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Exciting news for readers with some Italian: the whole of the Quaderni del Carcere and prison letters by Antonio Gramsci have been put online by the International Gramsci Society at GramsciSource. For those unaware of Gramsci, he was (with Lukacs and Lenin himself) one of the brightest intellectuals in the Communist camp; imprisoned by Mussolini for a decade or so, he wrote — using very interesting euphemisms for Marxist topics — “prison notebooks” that deal with every aspect of historical science, sociology, and Marxism. Famous for his adaptation of Romain Rolland’s dictum “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will” and his concept of “hegemony”, Gramsci is one Red whose importance can hardly be said to have faded.
The interface is nifty and will certainly aid new Marxist thought around the world; hopefully we will see similar “intellectual portals” open up for other important thinkers. (For those — like me — who are not Italianate: people may yet be unaware that the Joseph Buttigieg translation of the Prison Notebooks in their entirety has been completed, and is available as a paperback three-volume set. No way around it, comrades.)
An amusing entry from artist Tony Shin in the Post-Occupy Wall Street sweepstakes:
Created by: AccountingDegreeOnline.net
It seems like only yesterday that Barack Obama became our first African-American president. And yet this is 2011, and none of the rhetoric concerning recent “dry runs” at the Republican candidacy discusses Obama’s historic stature. The Republican party is clearly trying to re-orient American public discourse concerning U.S. priorities at present, and has achieved quite a coup by turning budgeting priorities into the new “buzzword” section of government. A similar ‘re-orientation’ of American public discourse helped bring Obama to power; it could, perhaps surprisingly, remove him showing little for his efforts, making him a sort of American Edith Cresson.
Many of us, I’m sure, are not eager to return to the days when a George W. Bush ran America. And yet, like many older Marxists, I am less than sanguine today about a strategy of “Democratic aid” for 2012 and beyond. It isn’t that there is no relevant difference between the two parties, but that Democratic austerity politics now blocks ‘telescoping’ out to leftist social-justice concerns more effectively than ever. The ‘redwashing’ of Hillary Rodham Clinton as the ‘progressive choice’ in 2008 was an important issue worth dealing with, but there is undoubtedly less motivation for 2012 to be captivated by liberal bromides which yet again will fail to meet the political needs of the American majority painlessly and cheaply.
Even if it would be worthwhile to have Obama serve a second term, this is not to say that mass America’s political energies are best suited to being palliated by his Kennedyesque charm. Perhaps radicals could instead make 2012 “the year of the issue”: presenting fuller slates of writing and broader organization dealing with economic and social problems than the Democrats or Republicans provide candidates and ‘framing’. If mass government there is to be, let us try to provide ‘straw polls’ for a systematically ramified and elaborated working-class politics enabling the people to take a shot at governing America.
Ricardo Levins Morales’ essay for Solidarity US, “Let’s Not Take America Back”, started me thinking about these issues. If one ignores the past lunacy of the Weathermen, and remembers the limits of ‘lifestyle’ organizing a la fur protests, it is perhaps a “revolutionary” and not a “procedural” point in American leftism. When arguments count more than rights, it’s time to reexamine the whole ball game.
Recently I’ve come to feel that, in addition to all the errors my flesh is prone to, I fundamentally have misread the situation for socialist politics in America ca. 2011. I thought the prominence of the Marx-as-capitalist-seer attitude during W.’s presidency odd, but was also very concerned about concrete obstacles to organization from the War on Terror (the other side of the coin). Although I am unlikely to ever regain the intellectual high ground due to past events, things like eating and being physically well despite lack of riches continue to be on my agenda for the foreseeable future and so perhaps I can be forgiven a look into the Leftist Crystal Ball.
Data point: Indymedia seems oddly lucid these days (without me, of course) and so I wonder if the Marxist ought to “go big or go home” with respect to 2012 and thereafter. The Wisconsin protests and similar phenomena suggest that a certain critical politics from the 90’s — call it “Winnebago unionism” for its insufferable jointure of labor-aristocracy privilege and populist tastes in argument — is out. Perhaps the time has finally come for the Hardt-Negri “micrological” autonomist approach to organizing.
