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An attack on Iran would only delay development of an Iranian bomb, believes Max Boot ...
The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels Allen Lane, London, 2009. xvi + 443 ...
Capitalism and the Dialectic: The Uno-Sekine Approach to Marxian Political Economy Pluto Press, London, 2009, 256pp, ...
Saudi Arabia’s oil reserves are expected to run dry in fifty years. This prospect has ...
Richard Nixon, whose centenary was marked last week (born January 9, 1913), is generally regarded ...
From deflected permanent revolution to the law of uneven and combined development Neil Davidson “Trotsky is the ...
A review of Dave Sherry, Russia 1917: Workers’ Revolution and the Festival of the Oppressed ...
William Hague said Iran's nuclear programme was a long-term concern. Photograph: Sang Tan/AP Foreign secretary says ...
Kevin B Anderson, Marx at the Margins (University of Chicago Press, 2010), £15.00 Frederick Engels used ...
Author: Peter Thomas Peter Thomas's book "The Gramscian Moment", about the ideas of the Italian Marxist ...

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Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia-Ciro Roberto Bustos

Posted by admin On January - 21 - 2016 Comments Off on Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia-Ciro Roberto Bustos

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Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia
Verso, London, 2013. 468pp., £25 hb

Reviewed by Daniel Gaido

 

Daniel Gaido is a researcher at the National Research Council (Conicet), Argentina. He is author of The Formative Period of American Capitalism (Routledge, 2006) and co-editor, with Richard Day, of Witnesses to Permanent Revolution (Brill, 2009), Discovering Imperialism (Brill, 2009) and Responses to Marx’s ‘Capital’ (Brill, forthcoming).

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The publication of these memoirs by one of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s key men in Argentina and Bolivia is a major political and literary achievement. Politically, not because it shows the superiority of Che’s rural armed foco strategy and his peasant way to socialism over Marx’s strategy of building a revolutionary working-class political party, but because it provides a truthful account of Che’s guerrillas exploits, and in that sense it is the best homage that could have been paid to his memory. Artistically, because Bustos’ unique experiences are rendered in a lively and captivating style, which makes the reading of these at times brutal and traumatizing reminiscences an enjoyable experience.

Ciro Bustos was born in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1932. A painter by profession, he studied at the School of Fine Arts of the National University of Cuyo, Mendoza. Attracted by the Cuban Revolution, in 1961 he travelled to Havana, where he met Che, who included him in the group he chose to carry out his revolutionary project in Argentina – part of Che’s wider “continental plan” to set up a guerrilla base in Northern Argentina and Southern Bolivia and Peru. As such, along with Jorge Masetti, Bustos was a member of the founding nucleus of the People’s Guerrilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero del Pueblo, EGP), which operated in the Argentine province of Salta in 1963-4. After the failure of that attempt, Che reconvened Bustos for his guerrilla project in the Ñancahuazú region of Bolivia. After the defeat of this new project, Bustos was sentenced in Camiri to 30 years in prison. Released in 1970 by the government of General Juan José Torres in Bolivia, he lived under Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile and moved to Argentina shortly before Pinochet’s coup in 1973, only in order to be forced to leave his country shortly before Videla’s coup in 1976. He now lives in Malmö, Sweden, where he wrote his memoirs, originally published in Spanish as El Che quiere verte in 2011.

We will skip over Bustos’ formative years in Argentina and begin with the account of his experiences in Cuba. He tells, for instance, that already in the second half of the year 1961 (“la segunda mitad del año 61”, the English version reads: “the mid-sixties”) “Political control had degenerated into Stalinist sectarianism, spreading through Cuban society” (38). He also recalls an Argentine professional couple, doctors sent by the Argentine Communist Party, who invited him over to dinner. The wife, seeing him excited about the revolution, told him: “Your disillusionment will be very painful, I’m afraid. Communists are coming out of the woodworks like mice, taking over everything, to get at the cheese” (43).

Those early symptoms of Stalinization led to an early crisis when Jorge Ricardo Masetti, the journalist who had risked his life to report on the Sierra Maestra guerrillas during the revolution, and who had been trusted with the creation of Cuba’s news agency, Prensa Latina, was ousted from that institution in April 1961, prompting Gabriel García Márquez’s resignation. The blow at Masetti – whose name would be erased from the history of Prensa Latina in a time-honoured Stalinist fashion (455-6) – was a blow at Che, who gradually changed his attitude towards the Cuban Trotskyists from denouncing them as agents of American imperialism to rescuing from jail those whom he could still help (by 1965 the Cuban Trotskyists where officially banned, see Gary Tennant’s outstanding dissertation, available online: Dissident Cuban Communism: The Case of Trotskyism, 1932-1965).

Che made perfectly clear to his recruits that commitment to his project was “more a commitment to death than to life” (50), telling them: “‘Remember, as from now, you are dead men. From now on, you’re living on borrowed time’” (76). This Guevarist conception of revolutionary politics as a suicidal enterprise stemmed from Che’s conception of armed propaganda as the demiurge of subjective conditions, but his urgency to set up guerrilla groups in Latin America must also be seen as a series of increasingly desperate attempts to rescue the Cuban revolution from the deadly embrace of Stalinism.

Che formally appointed Masetti, now persona non grata for the Stalinists, as his second in command or comandante segundo, at the head of a group of half a dozen people, recruited mostly from the periphery of the Argentine Communist Party, in charge of setting up a rural guerrilla base in the Orán region of the Argentine province of Salta. Bustos’ memoirs recount in detail the “army of five madmen’s” tortured odyssey from Cuba through Prague, Algiers (an attempt by Masetti and Che to break free from their dependence on the Stalinist apparatus) and Bolivia to Argentina, from November 1962 to June 1963. Bustos was put in charge of the group’s communications with Cuba, and he vividly remembers this reference to the Cuban revolution in one of the messages: “In one that I helped decipher — the phrase is engraved on my memory — Che says: ‘Nuestra atalaya se hunde lenta pero inexorablemente’ (Our vantage point is slowly but inexorably sinking), and he added that by now we should be in our zone of operation in northern Argentina” (99).

Masetti’s guerrilla army was swiftly and overwhelmingly defeated, more by its geographical isolation and lack of a social base than by actual combats, of which Bustos recalls only one incident. But still, twelve people died and thirteen guerrillas were taken prisoner and put on trial, Bustos himself only barely escaping because he had been put in charge of establishing the urban support network, of which the mainstay was the group that edited the journal Pasado y Presente in the city of Córdoba. It was in Córdoba that he learned that the border police had raided the guerrilla camp in Salta – through the local newspaper (172). Bustos vindicates his former comandante’s revolutionary record and rejects the accusation that Masetti executed two of his own men due to their Jewish extraction, adding that “half the EGP national leadership was Jewish” (155). He also sets the historical record straight against “the efforts of the Cubans in the Americas department to Peronize our experience […] We worked exclusively with young people disenchanted with the Communist Party and groups that had split off from the party. Che gave express orders that no Peronists were to be accepted” (461), because, he said: “It’s too risky, they are too infiltrated” (289).

After the disastrous Salta experience, the EGP began to have doubts about Che’s foquist strategy, and Bustos together with José María “Pancho” Aricó travelled to Cuba in May-July 1964 to explain them to Che himself, but Aricó was overwhelmed by Che’s presence and kept silent. The EGP urban structure in Argentina was still largely intact, and at the beginning of 1965 their leadership held a plenary session in Montevideo, Uruguay, where it was decided to suspend guerrilla activities in Argentina “until such time as conditions were ripe for us to move into a more populated area with access to, and the participation of, an organized workers’ movement” (206). But this resolution couldn’t be transmitted to Che, because in that same year he fired his parting salvo against the Stalinists at his famous last speech in Algiers on 24 February and then disappeared from sight, prompting all sorts of rumours until, in October 1965, Fidel Castro announced his departure from Cuba and his resignation from all his army ranks as well as his government posts.

In May 1966 Bustos was summoned back to Havana and later travelled through China. Then, in January 1967 he was met by Tamara Bunke, the young woman who would die later that year with Guevara in Bolivia, with the message “Che Wants to See You.” He flew to La Paz, Bolivia, where he met Régis Debray, the vain and superficial “theoretician” of foquism, and Tamara herself. Together they reached Che’s guerrilla camp at Ñancahuazú in March 1967, where Che entrusted him with the mission of activating the EGP network. “Strategic objective: Seizing power in Argentina,” Che told him (276). His plans were to enter Argentina with two columns of about one hundred men, “Argentines, in the space of no more than two years” (277). Despite the mandate he had received from the EGP not to insist on a guerrilla foco, Bustos decided to go on with Che’s plans, faced with the fait accompli of his presence at the head of a guerrilla force, but events immediately went out of control.

The desertion of three unreliable recruits prompted their discovery by the army, the abandonment of the base camp and an early military confrontation on 23 March 1967, in which the army fell into an ambush, suffering several dead and injured as well as a major, a captain and many soldiers taken prisoner. Despite this early triumph, the prospects of Che’s Bolivian guerrilla were grim: contact with the outside world was lost, supplies were low, the number of sick people (due among other things to malnutrition) was mounting, and there were no realistic prospects of recruitment among the local population. Indeed, the chosen location was most unsuitable for creating a peasant base: “Bolivia was the only country in South America where (in 1952) a nationalist revolution had introduced agrarian reform, giving land rights back to its peasant farmers, descendants of the ancient Inca empire. The miserable inhabitants of the area where the guerrillas were fighting actually owned their shacks and strips of land — with more bugs than fruit on it, but nonetheless theirs. At the slightest sign of outside interference or latent threat to their possessions, they would inform the army” (284).

It was decided that Bustos, Debray and a freelance photographer who somehow managed to reach the guerrillas, George Andrew Roth, should try to escape the army’s dragnet, taking advantage of Roth’s bona fide status as a journalist, with a safe-conduct from the top military brass. They were quickly arrested on 20 April 1967 and subjected to intensive interrogation, though not tortured.

Bustos’ instructions were to keep the guerrilla’s network in Argentina (then under the military dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía) secret at all costs. As regards the Ñancahuazú guerrillas, Che instructed him to avoid revealing the presence of Cubans. As for Che’s own presence, it was to be revealed only if it became clear that the army already knew it, and then given as much publicity as possible to try to break the guerrillas’ isolation. According to Bustos: “it did not matter what Debray or I said, nor when we said it: they already knew […] they had already established the presence of Che under the alias of Ramón, a group of Cubans under his command, some Peruvians and, naturally, Bolivians” (343-4). In these conditions, Bustos drew sketches of the guerrillas which later led to the accusation that it was him who had betrayed Che, although according to one of the CIA agents, who spoke about it years later, Debray “sang like a canary” (xiv).

Bustos believes that Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership abandoned Che and his guerrillas to their fate: “Cuban Intelligence had recalled their man Renán Montero (aka Moleón in Bolivia or Iván when the EGP were training in Havana) from his post in La Paz in March, immediately after the first combat. He was not replaced” (357). The same happened to him, and to his wife and two daughters, during his trial and subsequent imprisonment: they received no help whatsoever, while the Cuban state showered attentions on Debray, who did not really need them (his mother was a Gaullist member of parliament for Paris and he enjoyed the personal protection of General Charles de Gaulle).

