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Historical Materialism 19.

2 (2011) 3–31

‘Useless but True’: Economic Crisis and the Peculiarities of Economic Science*
Ben Finea and Dimitris Milonakisb

SOAS, University of London b University of Crete

Abstract The recent economic crisis has brought to the fore another crisis that has been going on for many years, that of (orthodox) economic theory. The latter failed to predict and, after the event, cannot offer an explanation of why it happened. This article sketches out why this is the case and what constitutes the crisis of economics. On this basis, the case is made for the revival of an interdisciplinary political economy as the only way for offering an explanation of the workings of the (capitalist) economy in general and of economic crises in particular. Keywords capitalism, crisis, economic theory, political economy

1. Introduction It is a great honour and a privilege to have been awarded the Deutscher Memorial-Prize for From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries Between Economics and Other Social Sciences, not least because it reflects the considered judgement of a set of highly-regarded Marxist scholars. To be acclaimed by one’s peers is as good as it gets in the realm of scholarship apart from seeing intellectual work exercise an influence on practice. Unfortunately, socialism is not on the performativity-agenda, as opposed to its understandable infatuation with finance. But we might anticipate future studies of Marxism as ineffective performativity, not least as the latter’s chief
* Delivered as the Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial-Lecture, London, 12 November 2010. The Deutscher Prize was awarded for Fine and Milonakis 2009.
© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573770


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inspiration is drawn from Michel Callon who perceives capitalism as nonexistent and a mere conceptual invention of radicals for their own ideological purposes.1 For us, as such, the Deutscher award is also particularly rewarding because it has been accompanied by the Gunnar Myrdal prize for our marginally earlier volume, From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory.2 This award reflects the acceptance of our work by a different constituency, formally the European Association for Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE), but essentially heterodox economists, something we find particularly encouraging and to which we will return. This is only the third time that the award has gone to co-authors, previously to Ian Gough and Len Doyle in 1992 and Paul Walton and Andrew Gamble in 1972, so we seem to have beaten the twenty-year gap for co-authors by three years. One of us recalls attending the Memorial-Lecture for Walton and Gamble at the LSE almost forty years ago, as part of a large audience excited with the prospects for Marxist political economy as the fault-lines in the postwar boom had become apparent. Equally significantly though, their book, From Alienation to Surplus Value, not least in its title, reflected what has since proved to be something of a hiatus in Marxist political economy in terms of the close attention to it across the social sciences. Significantly, the two authors hailed from criminology and political science, respectively. And, whilst Marxist political economy has been prominent in the Deutscher awards over the past forty years, only three other ‘economists’ as such have been recipients, Włodzimierz Brus, Bob Rowthorn, and Michael Lebowitz.3 The position of Marxist political economy within social science is a theme to which we will also return. Its decline, if unevenly across disciplines and topics, in the wake of the stagflation of the seventies and the subsequent slowdown to today’s crisis, is a salutary warning that hard economic times are not necessarily conducive to the prospects for Marxist political economy. To assess these, though, we begin with a short overview of contemporary capitalism, which is both the object of analysis of Marxism and, to some degree at least, one of its determinants.

1. See Callon, Méadel and Rabeharisoa 2002 and Fine 2003 for a critique. 2. Milonakis and Fine 2009. 3. See <> and its references to the books for which prizes were awarded.

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2. From the crisis of capitalism . . . Our starting point in the midst of crisis is a stunningly obvious but paradoxical observation:4 that material conditions for capital-accumulation would appear to have been extraordinarily favourable and even to have become increasingly so more recently. Briefly listed and unduly over-generalising for brevity: the capacity for productivity-increases arising out of a huge diversity and range of application of new technologies; the decline in the strength and organisation of working-class and progressive movements, especially across trade-unions, political parties and anti-imperial struggles; huge increases in the global labour-force through migration, the Chinese road to capitalism, and increasing female labour-market participation; high levels of inter-imperialist cooperation under the hegemony of the USA, not least with the collapse of the Soviet bloc; and the triumph of neoliberalism, not least in the form of containment of the social as well as the monetary wage. This paradox raises three questions for Marxists: why slowdown, why crisis, and what rôle for class-struggle? Our general method of approach to these questions, drawing on our own interpretation of Marx’s political economy, is to emphasise the conditions under which the accumulation and restructuring of capital takes place as a whole, globally, in the production and circulation of (surplus-) value, and in the social, political as well as the ideological arenas. This involves attention to the structures, agencies, relations and processes of capital-accumulation, and the historical forms in which they are unevenly combined and through which power is exercised and conflict conducted. Marx’s Capital provides, across its three volumes, the methodological and theoretical basis for such investigation. But, at a more concrete and historically informed level than such abstract posturing, our emphasis is upon the extent to which the past forty years have been marked by the processes of ‘financialisation’. This is a new concept in which Marxists have played a leading, if by far from exclusive rôle, themselves displaying considerable disagreements in terms of the nature and effect of financialisation. We cannot review the corresponding literature here, but we can highlight the extent to which finance has become distinctively prominent in the restructuring of capital in depth and breadth. It has reduced overall levels of accumulation through the subordination of real to fictitious capital, driving a wedge between the two; it has reduced the efficacy of the restructuring of real capital; and it has been detrimental to the social, political and ideological conditions under which accumulation has proceeded.
4. For a fuller account of what follows, see Fine 2011, forthcoming.

and so on. its increasing flexibility in dealing with the dysfunctions of financialisation. however. To the contrary. at least. though. neoliberalism might best be seen as falling roughly into two phases – the first as the shock-therapy associated with Reagan and Thatcher. not only through liberalising financial markets and regulation but also through privatisation. each of these aspects is expendable in response to shifting requirements.and international-financial élites. for imposition of the classical aspects of neoliberalism. D. rating agencies and so on. And financialisation is crucial in understanding both the cause and course of the crisis itself. for example) as well as in explaining the crisis. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. and the Soviet bloc. This is what has sustained what we call neoliberalism over the past thirty years – the imperatives of finance with commitment to free markets or not as a matter of more-or-less convenient mythology – without which neoliberalism in practice seems incomprehensibly heterogeneous and has been rejected as such by some progressive scholars for being a simple vernacular of abuse and an incoherent descriptor of contemporary reality. the accumulation and restructuring of capital. This is not. is controversial. and as the form taken by. to put aside agencies other than finance in the processes of restructuring. the state has pressed. despite working-class acquiescence and other favourable conditions for capitalism. not least in the current crisis. but through the changing form and nature of politics itself as financialisation displaces the location of decision-making to the vagaries of financial markets and financiers. This second phase has been rationalised and promoted as a reaction against the first phase in light of the latter’s horrendous dysfunctions beyond finance. privatisation. to sustain financialisation.6 B. But industrial capital itself has been embroiled in the speculative profit-making attached to financialisation (with more-or-less half of the profits of non-financial corporations being made out of financial dealings in the USA). fiscal discipline and. Equally. Indeed. Underpinning this is the emergence and/or strengthening of national. Such slavish devotion to the cause of finance is indicative of the shifting nature of contemporary politics or. Third-Wayism and the post-Washington-consensus. associated with authoritarianism. in the context of developing countries. but essentially is concerned to keep financialisation going. commercialisation. Fine.2 (2011) 3–31 The way of phrasing these propositions. As Stiglitz. let alone their meaning and validity. the ‘Washington Consensus’. pioneer of the post- . But this is not our concern here so much as emphasising how financialisation is the key-factor in the slowdown over the past thirty years (as opposed to some reductionist notion of the law of falling profitability. and the second with the social market. Latin America. This works not only through the pressure of the markets. if unevenly. And the state has played an active rôle in promoting financialisation at the expense of.

and the role they can and should play in the economy . uniquely for this crisis. PASOK in Greece. and the decline of progressive opposition – also serve as major obstacles to the emergence of. We will return to Stiglitz later. then. as he calls it. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. but that money to bail out the world’s bottom billion can never be mobilised. alternatives. 6. as opposed to authoritarianism. As Oxfam recently remarked. Stiglitz 2008. the new left is trying to make markets work’. unduly generalising. The simplest and single most telling aspect of the crisis is that as observed by Naudé in commenting on a G-20 Summit:6 Many have already remarked on the fact that huge amounts of money have been found at short notice to bail out banks. D. the growing hegemony of finance. Fine. which has already emerged. policy in practice and scholarship across time. forthcoming. financialisation and capital-accumulation going? And. again. but observe for the moment what. To the contrary. 2. . the ‘new left’. nonetheless. Fine and van Waeyenberge (eds. and struggle for. for instance.rather than right-leaning political parties are better able to deliver the imperatives of finance. not of. see Bayliss. The implication of the need for alternatives is irrefutable.) 2011. as this is then the sole objective. at least for him. but its contradictory and shifting combination of ideology. Irrespective of ideological form. so clearly puts it:5 ‘The left now understands markets.4 trillion for bailing-out banks. a total absence of blame on the part of working people who must. . What this means is: how do we keep globalisation. As Homer Simpson might have pondered: Bail out the banks or eliminate world-poverty for fifty years – hard choice! And this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the mismatch between the productive capacities of contemporary capitalism and its record of delivery. This is. Neoliberalism remains everywhere. the crisis is indicative of the strongest possible case for socialism and not just because a bigger-than-ever crisis has hit. the $50 billion agreed on for developing countries at the summit with the estimated $8. the coalitiongovernment in the UK. a crisis within. the more centre. .2 (2011) 3–31 7 Washington consensus.and energy-prices. Yet the very factors that have sustained neoliberalism for so long – in terms of financialisation. the latter amount is sufficient to end extreme poverty worldwide for 50 years. strengthened from the crisis in terms of the politics and policies of governance. Naudé 2009. For critique of the continuing shenanigans of the World Bank.B. bear the costs. neoliberalism. Contrast. whilst there is. whether for the environment or stability of food. and so on make Thatcher seem like a snatcher of sweets from the pram. at least so far. has become. p. place and issue needs to be carefully 5.

are put forward to explain the hitherto inexplicable event or new evidence. to the crisis of economic theory . the recent economic crisis does represent a huge anomaly with respect to all existing mainstream-theories. until then. could only occur once every 10.7 which was not predicted by the current state-of-the-art scientific tools.9 Now. the Draupner oil-rig radar-sensor in the North Sea recorded. . back in the 1960s. According to the bell-shaped curves derived from this model. or some new evidence is discovered which cannot be explained by these tools.000 years. pp. say. and economics in particular. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. theories.’ . etc.wikipedia. The Economist 2009. when.8 Similarly. Take the example of oceanography. Taleb 2007. D. a ‘black swan’. . . ‘This is the hypothesis that asset prices aggregate and fully reflect all relevant fundamental information. in science. and thus provide the proper signals for resource allocation. when some rare event occurs which has a major impact.8 B. This new discovery caused an upheaval in oceanography with some scientists turning to the strange world of quantum-mechanics to find part of the explanation to the riddle of the existence of monster waves.10 The Gaussian bell-shaped curves used by economists and based 7.2 (2011) 3–31 unpicked. Doidge 2007. 30 metres in height. Broad 2006. For Buiter 2009. 9. then sometimes other parts can take over their functions. . representing an ‘anomaly’. 10. neuroscientists discovered that if some parts of the brain failed. Just a couple will suffice. a giant wave 26 metres in height which. A huge wave has hit the world-economy. a so-to-speak freak-wave>. On New Year’s Day in 1995. was developed to cope with these new findings. And it is to scholarship to which we now turn. neuroplasticity. So what was the rôle of the economicsprofession in the current crisis and what are the likely effects of the crisis in the way economists see the world? 3. for the first time in history. in Taleb’s terminology. tools. according to all scientific knowledge based on the linear models in use. 8. Generally. a crisis that was thought impossible by (and still denied by some) mainstreameconomic theorising based mostly on mathematical modelling and the twin assumptions of representative rational agents and the efficient-market hypothesis. for which we must carefully distinguish neoliberal economics from the economics of neoliberalism. an unusual event. the scientific community was shaken and a new theory. . <http://en. in Kuhnian terminology. Fine. was thought practically impossible. Cf. One could name countless examples from the history of science. then the scientific field may be shaken and new proposals. xvii–xviii.

2 (2011) 3–31 9 on these assumptions preclude the possibility of such an event taking place. similar crises have hit the world-economy in the 1870s.12 What is astonishing is that the sector most prone to such phenomena. no explanation remains possible within mainstreamneoclassical economics other than as what might be termed the inefficientmarket hypothesis. and to some extent even now. 12. will there be a similar freak-wave effect in economic science? On top of the (epistemological) differences involved between these (natural) sciences and economics. while others came up with the big bang theory’. recent economic history is full of such cases. Fine. economics is dominated by such rare and extreme events. 31. All the events mentioned above. p. p. Will something similar happen this time around? Richard Posner of the University of Chicago and. during the earlier phase of financialisation. unlike the physical sciences. like the birth of Keynes’s General Theory following the Great Depression of the 1930s. that is. in the case of our scientific field. which caused the upheaval in the respective sciences. See also Wolf 2009. No less than 139 banking and currency-crises have been identified between 1973 and 1997. just before the crisis erupted economists ‘were congratulating themselves over the success of their field’. as compared with ‘only’ 38 financial crises during the so-called ‘golden age’ of regulated capitalism between 1945 and 1971 (cf. . thinks so.11 Indeed. after the event. Not only was the crisis not predicted (nor could it have been by these models).B. there is another big difference. 52.14 After all. a staunch supporter of the neoliberal Chicago school. Taleb 2007. and was much larger than scientists believed. What is remarkable. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. with some physicists sticking to existing theories. what is happening in economics following the crisis is reminiscent of ‘what happened to cosmology after Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding. been considered by mainstreamfinancial economists as the Mecca of rationality and market-efficiency. In the past similar. Krugman 2009.13 As Krugman has said. but now turned Keynesian. The difference between these crises and the most recent one is that they did not become global. 13. significant events have proved to be the midwives of important developments in economic science. the 1930s and the 1970s. 28. D. As is wellknown. According to him. the financial sector. The profession fell into turmoil. this was the era of ‘great moderation’ – ‘the substantial decline in economic 11. Eichengreen and Bordo 2002). but. is that the occurrence of big crises and deep recessions (unlike the freakwaves of the deep ocean) are not a newly-observed phenomenon. 14. has until recently. p. Cassidy 2010a. refer to newly-available evidence. viz. until recently. As for more-restricted financial crises. So.

D. its revolutionary effects on economic science in the longer run are more questionable. if left alone. But did they revolutionise economics? Although Keynes’s work did have a significant effect policy-wise. ‘The Beveridge Report of 1942 in Great Britain and the 15. putting as his central goal the achievement of full employment.10 B. with different schools of thought using vastly different types of organon and with different conceptual frameworks flourishing. The theoretical gap was filled by John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory. despite its weaknesses. he got rid of the individualistic. Keynes’s aim was to save capitalism from its own excesses. Or so it seemed at the time. and certainly limited. he denounced the self-equilibrating tendency of the economy through the concepts of ‘deficient demand’ and ‘unemployment equilibrium’.2 (2011) 3–31 volatility’ – that the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. As far as economic policy is concerned. These are certainly radical innovations. Before coming to current theoretical developments. the view that was dominant within ‘neoclassical’ economics was that markets are efficient. at least for the period 1945–70. all of this collapsed in September 2008. Bernanke 2004. Another reason why Keynes’s work had the potential for a revolutionary-scientific paradigm-shift à la Kuhn was that. in the sense that it broke with neoclassical economics in important and radical ways. Although the interwar-period was an era of pluralism in economics. This whole intellectual edifice collapsed after the 1929 crash. the changes it could potentially bring about were changes from without. This is one instance for which it can safely be said that the dramatic changes in the economic sphere brought about significant changes in economic thought. after the 1929 crash. . utilitarian overtones of neoclassical economics as well as the representative individual. the market was left on its own to cope with the consequences of the crisis. Secondly. A consensus based on the most-horrendously unrealistic assumptions of the representative agent holding rational expectations and the market-efficiency hypothesis. for the whole period until the 1929 Wall Street crash. they would tend to get back to full-employment equilibrium.15 This was also the era of the emerging consensus in macroeconomics. The ensuing deepest crisis and depression of the twentieth century shook the credibility of neoclassical theory and the belief in the self-regulating abilities of the market almost beyond repair. let us first take a look at what happened back in the thirties. As Greenspan himself has admitted. has partly attributed to ‘improved performance of macroeconomic policies’. Firstly. Fine. he placed emphasis on the rôle of systemic uncertainty. Third. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. and. Keynes’s new ideas did gain considerable currency after World-War Two. The result of these beliefs was that. Ben Bernanke.

. In the longer term. Holt and Rosser. 17. especially in relation to Keynes’s own methodology and theoretical frame. as Mirowski has shown. .19 As Greenspan himself has said in his testimony in front of the US-Congress a month after the financial crash of September 2008. These were then applied to economics. excision of the social and the historical element from economic theorising. and contrary to conventional wisdom. 2004. but also artificial intelligence and information-theory. it was the failure to properly price such risky assets that precipitated the crisis. Colander. axiomatisation and formalisation of economics which was boosted by the Great Depression and also. This process of formalisation and mathematisation has as a prerequisite the. Boland 2006. Mirowski 2002. Patterson 2010. In recent decades.and mathematicsgraduates.18 Deduction and mathematical modelling gradually gained the upper hand at the expense of other modes of analysis and reasoning. however. . p. a vast risk management and pricing system has evolved.2 (2011) 3–31 11 Employment Act of 1946 in the United States provided blueprints for government involvement in the macroeconomy along Keynesian lines’. 18. For. by the War through the militarisation of scientific research it brought about. Rizvi 2001. just after Keynes’s book appeared. p. at least implicit. This modern risk 16. however. . Keynesian economics was considered work at the edge. 17. Keynesian economics was already something different from Keynes’s own economics.16 For a couple of decades after the publication of the General Theory. p. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. D. leading to an almost brand-new scientific body totally detached from its historical and social setting. what later became known as operations-research. Hoover 2003. In other words. 412. leading to the development of advanced mathematical tools.B. 19. leading to a new economic methodology. what the Wall Street Journal reporter Scott Patterson has called in his recent book ‘the quants’. the impact of Keynes’s economics on economic theory has been even more limited. where he describes ‘how the new breed of math whizzes conquered Wall Street and nearly destroyed it’. as manifested in the transition from political economy to economics. Nowhere is this detachment more apparent than in the tendency of the financial sector nowadays to hire physics. Fine. It was associated with the increasing mathematisation. the aim was the construction of a universally-valid theoretical corpus irrespective of the social and the historical.17 Even then. 217. totally innocent of the actual workings of the economy. if putative. Jr. another process was set in motion. combining the best insights of mathematicians and finance experts supported by major advances in computer and communications technology.

as a group.12 B. 22.21 This problem was raised dramatically in a study by Klamer and Colander of the five most-distinguished doctoral programmes in economics in American universities. The central cause of the profession’s failure was the desire for an all-encompassing. p.4 per cent thought that knowledge about the real economy was very important for success in the doctorateprogramme. Buiter 2009. The whole intellectual edifice collapsed in the summer of last year. clad in impressive looking mathematics. ‘the economics profession went astray because economists. . In other words. while 57 per cent thought that excellence in mathematics to be very important.24 and. for Paul Krugman. Even Milton Friedman deplored the way in which. Friedman 1999. writing after the crisis. 24.2 (2011) 3–31 management paradigm held sway for decades. based upon questionnaires given to Ph.-candidates to answer. Greenspan 2008. One of the conclusions of the research is stunning. intellectually elegant approach that also gave economists a chance to show off their mathematical prowess’. 283. these scholars ‘resemble Locke’s definition of a madman: someone “reasoning correctly from erroneous premises” ’. Fine. 53–4.23 Similarly Buiter. . Klamer and Colander 1990. Of those questioned. As Taleb puts it. ‘economics has become increasingly an arcane branch of mathematics rather than dealing with economic problems’. 25. only 3. the students thought that knowledge of techniques and not of the real economy was the basic prerequisite for success in their doctorate-programme.25 What is amazing is that these last words come from one of the main practitioners of the economics he is criticising and after he had himself been amply rewarded with a Nobel Prize for this. and interviews with them. Krugman 2009. scientists with excellent technical skills but without true knowledge of the functioning of the economy. mistook beauty. In his abstract we read: 20. 21.20 This process of formalisation has created a whole generation of so-called idiot savants. talks about ‘the unfortunate uselessness of most “state of the art” academic monetary economics’. . Taleb 2007. for truth. . p. 137. What is even more amazing is that Krugman had already tried to make a mockery of this fatal tendency in economics early on in 1978 when he wrote a sarcastic article entitled ‘The Theory of Interstellar Trade’. 23.D.22 The sickness of modern economics has been the subject of increasing attack by a series of leading mainstream-economists from before the crisis. pp. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. D.

pp. and Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis. mostly taking a mathematical form. Blaug 2003. Hicks 1939. although the analytical robustness of some of these models is also questionable. and two useless but true theorems are proved. Walras 1954.26 13 ‘Useless but true’: in these three words of Krugman can be found what is essentially wrong with modern economics: it is all about theoretical exercises. culminating in the mathematical proof for the existence of equilibrium by Arrow and Debreu in 1954.27 The seeds of the appearance and further development of this tendency within economic science go back to the marginalist revolution. one that had to stress the extreme near identity of physics and economics. says Walras. ‘the scholar has the right to pursue science for its own sake’. equating geometry with economics in this respect. but useless in any other sense and empty of any practical relevance. It was given a new impetus by the works of Hicks’s Value and Capital.30 Since then. to begin with. . the progenitors and their epigones adopted a certain world view. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.29 Such formalism did not become dominant within the profession until after the Second World-War. ‘The pure science of economics’. 29. This is the problem of formalism in economics. D. the triumph of form over substance. It is chiefly concerned with the following question: how should interest charges on goods in transit be computed when the goods travel at close to the speed of light? This is a problem because the time taken in transit will appear less to an observer travelling with the goods than to a stationary observer. ‘In appropriating the formalisms of mid-nineteenth-century energy physics and adapting them to the language of utility and prices. 27. 215) puts it.B.2 (2011) 3–31 This paper extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. and then subsequently from thermodynamics. 28. The explicit attempt since then has been to transform economics into a ‘rigorous’ science on a par with positive sciences and devoid of any normative statements or value-judgments. A solution is derived from economic theory. Fine. p. particularly. from static mechanics. This was done partly by borrowing tools and concepts such as equilibrium and optimisation from the physical sciences. what is more. Arrow and Debreu 1954. 71–2. Veering so close to becoming subsumed in pure identity could be attractive only to a personality who was convinced of a far-reaching unity of science. one necessarily founded on the bedrock of natural law external to all human behaviour’. Samuelson 1947.28 And. ‘is a science that resembles the physico-mathematical sciences in every respect’. one of the protagonists of the marginalist revolution. Blaug 1999. Krugman 1978. which may be valid mathematically. As Mirowski (quoted in Rizvi 2001. 30. the Samuelsonian tool of constrained optimisation borrowed from thermodynamics became the symbol of the new 26.

or. This process of subsumption. 33.35 Substantively. accompanied by Americanisation and standardisation of the discipline. Hicks 1967. But these were never – could never be – properly integrated into the core of the discipline.31 This process of formalisation and homogenisation of economics reached a climax approaching near-total dominance in the 1970s. The subsumption of Keynes’s thought to the formalist revolution. . This was also the time that heterodox approaches in economics made a more dynamic appearance and heterodox institutions proliferated following the radicalisation brought about by the Vietnam War. D. 35. a truly Fordist intellectualism in which you can have any economics as long as it is neoclassical. only those aspects of Keynes’s thought which could be modelled were incorporated into what came to be known as the ‘neoclassical synthesis’. and the developments inside the profession. meant that all novel and radical aspects of his thought were either left out altogether or else reformulated in mathematical or diagrammatical form. new classical counter-revolution in macroeconomics. So much so. This gave rise to what has variously been called ‘bastard Keynesianism’ by Joan Robinson. Fine. p. 55. p. the process of colonisation of other social sciences using the so-called ‘economic method’ to analyse all social phenomena. propelled by the stagflation-crisis of the 1970s. Fine and Milonakis 2009. later on. then.14 B. Lee 2009. coupled with the monetarist and. or ‘hydraulic Keynesianism’. Backhouse 2000. which culminated in the ‘microfoundations of macroeconomics’ project. 34.2 (2011) 3–31 formalist era. Coddington 1983.34 As Skidelsky puts it.32 Following the formalist revolution of the 1950s. 151. 32. which expelled them as soon as it conveniently could’. Skidelsky 2009. that the one Keynesian school which adhered most closely to Keynes’s own core-principles and concepts is nowadays classified as heterodox and suffers the same fate from mainstream-economists as any other heterodox school. as exemplified by the process of Gary-Becker-style Chicago economicsimperialism. Keynes could be thought of as the first major victim of the formalist revolution. ‘Keynes imposed himself on the profession by a series of profound insights into human behaviour which fitted the turbulence of his times. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. Concomitant with this formalisation-process is a newly-acquired self-confidence of the practitioners of this method which was translated into a superiority-syndrome vis-à-vis the other social sciences. starting with Hicks’s IS/LM-formulation33 just one year after the publication of Keynes’s General Theory. in other words. beyond recognition. led within macroeconomics to the elimination of Keynes’s economics and its transformation into the new Keynesianism of 31.

Fine.36 The fate of Keynesianism was described vividly and ironically by Nobel laureate Robert Lucas in 1980. 37. . which brought into question the validity of the concept of aggregate capital. . This total lack of tolerance is another basic attribute of present-day economics. alongside a frighteningly intellectually-barbaric treatment of the history of economic thought and of methodology within the discipline. the so-called Cambridge Capital-Controversy of the 1960s. based on the twin assumptions of rational expectations and the efficient-market hypothesis. 384. the audience starts to whisper and giggle to one another’. p. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. in our own day. It signifies a return to the pre-Keynes era.2 (2011) 3–31 15 microeconomic market-imperfections.37 This is the economics of the neoliberal era of Reagan and Thatcher. people don’t take Keynesian theorising seriously any more. 390. whilst orthodoxy prides itself on its rigour and as a science. Rivzi 2003. forming rational expectations about the future and exchanging their products in perfectly competitive markets. for example. and the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu (SMD for short) impossibility-theorem developed in the 1970s. overforty economists who identify themselves or their work as “Keynesian”. well-behaved aggregate demands. when he remarked that ‘One cannot find good. The same fate as Keynesianism faced any other attempt at providing a different mode of analysis. At research seminars. far-from-random government. . 13. p. . As Rizvi puts it. Some devastating such criticisms have been. 38.B. a virtual world marred only by random shocks and.39 Thus. and Nash equilibria remain prominent in the textbooks’.38 What was the result? Mainstreameconomics simply carried on regardless. Quoted in Kurz 2010. It exhibits the same indifference towards any criticism. Not only is mainstream-neoclassical economics intolerant of alternatives. 39. inhabited by perfectly rational and egotistic human beings. p. even internal criticisms that derive from within its own ranks. Rizvi 2003. as if these critiques had never taken place. of course. D. p. so much so that. ‘very few troublesome parts of the theory have been thoroughly eliminated: social welfare functions. All this led Christopher Bliss to declare that ‘the near emptiness of general equilibrium theory is a theorem of the theory’. Quoted in Rizvi 2003. the virtual world of the economist’s imagination. which showed that aggregate excess-demands were arbitrary and that there can be no determinateness of general equilibrium. in part in light of 36. 385. and eventually to the almost-total eclipse of macroeconomics as a distinct field vis-à-vis microeconomics. anything that cannot be modelled is not considered as economics and left out of consideration altogether.

. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. out of nineteen economists examined ‘who have played prominent and influential roles in recent public policy debates. this year’s award of the Nobel prize is a scandal. In this respect. occupying central public positions and being awarded 90 per cent of Nobel prizes in economics. That is precisely how we should feel about yesterday’s announcement of the recipients of the 2010 Nobel Prize. a feature that was exacerbated during the financialisation-era. . Varoufakis 2010. . p. Ioannides and Pissarides 2010. . not least through his stunning film on the financial crisis and economists. just a few days before the award was announced. .16 B. . of a mention. Fine. Philip Mirowski asks:41 Does anyone care that Martin Feldstein was on the board of AIG in the run up to its disastrous failure? Or that Paul Krugman once consulted for Enron (and got radicalised after the New York Times made him foreswear such perks)? Is anyone curious about the tangled history of funding and organisation of the Chicago School of Economics? Does anyone care that Larry Summers worked for numerous hedge funds and investment firms before they had to be rescued by an administration that included . p. Wall Street and political power’. these three fine mathematical economists have one thing in common. D. see Azariadis. Ferguson 2010. Other causes of mainstream-arrogance and intransigence are the institutional monopoly enjoyed by the élite of the profession over the positions in top universities and academic journals. As Varoufakis puts it. . there is not a smidgeon of a hint. 41. other than their work on labor markets: in their voluminous theoretical output on unemployment and the like. Not one!40 To this should be added the direct vested interests of many academics. financialisation 40.42 Neoliberalism. . Christopher Pissarides of the London School of Economics.2 (2011) 3–31 its commitment to mathematical reasoning. The world would have been outraged. attracting the lion’s share of funding. Imagine a world ravaged by a plague. 13 . One of the laureates. 3. of an economic crisis which may boost unemployment in every sector and for all types of workers. . but only 5 had clearly . had private financial affiliations indicative of some possible conflict of interest. A recent study has shown that. 39.000 by the year 2015. . and suppose that the year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine is awarded to researchers whose whole career is based on the assumption that plagues are impossible. 42. in an article with Azariadis and Ioannides on the Greek economy advocated the sale of all public enterprises to the private sector and the reduction of the number of public employees by 400. Larry Summers? All of this Charles Ferguson highlights as ‘the convergence of academic economics. Interestingly. Mirowski 2010. especially in the financial sector. that reasoning always takes second place if its results are unpalatable.

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and the growing power and influence of the financial sector that these have brought about all played an important rôle in the latest developments in economic science. Deep down, however, it is the very nature of the system and the ideological need for its justification that lies behind this type of theory. As Georg Lukács has said, ‘[t]he capitalist process of rationalisation based on private economic calculation requires that every manifestation of life shall exhibit [an] interaction between details which are subject to laws and a totality ruled by chance. It presupposes a society so structured’.43 Hence the conceptualisation of the current crisis as a chance-occurrence, a black swan, that could not be predicted and, once there, cannot be explained other than as a chance-occurrence intractable by scientific knowledge. In short, the interests of the capitalist system, and of finance in particular, not only dominate economic discourse, but the latter also dysfunctionally suffers the orthodoxy that it deserves, the mindless pursuit of financial stability on the basis of models of both the more-or-less-perfect-market hypothesis and of the moreor-less perfectly-rational individual. So what are the chances that this time it will be different as far as the impact of the global crisis on economic science is concerned? The picture we have drawn so far of the state of our science does not leave much room for optimism. Despite some heavy criticism coming mostly, but not exclusively, from the Keynesian and neo-Keynesian camps (including Krugman, Stiglitz, and Skidelsky, but also the Chicago economist Richard Posner), the reactions so far do not lend themselves to much optimism. For Chicago economists like Eugene Fama (the main modern exponent of efficient-market theory) and John Cochrane, it is business as usual. As Fama puts it,
We don’t know what causes recessions. Now I’m not a macroeconomist so I don’t feel bad about that. (Laughs) We’ve never known. . . . Economics is not very good at explaining swings in economic activity.44

Fama and mainstream-economics, then, cannot explain crises, so we might just as well pretend that they do not exist. If this is not a direct confession of the total intellectual bankruptcy of Chicago-style mainstream-economics, then what is? And for Cochrane, talking after the crisis, ‘rational expectations and efficient markets theories are both consistent with big price crashes. . . .
and publicly revealed their affiliations’ (Epstein and Carrick-Hagenbath 2010). This study has led 300 economists to sign a letter (written by Epstein and Carrick-Hagenbath) to the President of the American Economic Association, asking for a new professional code of ethics for economists (cf. Epstein and Carrick-Hagenbath 2011). 43. Lukács 1990, quoted in Choonara 2010. 44. Cassidy 2010b.


B. Fine, D. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 3–31

What [the] efficient markets [hypothesis] says is that prices today contain the available information about the future’.45 So all the information about the future is available and yet crises are not just unpredictable from within this model, they simply cannot happen, just like giant waves within the linear models of wave-formation. For others, at least willing to recognise that something more by way of explanation is required, we need better models that would either take into account market-imperfections like the ‘New Keynesians’,46 or market-dynamics through the use of a ‘different type of mathematics’ or other sophisticated models coming from engineering, computing or physics,47 much like what happened in wave-theory and oceanography following the discovery of giant waves and the adoption of models from quantum-mechanics. Thus, for Solow, there are other traditions in economics which include ‘various market frictions and imperfections like rigid prices and wages, asymmetries of information, time lags, and so on’ which provide better ways of doing macroeconomics.48 A more genuine return to Keynes is the third escape-route. This is done mostly by emphasising some aspect of Keynes’s economics which has been totally forgotten by mainstream-economics. The aspect most commonly chosen is radical uncertainty and the animal-spirits of capitalism associated with it.49 This, especially in the case of Akerlof and Shiller, is associated with the behavioural school in economics, which seeks the explanation of economic phenomena by delving deeper into the psyche of individuals. The emphasis here is laid on the psychological and even ‘irrational’ factors influencing human behaviour, such as confidence, fairness, corruption, money-illusion, etc., which are seen as the ‘ultimate drivers of the economy’.50 Of these factors, only the rôle of confidence in the economy has anything to do with Keynes’s work. The usual story is that uncertainty causes sharp changes in expectations and confidence, which cause major changes in share-prices, bringing about sharp alterations in consumption, investment and employment. What is not explained, however, is the source of this uncertainty and the epistemological foundations of such ‘irrational’ behaviour, both of which must be sought in

45. Cassidy 2010c. 46. Stiglitz 2009; Solow 2010. 47. Colander, Föllmer, Haas, Goldberg, Juselius, Kirman, Lux and Sloth 2009; Keen 2009, p. 6. 48. Solow 2010. It is important to note here that Solow does not see microeconomics as the foundation of macroeconomics, but just as a way of providing stories with which to inform macroeconomics. 49. Skidelsky 2009; Akerlof and Shiller 2009. 50. Akerlof and Shiller 2009, pp. viii–ix.

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the structural characteristics of the capitalist system which, however, are systematically and suspiciously absent from all of these accounts. Behavioural economics has been one of the main new research-projects within mainstream-economics in recent years. Other new research-programmes include (classical, behavioural, evolutionary) game-theory, experimental economics, evolutionary economics, agent-based complexity-theory and neuroeconomics. The appearance of these new research-programmes has led commentators such as Colander and Davis to talk about the ‘death of neoclassical economics’ and the transition from the era of neoclassical dominance to mainstream pluralism.51 This transition was made possible, according to Colander, Holt and Rosser,52 by new technology and especially developments in computing which allowed for the use of more complex models. And, although it was brought about by cumulative-evolutionary changes rather than a sudden paradigm-shift, the end-result will be no less revolutionary in its effects. One common element in these new research-programmes is that they all originate from fields outside of economics, such as mathematics (gametheory), psychology (behavioural economics), neo-Darwinian biology (evolutionary economics), neuroscience (neuroeconomics), while the experimental method has long been applied in the natural and physical sciences. This process of importation of methods and concepts from other sciences has been called ‘inverse imperialism’, and has led Davis to the conclusion that they represent ‘genuinely different approaches’.53 But does this amount to true scientific pluralism? The answer is no. The reason is that, despite their different outlooks, all of these approaches have two things in common: first, their adherence to axiomatic model-building as their preferred methodological approach and, second, their focus on the individual.54 Indeed Colander, following Solow and Niehans, defines modern or, as he calls it, ‘New-Millennium Economics’, not in terms of its content but its method: ‘the modeling approach to problems’, he says, ‘is the central problem of modern economics’.55 All of the new research-programmes mentioned above then share a common language, so to speak, which is none other than that of formalism. The formalist revolution, then, reigns supreme, even in this supposedly postneoclassical, ‘mainstream-pluralist’ era, and, other differences apart, keeps
51. 52. 53. 54. 55. Colander 2000 (reprinted in Colander 2001); Davis 2006. Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004, p. 4. Davis 2006, p. 9. Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004, pp. 10–11, 17; Rizvi 2003, pp. 390–1. Colander 2000, pp. 137–8; Solow 1997; Niehans 1990.

