Marx’s 188th


Karl Marx was born on May 5, 1818. I didn’t quite make it to post this on his birthday, as Angela urged people to do, but hopefully it is not too egregiously late. (It sometimes seems to me that everything relating to Marx is too late…).

The real question, post-1989, post-television, post-Internet, post-everything, is this: What in Marx’s thought is alive, what in his thought is vital, urgent even, for us today? And concurrently, what in Marx’s thought is no longer alive, what is outdated, what is an impediment? I don’t think the answers to these questions are by any means obvious.

For one thing, many people would disagree with my very emphasis on Marx’s “thought.” For many Marxists, philosophical thought (which implies textual interpretation, among other things) is precisely the wrong thing to emphasize, since (in the all-too-often quoted 11th Thesis on Feuerbach), “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” And for many anti-Marxists, thought is also the wrong thing to emphasize, since they refuse to consider Marx worthy of being taken seriously as a thinker altogether, reductively equating his ideas with the practices of Stalin and Pol Pot. (Which, of course, makes about as much sense as equating Darwin’s ideas with the practices of Nazi and Ku Klux Klan eugenics, or equating Einstein’s ideas with the practices of the American nuclear weapons program). Against both of these objections, I will insist here upon Marx as a philosophical thinker, or a social theorist: somebody who indeed actively interpreted the world. Marx is very much, still, a post-Enlightenment rationalist and humanist; he wants to change the world, but he has nothing but scorn for “spontaneism” and a-rational “direct action” (for which he reproached the anarchists of his own day). In the Theses, Marx certainly objects that Feuerbach’s critiques of religion don’t go far enough. Feuerbach’s arguments merely expose religion as a fiction; they fail to go on, as Marx does, and examine why such a fiction ever got projected in the first place, what social purpose the fiction plays, and what interests and powers it serves. But exposing all this, for Marx, is still a work of interpretation and critique; though hopefully a work that will serve the interests of change and liberation, instead of one that continues to serve the interests of exploitation and domination.

In any case, getting back to the questions with which I started: the key, for me, is 1989. That year marks the end of “actually existing socialism,” the fall of most of those regimes that at least paid lip service to Marx and Marxism. (And the conversion of the remaining ones, most notably China and Vietnam, to full-fledged savage capitalism, while continuing to be ruled by authoritarian parties that call themselves “Communist.” Such a combination of capitalism and totalitarian control strikes me as being much closer to fascism than to anything Marx envisioned or wrote about). The collapse of “actually existing socialism” led to a lot of self-congratulation in the West, epitomized in the proclamations of Francis Fukuyama, which relegated Marx and Marxism to the dustbin of history, and proclaimed unbridled capitalism as the very universal Hegelian End of History to which dogmatic socialism had always laid claim.

What this really meant, of course, was that — with the “communist” threat disposed of — Western societies felt secure enough to get rid of Keynesianism, Fordism, and Welfare-State-ism, the three reforms that had palliated the inherent miseries of capitalism, and allowed working people (by which I am inclined to include anybody who is a paycheck or two away from absolute dispossession — which, in America today, extends far enough upward to even include people with incomes in the “low six digits”) to experience a certain measure of security and prosperity. You might say that the collapse of “socialism with a human face” (i.e. of the attempt to reform the “actually existing” socialist system, so that the only remaining alternative was to altogether junk it) was accompanied by, and indeed strictly coordinated with, the rejection of Keynesian/Fordist/Welfarist “capitalism with a human face,” and its deliberate replacement by an utterly savage neoliberalism, that trashed all guarantees of human well-being.

In this context, as I have argued before, the economic and social analyses that are the heart of Marx’s philosophical and sociological writing are more valid, more necessary, than ever. From primitive accumulation to capital accumulation, from exploitation in sweatshops to the delirium of ungrounded financial circulation, all the processes that Marx wrote about in the three volumes of Capital are being accomplished today with unbridled thoroughness, with all the consequences, in terms of social and political organization, that Marx also described. In its economic, social, and political core, the largest revision Marx’s theory needs is one of elaboration and extrapolation — he never got around to writing as much about credit, for instance, as he originally planned. But the proliferation of credit is itself one of the major consequences, and in turn continuing causes, of capital’s movement from capital’s “formal” to its “real” subsumption of all other labor processes and social forms across the globe.

(A note on “primitive accumulation”: this doesn’t happen only at the beginning of capitalism, but continues as a process within it and throughout it — today, the formerly common goods that are being accumulated as private property are not just land, as was the case in the 14th-16th centuries in England, but also of the order of knowledges and impalpable relationships; thus it is not just the Amazon rain forest that is being expropriated and privatized, but also whatever the indigenous peoples of the Amazon know about, for instance, the medicinal properties of various plants).