During Bustos and Debray’s trial at Camiri, Che was murdered on 9 October 1967, and they were subsequently condemned to a thirty-year sentence, but released in December 1970 by the left-wing military regime of General Juan José Torres, subsequently killed in Argentina by the military dictatorship in 1976. During their time in prison Che’s diary was delivered to the Cuban government (which immediately published it) by Antonio Arguedas, minister of the interior in President Barrientos’ government, an ex-Communist and self-confessed CIA agent during the previous six years. “Arguedas lived in Cuba for a time (like Ramón Mercader, Trotsky’s killer), was showered with honours, received the honorary title of ‘compañero’, attended the 26th of July ceremonies in the Plaza de la Revolución in the government box, and returned to Bolivia two coups d’état later” (400).

The English translation is not a full rendering of the beautiful Spanish original but a slightly shortened version. On the other hand, the chapter headings have been improved and provided with a chronology. For reasons of space we cannot provide examples of Bustos’ prose, we will close this review with an anecdote from his time at Camiri prison: “Only once was a book confiscated: A Plan for Escape by Bioy Casares, which had nothing to do with prisoners escaping” (384).
http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2015/2042

Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought: Laclau, Negri, Badiou-Oliver Harrison

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2015 Comments Off on Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought: Laclau, Negri, Badiou-Oliver Harrison

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Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought: Laclau, Negri, Badiou
Ashgate, Farnham and Burlington, VT, 2014. 184pp., £60 hb

Reviewed by Andrew Rowcroft

 

Andrew Rowcroft is currently completing his doctorate on post-Marxist theory and contemporary British and American Fiction. He is the convenor for the Marx Research Seminar at the University of Lincoln, and can be contacted via arowcroft@lincoln.ac.uk.

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Review
With the crisis and collapse of Marxism as the dominant paradigm of the twentieth century progressive left, post-Marxism (‘postmodern’ or ‘poststructuralist’ Marxism) started to gain ascendancy across fields as diverse as social and political theory, literary studies, and philosophy. Rendered as a more intellectually palatable Marxism (within a postmodern age of radical scepticism), post-Marxism has been a steady undercurrent of Marxist scholarship since the end of the Second World War. It is not without its opponents, however, and it is regarded by some orthodox scholars as a fashionable posture, the ‘advanced stage of an intellectual malady’, and even a ‘short pit stop on the way to anti-Marxism’. (Geras, 1987; Wood, 1998).

Situating the end of Marxist discourse with the collapse of actually existing socialism in 1989, Oliver Harrison begins this study of Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought by arguing that Marxism has, for some time now, been ‘ossified into a doctrine that justified state terror’ (1). For Harrison, the emergence of post-Marxism is more readily located in the 1980s, particularly with the publication of Laclau and Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985), a central text in these debates. Limiting the study to three ‘post-Marxist’ scholars (the recently deceased Argentine political philosopher Ernesto Laclau, the communist intellectual and activist Toni Negri, and the French philosopher and critic Alain Badiou) Harrison problematizes their relation to Marx by building in another layer from which these thinkers draw: Laclau has an obvious debt to Gramsci’s conception of hegemony, Negri to Lenin’s writings on party structure and organisational form, and Badiou to Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Thankfully, and for all our sakes, Harrison avoids the double prefix ‘post’ which has become popular in recent cultural enquiry (are these figures, one may ask, post-Marxist or post-post-Marxist?).

The chapter structure emphasises simplicity and readability. After a series of short chapters on historical and theoretical contexts, each theorist is located within a single detailed chapter. The Introduction is rewardingly brief, with Harrison contending that the questioning of Marx’s most elementary claims has actually provided a rich source of new material, acting as a complement to, rather than a displacement of, Marx’s oeuvre. His focus on the return of Marx’s approach to capitalist crisis post-2008 is not dealt with sufficiently however; he simply acknowledges that in times of crisis ‘the Marxist critique of political economy remains authoritative’ yet without the ‘revolutionary prescriptions’ typically associated with it (1).

Chapter Two gives a short overview of the historical development of Marxist theory across the twentieth century, and is organised around the key thematic headings which have dominated the discourse (orthodoxy, Western Marxism, critical theory, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-Marxism), which Harrison reads as successive stages in the theory’s development. Beginning with an interesting and well-written biography of Marx, Harrison situates Marx’s method and writing as a product of nineteenth century ‘scientific’ enquiry. Strictly speaking, there is nothing new here. Harrison’s focus on the role of Engels deserves some mention, contending that his intervention fostered a more deterministic Marxism than its author had originally intended. Harrison ends this section by arguing post-Marxism must be ‘considered on a case-by-case basis’, but he says little regarding the political consequences of this theoretical fragmentation. In a bid to problematize the so-called ‘ambiguous’ theory of these figures, Marx’s revolutionary subjectivity remains the ‘benchmark’ of Harrison’s enterprise. Yet, while the close focus on selected writings breeds a rewarding proximity with the material, Harrison offers little comment on the larger structural deployments that are the staple of Marxism proper. Perry Anderson’s exemplary Considerations on Western Marxism (1976) is notable for its quick gloss here, with Harrison missing commentary on how the aesthetic came to be the driving preoccupation of Marxist thought from the Frankfurt school onwards.

The chapter on revolutionary subjectivity is the first of the more ‘meaty’ sections on Marx, followed by chapters on Laclau, Negri, and Badiou. Harrison reads Marx’s revolutionary subjectivity as defined by productive activity operating in historically determinate objective and subjective conditions, a ‘prism of human productive activity directed towards the seizure of power’. It emerges via ‘gradual educative experience’ and is neither ‘spontaneous nor inevitable’ (21).

Harrison complements this reading with a launch into the second tier of theorists who constitute the middle base of the study, with a focus on their deviations from orthodoxy. After unpacking Marx’s materialist concept of history, Harrison then focuses on Lenin’s creation of an ‘advanced revolutionary theory’ within the specific limitations of Russian society. Followed by short sections on Gramsci’s re-writing of a Marxist theory of politics through hegemony and, Mao’s application of Marx to a situation without a working class agent, this section is eminently clear and lucid.

Chapter Four offers an excellent overview of Laclau’s political writings, refreshing for its situation of Laclau’s formative political experiences in his native Argentina, which played a major role in his writing on tactical alliances with non-revolutionary sectors. Expectedly, Harrison’s focus remains largely with Hegemony and Socialist Strategy, a work that crystalized the development of post-Marxism. There is little to take to task here; the subject matter is well-handled and broached through smaller subsections focusing on class, discourse, populism, and, of course, subjectivity. The chief task with discussing Laclau however, is the difficulty of registering his thought as interventions in concrete historical circumstances. Harrison does well here, situating the retreat from class within the larger ‘political’ abandonment of social class occurring across Marxist theory.

The Chapter on Negri and the concept of the Multitude follows. Once again, Harrison situates the critic’s thought within the historical and political crisis of its time; in this case the aggressive workers movement in Italy, which for Negri, allowed the rethinking of the Marxist labour/capital binary. In Harrison’s reading of Negri, the form or composition of the working class is different in each particular stage and therefore revolutionary subjectivity cannot be subordinated to an objective position within the relations of production. Negri’s reading of the Grundrisse finds an admirable place here; so often overlooked for his more established work with Michael Hardt. For Harrison, Negri’s reading of Marx through Lenin allowed a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between class composition and organisational form, allowing Negri to ‘reformulate a theory of revolutionary subjectivity in the Italian context’ of his time’ (75).

The final theoretical chapter, on Badiou’s `Communist Hypothesis’, was for this critic the most engaging. Badiou’s continued fidelity to the thought of Mao demonstrates, for Harrison, a structural break with Marx’s thought on revolutionary subjectivity. While Badiou accepts social class as a ‘fully reliable tool’ it remains crucial to ‘move beyond the idea that politics represents objective groups that can be designated as classes’ (Badiou quoted in Harrison, 101). While providing new theoretical resources for these discussions, Harrison remains sensitive to the weakness of Badiou’s account. Divorced from any focus on the ‘economic’, and characterised by a rigid anti-statism, the political effectivity of Badiou’s writing can thus be seriously questioned.

Typically, studies of post-Marxism are guilty of perpetrating the very criticism of orthodoxy they seek to dispel. Harrison’s book is considerably more sensitive to these processes than many others. It concludes with an attempted synthesis of these discrepant positions, arguing to retain Negri’s emphasis on ‘changing forms of productive activity; combine this with Laclau’s formal hegemonic logic […] and finally integrate Badiou’s insights regarding […] the protracted and disciplined nature of revolutionary commitment’. (130). As a ‘complex continuity’ of Marx’s emancipatory project, this is certainly a difficult programme to follow.

The conclusion ends by proposing that a post-Marxist theory of revolutionary subjectivity can be located around ‘fundamental tendencies’, chief of which remains the abandonment of Marx’s theory of history. Revolutionary Subjectivity in Post-Marxist Thought is an excellent addition to the emerging field of critical scholarship on this fascinating area. The subject is well handled and clear, adding an intellectual clarity to a theoretical field that desperately cries out for a clear thematic approach. The clarity and energy Harrison brings to these debates – which, often, are all too quickly given over to academic jargon – is one of the defining achievements of the book. Anyone wishing to become acquainted with these thinkers, and those interested in the complex debt modern critical theory has to Marx, would do well to read this book.

13 September 2015

References
Geras, Norman 1987. ‘Post-Marxism?’ New Left Review volume 1 no 163, pp. 40-82.
Wood, Ellen Meiksins 1998. The Retreat from Class: The New “True” Socialism (London: Verso).
http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2015/2022

Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia-Ciro Roberto Bustos

Posted by admin On October - 11 - 2015 Comments Off on Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia-Ciro Roberto Bustos

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Che Wants to See You: The Untold Story of Che in Bolivia
Verso, London, 2013. 468pp., £25 hb

Reviewed by Daniel Gaido

 

Daniel Gaido is a researcher at the National Research Council (Conicet), Argentina. He is author of The Formative Period of American Capitalism (Routledge, 2006) and co-editor, with Richard Day, of Witnesses to Permanent Revolution (Brill, 2009), Discovering Imperialism (Brill, 2009) and Responses to Marx’s ‘Capital’ (Brill, forthcoming).

More…

Review
The publication of these memoirs by one of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s key men in Argentina and Bolivia is a major political and literary achievement. Politically, not because it shows the superiority of Che’s rural armed foco strategy and his peasant way to socialism over Marx’s strategy of building a revolutionary working-class political party, but because it provides a truthful account of Che’s guerrillas exploits, and in that sense it is the best homage that could have been paid to his memory. Artistically, because Bustos’ unique experiences are rendered in a lively and captivating style, which makes the reading of these at times brutal and traumatizing reminiscences an enjoyable experience.

Ciro Bustos was born in Mendoza, Argentina, in 1932. A painter by profession, he studied at the School of Fine Arts of the National University of Cuyo, Mendoza. Attracted by the Cuban Revolution, in 1961 he travelled to Havana, where he met Che, who included him in the group he chose to carry out his revolutionary project in Argentina – part of Che’s wider “continental plan” to set up a guerrilla base in Northern Argentina and Southern Bolivia and Peru. As such, along with Jorge Masetti, Bustos was a member of the founding nucleus of the People’s Guerrilla Army (Ejército Guerrillero del Pueblo, EGP), which operated in the Argentine province of Salta in 1963-4. After the failure of that attempt, Che reconvened Bustos for his guerrilla project in the Ñancahuazú region of Bolivia. After the defeat of this new project, Bustos was sentenced in Camiri to 30 years in prison. Released in 1970 by the government of General Juan José Torres in Bolivia, he lived under Allende’s Popular Unity government in Chile and moved to Argentina shortly before Pinochet’s coup in 1973, only in order to be forced to leave his country shortly before Videla’s coup in 1976. He now lives in Malmö, Sweden, where he wrote his memoirs, originally published in Spanish as El Che quiere verte in 2011.

