imaginary myth a person believes, but rather it’s the myth people believe explains why they believe in myths. An ideology is not some false picture of the world but our false picture about our false picture.
Take the notion of God. An ideology isn’t the belief in God but the explanation of this belief. The obvious one about God is that we believe in him because he’s up there in heaven, and while he’s pretty much inscrutable he’s giving us some basic ideas and helping us to believe in him. However, another ideology about God wouldn’t take God to be really up there at all. An atheist ideology would explain God to us by suggesting that we’ve been manipulated by a caste of ancient priests, kings, or authors. It’s these rulers who foisted a believe in God on us, and they did it in order to control us. Why? Because they’re bastards.
Or, taking a different point of view, an ideology might explain our belief in God by blaming the world itself. Life on Earth is filled to the brim with toothaches, irritable bowels, plagues, killer bees, and people like Justin Bieber. Living in world like this one requires people imagine a God in heaven. Who wouldn’t fantasize about God when faced with the plague? There are no atheists in foxholes. And no one remains Godless after they’ve been made to watch reality television programs like The Biggest Loser or Jersey Shore. The reality of living in and off this kind of filth and debris pushes us into a God delusion.
But Althusser wanted to get past all of these explanations. He wrote that ideologies are simply necessary. Ideologies are fantasies that support our relationships with each other and these false pictures give us our very identities.
Think of it like this:
An ideology is a picture we take of the world and then pretend is real. We do this by ignoring the camera we took the picture with and all of the other mechanisms and relationships that had to exist in order for that camera to land in our hands.
A 1972 a documentary advertisement or promotional film for Eastman Kodak and polaroid spelled it out.
“Since 1942 Edward Lamb and Polaroid have pursued a single concept, one single thread, the removal of the barrier between the photographer and his subject.”
This idea that a photograph could be taken without “any barriers between the photographer and his subject” is the idea behind every BLA, every robot, there is. It is also the goal of James Kirk in episode after episode. He lands on a planet, discovers that there is a barrier between the people on the surface and the society they’re living in, and sets off to kill or remove the barrier.
SPOCK: This is a soulless society, Captain. It has no spirit, no spark. All is indeed peace and tranquillity. The peace of the factory, the tranquillity of the machine. All parts working in unison.
KIRK: And when something unexplained happens, their routine is disrupted.
SPOCK: Until new orders are received. The question is, who gives those orders?
SPOCK: There is no Landru, Captain, not in the human sense.
KIRK: You’re thinking the same thing I am. Mister Spock, the plug must be pulled.
KIRK: Landru must die.
SPOCK: Captain, our Prime Directive of non-interference.
KIRK: That refers to a living, growing culture. Do you think this one is?
In the episode Return of the Archons Kirk and his crew discover that the citizens of planet Beta are mindless automatons. They are perfectly pleasant, if a bit placid, most of the time, but occasionally, on the instruction of an invisible voice, they erupt into a riot. Kirk arrives a few minutes before one of these cathartic festivals and witnesses the smiling denizens of Beta transform into shrieking hysterics who beat and fuck each other in the streets.
The trouble is that the people of planet Beta are under the control of a figure named Landru, and Landru is a computer. Kirk is nearly assimilated into this “body” but manages to kill the computer instead. Kirk demonstrates to Landru that the computer itelf is a contradiction. The computer is working against its own programming simply by following the program. Landru’s effort to create a sustainable and harmoniously balanced society has created a stagnant society instead, and Kirk puts it to Landru that Landru should destroy itself because the computer’s efforts toward harmony creates disharmony. Landru follows the logic and self-destructs.
However, once Landru is destroyed a new order, a new mechanism, has to be established if life on Beta can continue. Kirk calls in the Federation to establish a new world order for the colonists. He destroys one barrier and then quickly erects a new one, and all the while he assures the colonists that they will love this new barrier because they’ll find it isn’t a barrier at all.
Paradoxically, Kirk both understands the paradox and doesn’t. There is no real and natural life. The people of Beta will always need a Polaroid Camera, a computer like Landru, or a show like Star Trek, if they want to be able to leave their parents basement and manage to kiss a girl.
