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Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Wed Aug 05, 2020 1:32 pm
by blindpig
Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors

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Photograph by Ben Allen via Unsplash

Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors brings together a myriad of threads to produce a truly intersectional picture of the lumpenproletariat in Britain in a way that many ostensibly communist organisations have singularly failed to do. It does this by linking ten encounters from the author’s life to leading revolutionary theory.

The main body of the work is sometimes harrowing reading, and all of them are deeply personal; D. Hunter bares themselves to the reader, in order to analyse these incidents in light of class and oppression that the reader might understand. They write about their sexual abuse by their grandfather, but chooses to use this as a springboard to discuss the needs for carceral reform – abolishing the abusive system that enables abuse, which includes the abusive prison system itself. They discuss striking a female partner with no attempt at excuse, choosing to use it as a means to dissect themselves for the reader to see.

In these ten chapters, Hunter succinctly deconstructs and subverts ‘approved’ working-class narratives. These narratives fall into either stories of victimhood or of wayward individuals turning their lives around, as stories of triumph against the odds. These archetypes litter the terrain of working-class writing: they are acceptable to liberal sensibilities. Hunter’s book does not fit any of these, instead this book will be decidedly uncomfortable reading for someone entrenched in liberal sensitivities due to its unwillingness to sugar coat its stories – its avoidance of happy endings and its resolute laying of the blame at the feet of systems and not individuals.

Each chapter interrogates a particular interaction and relationship between the author themselves and another individual or individuals. The relationship is studied surgically through the lenses of class analysis, queer methodologies, whiteness studies and prison abolitionism, informed by a life spent at the boundary between classical lumpenproletariat and proletariat, the terrain which Sakai dubs the lumpen/proletariat.

Lumpen/proletariat theory is a subject which has been significantly overlooked by revolutionary theorists. Much of that comes down to an over-reliance on single quotations from Marx’s Communist Manifesto describing the lumpen/proletariat as ‘The Dangerous Class, the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society.’

With these words from 1848, the lumpen/proletariat of 2020 is uncritically dismissed. The beginning of J. Sakai’s ‘The Dangerous Class’ and Revolutionary Theory: Thoughts on the Making of the Lumpen/proletariat (2017) begins with these important words on revolutionary theory:

The crisis of revolutionary theory right now is that it is plain too old and obsolete. Meaning that in practice it is largely unusable. This is understood as a practical reality, and we usually leave revolutionary theory behind us in the attic when people go out to play. Nowhere is this more important than when it comes to the lumpen/proletariat, that most dramatic, most elusive of maybe-or-maybe-not ‘classes.’ This matters because the revolutionary movement and the lumpen have a much longer and more involved relationship than we have fully owned up to. Whether revolutionaries think it’s good or not, the lumpen are going to play a big part in everyone’s future. No better place then, to start remaking the tool of theory.

Society is made by classes and society is controlled by classes, this is the essence of Marx’s theoretical developments and this should be the starting point for any analysis of society regardless of the content of single cherry-picked quotations. If we fail to understand classes, we will fail to understand the reproduction and transformation of society. Hunter’s book is very much in this vein – a new revolutionary theory of interpersonal relationships for the present, drawing on Marxist and anarchist theory.

There is a rigorous introduction where Hunter justifies their approach, which takes the style of an academic social science research piece, giving it a feel of purpose in its well thought out research while never falling into the air of a detached observer. This is personal, ethnographic, insider research. Hunter’s theoretical underpinnings are informed by many of the most crucial works of Marxism or Marxist-adjacent theory in the past thirty years, including the ground-breaking works of Federici and Mies. Their books, Caliban and the Witch and Patriarchy and Accumulation On A World Scale, do for the patriarchal terrain what J.Sakai did for the settler population of the USA in Settlers: Mythology of the White Proletariat.