We will skip over Bustos’ formative years in Argentina and begin with the account of his experiences in Cuba. He tells, for instance, that already in the second half of the year 1961 (“la segunda mitad del año 61”, the English version reads: “the mid-sixties”) “Political control had degenerated into Stalinist sectarianism, spreading through Cuban society” (38). He also recalls an Argentine professional couple, doctors sent by the Argentine Communist Party, who invited him over to dinner. The wife, seeing him excited about the revolution, told him: “Your disillusionment will be very painful, I’m afraid. Communists are coming out of the woodworks like mice, taking over everything, to get at the cheese” (43).

Those early symptoms of Stalinization led to an early crisis when Jorge Ricardo Masetti, the journalist who had risked his life to report on the Sierra Maestra guerrillas during the revolution, and who had been trusted with the creation of Cuba’s news agency, Prensa Latina, was ousted from that institution in April 1961, prompting Gabriel García Márquez’s resignation. The blow at Masetti – whose name would be erased from the history of Prensa Latina in a time-honoured Stalinist fashion (455-6) – was a blow at Che, who gradually changed his attitude towards the Cuban Trotskyists from denouncing them as agents of American imperialism to rescuing from jail those whom he could still help (by 1965 the Cuban Trotskyists where officially banned, see Gary Tennant’s outstanding dissertation, available online: Dissident Cuban Communism: The Case of Trotskyism, 1932-1965).

Che made perfectly clear to his recruits that commitment to his project was “more a commitment to death than to life” (50), telling them: “‘Remember, as from now, you are dead men. From now on, you’re living on borrowed time’” (76). This Guevarist conception of revolutionary politics as a suicidal enterprise stemmed from Che’s conception of armed propaganda as the demiurge of subjective conditions, but his urgency to set up guerrilla groups in Latin America must also be seen as a series of increasingly desperate attempts to rescue the Cuban revolution from the deadly embrace of Stalinism.

Che formally appointed Masetti, now persona non grata for the Stalinists, as his second in command or comandante segundo, at the head of a group of half a dozen people, recruited mostly from the periphery of the Argentine Communist Party, in charge of setting up a rural guerrilla base in the Orán region of the Argentine province of Salta. Bustos’ memoirs recount in detail the “army of five madmen’s” tortured odyssey from Cuba through Prague, Algiers (an attempt by Masetti and Che to break free from their dependence on the Stalinist apparatus) and Bolivia to Argentina, from November 1962 to June 1963. Bustos was put in charge of the group’s communications with Cuba, and he vividly remembers this reference to the Cuban revolution in one of the messages: “In one that I helped decipher — the phrase is engraved on my memory — Che says: ‘Nuestra atalaya se hunde lenta pero inexorablemente’ (Our vantage point is slowly but inexorably sinking), and he added that by now we should be in our zone of operation in northern Argentina” (99).

Masetti’s guerrilla army was swiftly and overwhelmingly defeated, more by its geographical isolation and lack of a social base than by actual combats, of which Bustos recalls only one incident. But still, twelve people died and thirteen guerrillas were taken prisoner and put on trial, Bustos himself only barely escaping because he had been put in charge of establishing the urban support network, of which the mainstay was the group that edited the journal Pasado y Presente in the city of Córdoba. It was in Córdoba that he learned that the border police had raided the guerrilla camp in Salta – through the local newspaper (172). Bustos vindicates his former comandante’s revolutionary record and rejects the accusation that Masetti executed two of his own men due to their Jewish extraction, adding that “half the EGP national leadership was Jewish” (155). He also sets the historical record straight against “the efforts of the Cubans in the Americas department to Peronize our experience […] We worked exclusively with young people disenchanted with the Communist Party and groups that had split off from the party. Che gave express orders that no Peronists were to be accepted” (461), because, he said: “It’s too risky, they are too infiltrated” (289).

After the disastrous Salta experience, the EGP began to have doubts about Che’s foquist strategy, and Bustos together with José María “Pancho” Aricó travelled to Cuba in May-July 1964 to explain them to Che himself, but Aricó was overwhelmed by Che’s presence and kept silent. The EGP urban structure in Argentina was still largely intact, and at the beginning of 1965 their leadership held a plenary session in Montevideo, Uruguay, where it was decided to suspend guerrilla activities in Argentina “until such time as conditions were ripe for us to move into a more populated area with access to, and the participation of, an organized workers’ movement” (206). But this resolution couldn’t be transmitted to Che, because in that same year he fired his parting salvo against the Stalinists at his famous last speech in Algiers on 24 February and then disappeared from sight, prompting all sorts of rumours until, in October 1965, Fidel Castro announced his departure from Cuba and his resignation from all his army ranks as well as his government posts.

In May 1966 Bustos was summoned back to Havana and later travelled through China. Then, in January 1967 he was met by Tamara Bunke, the young woman who would die later that year with Guevara in Bolivia, with the message “Che Wants to See You.” He flew to La Paz, Bolivia, where he met Régis Debray, the vain and superficial “theoretician” of foquism, and Tamara herself. Together they reached Che’s guerrilla camp at Ñancahuazú in March 1967, where Che entrusted him with the mission of activating the EGP network. “Strategic objective: Seizing power in Argentina,” Che told him (276). His plans were to enter Argentina with two columns of about one hundred men, “Argentines, in the space of no more than two years” (277). Despite the mandate he had received from the EGP not to insist on a guerrilla foco, Bustos decided to go on with Che’s plans, faced with the fait accompli of his presence at the head of a guerrilla force, but events immediately went out of control.

The desertion of three unreliable recruits prompted their discovery by the army, the abandonment of the base camp and an early military confrontation on 23 March 1967, in which the army fell into an ambush, suffering several dead and injured as well as a major, a captain and many soldiers taken prisoner. Despite this early triumph, the prospects of Che’s Bolivian guerrilla were grim: contact with the outside world was lost, supplies were low, the number of sick people (due among other things to malnutrition) was mounting, and there were no realistic prospects of recruitment among the local population. Indeed, the chosen location was most unsuitable for creating a peasant base: “Bolivia was the only country in South America where (in 1952) a nationalist revolution had introduced agrarian reform, giving land rights back to its peasant farmers, descendants of the ancient Inca empire. The miserable inhabitants of the area where the guerrillas were fighting actually owned their shacks and strips of land — with more bugs than fruit on it, but nonetheless theirs. At the slightest sign of outside interference or latent threat to their possessions, they would inform the army” (284).

It was decided that Bustos, Debray and a freelance photographer who somehow managed to reach the guerrillas, George Andrew Roth, should try to escape the army’s dragnet, taking advantage of Roth’s bona fide status as a journalist, with a safe-conduct from the top military brass. They were quickly arrested on 20 April 1967 and subjected to intensive interrogation, though not tortured.

Bustos’ instructions were to keep the guerrilla’s network in Argentina (then under the military dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía) secret at all costs. As regards the Ñancahuazú guerrillas, Che instructed him to avoid revealing the presence of Cubans. As for Che’s own presence, it was to be revealed only if it became clear that the army already knew it, and then given as much publicity as possible to try to break the guerrillas’ isolation. According to Bustos: “it did not matter what Debray or I said, nor when we said it: they already knew […] they had already established the presence of Che under the alias of Ramón, a group of Cubans under his command, some Peruvians and, naturally, Bolivians” (343-4). In these conditions, Bustos drew sketches of the guerrillas which later led to the accusation that it was him who had betrayed Che, although according to one of the CIA agents, who spoke about it years later, Debray “sang like a canary” (xiv).

Bustos believes that Fidel Castro and the Cuban leadership abandoned Che and his guerrillas to their fate: “Cuban Intelligence had recalled their man Renán Montero (aka Moleón in Bolivia or Iván when the EGP were training in Havana) from his post in La Paz in March, immediately after the first combat. He was not replaced” (357). The same happened to him, and to his wife and two daughters, during his trial and subsequent imprisonment: they received no help whatsoever, while the Cuban state showered attentions on Debray, who did not really need them (his mother was a Gaullist member of parliament for Paris and he enjoyed the personal protection of General Charles de Gaulle).

During Bustos and Debray’s trial at Camiri, Che was murdered on 9 October 1967, and they were subsequently condemned to a thirty-year sentence, but released in December 1970 by the left-wing military regime of General Juan José Torres, subsequently killed in Argentina by the military dictatorship in 1976. During their time in prison Che’s diary was delivered to the Cuban government (which immediately published it) by Antonio Arguedas, minister of the interior in President Barrientos’ government, an ex-Communist and self-confessed CIA agent during the previous six years. “Arguedas lived in Cuba for a time (like Ramón Mercader, Trotsky’s killer), was showered with honours, received the honorary title of ‘compañero’, attended the 26th of July ceremonies in the Plaza de la Revolución in the government box, and returned to Bolivia two coups d’état later” (400).

The English translation is not a full rendering of the beautiful Spanish original but a slightly shortened version. On the other hand, the chapter headings have been improved and provided with a chronology. For reasons of space we cannot provide examples of Bustos’ prose, we will close this review with an anecdote from his time at Camiri prison: “Only once was a book confiscated: A Plan for Escape by Bioy Casares, which had nothing to do with prisoners escaping” (384).
http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2015/2042

The Future of Feminism-Sylvia Walby

Posted by admin On September - 13 - 2013 Comments Off on The Future of Feminism-Sylvia Walby

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The Future of Feminism
Polity Press, Cambridge, 2011. 224pp., £15.99 pb
Reviewed by Ben Kenofer

 

Ben Kenofer is a Philosophy Graduate Teaching Assistant at the University of North Florida
ReviewThe Future of Feminism concerns more than the challenges, possible contributions, and stakes for feminism in moving forward. Although Sylvia Walby identifies and discusses challenges for feminism’s future development, one of the book’s central purposes is to rebut claims arising from a variety of sources (including academia and popular media) that the feminist movement has ceased, dispersed or become ineffectual. This is how the book begins, and much time is dedicated to explaining recent feminist enterprises and successes, as well as some current configurations that the feminist movement takes. Because of this, a significant portion of the book will have more to offer for individuals who are either unfamiliar or only passingly familiar with feminism, who are searching for an explication of feminist goals and activity and/or some account of feminism’s current status, than it will for individuals who are already consciously engaged with feminism. The section of the book that an individual who already identifies as feminist (or else is strongly sympathetic toward feminist goals) is apt to find most interesting – discussion about feminism’s future – will be more rewarding or more disappointing depending on her/his perspective as to whether capitalism can be successfully regulated in the interests of the population.

Walby’s contention is that not all major feminist projects are given the label ‘feminist’ and that several now occur in an institutionalized context – as such, these ‘institutionalized forms are less recognizable as feminist by those who are accustomed to thinking of feminism as merely visible protest’ (2). She rejects self-definition as a necessary condition for individuals/groups and their projects to count as feminist, because this excludes those that have goals associated with feminism (e.g. equal pay for equal work and protections for women against domestic abuse) but do not adopt the term for (at least) one of various reasons (3). To cling to such a stringent definition of feminism is one of the mistaken grounds for concluding that feminism has largely disappeared. Walby considers having the goal of reducing gender inequality as an alternative condition for being feminist, but also rejects this for being too exclusive as a necessary condition, asserting that there are ‘significant numbers of women’s organizations which do not have the goal of “reducing gender inequality”, but rather of “advancing the interests of women”’ (4). Hence, she counts as feminist those agents and activities that are aimed at reducing gender inequality or toward advancing the interests of women (5). It should be noted though, that Walby aspires to avoid reductionism and essentialism concerning gender, contending that there ‘is no simple, monolithic, timeless category of “woman”, whose “interests” would be obvious’ (123). How then does one determine what the interests of women are, which are supposed to be advanced? Her answer appears to be that this gets determined through negotiation and consensus (27). Here she points to the UN Platform for Action as ‘the most influential listing of feminist issues’, claiming that it ‘has been accepted as a global standard by feminists around the world’ (30).