There is a ideological binary opposition presented in much of the popular media for the last few decades about nature and nurture being opposed: it works itself up into the academy too with sometimes strong genetic determinist arguments–generally from scientifically questionable speculations by evolutionary psychologists–and then (admittedly rather rare) arguments from the humanities that everything is sociologically constructed (generally pulling from either Foucaultian influenced post-structuralism or structuralists visions of ideological apparatuses). Really, though, this dialectical opposition seems rooted in the early Enlightenment when both biological determinism and Cartesian special-pleading for the self set out two different visions of the human future.
I, however, increasingly doubt this move: The structural elements that wanted do deal only with the synchronic and not diachronic elements was a methodological move that gets reified into a stance that views ideas as either without a history or having a history, but biology is a historical science. It describes the development of organic life over time through processes that we have not entirely understood but have several mechanistic grasps of. This was why I always found the idea of nature problematic: nature implies as non-human totality, which seems to be special-pleading for the human species, or an undifferentiated totality, which is cognitively empty.
This has led to in re-reading Althusser, which I still find as problematic as I ever did as his hermeneutic for interpreting Marx implies that Marx either didn’t mean or didn’t understand his “true” methodology because even late works have “lingering” Hegelian idealism. This led me to take Althusser’s statement that ideology is not “ideal” but physical as manifested in the way we live and pair it, admittedly even to my mind, dangerously, with some ideas I have seen about the acceleration of human evolution. What I am about to articulate takes care of my view that Althusser’s synchronic understanding of historical materialism actually has the structure of the “means of productive forces” in ideology emerge almost without a history before there was an ideology there.
Even when I was in anthropology classes in the late 1990s, I remember being told that it was the consensus view that human evolution stopped with agriculture removing “natural” pressures from the evolutionary ecology of humans. I remember thinking though: How come Europeans developed lactose tolerance if this were true? Then I read Gregory Cochran’s The 10,000 Explosion, which is controversial and has some severe limitations even in my lay mind, but does talk about how social pressures would have genetically selective impulses and this could show up from disease immunities and, more controversially, relationships to authority and impulse control. Cochran admits that there are real limitations here and that there isn’t enough anthropological fieldwork paired with genetic testing to prove or disprove, but sexual selection in early agricultural society was exactly more extreme than in hunter-gather society since there was far more restrictions put on the survival of children, and in certain extreme examples, chieftains sometimes out reproduce serfs 1000 to 1.
Now I don’t know if we can take it as far as Cochran does, but he get to a point: Ideological and social impulses, which emerge from social arrangements in resource production and distribution actually change us physically. Furthermore, there is evidence that culture exists in any social mammal and thus emerges from “natural” conditions. This is say that both the “essentialist” view and the “social construction” view would largely miss the point: there is no dialectical opposition between “nature” and “nurture” nor does genetic determinism limit all social arrangements, but they modify each other in a feedback loop. Both the rubric of “nurtural” stances (or sociology) and “natural” stance (biology, comparative genetics) describe two different ways that human societies develop and interact. The question of dominance or innateness may miss the point: furthermore, both seem to assume that culture somehow emerges as a modern human conception out of nothing, or solely out of the means of production in ways that make “evolution” not possible. This confuses morphological differences with other differences too easily. There would be little morphological difference in modern humans because our social technologies have enabled us to stabilize our environment, but a variety of pressures socially would emerge to have influence on sexual selection.
So not only is ideology physical in the way Althusser meant as manifested by what we do and not just what we “believe,” but ideological pressures factor into to sexual selection ‘naturally” and thus have real effects there as well. It’s not eugenics or anything so crude at play here but developments from “natural” social responses because unless one believes the structures of production and the structures of society emerge ex nihilo, the social interactions come out of our biological and ecological limitations.
The dialectic of “nature/nurture” isn’t a dialectic at all. It is a false binary. Naturally.