One of the most interesting chapters is D. Hunter’s interrogation of the category of whiteness, which they rightly highlight as not being static but dynamic and varied across classes –working class whiteness and middle class whiteness are dynamically different, and it is that middle class whiteness which leads to seemingly absurd scenes where the recent uprisings in the USA result in groups of people ‘renouncing white privilege’ while doing nothing to destroy white privilege. It is this middle-class whiteness which is one side of a coin with white supremacist whiteness on the other.

Hunter’s understanding of this can be seen with this quotation which distils the essence of what whiteness is: ‘Whiteness is not a concrete identity or a specific culture, but one that Noel Ignatiev describes as a set of privileges, which are granted based on loyalty to the dominant power.’

This is Sakai’s very uncontroversial thesis in regard to race and class – whiteness is an exclusive category of privilege granted based on loyalty to the bourgeoisie. Whiteness is the mark of the loyal foot soldier of imperialism; it is learned, reproduced, and wielded across millions of social interactions every day both in Europe and in the white settler colonies of the USA, Israel, South Africa, and Australia.

I would somewhat disagree with the author when they say that,

Whiteness acts as compensation for being exploited by capitalism, and it might not always come in the form of money, but it is always intended to offer a psychological and emotional nourishment which diminishes the effects of being stigmatised for being poor.

This is not because the essence of the second half of their argument, but that I believe whiteness is not compensation for being exploited, it is compensation for loyalty to the bourgeoisie – compensation for doing the dirty work of imperialism and colonialism, and for providing a buffer against the global south for the very small class which controls the means of production. The ruling class gathers around themselves a loyal cadre, who receive some small benefits: ‘psychological and emotional nourishment which diminishes the effects of being stigmatised for being poor.’ This can be summed by this excellent quote from the book:

The economic and psychological wages of whiteness may be more meagre (and thus more precious) the lower down the social hierarchy the white subject is located. However, the performance of whiteness is still one that grants privileges to all who are racialised as white.

I here believe the author makes a small mistake at this point of their analysis by claiming that capitalism strives for homogeneity. I would instead say that it strives to make a ‘normal’ then exclude everything that does not fit this normal as abnormal. The strive for ‘normality’ is more evident when it intersects with the need for a growing population, while at the level of race there is not a striving to ‘make everything white’ instead there is a need to exclude the majority of the global population from the category of ‘white’ to enable and justify exploitation.

D Hunter’s discussions on whiteness can be summed up in this large section quoted in full, from Hunter’s conversations with an imprisoned friend and associate:

D, I get what we’ve got there. It’s alright, but some of it just sounds like you’re a fucking dick. Whining about how because you’re working class you’re a different special kind of white. Now, I am not disagreeing that it’s different for working-class people than it is from being middle class, or them fucking posh twats. But you’ve got to understand, most black folk, they don’t care. You read that to some of the brothers in here right now and they would snap your skinny arms. You and a lot of your pals have got to realise that some Black people are just going to remain fucking pissed off with white people. And they be justified. You’ve all been waiting around far too long, not dealing with your people. And some of what you, no I fucking suppose, what we saying here is that putting all white people in the same bag isn’t accurate. But shit, you all can put up with it for a bit, you’ve been doing it to us for time. I mean, some of the Black men and women you people listen to, fuck, those are ones who never gave a shit about me and my fam. But you nodded your head and patted yourself on your back for listening to a Black dude who acted like a white fucking gangsters in the board room. Telling yourself you’re paying attention to the Black people, that you’re listening to black people, just because you listened to a few of them. You was fucking content to throw the rest of us under the fucking bus. I bet you do it again. Here put this in the book. I will die in here.

The book also shines when it is talking about the power dynamics of sexual relationships, especially in Chapter 7, about the exploitative relationship between D Hunter and Stephen, a psychiatric nurse who he lived with after being discharged from a psychiatric ward. It examines the power which someone will hold over another through controlling access to shelter and food. It mirrors the situation many women find themselves in daily within heterosexual relationships. A man holding security over someone else’s head in exchange for access to sex. Hunter examines this as a single example of the transactional exchange that happens between individuals.