Much of The Future of Feminism is spent either explaining some aspect of feminism or has an empirical orientation (e.g. reviewing recent changes to how gender relations have been structured within different contexts and at different levels of analysis). The second chapter describes and rejects various positions regarding feminism’s demise – for instance, the view that feminism has been superseded by `raunch culture’ (19-21). The third chapter explicates various feminist groups and their activities within the institutional domains of economy, polity, violence and civil society (31). The fourth chapter explains different organizational forms that feminism currently takes, for example as NGOs or as components of ‘epistemic communities’ (55-7, 63). The purpose of these chapters is to illustrate the continued existence of the feminist movement in spite of the fact that it has become less visible to the popular imagination, and in virtue of the numerous examples she discusses, to this end Walby is successful.

When it comes to feminism’s future, where Walby examines particular challenges for feminism, the discussions have some insight to offer but nevertheless fall short in some respects. The first of the challenges that Walby considers involves gender mainstreaming, which she describes as ‘a new form of feminist strategy, which engages with existing configurations of power institutionalised in the state’ (80). The challenge here that arises for feminism pertains to performing gender mainstreaming in a manner that will successfully promote feminist goals (80). While Walby provides an informative discussion, she spends little time considering one of the most daunting worries about gender mainstreaming that she herself points out. This is the concern that interactions between feminist individuals/groups and established institutional powers will result in the abandonment of important feminist components, including radical ideas and demands, if these individuals/groups become drawn and assimilated into the status quo (9, 57, 80). She focuses her discussion on aspects of and potential difficulties for gender mainstreaming that, while having implications for its successful implementation, do not directly speak to the fear of individuals or agencies becoming more focused on the promotion of personal or partisan interests at the expense of women’s advancement, or that those enmeshed in these powerful institutions will come to adopt perspectives that are too uncritical of dominant practices and/or too parochial for feminist aims. While the other things that Walby attends to are worth addressing, it is disappointing that she does not give extended discussion to this worry, forgoing a discussion of examples and possible solutions and/or responses in moving forward.

The second of the challenges for feminism that Walby considers is neoliberalism, since neoliberal contexts are hostile toward the women inside them for various reasons (157). She describes, for example, how neoliberal countries have ‘a less developed regulation of men’s violence against women than social democracy has’ (115). An additional and major reason that Walby views neoliberalism as a threat to feminism, however, is because she attributes the cause of the financial crisis to neoliberalism (117, 157). She successfully demonstrates how the financial crisis and its aftermath has had gendered dimensions, discussing (for instance) how the cutting of public services as a response to financial deficit has disproportionately affected women due their being more dependent on these services (118). Combined with other examples, such as how reductions in budgets can lead to cuts in public programmes aimed at reducing violence directed at women, Walby indicates that such financial crises interfere with feminist goals (158).

That feminism should be opposed to the spread of neoliberalism is a point well taken. Where the discussion falls short though is Walby’s treatment of capitalism, and the taken for granted position (in this text at least) that it is not the nature of capitalism that lead to the financial crisis, but rather that the crisis is ‘a consequence of the excesses of neoliberalism’ (157). Within the scope of this book, there is no serious engagement with Marxist literature on the cause(s) of the financial crisis, and Walby accepts the possible success of social democratic regulation of capitalism, without addressing Marxian criticisms concerning its feasibility and longevity. This lack of critical engagement with Marxian economics will no doubt grate with Marxists. Not addressing concerns regarding the long-term feasibility of regulating capitalism will also be disappointing for anti-capitalist feminists who agree with Walby that gender inequalities are not reducible to class inequalities but form a complex interaction (110, 113). For instance, if capitalism is in fact an inherently unsustainable economic system (regardless of the form through which it is expressed in relation to the regulations imposed on it via state power), then in light of the problems financial crises pose for feminist prospects, opposing the spread of neoliberalism will not be sufficient. But discussion along these lines is absent from the book, thus presenting a vision of feminism’s future that uncritically limits it to co-existence with capitalism in a more social democratic climate or in a more neoliberal climate. A brief critical observation on Walby’s discussion of the third challenge for feminism echoes this criticism. This third topic concerns the intersection between feminist projects and certain other political projects, with the challenge being the formation successful coalitions (10, 125). Consideration of the possible intersection between feminist projects and Marxist projects, and the possible advantages and/or drawbacks of coalitions between feminist and Marxist advocates, is missing from the discussion.

Individuals who have a vague notion concerning feminism and/or its current standing in the world will find an informative discussion in The Future of Feminism with the potential to enhance their understanding. The later discussions regarding feminism’s future development have some merit as well, but readers who are more optimistic about the long-term feasibility of regulating capitalism in the interests of the population will find more to appreciate than those who do not share in that optimism, and it will be understandable for individuals in the latter group to take issue with their concerns being glossed over in this book.

http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/807

Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism-Luis Suarez-Villa

Posted by admin On September - 13 - 2013 Comments Off on Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism-Luis Suarez-Villa

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Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism
Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2012. 230pp., £29.95 pb
Reviewed by Mark Bergfeld

 

Mark Bergfeld is a socialist activist and writer. He was a leading participant in the UK student movement in 2010. His writings can be found at www.mdbergfeld.com. He tweets @mdbergfeld
ReviewIn his latest book, Technocapitalism: A Critical Perspective on Technological Innovation and Corporatism, Luis Suarez-Villa deals with a new phase of capitalism and provides some tentative answers about where the system is heading. The essayistic form of the book underlines the open and flexible content of his provocative argument. While never explicit Suarez-Villa’s book forms part of the wider debates on “the network society”, “knowledge economy” and “cognitive capitalism”.

When Marx jotted “all that is solid melts into air” into the Communist Manifesto he described capitalism’s creative powers as well as the destruction it would wreak. This dialectical understanding of technological innovation and increased centralisation of capital would provide a method to analyse an ever-changing life-world. Only a generation later, Marx’s followers such as Bebel and Kautksy would fall into ‘progressism’ and a version of techno-utopianism vis-à-vis economic determinism. Today, techno-utopianism is fashionable once again. This makes Suarez-Villa’s work all the more important.

Grasping reality at its root is a difficult task. Suarez-Villa does not shy away from it. In doing so, he incites the reader to rethink Marx’s labour theory of value and the dialectical relationship of technology and capitalism. How has capitalism changed according to Suarez-Villa? The answer lies in three interdependent fields: technology, creativity and corporations.

Suarez writes that technocapitalism is “a new form of capitalism that is heavily grounded on corporate power and its exploitation of technological creativity” (3). This form of corporate power commodifies all our life-spheres and in particular people’s individual creativity. According to Marx, the crisis-ridden system would continuously seek to increase the rate of exploitation by either increasing the absolute rate of surplus value (i.e. making workers work longer and harder or paying them less for an hour of work). On the other hand, Marx also argued that capitalists would have to increase the relative rate of surplus value by introducing new machines and placing new non-commodified areas such as ‘creativity’ under the system of generalised commodity production.

Suarez-Villa grapples with the fact that ‘creativity’ has been absorbed into commodity production. However, he appears to throw the baby out with the bathwater by equating the exploitation of ‘creativity’ to the exploitation of labour-power. He finds proof of this in the fact that corporations pour ever greater amounts of their resources into research and development (R&D) rather than into raw materials and labour-power. Thus, the struggle over creativity constitutes the prime arena of struggle at this current conjuncture.

Creativity is “an intangible human quality, […] the most precious resource of this new incarnation of capitalism.” (3) This renders Marx’s theory of labour value obsolete. Suarez-Villa believes that it is no longer the case that the system is driven by the exploitation of labour-power and capital accumulation. Capitalism’s key contradiction between capital and labour is sublimated. The new fault line is that creativity is commodified and its results (not easily quantifiable) are expropriated by undemocratic corporations.

How does Suarez-Villa justify this claim? He ascribes ‘social value’ to creativity. Social value transcends the dual character of the commodity which Marx ascribes to it. Instead of ‘use value’ and ‘exchange value’, creativity embodies social value per se. In technocapitalist societies, use means utility. Only by ascribing it a social character can one identify creativity’s intangible character. But this formulation also bears the problem that it treats manual and mental labour as distinct from one another. It does not acknowledge that every manual act is preceded by a mental task. In other words, mental and manual labour cannot just be separated in such a way. Creativity is put down on paper or implemented in practice. Intangible creativity results in tangible results. Whether capitalism can quantify or commodify these is another question.

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) in UK Universities quantifies research outputs to the dismay of many academics. Capitalism has found many ways to quantify creativity. Suarez-Villa poignantly writes “corporatism is primarily in charge of the commodification of creativity and cannot hope to reproduce it on its own because of the fundamentally social character of this resource. Only society can reproduce creativity effectively. This split between commodification (a corporate function) and reproduction (a social function) is a distinctive feature of the new era.” (15)

Large parts of this argument will fall on deaf ears with Marxists. While his analysis remains limited in its achievements he raises pertinent questions. He might not have the answers but it can allow the kind of discussions which might arrive at them. In the context of debates amongst Autonomist-Marxists and the anti-capitalist left on the role of the “general intellect” Suarez-Villa adds some much-needed food for thought. 

His concept of the “experimentalist corporation” is one of the strongest points in the book. As creativity requires extensive mediation by society it can no longer be controlled by a company internally. Suarez-Villa writes that it is “necessary for the experimentalist corporation to be more ‘external’ than any of its predecessors” (15). What does he mean? Experimentalism has replaced accumulation as the motor of the system. This is underlined when Suarez-Villa says “Experimentalism is the driving force of technocapitalism” (8). This marks a fundamental shift in capitalism. Experimentalism and R&D have become the over-determined activity of technocapitalism. The role of ‘experimentalism’ is the “technological and scientific inquiry whose overarching objective for being is commercial. It therefore involves experimentation for the sake of corporate power and profit, as opposed to experimentation for its own sake or for the sake of attaining new knowledge” (118).

Concrete examples of this practice can be found in a number of industries and corporations involved in biotechnology, nanotechnology, bioinformatics, software design, genomics, synthetic bioengineering, molecular computing and biorobotics. More popularised forms of this kind of organisational practice can be found in 3M where workers were (perhaps they still are) allowed to experiment for one and a half hours a day. This allowed one of 3M’s employees to develop the post-it note. At Facebook software engineers get to “play around” and experiment all the time. However it is not only the ‘new’ industries that are subject to this “systematized research regime”. ‘Old’ industries are infected with this “new ethos” as well. For example, the auto-industry has to adapt to the organisational practices of the new technocapitalist corporation. To what extent that is true remains an open question. However, capitalism’s history has always displayed a struggle at the top of society between the ‘old’ and the ‘emergent’.

While on the surface Suarez-Villa’s observations appear to be liberatory and contain emancipatory aspects for most workers, Suarez-Villa correctly focuses on the underlying dynamics which sustain this experimentalism. At points his account reads like dystopian science fiction with the corporation and its systematized research regime having absorbed all areas of life. However, he does acknowledge that technocapitalism still constitutes an arena of struggle. It is undecided whether creativity and technology will be put at the service of humans, or continue to serve corporations. His final remarks are quite pessimistic insofar as Suarez-Villa believes that today’s institutions of democracy do not pose much of a counterweight to these transnationally operating corporations. His remedy of prescribing more accountability seems like a drop of water on a hot stone.