Colander et al. but the method of deductive-mathematical modelling itself. Holt and Rosser. mathematical modelling is inappropriate as a leading. ‘If it’s not modeled. themselves admit. may deviate from neoclassical economics. this is true for both pure-theory models and applied-policy models.). 2004. As Colander et al. p. Jr. the élite of the profession is open-minded to new ideas. the isolatedindividual agent. 58. it’s 56. The old distinction between the science of economics (theoretical economics) and the art of economics (applied economics) has disappeared under the impact of the formalist dmodelling method. D. In addition to their universalistic nature and lack of historical specificity. 763. modern economics is defined by little else. Chapter 2. 60. 2004. 59. Lawson 2009. let alone an exclusive tool for the analysis of such phenomena. and. in their book. a closed system in which event-regularities or correlations. Generally. is nearly always testing a mathematical model’ (Ibid. . Lawson 2009. pp. that event’58 occur.20 B.59 Because of the erroneous character of both of these presuppositions as far as social and economic phenomena are concerned.2 (2011) 3–31 itself in line with it. as Lawson has shown. coming mostly from the ranks of the ‘inside-the-mainstream’ heterodoxy-group.56 Nine of them do highly technical model-building work. have interviewed eleven ‘cutting-edge economists’. 57. which is more inductive in nature. Lawson 2003. presupposes. but not from the use of highly technical model-building. Fine. in other respects. as they call them. first. Colander. Colander. being considered unacceptable as scholarly economics. The Changing Face of Economics. ‘that connect events standing in causal sequence. Jr. ‘Even experimental economics. To axiomatic model-building should also be added another attribute which most (but not all) of these new approaches share with neoclassical economics: methodological individualism and the emphasis on the individual. This also applies to new fields of research such as evolutionary game-theory and experimental economics which. Holt and Rosser. the method of mathematical-deductive reasoning. Indeed. in order to deduce that this event happened because of.60 Where does all this leave the issue of pluralism? It means that all approaches and schools that do not accept technical model-building as their method of analysis simply do not get a hearing and are left out of the picture altogether. second. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. 390–1. Indicative of this is that. The exceptions here are evolutionary economics and agent-based complexity-economics. but closed-minded to alternative methods and approaches. or followed from.57 What modern orthodox economists fail to understand is that what is at fault is not some specific assumption or characteristic of the models used. Rizvi 2003.

and new. Frey and Benz 2004. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.61 This. however. ‘the recognition of the inextricably social roots of all social behaviour leads to the view that macrofoundations must precede microbehaviour. as with the new field of neuroeconomics. etc. Doidge 2007. as such. is no pluralism at all. and the macrolevel over the micro-level. Jr. p. It has been shown experimentally and theoretically that individual behaviour is subject to cognitive and emotional constraints. people’s behaviour reflected their cultural milieu. such as fairness. not the other way around’. 65.e the human mind). p. Bowles. Henrich. where the researchers found from their behavioural model that people failed to act egotistically to maximise their individual utility in all of the fifteen different small-scale societies examined.B. Jr. more specifically in neuroplastic research. . delved 61. D. in Davis’s words.67 Instead. pro-social elements with regard to human behaviour.62 but rather what might be called ‘conditional’ or ‘pseudo-’ pluralism and.63 According to new findings coming from experimental and behavioural economics. 2004. Colander. according to which the social milieu influences not just people’s perceptions (i. is not true scientific pluralism. Heilbroner and Milberg 1995. pp. 2004. Gintis and McElreath 2001. Camerer. efficiency and equilibrium – to a more eclectic holy trinity – purposeful behaviour. and that individuals are moulded by their social environment in decisive ways. 67. Colander. reciprocity.65 Even more astonishing are the results from some recent experiments in brain-science. According to the results of the experiment. p. pp. 11. we find that economics has either projected its preferred forms of microbehaviour across the totality of social science and phenomena (as with economics-imperialism) or. 287–311. 66. 63. 62. altruism. the famous homo economicus of the economist’s imagination is passé. Holt and Rosser. this transition has brought with it a move away from the ‘holy trinity’ of neoclassical economics – rationality.2 (2011) 3–31 21 not economics’.64 Probably the most important common denominator of these new findings is that there is no such thing as a representative individual. 68–75. enlightened self-interest and multiple equilibria. ‘a genuinely pluralistic environment’. Boyd. 1. have forcefully entered the picture. Be that as it may. One important instance is a cross-cultural study. Davis 2006.66 All of these findings point in one direction: the social must take precedence over the individual. 64. 8. Fehr. p. Holt and Rosser.. Fine. but the brain itself. 9. As Heilbroner and Milberg put it. making individuals more humane and less like the robotic entities implied by homo economicus.

And. p. to delving deeper into the human psyche. All in all. with American institutionalism being the dominant school in the United States. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. Why is this. 3. and the model-building approach. The twin pillars of this ‘immovable object’ are. . So what does the future hold for political economy?70 4. the emerging picture is one in which the response to crisis ranges from ‘business as usual’. by virtue of 68.69 In sum. Skidelsky 2009. to pleas for better models by changing some underlying assumption or moving to more-dynamic ones. on economic theory? The differences lie mostly in the prevailing socio-economic conditions. . the focus on the individual. so too is the inertia of the “immovable object” of economic belief ’. 69. p. when the West was plunged into the vagaries of the Great Depression.68 Following the collapse of the Central. D. 70. whether rational or otherwise. to political economy As we have seen already. Hodgson 2009. 1211. Keen 2009. the Soviet Union was a rapidly expanding economy. is only to draw upon existing models of market-imperfections newly applied. as Steve Keen puts it. within the profession. although ‘the “irresistible force” of the Global Financial Crisis is indeed immense. Economics was a much more discursive and much less technique-based discipline. The only hope for a truly alternative theory lies with political economy that breaks away from both of these pillars.and Eastern-European economies and the triumph of neoliberalism in the West. no such imperative exists any more. firstly. it had not yet dominated the profession. one reaction within economics from those at least willing to recognise the need for something more by way of explanation. the interwar-period was characterised by a true scientific pluralism of methods and approaches.22 B. . coupled with the crisis of social movements. Although neoclassicism was already ascendant. Fine. to a lesser extent. In the 1930s. and what is different from the 1930s when something did happen in the form of the impact of Keynes’s work on economic policy and. p. as far as the possible effects of the crisis on economic science are concerned. and the situation within the profession. 103. So the Keynesian call for greater government-intervention in the economy fitted the needs for pragmatism and of ‘the urgent political imperative to counter communism’.2 (2011) 3–31 into the brain itself to discover the key to human behaviour beyond the pursuit of self-interest. . And the leading representative in this respect is Joseph Stiglitz.

as opposed to scholarship and ideology. Fine and van Waeyenberge (eds. p. though. All citations within Stiglitz 2009. in his presidential address to the Eastern Economic Association. Special interests will try to block many of the reforms.74 inducing the conclusion that ‘our financial system failed in its core missions – allocating capital and managing risk’. whether in the economy or within economics. the new left is trying to make markets work’. Stiglitz claims to ‘understand the unbridled enthusiasm of special interests.) 2011. p. Indeed. power and conflict.71 We leave aside.72 This is a vivid invitation to analyse special interests. as informational.73 What is. he immediately continues.2 (2011) 3–31 23 both academic and non-academic rôles and his intellectual integrity. He was sacked for his views from the World Bank whilst they continued to be used for legitimising purposes (whilst policy. . Yet. See Bayliss. 293. . however. ‘new asymmetries of information’. ‘I am not so clear what motivated so many economists’. which found the arguments for deregulation profit enhancing’. 72. 75. The future of our nation will depend in no small measure on the outcome of those battles. ‘highly correlated movements in house prices’. which infuriates both those more radical and conservative alike. Fine. Stiglitz 2009. Yet. other than as a point of departure. But power within the discipline is totally the other way around. 281. vested interests and ideology are not matters of asymmetric information and market-imperfections. hardens on Washington-consensus practice as if his trademark post-Washington consensus never existed). p. he advises that There will be political battles ahead. ‘fat-tailed distributions’. p. This is not the stuff of political economy. D. 294.B. but not vice-versa. Stiglitz’s frequent misrepresentation of the history of economic thought. ‘perverse incentives’. forthcoming. 71. clear is what he would have motivate their understanding. Stiglitz 2009. imperfections framework. for everyone from Adam Smith through Keynes and Hayek are forcibly fitted into his market-.75 leading to the previously cited conclusion that ‘[t]he left now understands markets and the role markets should and can play in the economy . 74. 73. . 296. namely attention to ‘irrationality’ and ‘intellectual inconsistency’. Stiglitz 2009. In short. ‘banks too big to fail’. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. And it might be observed that the balance of asymmetric information within economics is all on the side of political and heterodox economists who must command the orthodoxy.

for their own sake. But not for us. with apologies to Jane Austen. preoccupation with meaning for postmodernism. For this.2 (2011) 3–31 It is. And two features have marked the social sciences. Fine. but the subjective. when the time does come for more progressive closure. . its material properties. Second. Third. We have the optimising individual with given preferences over given goods. but this begs the question of why his work ends at this point rather than beginning there. has been totally ineffective in practice with. but also in anticipation of the deeper understandings that will be required once too much finance in the world is recognised practically as a problem of capitalism and not just of finance itself. Given the bleak prospects for political economy within economics-science. inventive. other than economics. the self-constructing and de-constructed individual. D. And we would emphasise that economics and economics-imperialism have not gone uncontested across the social sciences. and we respond to such pride and prejudice with three conclusions. not because of its more-than-welcome critical examination of concepts. and what follows in the context of a critique of ‘social capital’. such dissident economists are liable to prove a constraining influence. as opposed to within economics itself.76 a truth universally acknowledged that a single economist in possession of a good theory of market-imperfections must be in want of a crisis. One is the retreat from the extremes of postmodernism – the preoccupation with the subjective. They were totally incompatible with one another. the most energetic. postmodernism had a remarkable parallel existence with mainstream-economics. it is apposite to inquire whether heterodox economics and political economy might prosper within the other social sciences. the focus on the meaning and interpretation of the world as opposed to. see Fine 2010. itself contingent upon the balance and strength of forces. whatever their prominence. 77. as opposed to imperfectly informed and coordinated individuals. Stiglitz. movements and organisations. We agree. or even in denial of. See BBC News 2010. but because of the need to attach such endeavours to the material realities of contemporary capitalism. the inventive. Firstly. of mainstream-economics.24 B. as remarked. the influence of the mainstream-dissidents on policy has been negligible. or indeed. In the first decades of neoliberalism. her ghost-writer.77 76. his own closure between theory and reality drawn towards observing the power of (financial) vested interests and ideologies as decisive. We welcome this retreat from the extremes of postmodernism. across the last two decades. this suggests that the main task for political economy today is to keep alternative traditions to the mainstream alive. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.

it has acknowledged the continuing importance of the state. aggregative. across the other social sciences. D. the Association for Heterodox Economics (AHE). After all. even the word itself. especially in its internationalisation (with financialisation to the fore in the current period). It has devoted attention to specifying contemporary capitalism as a world-system. especially within economics. towards a pluralism of methods and approaches. and that this is a good thing. neoliberalism has always been about the interventions of the state to promote the interests of private capital. and away from atomistic approaches towards more-systemic. So the rise of globalisation as a concept has demonstrated the reaction against neoliberalism within the social sciences by rejecting the original notion. dynamic. And it was a neoliberal idea: that the state was withering away. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. In contrast. Making imperfect markets work. historically-specific and socially-embedded types of analysis of capitalism. and. and reforming institutions are its intellectual marker. until the balance of forces are more conducive to alternative forces. with a diversity of outcomes across place. Institutionally. Its literature. the better to make globalisation work. Subsequently.2 (2011) 3–31 25 But the second feature around the social sciences in the last two decades has been the retreat from the extremes of neoliberalism – although this is better seen as the second phase of neoliberalism rather than as its demise. of the reality and desirability of the withering away of the state. is a move away from the monolithic approach to economic science characteristic of mainstreameconomics. the academic literature has taken a different view. including the European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE). although the exact content by topic and discipline is variegated. at least. the best that can be hoped for. the International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy (IIPPE). as far as the economics-profession is concerned. did not exist before 1990.B. we already have enough ‘Heterodox Political Economy Associations’. Fine. time and aspect. heterodox economists and political economists can explore ways of organising themselves in pursuit of this prime objective. which fetishises model-building. But what of the stimulus of external events as a potential source of brighter prospects for heterodox political economy? We do not have the external pressures for progressive policy and corresponding scholarship that arose with the Keynesian period. and it has not denied globalisation. So there are reasons to be cheerful around the prospects for political economy across the social sciences. the Post-Keynesian group and the . In Europe. the reaction against the extremes of neoliberalism in-and-of-itself as well as an agenda-setting device is well-illustrated by the rise of globalisation as the most significant of concepts across the social sciences as a focus for gaining a critical handle on the realities of contemporary capitalism. but argued that it is complex.

etc. their institutional monopoly over positions in élite-institutions within academia. D. This renders simple dichotomies between political economy and the mainstream impossible to pin down. Fine. they need to be backed by a student-movement and academic teachers’ movement for the reform in economics in line with the post-autistic movement of economics-students that originated in France at the turn of the millennium. for such proposals to have any hope of success. Perhaps it is time to think big and think global.000 members of the American Economic Association. For it is false to see the relationship between political economy and (mainstream-) economics as one-dimensional with. general equilibrium at one base extreme and Marxism at the heavenly other extreme. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. ideology and policy-debates. For the relationship across these dimensions is fractured. with empirical evidence. fluid and evolving both intellectually and in relation to the real world.26 B. important though these are in and of themselves and in framing more complex and concrete analysis. we could match the mainstream. however. with monotonic improvement as we move along the separate elements in a putatively progressive direction to incorporate the real. As it were. or the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall correct and all else will fall into place. and so on that ought to plague the mainstream. Recently there has been a proposal by Edward Fullbrook. for illustrative purposes. the historical.000 subscribers. In terms of numbers. realism. we only have the power of ideas against their massive resources. to form a World-Association of Heterodox Economics along the lines of the American Economic Association. But this is itself enriched through dialogue with other schools of thought and approaches. get value-theory. and even by taking the mainstream as a point of departure. More on these organisations may be found by consulting Google. the Heterodox Economics Newsletter has more than 5.500 subscribers compared with the 17. editor of Real-World Economics Review. We do not think so. with blurred boundaries between the two even if a huge 78.2 (2011) 3–31 EuroMemorandum group. Thus. .78 It will come as no surprise that our own view is that the problems of methodology. has about 11. while Real-World Economics Review. as well as incorporating the historical specificity of capitalism. with the parallel launching of three international journals and one or more new prototype introductory-level books. and their excessive political power and involvement in influential policy-making bodies and institutions. Other than that. the transformation-problem. can only be adequately addressed through Marx’s value-theory as a starting-point. the social. a heterodox journal. Nor is it even adequate to see the relationship between political economy and economics as multidimensional. activism. At the same time.

Neoliberalism and Development Research. not only externally but also internally. Bernanke. and Gerard Debreu 1954. Bernanke: At the meetings of the Eastern Economic Association. see Marx 1975. Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy. John Ioannides and Christopher Pissarides 2010. . and the most striking proof of this is that economics itself has been drawn into the torment of the>. 22. References Akerlof. Backhouse. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Academic Claims’. 2: 149–55. This suggests the need for a unity of purpose in criticising the mainstream and in posing alternatives. Shiller 2009. Ben Fine and Elisa van Waeyenberge (eds. BBC News 2010. Kate. For the original letter from Marx to Ruge. Washington. DC’. ‘Existence of an Equilibrium for a Competitive Economy’. ‘Remarks by Governor Ben S.) 2011. 3: 265–90.htm>. and Robert J. Costas. D. exoteric world of finance had only to provide the data for the roast pigeons of absolute-econometric knowledge and vast fortunes to fly into it. ruthless both in the sense of not being afraid of the results it arrives at and in the sense of being just as little afraid of conflict with the powers that be. Arrow. available at: <http://news.B. But. ‘Proposals for a New Development Policy’. Ben S. Bayliss. and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. 23 October. it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists. if there is one thing as counterproductive as a mainstream-economist. London: Pluto Press. at least in principle. that straddles the border and is located on the side other than orthodoxy. Kathimerini. there is plenty of heterodoxy. if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair. But. Fine. so extensive is the potential even for marginal but destructive deviations from it.kathimerini. As Marx observed of them. by the same BOARDDOCS/SPEECHES/2004/20040220/ 9 October. George A. 2004. ‘Jane Austen’s Style Might Not Be Hers. and the stupid. The Political Economy of Development: The World it is a political economist who knows he or she is right and everybody else is wrong. gr/4dcgi/_w_articles_economy_100048_12/10/2010_418274>. 22. Now economics has become mundane.2 (2011) 3–31 27 amorphous mass of orthodoxy definitely lies on the wrong side of the borders. Roger E. 79. So let those committed to political economy learn from one another through friendly fire rather than perishing by it. available at: <http://www. Azariadis. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19. ‘Progress in Heterodox Economics’. Econometrica. paraphrasing for modern times:79 Hitherto economists have had the solution of all riddles lying in their mathematical models. For yesterday’s philosophers are today’s economists. Kenneth J. available at: <http://www. 2000. For. Journal of the History of Economic Thought.


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Blaug, Mark 1999, ‘The Formalist Revolution, or What Happened to Orthodox Economics After World War II’, in From Classical Economics to the Theory of the Firm: Essays in Honour of D.P. O’Brien, edited by Roger Backhouse and John Creedy, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. —— 2003, ‘The Formalist Revolution of the 1950s’, in Samuels, Biddle and Davis (eds.) 2003. Boland, Lawrence A. 2006, ‘On Reviewing Machine Dreams: Zoomed-In vs. Zoomed-Out’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, 36, 4: 480–95, available at: < dreamsR.pdf>. Broad, William 2006, ‘Rogue Giants at Sea’, The New York Times, 11 July, available at: <http://>. Brus, Włodzimierz 1975, Socialist Ownership and Political Systems, translated by R.A. Clarke, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Buiter, Willem 2009, ‘The Unfortunate Uselessness of Most “State of the Art” Academic Monetary Economics’, Financial Times, 13 March, available at: < maverecon/2009/03/the-unfortunate-uselessness-of-most-state-of-the-art-academicmonetary-economics/>. Callon, Michel, Cécile Méadel and Vololona Rabeharisoa 2002, ‘The Economy of Qualities’, Economy and Society, 31, 2: 194–217. Cassidy, John 2010a, ‘After the Blowup’, The New Yorker, 11 January: 28. —— 2010b, ‘Interview with Eugene Fama’, The New Yorker, 13 January, available at: <http://>. —— 2010c, ‘Interview with John Cochrane’, The New Yorker, 13 January, available at: <http:// .html>. Choonara, Joseph 2010, ‘Economic Development’, International Socialism, 127, available at: <>. Coddington, Alan 1983, Keynesian Economics: The Search for First Principles, Hemel Hempstead: George Allen and Unwin. Cohen, Avi J. and Geoffrey C. Harcourt 2003, ‘Whatever Happened to the Cambridge Capital Theory Controversies?’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 17: 1, 199–214, available at: <http://>. Colander, David 2000, ‘The Death of Neoclassical Economics’, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 22, 2: 127–43, available at: < ancoec/0237.pdf>. —— 2001, ‘The Death of Neoclassical Economics’, in The Lost Art of Economics, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Colander, David, Hans Föllmer, Armin Haas, Michael Goldberg, Katarina Juselius, Alan Kirman, Thomas Lux and Brigitte Sloth 2009, ‘The Financial Crisis and the Systematic Failure of Academic Economics’, in Kiel Working Papers, 1489, available at: <http://www.debtdeflation. com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/papers/Dahlem_Report_EconCrisis021809.pdf>. Colander, David, Richard P.F. Holt and J. Barkley Rosser, Jr. 2004, The Changing Face of Economics: Conversations with Cutting Edge Economists, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Davis, John 2006, ‘The Turn in Economics: Neoclassical Dominance to Mainstream Pluralism?’, Journal of Institutional Economics, 2, 1: 1–20. Doidge, Norman 2007, The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Eichengreen, Barry and Michael D. Bordo 2002, ‘Crises Now and Then: What Lessons from the Last Era of Financial Globalization’, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, 8716, available at: <>.

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Epstein, Gerald and Jessica Carrick-Hagenbath 2010, ‘Financial Economists, Financial Interests and Dark Corners of the Meltdown: It’s Time to Set Ethical Standards for the Economics Professions’, Political Economy Research Institute Working Paper Series, 239, available at: <http:// pdf>. —— 2011, ‘Letter to Robert E. Hall, President of the American Economic Association’, available at: < Jan4.pdf>. Ferguson, Charles 2010, ‘Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics’, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 3 October, available at: < 124790/>. Fine, Ben 2003, ‘Callonistics: A Disentanglement’, Economy and Society, 32, 3: 478–84. —— 2010, Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly, London: Pluto. —— 2011, ‘Neo-Liberalism in Retrospect? – It’s Financialisation, Stupid’, in Developmental Politics in Transition: The Neoliberal Era and Beyond, edited by Ben Fine, Kyung-Sup Chang and Linda Weiss, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Fine, Ben and Dimitris Milonakis 2009, From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics: The Shifting Boundaries Between Economics and Other Social Sciences, London: Routledge. Frey, Bruno and Matthias Benz 2004, ‘From Imperialism to Inspiration: A Survey of Economics and Psychology’, in The Elgar Companion to Economics and Philosophy, edited by John B. Davis, Alain Marciano and Jochen Runde, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Friedman, Milton 1999, ‘Conversation with Milton Friedman’, in Conversations with Leading Economists: Interpreting Modern Macroeconomics, edited by Brian Snowdon and Howard R. Vane, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Gamble, Andrew and Paul Walton 1972, From Alienation to Surplus Value, London: Sheed and Ward. Gough, Ian and Len Doyal 1986, A Theory of Human Need, Basingstoke: Macmillan. Greenspan, Alan 2008, ‘The Financial Crisis and the Role of Federal Regulators’, available at: <>. Heilbroner, Robert L. and William Milberg 1995, The Crisis of Vision in Modern Economic Thought, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Henrich, Joseph, Robert Boyd, Samuel Bowles, Colin Camerer, Ernst Fehr, Herbert Gintis and Richard McElreath 2001, ‘In Search of Homo-Economicus: Behavioural Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies’, American Economic Review, 91, 2: 73–8, available at: <http://www.>. Hicks, John Richard 1939, Value and Capital: An Inquiry into Some Fundamental Principles of Economic Theory, Oxford: The Clarendon Press. —— 1967 [1937], ‘Mr. Keynes and the Classics’, in Critical Essays in Monetary Theory, Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Hodgson, Geoffrey M. 2009, ‘The Great Crash of 2008 and the Reform of Economics’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 33, 6: 1205–21. Hoover, Kevin 2003, ‘A History of Postwar Monetary Economics and Macroeconomics’, in Samuels, Biddle and Davis (eds.) 2003. Keen, Steve 2009, ‘Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know’, Real World Economics Review, 49: 2–7, available at: <>. Keynes, John Maynard 1973 [1936], The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Basingstoke: Macmillan. Klamer, Arjo and David Colander 1990, The Making of an Economist, Boulder: Westview Press. Krugman, Paul 1978, ‘The Theory of Interstellar Trade’, available at: <http://www.princeton. edu/~pkrugman/interstellar.pdf>.


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—— 2009, ‘How Did Economists Get it So Wrong?’, The New York Times, 2 September, available at: < 1>. Kurz, Heinz D. 2010, ‘On the Dismal State of the Dismal Science’, Homo Oeconomicus, 27, 3: 1–22. Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003, Beyond Capital: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class, Second Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Lee, Frederic 2009, A History of Heterodox Economics: Challenging the Mainstream in the Twentieth Century, London: Routledge. Lawson, Tony 2003, Reorienting Economics, London: Routledge. —— 2009, ‘The Current Economic Crisis: Its Nature and the Course of Academic Economics’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 33, 4: 759–77. Lukács, Georg 1990 [1923], History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, translated by Rodney Livingstone, London: Merlin Press. Marx, Karl 1975 [1843], ‘Letters from the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher: Marx to Ruge, Kreuznach, September 1843’, available at: < 1843/letters/43_09.htm>. Milonakis, Dimitris and Ben Fine 2009, From Political Economy to Economics: Method, the Social and the Historical in the Evolution of Economic Theory, London: Routledge. Mirowski, Philip 2002, Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. —— 2010, ‘The Great Mortification: Economists’ Responses to the Crisis of 2007–(and Counting)’, The Hedgehog Review, 12, 3: 28–41, available at: < publications_article_2010_Summer_mirowski.php>. Naudé, Wim 2009, ‘After the G-20 Summit: What Prospects for Global Development?’, available at: <>. Niehans, Jürg 1990, A History of Economic Thought: Classic Contributions, 1720–1980, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Patterson, Scott 2010, The Quants: How a New Breed of Math Whizzes Conquered Wall Street and Nearly Destroyed It, New York: Crown Business. Posner, Richard A. 2009, ‘How I Became a Keynesian: Second Thoughts in the Middle of the Crisis’, The New Republic, 23 September, available at: < how-i-became-keynesian>. Rizvi, S. Abu Turab 1994, ‘The Microfoundations Project in General Equilibrium Theory’, Cambridge Journal of Economics, 18, 4: 357–77. —— 2001, ‘Philip Mirowski as a Historian of Economic Thought’, in Historians of Economics and Economic Thought: The Construction of Disciplinary Memory, edited by Steven G. Medema and Warren J. Samuels, London: Routledge, available at: < pdf/Rizvi_on_Mirowski.pdf>. —— 2003, ‘Postwar Neoclassical Microeconomics’, in Samuels, Biddle and Davis (eds.) 2003. Rowthorn, Bob 1980, Capitalism, Conflict and Inflation: Essays in Political Economy, London: Lawrence and Wishart. Samuels, Warren J., Jeff E. Biddle and John B. Davis (eds.) 2003, A Companion to the History of Economic Thought, Oxford: Blackwell. Samuelson, Paul A. 1947, Foundations of Economic Analysis, Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press. Skidelsky, Robert 2009, Keynes: The Return of the Master, London: Allen Lane. Solow, Robert M., 1997, ‘How Did Economics Get that Way and What Way Did It Get?’, Dædalus, 126, 1: 39–58. —— 2010, ‘Building a Science of Economics for the Real World’, available at: <http:// Solow_Testimony.pdf>.

‘Monsters of the Deep’. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.economist. —— 2009.html>. Joseph E. monthlyreview. Léon 1954 [1874]. available at: <http://www. translated by William Jaffé. Walras. The Economist 2009.pdf>. 12 October. available at: < Stiglitz_turnleft. ‘Turn Left for Sustainable Growth’. 3: 281–96. 17 September. Eastern Economic Journal. Taleb. 35. ‘The Current Economic Crisis and Lessons for Economic Theory’. New Haven: Yale University Press. Varoufakis. Monthly Review. Martin 2009. Elements of Pure Economics. Wolf.B. Yannis 2010. London: Allen Lane. com/node/14446734>. 5. 4: 1–3. Nassim Nicholas 2007. Fixing Global Finance: How to Curb Financial Crises in the 21st Century. The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.unizar. available at: <http://www. Fine. Economists’ Voice.2 (2011) 3–31 31 Stiglitz. . London: Allen and Unwin. ‘Adding Insult to Injury: On the 2010 Bank of Sweden Economics Prize in Memory of Alfred Nobel’. 2008.

Leiden. the print is issued in a run of 100. The prints measure news/mabb-print-buy. Titled Luibov Popova Untitled Textile Design on William Morris wallpaper for HM Historical Materialism Limited Edition Artwork Luibov Popova Untitled Textile Design on William Morris Wallpaper for HM 2010 by David Mabb The artist David Mabb has created an artwork especially for Historical Materialism. The artwork is available for purchase at the price of £75 (unframed. 2011 DOI: 10. Trellis.historicalmaterialism. each work will be unique. As a consequence of the different wallpapers employed and the registration process. Mabb regularly reworks the artistic imagery of Marxism to produce startling new configurations.2 (2011) 33–34 brill. We hope you will see this as an opportunity to acquire a fascinating artwork. Mabb’s picture is made by screen printing a textile design by Luibov Popova in red and black over a section of William Morris wallpaper including Fruit.5 x 70 cm.1163/156920611X573897 .Historical Materialism 19. In this print he combines William Morris’s hand-made © Koninklijke Brill NV. Medway and Daisy. The print has already been bought by museums in the UK and America including the Victoria and Albert Museum. Brier Rabbit. and each one is signed and numbered by the artist. postage not included) and can be ordered from http://www. Willow Boughs.

Ontario. The Economist. Norway. Mandawa Haveli. London. New Delhi. Morris in Jaipur: The work of Art in the Context of Hand-made Reproduction. Alesund. During 2010 he exhibited The Morris Kitsch Archive at Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts. while the fledgling USSR proved unable to support the transformation of everyday life envisaged by Popova and her fellow Constructivists. Toronto and in 2004 he curated William Morris “ministering to the swinish luxury of the rich” at the Whitworth Art Gallery. Art into Everyday Life. Oakville Galleries. David Mabb is a widely exhibited artist and Reader in Art at Goldsmiths. He regularly exhibits at the Leo Kamen Gallery.2 (2011) 33–34 natural imagery with the abstract machine aesthetics of the Russian Constructivists. . fusing the legacies in lively and beautiful images for our time. Contemporary Art Centre. Morris’s designs proved too expensive for the working people he wished to reach. and A Miniature Retrospective and Rhythm 69. Recent exhibitions include: The Decorating Business. Vilnius.34 Limited Edition Artwork / Historical Materialism 19. Jaipur Heritage International Festival. Jugendstilsenteret/Kunstmuseet Kube. Morris and Popova were thwarted by economic realities. Mabb reanimates these remnants of Marxist history. touring to The British Council Gallery. University of London. Manchester. In their own time. The Hall of the Modern.

Mytilene psot@soc. The importance of Badiou’s ontology as an affirmation of the possibility of radical-historical novelty is Beyond Simple Fidelity to the Event: The Limits of Alain Badiou’s Ontology Panagiotis Sotiris Department of Sociology. For a general overview of Badiou’s theoretical and ideological trajectory. communist politics 1. his refusal of any causal connection between social reality. social theory. Leiden. Badiou’s main preoccupations. from Sartre. despite his endorsement of the ‘communist hypothesis’.1163/156920611X573789 . dialectics. to militant Maoism and finally to his own highly idiosyncratic version of ontology. to Althusser. University of the Aegean. political decision and event. see Hallward 2003. the need for militancy and the question of the political subject. and the absence of a theory of ideology and hegemony in his work. These limits have to do with Badiou’s abandonment of a dialectical-relational conception of social reality. but also its limits. © Koninklijke Brill NV. Introduction Despite his long theoretical and political Abstract* This article attempts a Marxist critique of Alain Badiou’s positions. 2011 DOI: 10. Badiou’s notion of a ‘subtractive’ politics cannot be considered an answer to the open questions of communist strategy. 1. In an autobiographical text. Marxism. Lacan and Althusser as his philosophical masters (Badiou 2004b).1 it is only relatively recently that Alain Badiou’s work has drawn widespread attention and made him one of the most influential radical thinkers of our time.2 (2011) 35–59 brill. respond to certain aspects of the current historical conjuncture.aegean. political subjectivity. His work can be seen as an answer to the attempt at a complete closure of historical thinking that has been an important aspect of the neoliberal imperative against the possibility of * The writer wishes to thank Alberto Toscano and the anonymous referees of this article for their suggestions and criticism. Keywords Badiou. the question of the event.Historical Materialism 19. Badiou refers to Sartre. Consequently.


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any form of historical change. Although Badiou refuses the traditional notion of possibility, since, for him, the event is what is ‘impossible’, what is not included in the contours of a given situation, his work can still be read as insisting on the possibility of new events and historical change. It can also be seen as a theoretical intervention in the discussion of what meaning the formation of collective subjects has today, especially in a time when massmovements and anticapitalist aspirations have returned. Alain Badiou’s theoretical turn towards an ontology of the event has also been seen as a response to the crisis of left-wing or generally radical politics in the early eighties after the exhaustion of the revolutionary thrust of 1968 and its aftermaths. It is the same feeling of crisis that can be traced as the background to Althusser’s reformulation of an aleatory materialism of the contingent encounter2 or to Foucault’s turn towards an ethics or aesthetic of the subject.3 In all cases, the underlying preoccupation is with the realisation that there is no general tendency – in the sense of historical teleology or historical mechanics – towards emancipation, and that the collective agents associated with social emancipation – the French Communist Party, in the case of Althusser, radical social and political movements, in the case of Foucault, the Maoist movement in the case of Badiou – can enter periods of prolonged crisis. This sense of historical crisis led Badiou to a rethinking of the very notion of the event. On the one hand, the reference to the event pertains to May 1968, both as a violent break of historical continuity and as the bitter challenge of dealing with its defeat and the question of its (im)possible repetition. On the other hand, the event is a crucial question for any effort to rethink emancipatory and transformative politics, since any such form of politics is based on the premise that new events happen, that changes occur, that forms alter. That is why we must stress, before proceeding to our points of criticism, that Badiou’s theory of the event, which rejects any form of ontological dualism, can be considered an important contribution to a materialist conception of political practice, both in its negation of teleology and in its affirmation of historical novelty. It also represents a certain break with idealism, because Badiou rejects any subjective/objective dichotomy, treating the subject as an essential aspect of the irruption of the event. Equally important is Badiou’s rejection of the traditional notion of truth-as-subjective-stance and his insistence on the truth of a situation as an ontological proposition: truth is an actual possibility – or a potential exception – of the evental site itself.4 This
2. Althusser 2006. 3. Foucault 1984. 4. ‘Truths are materially produced in specific situations, and each begins from an event or discovery that eludes the prevailing logic that structures and governs those situations.’ (Hallward 2003, p. xxv.)

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is in sharp contrast to what Badiou calls, in Platonic terms, doxa, or mere opinion.5 If the truth of a situation includes the possibility of new events, provided that we choose a position of fidelity to the event, political projects can be based on true possibilities. This position resists current forms of ‘weak’ thinking that consider philosophy and social theory as able only to think practices and discourses but not truths and major emancipatory-political projects.6 These points represent the importance of Badiou’s ontology, its relevance for any attempt to support philosophically radical politics today and to rethink materialist philosophy in general and, consequently, the need to engage in critical dialogue with his writings and interventions. The rest of this article will attempt a criticism of certain aspects of Badiou’s positions from a Marxist perspective, influenced by Althusser’s reformulation of materialist dialectics, hoping to make clear that the limits and shortcomings of Badiou’s endeavour lie at precisely the points at which he distances himself from such a perspective.

2. The absent space of relations We start with Badiou’s rejection of a relational theorisation of society. It is well known that Badiou has insisted on the ‘Multiple’ (and not the ‘One’) as the basis of ontology.7 According to Badiou, it is not possible to think of the social totality as ‘One’, as the expression of a unitary-historical substance. In the same way that a mathematical set is the result of a ‘count-as-one’ operation, social forms are not to be considered as ‘One’. Social processes and political sequences are the basis of social forms. This is a necessary refusal of any form of historical metaphysics, and, indeed, one might say that this evocation of multiplicity can be considered also as the basis of historical hope and optimism. Social reality is always in excess of its actual-temporal configuration. However, Badiou tends to underestimate the importance of exactly that aspect of social reality which enables not only ‘count-as-one’ operations, but also different societal configurations, namely social relations as dialectical contradictions. As Peter Hallward has suggested, ‘the most basic axioms of Badiou’s ontology presume that the elements of a situation can be adequately individuated and
5. ‘The vast majority of empirical political orientations have nothing to do with truth. We know this. They organize a repulsive mixture of power and opinions.’ (Badiou 2003b, p. 70.) On Badiou’s criticism of postmodern doxa, see also Žižek 1999, pp. 131–2. 6. Badiou designates this reference to discourses and bodies as ‘democratic materialism’, as opposed to what he designates as ‘dialectical materialism’, which includes the reference to truth (Badiou 2009a, pp. 1–4). 7. ‘[T]he one is not’ (Badiou 2005d, p. 23). On this point, see also Hallward 2005.