As for what is no longer so valid, or so vital, in Marx’s thought: here I am likely to get in trouble again, at least with most Marxists who would agree with my previous several paragraphs. Because what seems to me no longer to be valid is precisely all that stuff in Marx (and even more in the later Marxist tradition) about ideology, about class consciousness, about the proletariat as the universal revolutionary class, and so on. Here the transition from the disciplinary society to the control society, from the society of mass production to the society of networked, computer-and-communications-regulated production, from Fordism to Walmartism, does seem to me to make a huge difference. These transitions (which I am not necessarily equating with one another; each refers to a different set of problems and structures, and occurs over different time periods) have the consequence that any traditional Marxist notions of the proletariat and of its self-consciousness as an exploited class have pretty much ceased to function.

To be more specific: these notions have been effectively squelched by such phenomena as the “postmodern” effacement of distinctions between work time and leisure time; the “post-industrial” atomization and global dispersal of production, putting new obstacles in the way of unionization struggles; the multiplication of micro-distinctions among the oppressed, making identification on the basis of shared experiences of exploitation or impoverishment or oppression more and more difficult (this is something Mike Davis details in his excellent, powerful new book Planet of Slums); the very movement of exploitation beyond the factory to also cover the “affective” plane of “immaterial production”; the hypercommodification of everything, not just durable goods, but the most impalpable and most ubiquitous experiences and “lifestyles”; the systematic blockage of any form of collectivity not mediated through the market; the closure of possibilities of thinking and acting otherwise (the sense that there is No Alternative), leading to a rise of the most virulent nationalisms and fundamentalisms as the only forms of resistance that are able to function (albeit, this functioning is only fantasmatic, and does not really oppose the forces of capital at all). For all these reasons, and doubtless many more that I have forgotten to add to the list, there simply is no place in the world today where anything like a “proletariat” (as a self-conscious and organized class) could arise at all. The part of Marx which dealt with such a revolutionary proletariat is hopelessly outdated, as is any notion that the “contradiction” between forces of production and relations of production might leading to a radical “negation of the negation,” an explosive change. Such ideas were indeed pragmatic in Marx’s own time, although they evidently did not succeed in changing the world in more than minor and limited ways. But today they are entirely fantasmatic, as dubiously self-deceptive as the nationalisms and fundamentalisms that have supplanted them in the popular imaginations of most of the world.

This is not to say that Resistance is Futile; only that resistance and change have not been theorized with any success. While Marx gets us very far indeed in understanding the world we find ourselves living in, he doesn’t get us anywhere when it comes to figuring out how to use that understanding in order to change it. So I am not saying — at least I am trying not to say — that, since everything is totally shitty and hopeles, there really is No Alternative, which would just be to confirm backhandedly what Clinton and Bush, and Thatcher and Blair, and their ilk, have all along been so smugly telling us. But I am saying that Marx, for all his greatness as a philosophical and sociological thinker, will not be the one to get us to the alternative we need. This isn’t necessary even a criticism, if you consider that a good part of Marx’s own point is that merely understanding the situation, although necessary to changing it, is not ever sufficient (which is why — in contrast to his “utopian” predecessors) he always refused to describe what a communist society would actually be like). Practice has to be ahead of theory, etc., etc.; and I do not wish to minimize or deny the sheer creativity of, for instance, the Zapatistas or the Italian autonomists; or for that matter of schemes like Michael Linton’s Local Exchange Trading System (LETS) advocated so forcefully by Karatani. But I fear that inventing these alternatives in practice, let alone theorizing them after the fact, is not something that Marx, or the whole Marxist tradition from his days until now, will give us much help with.

So I am left with the somewhat ironic position that Marx is absolutely indispensable when it comes to interpreting and understanding the world, but not of much use in the task of changing it. And I certainly find myself in the cynical (and inadvertently, but unavoidably, nihilistic) position of being only an interpreter, someone who lacks any faith that a good change will come. (This relates to my aestheticism, which I have mentioned before on this blog, and which I certainly do mean affirmatively, not just ironically/defensively). (I mean “faith,” not in the religious sense which has a long history of use by positivists who loved to attack Marxism as being a “religious” or “metaphysical” belief system rather than a rational or scientific one; I am more thinking in terms of Deleuze’s frequent statement that “belief in the world” is the most urgent task faced by philosophy today). (I will leave aside for later consideration my quite conscious slippage between Marx’s “interpreted the world, in various ways” and my own reformulation of this — which will set deconstructionists on edge — as a matter of understanding the world, rather than of interpreting it).