This highlights one of the issues with the book – because of the manner in which it is written certain things feel undeveloped, the author has good ideas and understanding but the time devoted to each individual issue seems small. I felt this particular family power-dynamic could have been developed more, relating it to theory and the wider nature of sexual transactions both in sex work and in relationships between individuals.

While capitalist failings are clearly outlined through this book, potential concrete solutions are also developed. This is not just a victim’s narrative or a voyeuristic look into a world of horror, nor is it an advocate of reformism, but of developing alternative structures and patterns of interaction beyond the capitalist state. Hunter spends considerable time discussing restorative justice as a way to properly and humanely address the punishment-orientated prison system and domestic sexual abuse in particular. The most salient point is that whether such restorative justice works is moot since what exists at the moment does not work – better to try something more humane than persist with the barbarity of the existing system. They also discuss the nascent second wave of disabled liberation and tie it to ongoing organisational and mutual aid work.

There is an overarching theme through this book for those involved in organising: ‘that those who define themselves as socialists, communists or anarchists, must address unequal power relations within their organising and political processes.’

There is a difference between those who condemn white-supremacist, patriarchal capitalism as a theoretical abstract and those who experience it as a daily attack on their life. I find this resonates: D. Hunter talks of class as more than just the relationship to the means of production, that is only the foundation and to treat that as the whole of class is reductionist. The superstructure on top of this economic base are the mannerisms, tones of speech, opinions and attitudes, sense of security, affectations, social policing, and methods of navigating relationships – in essence, how you think and feel. These all sit on top of the relationship to the means of production, but organisations are so often unwilling to examine these, they are unwilling to come face to face with themselves. I have seen this first-hand in ostensibly communist organisations – ‘middle class’ individuals who will accept Marx’s class terms but will not acknowledge their class behaviour let alone think about changing it.

I find myself wanting to read fully developed books on each of the topics the author touches on in relation to the lumpen/proletariat: sex work, domestic violence, the (mental) health-industrial-complex, disabled rights, reactionary views among the lumpen/proletariat, middle-class organisers, intergenerational family violence, the role of fiction and escapism, crime, addiction. Until then. D. Hunter’s Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors is a rare and precious work as an important account of the lumpen/proletariat in Britain.



Morgan S is a writer and Maoist living in Britain.

https://www.ebb-magazine.com/essays/tra ... s-traitors

A while back I suggested that the line between the lowest proles and the lumpen was fuzzy and rather indistinct. My upbringing was an example of that: steady low-wage jobs but always hustles; gambling, street dealing, the stolen goods which are casually 'distributed' in local bars, from steaks to washing machines. My old man would buy 'breakage' from beer truck drivers and sell it under the table to a local liquor store(until the 'revenuers' caught on, yikes!) among other things. In my previous working existence I observed lots of this, the decline in working class wages over these years demands some sort of response in order to 'keep one's head above water' and these adopted by workers who couldn't figure out anything else. Of course organizing labor is another option for improving income but much more difficult these days of 'right to work(be slaves)' laws.

Other than the professional criminals I wonder if lumpen means much at all these days.

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Wed Sep 30, 2020 3:57 pm
by blindpig
The Force of Nonviolence

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Kathe Kollwitz, The Volunteers (1923)

With its immediate recourse to nonviolence, the most notable thing about Judith Butler’s The Force of Nonviolence is not its case for a particular philosophy either as an ethical or tactical choice but in revealing the impotence of liberalism to deal with contemporary politics. And as a failed philosophical attempt to articulate the fascism surrounding it within terms of liberalism, it is exemplary: we see in real time Marx’s dictum that the philosopher only ever comes too late, or Adorno’s when he writes that philosophy has missed the point of its realisation.

