36 Hours/Thursday in Review (cont.)/A Question

( For the last thirty-six hours I’ve endured a sequence of caustic, implosive stomach pangs. it’s delightful. believe me that soured cafe au lait helped things. In other news, it is piercingly chilly. The seasons have changed, the clocks have fallen back. It is nice to be home. It’s almost never been so nice to ‘be’ home.)

Anyway, I left my own panel (on the ninth floor of l’hotel) for a tinier one in the basement. It was entitled “Strategies for Revolutionary Politics,” which was preposterous/earnest enough to merit my attention. The chair gave the first paper, which was a lengthy critique to the ‘deliberative’ and ‘agonal’ democratic theories of Habermas and Mouffe. The paper called for ‘fanaticism’ from the Left – political interventions that were a sort of spontaneous, anti-Enlightenment ‘other’ to democratic practice. Did I mention he was wearing a skull + bones t-shirt, and said ‘shit’ and ‘bullshit’ a lot, in effort to conjure some sort of ‘outlaw academic’ status? He might as well’ve been wearing a fucking stars n’ bars doo rag. Actually, I guess we all know that’d be a lot cooler, non?

Then came a paper about – you guessed it – pirates. A pretty credible historian wrote a perfectly thorough historical political economy of piracy, and somehow found himself misplaced on this panel.

Afterwards, a Polish phycist arose, bearing a unified, reiterable theory of revolutionary cycles. A PowerPoint ensued, during which he showed us a lot of polychrome charts. He had it all figured out.

Then a very big badass professor – who I later found out is very active in Britain’s Socialist Workers’ Party, which is a pedigree of sorts, sorta -arose to give a paper about “marxism” and “social movements.’ Early in the paper, when it came time for the prof to define his terms, he surprised the audience by saying that it was necessary to define ‘marxism.’ He did so in terms he associates with Lukacs; he maintained that marxism was above all defined by its belief in the historical, revolutionary primacy of the working class.

Now obviously, we all think of class – particulary the proletariat – when we think of marxism. But really, would you cite this (very teleological) kernel as the essential first principle of marxism? I would really like to hear people’s opinions on this, whether they feel qualified to give them or not.

For my part, I think the labor theory of value is at least definitive of the marxist analytic as the evolutionism. Do you usually think of marxism as a political practice or an analytic? Or maybe as a style? Obviously, the professor’s rhetorical flourish was meant to spur academic elites back into the gaudy arena of the ‘hegemonic struggle.’

Myself, I dunno. At a very general level, I would say that ‘marxism’ resounds most intimately within me in its insistence on the place of contradictions and antagonisms in socializing society, and its ideological agnosticism. On an even more general level, the fuck the bosses/fuck shit up/fuck you ethos of Marx’s writing is so much more than punk that I needn’t speak its name. On an even nore general level, the idea of mass, collective acts of democratic-public production/consumption (aka, socialist culture) would be the best shit ever. Such mass acts exist today, but only in the weird, glossy forms afforded by the minority in power. It’d be cool if we had a bigger playbook, is all I’m saying.

The archetypal prisonship is the Love Boat. Ahoy. Anyway, what do you people think marxism is?

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11 Responses to “36 Hours/Thursday in Review (cont.)/A Question”

  1. Ben Says:

    Is attending a Marxism conference at all like I imagine attending a Star Trek conference might be?

  2. wobs Says:

    Ben: Best. Comment. Ever.

    What is marxism? This is the sort of thing I’d mull over way back when. However, after my flirtations with post-structuralism, I’d prefer to speak of marxisms. Must we essentialize a monolithic marxism?

    Heh. On a more serious note, marxism has been, and always will be, the labor theory of value. The whole marxist analytical scheme is based on how value is extracted at the point of production. Without the LToV, I think “marxism” would be about as relevant as the utopian socialism of Saint-Simon or Fourier. It’s the whole reason I was a workplace ethnographer in a recently past life.

    And, the obligatory scolding about whether marxism is an analytical or political practice: it’s all in the Theses on Feuerbach!

  3. Kyle Says:

    Ben beat me to it. I was going to say “Micro-Machines Convention,” however.

  4. Wilbro Says:

    I’d be interested to hear more about these “mass acts” you mentioned. I’ll reserve my answer until I hear you elaborate on them.