One of the stranger moments in debates on Marxist theory is that somehow capitalism is historically unique in that it is totality while other means of productions are not. Now, I have already said that an undifferentiated totality is not cognitive, so capitalism is not an undifferentiated totality. However, I’d go further and say that capitalism is not a totality at all. György Lukács thoughts on consciousness and reificaiton are enlightening but his insistence that capitalist totality predominates the modes of thought, as he stated it “It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxism and bourgeois thought, but the point of view of totality. The category of totality, the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts, is the essence of the method which Marx took over from Hegel and brilliantly transformed into the foundations of a wholly new science…Proletarian science is revolutionary not just by virtue of its revolutionary ideas which it opposes to bourgeois society, but above all because of its method. The primacy of the category of totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science.”
The emphasis on the logic of capital to produce social relations seems to have the order exactly backwards even from a Marxist standpoint. It renders capitalism into a hypostatization, a confusion of the metaphor for the reality itself. While what capitalism describes is a complex web of social relations that engender a means of production which reinforces those social relationships, “capitalism” cannot produce social relations in and of itself. Why? This logic is entirely circular? If capitalism is the way the classes interact in regards to the means of production, and capitalism produces the relationship between classes, then capital is the cause of its own production. That is logic is not dialectical, its circular.
I would go more than to accuse this sort of thinking of hypostatization and say its reification in the since Marx used the term. Verdinglichung the word Marx used that we translate as reificaiton, was used in Marx both in ascribing human relations to a thing (i.e. a fetish) and ascribing thingness to an idea (i.e. an ideology). A totality is not a set of social conditions as nothing total can emerge from social conditions: social conditions are an aggregate of human interaction. Yes, there is a meta-logic to these interactions in both politics and economics: however, no interaction completely determines this rule. While alienation ensures that many of the contradictions of the means of production are not seen for what they are, they cannot be said to produce those relationships, but are merely descriptive of the way such relationships are maintained. So I can agree with Lukács that “”The premise of dialectical materialism is, we recall: ‘It is not men’s consciousness that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence that determines their consciousness.’… Only when the core of existence stands revealed as a social process can existence be seen as the product, albeit the hitherto unconscious product, of human activity” but human activity is itself an aggregate process: a dialectical synthesis of the impasse between the individual and the collective. In so much, dominance of the whole to the parts no such dialectical impasse is possible. In short, this is a mystification used to undo mystification, but is none the less still an illusion that leads to several mischaracterization of the situation.
In researching this, I discovered that I was hardly the first Marxist to make this point. Let us look at Joshua Howard Totality versus theory: Left cognition and social change
In what follows I try to show in a preliminary way how the category of totality and the attendant sense of method have both served to hinder the understanding of Marx’s critique of capital and have had an enervating effect on the ability of Western Marxists to imagine alternatives to capitalism. But this applies well beyond Western Marxism, and a lot of what I say applies to the radical Left in general. This is because the main issue, I believe, concerns a certain way of thinking about capitalist society as a total system.
From Marx’s analysis of capital, as an integrated process of production, distribution, and exchange of value, Western Marxists tend to move, largely through unsubstantiated, analogical thinking, to a theory of capitalist society as a whole, as a completely integrated system that affects everything we think and do. This generates in turn the need for an external position from which to critique this society and a frustrated desire to live outside the system. From here it is but a short step to despairing of ever achieving such a position. But, as soon as one poses the problem in terms of being “inside” or “outside” capitalism, the game is over. This is not least because of the theoretical and practical consequences that flow from Lukács’s claim about the “all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts.”
By regarding capitalism as a total system, encompassing all of society, holistic views such as Lukács’s have also included as part of capitalist totality our very consciousness, so that our inner thoughts themselves are supposed to embody or enact this all-consuming total ideology, which appears to us perfectly commonplace, or “reified” as Lukács says. Radical critics trace all problems of modern society back to capitalism. Their radicalism itself is measured by how much they refuse this total ideology and reject the entire culture. Just as capitalism is seen to mediate everything we do and think, so revolution comes to be imagined as something that entails changing all of society, down to our consciousness.