At a philosophic level, it remains under-theorised whether humans are still alienated from their labour-process and product in technocapitalism. How does alienation manifest itself under technocapitalism? This fundamental omission would facilitate a deeper philosophical understanding of his project for liberation. One of his proposed solutions lies in considering the new innovations of technocapitalism as a public resource. He calls upon his readers to reclaim the commons from the technocapitalist oligopolies. Organisations such as Anonymous or the Pirate Party formulate similar propositions. Without any clear strategy of how to change the balance of forces in the respective societies these demands will unfortunately be short-lived. Even if implemented alienated labour would persist.

Suarez-Villa’s greatest achievement is how he navigates beyond the crude cyber-utopianism of Clay Shirky or the technophobia of Eugene Morozov. Instead he embraces technological change while pointing towards its dark underbelly. This also holds true for his view on ‘social networks’. He ascribes to ‘social networks’ an immense creative potential and argues they provide the basis for human liberation. Yet, these same networks create new kinds of hierarchies and control mechanisms which industrial capitalism could have only dreamt of. He writes: “Their extent, structure, and access are largely articulated by those who participate in them. Such participation can become a means to dominate other network participants or it can become a vehicle to collapse hierarchies, oligarchies, and exploitive controls.” (11)

Under capitalism, science and technology do not develop apart from society. Technological innovations are shaped by capitalism’s needs. The technologies and networks of technocapitalism are not neutral. They are the products of existing capitalist social relations. Inasmuch as these present themselves to be egalitarian they mask the continuation of inequality and capitalist dominance. One thing is certain, the technological advances made under (techno-)capitalism are dripping in blood. In order to use humanity’s creative potentials to the fullest we would require an unprecedented break which would transform the ways technologies have been used in the course of the last 150 years. Suarez-Villa’s book makes a unique contribution of some of today’s prescient fault lines.

http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/809

Gillian Rose: A Good Enough Justice-Kate Schick

Posted by admin On September - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on Gillian Rose: A Good Enough Justice-Kate Schick

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Gillian Rose: A Good Enough Justice
Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2012. 183pp., £60 hb
Reviewed by Adrian Wilding

 

Adrian Wilding is currently a visiting scholar at the Institut für Philosophie, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena.
ReviewA new book on the philosopher Gillian Rose is an opportunity to reappraise one of the most original and incisive voices in recent British social and political thought. Rose, who cited Hegel and Adorno as the great influences on her philosophy, was an uncompromising intellect, and her untimely death from cancer in 1995 robbed British philosophy of an invaluable mind.

This brief book sets out some key concepts of Rose’s work, namely ‘speculative dialectics’ (Chapter 1) and ‘the broken middle’ (Chapter 2), before going on to apply them critically to various topics: postmodernism and holocaust theology (Chapter 3); liberal cosmopolitanism (Chapter 4); political realism and ‘messianic’ tendencies in left-wing politics (Chapter 5).

The first two chapters expound Rose’s ‘speculative’ Hegelianism and her later account of modernity as a ‘broken middle’. For Rose, Hegelian philosophy is essentially ‘speculative’ rather than ‘dialectical’ (Marx is one of many followers guilty of a ‘dialectical’ misreading). Rose’s Hegel is a thinker of openness rather than totality or teleology and the famous ‘identity of identity and non-identity’ is equally an account of their non-identity. Hegelian ‘spirit’ is no trans-historical demiurge but names ‘the structure of recognition or misrecognition in a society’ (28). Rose plays on recognition’s English connotations: an initial experience must be re-experienced and re-cognised before it can be comprehended. In her classic early work Hegel Contra Sociology, Rose argues that Hegelian philosophy rests on the possibility of ‘thinking the absolute’, Hegelian politics on conceiving an ‘absolute ethical life’ which transcends the ‘relative ethical life’ of bourgeois property relations and the dualisms of bourgeois thought. Bourgeois freedom and equality are insubstantial, dividing individuals into abstract ‘persons’ who are ‘identical and, therefore, able to be governed by exchange relations’ (33). Rose’s later thought redeploys the contrast between speculative and dualistic thinking against various intellectual trends, notably postmodernism. In works such as The Broken Middle and Mourning Becomes the Law, Rose strikes a less sanguine note, seeking out not the Aufhebung of dualisms but a tertium quid which comprehends their terms. In Rose’s later thought we are – socially and politically – always in the ‘middle’ of ‘triune structures’ of recognition and misrecognition (32), always in the midst of a breach between universal, particular and singular, always caught up in ‘law’ (a network of norms, institutions and determinations which runs deeper than the State or bourgeois legal status). Philosophy’s task becomes a paradoxical one: tracing the difficult path (aporia) towards ‘full mutual recognition’ (97) without the fantasy that what is ‘broken’ was once – or will one day be – completely whole.

Having presented these elements of Rose’s philosophy, Schick proceeds in Chapter 3 to rehearse Rose’s critique of post-modernism. The particular target here is the post-modern tenet that Enlightenment ideals and rationality have failed in the face of events such as the Holocaust. Using sources from psychology and ethnography, Schick reprises what Rose called ‘inaugurated mourning’ against any ‘melancholic’ attempt to place traumatic political events such as the Holocaust beyond representation or comprehension. The pious view of the Holocaust as ineffable masks the harsh reality that its causes and its mechanics may be ‘all too understandable’ (72). For Rose, the Hegelian, there is nothing a priori incomprehensible or inaccessible to reasoning, even if the path to comprehension is a difficult, aporetic one.

Chapter 4’s discussion of liberal cosmopolitanism targets ‘the cosmopolitan dilemma’, where the emancipatory impulse towards universal liberal values such as rights and justice leads to ‘marginalisation of the Other’ as ‘difference is sidelined by equality’ (81). Here is the flip-side of postmodernism’s over-emphasis on particularity and Schick finds an antidote to both in Rose’s speculative Hegelianism: Rose ‘sets her face firmly against the extremes of abstract universality and identity politics, which fall into dualistic reification of universal and particular, respectively’ (82). The way beyond these false alternatives is by ‘embarking on a journey towards recognition’ (89), though importantly, Rose’s own ‘aporetic universalism’ refuses ‘the temptation of positing a mended middle’ (89). Alive to the possibility that a politics waged in the universal interest may conceal merely particular interests or have its best intentions inverted, it nevertheless holds on to the universal without which ‘there is no political risk’ (90).

Under the heading of ‘political realism’ Chapter 5 discusses Carl Schmitt and the lesser known figure Hans Morgenthau. Both took leave of liberalism only to develop a more cynical or ‘tragic’ view of politics as mere power-play. Morgenthau identifies domination as the hidden principle of liberalism: instead of the ‘open violence’ of militarism, liberalism instigates a system of ‘indirect domination’ which conceals power behind ‘a network of seemingly egalitarian rules’ (108). As in Chapter 4, this outlook has its abstract antithesis: the tragic view of politics finds an equally abstract counterpart in the ‘utopian’ or ‘messianic’ politics of such thinkers as Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida and Slavoj Žižek. These figures present ‘an increasingly influential alternative to both the optimistic pursuit of progress under modernity and the pessimistic refusal of progress by political realism’ (113). They share a ‘politics of the impossible’ which finds utopian hope in a ‘rupture of the given order that would halt the descent into the abyss (Benjamin), affirm a future-to-come (Derrida) or signal the traumatic Real underlying the social order (Žižek)’ (112). For Schick, political realists and utopians alike fail to confront the (Rosean) trinity of recognition, law and political risk. For Rose we are always already caught up in normatively- and institutionally-mediated relations of recognition and misrecognition which sever political ideals from political actuality, demanding their constant reconfiguration. In political terms Rose situates herself between tragedy and utopia, refuses to rule out the possibility of progress and recognises that all political action is the ‘struggle-filled pursuit of a ‘good enough justice’’ (119).

Schick grasps the movement of Rose’s thought, particularly the later works, quite well, and any such revival and application of the Rosean worldview is to be welcomed. At the same time, some translation out of Rose’s language (and terse style) would have helped make the book accessible to a wider readership: concepts are sometimes moved around like pieces in a game whose rules haven’t been fully explained. Critical distance from Rose herself rarely, if at all, opens up.

Throughout the book Schick seems more confident summarising Rose than Rose’s sources. Hegel, Benjamin and Adorno in particular suffer in the paraphrasing. It is hard, for instance, to recognise the ‘left-’ and ‘right-Hegelian’ readings of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit set forth here (30-1) and probably The Philosophy of Right was intended. It is surprising to read that Walter Benjamin’s Trauerspiel book ‘advocates an open-ended melancholy’ (47) and that Benjamin’s writings ‘actively embrace the traumatic event and resist the work of mourning for fear of politicizing it’ (69). This seems to confuse an early work of Benjamin’s on a very specific literary form (one which it would be hard to say ‘advocates’ anything) with his later writings on history. Nor does it really capture Benjamin’s later writings which, if anything, champion a labour of historical comprehension: for him we awake from historical trauma by using an active collective memory to understand the past (think of the historical labour involved in his own encyclopaedic work on 19th Century Paris, for instance). Schick claims Benjamin’s later writings are either ‘anti-political’ or merely ‘gesture towards a relation between political action and apocalyptic transformation’ (117). A square peg is placed rather forcibly into a round hole here. Equally arresting is Schick’s claim that Adorno never developed a ‘theory of political action’ and that his praxis ‘was only a praxis of thought’ (24). Certainly Adorno believed that radical political action was often ‘blocked’ in modern societies. He warned too of an anti-theoretical ‘praxisism’. But he didn’t lack a theory of ‘social relations’ – far from it. While Schick may be faithful to Rose’s interpretation here, a close reading of Adorno’s late lectures or his essay ‘Marginalia to Theory and Practice’ or his Spiegel interview would not bear out such claims. If anything, Adorno under-estimated the contradictoriness of domination and the extent of resistance to it, but this is different from lacking a theory of social relations or a praxis (itself a far-from-straightforward concept). More precision with these key influences upon Rose’s thought would have strengthened the argument.

Schick’s critique of postmodernism is more persuasive, though it reveals – perhaps unwittingly – how far debates about ‘otherness’ and ‘unrepresentability’ were of their time. A Good Enough Justice, with its emphasis on Rose’s The Broken Middle and Mourning Becomes the Law, sometimes feels like it is fighting an old battle, at least in philosophical terms. In the 1990s, at the time I was studying with Gillian, postmodernism did seem hegemonic. Since the turn of the century, however, the postmodern fog has – by and large – lifted and philosophy departments have seen a welcome return to metaphysics and to a nuanced appraisal of the Enlightenment and of reason (did Rose’s writings in some small way contribute to this?) More than ever, there exists a potentially receptive audience for Rose’s ‘aporetic universalism’ and her Hegelian focus on ‘social and historical forms of misrecognition’ (75). Even if the recent return to Hegelian philosophy and politics is driven by thinkers like Žižek (whose Lacanianism, Schick is right, Rose would have abhorred) the broader intellectual correction would have met with her approval.

Schick’s Rosean criticism of left-wing ‘messianism’ does find echoes in some Hegelian circles today. Robert Pippin (2013) makes similar criticisms in his review of Žižek’s Less Than Nothing, as does Axel Honneth in a recent interview (Honneth 2013). Whether the label accurately fits Benjamin, Derrida and Žižek is questionable, though, as is whether the correct antidote to ‘messianism’ would be to ‘reconcile’ ourselves to ‘the rose in the cross of the present’ (Hegel 2008, 15) – the original ‘broken middle’. While it’s easy to see the problems that might beset a politics which sets its sights too high, the problem today is surely that most political outlooks set their sights too low. The via media, taken rightly or wrongly in Hegel’s name, is not necessarily the wisest or most virtuous way. I’m not convinced there is some synthesis of left- and right-Hegelianism, nor that the ‘middle’ which works so well as philosophical critique can translate well politically. And I think Gillian Rose, at least in her earlier work, was aware of this. Her book Hegel Contra Sociology, dealt with too briefly by Schick, is arguably the most timely and politically relevant of her works, its arguments vindicated by a new generation of readers rediscovering how – to quote the book’s closing line – reading Hegel may help us grasp the ‘conditions for revolutionary practice’.