The Party is also showing positively disturbing signs of wellness; and although Russia is unlikely to go back to state capitalism anytime soon, their fraternal ties with labor movements in the Third World surely merit some praise and attention. If you haven’t tried this brain-teaser yet, take a look at their magazine Political Affairs and decide how up-to-date you are. Perhaps this suggests a break with the “Maguffey’s Reader” leftism of IWW enthusiasts and, despite my qualms about keeping up with the Kotzebues, a nostalgic and systematic appreciation of leftist consumer culture from the New Deal era.
“Gee, our old LaSalle ran great” – no it didn’t, and the ironic point of Norman Lear shows forth today.
To complete our homage to Empires of the Sun and their builders, one thing you don’t learn fast enough is that Seattle and fenomena de tipo Seattle Turn You Adornian: previously you knew well enough that you had no business bothering them, or “fooling with the Marx”, but all of a sudden you’d be a true, scientific, and genuinely revolutionary Communist a la Paul Levi if you only could. In the meantime you’re going to try to get a union job, try really hard, learn you can’t because the unions are corrupt, learn you could if you were worth a damn like people who put themselves “on the line” every day, learn you can be a cultural producer, learn culture is evil, learn it’s okay, learn philosophy is better, learn philosophy must be truly materialistic to succeed at what is worth achieving, talk to unhappy women some more, try something else out, avoid creeps who tell you to “get spiritual-minded”, outwit them, beat them up, write ballads, novels, plays, theoretike works that you disown and other ones you don’t.
You’re almost good enough, almost good enough, almost good enough to make the “social-justice” team: then, after a period when the traffic lights they turn on blue tomorrow and the “big birds” leave town, you figure out you were the problem anyway and one step more means an Instant Ticket to the Power Team: you tell someone off with Goethe they’re fixin’ to love, if they could figure out what the durn thing means, make a major motion picture or somethin’ that you intentionally don’t get credit for and “hit the skids” — where it all is, where it all is safe and straight, where she is. Preferable at least to Vancouver, British Columbia, where you have to claim you’re from LA and say yo’ name only till it sounds like singing, rather than a “target market” for true juvenilia (on account of all the people wearing the structure). And now we’re going to quietly listen to the combined anthem of Britain and the United States:
Fuck the Wiedergutmachungstuhl and all your ‘frenz’.
Now, for a very serious “confession of faith”. Circumstances in the United States of America compelled me — and whoever else — to employ genuine Leninist communist methods in the years 2003, to avoid a spurious “revolt” by those in power, and 2008, to let the genuinely popular Presidential candidate win the legitimate election. The “tail-ending” of these efforts, which were conducted using those Communist methods which allow genuine and unforced consensus-formation by the people, resulted in the radically altered character of the George W. Bush administration during the second term and the radical transformation of the American polity following Obama’s inauguration. The truth of the matter is that these efforts have revealed that we, the people of the United States of America, were lied to about the character of Communist politics: really, it is a totally modern and democratic procedure for allowing the genuine rule of law and personal freedom, steeped in the best thoughts of the bourgeois era. However, “enough is enough” is a truth of all time.
Although I have been a Marxist socialist, and an activist, since early adolescence and have a great respect for the scientific contributions of communist intellectuals like Gramsci, Lukacs, and Adorno and the precipitated tragedies of countries with effective Communist parties I never believed in Communist methods before they became absolutely necessary and I don’t believe in them now. I don’t believe in an unstructured “libertarian communism” that allows useless idiots like Michael Hardt to opine about the revolutionary character of your job at Whole Foods, but more seriously — and exploitative shitheads like the corpo-commie Hardt and his oppressed friend Antonio Negri pressing dangerous and unrealizable ideals on vulnerable members of the working class is pretty serious — once a genuine republic, the secret core of the communist demand, has been achieved the continued improvement of every aspect of life using genuine science can only lead to a monstrous disaster: the fabrication of “a bridge too far”, complete perfection within and without the bureaucracy, to suit the sybarites of humanity. Any life is flawed; all life is flawed; what is not flawed is not life. Too much of a bad thing is rough, but it’s not too bad; when it’s much too much you know it’s time to do it to you-know-who again; right now, it’s all right and anyone who doesn’t think so has a problem.