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presented without inter-elemental relations of any kind.’8 This is based on Badiou’s prioritisation, even as early as the 1970s, of scission and antagonism over relation and mutual determination. This distancing from a thinking of social contradictions as complex and uneven relations of antagonism and mutual determination towards a more general notion of non-relational political antagonism is evident in Badiou’s 1975 pamphlet, Théorie de la contradiction. There, he insists that ‘yes, the contradiction is antagonistic, yes, the workers’ revolt, which is the fire of this contradiction, is the very reason of history’.9 This position is also exemplified in his statement in Theory of the Subject that ‘Contradiction has no other mode of existence but scission’.10 In fact, Badiou is using Lacan’s reference to the impossibility of sexual relations in the strict sense as a corollary for the inexistence of class-relations: ‘There are no such things as class relations’.11 This insistence on the priority of antagonism and scission was also coupled with a negation of the capital-labour contradiction in favour of a conception of the antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeois and imperialist world. ‘The true contrary of the proletariat is not the bourgeoisie. It is the bourgeois world, imperialist society’.12 Badiou’s negation of a dialectical/relational conception is also evident in Peut-on penser la politique?,13 the work that marks the beginning of his turn towards a thinking of the event. In it, Badiou insists that we have to do away with any notion of the ‘labour of the negative’.14 This rejection of a dialectical conception of social reality is also evident in the omission of any reference to relations in Being and Event. Compared to a ‘conciliatory’ conception of social relations and the historicism of a conception of historical progress based on innate tendencies, or the metaphysical evocation of a process of the self-alienation of a latent substance, this emphasis is necessary, marking the efficacy of radical difference and struggle. But one can find in the Marxist-theoretical tradition, beginning with Marx’s own formulations in the sixth thesis on Feuerbach,15 a radically
8. Hallward 2004, p. 15. 9. Badiou 1975, p. 22. Equally important is his emphasis that the ‘resolution of a contradiction demands that something disappears’ (Badiou 1975, p. 86). 10. Badiou 2009d, p. 14. ‘In concrete, militant philosophy, it is thus indispensable to announce that there is only one law of the dialectic: One divided into two. Such is the principle of observable facts and of action’ (ibid.). 11. Badiou 2009d, p. 127. 12. Badiou 2009d, p. 7. 13. Badiou 1985. 14. Badiou 1985, p. 84. 15. ‘Feuerbach resolves the essence of religion into the essence of man. But the essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In reality, it is the ensemble of the social relations. Feuerbach, who does not enter upon a criticism of this real essence is hence obliged:

the other that individuals are the primary reality.16 that transcends traditional-philosophical distinctions: At bottom. 218). labour. Balibar 1995. but also each element is actually formed within the contours of the relation. as an inner ‘dumb’ generality which unites many individuals only in a natural way.2 (2011) 35–59 39 original conception of the primacy of relations in a novel form of social ontology. . 30–1. pp. and the fact that it is these relations which define what they have in common. conflict etc. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. pp. In it. ‘N’existent à proprement parler que des relations’ (Macherey 1979. because they form an “ensemble”. Balibar 1995. in Marx’s conception. 18.18 And. an encounter that is not fatally harmonious or convergent. which is kept only by their encounter. reproduction. Macherey 2008. Pierre Macherey has summarised this conception in his reading of Spinoza by arguing that ‘only relations exist in the proper sense’. 19. a totality of fact and not of right. contradiction is 1) To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment regarded by itself.P.17 Pierre Macherey has insisted that ‘social relations . domination. As Balibar has insisted. an ‘ontology of relations’. the ‘genus’. p. . from which universals are ‘abstracted’. but can take and more often takes violent and conflictual forms’. 151–2. 2) The essence therefore can by him only be regarded as ‘species’. 30. This is exemplified in the relational conception of capital and labour. which has been a cornerstone of both the Marxist theory of value and the Marxist theory of classes.e. to human beings). again. This is a conception of social relations as forms of a complex interplay of antagonism and mutual determination.19 That is why it is necessary to go back to Marx’s insistence on treating social relations as dialectical contradictions. as structural-social antagonism. For amazingly.) 16. The point is to reject both of the positions (the realist and nominalist) between which philosophers have generally been divided: the one arguing that the genus or essence precedes the existence of individuals. in the sense that it is the capital-relation. love.’ (Marx 2002. constitute a multiplicity non-totalisable a priori.). ‘ensemble’. p. They define this because they constitute it at each moment in multiple forms. . not only is it the relation of the elements that produces social reality as such. that calls social classes into existence. neither of these two positions is capable of thinking precisely what is essential in human existence: the multiple and active relations which individuals establish with each other (whether of language. and to presuppose an abstract – isolated – human individual. 17. They thus provide the ‘only’ effective content of the notion of essence applied to the human being (i. ‘social’ and ‘relations’ all say the same thing.

but what might be called a real contradiction.40 P. what can appear and what cannot in a certain world. where one can calculate the outcome or the point of equilibrium). What the 1988 book did at the level of pure being – determining the ontological type of truths and the abstract form of the subject that activates them – this book aims to do at the level of being-there.24 The generic form of appearing of a determinate multiple is an object. 25. p.26 leading to the dialectic of being and appearing.2 (2011) 35–59 [n]ot a moral impossibility or a ‘contradiction in terms’.21 He attempts to answer the questions left open in Being and Event. and a mere real opposition (of external forces acting in opposite directions. Badiou was well aware that his conception of an ontology of pure being made it practically impossible to think historical change. 575. The aim of his logic of the transcendental in Logics of Worlds is to answer the question of the possibility of thinking in a world what does not 20.’ (Badiou 2009a. or of appearing.20 However.25 This appearing in the world also has a retroactive effect on the multiple-being that supports it. That is why he sets out to offer what he calls a ‘logic of appearing’ in the sense of a ‘transcendental algebra’ that designates possible differences and identities. 572. Badiou 2009a. 102. which assures the cohesion of the being-there of a part of the world. Logics of Worlds sets out to provide what Badiou calls a ‘greater logic’. 589. adding elements of a phenomenology to his ontology with the aim of including the complexity and the dynamics within the contours of a given historical situation. Badiou 2009a. ‘ “Object” is the name of the generic form of the appearing for a determinate multiple. 24.23 The operations involved in this process of appearing and not appearing have to do with what he calls the transcendental of a world or a situation. 21. 8.22 Badiou is trying to present a much more complex theoretical perspective. Badiou 2009a.’ (Badiou 2009a. p. during the past few years.) 26. especially the problem of grounding his ontology mainly upon the situation-event couple. This left out the question of the possible forms of appearance of the elements of a situation and of theorising how one possible world emerges instead of another. Badiou has made an effort to answer some of these criticisms and to offer a more complex version of his ontology. p. p. 118. or of worlds. 23. p. equally distinct from both a purely formal contradiction (abstract terms which exclude each other by definition). 22.) . Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. Balibar 1995. Badiou 2009a. p. ‘Appearing in a world as an object retroactively affects the multiple-being which supports this object.

This specific relational constitution is at the level of appearing of a particular world. a function that creates neither existence nor difference. 28. It also offers a possibility to think some sort of social determination and causal relation between different worlds. . The main problem is precisely that this level of appearing is added to the level of multiple-being. As Peter Hallward has noted. Badiou includes the notion of the relation. The space that in other philosophies might be filled by an account of material actualization or emergent self-realization (or any number of alternatives) is one that Badiou. Badiou 2009a. within appearing. so far. he insists in Logics of Worlds on refusing the notion of dialectical negation. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. Between the being of a pure multiplicity and an appearing as docile or insurgent lies an abyss without mediation. Hallward 2008. However. not 27. Moreover.30 That is why he insists on presenting relations as ontologically subordinate to the elements that relate to each other.28 It is true that in this revised ontological schema. 122. Badiou 2009a. . prefers to consign to contingency. 310. 156. p. 29. ‘That is why we will give the name “logic” to the laws of the relational network which determine the worldly appearing of multiple-being’.P. On the contrary.2 (2011) 35–59 41 appear within this world. he refuses to offer a theorisation of the relation between an appearing and the pure multiplicity of being.29 Badiou defines a relation between two objects as a function between two sets.31 Furthermore. is necessarily subordinated to the transcendental intensity of the apparents that it binds together. he insists on treating negation as logical (belonging to the level of appearing). p. Badiou 2009a. we are still far from a relational conception. p. . 31. leading again to a notion of radical contingency. despite his many references to dialectics. 30. A relation. p. . 118. and the insistence on the sharp distinction between these levels undermines any attempt at reconfiguring historical causality apart from very specific and limited historical conjunctures. Being-there – and not relation – makes the being of appearing. Badiou 2009a. [A] relation creates neither existence nor difference. p.27 This problematic indeed adds to Badiou’s schema a degree of complexity absent from the original formulation of his ontology. 576. not of ontology.

p. is a result. replacing it with the notion of the reverse. that is with the being of appearing as bound to the logic of a world. in the extended and ‘positive’ form of the existence of the reverse of a being. shape or otherwise affect the objects related. Negation. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. 328.2 (2011) 35–59 ontological. 34. Hallward 2008. it is not an ontological category (linked to the intrinsic multiple composition of beings. We can say that as soon as we are dealing with the being of the being of being-there. Poulantzas 2008. according to Badiou. and so has no direct grasp on political processes.34 This leads us to another important contradiction in Badiou’s endeavour. Hallward 2004. especially since Badiou insists that relations cannot fundamentally affect the elements that enter into a relation with each other. along with any detailed notion of interaction between levels of 32. an antagonistic relation between social classes is not.42 P. does not here play a constituent role in their being or becoming so much as illustrate the relative difference in their ‘intrinsic’ intensity or strength. Such relation always comes after its terms. it follows that the reverse of a being exists.) 33. pp. According to Jason Barker. as derivative and not primary. namely his refusal of any causal relation between social reality and political decision and event. to the mathematical world). and by no means an initial given. the basic condition of their existence. in the sense that there exists a degree of appearance ‘contrary’ to its own. or. p. A relation of struggle between two interests or classes. p. p. ‘[f ]or Badiou (knowledge of ) capitalism is unable to determine events. p. ‘[T]he reverse is indeed a logical category (and therefore relative to the worldliness of beings).32 The result is that anyone looking for a more dialectical conception remains unsatisfied.’ (Badiou 2009a. for instance. p. As Peter Hallward has noted: Not only is relation thus conceived as little more than a variation on the elementary relation of order (greater-than or lesser-than). 152. 35. Althusser 1973. 29–30. 115. if you will. nor does the balance of forces affect their form of social being.’ (Barker 2006. 12. xx.35 He also stresses Badiou’s rejection of historical causality: Badiou rejects any constituent relation between truths and historical or social ‘development’. there is no clear sense that it can qualify. 136. Contrary to the insistence of Althusser or Poulantzas33 that classes do not exist outside of the class-struggle. Peter Hallward has described this tendency as Badiou’s insistence on the ‘difference between what people are and what people can do’. It’s remarkable that what will serve to sustain negation in the order of appearing is the first consequence of the transcendental operations.) . Badiou 2009a.

this ontological schema remains.39 3.36 43 On the contrary. see Althusser and Balibar 1990. . we can see different ways of arranging.38 And. in the end descriptive. Given the elements of a situation. Hallward 2004. but a coherent theory of social and political dynamics arising out of contradictory and over-determined social structures and processes (as forms of ‘structural causality’) that offer the possibility of the emergence of social subjects.P. despite the usual mathematical rigour. p. For the notion of ‘structural causality’. even in the sense of the ‘absent cause’ of structural causality. demographic. 39. economic. In a way.37 It is what Alberto Toscano has described as ‘Badiou’s hostility to a communism based on any variety of socio-economic immanence’. etc. This is also made evident by Badiou’s refusal to treat socio-economic analysis as an essential prerequisite of political intervention. between evental sites and the situations to which they belong. 144. historical causality and the articulation of transformative-political practice on existing social relations (as forms of historical causality) remain an open question. is also its weakness in the sense of the refusal in advance of any form of relational determination and/or historical causality. Toscano 2004a. On Badiou’s disregard for socio-economic analysis. what we have is the insistence on the radically contingent character of political choices. his conception of an endless possibility of new events. 13. 38. pp. 279–84. Antagonism and the subject The refutation of the primacy of relations and of dialectical contradictions also marks Badiou’s treatment of social antagonism and the subject. although Logics of Worlds elaborates more on the question of the emergence of events out of a given situation. He refuses any constituent mediation between subjects and the individuals they transform. Hallward 2003. see Toscano 2004b. 36. p.2 (2011) 35–59 socio-historical causation – geographic. between the occurring of events and the sites that they occupy. and different possibilities of articulations including the non-appearance of a given possibility. the very strength of Badiou’s overall argument. the world and the body. especially through notions such as the appearing. technological. The theoretical challenge for Marxism has not just been to present a theory of the antagonism of political subjects. 37. Despite the admission of a greater degree of complexity. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. What determines these possibilities and impossibilities and the relation between being and appearing remains within the limits of radical contingency.

40 However. namely the proletariat. . Badiou has always been preoccupied with the notion of the subject. 42. In the Introduction to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. In its first formulation in Theory of the Subject. . as always traversed by contradictions and conflicts that not only entail the possibility of rupture.44 P. a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society.2 (2011) 35–59 Badiou is right to emphasise that the proposition that ‘one divides into two’ marks the line of demarcation between a militant and a conciliatory point of view. it attests to Badiou’s post-Leninism. a sphere which has a universal character by its universal suffering and claims no particular right because no particular wrong but wrong generally is perpetrated against it. Badiou is indeed renewing the thinking of the collective-political subject and its constitution. his pivotal work on the notion of the subject is indeed Theory of the Subject (Badiou 1982. a historical guideline. ‘That which we name “Maoism” is less a final result than a task. the main question facing any attempt to think a materialist dialectic has been not only to theorise division and antagonism. and correct ‘naming’. It is also in line with the conception of the proletariat in the early writings of Marx.42 Badiou’s conception of antagonism is also based upon this conception of the subject. Badiou 2009d). As early as 1977. Indeed. an estate which is the dissolution of all estates. the ‘One’. . Badiou 2005a. It is a question of thinking and practicing post-Leninism’ (Badiou 2009d. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. is always the result of a material process related to an event and not something ‘subjective’. which.41 Badiou’s emphasis has always been that the crucial moment is that of the emergence of forms of political subjectivity. pp. With this. but also provide its only possibility of unstable unity. but how to think social cohesion. which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of 40. fidelity to the event. 182). as a result of both his engagement with communist forms of militancy and his interest in the work of Lacan. p. In this sense. finally. the very notion of a political subject. Marx referred to the proletariat in the following way: [T]he formation of a class with radical chains. Along with the emphasis on truth. it takes the form of an antagonism between the political subject par excellence. Badiou insisted on referring to Maoism as post-Leninism. in Badiou. and the current configuration of an historical situation. 89–101. a sphere. which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in allround antithesis to the premises of the German state. . 41. is structured around the notion of the proletariat as the transformation of the working class into a specific political subjectivity. as that which exceeds and confronts the total configuration of capitalist social and political constitution.

whereas. in the end tends to underestimate this primacy of the relation and to suggest that. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. . . 43. 44. Following Althusser. with the intervention and the change of the terms (including social and political subjects in the case of social antagonism) being aspects of the same dialectical process. which they do not pre-exist. It is through the intervention in a relation that its terms are changed. leading to a crisis of revolutionary strategy and eventually to the second defeat of the revolution in the West. Revolutionary politics is not only about making a potentially revolutionary subject realise its potential. avoiding any reference to pre-constituted social and political forces. the constant re-emergence of collective subjects in conflicting social positions.] . after World-War Two. in social and political antagonism. the general balance of forces was in favour of popular movements. and are therefore mutually conditioned by social antagonism. we can say that this can lead both to the over-determination of social contradictions and to specific forms of displacement. but the intrinsic force of each warring party. I think that the evolution of Marx’s thinking of capitalist social relations and forms leads also to a much more complex theory of social and political antagonism at the centre of capitalist relations of production. Productive relations determine. at the same time. For example. it is not the relation that is primary. was over-determined by the aspects of bourgeois hegemony within the communist movement. Hallward 2008. 116. Marx 1975.43 45 However.2 (2011) 35–59 society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society[.44 We can say that Badiou remains within the contours of a logic of antagonism. Badiou. On the contrary. in a non-linear way.P. despite all of his insistence on the complexity of the processes that lead to the division and antagonism between a genuine subject and the situation from which it emerges. display its strength and change the given relations of force. p. The constant re-emergence of collective subjects is also determined by political antagonisms and the emergence of conflicting-ideological elements. This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat. These subjects are the result of those relations. 186. . a theory of the material matrix of antagonistic social practices and the agents of those practices. It opens the way for a theory of the uneven and always overdetermined articulation of social antagonism. It can also explain why the relation of force is always complex and uneven. but. p. but also about intervening in the complex articulation of contradictions and antagonisms that create both the terrain of the struggle and the possibility of the emergence of the revolutionary subject.

p. 46. see Althusser 2005. 64. I think that he is far from offering an adequate answer. we can find a ‘logic of the contradiction’. Badiou 2006a.48 However. 47. Balibar 1997. at least in its initial theorisation by Althusser. in such a way that the antagonistic terms become the functions or bearers of this relation. of the possibility of displacements and/or ruptures and. consequently. On the contrary. p. 298.45 As Balibar has suggested. p. 48. p. p. Balibar 1997.49 referred to the possibility of a materialist conception of political practice based on the complex. by this transforming themselves into individuals other than the ones the existing relation ‘constitutes’.’51 Despite the efforts by Badiou to distance his position from a subjectivist conception of political subjectivity. contradictory and. (Ibid. considered as a process without 45. It is true that Badiou credits Althusser with opening the question of a ‘subjectivity without a subject’. I think that we can still find in Althusser a highly original conception of the ways in which particular collective ‘non-subjects’ emerge in the over-determined terrain of the conjuncture.46 P. therefore. 65). 49. 299. ‘And it must indeed be said that overdetermination belongs to the subjective realm’. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. . neither in the objective order of the economy nor in the statist order of the subject. open-to-change character of social reality. of the possibility of actually intervening politically in order to change the balance of forces.2 (2011) 35–59 in Marx. ‘Overdetermination is in truth the political place’ (Badiou 2006a. not simply to the possibility of subjective intervention. For this. and does so in accordance with a partisanship.50 but he insists that this designates a process of thought that ‘balances over into the possible. Badiou 2006a. the result being that we must see class-relations as relations which the oppressed cannot avoid.46 The problem here partly originates in the way in which Badiou treats the notion of overdetermination.).47 but he treats it as the possibility of subjective-political militancy and intervention. unless they destroy the relation of subjection itself. 66. Overdetermination. what is missing is exactly a conception of overdetermination as the expression of the complexity of objective-causal determination. a prescription. that nothing guarantees. 50. the condition for the development of a conflict is the interiorisation of the relation itself. 51. He refers positively to overdetermination as the space of politics. of the historically specific and conjunctural condensation of contradictions. but which nonetheless is capable of tracing a real trajectory in the situation.

’ (Gramsci 1971. For this reason one can say that the parties are the elaborators of new integral and totalitarian intellectualities and the crucibles where the unification of theory and practice. Badiou 2001. for example. p. 187).55 and as the inability to articulate the truth of a situation. 335. Gramsci’s conception of the party as a laboratory of new forms of political intellectuality52 and Mao’s insistence on the limits of political awareness within the terrain of the struggle and the need for constant processes of self-criticism and self-correction. it nevertheless remains formalistic compared with the possibility of a theory of the complex. as Alberto Toscano has demonstrated. 53. Badiou 2005d. See. uneven. .2 (2011) 35–59 47 a subject. the problem Badiou has with theorising the possibility of reactionary-political subjects.) Hoare and Smith use ‘intelligentsias’ instead of ‘intellectualities’. and always overdetermined articulation of politics and ideology offered by both the Althusserian theory of ideology and Gramscian elaborations on the complexity of hegemony.56 I think that a simple opposition between correct and false naming 52.53 where Althusser’s theory of ideology was treated as a mystification of the insurrectionary potential of the proletarian world-view. Equally important is the absence of a theory of ideology in Badiou’s work. See also the French edition of the Cahiers de prison (Gramsci 1978. This absence of a theory of ideology and hegemony and their contradictions can explain. 56. the following quotation from the Prison Notebooks: ‘One should stress the importance and significance which. Although this description of subjective positions is fascinating as a metaphor for what is indeed at stake in political practice. Toscano 2006. and offers four different possibilities: production. but I think that the latter is much closer to the point. takes place. 54. . .P. p. understood as a real historical process. This was evident even in the 1976 pamphlet on ideology. reaction. denial. In Logics of Worlds. occultation and resurrection (second fidelity). combined with Lenin’s conception of the political party as a knowledge-process. . obscurantism. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. in the modern world. in Ethics. 204. he returns to naming as a problem. The relation between theory and practice becomes even closer the more the conception is vitally and radically innovatory and opposed to old ways of thinking. translation modified. It is true that he considers naming the unpresented element of an evental site as the initial element of an intervention that would lead to a new event. political parties have in the elaboration and diffusion of conceptions of the world. 55. p. he introduces a categorisation of subjective positions vis-à-vis the truth of a situation: fidelity. Badiou and Balmès 1976. but we are far from a theory of ideological practices as socially-necessary misrecognitions. open up the possibility to truly rethink questions of political subjectivity and agency in non-subjectivist ways. because essentially what they do is to work out the ethics and the politics corresponding to these conceptions and act as it were as their historical “laboratory”. referring to forms of political ‘evil’ as false names of a situation. This position.54 and.

with subjective decisions being at the origin of new political sequences.’ (Badiou 2005d. it would be unjust to accuse Badiou of decisionism. Badiou’s thinking of the relation between the subject and the situation tends to reproduce a rather idealist distinction between immanent reality and the intervention of a – thinking – subject. Despite Badiou’s emphasis on truth being at the same time singular and eternal. 61. ‘A subject measures the newness of the situation to-come’ (Badiou 2005d. as local situated configuration. and ‘knowledge-effects’ as a result of these struggles that prevent total ideological closure. but the advent of their Two. the incorporation of the event into the situation in the mode of a generic procedure. there are aspects in his theory of subjectivisation which seem like a more traditional dichotomy between subject and situation (or structure and agency). see Lacan 1973.’ (Badiou 2005d. and his new emphasis on the phenomenology of the appearing. we are still far from the complex articulation of knowledge. On Lacan’s conception of the subject.57 Consequently.61 On the one hand. 393.58 This marks an important contradiction in the thinking of Badiou.62 since he insists that ‘[a] subject is not a result – any more than it is an origin’ and that 57. . is neither the intervention nor the operator of fidelity. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. political discourses. p. For a reading of Gramsci that stresses the theoretical complexity of the notion of hegemony. see Power 2006. For a criticism of Žižek’s position.) 60.) 59.60 However.) 1998. ‘[T]he subject. 158–61.59 Thus. ‘Thinking is sufficient to change the world: such is the ultimate distillation of Badiou’s idealism. that is. ‘[I]t is possible to give the following definition of a subject: that which decides an undecidable from the standpoint of an indiscernible. see Thomas 2009.’ (Brassier 2006. linking it to the contours of a situation and the operations of fidelity and intervention. This is exemplified in the way that Badiou stresses the importance of the subject’s intervention and decision in the emergence of a new situation. see Žižek 1999. Also missing is the very complexity of political practice that the notion of hegemony suggests. For an insistence on Badiou’s decisionism. pp. p. It cannot account for the possibility either of ideological domination or of the emergence of antagonistic ideological practices. and the limits of Lacan’s thinking of the subject as an ‘empty’ structural position. p. 407. political experimentation and social transformation within emancipatory politics that the notion of hegemony entails. 58. 74. Žižek (ed.) 62. Badiou tries to think the possibility of political subjectivity in an immanent. p. he avoids both the shortcomings of any identification of theoretical antihumanism (the ‘death of man’) with a ‘death-of-the-subject’ position. It is precisely such a conception that can account for both the potential emergence of militant subjectivities as the contingent outcome of these struggles and contradictions and the possibility of intervening in the terrain of ideological class-struggle. non-dualist mode.2 (2011) 35–59 of a situation cannot account for the complexity of ideological contradictions.48 P. 406).

. 107.’ (Bosteels 2002. In this sense. As Bosteels stresses: ‘The subject. where any knowledge is possible only retroactively. over-emphasise the transformative effects of subjective decisions. Badiou 2005d.65 This is can be considered a reformulation of a materialist theory of the political gesture. but what would have been thought. However. p. it seems like a pre-Marxist theory of politics. 392. which requires a putting to work of an event. Intervention as a wager politicises a prepolitical situation by means of the interpretation it proposes where the event is constructed .P. 64. and a need to never forget the open. On the other hand. a conception of the political intervention as a wager. finally. The fact that there are no ‘Archimedean points’ in the political struggle implies that it is necessary to constantly rethink the situation and its dynamics. This. It does not pronounce what must be done. suggesting. and the emergence of political forms that intervene both at the level of political power-relations. instead. This future-anterior is constitutive. is a material process of making or doing. at the end. notwithstanding Badiou’s own precautions. to always take into consideration how the social and political forces entering the struggle are transformed because of this participation in the struggle. . indeed. and the notion of subjective fidelity. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. as Badiou suggests. p.2 (2011) 35–59 49 it is ‘the local status of a procedure’. Badiou 1985. . the assessment of conjunctural dynamics. But it does not mean that it 63. at least if we consider politics inspired by Marxism as articulating the knowledge of social relations and contradictions. as the intervention that inaugurates a new political sequence and marks the difference between the political and the pre-political. to engage in practices of self-criticism and correction. contingent. indeed. and even aleatory character of political practices. it is valuable. the break with any form of ideological misrecognition. Therefore it is the opposite of a savant and programmatic intervention.63 thus treating the subject as the effect of material processes64 and avoiding the voluntarism of traditional decisionism. Badiou tends to reject a ‘programmatic’ conception of politics. the sharp dichotomy between the situation and the event. can. rather than definite answers. because it is in the intervention that this thought is confirmed both in the intervening hypothesis and the direct agents of the situation. requires thinking in the futureanterior. As an emphasis on the possibility of radical politics in a time of crisis for revolutionary politics.) 65. but also at the level of social relations of force. p. 205. we are still faced with radical aporiae concerning the theory of the subject. the absence of any direct causal relation between the situation and the irruption of the event. which would be based upon knowledge of the terrain of struggle.

new political configurations. 67. in the sense of the complete impossibility of thinking historical tendencies in advance. He insists on the originality of October 1917 as a political sequence that created the possibility of a new situation. and not to the long. his solitude in the precise ‘naming’ of the situation. The necessarily exceptional character of the event can be read in two ways. but not on the complex and uneven articulation of political struggles. it can also be read as a reference to the radical contingency of historical change. p. but to a reaffirmation 66. Even the new emphasis on change in Logics of Worlds does not lead to a re-appreciation of historical dialectics. See also Bensaïd 2004.’ (Hewlett 2004. see Bosteels 2002. arising out of existing elements. brought about both by the condensation of contradictions in the imperialist chain and the emergence of a revolutionary challenge to the crisis of Social Democracy (a challenge which was itself part of the actual ‘objective balance of forces’). remains open. Although there have been criticisms of the suggestion that Badiou treats the event as a miracle. does not mean that ‘Red October’ was simply an exception: it was an historical possibility. 4. rather than as a confrontation with the lack of a revolutionary strategy which marked the 1970s. the basis of any attempt at theorising the intelligibility of social reality. 346.or medium-term historical processes or political projects that were at the basis of these events. pp.66 Even his reference to May 1968 takes the form of fidelity. This was the reading suggested by Žižek in The Ticklish Subject (Žižek 1999).2 (2011) 35–59 is impossible to combine participation in the struggle and knowledge of the field of struggle. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. 156–67. However. For a criticism of this position. gave birth to Bolshevism as a political current and created the very possibility of October 1917 as an event. Historical process and historical exception Badiou always refers to exceptional historical events. See also Hewlett’s comment that ‘Badiou’s explanatory framework is in fact rather a static one which is not able to explain transformation at all. Badiou 2010. new social forms. but also of the ways contradictory and antagonistic social relations condition social forces. class-antagonisms and imperialist conflicts that shaped Russian society. and less on the whole complex process of the Chinese Revolution. The same can account for Badiou’s insistence more on the Cultural Revolution. One is to treat it as the possibility of new events.) .50 P. Lenin’s solitude in his thinking of the possibility of the ‘October-event’. This is indeed the basis of revolutionary politics.67 the problem of the articulation of the possibility of the event upon an actual situation.

as the rise of the new. 131. 70. But the question of an immanent potentiality for change (social change as objective possibility). On Badiou’s treatment of the notion of the void. communism (in the sense of egalitarian and anti-statist aspirations) is not a singular-political project. 72. .’ (Badiou 2009a. It is well known that Badiou’s politics. 324. . The limits of subtractive politics This can also be seen to account for another lacuna in Badiou’s thinking of political strategy. has been a form of 68.68 This can also be seen in the emphasis Badiou places on the void. it is a necessary ‘ontological’ assertion. as what is and at the same time is not in a certain world. Badiou and Balmès 1976. see the way Slavoj Žižek opposes the notion of repetition in Deleuze (Zizek 2007).’ (Badiou 2003b. as that which is subtracted from presentation and thus makes possible the intervention that will bring forward the unpresented. remains open. I refer here to Badiou’s notion of the communist invariants introduced in his 1976 pamphlet on ideology. On this point. a position to which he is still faithful. It testifies. the main question facing political philosophy from the Enlightenment onwards. 69. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. pp. since Badiou’s answer does not help us to get out of the oscillation between the idealism of the distinction between objective reality and subjective intervention and the teleology of a dialectics of immanence and potentiality. in the sphere of appearance.P. p. for the contingency of being-there.72 5. It is this element that we call the proper inexistent of the object.71 According to Badiou. a question of communism. ‘From Spartacus to Mao . ‘[G]iven an object in a world. but we are still far from an answer.) See also the references to eternal truths in the Introduction to Logics of Worlds. in this sense. No wonder that the corollary to the radical undecidability of politics is a rather historicist or metaphysical belief in the trans-historical potential of popular uprisings in all of human history. from the Greek democratic insurrections to the worldwide decade 1966–1976. it is and has been. see Badiou 2005d. It is true that the more complex social ontology offered in Logics of Worlds includes reference to the inexistent. See also the comments in Gillespie 2001.70 marking the possibility both of exclusion but also of emergence.. both in his writings and in his engagement in L’Organisation Politique. but a universal characteristic of all forms of popular struggle. p.2 (2011) 35–59 51 of the insistence on the event as exception and radical break. there exists a single element of this object which inexists in that world. .69 As a reference to social reality’s character as always open to transformation and change. 52–9.) 71.

‘social movements’ etc. changing the elements of the situation based on knowledge of the dynamics of the situation.75 This is a dismissal corollary to his refusal to think causal relations between different instances of social totality. that can indeed represent the excess in the current social and political configuration.52 P. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. in revolutionary politics without rebuilding their confidence in the possibility of collective struggle? How can we envisage the possibility of a political movement that could initiate major political 73. but is conditioned by social relations of force. not ‘predicted’ or ‘prepared’ in advance. but of the contradictory and ‘open’ character of social determination. facilitated only by having roots in those social strata that can be the vanguard of change. Organisation Politique 2001.74 I believe that this is precisely the result of his emphasis on revolutionary change as an exceptional event. In its essence this statement is homogenous to the parliamentary conception. On the notion of post-Maoism. wholeheartedly. see Balibar 1997. But this can be also read as a retrospective dismissal of one of the most important theoretical reversals that Marx’s intervention brought forward: the proposition that politics is not an autonomous activity. . the most dispossessed. like the German SPD were the first massparties in the strict sense. The canonical statement by Lenin. trade-unions. 77. according to which society is divided into classes and that classes are represented by political parties is out of date. Badiou’s thinking of the radical contingency of the political act (or gesture) leads him to a dismissal of any form of political representation: We now know that the question is to get rid of a representative vision of politics.) have not been simple reflections of capitalist-parliamentary logic. pp. One should not forget that labour-parties. Hallward 2002. see Bosteels 2005.77 This raises important questions: How can we persuade ordinary people to engage themselves. that is. This thinking of the political event rules out the possibility of actually intervening in the balance of forces. Badiou 1985.2 (2011) 35–59 post-Maoist leftism73 with a strong emphasis on the refusal of traditional party-building and his strong objection to trade-union activism and participation in elections. Forms of mass-political militancy and organisation (parties.76 The radical contingency inherent in transformative politics is not the result of the absence of causality. 75. On the relation between economics and politics. 26–39. but also forms of collective intervention that bring forward the materiality of social antagonism. 76. pp. 86–7. oppressed and exploited segments of the popular classes. 74. and making possible the emergence of radical change as a material stake. On the contrary.

Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. 95–100. p. 105). Badiou 2006c. Badiou’s conception of a politics at a distance from the state would seem to be simultaneously a political maximalism and minimalism. There the activist constructs the means to sound.2 (2011) 35–59 53 sequences without thinking in terms of creating the organisational and political forms of radical change. It is as if Badiou. Kouvélakis 2000.78 Part of the problem comes from the place Badiou accords to state in his ontology.80 Instead.81 and he explicitly refers to the permanence of the state in post revolutionary societies. 79.] . if only for an instant. the site of the unpresentable. 82.P. which is to say the law that guarantees that there is Oneness’ (Badiou 2005d. On this. 80. but as a general meta-structure that guarantees the ‘oneness’ of a particular historical situation. that the state is the result of an irreconcilable antagonism between social classes. and consequently the conception of politics as an ‘assault against the State’. Badiou seems to suggest that any effort to think the politics of social change must choose between two alternatives: either we become ‘staterevolutionaries’. He treats the state. . ‘The State is simply the necessary metastructure of every historico-social situation.82 or we limit ourselves to a politics of local struggles. even if this means also intervening in the difficult terrain of the political scene. . refusing to create forms of counter-hegemonic representations and collective-political projects aimed at taking power. see also Hallward 2003. a political activist is a patient watchman of the void instructed by the event[. tries to think politics and the limits of politics or the limits to politics. oscillating between fidelity to the possibility of change-as-radical-rupture. at the same time. . at a distance from the state. and the means to be thenceforth faithful to the proper name that. entangled in the dialectics of terror and equality.79 Badiou rejects the classical-Marxist position. afterwards. he insists that ‘the State as such – which is to say the re-securing of the one over the multiple of parts (or parties) – cannot be so easily attacked or destroyed’. particular to different modes of production. not as material apparatus or structure. and insistence on the impossibility of thinking the revolutionary subject as counterhegemonic alliance directed against the state. 110. including elections? How can we think the possibility of revolutionary change without thinking the question of political organisation as counter-hegemony and not just as collectivity? As a result. first formulated by Engels. Ibid. p. 29–37. pp. he or she 78. and of patiently waiting to discern the possibility of the event: Rather than a warrior beneath the walls of the State. Badiou 2005d. 81. pp.

has been more than necessary. of course. Badiou 2008a. 83. the continuing importance of the Zapatista experiment. But. always ready to offer critical answers to current questions. criticising Israel’s policies. the void. the difficulties of the revolutionary process in Nepal. although he is vague as to what might constitute the new ‘popular discipline’ he is suggesting. On the one hand. exemplified in the oscillation between the pragmatism of participation in centre-left governments and simple anticapitalist verbalism. p. see Bosteels 2010. one cannot decide – this non-place of place.or communist strategy. all of these attest to the actual urgency of questions of organisation. resisting all forms of current racism. but to rethink it and experiment with forms of collective organisation and political representation and intellectuality that would avoid statist connotations. helping movements of resistance against capitalist restructuring and neoliberal policies.54 P. not an exit from it. the difficult question is not simply to dismiss any thinking about taking power. and. we have Badiou as a political commentator. The open challenge facing us is not to denounce the party-form. 85. Badiou is right to insist that any form of radical-political organisation must avoid the symmetry with the stateapparatuses that have plagued the historical forms of ‘Leninist’ party-building. at the same time. 111. For a recent discussion of theoretical and political problems facing current discussions of communist strategy and its relation to the state. a politics at a distance from the state. Badiou 2005d. The open questions facing the attempts at genuinely leftwing governance initiating processes of social transformation in Latin America (Venezuela and Bolivia). And these are not only theoretical questions.83 There is no doubt that the mutation and collapse of ‘actually-existing’ socialism makes necessary the restatement of the necessarily anti-statist character of any emancipatory-political project. In the same sense.2 (2011) 35–59 will have been able to give to – or hear. representation and power. opposing US-imperialism. the creation of revolutionary bases on the part of the Maoists in India.84 But I do not think that this must lead to an abandonment of the thinking of both political organisation and of the question of political power. .85 Compared with the impasse of a great part of the contemporary Left. it is still a politics within the contours of the crisis of left. but to reconceptualise a process of taking power that would indeed create conditions for the re-initiation of a process of ‘withering away’ of the state. but also urgent political exigencies. refusing to treat immigrants through the lenses of a multicultural perspective. insisting on a politics of labour. And this can also be seen in Badiou’s own political practice. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. 84.

in character – and political experience. Badiou 2004a.P. we can give new life to the communist hypothesis. which are always global and universal. ‘Revolutionaries are divided and only weakly organized. Badiou 2007. in individual consciousnesses. Badiou has recently insisted in defending what he terms the ‘Idea of Communism’. broad sectors of working-class youth have fallen prey to nihilistic despair. to . see Badiou 2003a. 260. It is also an insistence on the historical possibility of new truths.) 92. Badiou 2005b. the vast majority of intellectuals are servile. 91. local struggles. This is our task. he does not offer any other prescriptions other than a general call to collective action. precisely because his ‘minimal Marxism’88 of the refusal of a relational and/or dialectical conception of society also leads him to a ‘minimal communism’ that defends equality and the end of exploitative and oppressive social relations. Poulantzas 1980. see Toscano 2008. On Badiou’s political interventions. but the conditions of its existence. but fails to actually define it as an historical potentiality.) ‘[I]t is not the victory of the hypothesis which is at stake today. On the notion of Badiou’s ‘minimal Marxism’. 259.2 (2011) 35–59 55 and defending the legacy of the unfinished revolutions of the twentieth century. which are local and singular. but to give a ‘vigorous subjective existence to the communist hypothesis’. as defined in his Second Manifesto for Philosophy. p. 88. Badiou 2009b. Power and Socialism)?87 Badiou is far from offering answers to these questions. 260. Badiou 2010. 93. p. 87. during the reactionary interlude that now prevails: through the combination of thought processes – always global.93 We can say that the problem 86. at the same time. But it is not enough to actually initiate a recommencement of emancipatory politics. or universal. against the state (in the sense described by Poulantzas in State. What organisational form can a subjective stance of fidelity take? How can we articulate social movements and political forms of engagement? How can we think the possibility of politics within. refers to the incorporation of an individual in a truth-process and represents the position of subjective fidelity.92 through a combination of thought-construction and experimenting with singular. with experiments of fragments of truths. 90.90 It is the possibility of an individual understanding that her participation in a singular political process can also be an historical decision.’ (Badiou 2010. yet transmissible.’ (Badiou 2010.86 On the other hand. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. At the same time. or rather to the Idea of communism. and. 89. ‘By combining intellectual constructs. See Badiou 2010. yet universally transmittable.91 That is why the question facing us today is not the victory of the communist ‘Idea’.89 The notion of the ‘Idea’. Badiou 2006b. Chapter 4. There is no doubt that Badiou’s position is explicitly anticapitalist. always local or singular. p. he insists that the actual balance of forces is negative.

consequently. Badiou’s defence of militant-political engagement and his plea for the articulation of universalising thinking with the experimentation with local and singular struggles represent necessary starting points for a possible recommencement of communist politics. and treats contradictions and antagonisms at the economic level as political stakes.56 P. the rethinking of the possibility of a process of social transformation through the conscious action of an organised social and political movement aiming at social and political (counter-)hegemony. not as apparatus or command-centre. combining the effort to seize power with the struggle to revolutionise social relations and forms and therefore create conditions for the withering away of all forms of oppression. politics and ideology that marks the originality of the Marxist conception of political practice. and. politics belongs to renew the existence of the communist hypothesis. Conclusion There is no doubt that Alain Badiou’s endeavour has been one of the most original contributions to a materialist ontology of the political combined with an important and eloquent criticism of all forms of sociopolitical inequality and oppression. whilst at the same time comprising a necessary form of subjective engagement. have to do Badiou’s distancing of himself from Marx’s highly original conception of social relations as dialectical contradictions. there are limits and shortcomings in this effort. a conception that at the same time undermines the autonomy of the political. as the crucial step from the (im)possibility of the event to the actuality of the communist-political project.’ (Badiou 2008b. These limits. viewing the state as a result of social antagonisms. but as a collective process of transforming struggles and demands into political projects and strategies. It is this interplay of the political and the social that marks communist politics as revolutionäre Praxis. but many crucial questions remain unanswered. 6. of articulating aspirations and counter-hegemonic collective representations as ideological and theoretical demarcations. What is missing is exactly a process of thinking through the complex articulation of economics. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. of overcoming divisions and forging alliances. What is also missing is a thinking through of the revolutionary party. p. he avoids defending what one might call the ‘revolutionary hypothesis’. As a result. his insistence that overdetermination. in my opinion. However. 42. of producing concrete knowledge of the terrain of this struggle.) .2 (2011) 35–59 is that although Badiou defends the ‘communist hypothesis’ as an ideal of emancipation and equality that can still be traced in current mass-movements. in our conscience and on the ground.