 

References
Hegel, G. W. F. 2008. Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Honneth, A. 2013. ‘Recognition and Critical Theory today’, Philosophy and Social Criticism (published online January 16).
Pippin, R. 2013. ‘Back to Hegel’, Mediations, Vol. 26 nos. 1-2.
http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/816

Living in the End Times-Slavoj Žižek

Posted by admin On September - 3 - 2013 Comments Off on Living in the End Times-Slavoj Žižek

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Living in the End Times
Verso, London and New York, 20101. 481pp., $22.95 / £12.99 pb

Reviewed by Tony Mckenna
Tony Mckenna is a Hegelian Marxist philosopher whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, ABC Australia, The United Nations, New Internationalist, NewStatesman, The Progressive, Open Democracy, Counterpunch, Monthly Review, Znet, Liberal Conspiracy, The Philosophers Magazine, Ceasefire, New Left Project, Greek Left Review, Counterfire, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory and Greek television’s TVXS among others.
ReviewLike all Žižek’s books, Living in the End Times is undermined by the methodological inadequacy of Žižek’s particular brand of ‘Post-Marxism’. For ‘Post-Marxism’, one would better read ‘anti-Marxism’, and anti-Hegelianism to wit. That might seem perverse, given Žižek’s well-established love affair with Hegel, but the Hegel which Žižek attempts to reformulate through the prism of Lacan has, unfortunately, little in common with the original. What Žižek actually effects is a dehistoricization of the genuine Hegelian dialectic when he argues that the ‘standard discourse’ on ‘the Hegelian Spirit which alienates itself, and then recognises itself in its otherness and thus re-appropriates its own content is deeply misleading.’ (230)

As a result, instead of the conventional logical/historical unfolding by which an abstract moment is ‘sublated’ in a fuller, more concrete moment, Žižek absolutises the retroactive role of the dialectical process whereby ‘spirits return-to-itself [and] creates the very dimension to which it returns.’ (231) A genuinely dialectical progression is increasingly eroded in favour of a static, psychoanalytic based ontology in which the dialectical process is unmoored from the series of historical/logical categories which give to it its content. And by annulling the historicity of the Hegelian dialectic at the level of ontology, the consequences for Žižek’s politics and so-called Marxism are grievous.

To elaborate: Marx posed the question of proletarian revolution as a living historical development in which a series of moments are ‘sublated’. A process of primitive accumulation, which culminates in the separation of the individual proprietors from ownership of the means of production by the emergent capitalist class, is subsequently superseded when the ownership of the means of production is reasserted but in a fuller more concrete form; particularised, individualised property is re-established in and through a universal form by the social agent (proletariat) which has the capacity to do so as a consequence of its historical formation and collective power. We experience here a Hegelian movement of the classical type – indeed Marx even framed it in explicitly Hegelian terms as a ‘negation of negation’.

But because Žižek rejects classical Hegelianism – ‘the Hegelian Spirit which alienates itself, and then recognises itself in its otherness and thus re-appropriates its own content is deeply misleading’ – it is inevitable that he rejects the very dialectical movement, ‘the negation of negation’ , which provides the spirit and historical exegesis of Marx’s Capital. For Žižek, the existence of a proletariat which ‘re-appropriates its own content is deeply misleading’. The revolutionary act, therefore, is no longer premised on the historical formation of a proletariat which is compelled to ‘reappropriate’ its alienated labour product by the abolition of private property at the point of production in and through the assertion of working class ownership and control. For Žižek, ‘communism should no longer be conceived as the subjective (re)appropriation of the alienated substantial content’ (232).

But in as much as Žižek wishes to maintain (superficially) a revolutionary edge, he must now locate some other social agent which can offer the possibility of some manner of revolutionary resistance and redemption. In abandoning the concept of the proletarian revolution as the culmination of a historical development orientated around the centrality of the productive process and the modes and forms which facilitate it, in eschewing such analysis, Žižek is forced to circumvent concrete historical development more broadly in his search for the revolutionary agent. And so he alights on the rather romantic notion of ‘slum dwellers’.

It is these people, he asserts, who will provide a genuinely potent resistance to capitalism in the twenty-first century, and who have the power to fundamentally transform it. They possess this power not because they have been historically constituted as a concrete class which stands in a determinate relation to the means of production within the social totality, they are significant not for the fact they have emerged in and through historical process but, more precisely, because they stand outside it. They represent ‘the singular universality exemplified in those who lack a determined place in the social totality, who are “out of place” in it and as such directly stand for the universal dimension … the crowds in the slums constitute a large reservoir for political mobilisation’ (124)

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Žižek is simply wrong; that ‘slum dwellers’ don’t have any type of revolutionary capacity. The point is that the category itself is highly amorphous; it isn’t, as I have already emphasised, derived from a consideration of immanent historical and socio-economic process, but rather involves the external and more cosmetic considerations of a) geological location, and b) relative level of poverty. Within the ‘slum dwellers’ we have all variety of ‘socio-economic’ types: wage labourers selling their labour power in the inner city, itinerant labourers doing odd jobs here and there, artisans and market stall owners selling products, speculators, rentiers and, of course, the lumpen, atomised elements which persist on the fringes. 

It is therefore difficult to imagine why such a disparate grouping might attain the level of shared interest necessary to act in a unified and revolutionary manner simply because they belong to the same geographical space. But on those occasions where there have been genuinely revolutionary upheavals in the slums it is worth noting they are often the product of proletarian movements and community organisations coming together and undercutting the sheer heterogeneity in social composition, as in the case of El Alto in Bolivia, for instance. Given Žižek’s emphasis on ‘slum dwellers’ as the central agent of twenty-first century revolution, one might expect Living in the End Times to devote space to a consideration of social composition of the slums and the forms of organisation which facilitate revolutionary activity within them. But, on this subject, Žižek barely utters a word. 

And so Living In the End Times provides us with the three fold motif of Žižek’s Post-Marxism. First the Hegelian dialectic is nullified at the ontological/methodological level; this then manifests at the political level with the rejection of the proletariat as historical-revolutionary process – which, in turn, means that Žižek is compelled to look for some fashionable but ultimately ahistorical social category (slum dwellers) in order to fill in the revolutionary blank. Having developed a profoundly abstract and ahistorical approach to revolutionary politics, like all Post-Marxists, Žižek is then compelled to point out just how old-fashioned and dogmatic the tenants of a classically Marxist historicism are. He delivers a vague and meandering critique of the Marxist labour theory of value, for instance, which seems, rather bizarrely, to centre on Venezuela:

Venezuela … is now unambiguously exploiting other countries: the main source of its wealth, oil, is a natural resource, its price is a rent which doesnot express value (whose sole source is labor). Venezuelans are enjoying a form of collective rent from the developed countries, rent gained by the fact of possessing scarce resources. The only way on can talk about the exploitation of Venezuela here is to abandon Marx’s labor theory of value for the neo-classical theory of three factors of production (resources, labor, capital) each of which contributes to the value of the product. (241) 

The passage combines a series of vague assertions and non-sequiturs such that it is not easy to see what is actually being said. The price of Venezuela’s oil is a rent which does not express value. What means rent here? Is Žižek drawing attention to the rent derived from the more productive – for whatever reason – land which yields a greater surplus profit at any given moment than elsewhere given the same or similar capital invested? And is this the reason it ‘does not express value’ for such a difference is not (immediately) dependent on labour power?

But, if this is the case, surely the ‘added’ value, which appears not as the result of labour power but as an inherent natural product, presents as a temporary occurrence whereby individual price fluctuates above value in a specific instance – but only in the context of the overall pool of value produced by the labour power generated by the sector or industry more generally, a total value which might itself be in abeyance. And, furthermore, is this not explicated by the classical Marxist notion of differential rent? Is not Žižek’s ‘refutation’ of the Marxist labour theory of value here a result of the fact that he simply ignores the schism between value and price more generally? 

In addition, according to Žižek, Venezuelans enjoy this ‘collective rent’. Strange that, considering so few of them seem to be landowners. The great majority in the Venezuelan oil industry are, of course, those whose labour power converts the oil into its commodity form: i.e. workers – so even if one assumes, as Žižek seems to, that the temporarily substance-less, so called ‘added’ value generated by an oil-rich terrain in an increasingly oil depleted world economy; even if one assumes that this ‘added’ value has somehow converted the entire Venezuelan population into a mass collective of rentiers (presumably because they enjoy a higher level of state expenditure on social projects – though how this makes them rentiers is beyond me); but even assuming all this, one would still have to acknowledge that the premise of this ‘substance-less’ ‘added’ value, would remain the labour power of the Venezuelan working classes extracting the oil in the first place. It is a topsy-turvy inversion, to say the least, to argue that it is the Venezuelan workers who are exploiting ‘developed countries’ and yet, ultimately, this is precisely the position Žižek’s logic yields. 

One can see, I think, how Žižek’s abandonment of a class driven historicism of the classical Marxist type, provokes a severe political disorientation on his part. Like most Post-Marxists, Žižek goes on to emphasise the role of ‘immaterial labour’ as the fundamental constituent of value in the modern epoch. The paucity of this crude abstraction has, to my mind, been effectively and comprehensively critiqued elsewhere (when has material labour not been embroiled in an immaterial/mental aspect – i.e. the thought which is required to structure and accomplish it? And when has this immaterial aspect not been necessarily grounded in materiality? – i.e. the materiality of the cells in the brain which stage thought or the materiality of those commodities which the so called ‘immaterial’ information which is transmitted through a (material) programme like Facebook – is designed to sell?) 

None of Žižek’s points on the role of ‘immaterial labour’ or his rather tepid critique of the Marxist labour theory of value are innovative or warrant a great deal of interest. But what is fascinating and simultaneously repellent, are the kind of political conclusions he draws from them. Once Žižek realises there is no point in workers trying to appropriate their alienated labour product – i.e. to take control of the factories – and once this knowledge is supplemented by the notion of a nexus of ‘immaterial labour’ which an (unintellectual) working class is forever sundered from; once these factors are in place, the political conclusions are inevitable, and Žižek realises how little practical value the traditional forms of working class struggle actually have – ‘striking’, for example, ‘where it occurs at all – is more a protest act addressed primarily to the general public rather than owners or managers’ (342).

But Žižek doesn’t reserve his disdain only for those working class people who seem to behave in a crudely Marxist fashion by striking; by trying to assure a wage which might improve their living conditions, and by otherwise foolishly engaging in those practises humanity submits to when it has not yet benefited from the wisdom of Slavoj Žižek. Living in the End Times extends its critique to those protests which are extra-economic: for instance, the huge demonstrations which erupted around the world against the most recent invasion of Iraq. Žižek describes these protests in a way which would, I think, intrigue anyone who participated in them. ‘The protesters’, he graciously explains, ‘saved their beautiful souls … not only did the protests do nothing to prevent the (already decided upon) attack on Iraq, paradoxically they even provided an additional legitimization for it.’ (326)

Žižek’s position here is not only morally dense, it is, as well, intellectually so. One might expect, from a supposed connoisseur of Hegel (and if one is a connoisseur of Hegel, then one knows a little Aristotle) some appreciation of the tension between potency and actuality. The spectacle of the two million who flooded the streets in London combined with the fact the government would go on to prosecute a war anyway – does not, thereby, suggest that the protestors merely facilitated the will of the government and the ruling class. What Žižek should have queried – in the Aristotelian/Hegelian tradition – is what kind of potential reality would have unfolded, had all those people not taken to the streets. The government succeeded in prosecuting the war in Iraq, yes, but if we hadn’t made our opposition known en masse then it is very likely we would now be embroiled in conflicts, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in Iran as well, for the administration would have felt emboldened to act unimpeded by any possibility of mass resistance. 