One brief corollary. Much as I find the revolutionary optimism of Hardt/Negri, and of the Italian autonomist tradition in general, to be entirely unwarranted, I think that their theories of the Multitude (in Virno as well as in Hardt/Negri) and of immaterial or affective labor (referring here to Lazzarato as much as to Hardt/Negri) indicate that they are at least trying (even if not successfully) to address the issues I am raising here re the failure of traditional Marxist notions of class consciousness, or of the proletariat as a class “for itself.” On the other hand, explanations of this failure by appealing to alleged phenomena like “the decline of Symbolic efficacy” and the problem of the “obscene superego supplement” (Zizek) strike me as obscurantist mystifications, little better than Heideggerian invocations of the problematics of techne, technological “enframing,” etc etc. I think that Zizek’s political ideas really were creative and efficacious in the peculiar circumstances — those of Yugoslav “actually existing socialism” — in which they were first developed; but that Zizek’s endeavors to make them more generally applicable for the conditions of postmodern capitalism simply don’t work.

So, to conclude this (slightly belated) birthday appreciation, I will say that Marx does not have all the answers; but he points us in the right direction, and asks many of the most essential questions, which is no mean accomplishment for a thinker whose second centenary is approaching. I do think that, in the long view (at least as long a view as I am capable of; I am aware that two centuries is not two millenia), Marx’s importance, his urgency for the present, and his capacity to shake up the very roots of our self-understanding, is ultimately far greater than that of the other great iconoclasts of the threshold of modernity, Nietzsche and Freud, with whom he is so often grouped. And to return to the realm of “pure thought” (where I am always more comfortable, alas, than I am when confronted with “practice”): in the coming years of the 21st century, we may well increasingly find all the passions and disputes of 20th century modernism and avant-gardism to be trivial, quaint, and of very little interest or importance; but we will not, for all that, escape the shadow of the dilemmas and blockages which the 19th century bequeathed to us. And in exploring, and trying to overcome, those dilemmas and blockages, Marx (together with Darwin) is our indispensable precursor. Which is a great enough birthday legacy for anyone.

29 Responses to “Marx’s 188th”

  1. Aayush Iyer says:

    I must congratulate you on a very efficient summing up of Marx relevance in todays collective. I agree almost completely.

    That being said, I believe there is a certain disconnection in today’s ‘proletariat’ that might eventually connect on issues, if not in geographics. In my opinion, the well explained effacement of leisure and work is a two edged sword in reawakening. With global workers sharing essentially the same issues under different time zones, this actually leads to a continuous activity by masses that are disjoint. For now, this does make a ‘global union’ seem an impossiblilty but with greater connections and networking, this is not really as far away or unreachable as it may seem.

    This also brings up another point. The need of a nation as such to rise and stand virulent to the principles of the world is no longer a necessity. Although we are in an age where the primary form of broadcast allows you to be anonymous, the establishment of identity adds credibility and (hopefully) security. This should in some time to come lead to ‘garage revolutionaries’ who can in their own lines of work and collectively as a whole find need and means to revolt when the time comes.

    The Marx ideology does not become less relevant with the absolution of geographical conquest. All it needs is to spread as an idea or point of inspiration. And if anything, I only see it promulgate over time.

  2. .. says:

    […] Since Marx was born 2 days and 188 years back, I’ve read some fascinating articles on him. So without any real knowledge about the inner tunings of Marxist theory (or even knowing if Marxist theory is a valid term) let me do a take on alienation. This is purely opinion that may/may not be backed by actual fact. It’s written purely based on what little common sense I can use. […]

  3. s0metim3s says:

    what seems to me no longer to be valid is precisely all that stuff in Marx (and even more in the later Marxist tradition) about ideology, about class consciousness, about the proletariat as the universal revolutionary class, and so on

    Just very briefly, Steven (because I’m still reading), but doesn’t that stuff kind of disappear from Marx’s writings?

  4. Rob says:

    the proletariat isnt renowned for its engagement with Marxist theory…as things stand in Toronto, the proletariat is mostly engaged with buying guns to kill each other with, and the lumpen-proles are mostly engaged with smoking crack

    i suspect this is probably the case in most urban centers around the world

    but dont kid yourself, outside of marxist theory/praxis, this doesnt mean that those peeps arent engaged in at least quasi-revolutionary activity

    fact is that, after going on 25 years as a Marxist of some sort, im not even sure anymore as to what revolutionary activity is (although the Trots/Leninists/Maoists can shove their variety up the ass of whatever revolutionary party they are building these days)

    and im not a subscriber to the traditional optimism of Hardt and Negri, either

    but something is going…(“we got something going on”)….and that’s what im most interested in

    with all that said, your final paragraph was a respectful tribute to a thinker who died 180 years ago, and YET may be proven more right than wrong yet


  5. s0metim3s,

    When you say that the stuff on class consciousness, etc., disappears from Marx’s writings, do you mean that there is far less of it in Capital than in earler writings like Grundrisse? If I am understanding you correctly, then, yes, I am very much –contra Negri — preferring Marx’s more “objective” later work to the earlier work that more emphasizes the “subjective” conditions of revolutionary change.