For Butler, violence is inextricably linked to individualism – an individualism that impresses its own ego on another, erasing the other’s agency and subjectivity. And so to consider nonviolence is to preserve the social; if nonviolence is forgone then it is tantamount to aiding in the destruction of what is social. Butler expounds the myriad claims to violence, whether they’re false-flags or legitimate, placing them side-by-side without looking at them any closer. ‘Many on the left argue that they believe in nonviolence but make an exception for self-defence. To understand their claim, we would need to know who the “self” is – its territorial limits and boundaries, its constitutive ties.’ But further, if this self-defence merely extends to the self in its expression in ‘others who belong to my community, nation, or religion, or those who share a language with me, then I am a closet communitarian who will, it seems, preserve the lives of those who are like me, but certainly not those who are unlike me.’ This point is stressed again and again and becomes the book’s thesis.

Keen to argue against the mystification of the individual and its assertion as a sovereign subject, Butler’s claim to universality is unable to distinguish between basic differences that are easily established elsewhere as the experience of oppression and solidarity becomes identical to the fascism that seeks to destroy them. Even in its inability to grasp economics that are central to understanding fascism, here we only ever begin from an ahistorical subject that is unable to distinguish what is truly self-defence and what is empty rhetoric. The solution to self-defence is then not to establish what can legitimately constitute self-defence, but instead positing another word that does not have the weight of this baggage. ‘“Safeguarding” seems to do something else’, Butler writes, ‘establishing the conditions for the possibility of a life to become liveable, perhaps even to flourish.’ When this is a basis for the deconstruction of gender it can be progressive against the weight of tradition and pseudoscience, but any mention of Black Lives Matter, the genocide of Palestinians, police repression in Turkey, ‘detention’ camps, leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Every argument is one simultaneously informed and constrained by rhetoric. The deferential differance becomes jarring.

Deconstruction here reaches its limit. This (non)positioning of an ahistorical subject is one that we see again and again in deconstruction and contemporary continental philosophy, primarily through French philosophy’s inheritance of Heidegger and his work that reasserted the place of the individual against the ‘totality’ of Hegel’s philosophy. Butler’s doctoral dissertation was even an attempt to articulate this openness that French philosophy made into its raison d'être, as her Subjects of Desire tracks the development of Hegel’s philosophy in France as realised in desire – taking ‘the theme of desire as its point of critical departure’ from what is ostensibly a ‘Hegelian conceit of a totalizing impulse.’ (Judith Butler, Subjects of Desire, p. xxvi) It was, after all, Butler writes, ‘within the context of French theory ... that Hegel became synonymous with totality, teleology, conceptual domination, and the imperialist subject.’ (Subjects of Desire, p. xviii)

The subject in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit is undoubtedly one that ‘wants to know itself, but wants to find within the confines of this self the entirety of the external world; indeed its desire is to discover the entire domain of alterity as a reflection of itself.’ (Subjects of Desire, p. xxvi) But in reducing the dialectical process to the machinations of an abstracted desiring subject, rather than one that too encompasses the development of history itself, we see a return to a philosophy that exists prior to even German Idealism. As an ahistorical subject that exists without any conception of the development of either philosophical or political categories, Butler’s The Force of Nonviolence becomes uncomfortably Spinozan; its monism becomes what is social; what is good becomes that which reaffirms the connectedness of the social, and what is evil is whatever deteriorates it. And this is not Spinozan in the sense of a development, like Hegel considering himself a Spinozan.