Flint GM sit-down strike, 1936-7
On this, the seventh day of the week, let me share an observation about labor law with you. It is a piece of “common knowledge” that the sit-down strike, where laborers occupy the factory until their demands are met, was a popular tactic in the ’30s but became illegal with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act in 1948. However, my considered opinion is this: actually, sit-down strikes were illegal under the Wagner Act as well — one of the basic principles of property law is akin to the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in that you just can’t be forced to house people on your property if you don’t want them there. There is one way, however, to get around this, and that is if the crimes that have been committed against the workers are so great that they legally own the factory, as it would be required to be deeded to them in damages were the matters ever to come to trial: and really, this is the story behind the famous unionization of General Motors thanks to the sit-down strike at the Fisher Auto Body plants in Flint, Michigan from December 1936 to February 1937. They just couldn’t be removed, and don’t think Midwestern “authorities” are not highly motivated with respect to such issues: however, it would have been impolitic to actually entirely seize control of the means of production.
Back to the “rough ground” for a minute (although more properly speaking said ground is soggy, soggy and cold). There’s been a lot of enthusiasm recently for Quentin Meillasoux’s theory of the “ancestral”, the material aspects of the world which are epistemically inaccessible to us and thusly fall outside a Kantian “correlationist” view of the relation between the mental and the physical. Without speculating on Meillasoux’s theory before I’ve gotten around to carefully reviewing it (twenty dollars is a lot to spend on an afternoon’s reading), I’d like to generalize the thought as it is stated and apply it to other dimensions of time and to consider the relationship of Marx to his German forebears in that light.
For the sake of the argument, consider a thumbnail sketch of Platonism: Plato was the inventor, not only of the “truth as correctness” much bemoaned by the later Heidegger, but of the ideal: the Socratic dialogues are the first place in Western literature where the question of establishing what is really the case, what is really good, what is truly true gets raised. The Ionian ‘physicists’ do not ask these questions; the various religious prophets of the Near East, including the interpreters of Greek civic gods, had no time for them. The same cannot be said for Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. The reintroduction of Plato’s works into the Western intellectual milieu helped give form to Leibniz’ early attempts at “logistic”, and Kant’s self-professed crypto-Wolffianism surely takes the form of an attention to rationalistic surety about the purchase of concepts of totality on the realm of “appearances”.
Hegel maintains all of this Platonism, but within the more precisely established bonds of intersubjectivity, or Geist. For Hegel all ideals, including the ideals of religion, realize themselves in community standards and practices. We can cheer this as a ‘precursor’ of pragmatism (although why exactly equalibertarians were ever supposed to be enthusiastic about Metaphysical Club member and Peirce’s good bud Oliver Wendell Holmes is mysterious to me); that’s not, however, the only thing it is. Rather, Hegelian intersubjectivity is a form of actualist presentism about norms and the non-normative powers that underwrite them: he probably would not even go so far as to say “the truth is what is fated to be agreed upon by all”, holding that philosophy only “comprehended its time in thought” and failure to make peace with the signposts of the age was indicative of a lack of conceptual acuity.
Perhaps we could say that Marx had something like Meillasoux’s idea of epistemically inaccesible reality in mind when conceptualizing the proletariat, although in the direction of the non-espied future rather than an ancestral past. The proletariat is fated to rule the world, according to Marx, because they simply are the forces of the future at work today: the elements of practice and revolt we do not understand today, working an effect on contemporary society at a non-conceptual level, will determine the normative concepts of tomorrow — not an “originalist” fidelity to an ‘originary’ source of insight. So perhaps we should think of Marx’s favored name for his project, “historical materialism”, in some such robustly metaphysical way.