There are, it should be said, some positive aspects to Living in the End Times. Žižek’s account of the historical persecution of the Jews is perspicuous and poignant. His recognition that the ‘ethnic’ conflicts which have plagued Congo are not the result of a ‘primitive’, ‘pre-modern’ culture, but a direct product of the incursions of global capitalism, provides a worthwhile and necessary tonic to the racist narrative which usually wraps itself around this issue. His analysis of the on-going displacement of the Palestinian people is both astute and humane. But these elements are few and far between. One of the most troubling aspects about Living in the End Times involves the sheer wealth of repetition – the same insights which have featured in many of Žižek’s other books – his analysis of the same films like Hitchcock’s Vertigo for example, or his interpretation of Thucydides history of the Peloponnesian war; these insights crop up over and over, sometimes relayed verbatim. 

The front cover of Living in the End Times informs us that Žižek is, ‘The most dangerous philosopher in the West’. But on actually reading the book one receives the impression of Žižek as a minor celebrity desperate to peddle his brand and keep the books churning out. In this book the vein of political conservatism which often teeters into a shock-jock and commercially orientated reactionaryism– gives one the distinct suspicion that not only does Žižek not believe we are living in the end times – but also that he is extremely satisfied with the times we are living in. Žižek is not the most dangerous philosopher in the west – but he may well be the most fashionable one. As for Living in the End Times itself, it brings to mind the witticism attributed to Dr Johnson, for it is both good and original … only the part that is good is not very original, and the part that is original is really not all that good.

http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/819

Race: A Philosophical Introduction-Paul C. Taylor

Posted by admin On August - 19 - 2013 Comments Off on Race: A Philosophical Introduction-Paul C. Taylor

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Race: A Philosophical Introduction
Polity, Cambridge, 2nd edition 2013. 240pp., £17.99 / $24.95 pb
 

Reviewed by Guy Lancaster
Dr Guy Lancaster has published widely on the intersection of race, class, and violence, most recently with the review essay “American Essentialism: White Supremacy and Collective Violence in the United States,” featured in the Autumn 2012 issue of the Canadian Journal of History.
ReviewIn 1929, Ronald Knox, a British clergyman and novelist, issued his “ten commandments” for mystery novels. Written largely in response to the era’s sensationalist fiction, they include such admonitions as “3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable” and “10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.” However, smack in the middle of this Decalogue of narrative common sense is “5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.” While such a rule these days sounds somewhat segregationist in the literary sense, Knox was actually responding to a proliferation of stories which all featured evil Chinese masterminds—Sax Rohmer had brought Fu Manchu to literary life in 1913, and even Agatha Christie herself employed the sinister Chinese trope with super-villain Li Chang Yen in her regrettable 1927 novel The Big Four.

One can easily imagine Ronald Knox, in other times and places, cautioning writers against employing the bestial African, the primitive but spiritual Native American, the hotheaded and passionate Latino/a, and the fanatical Arab, among other stereotypes, depending upon their relative popularity in the culture at large. As Paul Taylor observes in the beginning of Race: A Philosophical Introduction, this sort of race-talk “has been one of the principal media of modern Western society and culture, insinuating itself into our ideas of citizenship, family, education, crime, poverty, entertainment, and sex” (5). How this happened, how the idea of race came to be, has been explored by numerous other writers, but the broader philosophical implications of race as a system for classifying people remain debated, and these debates stand at the center of Taylor’s book, which manages to square the circle of providing a classroom-worthy primer on the subject, summarizing the literature to date, while also advancing its own compelling approach toward a description of something that is arguably not real.

In his introductory chapter, Taylor explains in detail how a philosophy of race “involves studying the consequences of race-talk, the practices of racial identification for which race-talk provides the resources” (11)—that is, rather than tackling the disputed reality of race, Taylor instead aims to analyze the meanings people assign to human bodies, especially as those meanings have been shaped by Europe’s path to modernity. Right off the bat, he sets out to answer three challenges to the project of building a coherent philosophy of race: the idea that any kind of race-thinking itself leads to racism, the falsity of racial biology, and the assertion that race is simply a cover for other sorts of variation, such as class divisions. Taylor points out that race continues to have a referent, even if discursive rather than biological, manifest in what “everybody knows,” but that race-thinking in isolation has not led to racial atrocities—rather, it has always been paired with “other factors, like a shaky commitment to democracy, or a failure to constrain the pursuit of profit, public order, or political power with norms of decency and justice” (30). Regarding the third objection, he admits that “[r]acist practices can certain result in the concentration of one race or another in particular economic niches,” but adds that “[r]ace-thinking isn’t class-thinking, essentially, because the two categories can get out of phase with each other,” while class, like ethnicity or caste, can, in turn, be racialized, “as when the callused hands and sun-darkened skin of the worker come to signify rudeness or inferiority (58-9).

The cornerstone of the book is the third chapter, covering the metaphysics of race. Grounding his work in the American experience, Taylor first examines the developments of late-modern racialism, as perhaps best exemplified by the 1965 Monynihan Report, which explained the persistent racial inequality in the United States as the result of deficiencies in black culture, rather than inherent black inferiority. And after that comes post-modern racialism, or what some call color-blind racism (to use Eduardo Bonilla-Silva’s favored term) or racial neoliberalism (to use David Theo Goldberg’s), being the ostensibly progressive push to eliminate any form of racial classification for purposes of determining public policy; in this system, “the legacy of emancipatory struggle gets turned into a standing rebuke to any kind of race-consciousness—where ‘race-consciousness’ is expanded to include ostensibly ameliorative policies, like affirmative action” (80). So what does current Western race-talk point to? Taylor defines races as “social constructs. They are things that we humans create in the transactions that define social life. Specifically, they are the probabilistically defined populations that result from the white supremacist determination to link appearance and ancestry to social location and life chances” (89–90). In defending the reality of race, Taylor compares it to money, which is also ontologically subjective but epistemically objective, dependent upon human agreement for its existence: “Just as institutional context turns a properly produced piece of paper—a paper with the right ancestry and appearance—into legal tender, institutional context turns a person with the right ancestry and appearance—the right causal history and physical features—into a member of, say, the Asian race” (111). Of course, different societies will have different conventions, for both money and race, but this does not eliminate the power of those conventions.

While Part I of the book deals with theory, Part II examines practice, what race means for people’s existence in our society, especially how race impacts the existential condition, producing what W. E. B. Du Bois termed a “double consciousness” or what Ralph Ellison called the experience of “invisibility,” and how undoing the depredations caused by racialist thinking likely depends upon continued use of the race concept. Taylor tackles such issues the intersection of endogamy and ethics (whether, for instance, a black man might have a duty to marry a black woman in order to facilitate social cohesion against white supremacy) and the value of affirmative action, the assault upon which illustrates “how the cultural inclination toward individualism and away from collective goals leaves us oblivious to the social dimensions of educational opportunities” as well as the extent to which white supremacy “was not simply a matter of individual prejudices and slights but an affair of statecraft, of meticulously crafted distributive schemes, and of methodically expropriated resources” (176). The last chapter addresses how race intersects with the growing concerns over immigration in America, as well as the increased securitization of society. Taylor explicitly defines immigration enforcement as a racial project, no matter how much proponents want to argue that they are simply “upholding the law,” by pointing out that “the most familiar arguments and ideas about what the USA is… descend from traditions that were forged in the fires of classical racialism,” especially in the implicit, unstated assumption that America proper is a white man’s country, dating from the first European settlers to touch down here (195-6). Likewise do globalization and securitization define certain populations as problematic, as being the incarnation of specific weaknesses rather than struggling against the policies of hegemonic powers—constant American intervention in Haiti (including the installation of dictators) preventing that nation from managing itself, just as the prison-industrial complex in the United States regularly lobbies for an ever-expanded criminal code, one filled with laws that disproportionately (and purposefully) target minority populations, as with the well-known disparity in sentencing faced by users of crack cocaine versus the powdered form. (Lisa Marie Cacho refers to these as “de facto status crimes” in her 2012 book, Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected.) Like a virus does old-fashioned racialism mutate into new forms.

Many historians like David Roediger understand the modern Western view of race largely as the product of unequal social relations in a capitalist society—race as we understand it emerged in that great triangle of an expansionist Europe, Africa, and the New World, in that ferment of exploration and the persistent desire to justify exploitation. Seeing race as intimately caught up in manufactured economic inequality, many on the Left have operated on the assumption that the elimination of class will, accordingly, eliminate the salience of race as a social division. But race is not simply another word for class, and an emphasis on class to the exclusion of all other modes of division and oppression overlooks “the complex nature of Negro life,” as African-American writer Richard Wright put it in Black Boy (1993). As Wright listened to communist street speakers in 1930s Chicago, he ruminated these speakers had taken “the first step toward a creative attitude toward life” but seemed to be lacking the bigger picture, that “if the Negro solved his problem, he would be solving infinitely more than his problem alone. I felt certain that the Negro could never solve his problem until the deeper problem of American civilization had been faced and solved. And because the Negro was the most cast-out of all the outcast people in America, I felt that no other group in America could tackle this problem of what our American lives meant so well as the Negro could” (350).

It is a point that Babacar Camara makes in his 2011 book, Marxist Theory, Black/African Specificities, and Racism (reviewed here in June 2013)—the struggle for justice must occur at the intersection of all forms of oppression, or it will simply end up recreating old forms of social division and not even recognize them. This is what makes the witty and clearly-written Race: A Philosophical Introduction such a valuable book, for Taylor not only thoroughly dissects the concept of race to show its inner workings but also provides a cogent and rational argument for the continued employment of race as a category for both describing our present social reality as well as serving to undo the harm inflicted by ever-evolving forms of racialism. As he writes, “Unlearning our version of Race-thinking would require a massive effort at public education, and anything related to public education won’t go anywhere unless it works through a variety of racial neuroses and through an assortment of issues in ethnic politics that we misleadingly think of as racial” (128). True liberation occurs at both the collective and individual levels, and with this book in hand, we can begin the process of learning to challenge our own easy assumptions (after all, both racist and anti-racist ideologies can fall prey to simplistic thinking) and to discover our own racial neuroses with the goal of at long last dismantling the system of white supremacy in all its manifestations.
References
Cacho, Lisa Marie 2012. Social Death: Racialized Rightlessness and the Criminalization of the Unprotected (New York: New York University Press).
Wright, Richard 1993, Black Boy [a.k.a. American Hunger] (New York: HarperCollins).
http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/772

Hitler’s Philosophers-Yvonne Sherratt

Posted by admin On August - 19 - 2013 Comments Off on Hitler’s Philosophers-Yvonne Sherratt

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Hitler’s Philosophers
Yale University Press, New Haven, 2013. 336pp., £25 hb
Reviewed by Sean Christopher Goda
Sean Christopher Goda is studying Heidegger and early phenomenology while working on his MA in Philosophy at Franciscan University of Steubenville (sgoda001@student.franciscan.edu)
ReviewIn Hitler’s Philosophers, Yvonne Sherratt sets out to “uncover the lives and context of German Philosophers who were active under, and in some cases after, the Third Reich” (262). Sherratt’s aim is to give an account of the formation of the anti-Semitism that is latent in the history of modern philosophy, and to show the role that philosophy played in the formation of Hitler’s Germany. Sherratt lifts the veil that conceals the philosophers hidden behind their ideas. She uses a narrative style to convey this historical account, deriving her sources from archival material, letters, photographs, verbal reports and descriptions to reveal that culpability goes beyond Hitler and the Nazis tried at Nuremberg.