  6. s0metim3s says:

    Yes, that’s exactly what I mean. And, agreed. Negri is an upbeat Leninist, methinks.

    And while I sometimes emphasise a critique of Marxoidal subjectivism – the perennial search for a revolutionary subject, etc – in the post on Marx’s b/day, I tried to ‘lean’ the other way. Which is to say, not to dispense with a critique of subjectivism, but to talk about the ‘objective’ aspects in such a way that they aren’t naturalised.

    Btw, thanks for your post.

  7. Ken says:

    Thanks for this elegant tribute, so elegant that I will ignore the unusual (for you) three successive parentheticals you required to proceed over certain “terrain.” That said, this is a paradoxical tribute indeed for it implies — at least to me — that the primary obstacle to a serious and sustained reconsideration of Marx’s contributions — a serious and sustained consideration that at least gestures toward lived experience and political praxis — is the figure of Marx himself. That much of what Marx “predicted” in Capital is now true is true. Agreed. But so what? The minute one invokes Marx one loses the potential spirit and power of his contributions (avoiding “Marxism” here), at least outside a narrow group of thinkers. In splitting Marx in two here are you not looking for a “Marxist” critique without Marx?

  8. Dr. Spinoza says:

    I find it difficult to take issue with your remarks on Marx, but I shall try.

    In general, I find myself in agreement with your analysis: Marx remains extremely useful with respect to the diagnostic toold he put at our disposal for understanding what capital is and how it works, but he has very little to offer with respect to what should (or might) be done.

    The message concludes with a brief comment comparing Marx with other horsemen of the end of the Enlightenment — Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. Marx and Darwin merit our continued attention between of their insistence on the implications of materialism for how we think about ourselves as socio-cultural organisms.

    But I want to give a plug for the continued relevance of Nietzsche and Freud, and question the proposal to de-emphasize theories of subjecitivity.
    What Nietzsche and Freud help do for us is give us (at least the beginnings of) a materialist theory of subjectivity. Hence it is no longer required that we neglect subjectivity as materialists or that we retreat into idealism (of the Hegelian or Husserlian variety) in order to understand subjectivity.

    I can accept that one of the limitations of Zizek’s work is the empahsis on the cognitive unconscious and its role in the production of culture. There’s not enough attention given to affect or to embodiment. And this gives us reason to criticize Zizek as a giving us an inadequate theory of subjectivity because it isn’t materialistic enough.

    One way in which I’d like to develop the legacy of Nietzsche and Freud is by way of Foucault and Deleuze, and which shows how bodies become subjectivized under specifiable conditions. So, although there is no original subjectivity as the idealists demanded, there is subjectivity neveetheless, and although there is no “revolutionary subject,” there are still subjecitivized bodies capable of resistance and even, sometimes, rebellion.

  9. Sean says:

    Further to S0metime3’s comment, might be worth pointing to Balibar’s suggestion (in the short, brilliant The Philosophy of Marx) that ideology isn’t so much abandoned by Marx in his “mature” writing as displaced by the concept of commodity fetishism. If that’s true, the displacement seems quite complex: first of all, it produces a disjuncture between consciousness and behaviour (and I think that Marx’s “they don’t know, but they do it anyway” is already more radical than Zizek’s famous reversal of the formulation, in that it already contains it: what’s at least implied by the concept of fetishism is that “whether or not they know, they do it anyway”); but then secondly, even though fetishism, in terms of its own conceptual consistency, has nothing to do with “the subject” or “ideology”, as these were previously understood, it occupies the same space, as it were, and can be used to organise some of the same “materials” (knowledge, illusion, affect, behaviour, economics, politics, subjectivity, objectivity etc). Anyway, to cut to the chase, commodity fetishism seems to provide a means of articulating Marx 1 and 2, of thinking through the break between economics and subjectivity (and politics) that Marx himself enacts (at least tendentially – politics gets a lot more “aleatory” and unconditional in and after Capital, even as economics becomes completely knowable, unmysterious, determined). Is this something like what you’re doing with aesthetics?
    Thanks Steve for your lucid and imaginative posts, sorry for the turgid banalities they’re starting to attract from me.