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Leiden: Brill. Alberto 2004a. in Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism. ‘The Bourgeois and the Islamist. 37. ‘From the State to the World? Badiou and Anti-Capitalism’. Cogito and the Unconcious. Historical Materialism Book Series. ‘Towards an Anthropology of Infinitude: Badiou and the Political Subject’. or. edited by Jacques Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis.) 2004. Nina 2006.2 (2011) 35–59 59 Power. ‘Marxism Expatriated: Alain Badiou’s Turn’.com/ zizbadman.) 2006. The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19. Hegemony and Marxism. in Hallward (ed. —— 2006. in Ashton. Communication and Cognition. London: Verso. Thomas. Leiden: Brill. —— 2008. 3–4: 199–224.) 1998. Durham.P.htm>. in Ashton.) 2006. —— (ed. —— 2004b. NC. available at: <http://lacan. Peter D. The Other Subjects of Politics’. Bartlett and Clemens (eds.: Duke University Press. 2009. The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology. . Žižek. ‘On Alain Badiou and Logiques des mondes’. ‘Communism as Separation’. Bartlett and Clemens (eds. —— 2007. Toscano. Slavoj 1999.

On the other hand. and also the Historical Materialism board. as some of its defenders Abstract During the 1980s and What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Marxist Theory of History Vivek Chibber New York University vivek. and scrupulously followed the thread of one 1. productive forces. willy-nilly. Special thanks to Sebastian Budgen for persuading me to dust off the paper for publication.2 (2011) 60–91 brill. exploitation. which acknowledge important weaknesses in Cohen’s work. as it were. see Callinicos 2004. This article examines two influential arguments by Erik Wright and his colleagues. I conclude that this spells the demise of the classical version of historical materialism. the debate over the Marxist theory of history has seemed to have run out of steam. lulls such as this can be taken as an opportunity to take stock. and G. Cohen’s attempt to revive the classical. This is not altogether surprising.1 This is especially true of the debate on historical materialism. And. mode of production. as this is an area where the protagonists have striven to maintain clarity. I would like to thank Charles Post. © Koninklijke Brill NV. class-struggle. but also observe that this does not leave us with a voluntaristic understanding of history. social forms Introduction Over the past decade or so. determinist argument. and by Alan Carling. optimality-thesis. but which also try to construct a more plausible version of his theory. Leiden. Keywords Class. I show that the attempts to rescue Cohen are largely unsuccessful. Erik Wright and Robert Brenner for their extensive comments on earlier versions of this paper. they do so at the cost of turning it. production-relations. into a kind of class-struggle theory. the debate on the Marxist theory of history centred largely around the work of Robert Brenner’s property-relations-centred construal of it. to the extent that they render the argument plausible. given the enormous energy that poured into the issue for around a quarter of a century – no debate can last forever. For a good recent summing up of the debate since the 1990s.1163/156920611X573798 .chibber@nyu. 2011 DOI: 10.A.Historical Materialism 19.

his challenge was 2. primarily through the work of historian Robert Brenner. Marxism. The immediate effect of Cohen’s work was to breathe new life into canonical historical materialism – an impressive achievement in itself. This was. above all. the version of historical materialism that it was enunciating had fallen decidedly out of favour with its constituency. 3. It is actually possible to chart the extent to which particular propositions have withstood scrutiny. It had become the common sense of official. Cohen 2002. It also had the distinction of resuscitating a version of historical materialism that had. the classstruggle version of historical materialism received its own boost. and contending arguments held their ground successfully. partly in celebration of the recent anticolonial movements. the recent publication of a new edition of his book offers an opportune moment to see where the theory stands. by Plekhanov at the turn of the century – which pointed to human-productive forces as the engine which drove history. At first. Technological-determinist historical materialism was now countered by a version which elevated classstruggle to a position of primacy. by the late 1970s. whose book Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence almost single-handedly elevated the quality of arguments around the issue. given these apparent weaknesses. the canonical version of the theory – as elaborated by Engels in the Anti-Dühring and popularised. the point to note is that. for now. as well as dissident. fallen into disrepute.2 Indeed. as the heart of historical materialism. but also by the New Left. Hence. . predictably.A. The theorists who gained popularity within the New Left – Althusser. We will examine these in some detail presently. Much of the credit for instilling this culture into Marxist debates must go to G. partly under the influence of Maoism. canonical historical materialism did not reclaim its status as the natural interpretation of the Marxist theory of history.2 (2011) 60–91 61 another’s arguments. that this theory came under attack – not only by the mainstream. canonical historical materialism was taken as the natural interpretation of Marx’s rather elusive claims to having a distinct theory of historical development. Habermas and others – consistently downplayed the importance of the productive forces. of course. by the time that Karl Marx’s Theory of History was released.3 Cohen’s book was not merely noteworthy for the clarity and force with which it presented its case.V. and elevated that of class and class-struggle. Cohen 1978. It was only in the 1960s. Gramsci. But the clarity with which Cohen presented his case also had the effect. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. On the contrary. Cohen. For more than half of the twentieth century. of revealing the theory’s weaknesses.

4 It was not the developmental requirements of the productive forces that drove the transition. . The relevant works are Carling 1991. and both advance arguments which are located in the Cohen-Brenner debate. See. in the end. Brenner developed an account of the European transition from feudalism to capitalism that relied very little on the explanatory mechanisms central to canonical historical materialism. rather. one that is more modest in its claims.5 At the same time. For the former. further shaking confidence in the technologicaldeterminist version of historical materialism he had developed. what is offered is not so much a fusion as a weaker version of Cohen’s historical materialism. classstruggle or property-relations based version of historical materialism. but also that it may not even have been one to which Marx subscribed in his later years. Wright. or implicitly (Wright. in the case of Wright. Levine and Sober. we are informed.6 So. Soon thereafter. and each of which was grounded in carefully crafted arguments. see Brenner 1986. a genuine reconciliation. able to accommodate the criticisms levelled against it. Levine and Sober). Katz 1989.62 V. Carling 1993. while the two rescue-attempts do achieve some measure of success. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19.7 What makes both of these works interesting is that they recognise Brenner and Cohen as the two contending models of historical materialism. but. by the end of the 1980s. What this amounts to is a verdict in favour of the alternative. or they end up weakening the theory’s claims so much that it loses its distinctively Marxist flavour. 5. not only that the theory was unsound. arguing. I propose to take stock of the more recent attempts to manœuvre out of the deadlock between the different versions of historical materialism – the attempts in question are by Alan Carling and the team of Erik Wright. 6. Both recognise the challenges posed to the canonical version of historical materialism by Brenner. a number of criticisms of Cohen’s work appeared. In this essay. Brenner issued a direct challenge to Cohen and technological determinism in two pieces. and strain to modify the former so as to render it immune to the criticisms in question. Andrew Levine and Elliott Sober. either explicitly (Carling). 7. I will argue that. inter alia. Levine and Sober 1993.2 (2011) 60–91 indirect. In the case of Carling. Rigby 1987. These are contained in Ashton and Philpin (eds. In a highly influential series of articles. the contingent outcomes of the struggle between lord and peasant. Wright and Levine 1980. and for the latter. 4. they falter in one of two ways: either they simply fail to convince. the debates on the theory of history began to coalesce around two poles – canonical historical materialism and the class-struggle version – each of which could claim some degree of fidelity to Marx’s scattered comments on the subject. and. Brenner 1989. this is achieved by presenting what is claimed to be a fusion of the two models.) 1985. Martin 1983.

A rural producer with secure rights over his 8. the theory of historical transitions steps in to provide an explanation for the overall sequence of modes of production that have been identified. ‘what you have determines what you have to do’ to make a living. The theory of social forms Marxists insist that history can be divided into discrete periods. As Erik Wright pithily remarks. This they do by virtue of the fact that property-relations. The mechanisms that generate these different dynamics. and that each epoch has its own distinctive economic dynamics – or ‘laws of motion’. or epochs. by definition. analyses their internal dynamics. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. and the other a theory of transitions from one form to another. Wright 2005. and. . they draw upon two distinct components of the theory itself. The theory of social forms is understandably taken as an under-labourer of sorts to its more illustrious cousin: it serves to identify the individual societal-types that have populated the historical record. notes their sequence. finally. production-relations set what Brenner has called the ‘rules of reproduction’ for individual agents.8 This is a quite powerful structural claim. govern the distribution of productive assets in a social order. The assets possessed by social agents determine the strategies open to them for individual reproduction. In so doing. The micro-dynamics of production-relations At the micro-level. are the set of property-relations – relations of production – prevalent at the time. the latter takes as its object the mechanisms by which history traverses across modes of production. The Marxist theory of history in fact consists of two analytically distinct sub-theories: one is a theory of social forms. namely that it is possible to predict. Property-relations also form the basis for class-relations.2 (2011) 60–91 63 The two components of historical materialism That the two interpretations of historical materialism cluster around propertyrelations and the propulsive development of the productive forces is not a coincidence. albeit at a somewhat general level. and which thus govern the consolidation of the new mode. Once this prepatory labour is completed. The former is primarily concerned with individuating different types of social systems or modes of production.V. It is primarily devoted to explicating the mechanisms which kick into play once a mode of production descends into its final crisis. and which serve to mark off each epoch from the other. on the basis of the assets at their disposal. the reproductive choices made by agents.

and that they were systematic in their occurrence. A particular kind of class-structure thus generates a corresponding régime of exploitation. but. and peasants also have partial rights to the land through custom. necessary for any relation to be regarded a class-relation. lords must wield the threat of physical force to realise their claims. . it ensures that the relation is fundamentally conflictual. but. etc. I think. ‘Rent’ is thus common to both feudalism and capitalism. it not only locks agents into an interdependent and exploitative relation. the precise enumeration of those rights will determine how the one class exploits the other. the theory of social forms is committed to some kind of philosophical anthropology – a minimal description of human nature – which must include the assumption that agents have an interest in autonomy. This contrasts with the rights of rural landlords under capitalism. The element of coercion is. They would count as class-relations only if it was discovered that their voluntary nature was an ideological cover. The enforcement of property-rights always brings with it some kind of political domination – whether at the point of production. it is impossible to justify 9. So. – would not be considered exploitative. and so on. a class-relation. This domination – the forcible usurpation of a part of the social product – in turn generates resistance from the producing classes. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. but it is extracted through very different mechanisms in the two systems. rights over land means that they can claim some of their tenants’ labour as rent. in turn.64 V. Although Marxists have been slow to recognise this. for example. Without the commitment to autonomy as a basic human drive. Purely voluntary transfers – donations. The fact that productive assets are distributed unequally means that one class can exploit another.2 (2011) 60–91 land is likely to undertake a quite distinct economic strategy from that of a producer who has been deprived of these rights. since eviction of peasants becomes a much more realistic option. physical threats become redundant as an enforcer of claims to rent. in this case. requires that ruling classes secure their political domination over the producers as a precondition for the latter’s exploitation – hence locking the groups into an ongoing conflict. Property-relations do not automatically generate class-relations. Marxists regard it as a relation of exploitation. where propertyrights are secured. but not absolute. in doing so.9 When the former group can actually live on the claims it makes on the labour of the latter. who enjoy exclusive rights over land. They do so only when they assign power over assets unequally. or at an institutional level. When access to productive assets is distributed unequally. so that one group of agents can enforce claims on the productive activities of another. This. the fact that rural landlords under feudalism enjoy superior. and hence. because their claims are not absolute. gifts.

Marxists have to commit to the view that it is a fundamental cleavage. See his contribution to the famous Dobb-Sweezy debate. and. Compare this with Paul Sweezy’s account of the rise of capitalism. It is a natural corollary of this that such struggles should also lead to changes in the basic framework of property itself. while others maintain that it occupies a unique space. Class-struggle concerns the terms on which actors secure access to the means of production – the security of their property-rights. etc. It is Brenner’s contribution to have argued. The resolution to the crisis – the re-emergence of stable surplus-extraction – need not issue in the form of new property-relations. . On the one hand.2 (2011) 60–91 65 the idea – to which Marxists most certainly hold – that exploitation necessarily generates resistance. been catalysed by deep economic crises. This much Marxists have stressed throughout the previous century. it is not important which of the two is correct. is basically formal: that they will be brought about by class-struggle. For the purposes of this essay. but it must be within the set of conflicts which are deemed central to the dynamics of a social formation. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. all previous transitions have been unintended consequences of the defence of existing property-rights. until the advent of capitalism. it constitutes the means by which societies traverse from one set of property-relations to another – it is the mechanism that drives history forward. however. and the mechanism by means of which new social forms come about. during which. class-struggle. in turn. if not the most important one. that. even for the defenders of the weaker claim. But note that. It has very little to say about the substantive characteristics of the transition. correctly. contained in Hilton (ed.) 1976. through that. Some have averred that class-struggle ought not to be privileged above other kinds of conflict. depends on which class ultimately secures hegemony following a system-wide crisis. suddenly heightening the level of conflict between producer and rulers.V. even among Marxists. 11. 10. Whether or not they occur is a contingent outcome of class-struggle. in which lords make a more-or-less conscious switch to new property-relations to garner higher revenues. I think.10 On the other hand. What it has to say about transitions from one social formation to another. normal means of surplus-extraction break down. This should not be cause for surprise. This is a somewhat controversial claim. the pitch and level of exploitation. What the new formation looks like. but it does create a window for such epochal shifts to come about. The theory of transitions The theory of social forms makes some fairly strong claims about the dynamics internal to an historical epoch. Class-struggle plays a dual rôle in the theory of history. it forms a fundamental axis of political conflict in any social formation.11 Transitions have. what its structural features will be. class-conflict may not be the central conflict. and especially about the new social form.

For most Marxists of the Second International and after. it insists that the class that establishes its rule will be the one suited to the most rapid development of the productive forces. Its main function is to stipulate a set of conditions which constrain the transition to a new mode of production. which establishes its rule. The resolution to classconflicts at certain key-junctures – namely.2 (2011) 60–91 Hence. It is not simply that history is driven forward by the contingencies of class-struggle. The class that wins. over the course of the twentieth century. but was constrained by the functional requirements of the productive forces. on this theory. This component of historical materialism is directed specifically at the moment of transition from one mode of production to another. the actual sequence of social forms cannot be predicted on the basis of this theory alone. loosely encompassed both of the theories just outlined. since it stresses the contingencies of class-struggle. in its strongest form. according to the traditional theory. in a very specific sense: the mode of production that replaced the previous one was not simply determined by the vagaries of class-struggle. How narrow the constraints are depends upon how stringently the conditions are taken to operate – how strongly the theory is interpreted. These constraints are what impart a certain logic to the course of history. In fact. there was a basic division of labour between the two components. The theory of transitions served to explain how the transitions across modes of production were non-arbitrary. It is at this stage that the theory of transitions steps in. exhibit certain properties. The term ‘historical materialism’ has. At any historical juncture. the successor-class is really only constrained by one particular property: it must be a class that can oversee the continued development of the productive forces. The theory of social forms was primarily concerned with individuating different types of social systems or modes of production – it would identify their distinct relations of production. when social formations descend into crisis – is itself governed by the demands of the productive forces. It follows that the classes which did win at key-points were the ones most suited to this task. will be the one that conforms to these demands. The debate on historical materialism is basically about just how strong a claim the theory can defend. And this. In its weakest form. finally. this drastically narrows the range of candidates that can succeed a crisis-ridden social formation. show the ‘laws of motion’ and the forms of class-struggle specific to each such type.66 V. the theory simply predicts that the new mode of production will preserve the level of development fostered by the previous one. means that there is a fairly . Whichever set of production-relations emerges as the new dominant form – whichever class establishes its rule – must. and the manner in which the struggle between classes led to the demise of one social order and the rise of the next. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19.

in this sense. On Cohen’s stringently-canonical historical materialism. The central issue would appear to be. the observed path of development would be relevantly similar. the range of possible-successor production-relations can be narrowed down to just one – that set which is best for the further development of the productive forces. would seem to depend on just how narrow are the constraints imposed by the productive forces on new production-relations. or the theory of transitions? This. The stronger the constraints. History is. to the one taken on this particular iteration. I have simply tried to explain what Marxists mean when they say that there are such ‘laws’. once production-relations set A descends into a final crisis. If it were to be ‘re-played’ from some initial starting-point. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. I do not wish for this to be taken as an invitation to a debate about laws in historical development. The explanation as to why mode of production B follows mode A need make no reference to the details concerning class-struggle. in turn. in a sense.V. Class-struggle is the mechanism which brings about the transition to B. the candidates for successor production-relations are winnowed down to just one – set B. the theory of social forms. while the transition-theory explains the movement from one social form to another. The explanation of why B – and not production-relations sets C or D – followed A has to do with the virtuous effects of B for the productive forces. As we shall see. A weaker claim for the transition-theory would be that the production-relations that might replace the crisis-ridden ones are not those that are best for the 12. Note that. since this is the one that is best-suited for further developing the productive forces. each of the two components does its work in a distinct dimension: the theory of social forms explains the dynamics within a social form.12 What is at stake We can now appreciate what is at stake in the debate surrounding historical materialism. hard-wired into the system. the theory of transitions insists that the functional demands of the productive forces are so strong that. on this version of historical materialism. law-governed. perhaps even identical. Now consider the consequences if we make the constraints less stringent. but the fact that B followed A was. the lesser the rôle of class-struggle in explaining the movement from one historical epoch to another. when modes of production descend into crisis. which of the two components of historical materialism should bear the primary explanatory weight. this seems to be the interpretation offered by Cohen. .2 (2011) 60–91 67 strong determinism with regard to the trajectory of human history. At its strongest.

post hoc. As we ratchet downward the demands that the productive forces place on successor production-relations. In the more demanding version of transition-theory. It could be set B. increases dramatically. Suppose that we are concerned with explaining the transition from social form A to form B. on that basis. But. the one that actually succeeds A from within that range is to be explained by class-struggle. and less on the ‘law-like’ relation between the productive forces and the production-relations. the theory of social forms – has dramatically expanded. but also C and D. . but simply those which are adequate to the ongoing development of the productive forces – even if it is at a less-thanmaximal rate. but. but it cannot make a strong argument that it had to take the course that it in fact did. this means that historical materialism’s power as a theory of the overall historical record also weakens. The functional requirements of the productive forces now only explain the range of potential production-relations that can succeed A. B’s following A was hard-wired into the system. since B was in fact the set of productionrelations best suited to the further development of the productive forces.68 V. the potential-successor production-relations at particular historical junctures will expand from one set to several sets. Now. if we drop this assumption. As we continue to weaken the constraints that transition-theory places on the process of transition. the overall trajectory of history. if both of these would also foster the continued development of the productive forces – even if it is at rates that are lower than those brought about by B. The range of possible ‘futures’ at any nodal point. Had classmovements and organisational dynamics been different. which marks the switch from one social form to another. the sequence of social formations might also have been different. It can explain why human history did turn out the way it did. class-struggle begins to loom large as an explanation of which set of production-relations takes its place after the demise of A. the explanatory burden on the theory of social forms increases commensurately. then the potential successors to A now broadens to include not only B. also as outlined in the previous paragraph. just as in the previous paragraph. Note how this affects the burden carried by each component of historical materialism. the explanation for which production-relations in fact replace the ones in decline will rely more on details of the class-struggle. Now. The explanatory work of the class-struggle – and hence. crucially. and so.2 (2011) 60–91 productive forces’s future development. it could also turn out to be set C or D. depending on which classes are the best-organised and manage to win over other classes. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. On this less-demanding version of the theory of transitions. the set of production-relations that in fact ends up succeeding A will depend on the facts about the class-struggle.

In what follows. towards the theory of social forms. It is to Cohen’s credit that he has enunciated. as history moves forward. rather than its incarnation. more clearly than anyone before him. I shall show that Wright. Cohen’s rigorous presentation of a canonical historical materialism has generated a veritable avalanche of responses. in which the productive forces’ constraints on the production-relations are at their narrowest. nor Carling. In doing so. Levine and Sober comes at a cost. which claims that the productive forces do wield just such a power.A. is to examine if there is any reason to believe that the functional requirements of the productive forces can exercise strong constraints on the emergence of new production-relations. respond by weakening the claims. it is in fact a version which cannot but rest its weight on the theory of social forms. and not on transition-theory. and quite convincingly so. Cohen’s canonical historical materialism G. and by presenting an historical materialism with a less ambitious theory of transitions. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. So. since I do not say anything here that is especially novel. Carling. it is more plausibly an alternative to canonical historical materialism. even though they advertise their argument as a defensible version of canonical historical materialism. Levine and Sober are right in their pessimism regarding Cohen’s gambit – neither he. and Wright. an examination of the attempts by Carling and Wright. I shall therefore describe his argument in summary-form. just what is entailed in canonical historical materialism.V. Levine and Sober – to shore up the canonical version of historical materialism. recognising the difficulty of these arguments. Levine and Sober to salvage the theory. The . i. can make a convincing case for the plausibility of canonical historical materialism. The critical point. This section is more in the way of a ground-clearing exercise. we will examine what arguments have in fact been advanced – by Cohen. is a ‘class-struggle’ version of history. intended to lay the foundation for the meat of the essay. Cohen and Carling try to shore up the most ambitious version of the argument.e. and quickly lay out its weaknesses. but it is one in which the explanatory weight shifts markedly away from transitiontheory. Their less ambitious version of historical materialism is certainly more plausible. Wright. What we are left with. for all practical purposes. then.2 (2011) 60–91 69 These are the implications for historical materialism if the arguments in support of a strong transition-theory cannot find secure warrant. Levine and Sober. But the remedy sought by Wright. Most of these have questioned the defensibility of the theory as he develops it.

they would be discarded in favour of more congenial ones. In fact. viz. Now. since. Cohen correctly observes that for the productive forces to have an autonomous tendency to develop is not to be confused with the claim that the productive forces have a tendency to develop autonomously. The productive forces thus develop because of the production-relations. In choosing the former claim. but. that the productionrelations which endure do so because of their beneficial effect on the productive forces. See Cohen 1988. In Cohen’s construal. But there may. From this. Cohen is arguing. to be propitious for the further development of the productive forces. at any time. this claim involves a commitment to the presence of a functional relation between the productive forces and the production-relations: the latter are selected on the basis of their functionality for the further development of the productive forces. but indeed stands over them. the structure of incentives for producers is set by the production-relations within which they find themselves. rather. This is impossible to maintain.70 V. as noted above. Cohen’s theory states that the production-relations which emerge in the transition to a new mode of production will be propitious for the further development of the productive forces.2 (2011) 60–91 theory has conventionally been described as consisting of the following two theses: (i) The development-thesis: The productive forces have an autonomous tendency to develop through history. Chapter 5. stronger claim. As it stands. be a variety of production-relations which 13. As Cohen argues. we should note that the primacy-thesis as enunciated by Cohen needs amplification.: (ii) The primacy-thesis: The nature of the production-relations in a society is explained by the level of its productive forces. we can hazard a further. but. It is because of this power to select appropriate production-relations that we can regard the productive forces as having an autonomous tendency to develop. before proceeding to a discussion of the fortunes of this theory. it appears that social structures connected to production tend. Cohen suggests. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. . The latter construal can be taken to suggest that the productive forces develop independently of the production-relations within which they are embedded. if production-relations were adopted which did not develop the productive forces. and it is these strategies that develop the productive forces. not that the productive forces develop autonomously of the production-relations. on the whole. the independent power of the productive forces seems to be supported by the stylised fact that societal change rarely involves a retrogression in the level of social-productive power. The reproductive strategies that they choose are thus responses to the production-relations.13 The capacity to develop in this manner suggests a certain power that not only stands independent of social structures and circumstances.

Levine and Sober 1993. in other words. and not as a happy coincidence. if the selectional mechanism is not an optimising one. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. Furthermore. historical materialism would not have a theory of history. the debate on canonical historical materialism since the publication of Cohen’s book has largely focused on the plausibility of this assumption. and what might be called a 14. The theory could not explain why this set of production-relations was in fact selected. it must also be shown that they were selected because they were optimal. which is in fact what it must do. In the absence of some such mechanism. then all it could explain is that the production-relations selected do not fetter the productive forces. it follows that for this argument to have bite. Understandably. it is not enough to observe that the production-relations which obtain with respect to a new mode of production are the best ones in the sense just specified. and selects the one best suited for further developing the productive powers of society. pp. all that the productive forces could confidently be said to select are any production-relations which do not further fetter the productive forces. It requires the presence of some factor that serves to sift through the existing set of possible production-relations. Levine and Sober. and not that it had to develop thus. It could only point out that history has developed in this fashion.2 (2011) 60–91 71 are capable of this function. And. As pointed out by Wright. any one of these rival production-relations. we must add a third component to the theory: (iii) The optimality-thesis: The production-relations selected by the productive forces are the ones optimal for the further development of the latter. on Cohen’s assumptions. 170–1. without further specification. pp. Now. The selection of a thing on the basis of its functionality can rest on two broad types of mechanisms: an intentional one. This demands that the votaries of canonical historical materialism adduce a mechanism capable of this sort of discrimination. So. It cannot be sufficient for canonical historical materialism that the productive forces select.V. it would be irrational for social actors. it is insisted by Cohen that the productive forces explain the actual production-relations in a mode of production. . and is amplified in Wright.14 Hence. See Cohen 1978. The significance of this point was first appreciated by Wright and Levine 1980. 31–2. It would merely have a manner of classifying the course history has taken. canonical historical materialism asserts that the production-relations of any mode of production endure because they are optimal for the further development of the productive forces. to choose production-relations that are anything less than the optimal for the further development of the productive forces.

unlike their counterparts.16 What is 15. It may be ventured. Certain caricatures of classical Marxism have sometimes presented the transition to socialism as the selection of new productive forces through a kind of workingclass conspiracy – a version of the former kind of intentional explanation. usually take the form of some kind of structural explanation. Cohen does not say that actors actually choose those production-relations which are optimal for the productive forces. Non-conspiratorial mechanisms. Now. and aggregate into a social pattern. in the case of Cohen’s argument. and social institutions are selected by them to the extent that they mesh with the preference-ordering. I do not think anything of substance rides on the verdict to this question. it is indisputable that Cohen does offer an intentional version of his argument. it carries no consequence for the defensibility of the explanation itself.72 V. and are hence more plausible. therefore. the latter. This might appear as an odd assertion in light of the fact that Cohen has advertised historical materialism as an instance of functional explanation. In point of fact. be divided into two kinds: a conspiratorial one. 16. What they in fact choose is those production-relations which minimise their work-effort and thus maximise leisure. p. in which actors select institutions through some kind of collective deliberation. to the actors. Our verdict derives entirely from our definition of functional explanations. The former relies on the possibility of a conscious selection made on the basis of the effects of the thing in question. of course. pedantic. then. on the efficacy of a feedback-loop connecting the effects of the thing and the chances for its reproduction. while this may have a grain of plausibility as a forecast for conflict within capitalism. The effect on the productive forces just rides in the latter and could vary independently of it. abandons the earlier commitment. is whether this means that he has abandoned his earlier commitment to the functional character of historical materialism. in that. Cohen 1988. once he is forced to unpack it. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. but. in turn. But if. What is at stake.2 (2011) 60–91 Darwinian one. and a non-conspiratorial one. Intentional mechanisms can. in relying on just such a strategy. he suggests that new productionrelations are selected by social agents on the basis of their productivityenhancing capacity. that what he offers is a version of a Darwinian mechanism. But. 89–92.15 In other words. we allow that functional explanations may survive a causal rendering. Cohen offers an historical materialism that relies on a non-conspiratorial intentional mechanism. and these are often contrasted with intentional explanations. the preference would be for institutions which optimally increase labourproductivity. This is Alan Carling’s verdict in Carling 1993. in which decisions are made individually. ceteris paribus. But whatever we conclude on the matter. the effect on the productive forces is. In this case. secondary to the effect on their work-leisure tradeoff. 38. This is strictly correct. then. it seems wildly outlandish as a general model for modal transitions. then his commitment to the former stands. If we define functional explanations in such a fashion that they cannot advert to an intentional mechanism in their defence. and that the choices are made individually. so that only those with the appropriate effect-generating attributes survive over time. It is certainly possible to imagine new production-relations which would decrease . strictly speaking. instead. pp. Actors are taken to have a set of preferences. we must conclude that Cohen.

But Cohen clearly assumes that the minimisation is occurring through increasing labour-productivity. on the face of it. and hence making it easier for the labouring class to ‘slack’. by defending a weaker interpretation of the thesis about directionality. on grounds other than productivitymaximising ones – like its effects on class-power.V. It is to these efforts that we now turn. rather. this effort can surely lay claim work-time without developing the productive forces. This may be wrong. while Wright.2 (2011) 60–91 73 implausible about this theory is not that it is impossible to imagine social agents seeking to select from among social relations while using such a calculus. counterexamples of the kind just offered are assumed away. in his theory. but also to reject one choice in favour of another. for the moment. it will tend to generate interests in its defence. allowing them. we could dilute the claims of the theory. increasing the monitoring costs of the new ruling class. two means to salvage historical materialism in its canonical form. and it is doubtful that the necessary power could consistently be mustered to abandon one set just chosen in favour of another. Alan Carling’s work represents an effort at the former sort of enterprise. say. but also as a synthesis of Brenner and Cohen. Moreover. of course. this is taken as part of the preferences of the actors. but also preserve its putative core. once a set is adopted. In other words. Carling’s synthesis Alan Carling has presented his version of historical materialism as not only preserving the claim about the primacy of the productive forces. There are. as critics have pointed out. In other words. simply from. but also of their availability. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. . not in its correctness. To choose on the basis of effects on worktime is just to choose on the basis of effects on productive forces. If successful. what makes it difficult to accept is the assumption that they will be able to do so in the manner specified. it is hardly warranted to presume that a menu of options is ever presented to social agents in the fashion required by Cohen’s theory. not only of the possibility of alternative production-relations. and there is no reason to assume that this will be the case. 39–40. we could try to adduce another type of mechanism capable of sustaining the functional character of the production-relations and hence preserve the theory in its present form. First. First. agents have to be aware. It follows that agents will then organise in the defence of the less-productive production-relations. not only to simply choose from among its items.17 Cohen’s version of canonical historical materialism thus appears to flounder. 17. second. Levine and Sober present a theory which purports to accomplish the second. unable to bear the weight of the optimality-thesis. but we are interested. suddenly more attractive candidate. given the likely opposition. only in the details of his theory. Hence. so as to render it more plausible. See Carling 1993. pp.

In a 18. is made possible by the unique configuration of forces in the region: while lords are unable to impose a new serfdom like their counterparts in eastern Germany. with corresponding constellations of power and systems of organising surplusextraction. ‘Polish’. it was able to prevent the rise of a free peasantry. of forms of feudal power: a ‘French’. but unable to drive its producers into general servitude. seamlessly melds Cohen’s historical materialism to Brenner’s. Carling now submits that we can conceptualise the three cases as models. or of types within those relations. such as the model-ones just mentioned. Brenner argues. and this breakthrough. While the French lordly class is unable to reverse peasant-proprietary rights over land.18 In Brenner’s explanation of the rise of capitalism. he offers a theory of capitalism’s spread which rides on the presence of the very selectional mechanism which Cohen was unable to adduce. Each one represents a different institutional form of feudalism. second. they are also able to prevent the sorts of gains over the land made by French peasants.74 V. we are informed. is attributed to the diverging responses to the Black Death. although the synthesis of Brenner and Cohen is fully developed in Carling 1991. as well as having brought to an end one of the most important debates in recent years. second. which. he provides a theory of capitalist origins which. English peasants are thus able to escape the serfdom of their Eastern-European counterparts. and hence capitalism. Each period of demographic collapse also weakens existing ownership-structures and hence creates the opportunity for a transmutation of property-relations. in turn. and hence resuscitates canonical historical materialism. Carling’s argument proceeds in two steps: first. but are also unable to forestall the deepening of lordly rights over land. as well as its non-occurrence in France and Eastern Europe. but weaker than the German. and ‘English’ model. that the region is subjected to the recurring cycle of demographic booms and busts that typified medievalEuropean development. which ensures a corresponding permanence of variation in feudal forms. its occurrence in England. thanks to the historical legacy of villeinage. as it were. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. its counterpart east of the Elbe is able to foist a new serfdom onto the peasant-producers. . which eventuate in the emergence of full-proprietary rights. in any region marked by different forms of feudalism. that. there is an enduring political decentralisation. Assume two background-conditions: first. The English breakthrough is thus attributed to the fact that its lordly class was stronger than the French.2 (2011) 60–91 to having inaugurated the next stage in the Marxian research-agenda. Both arguments can be found in Carling 1993. were explained by the different class-capacities of lords across regions. It is only in England that the medieval pattern of economic growth is sundered by the rise of new social-property relations.

since he is frustratingly vague on just how inter-societal competition conduces to replacing arthritic production-relations with ones more congenial to growth. to a change in their frequency. Carling argues. it appears. In any geographical zone which contains multiple units of economic systems. take two forms: a direct economic one. a competitive battle is set between it and the units with older. presumably. or. Carling now argues that it is possible to imagine the presence of a Darwinian mechanism that selects for the kind of production-relations that canonical historical materialism requires. For example. at some point. This would be a direct – albeit sickening – parallel to the story in natural selection. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. Carling is somewhat opaque on this matter. to the transition of one of them to a new mode of production. through the competition between societies endowed with different types of production-relations. Societies with greater productive efficiency are more successful in mobilising resources for war. more parenthetical remarks Carling makes. So long as there is an ‘English’ feudalism within the variants. from the preservation of the existing forms. and therefore. the ‘English’ variant of feudalism is the most propitious for an eventual transmutation into capitalism. as military engagement. there will. which alter the old régime in a fashion more congenial to growth. less-productive sets of 19. in this theory. And this mechanism is inter-societal competition. more apt to enjoy military success over rival. and less productive. Once this initial transition is successful. conquest is to be followed by a forcible imposition of the victors’ production-relations. See Carling 1993. Recall that the weakness of Cohen’s theory is that it is unable to inspire confidence that there exists some mechanism that selects the productionrelations optimal for developing the productive forces. along with the people who form their relata. such as under conditions where capitalism enters precapitalist regions through trade or direct investment. be a breakthrough from an English type of feudalism to capitalism. societies.19 The forward-march of the productive forces thus proceeds. and so long as the demographic cycle continues. more directly.V. Carling illustrates his argument by using the transition to capitalism as an example. Among the three. This competition can. but. the second component of Carling’s theory swings into action. the collapse occasioned by the demographic cycle and the class-struggle over the re-establishment of lordly control allows for a range of possible resolutions. there is nothing in his argument to exclude the possibility that such replacement occurs through an extermination of the older productionrelations. I infer this from other. over the long run.2 (2011) 60–91 75 region marked by heterogeneous feudal forms. Carling argues. . The assumption appears to be that this simply lays out a logic that can be generalised to other cases of transition in history. when a shift to a new set of production-relations occurs in one of the units.

the dynamic efficiency of capitalism will generate resources so much greater than those of the feudal one that military success will follow. ‘a large and lumbering empire at a low technical level might nevertheless concentrate its forces sufficiently to overcome a small but nimble competitor at a higher technical level’. societies with productivity-enhancing production-relations will consistently defeat those with arthritic ones. first. What is more important in such circumstances is not the efficiency of raising new resources.2 (2011) 60–91 production-relations – and the newer production-relations end up displacing their rivals. . but. the outcomes of which frequently depend on tactics. As Carling himself admits. where the difference in the level of the forces of production was not as dramatic? Carling is surprisingly vague on what the mechanism is that can serve to transmit new. there is in fact no reason to expect that the greater efficiency of the new production-relations will raise the chances of success. as the conflict continues. political organisation. through some kind of demonstration-effect. of course. their simple imposition through military conflict. the conquerors must be expected to successfully force or induce their vanquished subjects to adopt the new production-relations. Apart from the vagaries of war. But will this logic work when the competition is at an earlier stage of history. is. not surprisingly.76 V. 20. But. rather. considerably weakened. ideology.20 But if this is true. p. With a difference this large. if we pause for a moment. the quantum actually raised. then the case for such competition acting as a transmission-mechanism for new production-relations is. capitalist production-relations will tend to spread into other zones. What war selects for most directly. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. It is easy to believe that an economic unit in which capitalism dominates will win out in its competition with other units.. when the conflict is between forms of non-capitalist class-societies. Perhaps. because the difference in productivity between capitalism and precapitalist modes of production is simply unprecedented. and second. As Carling notes. its success depends on the fulfilment of two conditions: first. and second. there is really no reason to expect that. in military conflicts. But. the society with efficiency-inducing production-relations must be expected to win out over its less-productive rivals. 51. this does not seem warranted. but it appears that the two most likely candidates are. As to the first. it would seem apparent that this whole argument is biased by the case that has been chosen as its exemplar – the rise and spread of capitalist production-relations. Carling 1993. to say the least. etc. when the conflict is between capitalist and feudal economies. we can expect that. more congenial production-relations across the terrain of stagnating productive forces.