Spinoza crucially asserted the unity of opposites against a Cartesianism that posited thought and extension as separate and unrelated totalities, and in the late seventeenth century this was progressive in its ability to overcome the finitude of dualism. ‘What constitutes the grandeur of Spinoza’s manner of thought’, Hegel wrote, ‘is that he is able to renounce all that is determinate and particular, and restrict himself to the One, giving heed to this alone.’ (Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy Vol. III, p.258) If, for Spinoza, substance ‘is only the universal and consequently the abstract determination of mind’ (Lectures on the History of Philosophy Vol. III, p.257) then we can confidently say the same of Butler’s formation of the social. But for Butler, in 2020, after Hegel and Marx, positing the unity of opposites while wholly refusing to recognise negation as essential instead becomes a liberalism that is unable to understand not just the historical development of differences – the development of class, the development of race – but a liberalism that is unable to understand contradiction. The question of contradictions and antagonisms are wilfully obliterated in their entirety as Butler attempts to affirm the ‘problem of substitution’: the assertion that ‘genuine sympathy with other people involves putting ourselves in the place of other people’, or ‘in seeing how my life and the life of the other can be substituted for one another, they seem to be not so fully separable.’

Even after describing numerous executions of black people by police, Butler goes on to ask whether ‘the police officer who strengthens the hold to the point of death imagines that the person about to die is actually about to attack, or that their own life is endangered?’ Speculating, she writes: ‘Perhaps there, in a moment of decision or action that belongs to a race-war logic: the police person believes that it is their own life, rather than the other’s, that is endangered.’

Once Butler has achieved this same feat in universalising and making indeterminate anything within this concept of the social, the only recourse to attempt to account for agency, development, ‘race-war logic’, is psychoanalysis. And so when Butler writes that the book moves ‘between a psychoanalytic and a social understanding of interdependency’, we shouldn’t be surprised with its attempt to return to the individuation of the individual itself – in not just a return to Freud, which Adorno has been able to develop to articulate fascist tendencies in society and the individual, but to Klein. The threat of all psychoanalysis is its individuation, and here she gives over to it wholly; unable to mediate its subject with its surroundings and to recognise what is external to it, she returns to the problem of substitution in Klein to affirm the urgency of the social in recalling the relationship between an infant and their mother. ‘To do away with the mother would be to imperil the conditions of one’s own existence’, Butler writes, but not as an affirmation of one’s own existence over the mother – ‘rather, it is because we are already tied together in a social bond that precedes and makes possible both of her lives.’

In Butler’s recent essay ‘Genius or Suicide’ we see a far more explicit attempt to psychoanalyse the individual subject when she even goes so far as to psychoanalyse Trump. But when the president that preceded him had further cemented the ground for fascism, not only in exacerbating the contradictions of capitalism that liberalism itself cannot resolve but waging an unprecedented assault against minorities and militarising the police and immigration enforcement, what function does psychoanalysis play? Butler’s discussion beyond the individual subject is limited to questions of ‘legal obligations and ‘legal capture’ – treating the law as if it were a rubber band that, stretched, will rebound and strike Trump. ‘How odd’, Butler writes, ‘that Trump may well give us back the law as he is forced to submit to the law and go down: will he then become, even if only in demise, the lawgiver?’ In this essay, the legal institutions that plagued the (non)gendered body, that turns the subject into a Foucauldian body-horror, here become saving graces against the forces of fascism. Yet, in Forces of Nonviolence, we see the opposite. Law is not the possibility of the resolution of fascism but instead invariably a form of violence through the very factuality of its binding teleology, which the open nature of nonviolence necessarily overcomes.

It is necessary here to recall Herbert Marcuse, when he wrote that ‘The more the liberal bourgeoisie transforms itself and goes over to anti-liberal forms of domination, the more abstract becomes the theory of the state ... which still clings to its liberal foundations.’ (Marcuse, A Study on Authority, p. 101) Liberalism, without any concrete conception of the state, forced out of power as even its most reactionary elements are unable to contain the repressive forces of capital it unleashed in order to secure more profits – with the police, ICE, and even Amazon’s technology itself breaking unions and kneecaping the most class-conscious and organised workers – clings tighter and tighter to the institutions that legitimised fascism to begin with. And so it is no surprise that we still see with liberals decrying Trump’s apparent despoiling of the state apparatus that has enabled and carried out his will.