  10. A few very brief answers…

    Ken, I don’t think “so what” is an adequate answer — at least not for me — if only because so much real human suffering is involved. I think I am saying the opposite of what you suggest — not Marxism without Marx, but Marx without Marxism, in the sense that a return to his texts is still vitally important to understanding the world we live in, even if “Marxism” (whether as theoretical tradition or as mass movement) has come to an impasse.

    Dr. Spinoza — My (relative) dethroning of Freud and Nietzsche, or my suggestion of their lesser importance as compared to Nietzsche and Freud, is meant to be provocative. There is a common wisdom in academic theory that gives lip service to the Marx/Nietzsche/Freud trilogy but in fact has never treated Marx with the seriousness it accords to the other two (Derrida is a perfect example of this, as I tried to suggest in my earlier comments on his Specters of Marx). I am trying to shake this up a little bit.

    Sean — thanks especially for the reference to Balibar’s book, which I have never read but will have to seek out, since your summary of his argument re commodity fetishism seems vitally important for my own explorations of commodities and aesthetics.

  11. Juan Francisco Ferré says:

    First of all, congratulations for your blog and your books (after “Connected”, I´m waiting with impatience your new book, “The Age of Aesthetics”). I found exciting, as ever, your celebration of the Marx birthday. The great paradox with Marx is the same one that you expressed: after 1989 everybody was thinking and celebrating the end of Marx philosophy together with the collapse of communist regimes, but since the middle of the nineties Marx has returned, especially the Marx, as you said, that helps to understanding, and not only interpreting, the mechanics of capitalism system. In Europe, from where I´am, socialist parties than get the power help to soften the functioning of the capitalist machine. Something absolutely alien to American system, but that’s all. In any case, as a visiting lecturer on Spanish Literature, I dare to recommend you a novel by Juan Goytisolo, “The Marx Family Saga”, first published in 1993 (there is an English translation). It deserves to be so famous as the Derrida book you mentioned in your post, but it has many advantages in front of the limited discourse of the late deconstructionist: it was a fiction where the life of Marx and his family are treated as a kind of nineteen “soap-opera”, and at the same time it manages to expresses all the greatness and the smallness of the leading character without forgetting to face him with some of his opponents and of his followers in a TV panel. Besides, there is a great presence of TV in the plot and a sad point of view about culture and literature in postmodern times. Thank you again.

  12. Juan,
    thanks for your comments, and especially for mentioning the Goytisolo novel. I love Goytisolo’s fiction, and have read a number of his novels in both English and Spanish (my Spanish-language reading goes a bit slowly, but I can do it pretty much), but I have never looked at The Marx Family Saga. I will have to search it out.

  13. My copy of Marx is that published in the 1952 edition of the Great Books. It consists of Capital and the Manifesto. The index alone of Capital is a longer work than the entire Manifesto. The index to Capital does not include the terms “bourgeois” or “proletarian”. Capital was published over a period of years extending from 1859 until five years after the death of Marx in 1883. The Manifesto was published in January of 1848. It was written for the specific occasion of the 1848 Revolution. In Europe in 1848 the revolution was at hand. It was televised, live, and its leading actors needed a script, pronto. Marx and Engels dashed one off, the Manifesto. Class warfare became the order of the day. Eight years later, my great great grandfather found himself living in the part of Greater Germany called the United States of America. He was essentially evicted from East Brandenburg by the class warfare that the revolution had fomented. The same “class warfare” politics are still used today one hundred and fifty years later. I have lived overseas now for more than a decade in a third world country, largely because I elected to participate in a “class struggle” to remain in the social caste into which I was born.

  14. Kirby Olson says:

    To transform the manifesto into reality Marx says that the party has to seize control of the government, and maintain that hold until all class differences are gone, and the party can then wither away.

    It’s never said quite that clearly, but I think that Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and the many others actually got this part of the manifesto right by listening closely in between the lines.

    The idea was that all bourgeois individualism had to be pounded out so that only the state could decide even down to the finest detail of daily life, and the state was to be run by the party. I think Pol Pot got the blueprint down to the finest details, and hammered it home.

    In Khmer Rouge prisons even to turn over in one’s sleep without asking permission from the state was considered an act of bourgeois individualism. The penalty was 100 lashes.

    The survival rate in these Khmer Rouge prisons was quite low — in one of them (I forget the name) there were 17,000 prisoners, and only four survived. I think that’s four too many. I have no idea how these four survived. Something was wrong with the system.

    I think this is what Marx meant by the disappearance of difference and the ultimate triumph of equality.

    Long live the Marxist metanarrative! Long live the Marxist state! Long live the Khmer Rouge! The state must destroy difference if there is to be equality, and the utter abolition of the obnoxious notion of merit. There is no other way to create perfect equality, and if that’s the ideal, any departures from it should be met with death, since capital punishment must replace capitalism as was made manifest by the communists in praxis. Hoo-ray!