2 (2011) 60–91 77 military capacity. The production-relations that take their place after periods of transition cannot be expected to have been selected by the functional requirements of the productive forces. there would appear to be several sets of production-relations compatible with a given level of the productive forces. Ibid. painfully so. in the postbellum-scenario. be quite low. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. we can expect. and even be impressed by. and which Carling so admirably tries to defend. In the first place. that they will be so impressed as to initiate a transformation of their own production-systems. he submits. since the rival economic systems rest on different production-relations. It cannot be prejudged as to which ones 21. Moreover. as Carling notes. even if societies at greater technical levels are able to secure military victory. however. it has become awfully weak – at best imbuing it. they will also be able to impose their new production-relations on the losers. that beggars belief. optimal production-relations – through a kind of demonstration-effect of better ones. It is possible to believe that rulers will note. and a class-capacity. If there is a law-like relation between the productive forces and the production-relations which govern historical development. but this would seem a far cry from the canonical historical materialism that Cohen has excavated. Since such capacity is the composite outcome of a host of factors. that the theory of competitive selection that he offers is in danger of being buried under a mountain of caveats. The problem of class-capacity and interests also undermines the case for a second route to the imposition of new. ‘all that can be said is that history exhibits a bias imparted by competitive primacy. and b) transform them in the intended direction. The historical record does not lack examples of transformations that have yielded a result very different from that which was intended. It presumes a state-capacity. Instead. it is a stretch to assume that they will. . It is not so easy to believe. more-productive economies elsewhere. it is an entirely different matter to expect that. with a bias. a) have the capacity to transform the existing production-relations.V. even if they are so inclined. a transition to those production-relations will involve the dismantling of the very social relations on the basis of which these rulers maintain their power. Carling appears aware. The likelihood of their doing so will. a bias weaker than a tendency but considerably stronger than nothing at all’. it cannot be expected to select consistently in favour of the latter. ‘Perhaps’.21 Perhaps. only one of which is productive efficiency. But. rather than a powerful drive. Such transformations of the productive structure presume a capacity on the part of the victors that far exceeds the power required to simply win in war.

In fact. Levine and Sober’s reconstruction of historical materialism is the abandonment of the optimality-thesis. And. then must the Marxian commitment to a theory of historical development also be discarded? In a series of articles subsequently collected into a book. See Wright and Levine 1980. even through a competitive struggle between economic systems – unless we are taking as our example the transition to capitalism. This was the first time Wright unveiled his ‘sticky-downward’ version of directionality. see Carling 2006. may not be defensible. although he was apparently aware of its importance. They agree.2 (2011) 60–91 will win out. Historical materialism in its stronger form. until it can be. If properly reconstructed. Andrew Levine and Elliott Sober valiantly argue that it need not. which has since. that it cannot be assumed that there exists any mechanism which can serve to select those production-relations optimal for a further development of the productive forces. these core-components of the theory can still be defended. History can still be viewed as being driven through the development of the productive forces. The change seems to have come around the time of Wright’s engagement with Giddens’s work. if the productive 22. can retain the core of what canonical historical materialism tries to defend. and the direction of this development can still be regarded as being toward greater-and-greater productive power. This article was in fact the first to highlight the centrality of the optimality-thesis for Cohen’s theory. they argue. Erik Wright. . Levine and Sober take the core-motivation behind Cohen’s project to be a defence of the directionality of history. Abandoning the optimality-thesis At the heart of Wright. stuck. this early article was clearly more critical of Cohen than the later incarnations. as embodied in the optimality-thesis. well.23 But. Carling’s views have evolved since his early work. But the point is that the direction in which this transition was resolved does not seem to be generalisable to other instances. we cannot claim to have found a mechanism that can save Cohen’s optimality-thesis. Cohen himself did not call attention to it in his book. a more nuanced and concessive historical materialism. Wright.22 Wright. and his defence of Marxism against the latter’s critique. See Wright 1983. however. generated endogenously through the dynamic between the productive forces and the production-relations. For his more recent position. Carling 2009. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. while offloading its more embarrassing baggage. 23. indeed they were among the first to argue. Levine and Sober’s reconstructed historical materialism If the productive forces are not successful at selecting the production-relations optimal for a continuing development of the productive forces.78 V.

and it will be far more typical that the productive forces will continue to advance. Levine and Sober 1993. while transitions to new modes of production do become less predictable. the limits on the range of candidates from which a new set of production-relations will be selected are such that.V. 24. Levine and Sober take to be the central motivation for historical materialism.2 (2011) 60–91 79 forces lack this capacity. Which of these actually takes its place as a successor will depend on the details of the struggle between social classes. Levine and Sober argue that. and why it could be seen as an interesting one. then in what sense does Marxism have a theory of history? What are the limits to the contingency that is now imported into the theory? Wright.25 This preserves what Wright. is two-fold: first. Levine and Sober 1993. 25. This is not to say that they will never regress. at worst. . Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. p. 90. such instances of regression. In particular. the theory of social forms occupies a much more prominent position than in the version enunciated by Cohen. ‘everything is possible at every juncture’. the idea that history has a clear direction. whichever production-relations take their place. while it is now possible for a larger variety of production-relations to be likely candidates for selection. it is nonetheless also true. preserves the existing level of technical development. from lower to higher levels of productivity. The reason this should be seen as a version of canonical historical materialism. In this version of historical materialism. they will preserve the ‘law-like’ relation between the productive forces and the production-relations – that relation being. there now emerge a range of such sets. Instead of there being one set of production-relations compatible with the productive forces during a period of transition. p. So long as new production-relations are more likely to preserve the existing level of development than they are to allow its regression. will be historically rare. they argue. once we jettison the optimality-thesis. minimally. Wright. that the new set will be one which. when we try to apprehend the actual sequence of social formations. it is not the case that. or. there are still appreciable limits to the possible variety of outcomes – it is not that ‘anything goes’. remain stationary. the aggregate outcome will be that the productive forces’s development will be ‘sticky downwards’. however. has already shifted away from the theory of transitions in its classical form. So the explanatory burden. the range of productionrelations that is the ‘menu’ of options at a given juncture is still limited. 91. Wright. of course.24 Second. that the production-relations must be compatible with the further development of the productive forces.

Levine and Sober 1993. then the direction of history will be from lessproductive to more-productive productive forces. if such a limit obtains. And. there also exists a determinate limit to the variety of new modes of production possible at any given level of the productive forces. it is thus of some interest to tease out its implications. even if they do not systematically develop them further.26 If these conditions obtain.80 V. as well as in their comparison of the new product to the older one. From weak historical materialism to minimalist historical materialism To begin. p. all that is required is that the new set of production-relations be of a sort that resolves the problem of incompatibility which generated the crisis. . we may note that there is now an ambiguity as to the precise claim being advanced with regard to the productive forces. Weak historical materialism: the production-relations that obtain at any given time do so because they are conducive – though not necessarily optimal – to the ongoing development of the productive forces. they maintain the existing level of development of the productive forces. then the abandonment of the primacy-thesis does not imply that ‘anything goes’. It may now be possible for there to be long expanses of history in which there is not steady technological progress. 79. the impulse for a continuous development of the productive forces is appreciably weaker than in Cohen’s canonical historical materialism. Minimalist historical materialism: the production-relations that obtain at any given time do so because. Wright. Once we abandon the optimality-thesis. (ii) There exists some alternative set of production-relations more conducive to developing the productive forces. since the following conditions obtain: (i) The probability of remaining stationary is greater than that of regressing. 26. To appreciate the burden of the new and weaker historical materialism. Despite this considerable latitude. Wright.2 (2011) 60–91 In the new incarnation of historical materialism. the authors argue that the theory still retains its commitment to a directionality in history. so long as this obtains. minimally. Even in transitions to new modes of production. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. there emerge two possible ‘curves’ of history’s developmental trajectory. (iii) The probability of moving to this new set of production-relations is greater than regressing. Levine and Sober are tantalisingly brief in their discussion of the new theory.

The two core-reasons adduced for why we should expect a cumulative tendency toward development are as follows: first. have a bias toward development. and since all agents have an interest in decreasing their own toil. then. Levine and Sober do not offer any compelling reason to expect that weak historical materialism will be more likely to be true than minimalist historical materialism. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. Levine and Sober’s theory to defend weak historical materialism over minimalist historical materialism. precisely because of its weaker ambitions. or an overweening monarchical state. but also because of the added oppression flowing from the increased political and military presence of the extractors. may serve to usurp enough of the new product to render the positive incentive offered by the latter neutral. while there will be no pervasive social interest in reducing productivity. 27. second. of course. But the interest in reducing toil has also to be weighed against other interests. This would not only be so with regard to the welfare-effects of their extractions. they can be expected to retain new innovations whencesoever they find them. But it is precisely the force of the second mechanism that we must call into question. What the production-relations do. Minimalist historical materialism endorses a much weaker claim. Levine and Sober 1993. It is true that agents have an interest in reducing toil. namely. while all agents may not have an interest in advancing productivity. and hence who could have an interest in the reduction of toil socially. There is first the issue of who benefits from the fruits of the toil. and.2 (2011) 60–91 81 Weak historical materialism is the stronger of the two. Wright. . Note that this claim is at the micro-level. few agents will benefit from its consistent reduction. which agents may regard as no less important. and hence in increasing productivity. Increasing productivity allows for the decrease of toil. But. this minimalist historical materialism runs the danger of being of less – and perhaps of little – interest. I should first like to examine whether there is enough muscle in Wright. in doing so. There may be agents who have an interest in preventing reductions in the toil of others.V. p. 81. Consider their arguments for the developmental prospects of the productive forces. that the property for which the productive forces select the production-relations is the latter’s ability to sustain the former’s level of development. is prevent a regression of the productive forces. and. there is good reason to assume that there will always be agents with an interest in increasing it.27 Society’s productive capacity will therefore certainly be sticky downward. Wright. depending on the force of the second mechanism. insists that the latter exercise a significant constraint on the menu from which new production-relations are selected. The presence of an effectively organised lordly class. Whether it is of interest is a theme to which I shall return presently. because it sustains a forward-thrust for the productive forces.

form part of the core-preferences of human agents – no less than the desire to decrease toil.2 (2011) 60–91 This kind of increased presence would ‘overflow’ into other dimensions. there is good reason to believe that there may be agents with an active interest in preventing the adoption of such technologies by others. Not only is there no reason to believe that agents. like added risks. etc. upon considering their net effects. Wright. who have a direct interest. and some of his defenders. focused more on protecting existing levels of welfare. there could. have insisted that absent a compulsion to innovate. but. Levine and Sober gloss over this issue by pitching their argument at the level of the agent. more direct. it is entirely possible that rulers will prefer a social order that is less productive. as long as it promises their stable reproduction. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. comprised most crucially by the type of property-relations in place. This is most obvious in the case of ruling classes. Note that what is at stake here is not the adoption of new technologies by particular individuals. However. or increase their own monitoring costs. like freedom and autonomy. will adopt new innovations in their own work-régimes. Levine and Sober’s reconstruction can support. on historical materialism’s own assumptions. If the trajectory of historical development depends on the net effects of the two mechanisms adduced by Wright. since any such reduction is in their material interest. then there is scant warrant for accepting weak historical materialism over minimalist historical materialism. Hence. If minimalist historical materialism is the version that Wright. in preventing the adoption of technologies that might increase the autonomy of producers.82 V. in a class-society. the presence of a mechanism that allows their spread throughout society at large. as against taking the kinds of risks required for increasing it. absent an appropriate environment. other. which producers may not be willing to take on. Even if we ignore such externalities. The upshot of all this is that. It is certainly true that agents will be inclined to adopt innovations that reduce their own toil. for example. then what we are left with is not a theory that predicts an ongoing-upward ascent of the productive forces. while abstracting matters from the social structures in which the agents are placed. odious effects of new innovations. producers will opt for more conservative strategies. Levine and Sober. it could very well destabilise the process of surplusextraction if it results in greater power for the immediate producers. but one in which the productive forces are seen to simply resist regression – their level of . which. there is simply no reason to assume that the net impact of new innovations on agents’ interests will be such as to facilitate the consistent acceptance of new innovations. It is for this reason that Brenner. rather. the reduction in toil for one group may very well increase labour-effort for others. and often are. in particular on the effects of the second.

and the net outcome need not necessarily be in favour of growth. p.29 The implications of a minimalist historical materialism Now. in this respect. the realisation of this capacity is now contingent upon its interaction with other mechanisms in society. See Wright. so that the net effect will be toward development. See the discussion of the Asiatic mode of production in Wright.V. if this is the case. Wright. This certainly makes the theory more plausible. Levine and Sober 1993. 11. but it has implications that cascade into other regions of historical materialism. the demise of canonical historical materialism could simply be embraced. In Cohen’s theory. the latter can be confidently assumed to be causally superior. p. 29. 37–9. Levine and Sober seem to recognise this possibility. then the theory must admit to the possibility of long periods of historical stagnation – periods of ‘steady-state’ reproduction of the productive forces. as it were – they will have the capacity to dominate and overcome the effects of the other mechanisms. in transitions to new modes of production. there are two conclusions that may follow from a slide into minimalist historical materialism. To admit of the possibility that production-relations might emerge which only preserve the existing level of the productive forces – or which might even reverse them somewhat. a direct avatar of the monist tradition of historical materialism encoded by the First International. and that the menu of options at a given juncture in history is quite large. Levine and Sober 1993. 52. While the productive forces (barely) retain their capacity toward an upward ascent. part of the appeal of his claims came from the clearly identifiable rôle that the productive forces play in historical development. such as might accord with the interests of the new ruling classes – removes this monism in favour of a more pluralist view of causation in historical development. growth-impeding factors in society which interact with the effects of the productive forces.30 But if this is 28. 30. In other words. First. 80. it may be admitted that the more powerful claims about the constraints imposed by the theory of transitions cannot be sustained.2 (2011) 60–91 83 development tends to be ‘sticky downwards’. pp. While there are other. n. There is every reason to expect that. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. . Cohen’s theory is. so long as they do not force a regression upon the latter. Consider what it means for the ambition to explain historical development as an artefact of the ‘law-like’ relation between the productive forces and the productionrelations. Wright.28 This need not occur only within a mode of production. non-developmental productionrelations will happily combine with the productive forces. Levine and Sober 1993. But.

non-class factors have played a crucial rôle. Sooner or later. this cannot remain an indefinite state of affairs. they do serve to put these latter on the agenda. once it was on the slate. which need to be distinguished – the fact of its rise.84 V. timing. In this case. A second reaction to the possible slide into minimalist historical materialism is to claim the following: while it is indeed true that a modal crisis may not trigger the emergence and consolidation of new. the productive forces would still be relevant explanatory factors in the event that new production-relations are adopted. the fact that it arose when it did within the broad history of capitalism. But the actual timing of welfare-legislation. more-appropriate production-relations. in particular. etc. a class with the appropriate interests will also develop the requisite capacity. and well as the precise institutional design it embodied. and the variations in its form. The fact that the welfare-state arose only within capitalism. Wright. Erik Wright suggested this to me in comments to a paper I wrote some years ago. This is an argument that would parallel another argument Wright. as Marxists traditionally tried to argue. and. more specifically. Marxists have traditionally argued that the welfare-state is the product of class-struggle. especially if the level of the productive forces is marginally greater in each cycle. growth-enhancing productionrelations. a fact unjustifiably ignored by Marxists. but it is so wide as to make its explanatory pay-off rather more meagre. Their mainstream-critics have rejected this argument. Levine and Sober endorse for the rise of the welfare-state. . to which 31. while the productive forces may not themselves generate new. this probability increases. not by the causal influence of the functional needs of the productive forces. This duo now does exercise a constraint. then it is hard to see why the actual course of history should be explained by the ‘dialectic’ between the productive forces and the production-relations. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. may not be directly explained through class-struggle. and the varieties of such states.31 Hence. is explained by the logic of class and class-struggle.2 (2011) 60–91 true. we may presume that with each iteration of the cycle. Even more. pointing out that other. but by the course of events as driven by class-struggle. It was the development of large working-class movements in industrial countries which put this kind of state on the agenda. can be explained by other factors. precisely because it was their prior development that created the possibility for the rise of the new production-relations. the growing organisational power of the working class. The explanatory work in any concrete analysis of historical transitions will be done. Levine and Sober point out that there are two dimensions to the rise of the welfarestate. the precise timing of its adoption.

etc. and that of their interests in such states.V. This is the sense in which the productive forces would also operate as a cause for the emergence of new. In other words. other movements. it is not possible to show that increasing levels of the productive forces are a structural cause of the rise of new production-relations. but its timing. in order for this to work. They are relevant to explaining not the fact of a welfare-state. an increasing index of their associational power renders it more likely that that power will be used to alter existing states toward the provision of welfare. For explanations as to why the welfare-states arose in the first place. In cases which embody structural causation. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. socialises household-labour. and working-class movements in the case of the welfare-state – puts new developments on the agenda. there needs to be present some mechanism which links the structural cause – the power of the working class – to the outcome. Now. an increase in the weight of the structural cause serves to increase the likelihood of the predicted outcome. civil war. etc. bureaucratic manœuvres. particular form. it is taken to mean that the causal agent serves as a structural cause of the outcome. The force of Wright. etc. I should like to suggest that the parallel drawn is false. one set of causes – the productive forces in the case of epochal transitions. while another set selects the particular thing from the items on the agenda. more propitious production-relations. the basic (structural-) causative factor is not the trigger for the event being generated. all we need to know is the fact of workingclass power. And this link is provided by the class-interests of the workers: given that workers have an interest in the formation of a state which decommodifies labour-power. nevertheless..2 (2011) 60–91 85 non-Marxian analyses frequently allude: geopolitics. Hence. The actual chain of events leading to the formation of a welfare-state – by electoral victories. In both cases. in both cases. – can be regarded as beside the point. it radically increases the likelihood that some trigger will bring about the predicted outcome. On their construal. Note that. The relevance of working-class movements to the formation of welfarestates is a successful example of structural causation. which might bring about transitions that embody the productive forces’s ‘law-like’ relation with the production-relations. the former set of causes retain explanatory relevance. and such. Consider again what the structure of the argument . enlightened bureaucratic reform. Levine and Sober’s argument here turns on the meaning attached to ‘putting something on the agenda’. it is not at all clear that a mechanism exists to connect the productive forces as a structural cause with some putative triggers. Once the magnitude of the structural cause reaches a certain threshold-level. insulates workers from market-fluctuations.

It is difficult to see how this can be prejudged. while it is true that social agents have an interest in increased productivity. congenial set of production-relations more likely? If we were to hazard a thorough symmetry with the case of the welfare-state. This is. and typically is. . then the option of regarding the productive forces as a structural cause behind new production-relations is not available to Wright. a growth in social actors’ capacity will be used to hasten the emergence of new production-relations. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. even if such an interest does exist. smothered by other interests threatened by the externalities accompanying betterproductive forces. in other words. If the divergences between this case and the case of the welfare-state is as explained. which links the putative cause to its effects. in structure.2 (2011) 60–91 needs to be: as the level of the productive forces gradually increases over time. And. ceteris paribus. it can be. But I have already argued that. Why. Given this interest in new production-relations. then to say that it puts new productionrelations ‘on the agenda’ in the sense that working-class power put the welfarestate ‘on the agenda’ is misleading. Hence an increase in the technical level of the productive forces will have no determinate effect on the likelihood of new production-relations replacing the crisis-ridden ones. if it cannot count as a structural cause. should increases in the productive forces render a new. But there is a difference – while there is a clear mechanism in the case examined above. much like the case of working-class power and the welfare-state: if the causal factor is increasing in magnitude. and hence will generate greater resources. more congenial set of production-relations will be established. Levine and Sober. the argument would have to presume an interest on the part of social actors for new production-relations. therefore.86 V. crises in the mode of production will be resolved in a way that makes it more likely that a new. there is no reason to believe that more powerful productive forces will increase the capacity of the relevant actors in the necessary direction. There is. It may just as easily flow toward social actors with a strong interest in the reproduction of the existing order. it is impossible to discern a corresponding link in the case of the productive forces. it increases the chances of the kind of outcome predicted by the theory. But the distribution of these resources cannot be taken for granted. It is true that better productivity will increase the social surplus. as well as an increase in their capacity to do so. no reason to assume that the classsituation of historical actors will include an interest in this sort of development. Furthermore.

Wright. the functional requirements of the productive forces recede as the mechanism that selects for new production-relations. Levine and Sober reject the optimality-thesis. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. For there will also be production-relations of kind C. Minimalist historical materialism is certainly plausible as a theory of historical development. have it in their interests to sacrifice growth-enhancing productionrelations for ones which are biased toward other interests. then there are two interpretations of historical materialism available to them: weak historical materialism.. E. even if these latter need not be optimal. indeed. D. that conform to the requirements of preserving the existing level of the productive forces. I have argued that. This sequence cannot now be explained by the functional needs of the productive forces. in fact. But its explanatory power is considerably weakened for understanding the actual sequence of social forms observed in history. The implications are far-reaching.V. as the set of permissible production-relations widens so that the number of candidates increases. Further. minimalist historical materialism is a class-struggle theory! Let us take stock. which asserts that the progression of the production-relations in history is such that they facilitate the further development of the productive forces. As I suggested earlier. this is the version that they must accept. agents may. On their own assumptions. then. as they must if they are to salvage historical materialism. and minimalist historical materialism. is a theory which argues that what is lawgoverned in the observed course of history is merely that the productionrelations across epochs will be such that they prevent a regression in the level of the productive forces. There is no mechanism available that could serve to consistently select growth-enhancing production-relations. If the productionrelations of kind B are the ones that follow the production-relations of kind A. albeit not at an optimal level. then it cannot be assumed that this was because of suitability to the needs of the productive forces. the class-struggle. as the potential candidates for . it is difficult to sustain a thesis arguing for the continual development of the productive forces through history. like stability or political power. Levine and Sober hint that the second of the two weak versions may be the one that they will have to settle upon. It has been the burden of my argument that. etc. and not one of the other sets. The fact that it was B that followed A. Recall that. What remains.2 (2011) 60–91 87 Hesperus is Phosphorus! Or. if Wright. In their exposition of the new version of historical materialism. will have to be explained by some recourse to other factors – most likely. which reverts simply to the assertion that the progression of the production-relations is such that the productive forces just do not regress.

In the canonical version of historical materialism. as the theory is weakened. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. The productive forces now set the (rather wide) limit on the range of potential production-relations that will replace the existing. the productive forces select for the particular production-relations that replace the ones that have fallen into crisis. It is that the nature of their rôle now shifts. but. in minimal historical materialism. the theory cannot but place greater weight on the explanatory rôle of class-struggle in explaining the actual course of historical development. Note that this does not mean that the productive forces now are rendered irrelevant to the theory. the explanatory contribution of the productive forces decreases. amounts to the property of preventing a regression to lower levels of productivity. rather. The debate within the Marxian tradition has been about the specific domain of each in relation to the other. In other words. Conclusion Historical materialism has always been marked by a kind of division of labour between its two components. In the strongest version of the theory. and the theory of transitions. But as the theory is weakened. The cost of making the theory more plausible is that it starts to look more and more like a class-struggle theory of history. all of which have in common the needed property – which. the theory of social forms. selecting against those which would induce a regression in the level of the productive forces.2 (2011) 60–91 new production-relations increase in number. it cannot be assumed that the productive forces enjoy this kind of power. as developed by Cohen through the optimalitythesis.88 V. for one among a list of production-relations. as the demands on canonical historical materialism are softened. Levine and Sober. the economic structure which served as the foundation for production and distribution was able to endure only so . decrepit ones. while the selection from within the permissible range of production-relations will be decided by class-struggle. it veers toward becoming a theory of history based on class-struggle. it was the theory of transitions which reigned supreme – history was taken to have been driven by a law-like relation between the productive forces and the relations of production. But this just amounts to saying that. They must settle. as they are by Wright. The selectional rôle of the productive forces switched from selecting for a particular set of production-relations to selecting against a class of production-relations. What the productive forces are doing now is not selecting for a particular set of production-relations. As human societies moved from one mode of production to another. as it were.

the remit of the theory of social forms was quite limited: it was primarily to show how the prevailing production-relations generated the characteristic ‘laws of motion’ of that mode of production. the search for a defensible historical materialism has led to a reversal of the balance between the theory of transitions and the theory of social forms. The game was fixed so that only one set of production-relations could possibly win. I argued that weak historical materialism must give way to a minimalist historical materialism. the explanatory rôle of the class-struggle increases. With this.V. Hence. Somewhat perversely. The functional requirements of the productive forces are . but. the outcome of the class-struggle was ‘wired’ into the system by the functional requirements of the productive forces. for their part. even here. that ‘all history hitherto is the history of classstruggle’. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. Levine and Sober. Levine and Sober fail in their attempts to shore up canonical historical materialism. On the other hand. is the more defensible version of historical materialism. during transitions from one mode to another. Marx’s dictum. The reason for this dominance of the theory of transitions was that. and the class-struggle that was related to them. are forced to take a weak historical materialism as their starting-point. In this theory. Carling is unable to show that military conflict can act as an appropriate selectional mechanism. This emphatically does not mean that the productive forces have no causal rôle in the theory of history. What I have tried to show in this article is that Carling and Wright. the ambition to defend canonical historical materialism has so weakened its claims that its rival theory has emerged as a more natural and robust choice. Wright. The challenge for defenders of canonical historical materialism has been to adduce a mechanism that might account for the productive forces having such powers to select production-relations. Hence. Recall that canonical historical materialism has to commit to the view that the functional requirements of the productive forces so constrain the production-relations that they winnow the range of candidates down to a very small band – perhaps even down to a single set. by its own logic.2 (2011) 60–91 89 long as it remained optimal for ongoing technological progress. The explanatory weight of the productive forces is directly related to the force of its constraints on the selection of production-relations. And with each widening of constraints. they end up expanding the explanatory rôle of the class-struggle – the main component of the theory of social forms. the constraints exercised by the productive forces must widen even further. The task of explaining why the movement from one social form to another turned out the way it did – that was the job of the theory of transitions. as they steadily weaken the claims that can be made on behalf of the productive forces. The explanatory function of the theory of social forms was basically confined to dynamics within social formations.

in any case. London: Verso. which would also have maintained the level of the productive forces. 1: 31– 65. ‘Karl Marx’s Theory of History and the Recovery of the Marxian Tradition’. and that a regression from higher to lower levels is rare. Robert 1986. David Cannadine and James M. precisely because these are rarely the contrast-class. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Alan H. 2: 275–97. The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe. Brenner. Rosenheim. ‘Analytical Marxism and Historical Materialism – The Debate on Social Evolution’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. instead. Trevor Henry and C. —— 1989. Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense. —— 2006. Philpin (eds. of which I am aware – claims that significant regressions of the productive forces are just as likely as their preservation. —— 2009.E. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hence. edited by John Roemer. ‘Problems of the Deep: Intention and History’. ‘The Social Basis of Economic Development’. those developed by Ernest Gellner and Michael Mann.2 (2011) 60–91 still non-trivial – they do induce agents to reject production-relations that would force a significant regression in technological levels. 1: 97–109. they do impose some constraints on the range of potential production-relations during transitions from one mode of production to another. on the vicissitudes of the class-struggle. See Gellner 1988 and Mann 1986.32 Hence. Leiden: Brill. when we set out to explain why production-relations set A was followed by set B.) 1985. 57. and Change in Social Theory. in Making History: Agency. 70. Beier. ‘Preface’. Alex 2004. Science and Society.90 V. Second Edition. which would have forced a significant regression. But. Cohen. in The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of Lawrence Stone. Labour and Freedom: Themes from Marx. History. To the contrary. in Analytical Marxism. Historical Materialism Book Series. —— 1988. the contrast-class against which B’s emergence is considered will be set C. Princeton: Princeton University Press. is central to two of the most widely-regarded non-Marxian theories of history. We will rely. the regression-inhibiting power of the productive forces will seldom figure in the explanation for why B followed A. edited by A. References Aston. The reason for this is simple: no theory of history – none. . and not sets G and H.L. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Carling. Gerald Allan 1978. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. —— 1993. 73. viz. the fact that history is marked by an overarching aggregation of technical knowledge. Social Division. ‘Marx and the Bourgeois Revolution’. Science and Society. 1991. 32. Callinicos. Science and Society.H. Structure. The point is that this constraint is now weak enough as to seldom figure in explanations of historical transitions.

The Sources of Social Power: Volume 1. ‘Giddens’ Critique of Marxism’. Marxism and History: a Critical Introduction. John E. ‘Foundations for a Neo-Marxist Class Analysis’. 138: 11–35. Sword. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Mann. . London: Verso. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Second Edition. Stephen H. I. Hilton.) 1976. Ernest 1988. Wright. Rigby. Westport: Greenwood Press. edited by Erik Olin Wright. Katz. Martin.V. 1989. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Andrew Levine and Elliott Sober 1993. Rodney (ed. 1983. A History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760. and Book: the Structure of Human History. 1987. Erik Olin and Andrew Levine 1980. New Left Review. Claudio J. ‘Rationality and Class Struggle’. Wright. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Chibber / Historical Materialism 19. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Erik Olin 1983. Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defense. Michael 1986. 123: 47–68. in Approaches to Class Analysis. The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. Wright. Erik Olin. London: Verso. Feudalism to Capitalism: Peasant and Landlord in English Agrarian Development. Reconstructing Marxism: Essays on Explanation and the Theory of History. I. Plough. From Feudalism to Capitalism: Marxian Theories of Class Struggle and Social Change. Gellner. New Left Review. —— 2005.2 (2011) 60–91 91 —— 2002.

it Abstract Liberalism is currently the hegemonic world-view. In many essays of the © Koninklijke Brill NV. However. Gramsci and Lukács. 2011 DOI: 10. Azzarà University of Urbino s. including right-wing philosophers such as Nietzsche and Settling Accounts with Liberalism: On the Work of Domenico Losurdo Stefano G. liberalism was not a universalistic defence of the individual’s freedom. Domenico Losurdo demonstrates that this is not the case.2 (2011) 92–112 brill. given that each society is traversed by deep differences and bitter conflicts. capable of dictating its terms even to the very movements that antagonise it.azzara@uniurb. such as Marx and Lenin. It was only after the confrontation and clash with the demands of radicalism and socialism and two world-wars that liberal thought was forced to make peace with the principles of democracy. slavery. the emancipation from absolute power turned into the possibility for the strongest individuals and social forces to exercise an unprecedented absolute power over subaltern classes and ‘inferior races’. His research has focused on German idealism. presiding over the Internationale Gesellschaft Hegel-Marx für dialektisches Denken. Leiden. He is Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Urbino and an internationally acclaimed Hegel scholar. radicalism. democracy. in a labour of reconstruction of historical materialism that has spanned the past thirty years. On the contrary. colonialism. universalism Introduction Domenico Losurdo can be regarded as one of the most important contemporary Italian philosophers of Marxist orientation. However. Of equal importance has been his engagement with the classical theorists of the workers’ movement. contemporary liberalism seems to have forgotten its own most-recent achievements and to have returned to its eighteenth-century form: will modern democracy survive this involution? Keywords liberalism. But does the history of liberalism really coincide with that of modern democracy? In two of his recent works. it represented a demand for wresting complete self-government of civil society from the monarch. Liberalism: A Counter-History and The Language of Empire.Historical Materialism 19. The critique of liberalism is an important aspect of his current work.1163/156920611X573815 . At its origin.

. the final achievement of a multiplicity of social and political experiments over the course of human history. the history of the process of liberation of the colonies appears 1. For more sympathetic. for a more academic reading. The result is a great fresco incorporating a close comparison of the revolutionary and the conservative wings of liberalism over the centuries. Its advocates have declared victory over all the different kinds of social conflicts that have affected the West and the rest of the world for the past few centuries. liberalism is nowadays the largely dominant world-view. in Pellicciari 2005–6. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 92–112 93 past decade. Similarly. Liberal hegemony and the need for a counter-history The Italian publication of Losurdo’s Controstoria del liberalismo spurred a lively debate. is much wider than the list of crimes and mischief documented by Stéphane Courtois et al. This international conflict lasted for a long time and became entangled with different forms of antagonism. the separation of powers and the formalisation of conflict in representative government – was explicitly defended as the ultimate outcome of history. Petrucciani 2005. however. First. See also a Catholic interpretation. After the defeat of the socialist faction. 2. Bassani 2006. at first sight Losurdo’s counter-history might look like a ‘Black Book of Liberalism’.1 This was indeed the way in which it was understood by many liberal critics who shy away from open confrontation. liberal-socialist readings. authors of the Black Book of Communism. the property-owning class managed to oppose and co-opt the European aristocracy and become dominant. Morelli 2005. Lattieri 2006.2 Its real impact. Then it had the upper-hand over the emerging movement of subaltern classes and their radical demands for changes in social and international relations. G. Undoubtedly. see d’Orsi 2005.S. Examples of the liberal critiques of Losurdo’s book can be found in Cofrancesco 2005 and 2006. see Gravagnuolo 2005 and Bedeschi 2005 (the author is an ex-Marxist scholar of Galvano Della Volpe). Its intention is also very different.. Finally. ‘liberal democracy’ – its legal codes grounded in private property and individual rights. Losurdo has developed an anti-conformist critique of the history of the liberal movement that refers to its main theorists as much as to the concrete developments and political choices of the societies and states that define themselves as liberal. This critique has been developed in particular in the two books that constitute the focus of attention of this article. which places in question the foundations of traditional historiography and reveals the difficult process of the construction of modern democracy. Recently continued in Il linguaggio dell’Impero. albeit reductive.

pp. where they do.6 This concept. were interpreted and experienced by the anti-fascist front as a ‘social and democratic revolution of global scope’ that brought ‘legitimacy to the revolutionary tradition as a whole’. refashioning their vocabulary according to liberalism’s own ‘lexicon’. whilst providing the whole of society and the subaltern classes with ideas with which to perceive and understand reality. So pervasive was this revision that it changed the collective imaginary and asserted a drastic transformation of politics.4 reinforcing a positive assessment of the chain of revolutionary events running from the French Revolution to the upheavals of the 1900s. and Chapter III. 6. 4. they either no longer exist or. more often. Cf. 7. Initially. social relations of power and relations between nations. G. proposed by Ernst Nolte. a defeat at this level of the struggle represents an integral defeat: in the period of the establishment of modern democracy and the emancipation from colonialism. Losurdo 1996b. Losurdo 1996b. p.94 S. this assessment also applied to the USSR as the latter was part of the Anglo-American alliance against Nazism and its influence on Western-political systems and civil societies was on the rise.7 3. 13. have little real effect. 93ff. Losurdo 1996b. . especially the second. Today. 20. 9–11. we have also been witness to a revision of the interpretative paradigms of contemporary history. ‘fundamentalism’. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. ‘the historical cycle from 1789 to 1917’. surreptitiously.5 popular democracies and subsequent movements of liberation from colonialism are being targeted and reinterpreted through the category of ‘international civil war’. 5. in an epochal ‘historiographical and cultural turn’. which is indicative of the liberal resolve to affirm liberal-global interests by forcedly exporting its ‘democratic’-political institutions under US-leadership. pp. 6–7. Losurdo 1996b. pp. whether explicitly or. In this context. sharply distinguishes the Western (or Atlantic) revolutionary liberal and democratic lineage from the ‘totalitarian’ one of Jacobin-Bolshevik origins. If socio-political conflicts are also a battle of ideas and theories. world-views that served as an alternative to liberalism were at the forefront of conceptual developments and new artistic expression. The world-wars. it is hardly surprising that liberalism enjoys a solid ideological hegemony. Losurdo 2007. p. ‘anti-Americanism’ and ‘anti-Zionism’ mean to the contemporary Left? The victory of liberalism is also measured in terms of how deeply it was able to penetrate and restructure antagonistic world-views. pp. Today. Losurdo 1996b.3 In the last few decades. ix–x.2 (2011) 92–112 to clash with an objective tendency to re-colonise. What do the words ‘terrorism’.

Holland was the first country to proclaim itself a ‘liberal’ order. On the programmatic use of this methodology of historical investigation.8 His Counter-History does not aim to be an epoché of this hegemony. 11. it seems incapable of conceiving them within the framework of a real universalism. weil es bekannt ist. The United Provinces relaunched colonial expansion and engaged in intense competition with Spain 8. and its self-identification with. liberalism has been threatened by an inherent contradiction. Losurdo 1994. nicht erkannt’ (G. liberalism underwent a process of involution with respect to the position it used to hold during the twentieth century. p.S. pp. 19. it is also recovering many of the positions that were typical of nineteenth-century liberalism. Losurdo 2011.F. Phänomenologie des Geistes. Whilst doing so. Slavery and genocide in the history of liberalism A comparative appreciation of liberalism at the level of theory and political practice10 cannot ignore its systematic entanglement with slavery and even genocide. remarks about this apotheosis of liberalism – which demands that one sign up to the principles of liberalism as a minimum requirement for access to public discourse – that what is noted is not necessarily known. it is carrying out a ‘massive purge of elements of democracy. Whilst undoubtedly it has developed the concepts of the individual and freedom. the centrality of the individual and the history of modern freedom. pp. what does this liberalism which has witnessed the rise of its foremost interpreters into the contemporary cultural and political establishment actually consist of ? In recent decades. 10. Hegel. Losurdo immediately strikes at the heart of the question. 33–5. This contradiction can first be seen in the socio-political context of ‘liberal’ countries that from their early days witnessed theoretical debates about freedom and were harshly confronted by the problems posed to the friends of liberty by the presence of colonised peoples and the concrete institution of slavery. 9. pp. Vorrede). see Losurdo 1996b. in Hegelian fashion. . Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19.. G. but takes it seriously and questions liberalism with respect to its foundations in. See Losurdo 2005. 15ff.W.9 thus discarding ‘everything that the prolonged struggles of workers and people’ had introduced into liberalism. 16ff. In its current ‘neo-liberal’ mode. Instead of presenting a periodisation and categorisation of the different tendencies underlying such a trend. from “liberal-democratic” societies’.11 Following the uprisings against Spanish domination. Since its origins. and social democracy in particular.2 (2011) 92–112 95 Losurdo. After all. ‘Das Bekannte überhaupt ist darum.