The thermometer that dipped its critical faculties in the water every few years to speculate whether the US was fascist, as an exercise that has been repeated for years now, well before Trump’s election, has always been facile. Adorno fundamentally recognised that ‘fascism lives on ... due to the fact that the objective conditions of society that engendered fascism continues to exist’, and that even ‘Infiltration indicates something objective: ambiguous figures make the comeback and occupy positions of power for the sole reason that conditions favour them.’ (Adorno, Guilt and Defense, p. 214) And to what extent was the US government even infiltrated? When the police formed their own gangs to carry out their extrajudicial murders? When the US government released information that 1,488 children were ‘lost’ in its concentration camps? When protestors in Portland were kidnapped in unmarked cars? When US border agents became vigilantes, burying people in mass graves in the desert? Or when, under Obama’s administration, three-year olds facing deportation were forced to represent themselves in a court of law? Or was it with Bush’s creation of ICE in 2003? There was no changing of the guard in the US; they didn’t have to, in the case of Italy in 1922 and Germany in 1933, consolidate power into a singular political entity.

The factor that determines the specific character and manifestation of every fascist state is the development of its bourgeoisie. For Italy, this was comparatively weak. Its bourgeoisie paled in comparison to its landowning class, military elites, and the Catholic Church. For Germany, this was significantly stronger to the extent that it could threaten the leading imperialist powers – but after the hyperinflation of the 1920s and withdrawal of American capital its bourgeoisie was unable to maintain even its tenuous position without the domination of its workers by sending communists and its Jewish population to concentration camps and restructuring the whole of its society through its militarisation. But nowhere else on the globe was the bourgeoisie developed as a class than in the US. As the most developed capitalist nation it had complete continuity between its businesses and government, and the question of infiltration was never one that could seriously address fascism’s fundamental character as capitalism’s final stand against its own destruction. After all, as Daniel Guerin recognised in 1939, ‘The bourgeoisie resorts to fascism less in response to disturbances on the street than in response to disturbances in their own economic system.’ (Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business, p. 26)

Though the prosperous ‘boom’ of the US economy in the 1920s saw new heights, this was also a period in which the seeds of fascism inherent in capitalism decisively revealed themselves. Even in 1919, as the First World War ended, ‘wartime contracts worth billions were cancelled immediately, sending industry and agriculture into an uncertain and threatening future.’ (Michael Joseph Roberto, The Coming of the American Behemoth, p. 34) And throughout the decade, the concentration of capital became far more acute as businesses exponentially increased their output through new technological means as they dismantled organised labour – to the extent that profits in the financial centre increased by 177 percent between 1923 and 1929 as 2,832,000 million workers were displaced. It is no coincidence that the KKK as we know it today appeared here, reaching the height of its membership in 1924 with 30,000 people. And, unlike Italy and Germany, the bourgeoisie was so strong that no other class or military force ended their reign. The bipartisan support for the suppression of the organised working class in the US and the world was then able to live on and even outlast its more urgent crises to defer them long enough to pass through several subsequent boom and busts – developing all the time under its pretence of democracy and freedom, all while the lynching and extrajudicial executions continued as it had done in the 1920s. It is only after two of the worst crises capitalism has ever seen – in 2008 and in 2020, that now supersedes the crisis of the Great Depression – that the US now has a figure that personifies the rot of American fascism.