One practical consequence of this view is that revolution comes to seem impossible, because, well, a scenario in which everything changes is impossible. Social change has never and will never happen this way. And so it is hard to convince rational people of the viability of a revolution against a Lukácsian totality. If a movement to change society requires people first to adopt an entire new worldview, then perhaps we should wonder whether such a vision of social change is not solely a construct of the intelligentsia built into a vision of the world with which they flatter themselves, rather than as a genuinely emancipatory vision opening a viable path towards real social change to benefit everyone.
A second theoretical consequence is that once the ontological priority of the whole over the parts is posited, including the dependence of thought on society, then one must also posit the impossibility of conceiving any alternative to this totality or a theory of how any change is possible. As products of the whole, everything that is thought reflects that whole and is bound by it.
To Howard’s points I add the following: Giving primacy to the idea that capitalism is a totality of human relationships is actually, in a distinct way, strangely un-Marxist as it is a manifestation of alienation itself, of which reification is a sub-set of. The idea that the old class, the ancien regime, went away is frankly foolish. It hadn’t gone away in Marx’s time even after the bourgeois revolutions, and it hasn’t gone away now either.
Take, for instances, the idea of the old regime or that feudalism has ever really gone away: both Arno Mayer and Corey Robins have noted that pre-capitalist elements are still around in Neo-liberalism. Furthermore, it took World War 2 to finally dislodge the old regime according to Mayer.
Then we have our relationship to James Burnham, whose problematic schema of the managerial class was not answered completely by a Western Marxist. Let’s look at some examples from the The Managerial Revolution:
If the temporary workers’ control is replaced by the old control of capitalist owners (as happened in the two revolutionary crises in Germany at the end of, and a few years after, the first world war), then society, after a crisis, has simply returned to its previous capitalist structure. If workers’ control is replaced by the de facto control of the managers backed by a new kind of state, then capitalism, after a transitional crisis, has changed into managerial society. The latter, through a series of intermediary steps, is what happened in Russia.
For a while after the revolution in Russia, in many factories and other enterprises – for a very short while – the factories were run by the workers through their elected committees called “Factory Committees.” Then the “technical” direction of operations was turned over to “specialists” (that is, managers), with the Factory Committees remaining in existence and still exercising substantial control through a veto power over the managers and jurisdiction over “labour conditions.” Meanwhile, bureaus and commissions and individuals appointed from above by the new (soviet) government were beginning to take over the job of co-ordinating the efforts of various factories and branches of industry. Gradually the powers of the managers and managerial co-ordinator, increased, necessarily at the expense of “workers’ control” and the Factory Committees. The Factory Committee lost their veto powers. Their prerogative, “labour conditions,” became more and more narrowly interpreted. The Committee composition was changed to include one state representative, one managerial representative, and one man nominally representing the workers. Finally, even these Committees lost all their real power and remained as mere formalities, to be dropped altogether in 1938.
Workers’ control had been transformed into managerial control.
Mao seemed to realize this problem in the Communist block and formulated the the revolts of the cultural revolution to truly combat it. Yet he pulled back and this led to the reemergence of Deng. Stalin and his managerial stage would have simply killed Deng, but the Chinese rarely executed comrades outright for ideological defections. Still, modern China is essentially a managerial stage with elements of its pre-capitalist regime (Confucianism) coming back.
But this analytical errors in class development and change are not the only errors that emerge from this idea that capitalism is a totality. Howards points to others as well:
Ideological holism, meanwhile, holds that the dominant ideology colors everything we believe or, rather, that what we believe stems from the social system itself. A corollary of ideological holism is that the meaning of every belief depends on the believer’s social location; it requires analysis in light of the totality to establish its meaning and significance in the light of history. On this view, every belief is connected to every other belief in a web of ideology, a symbolic system or worldview that perfectly locks into this form of life. Our beliefs are further determined by where we stand in this totality. Hence, you can have a “proletarian science” as opposed to a “bourgeois science.” A new society would naturally bring with it a new belief system for its individual parts, one that we cannot begin to imagine. In a post-capitalist society we would think differently, just as now we think differently from other cultures or historical periods. This would be akin to a conversion process from one worldview or paradigm to another. This holism of belief today has many names, but the logic is the same: Lukács’s reification of consciousness is a species of standpoint epistemology, as is Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge; misunderstandings of Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism, the appropriation in the humanities and social sciences of Thomas Kuhn’s notion of paradigm, and Michel Foucault’s epistemes or disciplinary matrices, among others, are all perspectivist viewpoints.