180ff. responding to the resistance of the local populations with systematic oppression and massacre. Losurdo 2011. 117–20. The same phenomenon occurred in England after the Glorious Revolution. See Losurdo 2005. 123ff. . in the name of the freedom of civil society and the interests of the individual. They tended to be seen as wild and dangerous beasts whose subjugation or annihilation was not worthy of a raised eyebrow. this new liberal England engaged in the promotion of primitive accumulation and the development of industry. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. 123ff. The first move in foreign policy was to take the asiento away from Spain and acquire the monopoly over the trade in black slaves.16 The human nature of the colonised people of colour was under question from the beginning of Westerncolonial expansionism. pp. showing no hesitation in persecuting dispossessed peasants and turning them into cheap labour by means of legislation that punished vagrancy with imprisonment. 19. pp.2 (2011) 92–112 over the control of the slave-trade. which entailed emancipation from the despotism of the mother country and the constitution of an entirely new. Losurdo 2011. when. 116–17. 15. in the United States these contradictions were most blatant. p. In the 1800s. G. placing rigorous limitations on the absolute powers of the sovereign. republican order founded on the representation of individuals who were free by nature. see Losurdo 1996b. war and oppression abounded.12 At the level of domestic policy. the political power of landowners was established. 14. Proto-liberal England also distinguished itself by the harshness used in its subjugation of Ireland. Colonial powers rebelled in the name of a more accomplished liberalism. 13. p. 9ff.. pp. pp.14 The United States emerged out of an act of rebellion that broke up the unity between the liberal party and the Anglo-Saxon world. 117–20. 16. 48–51..13 Finally.. 62. entrusted with the mission of exporting these values to the rest of the globe where tyranny. On the ferocious English domination of Ireland and Scotland. See Losurdo 2005. 23.. pp. 115–17. beggars and indigenous populations in England were still persecuted to such an extent that they were deprived of personal freedoms and confined to horrific workhouses.. 68ff. and only came to abolish it as a result of a bloody war that left behind a persistent ‘ideology of white supremacy’15 and forms of hateful discrimination that are yet to be overcome. 67ff. at a time when the latter had already proclaimed itself the champion of liberty and of the primacy of the individual. See Losurdo 1996b. who were destined for the mother country and the American colonies. pp. See Losurdo 2005. 71–2. 7ff. institutions of forced labour. 21. the institutions of the American republic were able to coexist with the most brutal form of slavery for over a century. However. Losurdo 1996b. pp.96 S. In 12. Losurdo 2011.

2 (2011) 92–112 97 North America in particular. According to Losurdo. 32–6. but also affirmed the absolute power of the master over the men-commodities he owns. pp. G. These practices were fully self-conscious. these positions would be inexplicable without an appreciation of the history and moral sensibility of their times: the refusal of enslavement and genocide and the recognition of the fully-fledged humanity of colonised people is already present in the debate that followed the conquest of America (from Las Casas to Montaigne). Locke notoriously justified the colonists’ right to expropriate the Indians of their land and of all rights of ownership on the grounds that they are incapable of labouring. and the hatred of the political slavery that had been abolished in the Western hemisphere but was still present in monarchical Europe. See Losurdo 2005. 42–6.S. 30–4. not only had economic interests in the slave-trade. the exaltation of individual and social freedom against political power. In Locke. were still blurred. 40–4. and among those who supported it: from the Founding Fathers to Calhoun and beyond. John Locke. pp. 22–8.17 Grotius had already lent full legitimacy to the enslavement and extermination of pagans and of the peoples of colonised countries who rebelled against the sovereign and God. as a theoretical tradition from Aristotle onwards claimed. 314–15. the main theoretician of liberalism and of the limits of sovereign power. 310. justified and even theorised by the main exponens of liberal theory. The ‘just war’ waged against them turned them into the victor’s legitimate property. 34. Losurdo suggests that these were not degenerations or empirical deviations from otherwise-noble ideals. a power that grants him absolute discretion over their sale as much as their death. Losurdo 2011.18 17. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. including wage-labour. pp. Losurdo finds a shift towards commodity-slavery along racial lines that follows a period when the borders between slavery and its different manifestations (servitus perfecta/servitus imperfecta). pp. 18. with which both Locke and the Founding Fathers were largely familiar. . This claim recurs in nearly every political figure and intellectual who collaborated in the founding of the republic of the United States. 32–3. the celebration of the freedom of the colonist and the civilising rôle of Christianity and the Anglo-Saxon race went hand in hand with the genocide of Indian nations: the extermination of these infidel savages did not seem to represent any kind of contradiction. Locke also participated in the drafting of the constitutional provision that sanctioned slavery in Carolina. 22–7. and thus of making land profitable. coexisted with a vindication of the natural legitimacy and necessity of racial slavery. Losurdo 2011. See Losurdo 2005.

21 The question is not whether. See Losurdo 2005. The three liberal revolutions are the Dutch. ‘slavery does not persist despite the success of the three liberal revolutions. As Losurdo claims. unsurprisingly. it reaches its highest development as a result of this success’. liberal civil society won out over absolutism under extremely uneven conditions characterised by unequal social relations of power. when those who defended slavery in the South accused Lincoln of absolutist despotism and liberticidal Jacobinism. Losurdo 1996b. 37–42. 22. a number of writers perceived this contradiction at the time and subverted the assumption of liberal theory and its ‘phenomenology of power’. pp. 39. Cf. 142. sometimes using cruel forms of oppression. 23. See Losurdo 1996a.20 State-power and civil society: liberalism as a ‘Herrenvolk democracy’ This brings us to the most brutal ‘paradox’ of liberalism in Losurdo’s reconstruction. liberalism could not free itself from a pre-modern legacy. Losurdo 2011. 21. Losurdo 2005. See Losurdo 2005. on the contrary. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. p. 37. 19. peasants and wage-labourers. 33. 8. 20. . Losurdo 2005. whereby the dominant groups that had defeated absolutism no longer tolerated any political tutelage and were free to defend existing powerrelations over other groups. passim. G.22 Rather than signalling an unfinished stage of liberalism or its confutation. Losurdo 2011. p. 54–6. pp. p. pp. English and American. 6. This was the case during the American Civil War. government or church – could limit the unbridled exercise of power over human property enjoyed by civil society and its strongest representatives since the emancipation from absolutism.98 S. 35–40. p. There is an inevitable ‘connection between the permanence and reinforcement of the institution of slavery on the one hand and the power of the organs of representation on the other’.19 in which the conflict between freedom and slavery merely coincided with that between state and civil society. in its early stages. In Anglo-Saxon societies there were masters and servants. The break unleashed interests and egoisms that were already widespread in society and made a different horizontal conflict that had previously been contained more prominent. culture and property. owners and slaves.23 In Losurdo’s opinion.2 (2011) 92–112 By the standards of the moral sensibility that was emerging in this period. liberalism seems to take a leap backwards. slavery was a basic tenet and condition of existence of early-liberal societies. through despotic measures if necessary. Their hope was that a centralised political power – the crown.

and its outcome forced liberalism into a U-turn and repudiation of this institution. 4. On the contrary. Whilst the industrialised North tried to externalise this crude reality again and confine it to the rural South. Losurdo 2011. G. The latter were dehumanised and seen as in need of tutelage. Losurdo 2005. p. the South could never uproot racial slavery. 21ff. 28. slavery was confined to places where it was still needed: distant colonies where the border between civility and barbarism was blurred and the state of nature still reigned. p. The proud liberal self-consciousness of England repelled slavery from the sacred soil of its free island.29 so much so that slavery facilitated the development of a tendency towards egalitarian relations within white communities in the States.2 (2011) 92–112 99 ‘The rise of liberalism and the spread of the commodity of slavery based on race were born out of a twin birth’. p. Losurdo 2011. . 50. pp. They claimed that with their independence they had picked up the flag of freedom that a tyrannical England had thrown in the mud. 1. 25.S. 97–102. as Losurdo demonstrates in his Democrazia o bonapartismo. p. Cited in Losurdo 2005. 29. 97–102. because the rhetoric of ‘liberty’ and of the ‘self-government of civil society’ became linked to the ‘existence of an unprecedented absolute power’. The clash of these different ‘liberal’ platforms led to the American Civil War. Losurdo 2005. 26. In this new liberal country. p. 49. p. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. the severe contradiction between this situation and liberal ideals was resolved through a double process of ‘externalisation’ of the negative. 27. in a slow and uneven ‘general condemnation’. 67. civil society felt on a par with English civil society and could not tolerate being excluded from the ‘community of the free’28 and assimilated to the blacks. pp.30 24. 51. economic and social rights – not to mention their political rights – were hardly recognised and guaranteed.24 This power was exceptionally brutal to slaves and also readily exercised upon the subaltern classes of the metropolis.25 Even some members of the ruling classes ended up suffering the oppression of this power when they did not completely adapt to the dominant order of property and race. pp. p. Losurdo 2011. 64. their freedom and civil.26 In the Anglo-Saxon world. p. 30.27 This spatial separation of the spheres of freedom and slavery was unacceptable for the American settlers. Losurdo 2011. 42. Excluded ‘amongst us’. Losurdo 2011. See Losurdo 2005. as a form of contamination. 48. p. it explicitly defended it as a ‘positive good’. so these two spheres had to be redefined in racial terms: skin-colour marked the border between freedom and slavery. See Losurdo 1993. Losurdo 2005. Cited in Losurdo 2005.

113–15. 76–7. Losurdo 1993. 34. This ‘inferior race’35 was deprived of modern freedom. where an intermediate caste of serfs was growing between the castes of free whites and black slaves. pp. 37. pp. 107. p. Losurdo 1996b. here the terms of ‘liberal racialisation’ of the ‘subclasses of society’ and the ‘losers in life’ are defined. pp. pp. They were ruled by a rigid separation of the population into closed groups. from their foundation to the end of the nineteenth century the United States can hardly be regarded as a ‘liberal’ country in the contemporary sense of the term. Given the increase of land available as a result of the expropriation of the Native Americans during the advance towards the Western frontier. Van den Berghe 1994. from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. Losurdo 1994.100 S. 69ff. pp. or negative freedom. Clearly. On the complex evolution of the American constitution and domestic social relations. Fredrickson 1981. as eugenic and social Darwinism was being developed. pp. Losurdo 2005. the right to vote could not be granted to this ‘infant multitude’37 lacking in culture and political discernment. 33. even though these were not free from contradictions and conflicts based on class and status. 36. See Losurdo 2005. 321. 36–8. p. Cf. 212–15. Losurdo 2011. 114–16. Losurdo 2005. the discrimination against blacks and their reduction to human property also facilitated the development of a tendency towards egalitarian relations. who were mainly confined to the colonies. 333.32 ‘The members of an aristocracy of class or race tended to celebrate themselves as peers’33 and the ‘manifest inequality imposed on the excluded was the other aspect of the relationship of parity established between those who enjoyed the power to exclude inferiors’. pp. G. 32.34 A similar argument might apply to the British Empire. . See Losurdo 1993. free blacks and slaves were so different that one could almost call it a caste-system. This growing caste was made up of whites whose ‘freedoms’ were incomparable to those of their masters. such as Van den Berghe and Fredrickson. 107. ‘A sort 31. pp.31 This democracy operates through a movement that pivots on the axis of a distinction between a superior white race and the black race. Losurdo 2011. 213–17. within the community of free whites. 107–8. 107–8. p. its most apt definition is ‘Herrenvolk democracy’: ‘a democracy which applied exclusively to the master race’. 56–7 and Losurdo 1994. and. Losurdo 2011. see Losurdo 1996b. Given the limitations and duties to which they were subjected. For Losurdo and other authors. 44. Cf. some authors came to regard it as a real ‘livestock’ breeding race36 that. Losurdo 1993.2 (2011) 92–112 Given these premises. 24–6. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. pp. 42. pp. also included wage-labour and the vast realm of the poor forced to beg. 35. pp. each of which was subject to different legislation and a different order of rights and duties: the conditions of whites. 107. Losurdo 2005. they could not be defined as free. Cf.

Losurdo 2005. 19ff. ‘even the society which emerged in England from the Glorious Revolution was configured as a sort of master-race democracy’. 42. even their extermination became a just act. G.42 On the one side was the demand for freedom of movement of the great powers who had the right to obtain resources. See Losurdo 2005. if you want to neutralise the agitation of the workers’ and socialist movements. this dialectical mechanism of ‘extension of citizenship in the capitalist metropolis and the projection of the process of racialisation to the outside’44 led. to the reabsorption of the Jews and the State of Israel. Cf.2 (2011) 92–112 101 of social apartheid seems to correspond to the racial apartheid’. 226–7. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. p. 39. Losurdo 1993. 40. p. p. in the aftermath of World-War Two. Throughout the centuries. Tocqueville had already noted how in Britain an ‘aristocratic conception of liberty’ prevailed:39 a liberty that was the privilege of the property-owning class. raw materials and even a ‘living-space’ outside the borders of their so-called civilised world. 113. 41. 44. 124.S. and their enslavement or exploitation did not violate the principle of freedom. Losurdo 2005. the empty cradles of colonial land. . In Losurdo 1996b. When they opposed an illegitimate resistance to the providential march of liberal civility. who were easily decapitated at the ideological level (consider the appreciation of colonialism showed by some trends within European socialism) and co-opted into the circle of the ‘master-race’.. pp. ‘you must become imperialists’. 216ff.40 with the difference that the white subaltern-classes ‘continued to be separated from this superior class or caste by a gap similar to the one found in a racial State’. Losurdo 2011. Losurdo 2005. that is. Losurdo 2011. markets. whose population enjoyed no recognition. pp. Losurdo 2011. p. Losurdo 1998. 43. In this case. Losurdo 2005. Losurdo 2011. They could not determine themselves or claim any right because they lived in barbarous conditions. 124. pp. Rhodes is cited as saying: ‘if you want to avoid civil war’. pp. p. previously seen as 38. 124. 123. Cited in Losurdo 2005. 223–4. the close dialectics of inclusion and exclusion that animates liberal theory and practice is clear: the relaunch of colonial expansionism systematically corresponded to a social-imperialist nationalisation of the masses which entailed the gradual inclusion of the metropolitan subaltern classes. On the other side were the ‘virgin’ territories.38 whilst the Irish population and the peoples of subjugated India take the place of blacks and Indians. p. p. albeit in a subaltern position. Up to a point. Losurdo 2011. 106. 219ff.43 In many respects. 113. They could be treated according to the most hard-and-fast paedagogical dictatorship. p. 78. the Western colonial expansionism of liberal countries resulted in a ‘master-race democracy on a planetary scale’.41 A glance at international relations shows a similar phenomenon. pp. p. 123.

‘Antisionismo’. ‘Antisemitismo’. Chapter IV. Losurdo 2005. 242. On the discrimination against the Arabs. on the recuperation of Judaism and the State of Israel within the framework of the sacred space of civilisation. passim.45 Towards a redefinition of liberalism In view of this argument. 239–42. 153–86. pp. which described the followers of monarchical absolutism.46 This reflected a social configuration where the ‘well-off and wealthy’ enjoyed a better education. see Losurdo 2007. Losurdo 2011. the well-off ’. ‘Filo-islamismo’. the concept of liberalism seems in need of drastic revision. 46. Losurdo 2005. social and even ethnic connotation’ (in relation to the subalterns and especially colonised people). 114–52. and claims that the line between liberalism and conservatism.102 S. 240–1. Rather than a category of the spirit.2 (2011) 92–112 an extraneous and dangerous body in the midst of the Western community of free peoples. or reaction. in this political framework. a philosopher renowned for his ferocious anti-liberalism? In the course of the evolution of 45. On the complex relations of integration and discrimination between the West and Judaism. pp. 48. Was there a clear difference between the positions of nineteenth-century liberalism and those of Friedrich Nietzsche. Losurdo 2005. and in opposition to the ‘condition of servility’ in a strict sense. see Chapter VI. see Losurdo 1999c. and has its basis in a given social environment and its power-relations. the “elected class”.49 Here. pp. The term ‘emerged from a proud self-designation that was at the same time a political. pp. But it also emerged in opposition to the subaltern classes forced to lead a life that could not be properly called human by the need for work. the word ‘liberal’ emerged in opposition to the word ‘servile’. were well-versed in the liberal arts and had no need to take up manual labour. This move also intensified the discrimination against Muslim and Arab peoples who were guilty of not accepting their assigned rôle in the new international semi-colonial order. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. and so became aware of their own difference from ‘the masses of people and their vulgarity’. and Chapter V. 47. liberalism is a political movement that emerged out of a historically determined situation. as the condition of the ‘plebs’. 242–6. pp. 49. p. 187–243.47 ‘Liberals’ originally designates the educated property-owning classes with their special interests. G. until the ‘Final Solution’. Losurdo laments the inadequacy of the categories of traditional historiography. pp. is blurred.48 It is a ‘movement and a party that tended to gather together people with a “liberal education” who were authentically free and have the privilege of being free. Ibid. As Losurdo explains. .

412. superior castes. pp. pp. Nietzsche – and. in many respects. Losurdo 1991. See Losurdo 2002. pp. The Dionysian appeal to the superman. in the name of ‘instrumental’ reason51 and principles of equality inherent to humanism and modern ‘optimism’52 revolution and modernity had burnt the soil beneath the genius’s feet. 442. On the affinities and differences between Nietzsche’s and Heidegger’s ‘radical anti-modernism’. 55. Nietzsche’s criticism was consonant with the parallel liberal denunciation of the radicalism spread by the French Revolution. Cited in Losurdo 2002. whose only reason to live was work and the burden of social reproduction.53 In the last phase of his conscious life. The critique of ‘calculating reason’ or the ‘hubris of reason’ would later be a Leitmotiv of Heidegger’s critique of modernity. arts. In Heidegger.2 (2011) 92–112 103 his theory. 196ff. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. In this. and to respond to the challenge of the subaltern classes and inferior races by waging a total war. G. and hampered exceptional individuals. pp. 113–19. 7. as these belonged to the Christian herd and universal rationalism. See Losurdo 1991. 89ff. Nietzsche was deeply motivated to write a ‘militant critique and denunciation of the revolution and of modernity’50 in the form of a critique and denunciation of the processes of democratisation that they had initiated. Losurdo 2002. 1070ff. 56. See Losurdo 2002. 52. 900. 50. pp. 51. 366–7. pp.55 Nietzsche invited the ruling classes to leave all reservations and moral inhibitions behind. His was a contestation of massification and homogenisation. the Hellenising fantasies of a ‘reintroduction of slavery’ in Europe and the positivist and eugenic ‘breeding’ of a race of servants separated from one of masters signalled the need to recognise a political programme that could ‘drastically radicalise’ the liberal positions that had been calling for the open subjugation of the masses and the colonised peoples. pp. pp. Losurdo 2002. See Losurdo 1991. Cf. against the rebellion of subaltern classes and modern wage-slaves. Losurdo 2002. see Losurdo 1991. and with the defence of the privileges of property and culture found in authors like Tocqueville and Constant. the foundation of a ‘party of life’54 and ‘aristocratic radicalism’: the party of the well-to-do and the powerful who neither felt guilty about their hierarchical rank nor were ashamed to reinstate its ‘natural’ legitimacy. and the few fortunate examples who are worthy of the name of man and whose greater mission is the production of culture. Nietzsche came to posit. Heidegger after him56 – was actually warning and defiantly challenging the cowardly and ‘degenerated’ liberalism of his times. p. 154 and passim. 53. 317ff. 22–3. 651.S. p. 119ff. and literature. 54. the ‘criticism . by means of political Caesarism rather than through compromise and consensus-democracy.

p. See Losurdo 1993. Losurdo 2005. In other words. came to rest on their subjugation. slaves.2 (2011) 92–112 Losurdo goes back to the core of the apparent paradox of liberalism and reveals it to be traversed by a constitutive laceration between drives to ‘emancipation’57 and violent ‘dis-emancipation’. without the exclusion of subaltern groups. resulting in ‘reification’61 or of the revolutionary tradition’ is said to have found its highest expression: Losurdo 1996b. pp. and colonised people. 32–3. Cf. 316. liberalism coincided with a reconfiguration of powerrelations that was founded on a clear separation between the recognised and the unrecognised. rather than the limitation of power as such. .60 On the one hand. The unrecognised. emancipated from the absolute power of the monarch.104 S. their shared subjugation to the sovereign. popular classes. 181ff. 34ff. ‘could in turn become the hegemonic field of the bourgeoisie or the landed aristocracy and emerged from a compromise between these two classes’.. pp. Losurdo 2011. See Losurdo 2005. 58. Losurdo 1993. p. p. whether issued by equals or by the higher power of the state. 329. whether civil or political. as it finally granted free men a clear separation from the common people. liberalism was the movement of emancipation of both aristocracy and property-owners from the tutelage of a higher sovereignpower and the imposition on the latter of a constitution that was agreed by them. 57. it would not have been possible. but denied any right of intervention that might lead to an equalisation of social disequilibrium in the sphere of civil society. one could speak of a dis-emancipation. social relations amongst the recognised. 316. on the other hand. Losurdo 2011. and the old power came to exercise new forms of domination that were equally oppressive. 298. This emancipation did not involve the social totality: in fact. Losurdo 2011. servants. 180ff. pp. 59. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. and guided by a proud individualistic affirmation of the group’s autonomy that abhorred any constraint. p. 24–6. 60. pp. had been an obstacle to their freedom. p. 302. did not gain any new liberal right. because the freedom of action of higher interests no longer subjected to any constraints. He had already effectively adopted these two categories in his research on the constitution of modern democracy. far from being a neutral territory. of those who aspired to form themselves into the community or caste of freemen’. As far as subaltern groups were concerned. were increasingly free and egalitarian. G. which flattened society. The state was assigned the task of policing.59 In Losurdo’s opinion. cultural or religious. 61. This entailed the ‘autonomization of the property of those who already enjoyed recognition. Losurdo 2005. pp. prior to that.58 and thus formed a ‘civil society’. whether political. Losurdo 2005. Civil society.

and lead the ruthless extirpation of the 62. Any attempt at destroying it. Losurdo 2011. would be an undue intervention of extrinsic social issues into the political sphere66 and entail a crisis of the ruling order which had to be carefully prevented. exercise the purchase and selling of slaves and black ‘human tools’. Losurdo 1998. Cf. for a long time. 67. pp. For the same reason. it was possible. 12ff. coolie.. For this reason. where the question of freedom was not even raised. serf. could no longer be said to be free. On the separation between the sacred space of civility and the profane realm of barbarism. p. the very theory that had so carefully imposed limits on the field of intervention of political power by expelling it from the private sphere and affirming the principle of sovereignty of civil society and the individual was also perfectly capable of pushing for the opposite agenda. 205ff. Arab or. 188. it could easily theorise and practice total war and genocide. pp. 63. see Losurdo 1996b. liberal theory did not problematise the ‘clauses of exclusion’64 that keep a vast mass of subalterns identified at the social. Losurdo 1999a. 251ff. pp. Losurdo 2011. 174–8. Chinese. pp. 66. Losurdo 1996b. national or racial level outside of the realm of freedom. peasant. where this attitude is shown to be rooted in Western culture since the times of classical-Greek philosophy. either by right. to resist and openly vindicate the ‘census-restriction’65 on suffrage. p. 309.2 (2011) 92–112 105 ‘un-specification on natural grounds’.S. Indian. and a ‘profane space’ that was beastly and intrinsically lacerated by conflict and negativity. See Losurdo 2005. G. 64. 19. the well-to-do who recognised one another and developed liberal relationships amongst themselves. To this purpose. 186ff. rogue-state. Losurdo 2005. When confronted with the ‘dead wood’67 of the ‘redskins’ and colonised people. Hic sunt leones: whoever belonged to this group. The demands of those excluded from the universalisation of liberal freedom receive no recognition: all of the movements and struggles for inclusion and the rights of modern citizenship had to be crushed with an iron fist. and even in England. 13. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19.. 305. or in practice. 67. or even redefining it by forcing its borders and opening it to the inclusion of social and ethnic dis-emancipated social groups. They were seen as an illegitimate attack on the freedom of the only subjectivity that liberalism knows. in European countries. the cheap immigrant-workforce. Losurdo 1996b. See Losurdo 1993. pp. 65. p. . black. p. that of the property-owning white man. today. p. woman. p. whether manual labourer. Safeguarding the divide between the sacred and uncontaminated space and the profane space was an absolute priority.62 But liberal consciousness did not even perceive the fate of these social groups as a problem because its own power rested on a drastic differentiation between a ‘sacred space’63 of equals.

157. Losurdo 1991. as the experience of the two world-wars demonstrated. or when it was necessary to consolidate the body of the nation or even find the lost unity of the white people against non-Western barbarism. p. In these cases. ‘Judeophobia’ and ‘anti-semitism’. in general. Losurdo 2011. See Losurdo 1993. p. see Losurdo 1999b.69 The questioning of slavery legitimated the bloody conflict of the American Civil War. and refers the genesis of total institutions to the colonial history of the West and liberal countries: see Losurdo 1996b. pp. called for the need of a total or totalitarian71 regimentation of civil society. 183–4. 97–116. passim. 71. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. Losurdo criticises the wholly ideological meaning of the term ‘totalitarianism’. On the different forms of discrimination against Jews in Western history. pp. 75. 188ff. 167. 251ff. On the ‘radical’ pressure from below. On the evolution of liberalism. . Losurdo 1998. pp. as well as numerous coups d’état theorised or practised by the forces of liberalism in order to bring the revolutionary crises to a halt. 277–81. and. Losurdo 1991. Losurdo 1991. 191–3..68 The main liberal thinkers and ruling classes always show a readiness to face the state of exception by means of a suspension of the rule of law and the establishment of a strong personal and despotic power. 165. This regimentation did not stop at the suspension of rights and the introduction of measures such as deportation72 and concentration-camps: in defiance of any presumed liberal ‘individualism’ it relied on the enthusiastic celebration of the ‘Gemeinschaft’73 and the ‘destiny’74 of the motherland by inciting the organicist fusion of the social whole in a ‘total mobilisation’.76 This significant crack in the liberal movement would determine its evolutionary leap. The uprisings of subaltern peoples in Europe during the nineteenth century were faced with a military and police repression that violated both political and private freedoms. rather than an autonomous pressure from below carried out by excluded social groups or subjugated nationalities. 70. 280–5. 69. 168. 76. passim. where Poliakov’s thesis on ‘eternal anti-semitism’ is criticised.106 S. pp. See Losurdo 1996b. p.2 (2011) 92–112 Jewish ‘pathogenic element’. Losurdo 2011. 91–5. p. 40. 41. 35. Losurdo 2011.70 Even a conflict between nations that belong to the sacred space. Losurdo 1993. 172ff. pp. 72. pp. pp. The key-notion of all organicist and anti-modern theories is that of ‘community’. p. p. pp. See Losurdo 2005. 4. p. the inclusion of subaltern classes occurred passively through the development of a 68. 74. even by invoking ‘Caesarism’ and ‘dictatorship’. pp. 66ff. ‘anti-Judaism’.. first used in the Truman Doctrine to assimilate Nazism and Communism against liberal democracy.75 An enlargement of the sacred space could only occur by means of a selective co-optation from above operated by the ruling classes. 15. The ruling classes gradually opened the doors of freedom when they no longer had a choice. 73. See Losurdo 1993. G.. 248ff. born out of liberal rhetoric: Gentz translates as ‘Gemeinschaft’ the ‘partnership’ defended by Burke in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: see Losurdo 1991. Cf. Losurdo 1999a. see Losurdo 2005. see Losurdo 2005.

2 (2011) 92–112 107 ‘new mode of political and social control’. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. Losurdo 1991. 86. Losurdo claims that liberalism is primarily ‘the theoretical tradition that most rigorously circumscribed a restricted sacred realm’. 93ff. which is the result of a legacy that since the Old Testament was strongly rooted in the ideology of Western culture.86 77. Heidegger). pp. . pp. Losurdo 2005. 81. but the ‘celebration of that community of free individuals who define the sacred realm’ and who are increasingly distinct from those who are relegated to the profane space. at the outset of capitalism. See Losurdo 1991. 196ff. 60.84 Contrary to the common thesis of the liberal apologists. p. pp.78 This movement of ‘passive emancipation’ was also often associated with the revival of colonial expansionism and fratricidal wars between liberal countries in moments of crisis when the international borders of the sacred space were questioned. the Bonapartism that allowed leaders to charismatically lead the masses. psychopathological and even racist visions of the conflict between states:82 the ideology of imperialist nationalism was realised through the drastic dis-emancipation and subjugation of other people and countries. p. See Losurdo 1993. Losurdo 2005. whose belonging to the sacred space was disputed and denied time after time. 10. See Losurdo 1991. 68. Ibid. 305. p. Losurdo 2011. Losurdo 1993. Losurdo 1991. demanded ‘self-government and the quiet enjoyment of one’s property (including slaves and servants) against the monarchical despotism of central powers. liberalism seems to arise as the ‘self-consciousness of a class of owners of slaves or servants’. 79. 78. p.. 55ff.83 who. 85. In conclusion.77 Other majority-electoral mechanisms were put in place in order to undermine the autonomy of socialist and radical parties and to preventively neutralise the formation of a popular majority. p.81 This pathos fed on fundamentalist war-myths of origins and produced conspiracy-theories and delirious naturalistic. Emancipation then turned into forms of aggressive and chauvinist nationalism. p. 82. Ibid. 84. 305. 83. and for it to be sanctioned by the rule of law’. many liberal thinkers were largely in agreement with the philosopher who was close to national socialism. or an unbridled ‘pathos of the West and civilisation’79 that glorifies war and its rituals of ‘proximity to death’80 as an instrument of unification of the national community (and in this. 150ff. what matters most is not ‘the celebration of freedom or the individual’ as such. when seen in the perspective of historical revision. G.S. 309.85 Within this realm. 80.

Losurdo’s analysis is a comprehensive attempt to conceptually understand history and politics.92 thus creating an order that had not previously existed.88 an ability to modernise and defeat all of its adversaries. p. Although. Losurdo 2011. 88. G.90 ‘The conquest of the selfgovernment by civil society had a genuine revolutionary significance’91 and must be understood as a progressive trend in itself. Losurdo 2005. in the Counter-History and the texts of the same period. 308.89 In fact. 92. liberalism cannot simply be reduced to that. p. nationalist and racist egoisms against any control and limitation from higher powers. 87. 341. This constituted one of the highest points of human history: any political trend that addresses the question of overcoming liberalism cannot leave aside the concomitant task of inheriting its achievements. Losurdo 2005. 89. Ibid. something that twentieth-century communism was unable to do. 91. . p. The liberal tradition shows an ‘extraordinary flexibility. p. 304. p. one can find a consistent recognition of the ‘real strong points’93 of liberalism. Losurdo 2011. 93. consonant with Losurdo’s philosophical approach to history. Despite the objections of Losurdo’s critics. Losurdo 2011. 339.87 originality and progressive characteristics.108 S. 336. Losurdo 2005. in some cases. liberalism theorised the ‘decisive problem of the limitation of power’. p. the dissection of the real movements underlying liberalism does not lead Losurdo to misunderstand and criminalise this trend. 339. 343. which takes it upon itself to regulate the whole of society. it is presented as a reactionary movement. Losurdo 2011. the members of the class that seized power reciprocally safeguarded their freedoms and respected their rules with the establishment of a constitutional state and the advent of the liberal rule of law’. a rebellion based on class. Losurdo 2005. Losurdo 2005. His comparative work does not lead one to reject its ‘merits’. more than any other tradition.2 (2011) 92–112 The limits and merits of liberalism: towards modern democracy At this stage we can begin to see how disparate themes running through the whole of Losurdo’s research come to intersect. p. 339. Despite its ruthlessness. p. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. It has also shown a great sense of realism in the epistemological recognition of the intrinsically contradictory nature of social reality expressed in the ‘competition between individuals in the market for the development of the wealth of society and the productive forces’. and that was a crucial achievement for society as a whole. Losurdo 2005. 343. p. 90. p. 339. ‘Freed from an arbitrary power. Rather than a Manichean doctrine or ideological polemic.

96 Secondly. 46. when liberalism was so compromised that it became the main agent of the so-called ‘Thirty-Years War’.2 (2011) 92–112 109 First of all. liberal theory seems to suffer from the inevitable inability of thinking the universal. . amongst others. From its historically-determinate social genesis. Losurdo 1998. Losurdo contests the idea of a ‘linear’94 evolution of liberalism from a rough and unfinished pre-history. Losurdo accuses liberalism of ‘completely ignoring the figure of the modern 94. Rather than the coherent unfolding of an idea. Liberalism has often come to theorise and realise a widening of the sphere of rights and freedom that hitherto excluded subaltern groups and races. pp. 95.95 During the first half of the twentieth century. Losurdo 1993. to a fully accomplished modernity where generalised liberal freedom triumphs. by Norberto Bobbio – is wrong. The gap between sacred and profane is constitutive of its epistemological status and makes it impossible for liberalism to fully appreciate rights and freedoms. pp.98 Far from a process of immanent evolution that slowly led it to free itself of the clauses of exclusion that had characterised its beginnings. and equally drastic fall-backs into dis-emancipation. and by the movements for national liberation of colonised people.. 36. in which clauses of exclusion are justified. but still exclusively belonging to those who enjoy the recognition of the members of a community of freemen.S. p. 130ff. 38–9. not to be confused with democratic liberalism’. The history from Locke to the democratic liberalism of the twentieth century (which. In fact. 135ff. is only a part of liberalism at a particular historical moment) is discontinuous and fragmented into a contradictory succession of progressive and regressive movements. pp. an inextricable ‘web’ of pushes. these are solely seen as partial. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. See Bobbio 1984. pp. when faced with historical contingencies and states of exception. This attempt followed the experience of colonialism and led from imperialist total war to the total institutions of the twentieth century. leaps towards emancipation. 101ff. Cf. 98.. with the other. 162ff. This apologetic account is decisively refuted by historical analysis. but was also often capable. Losurdo 1993. it was a dramatic clash with the harshness of objectivity. in any case. see Losurdo 1996b. attempts were made to backtrack on the emancipation of the excluded that had been achieved by the pressure of the working classes towards full social inclusion. Losurdo 1994. 97. Losurdo claims that the idea of a ‘spontaneous development of liberalism towards democracy’97 – argued. 96. p. For a discussion of this category. liberalism univocally evolved through a clash with the outside. G. 34–5. Losurdo 1993. to return to ‘pure liberalism. no longer as privileges. and with social and political reality.

101. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. because it lacks its bearer. p. p. 103. These two revolutionary movements are parallel and intersect at their highest moments. in thinking the universal concept of humanity and practice it in its integrity. succeeding. p. Only when ‘contaminated by the struggles of the democratic and socialist movement’. 180. 104. 48. Losurdo 1994. Losurdo 1998. 50ff. G. for the first time. See Losurdo 1993. that subject which is the human as such. on the one hand. census and gender) still alive and in force on the eve of October 1917’. However. ‘The development of liberalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is explained. One might say that liberalism contains the form of universality as an exigency with no content. on the other hand with the struggles for emancipation of colonised people. ‘Contemporary democracy presupposed the overcoming of three great discriminations (of race. Losurdo 1991.101 Losurdo consistently defends this thesis and develops it in order to show how the building of modern democracy was not even conceivable without the eruption of the autonomous movement of subaltern classes and that of ‘barbaric’ peoples on the world-political scene. and slaves and colonial populations or populations of colonial origin. p. All of the principles that were compressed in the ideological form of liberalism finally assumed a truly universal scope.102 The definition of modern democracy cannot be abstracted from the achievement of economic and social rights and the principles of people’s self-determination. p. the foundation for a real appreciation of human freedom can only be the latter. 102. 186. This dialectics confronted liberalism on the one hand with the political and social radicalism of the French Revolution and socialism. in the first instance. p. pp. . in a confrontation with negativity and the actual presence of the excluded and their demands.103 The struggle for the autonomous emancipation of subaltern classes and of the underdogs of the colonies against the liberal clauses of exclusion was primarily a ‘struggle for recognition’104 to achieve equal 99. Losurdo 2005.110 S. was the liberal tradition forced to open up its doors. Losurdo 1993. 17. on the other’.100 Therefore.2 (2011) 92–112 individual as an autonomous subject of rights’. the objective dialectics inscribed in reality led liberalism to an inner separation resolved in the form of ‘democratic’ liberalism.99 Liberals’ hostile attitude to the French Revolution and their aversion to the general principles it upheld demonstrated how liberalism had not comprehended the universal concept of man in its concreteness. 181. 30. 100. Losurdo 2011. by the struggle waged by the bipedal machines of the metropolis.

that is. The danger of detaching liberalism from democracy and returning to eighteenth-century positions that were brutally proprietary is clear and present. Marxian studies too often forget this lesson. but aims to comprehend its genesis materialistically. A dialectical approach. is. and the desire to subject to critique degenerates into a demonisation. Il futuro della democrazia. incapable of seeing things dialectically. and to provide a preliminary introduction to the work of Domenico Losurdo. In such a scenario. ‘Review of D. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. as suggested by Gramsci. we can trace some conclusions for this excursus. Libero. modern democracy would be condemned to suffer from a seemingly interminable illness. historical materialism has taught us to walk the fine line between the critique of modernity and the recognition of its legitimacy. It is therefore not a matter of destroying the philosophical foundations of liberal thought in order to go back to what preceded it. Norberto 1984. fully endorsed by Losurdo. Luigi Marco 2006. criminalisation and. which aimed to place the dogmatic self-consciousness of triumphant liberalism into question. If anything. Bobbio. From Marx onwards. the historical premises of the troubled evolution of liberalism and its current involution need to be understood. with its objective reasons and limits. Conclusion Here. ‘Libertà fondate sulla schiavitù’.2 (2011) 92–112 111 dignity as people and eventually became the most authentic actualisation of liberalism and the premise for democracy. of the clear progress that modernity and capitalism have signified with respect to feudalism and its underdevelopment and villeinage. Losurdo’s Controstoria del liberalismo’. ultimately.S. and thus of grasping the elements of truth present in the position under critique. This signals an unresolved relation to history that inevitably results in unsophisticated and scientifically irrelevant analyses. on the other hand. G. . as he never sets out to present a moralistic denunciation of liberalism as an ideological perversion and an antechamber of terror. Turin: Einaudi. a subaltern misunderstanding of the object of study. 6 January: 27. Giuseppe 2005. Bedeschi. References Bassani. be it liberal theory or capitalist society as a whole. This is not the lesson of historical materialism. La domenica de Il Sole 24 ore. Ideology-critique often runs a great risk: that of indulging in an attitude of abstract and indeterminate negation. 11 September: 31.

in Nel nome della razza. Trionfo e decadenza del suffragio universale [Democracy and Bonapartism: Triumph and Decadence of Universal Suffrage]. Il razzismo nella storia d’Italia 1870–1945. l’Occidente. Azzarà / Historical Materialism 19. in Autore Attore Autorità. Problemi e miti [Historical Revisionism: Problems and Myths]. edited by Alberto Burgio. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. 26 September: 21. ‘Il libro nero del liberalismo’ [The Black Book of Liberalism]. Pace ambiente problemi globali. Rome/Bari: Laterza. Losurdo’s Controstoria del liberalismo’. Bruno 2005. White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History. —— 1993. G. Democrazia o bonapartismo. Domenico 1991. Death and the West. Dino 2005. translated by Marella and Jon Morris. The Aristocratic Rebel: Intellectual Biography and Critical Assessment]. Engels and the Liberal Tradition]. —— 2011 [2005]. Rome/Bari: Laterza. C. 8 November: 47. ecco il suo libro nero’. ‘Review of D. —— 2007. London: Verso. ‘Liberalismo. 2006.112 S. ‘Non fare di tutto Liberal un fascio clericale. 8 January: 18. ‘Critiche alla controstoria del liberalismo’. Van den Berghe. Stefano 2005. 43: 26–35. George M. Federalism. Petrucciani. —— 1996a. I viaggi di Erodoto. 13. —— 1996b. Morelli. —— 2001 [1991]. Lessico dell’ideologia americana [The Language of Empire. Bologna: Il Mulino. the Black and the Indian in the History of the West]. New York: Wiley. Angelo 2005. Losurdo. Liberalism. la morte. ‘Tocqueville nobile “schiavista”: è l’altra faccia del liberalismo’. Pierre L. translated by Gregory Elliott. Heidegger e l’«ideologia della guerra». ‘La tolleranza che viene dal cattolicesimo’. —— 1994. giudeofobia. il nero e l’indio nella storia dell’Occidente’ [The Jew. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. il ribelle aristocratico. 38/39: 139–60. La comunità. L’Indipendente. Post-Fascism]. Controstoria del liberalismo. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 4: 32–3. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. Liberismo. Lexicon of American Ideology]. In merito all’intervento della Pellicciari’. d’Orsi. Raffaello 2005. Angela 2005–6. . —— 1998. Fredrickson. —— 1999c. Rome/Bari: Laterza. Urbino: Quattro Venti/Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici. Pellicciari. Il linguaggio dell’Impero. 26 January: 12. Critica marxista. Nietzsche. Giano. Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Community. —— 1999b. Il revisionismo storico. ‘Fenomenologia del potere: Marx. Il Riformista. New York: Humanity Books. ‘L’ebreo. l’Unità. Libro aperto. Liberal. Gravagnuolo. 33: 103–56. Corriere della sera. Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective. 33: 44–5. ‘La crisi del processo di emancipazione degli ebrei: per un’analisi comparata’ [The Crisis of the Process of the Emancipation of the Jews: a Comparative Analysis]. —— 2002. Judeophobia and Anti-Semitism]. edited by Alberto Burgio and Domenico Losurdo. Il peccato originale del Novecento [The Original Sin of the Twentieth Century]. —— 2006. Liberalism: a Counter-History. 1994. —— 1999a. Lattieri. 1981. Biografia intellettuale e bilancio critico [Nietzsche. —— 2005. L’equivoco di Losurdo’. ‘Ma l’Occidente non è mister Hyde. La Stampa Tuttolibri. federalismo. ‘Antigiudaismo.2 (2011) 92–112 Cofrancesco. antisemitismo’ [Anti-Judaism. La Seconda Repubblica. 22 October: 7. postfascismo [The Second Republic. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. Rome/Bari: Laterza. Engels e la tradizione liberale’ [Phenomenology of Power: Marx.

to fill in some gaps.2 (2011) 113–127 brill. but also to a disagreement with him on the use or misuse of the language of self-determination. Pashukanis. Leiden. Harvey 2008.3 Robert Knox. and what. 2. See also Shaw 2009. for me. indeterminacy. to revise a number of my arguments. but also. 3. for reasons consistent with his general theoretical trajectory. Knox 2010. Indeed. Finally. My fourth section returns to our very different evaluations of the significance and meaning of the work of Yevgeny Pashukanis. human rights. the right of peoples to self-determination is absolutely central to a materialist understanding of human rights. who is himself a rising star of international legal Keywords Robert Knox. is Pashukanis’s misunderstanding. self-determination.Historical Materialism 19. for me. Bill Bowring. in that several reviewers have taken it Marx. I restate my attempt at a materialist account of human rights. Bowring 2008a. © Koninklijke Brill NV. international Abstract This response to Robert Knox’s very kind and constructive review1 of my 2008 book The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics gives me the opportunity not only to answer some of his criticisms. Next I explain why. Lenin and Pashukanis on Self-Determination: Response to Robert Knox Bill Bowring Birkbeck College b.1163/156920611X573833 . 2011 DOI: 10. anticolonial struggles My book on international law and human rights appeared in 2008. First. has provided a second searching and thoughtful critique which reflects a continuing and fruitful engagement between us – the first was on his Law and Disorder 1. I present an outline of a re-evaluation of Marx’s principled position on self-determination. This leads me not only to a reply to Robert Knox on the question of ‘indeterminacy’ in international law. Feldman 2008.bowring@bbk.2 I have been very fortunate indeed. of Marx and Lenin on the Irish question. revolutions. on the basis of my own reflections since 2008. and also fill a serious gap in my own account in the book.

2 (2011) 113–127 blog. especially. 194. which is a ‘substantive account of human rights’. itself nothing new. 112. of three generations of human rights. their proper status as always scandalous. and it is no accident that the presiding genius of constitutional theory in England was A. and located firmly in history. and an energetic Unionist. as to whether 4. 5. the social and economic rights of the Russian Revolution. have existed (like religion) for as long as human civilisation. In this way. Dicey. p. and anticolonial struggles – make available to succeeding generations a ‘symbolic capital’ upon which each may draw. time and space. as cited in Knox 2010. .114 B.V. p. . 194. Symptomatic of the care with which Knox has read my book is his ready identification5 of my central project. crowned by the right of peoples to self-determination. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. Knox 2008. 6.’6 I further maintain that human rights are not at all like civil and criminal law. the rights in question. and the third-generation rights. There is a continuing debate. drawn from English positivism and international-relations ‘realism’. a fervent opponent of Home Rule. p. each with its inception in the revolutionary events of the 1780s. in various forms. Knox 2010. of the great anticolonial struggles of the post-World-War II period. Bowring 2008a. eliminating any reference to the transcendent or to any reliance on ‘human nature’. and which are to be found in codified or customary forms. Each of these inspiring revolutionary events and the rights associated with them – the civil and political rights of the French Revolution. I have myself taught English constitutional law in the light of the relations between England and Ireland: the defining moments of English constitutional development map well onto the bloody attempts of England to colonise Ireland. acquire material force when mobilised in struggle. . A materialist account of human rights A central element of my project is the identification. This is what I mean by ‘. the product of. as to whether constitutional law is also the product of defining historical moments and struggles. which. with serious arguments. This is intended by me to be a thoroughly materialist account of human rights.4 I am therefore particularly grateful to the editors of Historical Materialism for this opportunity to respond to him. to which I have not yet contributed. at first glance no more than forms of words. and constantly reanimated by. mere rhetoric. International law also has a special status. of the years following 1917 and. human struggle.

of the postmodernists. are but two of a myriad all over the planet. International law and self-determination My disagreements with Knox begin where he explains my position on international law. Schmitt 2003. It is my case that the working-out of struggles for this right dominates the international agenda to this day. put into practice by him following 1917. is for me very 7. especially those of Habermas. but also to responses to some of the most cogent opposing positions. . quite right in noting my sympathy with Badiou’s political challenge. The creation of the United Nations by the victorious powers – all the permanent members of the Security Council with the exception of China were colonial powers at the time – was almost immediately subverted and transformed by the bloody and tumultuous anticolonial struggles. 10. in respect of which I do have reservations – for example. 8.8 and of which the USSR had throughout its existence such a rigidly positivist account9. was thoroughly transformed in the post-World-War II period. alongside and despite his complex ontology. in my first chapter. however. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. 96–8. a topic for further work. especially Douzinas.2 (2011) 113–127 115 there is any such thing. and of Badiou and Žižek. for a resounding defence of Lenin’s position. and introduces my critique of Miéville and Pashukanis. It is my contention that the international law to which Martti Koskenniemi referred as the ‘gentle civilizer of nations’7 or for an imagined and reactionary version of which Carl Schmitt had such nostalgia. Much of my book – incidentally. Lenin’s principled position. My examples in the book. and chapters were in the process of being added and removed until a late stage – is devoted not only to a working-out of my theses in relation to current events. Bowring 2008b. 9. pp. I reject Badiou’s critique of Spinoza.B.10 In short. This is why I refer. in a series of extended articles written before World-War I. My account of self-determination begins with Lenin’s profound and detailed polemic with Rosa Luxemburg and others. Knox is. Koskenniemi 2001. of the Kurds and the Chechens. and the subject-matter of his final struggle with Stalin as graphically analysed by the late Moshe Lewin. upon whose work I first drew for its powerful attacks on contemporary human-rights discourse. the sequence of chapters was re-ordered. to the right of peoples to self-determination as the revolutionary kernel of international law. drawn from practical experience. Schmitt 2007. See Löwy 1976.

in 1960. Shivji is one of the most radical African specialists in law and the constitution. how the USSR played a thoroughly contradictory. 13. in Chapter 1 of my book. but had forgotten it by 2007. on the other. Shivji 1991. as Knox suggests. Shivji 1989. self-determination movements were ruthlessly repressed both within the USSR and its sphere of interest. and freedom of self-determination for Armenia. That is why my title. indeed schizophrenic rôle after Lenin’s death. the government conceives the annexation of seizure of foreign lands to mean every incorporation of a small or weak nation into large or powerful 11. p.2 (2011) 113–127 much alive. 34.11 I show. . p. It is not the principles concerned which could be said to have undergone a process of degradation. 14. and was put into practice in the 1918 Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People14 which proclaimed the complete independence of Finland. pp. Shivji 1991. Knox 2010. 16. On the one hand. Self-determination only appeared in the UN-Charter (as a principle. I had most certainly read this in 1992. Rather than lumping together the ‘active struggle of the USSR and the Third World’. What was missing from my book and from my Susan Marks chapter was Issa Shivji’s splendid critique of Soviet practice. and of the working class in particular. 423–5. In his 1991 contribution to William Twining’s Aberdeen collection13 he was perfectly clear that the comprehensive theorisation of the ‘right to self-determination’ was carried out by Lenin. huge diplomatic and material resources were directed to the anticolonial and national-liberation movements – and to the real struggle to elevate the right of peoples to selfdetermination to the status of a right in international law in the UnitedNations human-rights covenants. 1966 and 1970. and my chapter in Susan Marks’s 2008 collection. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. not a right) at the insistence of the Soviet delegation. 250. evacuation of troops from Persia. Shivji refers to an important passage from the October 1917 Decree on Peace. but the real achievements of struggle in transforming international law. Lenin 1918. His Concept of Human Rights in Africa12 is a fine exposé of the malign influence of Western individualised human rights in Africa.116 B. drafted by Lenin. The Degradation of the International Legal Order? has a question mark – and why it is followed by a pointer to the ‘rehabilitation of law’ and the ‘possibility of politics’. 15. 12. 196. Lenin 1917.16 In accordance with the sense of justice of democrats in general.15 As for its application in Africa. p.

of whether this nation is in Europe or in distant. and irrespective. Shivji argues.’18 Shivji applied this analysis to Ethiopia/Eritrea and to Southern Sudan. national groups and minorities identifiable specifically in each concrete situation. that Soviet practice following World-War II was consistently to apply only one aspect of Lenin’s proposition. the element of anticolonialism. antiimperialism. Shivji continued: ‘the problem in Africa has been precisely that the existing states have not treated nations and minorities under them democratically. p. and voluntarily expressed consent and wish of that nation. 117 Lenin.’19 He concluded: . 20. See Bowring 2008b. See Cassese 1979. ‘a right that keeps its validity even after a people has chosen a certain form of government or a certain international status’. 37. 19. and could be invoked at any time by an oppressed nation even within a sovereign state. p.21 17. the whole of Europe. . Shivji 1991.17 For Lenin. irrespective of the time when such forcible incorporation took place. 21. the Kurds. 150. He argued forcefully that state-practice in Africa had isolated and absolutised only one element in the right. including the Russian Empire and. that is. however. self-determination was a continuing right. clearly. Shivji 1991. . p.2 (2011) 113–127 state without the precisely. nationalities. hence their fear that the recognition of this “right” will lead to secession. indeed. in the most conservative manner. or forcibly retained within its borders. overseas countries. 18.B. This is the rigid positivism to which I refer in my chapter for Susan Marks’s collection.20 The right-holders in the right to self-determination are dominated/exploited people and oppressed nations. quite correctly. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. the Chechens. 43. was for self-determination everywhere. . irrespective also of the degree of development or backwardness of the nation forcibly annexed to the given state. I have no doubt he would have supported the Basques. the doctrines of territorial integrity. 35. the right to self-determination is a collective right. and the Palestinians – as well as the Irish. p. This had ‘robbed the right of self-determination of its fundamental defining characteristic. state-sovereignty and non-intervention. Shivji 1991. It is a continuing right. formation of states by formerly colonised people – but otherwise resolutely to uphold. finally. therefore.

at the page cited by Knox. will or interest[. there would be no point in litigating. And the outcome is wholly indeterminate – the case can go either way. . Otherwise. 59. The first ‘traces them down to justice. . . 24. As he puts it. from the twin perspectives of scholar and practitioner. p. Knox takes me to task for neglecting the debate on ‘legal indeterminacy’. also published in 1991. 27. users of the language that must be used in order to participate in the process at all. 571.2 (2011) 113–127 It was only a shame that Makau wa Mutua in his passionate 1995 article ‘Why Redraw the Map of Africa?’22 did not refer – in his Section III. 25. pp. 101–2. 1150. I plead guilty. in part. . Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. as arguing that ‘the law constantly oscillates between the two mutually opposed poles of sovereignty and world order. 26. .’ In fact. An-Na’im 1991. Koskenniemi 2005. 197. Koskenniemi also pointed out that ‘the other ambition in From Apology to Utopia looked beyond description.118 B. Wa Mutua 1995. p. common interests. And competence is the ability to use grammar in order to generate meaning by doing things in argument’27 (his emphasis). Thus. as he does. Knox 2010.]’ Which may not be quite the same thing. Wa Mutua 1995.23 to Shivji’s work at all. but only to the much-more conservative and orthodox account by Abdullahi An-Na’im in Shivji’s own collection. Both sides advance the most convincing – and competent – argument they can. Another argument bases order and obligation on State behaviour. anterior or superior to State behaviour. . indeterminacy properly applies to the process of international litigation. have in common their membership of an epistemic community. p. 23. ‘[t]he politics of international law is what competent international lawyers do. Knox cites Koskenniemi.26 Koskenniemi explains that there are two ways of arguing about order and obligation in international law. Koskenniemi 2005. My own take on this thesis.25 To which. The ‘indeterminacy-thesis’ holds that ‘in any given case – legal argument can serve to justify any outcome’. entitled ‘The National Question and Self-Determination: Prospects for Alternative Formulae’. which I have put to Koskenniemi himself – he seemed to agree – is that writing. It was to provide resources for the use of international law’s professional vocabulary 22. progress . and the judge(s). the lawyers on each side of a case. p.24 The absence of indeterminacy? Furthermore.

on the basis of a thoroughly materialist and historicised account of international law – and its revolutionary kernel. in my view. But I maintain that its origins are to be found in Marx and Engels. as I show below. And it is no surprise to me that competent scholars of international law are well able to argue a position which is the opposite of the one I take. Koskenniemi 2005. Immediately following his criticism as to indeterminacy. against whom the Russian Empire committed genocide in the 1800s. and for that very reason is entirely indeterminate. Like every form of words – of discourse – the phrase ‘the right to self-determination’ can be picked up and abused by any party to a conflict. The IIFFMCG was established by a decision of the Council of the European Union of 2 December 2008. But he combines the experience of practice with a fine critical scepticism as to international law. The second is what I try to do in my own book. 589.30 It is now firmly established31 that Georgia started the conflict by attacking Tskhinvali. which is part of Georgian territory. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia 2009. the site of the massacres. and it was developed as an integral part of revolutionary Marxism by 28. As Koskenniemi himself freely admits.’28 I have no problem with either of these propositions.29 He cites the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. but their claim to self-determination still has merit. The Abkhazians committed ethnic cleansing against the Georgian population of Abkhazia. he is not a Marxist. This is simply not the case. but broke away in 1991. the capital of South Ossetia. However. p. 31. We do not know which side will win. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. Russia’s response was a brutal counterattack in defence of its own peacekeepers and the many Ossetians who hold Russian citizenship. The first describes what I do when I and my colleagues argue a case at the European Court of Human Rights. Abkhazia had a long history as a kingdom and a principality. p. Abkhazia was not the issue. Knox charges me with silence as to the invocation of self-determination by various imperialist powers.2 (2011) 113–127 119 for critical or emancipatory causes. 199. For me. the Abkhazian people most certainly have a right to self-determination. 29. Knox 2010. not by doctrine. . the historical outcome will be determined by politics. forthcoming. Bowring 2010. The Circassians will be making this point forcefully at the Russians’ Winter Olympics at Sochi. Its people are Circassians. and states that Russia invaded Georgia ‘under the rationale (amongst others) of defending the right to self-determination of Abkhazia’s ethnic Russians’.B. and had autonomous status within the USSR. 30. The Abkhaz language is quite unrelated to Georgian.

pp. . that it could be replaced with the ‘self-determination of the proletariat’? Certainly not.120 B. Pashukanis 1980. . “negative” demand of formal equal rights’. 35. Knox concurred with Pashukanis’s account that.2 (2011) 113–127 V. in his Law and Disorder review. and with it the formal legal demand for national self-determination – characteristic of this stage – lost its former significance. in Law and Disorder. The Pashukanis debate However. 34. 36.’ By this he means that in the final part. and played the crucial rôle in the development of international law after WWII.34 Indeed. and that. therefore in a new concrete conjuncture’: This was a new stage.32 the nub of Knox’s critique concerns Yevgeny Pashukanis. Knox answered me. Lenin. Knox 2008. . Pashukanis takes self-determination seriously. Knox then turned to Pashukanis’s argument ‘that this right though is ultimately limited precisely because it remains within a legal. 156–62. as with his Law and Disorder review. For this reason I have always found it rather odd that it is never mentioned in the contemporary debates. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. a new and higher level of struggle. This would have been 32. its significance for the imperialist and colonial systems. And new priorities corresponded to it.33 According to Knox. Does this mean that national self-determination lost all significance. p. a new situation. and this I had missed – so I am very grateful to Knox. 33. Knox rightly reproaches me for ignoring Yevgeny Pashukanis’s important text ‘Lenin and Problems of Law’. Bowring 2008a. The bourgeois-democratic stage had passed. 29. and therefore capitalist framework. The slogan ‘overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie on a world scale and set up the international dictatorship of the proletariat’ became the immediate practical slogan. in the context of Russian absolutism. In my book. Part V. pp. of ‘Lenin and Problems of Law’36 Pashukanis does indeed discuss self-determination. I argued that Pashukanis missed the significance of selfdetermination. Bowring 2008a. ‘This is the main text in which Pashukanis attempts to outline a specifically Marxist approach to legal strategy.I.’ I admit that I had not read it. and pay tribute to his scholarship. for Lenin. In his Law and Disorder review. 28–30. but I have now. I asserted that ‘Pasukanis was incapable of recognising the significance of self-determination for international law’35 – that is. as follows: ‘. Pashukanis 1980. this abstract formal equality of right was a revolutionary demand. the demand for the right of nations to self-determination was an ‘“abstract”.

as a general universal principle of a democratic state with a mixed national composition. and a great variety of geographical and other conditions. socialism by no means consists solely of economics. He reported that Lenin’s opponents – especially Rosa Luxemburg –had argued against the ‘right to self-determination’ ‘under the pretext that “in essence” no “selfdetermination” could exist under capitalism. 162–3. p. 321.’39 But Pashukanis went on to state that no one apart from him had noted that Luxemburg’s position amounted to a ‘complete rejection of the legal form’. 40. was that ‘[t]he dispute is related to one of the forms of political oppression. Pashukanis 1980. with all its strength it had to struggle so that the accumulation of centuries of ill will and the distrust by backward people of the dominant nations – and of the proletariat of these nations – was overcome as quickly as possible.37 121 We should recall what Pashukanis said a few pages earlier. 38.2 (2011) 113–127 to ignore the presence of backward countries which had not passed through the stage of bourgeois-democratic national revolutions. it is not difficult to see why. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. from a Social-Democratic point of view. It was impossible to achieve this goal without proclaiming and conducting in practice the right of national self-determination.40 Pashukanis then cited a longer passage from Lenin’s 1914 major work on The Right of Nations to Self-Determination.’38 Lenin’s position as stated in 1916. both come under the category of ‘self-determination’). Lenin 1914. since although based on economics. 41. correctly reported by Pashukanis. pp. since federation implies a bilateral contract. Moreover. . It goes without saying that Marxists cannot include the defence of federalism in general in their programme. pp. Pashukanis 1980. p. 441. Lenin 1916. 37. The communist proletariat of advanced countries had to support these movements.41 By the way. Consequently. speaking in the abstract. but autonomy itself. This is simply an attempt to avoid political questions. the right to ‘self-determination’ means neither federation nor autonomy (although. 156–7. namely. Marxists defend. and that under socialism it was not necessary. even for a socialist society moving towards the elimination of classes the question of national self-determination still remains a real one.B. the recognition of the ‘right of nations to autonomy’ is as absurd as that of the ‘right of nations to federation’. p. 39. 158. the forceful domination of one nation by the state of another nation. The right to federation is simply meaningless. As far as autonomy is concerned. Pashukanis 1980. not the ‘right’ to autonomy.

out of context. At first. In his letter to Engels on 2 November 1867. She asked. but by the working-class movement of the oppressor nation. . Marx wrote: The Fenian trial in Manchester was exactly as was to be expected. . Marx 1867. ironically as she thought: why not raise the same demand for Ireland? This led Lenin straight to Marx’s highly principled stand on Ireland. and by adopting a liberal-labour policy left itself leaderless. I now regard it as inevitable. 451. p.42 The trial in question was that of the ‘Manchester martyrs’ – William Philip Allen. I sought by every means at my disposal to incite the English workers to demonstrate in favour of Fenianism.2 (2011) 113–127 The effect of this citation. Marx reconsidered his view and corrected it. McGee 2005. is to render wholly obscure that which is actually quite clear. and Michael O’Brien – who were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood.’ Lenin pointed out: However. prior to the 1860s. It is actually one of Lenin’s footnotes to Chapter 8 of the work in question. Lenin cited the following passage. The bourgeois liberation movement in Ireland grew stronger and assumed revolutionary forms. 43. although Federation may follow upon separation. became an appendage to the liberals. . Michael Larkin. it so happened that the English working class fell under the influence of the liberals for a fairly long time. Ignoring Marx and Lenin on Ireland? It appears to me that Pashukanis took this passage completely out of context. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. The men were executed after having been found guilty of the murder of a police-officer during an escape that took place close to Manchester city-centre in 1867.43 42. Lenin was attacking Luxemburg’s position that to call for Polish independence is ‘utopia’. p. . I once believed the separation of Ireland from England to be impossible. Marx had thought that Ireland ‘would not be liberated by the national movement of the oppressed nation. ‘The Utopian Karl Marx and the Practical Rosa Luxemburg’. You will have seen what a scandal ‘our people’ have caused in the Reform League.122 B. 36.

Latvia. Bowring 2008a.44 Lenin’s creativity was key to the struggles of the national-liberation movements after World-War II.46 Marx referred. 45. It is not in the least a contradiction that the international workers’ party strives for the creation of the Polish nation. with its incessant and heroic struggle against its oppressors. .2 (2011) 113–127 123 That is. it is plain that Pashukanis had wholly misunderstood both Lenin and Marx. Knox has also. 32–5. Lithuania – and Poland. Marx 1865. sympathy for a subjugated people which. 200. 44. under the heading ‘International Politics’. influenced as he is by Pashukanis. 55. in a speech on Poland delivered on 24 March 1875. Furthermore. in a political rather than a philosophical context. 18–20. Marx was. as to Lenin’s rôle as progenitor of the ‘right of nations to self-determination’. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. Bowring 2008a. In his letter of 20 November 1865 to Hermann Jung. p. Once Pashukanis’s quotation is placed in context. And.47 he declared: What are the reasons for this special interest of the workers’ party in the fate of Poland? First of all. ‘glorifying terrorism’. of course. has proven its historic right to national autonomy and self-determination.45 Karl Marx on self-determination I have to revise in another respect the position maintained in my book. I show in detail how Lenin put his theory into practice immediately following the Bolshevik victory. the three Baltic states – Estonia.B. He would now face a stiff sentence. misunderstood. Marx and Engels 1875. whether the component-parts of the Russian Empire should have the right to self-determination and to break away to form new sovereign nations. His last struggle was with Stalin: Lenin on principle supported Georgian independence. I note that Marx himself used the term ‘self-determination’ on at least two occasions. as I point out in my book and chapter. in the words of the contemporary UK Terrorism Act of 2006. Luxemburg was convinced that the Empire should be preserved. it appears to me. pp. supporting the independence of Finland. 47. even under a Menshevik government – Stalin was totally opposed. and the re-establishment of Poland upon a democratic and social basis’. The issue at stake between Lenin and Luxemburg was. and terrorism committed by bourgeois nationalists at that. 46. p. pp. and was as opposed to Polish liberation as she was to Irish liberation. In my book. to ‘[t]he need to eliminate Muscovite influence in Europe by applying the right of self-determination of nations.

p. they turned to Russia as the revolutionary vanguard. Jani 2002. that US-expansion into Texas and what is now Arizona and New Mexico.52 Pranav Jani. 68–9. Instead. in turn. as only this can provide the Chartists. and by 1861 wrote. Marx’s articles increasingly turned from an exclusive focus on the British bourgeoisie to theorise the self-activity and struggle of the colonised Indians’. This was ‘an overwhelmingly peasant country that had only one foot in Europe. they were quite clear that the ‘booty of British imperialism’ had begun to corrupt and compromise the English proletariat. as he describes it. 54.2 (2011) 113–127 No doubt. from 1870 onwards. in much the 48. as the US Civil War loomed. 51. 49. Nimtz 2002.51 At the same time.124 B. p.48 He shows how. pp. Marx 1849.50 Nimtz shows how Marx and Engels reversed their earlier position and gave support to religious-led Arab resistance to French imperialism in Algeria in 1857. Nimtz 2002. expressed strong sympathy for the Sepoy Mutiny against Britain in India in 1857–9. its most developed western flank. 50.54 Jani seeks to show how Marx’s historical-materialist methodology allowed him to transcend weak formulations and prejudices to achieve a more complex understanding of the relation between coloniser and colonised.53 He maintains that ‘under the impact of the Revolt. 82. But any European war in which England is involved is a world war. in the East Indies and Prussia. Pashukanis would have sought to put a different spin on that passage. Marx and Engels ceased to expect the rebirth of a revolutionary movement in England. Nimtz 2002.’49 But as early as 1849. 66. in Africa and on the Danube. Jani 2002. p. 52. with the conditions for a successful rising against their powerful oppressors. 213. Only when the Chartists head the English government will the social revolution pass from the sphere of utopia to that of reality. following the demise of the Chartists. Nimtz 2002. and not the Europe that the Eurocentric charge refers to. 53. brought with it slavery and the rule of the slaveholders. the party of the organized English workers. focuses on Marx’s response to the 1857 revolt in British India. waged in Canada and Italy. p. they urged that: Only a world war can break old England. 71. The Afro-American Marxist scholar August Nimtz has addressed the ‘myth’ of Marx’s Eurocentrism. that is. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. .

59.61 It was the other way round entirely: the right to self-determination as developed by Lenin became the rallying-cry of the colonial revolt. Vasuki Nesiah. 56. Rajagopal 2008. 60. he cites Michael Ignatieff. Marx was thereby transformed from a ‘mere observer’ of the anticolonial struggle to an active participant in the ideological struggle over the meaning of the Revolt. Falk. p.60 This did not happen until 1966. He has pointed out serious gaps in 55.55 For Jani. 83. Nesiah 2008.’62 Whatever that means . Rajagopal and Stevens (eds. 204.B. 61. This enabled him also to refute racist representations of Indian violence in the British press ‘by drawing a sharp division between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor and dialectically linking the two. 62. Jani 2002. 58. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. Knox cites Rajagopal with approval. pp. p. p. 57. 214. p. Conclusion It will have been noted that Knox’s careful critique has required me to revise my own position in a number of respects. in a flood of unbridled idealism. Jani 2002. . following a tremendous diplomatic effort by the USSR and its allies. Knox 2010. . of all people. .57 Yet I am perplexed by Rajagopal’s contribution to the collection International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice. seeks to persuade us that self-determination has failed – as a discourse. 90–1. And Marx is the progenitor of the revolutionary sense of self-determination which I celebrate in my book. then the Marx he presents is not Eurocentric. Rajagopal 2008. He declares that ‘the failure of self-determination discourse is partly grounded in the invocation of “self-determination” as a trans-historical signifier – a timeless ground for the post-colonial imagination.) 2008. 66.58 He at any rate acknowledges (drawing on Morsink)59 that Britain engaged in intense manoeuvring during the drafting of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to prevent Soviet pressure from extending the effect of the right to self-determination to the colonies. On the following page.’56 Jani concludes that if Eurocentrism makes Western Europe the centre of the globe. 65. In the same collection. p. as authority for the utterly false proposition that the idea of selfdetermination was the result of the anticolonial revolt against empire. however.2 (2011) 113–127 125 same way as the Paris Commune forced him to re-assess his theory of the state. Morsink 1999.

Badiou. Falk. Jani. in his final paragraph. —— 2010. However.html>. Modernity and Postcolonial Studies.academia. edited by Christopher Waters and James Green. and the 1857 Revolt in British India’. ‘Shock and Awe Anti-Pessimism’.pdf>. Russia and the Crisis of the Council of Europe’. The Hague: Sijthoff. A World to Win. Balakrishnan Rajagopal and Jacqueline Stevens (eds.ceiig. Law and Disorder. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. p. Bartolovich. Martti 2001. Knox. Richard 2008. ‘Review of The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics by Bill Bowring’. Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish. Robert 2008. The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870–1960. September: 38–9. 2 April.63 he is kind enough to describe my book as ‘an excellent contribution to the growing debate on Marxist approaches to international law’. London: Continuum. Yet.126 B. Paul review_SL. Crystal and Neil Lazarus (eds. to my project of ‘revolutionary conservatism’. available at: <http://pashukanis.blogspot. Antonio 1979. Pranav 2002. ‘Review of Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics by Bill Bowring’. 18. . Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ‘Positivism versus Self-Determination: the Contradictions of Soviet International Law’. 205. References An-Na’im. The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics.) 2008. Richard. Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish. translated and edited by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens.aworldtowin. Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy.) 2002. Feldman. 1: 193–207. and has spurred me to carry out further investigation.html>. Secession and Constitutionalism: the Mediation of Conflicting Claims to Self-Determination’. in International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies. ‘The National Question. available at: <http://www. ‘Karl Marx.2 (2011) 113–127 my account. Abdullahi Ahmed 1991. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ‘The Meaning of the Struggle for Rights’.) 2002. Marxism. available at: <http://www.html>. Alain Koskenniemi. in Bartolovich and Lazarus ( edited by Antonio Cassese. ‘Georgia. in Shivji (ed. Bowring. available at: <http://bbk. Bill 2008a. International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice. he would be inclined to a type of ‘principled opportunism’. —— 2008b. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia 2009. Cassese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. edited by Susan Marks. I am not sure I agree. —— 2010.) 1991. ‘Political Self-Determination – Old Concepts and New Developments’. Cambridge: Cambridge University in UN Law/Fundamental Rights: Two Topics in International Law. Socialist Lawyer. Eurocentrism. Historical Materialism. That gives me every reason to look forward to fruitful collaboration with one of the most talented Marxist scholars of the new generation. Knox 2010. in Conflict in the Caucasus: Implications for the International Legal Order. 63. Harvey.

‘The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up’. Lenin. Volume 42. London: Lawrence and Wishart. ‘The Right of Peoples to Self-Determination: an African Perspective’. ‘Why Redraw the Map of Africa? A Moral and Legal Inquiry’. —— 1918. Harare: SAPES Trust. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Dublin: Four Courts Press. and Pravda. London: Codesria. in Collected Works. in Collected Works. —— 1916. in Marx Engels Collected Works. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19. Rajagopal and Stevens (eds. Volume 42. ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People’. Moscow: Progress Publishers 1964. ‘Marx To Hermann Jung In London’. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins. 2. ‘Resistance in the Age of Empire: Occupied Discourse Pending Investigation’. 4 (17) January 1918. 1964. Löwy. Volume 26. The Nomos of the Earth: In the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum. Drafting and Intent. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. Owen 2005. translated by G. ‘The Revolutionary Movement’. Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political. Ulmen.L. Balakrishnan 2008. translated by G. The Concept of Human Rights in Africa. and Izvestia. ‘The Right of Nations to Self-Determination’. —— 1865. and 6. Karl 1849. ‘Counter-Hegemonic International Law: Rethinking Human Rights and Development as a Third World Strategy’. Rajagopal.2 (2011) 113–127 127 —— 2005. 5. Schmitt. —— 2007 [1975]. No. 1987. Karl and Friedrich Engels 1875. Pashukanis. 20 November. in Bartolovich and Lazarus (eds. New York: Academic Press.L. August 2002. No. Volume 20. —— 1867. McGee. Prosveshcheniye 4. 208.) 2002. Michigan Journal of International Law. —— (ed. Moscow: Progress Publishers.) 2008. October 27. Makau 1995. London: Lawrence and Wishart.) 1991. in Falk. 1989. Pravda. Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata. ‘Marx to Engels in Manchester’. 1989. in Pashukanis: Selected Writings on Marxism and Law. From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument. . ‘Marxists and the National Question’. 1964. Marx Engels Collected Works. ‘Review of The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics by Bill Bowring’. Evgeny 1980 [1924]. 1977. Collected Works. Morsink. New York: Telos Press Publishing. Law and Society Review. Moscow: Progress Publishers. 43. 1987.) 2008. 96: 81–100. Volume 26. Michael 1976. ‘The Eurocentric Marx and Engels and Other Related Myths’. 2. —— 1917. —— 1991. No. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Johannes 1999. Shaw. 2 November. edited by Piers Beirne and Robert Sharlet. Rajagopal and Stevens (eds. ‘For Poland’. in Issues of Self-Determination. 16: 1113–76. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. in Falk. Marx Engels Collected Works. ‘Lenin and Problems of Law’. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Marx. Vasuki 2008. ‘Report on Peace’ and ‘Decree on Peace’. in Collected Works. New Left Review. Nesiah. 3: 722–4. New York: Telos Press Publishing.B. The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Féin. Ulmen. Vladimir Ilyich 1914. Julia 2009. Volume 24. November 10 (October 28) 1917. Issa G. edited by William Twining. I. 171. Volume 22. 1. wa Mutua. in Marx Engels Collected Works. State and Constitution: An African Debate on Democracy. Marx. 1917. 1964. Izvestia No. Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Nimtz. Volume 8. 184. Shivji. Moscow: Progress Publishers. Carl 2003 [1974].

some trying to bring him back into the usual frames of thinking. Esther Leslie. a materialist theologian. progress. Stuttgart: Verlag J. and many simply damning him as ridden with contradictions and therefore an intellectual failure. 2007 Walter Benjamin. quite different in object and method – a collection of documents from his archives. materialist or idealist. Texts. Michael Schwarz. utopia Images of Benjamin We are used to classifying different thinkers according to their general orientation: progressive or conservative. Erdmut Wizisla. others trying to recruit him for the newest philosophical fads.). for instance on © Koninklijke Brill NV. materialism. It is therefore not surprising that so many different and conflicting readings of his work have developed since his death. These three books. a materialist theologian. theology. Signs. 2007 Benjamin Handbuch. a biography. Leiden.1163/156920611X573842 . revolutionary or nostalgic for the past. London: Reaktion Review-Articles Walter Benjamin’s Archive: Images. Walter Benjamin does not fit into these categories. Walter Benjamin does not fit into these categories. We are going to discuss some of them. He is a revolutionary critic of the ideologies of progress. materialist or idealist.2 (2011) 129–136 brill. London: Verso. messianism. 2006 Abstract We are used to classifying different thinkers according to their general orientation: progressive or conservative. He is a revolutionary critic of the ideologies of progress. Gudrun Schwarz. 2011 DOI: 10. But there are also some happy exceptions: those who try to take into account the irreducible singularity of his intellectual and political endeavours. Ursula Marx. and many simply damning him as ridden with contradictions and therefore an intellectual failure. others trying to recruit him for the newest philosophical fads.Historical Materialism 19. Keywords Marxism. Leben-Werk-Wirkung. some trying to restore him within the usual frames of thinking. and his nostalgia for the past is at the service of his Marxist dreams for the future. revolutionary or nostalgic of the past. Metzler. and a ‘Benjamin Handbook’ – belong to these exceptions. Translated by Esther Leslie. But he could also err in his predictions. It is therefore not surprising that so many different and conflicting readings of his work have developed since his death. and his nostalgia for the past is at the service of his Marxist dreams for the future.B. There are many astonishing prophetic statements to be found in Benjamin’s works. But there are also some happy exceptions: those who try to take into account the irreducible singularity of his intellectual and political endeavours. Burkhardt Lindner (ed.