  15. Tim says:

    Both Marx and Freud were utopians. The uber-power of capital to foreclose on any “paradise” that it doesn’t have hand in creating and exploiting is breathtaking. That’s why Marx works much better with Sartre – you get a gimlet-eyed assessment of both existential freedom and the forces that conspire to rob you of that freedom. You might not get a prescription for change but you do get a call to individual vigilance and responsibility.

  16. Nate says:

    hi Steve,

    I like this very much and (because!) I agree w/ a lot of it. A few thoughts – I may be more sectarian than you so I want it more underscored, but I’m very wedded to an account of the USSR (four words, all lies, as Castoriadis quipped) that says it wasn’t other than capitalism but rather was a different instantiation of the capital relation. That makes the narrative of change a bit different, I think. Along that same line, your remark about Western societies feeling secure to end welfare et al after “communism” ended makes it sound like the red ghost is what underwrote those changes. I’d have a hard time backing this up w/ a lot of historical detail, but I prefer a picture wherein a certain balance of class forces underwrote those arrangements and that the attacks on “communism” were at least in part an attempt to shift that balance. But I don’t see “communism” (as is the USSR etc) as being much of an actual factor in that balance.

    On class consciousness and all that no longer applying. Why “no longer”? Why not “never a very good idea”? To my mind class consciousness is basically just a clumsy word for organization (formal and informal). The force the former had derived from the latter, and the decomposition of the latter partially explains the even greater uselessness of the former in the present.

    Re: theorizing resistance and change, I think this is an issue that runs through the whole post and which is really important. What is the use (or better, some of the uses) for theory in positive projects, and the use/s of critical or negative accounts in positive projects. To put it another way, what’s the use of understanding or interpreting? I like a remark by Negri, I think in Revolution Retrieved, that among the many good reasons to read Capital one of the best is the class hatred it instills. I like to think of this as a way to read Marx as the type of historian Benjamin called for, one who instills class hatred and thus produces a type of power. This is in part because my favorite bits of Capital are the historical sections. I like to think of it as an ethical thing, a process of subjectification. In that sense, then, it’s not so much theory as narratives and techniques that are needed – histories, memoirs, fictions, reflections. I also think that some, not all but I think the bits I’m most excited about, of the power/effect of much radical theory is at this level of self-making. I think it’s also important to note that probably there’s as much value to be had in the writing as the reading (such that there is sometimes some value to reinventing the wheel, so to speak), just like how there’s a use for both viewing art and making art.

    Best wishes,

  17. matthew cooper says:

    So, Nate! … “so much for all this art”!
    I disagree that “Art”‘s sanguinutiy comes from merely bothering to consult the bureaucracy of Culture. I mean to actually pay attention to the usual enthusiasm curators pander to… and view it.
    -Artists with better things to do don’t grovel around galleries in any case; So why should anyone else?
    Doesn’t say much for so called “Conceptual Art” then does it.?

    Class consciousness is about as useful as a lottery ticket. Get over it, there is one class and you will be told where you sit amnogst it whether you have the latest BMW or not.
    So what if you do? Not wanting a BMW though can be the ordinary stuff of idiotic and hypocritical Baptist goo: like you really want one.

    The sorts of Bourgeoise twits who usually succeed in art are of little interest. Petty thieves. Or as Francis Bacon said : “Art is a boring way of making money”.

    Coming at it from the other direction: don’t appeal to Art unless you can be specific.

    -There seems to be a general panic around here about the State!!!

    I asked my firend in Moscow recently what he ultimately thought of the Soviet Union; to which he repled smply that … well, there was a change in terms of who was in power.

    Think of the State realistically as firstly being ” the goal-house and the juror-priest” as Deleuze quotes Dumezil in 1000 Plateaus.

    That means you have this archaic scenario not unlike the “wild west”, or anywhere else today; lynch mobs, vigilantism, bounties and outlaws with only the one fundamental approach at hand.
    Serge Leone… so when the Samuri did “spontaneous” executions under the Shogun and we see that as novel, extraordinary. Don’t the ordinary not very “honourable” cops do that every week?

    Imagine how the Pharoahs managed to con the eralier social strata of maybe 10 000 years of Nth African civilisation that they were the supreme inheritors of all that came before? Imagine… “all the people.” JL

    Imagine but all you get is…

    Soi, here we are.

    Yes, the avante garde is trivial but where it comes to “art” it is sometimes capable of isolating formidable vistas. Not usually, even less: occassionally will do!
    -Don’t disparage mixing Marx up with Nietzsche and Freud though because it unfolds as it does and outside of the US it is quite different.