  5. lexdexter Says:

    wilber, i would not want to discuss the ‘mass acts’ as definitive of marxism in any sense, cuz it’s at this level that we’re getting beyond my critical objectives and into utopian-style shit. utopias are serious things, though, and have their place in any political formation that works, so…

    i suppose anything from the Paris Commune to the Tennessee Valley Authority qualify as ‘mass acts’ on a kind of exultant scale, but maybe I should take a step back and argue that culture as such is a kind of mass act. as it stands, culture is populist (most everybody loves tv, frozen pizza and wants to be rich) but certainly not democratic (not everybody gets what they want, daddy!) i detect vestiges of a modernism worth saving in the impulse of people like the Zapatistas effort to redefine revolutionary politics, or even the Situationists’ impulse to redefine urbanism. on a way more basic level, the New Deal put the (white members of our) destitute country to work on modernization projects, and China’s booming programs put the New Deal to shame in both size and scope. for me, being a socialist entails a kind of literalist understanding of the concept: socialism demands a society that is generative of both new and more equitable (less alienated?) social relations between individuals, people and things. That’s a pretty half-formed argument, but I’m blogging for chrissakes, and I gotta go watch a film about the Homestead strike. bah!

  6. Wilbro Says:

    Just curious as to examples of these “mass actions” – I didn’t want to make them an integral part of my definition by any stretch of the imagination…I simply wanted to know something “tactile” in regards to what you were referring to. Thanks for clearing that up. As for my answer, I’m not really well-versed in the same things you are, so, forgive me if my attempt here to tack something down seems facile, or, for that matter, downright feeble (not to mention unabashedly and potential toxic-to-my-idea/argument-cocktail of structuralist/post-structuralist reading of the question at hand). I’d like to start, however, with what I don’t believe Marxism to be (read: capital “M” as it is the etymology stems from a surname, otherwise, I wouldn’t afford an “-ism” the courtesy of being capitalized). That is to say, to be very simple about it, NOT + Marxism = fascism (this is arguable, I’ll admit that, but consider fascism as capitalism run amok and that’s what I’m getting at…)/(read: impotent difference/differance allusion)/(read: so now you’re thinking, “oh, here he goes with the structuralist reading” – but I can have my cake and eat it too here, right? It’s just the blogosphere, after all…). Marxism, as a product of modernity, must be considered, like modernity, to be a project of sorts. For this reason, I like “wobs” – whomever “wobs” may be, I haven’t figured out yet – notion of MarxISMS (*cues entrance of poststructuralist reading*). Modernity, by default – and, perhaps, TO a fault, has to see itself and everything that falls under its rubric as a reworking, this reworking is also considered progress, which I do not believe to be correct and, hence, modernism is no more because of notions of progress like this. I do, however, think that imagining Marxism to be a project – sans the idea of “progress” implied with the word – is a good starting point. But before I get ahead of myself, and, perhaps, into deeper water than I can tread, it’s now clear that there has been a history of Marxisms in various places since the inception, and, more than likely, before it – perhaps this is too literal of a reading, but, it’s just there, but perhaps this is my imagination. But, back to my point about what Marxisms may or may not be, I think you have to take some of the binary opposition into account to some degree, otherwise, you’re not going to tack down a definition without things to bounce it off against – I can’t think of a word that doesn’t have an antonym – there’s prolly one out there, though…(read: *thinks,* *takes drink of Gatorade,* *thinks,* *takes a drag*…). Anyway, I can’t think of one at the given moment, so I’ll just roll with what I’ve got going here…And, after all, it was previously mentioned that: “At a very general level, I would say that ‘marxism’ resounds most intimately within me in its insistence on the place of contradictions and antagonisms in socializing society, and its ideological agnosticism.” (Pat’s earlier posting), so with if we’re going to incorporate that, any “rule” that you can’t have a binary opposition flies out the window. But, I suppose I could go back to my NOT + Marxism(s) equation briefly, before I just drop this blog comment that I’m sure you’re bored to death with, or, laughing at, by now…If Marxism(s) NOT fascism, we’d have to define that, too, and build up a sort of dictionary of antagonistic and agonistic (read: Lyotard) devices.