Fascism can only conceive of any relationships as antagonistic – one of domination and dominated. The fascist subject, that is so indeterminate that it is simultaneously the master race and under existential threat of domination, now takes up the violent zeal of capital and the state to do what it has always secretly thought but – in polite society – was deemed too excessive and worthy of psychological repression. And so Butler’s immediate recourse to nonviolence and her call for an ‘egalitarian imaginary’ that ‘offers us a glimpse into those forms of insurrectionary solidarity that turns against authoritarian and tyrannical rule’, that seeks to restore the bonds of the social, consistently comes up against the poverty of its own concept to the extent that she must reassert again and again that nonviolence does not equate to either a passivity or an acceptance. But any amount of empathic substitution cannot grasp what is central to fascism. As Adorno recognised, ‘Whatever humane values democracies can oppose [fascism] with, it can effortlessly refute by pointing out that they represent not the whole of humanity but a mere image that fascism has had the courage to discard.’ (Adorno, The Stars Down to Earth, p. 108)

At least here Butler isn’t so bold as to ask, as she did in ‘Genius or Suicide’ on the eve of his impeachment, ‘Was the Trump regime always meant to end this way?’, recognising how much is truly at stake. But what can the call for extending the definition of grievability achieve here, invoking substitution to reaffirm the necessity of the social? Fascism thrives exactly on the inability of liberalism to resolve the contradictions of capitalism – and liberalism’s false universalisation cannot conceive of even basic contradiction central to it.

Lewis Hodder is an editor of Ebb Magazine and writes on the Frankfurt School, philosophy, and Marxism.

The Force of Nonviolence: The Ethical in the Political
Judith Butler
Verso, 2020
9781788732765

https://www.ebb-magazine.com/essays/the ... onviolence

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Tue Oct 06, 2020 5:19 pm
by solidgold
Can someone explain Althusser to me.

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Wed Oct 07, 2020 2:01 am
by kidoftheblackhole
solidgold wrote:
Tue Oct 06, 2020 5:19 pm
Can someone explain Althusser to me.
The short answer to "can anyone explain Althusser" is: no.

A funny quip I always remember (not sure who said or exactly which part of Althusser they meant) is that he wavered between true but uninteresting and interesting but untrue.

Anaxarchos used to sometimes say I was an "exotic" which is a way of calling out *eclecticism*. Althusser sort of represents the branching out (from the doctrinaire Soviets in particular), Westernizing (emasculating), and "legitimizing" (oh, Marx was a harmless armchair contemplater!) of Marxist theory in academic circles. Hence he is all over the place -- Freud, the Cultural Revolution in China, I don't honestly know all of his crazy tangents by heart.

Also, he is another Rapturist errr Rupturist who decides that Marx had a Rupture with himself. Somehow he decides that the practice of theory is entirely removed from actual practice. Hence society is not composed of people but structure and "concrete" knowledge is still made of air, albeit more rarefied air. Its a workaround so that he can claim that "class struggle in theory" is something more than theoretical.

On the whole, It's buzzword soup and largely indecipherable IMO. It sounds Hegelian to me but Althusser cast himself as vehemently Anti-Hegelian afaik. Was/Is he influential in Western Marxism? Sure, I guess. But Western Marixsm is kind of Marxism w/Benefits and the Benefits tend to be the real selling point (chief among them abandoning much of the traditions and theoretical underpinnings of orthodox Marxism).

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Wed Oct 07, 2020 3:56 am
by solidgold
kidoftheblackhole wrote:
Wed Oct 07, 2020 2:01 am
Somehow he decides that the practice of theory is entirely removed from actual practice. Hence society is not composed of people but structure and "concrete" knowledge is still made of air, albeit more rarefied air. Its a workaround so that he can claim that "class struggle in theory" is something more than theoretical.
Anyway you could expand on this? I know Althusser sees a “break” in Marx, but what are the implications and consequences of holding this position? Can’t you account for social relations and oppose economism (like Lenin, Mao, or Gramsci did) without some sort of revelation about interpretation?

My grasp on the currents of New Left is weak, so I’m not really sure how to approach this.