    But lets not procrastinate.


    On the other hand, “… without music, life would be an error!”.

  18. Nate says:

    hi Matt,
    I don’t follow a lot of your comment, but I’m tired and have had one beer to many this fine evening. What I meant by the art quip: theory has a value, as does history and anything else one might read and write, in the receiving and in the making. That’s all. So the lack of use of a work for a reader is not a condemnation such that the work shouldn’t have been written. Ditto re: art. Crass, for instance, are to my ear unlistenable. They got a lot out of making those records and playing those gigs. A lot of other folk got a lot out of making those gigs happen by participating at the level of audience (the term’s problematic but I don’t have a better one) and at the level of scenes and networks across the UK. That’s really great. The thing to do in responding to something like Crass, then, is less to listen to it (certainly in my case, I mean, ugh!) than to try to carry out a similar initiative. Ditto re: certain types of theorizing and history, it’s to be written as much as read – a la consciousness raising groups in some radical feminist circles, and uses of workshops in left circles in Argentina in the 90s to the present (Colectivo Situaciones, for instance).
    Put differently: what I was calling an ethical project, self-making and all that, may involve reading Marx and looking at Barbara Kruger photos. It may (should) also involve doing some theorizing and crafting (some reflection and thought and/which is the production of an object, not so much for the sake of the object but for the process which that production involves and its subjective effects).
    I’m not sure this is any clearer, in part because of that blasted beer and the late hour, and in part because I don’t understand your comment such that I’m not sure I know how to make myself clearer to you.
    Best wishes,

  19. matthew cooper says:

    Thanks Nate, will get back to you soon since it’s getting a bit that way here too!


  20. matthew cooper says:

    Nate, I don’t think there is much disagreement here. I am new to this sort of thing, somehow got entirely carried away trying to respond to all things at once. No writer really, not much of a reader either these days having lost my eyesight.
    I have always thought of the “artist” as the entity you become whether you are making it or taking it in. I’m using “artist” for want of a better word.
    So, I don’t disagree wtih you. On the contrary.
    I don’t know ‘Crass’. You are saying though, I presume, that there is a lot more to simple notions of taste than meets the ear or eye?

    The “artist” not as the figure confined to the institutional realm producing objects – even if they are invisible or non- existent. But the figure who undertakes a seemingly futile or “unproductive” project or activity?
    I agree that Marx is at his best when making History into a potent vista, so you can grasp class antoagonism for yourself.
    -By “all this art” I meant; by it’s own account, as it were. “Art theory” being a sort of recuperation of surplus value: it mitigates the situation where an artist needs to be formally “recognized” in order to participate in the art-market, but also annuls the fact that usually, an artist is paid only a fraction of what the market affords etc.
    Though in the US it appears quite different. Willem De Kooning; the first artist in History to exceed the cultivated prices of long-dead artists way back in the 1950’s whilst still alive, suggests something else.

    Class antagonism for example; in Marx’s time with the then view of the world and History and not having the benefit of say, genetics. No one would ever have been able to say conclusively that the Palestinians and the Israeli’s, for example are more than likely the same people genetically.
    That there is common ancestry amongst every person on the planet. No doubt Marx would have liked the idea.
    I imaghine that when Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in 19th C. England he never would have forseen “class antogonism” as being played out between two Nations of potentially the same people?
    The principle is right but for those, so to speak who live within in the dimensions of “cooperative Nationhood”, it seems there is only the one class to which you either belong and adhere to or you don’t.
    What to extend to the war-torn regions of the planet has to be something better than Human Rights! One size fits all?
    Class antagonism, hostility?: Mao was a psychopath and kissed Stalin’s butt in order to Nuclearize his Military dream and Industrialize China. It cost millions of lives during the Korean War, the Famines and the Cultural Revolution probably many millions more, all for his personal ambition. China is now the Face of Capitlaism.
    For the sake of being human…


  21. matthew cooper says:

    … let’s not fall for the idea of the multitude.

  22. […] Speaking of which, following is some of what I dug during my break: Archive’s and Pinocchio Theory’s posts on Marx, as well as Nate’s birthday present to Old Whiskers, a translation of choice sections from Virno’s Il ricordo del presente, a yummy treat for us monolinguals. Commie Curmudgeon noted Marx’s birthday, but also wrote great posts on, to describe them narrowly and reductively, the streets of lower Manhattan and the politics of housesharing. […]

  23. matthew cooper says:

    … that’s a lot of crazy talk. Mao was was about as much a Communist as G.W Bush!

  24. matthew cooper says:

    some joke.