Hitler’s Philosophers is divided into two sections. The first describes the harm caused by the manipulation of ideas, and gives an account of Hitler’s perversion of the intellectual atmosphere to conform to his philosophy. The second section shows the value gained through the hope and opposition of the few philosophers who refused to accept Hitler’s rule.

Sherratt describes Hitler’s life and philosophy, and provides ample evidence that philosophy provided a false façade for his pose as the philosopher-leader of the German people. She shows how Hitler worked out his plans in 1924 while incarcerated for “high treason and radical political actions in the name of National Socialism” (2). During his year of incarceration, he built his political contacts, studied philosophy, worked out ideas with fellow convict Rudolf Hess, and wrote Mein Kampf. He light heartedly spoke of the time as like being at a “University paid for by the State” (6).

Sherratt shows the formation of Hitler’s racist philosophy by tracing his various philosophic influences. Hitler said that during his incarceration his only pleasure was from his books (18). He worked his way through many biographies, and was inspired by their “racist and militaristic” lives (ibid). He had a particular fascination with Kant, often quoting him during campaign speeches. Sherratt shows that Hitler’s pontifications merely flaunt an expertise that is “superficial and amateur” and that his acquaintances said that he “rarely reads a book through” (18). Along with Kant, Hitler liked to borrow quotes from Friedrich Schiller, who was “admired not just by Hitler but by all the Nazis because he was highly patriotic and a German nationalist” (19). Additionally, Hegel’s philosophy served as a common trope of his philosophic prowess when arguing for the “historical view of the formation of the state from ancient origins” (20). Fichte, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are also identified as the “philosophical triumvirate of national Socialism” (21). Sherratt shows that Hitler worked hard to display his philosophical knowledge and promote his image as philosopher-leader. From his claim of carrying Schopenhauer with him in the trenches of World War I, to the walking stick he received as a gift from Nietzsche’s sister, Sherratt shows that, “Hitler was a mosaic of influences” (20).

She next describes how Hitler hijacked the transmission of knowledge, taking control of the education system and manipulating the publishing houses. She writes, “Traditional university institutions were about to be blown away and old scholarly values were about to be demolished. A blitz that was just as deliberate, damaging and far-reaching as any aerial bombardment” (61). Hitler accomplishes this by taking control of all aspects of knowledge. He tried to rid the country of all Jewish intellectual influences by firing professors such as Edmund Husserl, and burning the books of Jewish philosophers such as Spinoza, Marx and Moses Mendelssohn (74).

Sherratt then focuses on the philosophers who aided the proliferation of Nazism and its ideology. She shows how Alfred Rosenberg took control of religion. He claimed that, “Jesus was a member of a Nordic enclave resident in ancient Galilee that had struggled against Judaism,” thus tying the Nordic race to Christianity (66). He controlled the curriculum by “deciding upon which philosophers and their writings were valid,” even denouncing Socrates as a “social democrat” (77). She shows how Rosenberg’s influence on the Universities “destroyed the old university values of tolerance, inclusion and democracy. Peace was now under threat. In its place, permanent bloodshed was advocated. War was the perfect goal, an understanding of its value indispensable to a Nazi education” (82). Sherratt spends the last two chapters of the first section laying out the exploits of Carl Schmitt and Martin Heidegger, both of whom were members of the Nazi party. She describes Schmitt’s support for the purging of German opposition to Hitler, stating that, “Schmitt was quick to support the legitimacy and legality of the purge. He justified the political murders as the ‘highest form of administrative law.’” (98).

She characterizes Heidegger as “Hitler’s Superman” (102). Heidegger was eager to support Hitler and, after joining the Nazi party, he claimed that the construction of National Socialism “has now become the single most important task for the German universities” (104). He praised “Hitler’s goals and hailed Nazification of the universities as ‘national labor of the highest kind’” (104). Sherratt shows his devotion to Nazism in a quote that is characteristic of his philosophy, “May you ceaselessly grow in courage to sacrifice yourselves for the salvation of the nation’s essential being and the increase of its innermost strength in its polity … The Führer himself and he alone is the German reality, present and future, and its law … Heil Hitler!” (118) She leaves no doubt as to Heidegger’s culpability and provides evidence that shows he advocated race studies “in order to preserve the health of the state,” and that he also held that, “questions of euthanasia should be seriously contemplated” (120). Sherratt shows that Heidegger never expressed remorse for his involvement with the Nazis, nor is there evidence that he “suffered sleepless nights in his native Germany while millions of Jews were sent to the slaughterhouse” (120).

The second half of the book focuses primarily on three Jewish German philosophers who opposed Hitler: Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno and Hannah Arendt. Sherratt’s primary concern in this section is to show “their distinctive intellectual stance as a result of confronting Nazism, their cultural affinities, and the fact that their lives were interconnected – both with each other and also with Heidegger” (126). Sherratt’s research ties the thinkers together through an interesting interplay of ideas, romance and war. She describes the love affair between Heidegger and Arendt. She shows how Benjamin and Heidegger were classmates in Heinrich Rickert’s lectures (138). A letter from Benjamin shows the closeness of his relationship to Adorno and expresses his opposition to Heidegger (144). Sherratt describes the conflict which ensued between Adorno and Arendt when Adorno rejected Arendt’s first husbands’ Thesis for being too influenced by Heidegger. Moreover, Adorno was bothered by Arendt’s post war support for Heidegger. Later, after Benjamin’s death, Arendt gave Adorno Benjamin’s unpublished manuscripts that Adorno later published, preserving Benjamin’s final philosophic works (202). Lastly, Sherratt shows how Arendt’s view of Heidegger changed. Arendt realizes that Heidegger’s signature on a letter “almost killed him [Husserl], I cannot but regard Heidegger as a potential murderer” (244). Later, however, Arendt came to view Heidegger in a more sympathetic light (like many others), and she helped to “reestablish Heidegger on the world stage,” by providing him with connections to Jewish publishers (245).

The main problem with Sherratt’s text is its narrative style. I feel that her attempts to take the reader through unnecessarily descriptive explanations often detract from her research, I found myself repeatedly checking her notes to see whether she was taking artistic license in the delivery of the material. That aside, Sherratt relates the lives of these philosophers well. Her biggest contribution is in highlighting the importance of the philosophers who opposed Nazism. Arendt contributed greatly to philosophy: she situates the evils of the Holocaust within history, writes on the banality of evil, and explores violence and totalitarianism. Adorno and Benjamin are some of the leading philosophers of the Frankfurt school. Their philosophies contribute greatly to critical theory and to Marxism. Sadly, as she points out, “in spite of their enormous accomplishments, [they] have never been admitted into the philosophy canon in the English-speaking world” (260-1). The irony is that Schmitt and Heidegger, though they were Nazis, are regularly taught in universities throughout the world. She closes by urging the reader to explore the often overlooked philosophies of Adorno, Arendt and Benjamin, and calling for a greater accountability of the philosophers whose Nazism remains hidden from view while their ideas proliferate.

http://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviewofbooks/reviews/2013/786

Uncovering Black Marxist feminism-Review by Keegan O’Brien

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2013 Comments Off on Uncovering Black Marxist feminism-Review by Keegan O’Brien

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Despite having been ignored by most historical accounts, African American women have been central to the history of American communism. Erik McDuffie’s Sojourning for Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism and Carole Boyce Davies’ Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones are two recent works which provide an in depth exploration of the contributions and experiences of African American women in the US Communist Party. McDuffie and Davies’ work seeks to excavate the experiences of Black communist women and move their stories out of the margins and into the center of radical history. Far from portraying these women as “dupes” to a race-blind Eurocentric Marxism, McDuffie and Davies employ a “bottom up” reading of history that focuses on Black women’s agency, and in doing so illustrate the important contributions of Black women to the Marxist tradition.

Sojourning for Freedom traces the experiences of many Black communist women, including the work of Grace P. Campbell, Louise Thompson Patterson, Esther Cooper Jackson, Audley Moore, and Claudia Jones. McDuffie begins with highlighting the early contributions of black feminist pioneers in the 1920’s such as Grace P. Campbell, who earned her reputation as a powerful street orator, to the party’s theorizing on race, gender, and class and it’s organizing against evictions, unemployment, and for greater relief efforts in Harlem.

McDuffie then moves into exploring the contributions of Black women during the heyday of American communism, the Great Depression. It was during this decade that Louise Thompson, Claudia Jones, and Audley Moore joined and rose to leadership positions inside the party through their work on the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys and through their involvement in community-based movements in Harlem.

McDuffie spends the later half of his book uncovering the history of Black women in the party during World War II, the McCarthy period, the 1960s, and beyond. While centering the stories of Black women leaders inside the party, McDuffie also highlights the tensions, and at times conflict, that emerged for Black women, where they were, as he describes, “outsiders within” an organization that was majority white and male. While some African American women would leave the party, many stayed and played an important role in writing its history and pioneering Marxist theorization on the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Davies’ Left of Karl Marx is the only exhaustive politically biography of Claudia Jones, the leading African-American communist woman next to Angela Davis. Given Jones’ tremendous stature within, and contributions to, American communism and the Old Left, it is shocking that more has not been written about her. The absence of writing and historiography regarding Black communist women, and Claudia Jones in particular, from African American and radical left history, illustrates the powerful impact McCarthyism has had on erasing their experiences and rendering their lives invisible. In Left of Karl Marx, Davies explores Jone’s own political radicalization, her theoretical contributions to expanding Marxism’s understanding of race, class, and gender, her immense journalistic achievements, her rise to leadership inside the party, her ultimate incarceration and then deportation under the rise of McCarthyism, and finally her work as an Afro-Caribbean activist inside the United Kingdom until her death in 1964. Jones’s incarceration and ultimate deportation is a painful reminder of the lengths the American state is willing to travel in order to squelch dissent.

As Davies’ title, Left of Karl Marx, indicates, she is advancing the argument that Claudia Jone’s work demonstrates a body of politics separate and distinct from Marxism, since Marx himself never accounted for the experiences of African American women. But this is where Davies gets it wrong. Jones’ did not consider herself, her life’s work, or her politics to be “left of Karl Marx.” To the contrary, she considered herself a Marxist, a communist, and dedicated revolutionary. She strongly believed that the liberation of black women could only be achieved through a socialist revolution of the working class that championed the struggles of all the oppressed and marginalized. Jones’s politics represent an important extension of the Marxist tradition and demonstrate its adaptability as a theoretical framework and method to understand experiences and transformations well beyond the time of Marx himself. Jones deserves to be understood for what she was; a pioneering figure in the Marxist tradition and the struggle for Black women’s liberation.

While both Left of Karl Marx and Sojourning for Freedom recognize the impacts of Stalinism on the communist movement, and the effect it had on Black communist women, neither provide much in the way of a critical analysis of Stalinism and the distorting influence it had on the revolutionary aspirations at the heart of Marxism. Whatever shortcoming these books may have, however, they are both well worth the read. Both texts are paving the way in uncovering the rich history of Black Marxist feminism and moving these inspirational women out of the margins and into the center of history.

http://isreview.org/issue/90/uncovering-black-marxist-feminism

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