Furthermore, I agree with Howard when he asserted that:
“For Marx, ultimately the change that is needed is not political, at least not primarily so. Nor can the exercise of political will, however democratic, sustain socioeconomic change. Socioeconomic change will sustain any future political changes. This economic structure would be a complex, dynamic system that would have to be self-regulating in some way. The place to begin to look for what Marx conceived of as a self-sustaining socialist society is his Critique of the Gotha Program. Here Marx, the theorist of socialism, emerges from Marx, the theorist of capitalism, in Capital. If he is correct about the inner workings of the capitalist economy, his theory of capital is a good start to figure out in what ways a socialist economy would have to differ. In his Critique, socialism is conceived of as a new economic structure that would give rise to different patterns of daily life, new opportunities, and new patterns of making policy, such that individuals can better take control of their own lives—in other words, as Marx put it, the full and free development of each is the condition for the full and free development of all. And this free development depends not on political decisions but on new economic relations.”
I also agree with Howard when he asserts that:
“Holistic thinking seeks a theory of society as a whole or of history as a whole. The reason that Marx provided no such comprehensive theory of society or a theory of capitalist society is because he did not think it was necessary for his purposes and probably thought it impossible. Such a “theory” would attempt to leave nothing out and thus strive to be a theory of everything, but this would no longer be a theory in any real sense. A theory must range over a definite domain of phenomena. It must look for causal regularities and discover the causal mechanisms that underlie those regularities. That is true of theories in general, and of Marx’s theories of capital as a mode of production (conceived narrowly) and of historical materialism, in particular. Marx did not have a theory of everything, nor did he mean for his theories to explain everything.
Holistic accounts of capitalist society, on the other hand, individuate modes of production, social formations, forms of life, worldviews, paradigms, and so on, as wholes, meaning their “parts” depend on their place in the whole, rather than the whole depending on the individual parts. Thus there can be no fundamental change that is not a total change, one in which all the parts, being so dependent, are fundamentally altered. This makes no sense because, if there were no independent parts, if the whole were the only thing with any real independent existence, then there could be no change, certainly not from within the totality. We need not invoke Popper’s critique of utopian social engineering in favor of piecemeal change in order to see that there is a theoretical inadequacy in such holistic thinking. It conceives capitalist society as an abstract, undifferentiated totality and the intellectual as somehow outside it. This can lead only to an abstract negation of society because it lacks any specificity with respect to capital as a totalizing process in anything more than its strict use by Marx in reference to capital’s subsumption of labor processes. Its ineffectiveness is due to its synthetic mode of cognition linking everything to everything else, largely eschewing the theorization of the actual causal mechanisms that run through this society. As a consequence, it is also a bad method from which to think of social change. Not only is there an effacement of how the different parts of this whole relate, no guidance can be derived as to how to get from this whole to the next. If every part is subsumed under the whole, if the parts are not seen as prior to the whole, then the whole must be changed from without. Some mysterious transitionary period is usually delegated to the task of doing the actual work of moving us from capitalism to socialism, but this seems to be a placeholder for ignorance.”
The goal of Marxian analysis is communism as the end of class struggle, period. Class struggle produces capitalism as struggles between groups produce all sorts of problematic logic both within a capitalist framework and outside of it. I disagree with Howard about politicism and economism as I do not see the separation between the two that Howard does. Class struggle generates both our economy and our politics.
In this I move for theory and for political economy and away from any one super-structure reduction of human relations. You cannot fight mystification with another mystification, particularly one who offers no real way out.