  25. Kirby Olson says:

    Matt, So would you also deny the right of Enver Hoxha, Nicolae Ceausescu, Marshall Tito, Fidel Castro, Pol Pot, etc. to the identity of Marxist?

    This reminds me of the period when feminists proclaimed all women good, and then when confronted with Margaret Thatcher, would say, well she’s is not a woman. She is more of a man than a woman.

    I found it hilarious.

    How about Gus Hall of the American communist party?

    They were all at least pushing and editing Marx’s work for over a century. In Bucharest in the party center you could buy any work by Marx.

    Same was true in Beijing.

    Was Georg Lukacs a Marxist?

    Were ANY of the Bolsheviks Marxists?

  26. matthew cooper says:

    No, I am not at all denying anyone of those you menton the right to call themselves Marxist or identify with Marxism.
    I don’t mean a sort of Humanist angle about the bad guys and the good guys, though Margaret Thatcher and “role model” Feminism as you say would be a good example of that and as hilarious as you say.
    What appears to me to be the case with feeding ideas and thought into the inertia of the State, so to speak is that it all turns out the same in the end.

    Conversely, are you going to find truck with the Spanish or Italian Inquisitions now along the lines of what seemingly motivated the length and breadth of such a protracted breach of “common sense” for want of better word?
    I mean the “State” has no political interests of it’s own because it is fundamentally antethetical to politics; it hardly matters whether it’s National Socialism, Communism or Ivan the Terrible yanking the chain… the State is the same thing underneath.
    What motivated the Inquisitions ( I mean as an example of the State enforcing a very particular program) was first of all the idea of Heresy. Not against the Church or God or the ideas themselves or the supposed result, so much as against the Inquisition itself- for 300 years.
    I’m just saying the State guarantees only it’s own perpetuity, nothing else.
    I mean absolutely nothing else.
    In the time of Mao, if you were a peasant farmer you were already dead. If you were a party official you probably got the odd bit of Beluga and a decent pillow to sleep on. So, what of equality?
    Marx meant iron it out but don’t burn the

  27. Kirby Olson says:

    Matt, I don’t think the state is always the same at all. Lockean states based on the four God-given rights of life, health, liberty, and PROPERTY, are quite different from Marxist states.

    They’re better.

    Even the worst Catholic states such as Spain during the Inquisition — only killed about 135,000 over a three hundred year period. Geez, that was a single day in Mao’s China during the Cultural Revolution.

    (The Wikipedia article for which I drew the 135,000 figure is disputed, but there are some even lower estimates for the Inquisition.)

    But I’m not defending the Inquisition. It was a travesty. I’m for freedom of speech, and Protestantism.

    Marxism doesn’t even guarantee freedom of speech.

    It’s a species of Ugli Fruit.

  28. […] Spurred in part by a passage from On the Natural History of Destruction posted at The Weblog and a recent re-reading of Arendt’s The Human Condition and Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, that latter of which inspired in part by recent discussions of Marx on the occasion of his birthday (Angela, Shaviro, Nate). […]

  29. matthew cooper says:

    … in any case why would a “Lockean” State, as in the values of tolerance etc. fare any better?

    I’m no writer as I said… which means I don’t tend to think always in terms of words. I don’t usually, inversely so.
    That makes it difficult sometimes because one gets caught in a rift and before you know it you are literarily out of your depth.
    This might be a bit over the top but I suspect you have the same problem as me?
    … and I quotre – “Deleuze has frequently insisted that he writes on the arts not as a critic but as a philosopher, and that his works on the various arts must therefore be read, as he himself says, as works of “philosophy, nothing but philosophy, in the traditional sense of the word.” In What Is Philosophy? (1991), Deleuze and Guattari define philosophy as an activity that consists in the creation or invention of concepts. “One can very easily think without concepts,” Deleuze writes, “but as soon as there is a concept, there is truly philosophy.” Yet art itself is an equally creative enterprise of thought, but one whose object is to create sensible aggregates rather than concepts. Great artists are also great thinkers, but they think in terms of percepts and affects rather than concepts: painters think in terms of lines and colors, just as musicians think in sounds, filmmakers think in images, writers think in words, and so on. None of these activities has any priority over the others. Creating a concept is neither more difficult nor more abstract than creating new visual, sonorous, or verbal combinations in art; conversely, it is no easier to read an image, painting, or novel than it is to comprehend a concept. Philosophy, for Deleuze, can never be undertaken independently of art (or science); it always enters into relations of mutual resonance and exchange with these other domains, though for reasons that are always internal to philosophy itself.

    Get my drift?
    You are a “philosopher” but you aren’t engaged in the “comprehension of concepts”?
    if you think about it there’s Locke anyway?