  7. Wilbro Says:

    Just curious as to examples of these “mass actions” – I didn’t want to make them an integral part of my definition by any stretch of the imagination…I simply wanted to know something “tactile” in regards to what you were referring to. Thanks for clearing that up. As for my answer, I’m not really well-versed in the same things you are, so, forgive me if my attempt here to tack something down seems facile, or, for that matter, downright feeble (not to mention unabashedly and potential toxic-to-my-idea/argument-cocktail of structuralist/post-structuralist reading of the question at hand). I’d like to start, however, with what I don’t believe Marxism to be (read: capital “M” as it is the etymology stems from a surname, otherwise, I wouldn’t afford an “-ism” the courtesy of being capitalized). That is to say, to be very simple about it, NOT + Marxism = fascism (this is arguable, I’ll admit that, but consider fascism as capitalism run amok and that’s what I’m getting at…)/(read: impotent difference/differance allusion)/(read: so now you’re thinking, “oh, here he goes with the structuralist reading” – but I can have my cake and eat it too here, right? It’s just the blogosphere, after all…). Marxism, as a product of modernity, must be considered, like modernity, to be a project of sorts. For this reason, I like “wobs” – whomever “wobs” may be, I haven’t figured out yet – notion of MarxISMS (*cues entrance of poststructuralist reading*). Modernity, by default – and, perhaps, TO a fault, has to see itself and everything that falls under its rubric as a reworking, this reworking is also considered progress, which I do not believe to be correct and, hence, modernism is no more because of notions of progress like this. I do, however, think that imagining Marxism to be a project – sans the idea of “progress” implied with the word – is a good starting point. But before I get ahead of myself, and, perhaps, into deeper water than I can tread, it’s now clear that there has been a history of Marxisms in various places since the inception, and, more than likely, before it – perhaps this is too literal of a reading, but, it’s just there, but perhaps this is my imagination. But, back to my point about what Marxisms may or may not be, I think you have to take some of the binary opposition into account to some degree, otherwise, you’re not going to tack down a definition without things to bounce it off against – I can’t think of a word that doesn’t have an antonym – there’s prolly one out there, though…(read: *thinks,* *takes drink of Gatorade,* *thinks,* *takes a drag*…). Anyway, I can’t think of one at the given moment, so I’ll just roll with what I’ve got going here…And, after all, it was previously mentioned that: “At a very general level, I would say that ‘marxism’ resounds most intimately within me in its insistence on the place of contradictions and antagonisms in socializing society, and its ideological agnosticism.” (Pat’s earlier posting), so with if we’re going to incorporate that, any “rule” that you can’t have a binary opposition flies out the window. But, I suppose I could go back to my NOT + Marxism(s) equation briefly, before I just drop this blog comment that I’m sure you’re bored to death with, or, laughing at, by now…If Marxism(s) NOT fascism, we’d have to define that, too, and build up a sort of dictionary of antagonistic and agonistic (read: Lyotard) devices. Anyway, just my 75 cents – there goes my laundry money.

  8. Wilbro Says:

    …Forgot to mention, I don’t mean to get all Wilhelm Reich on your ass or anything (read: no, I don’t want to convince you to go out and buy an orgone accumulator…), but the question remains: “Just what is it that makes fascism so different, so appealing?” (read: Richard Hamilton joke falls flat on its face) – You’ve gotta answer the question, in some degree, with regard to Freud. Whether it be Freud’s Freud, or D&G’s reworking of Freud (read: enter Dolce and Gabbana jokes), with crowd psychology. You could sorta start thinking about Marxisms in these terms, too…OK, I’d expound on this, but I’m much too tired. I feel like I might’ve just as well stapled a bullseye to my head at this point – I just feel “out of my league.”

  9. lexdexter Says:

    we roll with very different bodies of work, wilber, which is a cool thing. i would point out one commonality, though, in tj clark’s evoking socialism not as an other to capital, but an other to modernity. i think socialism’s better off postmodern. and i think the fact that “Marxism’s” been cut down to ‘marxism’ is better still. political action is always about hegemonic/counter-hegemonic struggles. all that shit about the universality of this or that working class is really, simply a myth. which isn’t to say that myths aren’t important or meaningful, but i think the high water mark for the “workers of the world, unite!” myth has already been reached. i think new political identities are necessary. they can still be class identities, culled from the politics of work, but they can’t be constructed of that bolshevik stuff. maybe they could, i guess, but i don’t want any part of it, which is why i can’t bring myself to join any of the USA’s socialist organizations, au present.

  10. Trajan Says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the first wave of Marx-influenced socialism in Russia (before Stalin) was progressive, right? In the arts, anyway, some amazing things happened – with state approval. Tziga Vertov’s The Man with the Camera is an awesome film. And all the constructivists. I don’t really know the political situation in those early days, though, I have to admit. And the revolution itself seems like it was brutal. I recall hearing that all the Royal figures, including children, were summarily executed.

    I would like to tentatively cast a vote for a postmodern marxism.

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