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Wed Oct 07, 2020 8:16 am
by kidoftheblackhole
solidgold wrote:
Wed Oct 07, 2020 3:56 am
kidoftheblackhole wrote:
Wed Oct 07, 2020 2:01 am
Somehow he decides that the practice of theory is entirely removed from actual practice. Hence society is not composed of people but structure and "concrete" knowledge is still made of air, albeit more rarefied air. Its a workaround so that he can claim that "class struggle in theory" is something more than theoretical.
Anyway you could expand on this? I know Althusser sees a “break” in Marx, but what are the implications and consequences of holding this position? Can’t you account for social relations and oppose economism (like Lenin, Mao, or Gramsci did) without some sort of revelation about interpretation?

My grasp on the currents of New Left is weak, so I’m not really sure how to approach this.
Its sort of a Catch-22 for them in my estimation. If they start by accepting the vulgarized (economism) version of Marx then there is nothing to do but reinterpret if they wish to escape from those constraints. You'd think the obvious solution would be to NOT accept the crudest possible reading of Marx as the default version but it is their own serious qualms with "orthodoxy" that funnel them into arriving at that conclusion. Once they spin their magic, Marx is so "reinterpreted" that he is reduced to a retrospective figure -- he is a signal figure who touched off a revolution (in thought?) without actually advancing the revolutionary thinking himself (that part is supplied by Althusser et al who finally liberate him from his hidebound chains).
Can’t you account for social relations and oppose economism (like Lenin, Mao, or Gramsci did) without some sort of revelation about interpretation?
Yes, you can. If that were not possible then one would have to throw out Marxism and start from a different foundation. Or, alternately, decide that Marx conveniently "forgot" what he meant and take it upon oneself to set him straight on the issue (which is the Althusser approach)

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Wed Oct 07, 2020 7:35 pm
by solidgold
kidoftheblackhole wrote:
Wed Oct 07, 2020 8:16 am
solidgold wrote:
Wed Oct 07, 2020 3:56 am
kidoftheblackhole wrote:
Wed Oct 07, 2020 2:01 am
Somehow he decides that the practice of theory is entirely removed from actual practice. Hence society is not composed of people but structure and "concrete" knowledge is still made of air, albeit more rarefied air. Its a workaround so that he can claim that "class struggle in theory" is something more than theoretical.
Anyway you could expand on this? I know Althusser sees a “break” in Marx, but what are the implications and consequences of holding this position? Can’t you account for social relations and oppose economism (like Lenin, Mao, or Gramsci did) without some sort of revelation about interpretation?

My grasp on the currents of New Left is weak, so I’m not really sure how to approach this.
Its sort of a Catch-22 for them in my estimation. If they start by accepting the vulgarized (economism) version of Marx then there is nothing to do but reinterpret if they wish to escape from those constraints. You'd think the obvious solution would be to NOT accept the crudest possible reading of Marx as the default version but it is their own serious qualms with "orthodoxy" that funnel them into arriving at that conclusion. Once they spin their magic, Marx is so "reinterpreted" that he is reduced to a retrospective figure -- he is a signal figure who touched off a revolution (in thought?) without actually advancing the revolutionary thinking himself (that part is supplied by Althusser et al who finally liberate him from his hidebound chains).
Can’t you account for social relations and oppose economism (like Lenin, Mao, or Gramsci did) without some sort of revelation about interpretation?
Yes, you can. If that were not possible then one would have to throw out Marxism and start from a different foundation. Or, alternately, decide that Marx conveniently "forgot" what he meant and take it upon oneself to set him straight on the issue (which is the Althusser approach)
Seems like Marxism is such a nuanced analysis it’s easy to fall into different kinds of determinism when you try and cut corners.

Have you ever read from Viewpointmag.com? That’s sort of how I got to Althusser. There’s a few writers on there who I think write some really good stuff, and it’s a nice change of pace from the newer strain of economism that Bernie-converts fall into. I think it’s what you described as “exotic,” but I think they’re under the impression they’re developing the theory further. They have a few pieces on Althusser that don’t really clear things up for me, ha.

Re: What are you reading?

Posted: Thu Oct 08, 2020 9:48 pm
by kidoftheblackhole
I am looking through viewpointmag and will get back to you.