Reprinted from Marxism-L:
|from||Jeff Rubard <email@example.com>|
|to||Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition <firstname.lastname@example.org>
|date||Sat, Oct 18, 2008 at 8:57 PM|
|subject||The Credit Crunch and the Elections|
A quick thought, from someone who is more sociologically than economistically inclined: is the financial crisis not a “depth charge” indicating the net weight of the American political system in the world system? However much we might wish a third-party candidate was viable at the moment, or however much we might secretly cherish the prospect of pulling the lever for Obama, both candidates will not only represent but structurally be radical breaks with the Bush administration: Obama will perversely deepen the bilateral ties between the Third World and developing European nations that developed this decade, ties Bush exploited to put together the “coalition of the willing” but will presumably assume the shape of a “Good Neighbor policy” in Obama’s hands. McCain’s genuine distaste for torture will snap the faux security state Securing a “Homeland” and wagging dogs in what could otherwise be meaningless low-level conflicts with an Axis of Unpleasantness.
A little while ago Richard Zach, whose LogBlog offers an excellent view into the world of serious logic, pointed out something interesting: a new blog aggregator, “Blogging on PseudoScientific DoucheBags“, features as its logo the sequent calculus for Girard’s linear logic. Professor Zach wonders why they would choose a perfectly legitimate and coherent logical formalism as a symbol of quackery; I have to say that my experience has definitely been that the Internet “skeptic” community has a limited appreciation of logical research (I used to get told on Usenet that Alfred Tarski was a fraud, and even the cleverer sort of autodidact often has an insufficient understanding of how slick people like Tarski and Roman Jakobson were). However, I believe in making people’s dreams happen, so here’s a speculative application of linear logic that’s been knocking around in my head for a while: I’ll skip the diagrams as a gesture of friendliness, but I expect those looking for pseudoscience will find it.
Linear logic is sometimes explained (as in the helpful Wikipedia entry) as a logic of resources. In ordinary logic, premises are indefinitely available for use in inference: but there are situations where we only want to draw conclusions from “fresh” information. By modifying the “structural” inference rules of Weakening (where an irrelevant premise can always be added to an inference) and Contraction (where a redundant premise can always be removed from an inference), and splitting apart the connective rules into “context-sharing” and “context-free” versions, linear logic makes it possible to set precise bounds on the applicability of a piece of information. This is very useful for reasoning about the behavior of programming languages with state, but there’s a “real-world” phenomenon it resembles as well: industrial production. In manufacturing goods from raw materials, we use the materials up — and this places constraints on how economic systems arising around production can operate.
Now, a man famously tried to show how all this worked: Karl Marx, in the three volumes of Capital. Marx’s “circuits of capital”, like the sequence of production for profit M-C-C’-M’, symbolically represented the processes of industrial capitalism; the consequences he spun out from the basic processes of production and exchange under capitalism (putatively) showed the fundamental limits to this economic system. What would Marx think of linear logic? I think he would be impressed by the way linear implication takes resources that are available simultaneously (determined by applications of the “context-sharing” rules) and resources that are only available discretely (determined by applications of the “context-free” rules) and represents situations where information, or whatever, is consumed in the production of a logical result.
I think one could make a strong case that in the context-sharing rules we have a formalization of Marxian “use-value”, those features of the world (including the natural world) that make a real contribution to life, and in the case of context-free rules we have a formalization of exchange-value, the rationalistic processes by which economic agents (capitalists and laborers) shape the direction of economic activity. I don’t know enough about linear logic yet to say whether there is also a “tendency of the rate of proofnets to fall”, but its “economy of the sign” is a real one — and should perhaps be especially interesting for people tracking the dynamics of the capitalist system in the order of thought, as well as that of reality.