1. the tragic end of his road. 13) ‘Sibyls’: eight reproductions of Sibyls from the cathedral of Siena (with hardly any clue as to their meaning for the collector). 10) ‘Rag Picking’: the Arcades Project as ‘rubbish-collection’. and the images of the Russian toys are partand-parcel of his essay on the topic. English.50. 8) ‘A Bow Being Bent’: his procedures for the organisation of knowledge. p. but it may also be that his ferocious critique of the illusions of ‘progress’ can be better understood in our day. in some way or another’. the obsession of the public with Walter Benjamin is so great that specialists have now collected and published not only his articles and manuscripts. Not to mention the enormous – and growing – mountain of secondary literature. the beauty and intensity of his enigmatic style. 11) ‘Past Turned Space’: Germaine Krull’s photographs of the Parisian arcades. 6) ‘Daintiest Quarters’: his note. How to explain the interest. nay. Are these items interesting? Certainly! Do they reveal something about Benjamin’s character? Probably. 4) ‘Physiognomy of the Thing World’: his collection of photos of old Russian toys. the fascination of so many people with his life and works? It has certainly to do with the singularity of his writing. it is a genuine acknowledgment to hear of a reader here and there. Do they give us significant elements to understand his writings? I doubt it . . but literally all the scraps of paper in his archives. . 9) ‘Constellations’: graphic forms for the presentation of ideas. 2) ‘Scrappy Paperwork’: all sorts of dispersed scraps. containing one of Benjamin’s most subtle definitions of aura. I am referring. 1. Benjamin wrote to Karl Thieme – a now largely forgotten theologian – thanking him for mentioning his work in an article. In any case. . It is very amusing to see the facsimile-reproduction of a sheet with an advertisement for San Pellegrino mineral-water. to the book Walter Benjamin’s Archive. But what should one make of the postcards from Ibiza. But how much do these amusing discoveries help us to understand his concepts of aura and revolution? It is true that Germaine Krull’s photographs permit us to see how the arcades looked during the years when Benjamin visited them. bits and pieces of paper with some written inscription. interpretations and commentaries. In April 1934. 5) ‘Opinions et Pensées’: words and expressions of his son Stephan as a child.70. Italian. 7) ‘Travel Scenes’: his postcard collection with scenes from Tuscany and the Balearics. Spanish and Japanese (amongst other languages). who has been able to make himself at home in my scraps of writing.and addressbooks.130 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. he added the following sad comment: ‘For someone whose writings are as dispersed as mine.2 (2011) 129–136 the future of his own writings. of course. 146. 1. 12) ‘Hard Nuts to Crack’: word-games and brainteasers. 3) ‘From Small to Smallest Details’: samples of his micrographic writing. A brief survey of its chapters may give an idea of how deep this archaeological research on the ruined remains of Benjamin’s citadel has gone (the titles are quotations from Benjamin): 1) ‘Tree of consciousness’: his activity as an archivist of his own writings. And it is even more ironic to find out that his famous definition of revolution – humanity snatching the emergency-brake in the train of world-history – is written on the reverse of calculations on the price of a lunch: Mitagessen: 0. Quoted in Leslie 2007. not only have all his writings been carefully and patiently gathered together and published in their original language. some seventy years later.1 Well. and for whom the conditions of the day no longer allow the illusion that they will be gathered together again one day. but most of them have been also translated into French.80.

torn into pieces. Much of the interest in Benjamin is certainly nourished by his tragic life-story. emphasising its surprising conclusion: the essay seems to celebrate modern technology – mainly cinema – but ‘the epilogue . Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (2000). that at least in one of the sections there is a direct relation between the presentation of Benjamin’s procedures. an intellectual biography: Benjamin’s works are mentioned. however. which gave him. Thus the multiplication of biographies. Her book is not. the aim. The book is very readable.2 (2011) 129–136 131 or the Sybils from Siena? The lullaby-drawing on the effects of hashish – ‘Sleep. . it may perhaps be an illuminating complement to his writings under the same drug. his ways of collecting. the life of a ‘man in dark times’ (Hannah Arendt) who spent his last years in a precarious exile. In fact. She analyses carefully the text itself. 1930–2’. ‘Books after Books. they don’t tell us much about his life: ‘Making a Mark. 1925–9’. . this time. . and his idiosyncratic obsessions with graphology. She points to the importance of his meeting with the young Latvian Bolshevik Asja Lacis in 1924. And the same applies to much of the interesting items reproduced in this book . with all its ambiguities. complete and uncensored version by Suhrkamp Verlag. A complete list of all addresses in Benjamin’s Parisian notebook would be a significant research-item. of which Esther Leslie’s can be counted amongst the best. reversed the optimistic current – all the potential credited to art in the age of technology evaporated before the techo-mysticism and class violence of the National Socialists. as well as various interpretations. in spite of some not-very-helpful chaptertitles – except for the dates. . . . 164). . It should be said. the same does not necessarily hold for other graphic forms collected here. but also his erotic and financial troubles. In the essay’s coda Benjamin determined that fascists . which she translated into English. but not systematically discussed. according to a letter to Scholem. ‘Man of Letters. perhaps his best-known and most discussed writing. and committed suicide in September 1940 to escape from the Gestapo. The one piece of Benjamin’s writing that Leslie does analyse in detail is the essay on ‘The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility’. the materialist historian is the one that picks up everything that has been ‘crushed underfoot’. of course. ‘intensive insight into the actuality of a radical communism’. 1933–7’. 1938–40’ . ‘Noms de Plume. was rather to deal with his life and with the multiple facts of his personality: not only his political and cultural interests. etc. for the pleasure of Benjamin fetishists). the most important new source is Benjamin’s correspondence. 1917– 24’. . finally published in an unabridged. . Unlike other biographers – for example. Unlike previous works. strictly speaking. and used extensively in her own research. The revolutionary meaning of the Arcades Project is intimately linked with the method Benjamin proposes: the collection and appropriation of rags. What it describes and documents is precisely the meaning of the project: the author as rag-picker wishes to collect the refuse of history. ‘Writer’s Block. my little Sheep Sleep’ – is very intriguing. but the facsimile of one page with a few addresses under the letter ‘S’ is just a curiosity (I have been told that there exists a facsimile of the address-book. with a few exceptions. Since she had already published a – remarkable – book on his thought. too participated in technological modernity’ (p.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Werner Fuld and Rainer Rochlitz – Leslie is interested in and sympathetic to Benjamin’s political views. and the content: the chapter on the ‘rag-picker’ and the Arcades Project. discarded. classifying and ordering materials. children’s books. she was able to use the archive-material made available during the last few years – including the volume reviewed above.

between nations. As he would later write in the Arcades Project. distinguish itself by employing forced labour from the concentration-camps by the tens of thousands. Naville had just joined. in those years. uniquely among Marxist thinkers and leaders of those years. written when it was ‘midnight in the century’ (the title of a novel by Victor Serge). but three times mistrust in all reconciliation: between classes. wildly-optimistic. And unlimited trust only in I. a process which culminates after the German-Soviet pact of 1939.2 (2011) 129–136 she also refers to the astonishing insights of his Moscow diaries. Farben would. her discussion of Benjamin’s amazing essay on surrealism (1929) is not quite satisfactory. she emphasises Benjamin’s criticism of the surrealists. the most pessimistic of all. of which he would become one of the main leaders. Former editor of the journal La Révolution surréaliste. Absolutely. they constitute. This essay. Stalinism and bourgeois thought. mistrust in the fate of freedom.132 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Benjamin had a premonition of the monstrous disasters to which a crisis-ridden bourgeois civilisation could give birth. could not predict the destructions that the Luftwaffe was to wreak on the cities and civilian population of Europe. nor that I. an illegal into a violent one’. And that means pessimism all along the line. while the main aspect of the article is the importance of surrealism from a communist viewpoint. as Leslie aptly summarises. p. 191. barely a dozen years later. discourse – from Pierre Naville’s book La Révolution et les intellectuels (1928). but does not discuss: Surrealism has come ever closer to the communist answer. However. as well as the contemporary book. in his ‘Theses On the Concept of History’. Benjamin 1978. between individuals. and militant of the French Communist Party. the Trotskyist Left Opposition. . However.G. One Way Street (1928) document a decisive aspect of Benjamin’s thought: he is one of the few Marxists. perfectly summarised in the ironic phrase on ‘unlimited trust’. This is clearly stated in a phrase from Benjamin’s article which she quotes. In her conclusion. Mistrust in the fate of literature.G. in those years. to attempt a radical break with the ideology of inevitable and linear progress. after surveying some 2. none of which were able to prevent the disaster of fascism’. ‘Benjamin’s reckoning with Social Democracy. the viewpoint of revolutionary pessimism. even he. Obviously. written during his visit in December 1926 – ‘the restoration’ had begun in the USSR and ‘militant communism’ was being suspended – or of his letters to Fritz Lieb in 1937. Leslie discusses Benjamin’s increasing distance from the Soviet (Stalinist) brand of Communism during the thirties.2 Benjamin borrowed the concept of communist pessimism – obviously against the grain of official Soviet. which he describes as an ‘excellent’ work. Farben and the peaceful perfection of the Luftwaffe. mistrust in the fate of humanity. criticising the policies of the French Popular Front: ‘the leadership has managed within two years to rob their workers of the elementary basis of their instinctive activity: that infallible sense of when and under which circumstances a legal action must turn into an illegal. but with an astonishing acuity – the catastrophes awaiting Europe. This ‘revolutionary pessimism’ enabled Benjamin to foresee – intuitively. his aim is to emancipate historical materialism from the bourgeois idea of progress and of all ‘bourgeois habits of thought’.

a world in which the political subject still has recourse to revolutionary praxis. in four great parts: ‘Messianism. most of the book discusses. which surveys the present state of the publication of Benjamin’s collected works. ‘Literary analysis and author-images’. classed by themes. 232). the writings themselves. comments Lindner. his rejection of a chronological order seems to me much more questionable. dealing with his links with Gershom Scholem. . this is probably a polemical barb against Hannah Arendt. which separated. and then abandoned. ‘Life. and of the majority of the individual contributions. Lindner insists that the book does not propose a specific image of Benjamin: the different contributions are not only diverse. but as a homme de lettres. but which is lost from sight if one renounces chronology. the Handbuch does not follow the criteria of the Gesammelte Schriften. and proposes a very interesting account of their reception (by Küpper and Skrandes). what they have in common is simply a willingness to take seriously his stature as a philosopher. in distinct volumes. But these artificial distinctions are the price to be paid for renouncing the chronological option.2 (2011) 129–136 133 of the various interpretations of his life and work. the pieces that appeared during his lifetime from those which remained unpublished: a distinction. an impressive collection of contributions by sixty of the best German-speaking specialists. . she argues. avant-garde. political and literary interests. not to mention the fact that many of Benjamin’s writings concern several topics and cannot be reduced to a single one. media. Aesthetics. but sometimes contradictory. Burkhardt Lindner. journalism’. using as a guiding thread the issue – of central importance in Benjamin’s thought – of the relation between theology and politics. with keen insight. In spite of this reservation. that was not at all taken into account by the reception of his œuvre. I will pick up on only a few. While one can easily agree with him on this issue. No .Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Politics’. In his preface. Work. a return to theology without abandoning materialism – sometimes in the form of intellectual experiments taken to their ultimate conclusion. and following a section entitled ‘Intellectual Friendships’. one of the most ambitious and interesting is the recent Benjamin Handbuch. Since it would be impossible to discuss all sixty papers. one must acknowledge the great quality of the whole. in recent years. ‘Literary critique. It seems to me that these thematic regroupings are quite arbitrary and heterogeneous. and not simply a literary essayist. sometimes in opposed directions – a passage from theology to materialism. Thomas Küpper and Timo Skrandies – justifies the Handbook by the existence. Again. there exists nevertheless in the chronological sequence of his writings a movement. as well as of his correspondence – the Gesammelte Schriften published by Suhrkamp Verlag in Frankfurt – and by the need for a presentation that tries to cover the diversity of his philosophical. unlike the disempowering theory of a Habermas’ (p. of a critical edition of all of Benjamin’s existing writings. under the general title ‘Analysis’. who considered Benjamin not as a philosopher. Influence’. In its presentation of Benjamin’s writings. The reason offered is that such an order would wrongly give the impression of a ‘progress’ in his thinking. one can agree that the concept of ‘progress’ is inadequate. Bertolt Brecht and the Frankfurt School. the organiser of the collection – with the help of two colleagues. Among the innumerable attempts to propose a synthetic view of Benjamin’s life and works. After the first section. that ‘his writings envision a world not condemned to repeat its mistakes . ‘Philosophy of language and autobiographical writings’. a process which is not disconnected from historical events. in other words.

the appearance of the constellation between messianism and revolution – as an alternative to historicist evolutionism – that will become a central tenet in his reflections on history. which presents capitalism as a merciless religion leading humanity to ‘the house of despair’. Most of Benjamin’s writings on religion and politics are discussed in the chapter ‘Messianism. redemption and justice. which he considered. with the help of two examples. that suppressed the gods and transformed everything into an affair of civilisation. what he understands by utopische Bilder: ‘the messianic kingdom and the Frenchrevolutionary idea’. ‘On the Life of Students’ (1914) Regehly correctly mentions Benjamin’s critique of the ideology of progress in the name of utopian images. Scholem could never accept his friend’s turn toward communism. interpreted within a religious and revolutionary perspective. Unfortunately. has ‘lost its metaphysical seriousness’. ‘Capitalism as Religion’. this issue never ceased to occupy them. In his discussion of the following document. thus assuring them a powerful vitality in a modern context. what Benjamin says is quite different: modern social action. Benjamin defended himself arguing – according to Scholem’s memories – that his method consisted in ‘transferring metaphysical and theological forms of thought into the Marxist perspective’. Regehly misses the point of this essay. his analysis of the documents contains some obvious mistakes. as remarkably studied by Stéphane Mosès. religion. Benjamin’s critique of Marx – that he will abandon only after 1924 – is inspired by the libertarian – and religious – socialism of the German-Jewish anarchist Gustav Landauer. Werner Hamacher’s interpretation . until their exchanges during their final meeting in Paris (February 1938). with conflicting views trying to ‘purge’ Benjamin’s philosophy of some irritating element: for some. for Benjamin ‘social religion – “socialism as religion” – is not an alternative. Aesthetics and Politics’. critical of civilisation and progress. Thomas Regehly examines some works from the years 1912–15. Since their first conversations in Switzerland during the First World-War. Now. One can start with his ‘intellectual friendship’ with Gershom Scholem. a striking example of Benjamin’s revolutionary-romantic critique of modern civilisation. This detail is essential. Regehly also mentions. were Benjamin explains. Now. but goes well beyond the ‘value-neutral’ arguments of the sociologist. they are presented in chronological order. materialism.134 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. as a ‘regrettable confusion between religion and politics’. as Uwe Steiner shows in his very suggestive analysis of this difficult but fascinating text. luckily. en passant. in a letter from 1931. according to Regehly. But he fails to quote the next passage. already in 1914.2 (2011) 129–136 other issue has provoked so many polemics in the reception of his work. where. the ‘TheologicalPolitical Fragment’ – a title given it by Adorno. ‘such as electric light’. During their last conversations in Paris. for others. beginning with the ‘Dialogue on the Religiosity of the Present’ (1912) – in my view. which turned around the concepts of revelation. which has replaced the ‘heroic-revolutionary efforts’ of the past by the pitiful ‘crab-like march’ of evolution and progress. Under the title ‘Writings on Youth’. At the same time (1921) Benjamin wrote another enigmatic piece. which documents Benjamin’s precocious support for socialist ideas. is directly inspired by Max Weber. as a proof of Benjamin’s rejection of socialism his critique of Marx in the fragment from 1921. because it has “lost its metaphysical seriousness”’. The fragment. because it permits us to see. in the direction of a radical anticapitalism. ‘socialism as religion’ presents itself precisely as an alternative to this ‘civilised’ and disenchanted modern social action.

from one end of the text to the other. because. What interests Benjamin is not ‘religion’ as such. a few decades later. Scholem and Brecht. as well as in the paper where the ink-pen had written something. whose political-theological conclusion – the revolutionary general strike as an expression of a ‘divine violence’ – is accurately described by Axel Honneth. to hold together theology and historical materialism. theology – i.2 (2011) 129–136 135 proposed in the Handbook seems questionable to me. and the doctoral thesis – refused by the University of Frankfurt – on the German-baroque Trauerspiel. In a first moment. for Benjamin. In a brilliant exegesis of this complex piece. the ‘Theses On the Concept of History’ (1940). Benjamin defined. If theological concepts are ‘useless’. It is above all in Benjamin’s last writing. And yet.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. but is visible. Hamacher attributes to Benjamin – without any textual basis – the idea of an eternal distancing of the messianic times. Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin’s interpretation is quite persuasive. its traces are visible in the blotter. . becomes again a central issue. Irving Wohlfarth shows how Benjamin tries. In his remarkable study of this strange and massive unfinished manuscript. After the essay ‘Critique of Violence’ (1921). the force of the theological experience for the profane’. Thus. is a polemical answer to Hermann Cohen’s neo-Kantian theories. but the explosive force of the theological – messianism and the remembrance of past victims – against historicist conformism. which is not obviously of much help in understanding this document. None of Benjamin’s multiple heterodox and idiosyncratic ideas have provoked as much incomprehension and perplexity as this attempt to combine Marxism and theology. several years later. Of course. set to paper at the end of the 1930s. the theological dwarf hidden inside the puppet called ‘historical materialism’ described in ‘Theses on the Concept of History’: theology must remain invisible. why does Benjamin conclude his fragment by referring to profane action as favourable to the coming of the messianic era? After a long detour through Plato. Similarly. messianism – is not hidden in the ‘Theses’ from 1940. theology seems to disappear from Benjamin’s writings. which was to exercise a considerable posthumous influence. condemned by the Holy Office (Cardinal Ratzinger!) of the Catholic Church for its ‘indiscriminate’ use of Marxism . his testament in a certain sense. by insisting that the kingdom of God ‘is not the telos of historical dynamics’. ‘the theological concepts are useless for political praxis’: this corresponds neither to the letter nor the spirit of the fragment. against his best – albeit opposed – friends. he shows. But I cannot follow Hamacher when he pretends that the fragment should be called ‘Political-Atheological’. a comment by Adorno is the best definition of Benjamin’s attempt: ‘to mobilise. in an anonymous way. Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin proposes the following hypothesis: theology is here the model of another conception of time. discussed by Bettine Menke. and its relationship to politics. in some fragments of the Arcades Project. It will return. in the Arcades Project (specifically the section on the theory of progress) the relation of his thought to theology as similar to that of the blotter to ink: it is soaked with it. but nothing of what has been written remains. .e. supported by hundreds of thousands: Latin-American liberationtheology. what in 1940 had been merely an intuition was to become a major historical phenomenon. quite accurately. that theology. permitting us to simultaneously think a critical historiography and a revolutionary practice. but one has to take into account the following paradox: the ink does not disappear. Aristotle and Kant. that Benjamin’s effort to separate messianism from history. the Latin-American theology is .

‘Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligensia’. —— 2007. Reviewed by Michael Löwy CNRS. the association of theology and Marxism Benjamin dreamt of has turned out. Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism. London: Pluto Press. Paris michael. Walter 1978 [1929]. in Reflections. moreover.lowy@orange. to be not merely possible and fruitful. Walter References Benjamin. translated by Edmund Jephcott. However. . Esther 2000. the historical context of Latin America since the 1970s is very different from Europe in 1940. Leslie.136 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. London: Reaktion Books. in the light of historical experience.2 (2011) 129–136 Christian and not Jewish. and its specific concepts are different from those of Benjamin’s document – even if a critical distance with respect to the ideologies of ‘progress’ and ‘development’ is also present in the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez or Leonardo Boff. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. but a powerful stimulant for social struggles.

The result was the creation of a new ‘regime of accumulation’. See Wiener 1979 and Wright 1986. p. Landowners kept the greater portion of this capital for themselves and paid a wage to former sharecroppers to plough the crop under. and semiotic approaches to create a powerfully interdisciplinary methodology. Godden argues. © Koninklijke Brill NV. generative structure. After summarising the close readings of Faulkner’s texts performed by Godden.1 Such ruptures force the system to adapt by creating a new ‘regime of accumulation’. Godden describes how the South under the New Deal changed shape. and relates the term to earlier usages by Aglietta and Jameson. meaning that ‘economic structures may be read as the generative source of fictional forms’ (p. but as a structure whose basic morphology is continually threatened by crises or ‘ruptures’. that of ‘generative contradiction’ (p. the ‘Agricultural Adjustment Program’ (1933– 8). black labour was finally removed from its pre-modern condition of vassalage. 61). ‘under the stable constraints of the most general norms’. Keywords régime of accumulation. 119). master-slave dialectic. Aglietta 2000. Economic relations. Richard Godden. psychoanalytical. free indirect style How are we to practise historical materialism in literary studies today? In this book. and. 69. 2007 Abstract This review-essay explores the theoretical and methodological innovations of Richard Godden’s William Faulkner. 1. Princeton: Princeton University Press. along with a tightlyfocused argument which is brought to bear on a central problem. 2011 DOI: 10. responding to the crisis of the Depression by shifting from its long-term dependence on surplus black labour to a new reliance on Northern capital. 3.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. 19. the article suggests an expanded rôle for biography in making the linkages between economy. psyche and text which form the basis of Godden’s analysis. a set of social practices sufficient to ensure that surplus-value goes on increasing. Godden’s major influence here is Michel Aglietta’s A Theory of Capitalist Regulation (1976). p. Richard Godden suggests some answers by combining Marxist.3 In the process.2 (2011) 137–143 137 William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words. and contract.2 Drawing on historical work by Jonathan M. The economy generating Faulkner’s later fictional forms was the New Deal. 2). not just as a ‘social system’ regulated towards ‘the continuous reproduction of social relations’. 2. These social relations are ‘a cause of what stories can and cannot be told’. Aglietta 2000. arguing that it makes a signal contribution to historical materialism in literary studies. in which sharecroppers (who formerly received a ‘share’ of the value of the crop nominated by the landlord) were ‘made over into cash workers’ (p. coercion. Wiener and Gavin Wright. The article focuses on Godden’s concept of ‘generative structure’. as impoverished workers were forced into out-migration. more specifically. Southern landowners were given federal money to restrict cotton-production in a bid to raise farm-prices. He shares Aglietta’s sense of capitalism.1163/156920611X573851 . Under this programme. are the disguised form of social relations of domination. Leiden.

Jameson 1981. one of self-division and ambivalence. by telling stories which imagine a range of intimate bonds between black and white men. Southern whites depended on blacks for their very being. and A Fable (1954). the corporeal presence of black people was progressively attenuated. Among these signal effects in Faulkner’s texts are extravagant metaphors and torturous puns. to which the text stands merely as illustration or symptom. p. Godden thus practices the immanent critique called for by Fredric Jameson. texts carry an ‘immense charge of anxiety and libidinal investment’. a homoerotic vision so taboo that it can be easily denied.4 Under both plantationslavery and the sharecropping system. forms of linguistic contradiction where likeness is entertained alongside difference.6 Godden is uncompromising in his insistence that generative economic structure must be read out of the text itself. and land-lords who wanted sharecroppers to make way for federal subsidies. While the slave or sharecropper found ‘in the work of his hands the substance of his lord’. 77. 44). p. For Godden. . ‘subsemantic whisperings latent in a 4. Faulkner lived in a world of ‘divided things (split referents)’ – landlords who took government hand-outs.138 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Moses (1942). 6. Godden argues. and a ‘threat to sexual categories’ (p. 5. the slave or sharecropper literally gave substance through that work to the white landowner (p. former vassals who upped sticks and left for Memphis or Chicago (p. He pursues readings which unpack the multiple meanings compressed into Faulkner’s language. its meanings multiplying under the Southern economy’s contradictory pressures. because they are riven by contradictions. a contradiction they both recognised and disavowed. a ‘loosening of ethnic restraints’. In Godden’s analysis. Jameson 1981. in the New-Deal period and during the renewed Great Migration provoked by World-War II. Just as the white self divides between the desire to retain black bodies and the desire to be rid of them. 80. Fictions of Labor (1997). Roll. who urges that ‘our discovery of a text’s symbolic efficacity must be oriented by a formal description which seeks to grasp it as a determinant structure of still properly formal contradictions’. which developed the implicitly Hegelian critique of the master-slave dialectic in Eugene Genovese’s Roll Jordan. as the pattern of formal elements in Faulkner’s texts. or admit it to themselves as black labour relocated and Northern capital flooded in. setting up effects of cognitive dissonance. Faulkner countered ‘incipient structural loss’. Categorycollapse provided imaginative space to tackle structural contradiction. Godden takes seriously Jameson’s further point: that. But.5 As we shall see. See Godden 1997 and Genovese 1974.2 (2011) 137–143 The next component of Godden’s argument extends the central insight of his previous book. Whites could not quite grasp the loss of their integral blackness. language splits. the necessary corollary to the generative economic structure of the NewDeal economy is its psychic structure. rather than wheeled in as ‘historical context’. But the structural transformation of the owning class by the New Deal also led to a questioning of ‘white male authority’. 117). These effects are pursued here through forensically close readings of The Hamlet (1940). 6). The New Deal also generated a contradiction within a Southern owning class now made up of both labour-lords who want to keep ‘their’ blacks in place. the white master was dependent on the black body he dominated and exploited. ‘structure’ is grasped in a third sense. Go Down.

The Hamlet’s story begins in Mississippi in 1887. The signal distinction of Godden’s analysis is the wealth of hermeneutic resources it deploys from Paul Ricœur. 52).Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. mercenary. Mink Snopes’s bull grazes the Bend’s pastures in militant defiance of private property. Eula. De Man 1979. Meanwhile. The crucial aspect of Faulkner’s story is that it is narrated from the point of view not of Snopes. While Eula represents land as both property and elemental filth. Godden builds his interpretative case from the historical resonances of the single word. See Ricœur 1978. The peasantry represents what Ferdinand Braudel calls ‘the lowest stratum of the non-economy. the soil (p. and the textual metaphors which proliferate from this association figure Eula as both vagina and anus. a dissonant image which Godden loops back in time to recover a radical past of labour-insurrection. Ike Snopes’s sexual congress with a cow grants him ‘access’ to his ‘true love’. ‘soiling’. Paul de Man. and a boiling down of plot-elements in a kind of reductio ad absurdum that reveals the novels’ stark narrative-core. Its ‘seed. with its nod to William Empson’s The Structure of Complex Words (1951). materialistic. This is not so much close reading as intense listening.7 To follow this book’s argument closely thus requires a finely tuned ear. and earth’ counter the ‘semen. but which it can never really penetrate’ (p. ‘Soiling’ is therefore one of the ‘complex words’ of Godden’s title. 27). Ab. 52). wearing a ‘brand new white shirt’ marked with ‘his own particular soiling groove’. 48) or sounding ‘strained’ (p. 24). 49) – so as to hear history re-sounding in the echo-chamber of the text. which derive their weight and power from a dual strategy: an insistent probing of textual details which produces an extended field of signification. likely to alienate the determinedly tone-deaf. just as his skin ‘soils’ his white shirt. Ratliff associates the buggies with the excremental. 15). Riffaterre 1980.2 (2011) 137–143 139 ramifying resemblance’ (p. shit. who rides in them and provides potential access. but of the former-sharecropper-turned-sewing-machine-salesman. . a form of protest at landed-class domination associated with a ‘disaffected black tenantry’ (p. credit-led labor regime’ (p. when Flem Snopes arrives for work as a clerk in Will Varner’s store at Frenchman’s Bend. His method is to amplify these whisperings – at the admitted risk of ‘exaggerating’ (p. as well as some familiarity with Faulkner’s texts. To Ratliff. 29). fixated on market-opportunity – Godden points out that he comes from sharecropperstock. among others – a salutary richness in a period of de rigueur demonstrations of theoretical competence and contextual information-gathering in which close reading has become a dying craft. more honoured in the breach than in the observance. While an established critical tradition sees Snopes as the straightforward personification of capitalism – calculating. whose 7. even as the present moment tips towards the hegemony of the capitalist market. and coin’ of the money-economy. filled as they are with ‘luminous innuendo’ (p. a peasantry not wholly dominated by the merchant-capitalist class (p. was a barnburner. ‘the earth’s orifice’ (p. from rented fields and ‘a coercive. Varner’s horse-drawn buggies connote Varner’s daughter. via courtship and matrimony. the soil into which capitalism thrusts its roots. and Michael Riffaterre. Furthermore. It is difficult to convey the full import of Godden’s readings of Faulkner’s texts. All three figures represent the revivifying energy of a ‘residual social structure’. to his property. Flem’s pretentious black tie resembles Ab’s club-foot. words which signify within a textual economy and derive accretions of meaning from the literal economy ‘outside’ the text. These antecedents cling to him. equine odour of the stable. 55). Ratliff. milk. his father. 16).

‘a story that will ease [Ratliff’s] own sense of having betrayed his class of origin’.140 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Ike McCaslin. Roth’s father. Roth comes to a partial recognition of his own hybrid nature as the white child of a black home. who is both a ‘labor radical’ (p. took Lucas’s wife. 41). what can be recuperated is not Ratliff ’s nostalgia for the pre-market economy but Snopes’s unstable. Moses in which the reveries of the white landlord. His actions bespeak not capitalist hegemony. He goes on to read the disruptive effects of New-Deal restructuring in ‘The Fire and the Hearth’. Roth Edmunds. the sharecropping system (p. 36). Molly. mixing the voices of white narrator and black character. as his own. obsessively reads the ledgers from his family’s plantation in search of evidence for his grandfather’s incestuous miscegenation. perfecting the safely manageable image of Lucas as a peasant bound by blood and sweat to the natal soil. and out of. Lucas is minded to kill Zack. But all this turns out to be sheer ideology. grubbing his way up from. beneath this all-too-familiar and tellable story of the perfidy of the planter-class. But. 30).2 (2011) 137–143 pricing mechanisms nevertheless inflict a ‘perverse stain’. Moses. 31). is the ‘writer’ (p. beginning to acknowledge that ‘the physical labors of the rural working class materialise the substance and wealth of those who own the land’ (p. performing an ‘authorial shuffle’ in which the cathected black body is both cast out and retained (pp. by the figure of the black wage-earner Rider. a story from Go Down. as when Snopes barters sex with a black field-hand for some lard from his store (p. Faulkner’s free. 61). To desire the black phallus is ‘to desire the labour through which it stands and glimpse a consolatory fiction of amity between male bodies’ (p. In order to appease his conscience. 112). 76. This shuffle is performed most elaborately in ‘Pantaloon in Black’. Ratliff tells himself that he represents ‘the better face of the coercive economy’ and turns ‘subsistence producers bound by debt to the ground’ into sexualised. For Godden. into a troubling revenant. Buried in the ledgers. Faulkner’s excited identification with Rider’s tumescence indicates the extent to which he has discovered his own psychic investment in blackness. insurrectionary force. 77). 96) and sexual athlete. to nurse the infant Roth. bucolic fantasy (p. at the very moment when the black body is displaced by New-Deal restructuring and the imminent war-time mobilisation of black labour in 1940–1. ‘What greater loss to an owning class’. while allowing him to ‘seve[r] his own awkward and increasingly archaic’ ties to the tenantry (p. allows him to ‘move between racialized subject positions’. He is less ‘capital’s epitome’ than a resentful iconoclast. Zack. 41). Lucas Beauchamp. he sentimentalises that knowledge. the black phallus as white fetish. but resignation ‘in the face of the insufferability of the available social options’ (p. 81). indirect style. 106). 71). but the master-slave dialectic links them so intimately that he cannot achieve an act that will amount to self-slaughter. The central premise of Godden’s argument is that ‘a radical restructuring of labor necessarily forces to prominence archaic and perhaps resistant features of the system it displaces’ (p. whose protagonist. 112). Godden asks. turn his black tenant. ‘than the loss of that body whose labor substantiates the class body of those who own?’ (p. in a Faulknerian pun. The starkest version of this consolatory fiction is unearthed from ‘The Bear’. Lucas stays on as the ‘archaic tenant of a modernizing land lord’. is an . refusing the machines and chemicals which are in the process of cementing the new régime of accumulation in the form of agribusiness (p. another story from Go Down. compounding the miscegenated blood-line binding black and white families. Godden argues that Faulkner ‘mask[s] himself as black as a prelude to casting the black from himself ’ – ‘Rider’. like Ratliff.

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occulted and less-relatable tale, which Godden reconstructs in collaboration with another Faulkner scholar, Noel Polk. McCaslin’s father, Buck, had an incestuous homosexual relationship with his brother, Buddy; after the death of their father, the brothers domicile their slaves in the master’s house and live together in a log-cabin built with their own labour. Buck then purchases a slave, Percival Brownlee, who serves as his sexual partner before escaping to become a male prostitute to the Union-troops in the Civil War. Ike’s fixation upon his grandfather’s heterosexual incest is an attempt to displace and refuse more profound and disturbing ‘interethnic intimacies’, his father’s ‘desire for a bound man’ bearing the tacit recognition that his own property and substance is ‘the work of abjected hands’ (p. 148). By telling this story, Faulkner can both repudiate and retain the black male body ‘as an object of deniable desire’ at the very moment of out-migration, when ‘black bodies are seen to depart’ from their accustomed place (p. 132). Godden concludes by reading A Fable’s tale of a mutiny among American and British soldiers fighting in France in World-War I as an allegory of the militarisation of the American economy in the post-World-War-II period. Again, Godden builds his contextual argument from densely-assembled textual particulars. The corporal at the ‘focal point (and origin) of the serially organized panic’ is a ‘black Jew’, a figure of ‘opacity, disorder, boundary-collapse, and slippage’, both alien from, and essential to, the project of paranoid self-definition that creates what C. Wright Mills called the ‘permanent arms economy’ (p. 164). With federal funds dispersed geographically to create a national-security state, the South emerged as the major beneficiary of this economy, completing its long-delayed process of modernisation. Another régime of accumulation emerges, a ‘machine for making death and money’ (p. 195). By 1954, with the movement of black labour from plantation to factory consolidated and the civil-rights movement underway, black has definitively broken from white: ‘Faulkner’s lost thing was lost and gone, separated from the white owning class by a decade of economic transition’ (p. 196). An Economy of Complex Words shows how a basic contradiction in the social relations underpinning economic practices can run so deep as to become structural, a part of the material conditions by which everyday life is carried on. Godden’s achievement is to demonstrate how such structures ‘generate’ contradictions which embed themselves in both the collective psyche, and in the multilayered texts that issue from a psyche as apparently idiosyncratic as that of William Faulkner. What elevates Godden’s work far above both conventional literary exegeses and ‘cultural-studies’ approaches is the feeling he demonstrates for both the historical weight of words – their traceable derivation from a closely-specified context – and for the figural play of language – the linguistic mutations performed by equally specifiable instances of tropes such as metaphor, synecdoche, ellipsis, chiasmus, and allegory. Godden’s unmatched facility with the terms of grammar, rhetoric and semiotics means that he is able to detect what others simply miss, picking up meanings which lie, in Raymond Williams’s words, ‘on the very edge of semantic availability’.8 In this, he combines a rigorous historical-materialist methodology with the hermeneutic sophistication associated with poststructuralists such as Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida. Godden insists on difficulty because the material of the text is difficult. Dense, occluded and resistant, the text is haunted by its own revenants, by cancelled hopes, repressed wishes, and contradictory desires. I hope to have demonstrated at least something of the scope and
8. As cited in Godden 2007, p. 118.


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power of Godden’s analysis. My one demurral concerns biography, perhaps the least fashionable (but most popular) form of literary criticism. Godden tends to take it as read that Faulkner was an ‘apprentice to a planter economy’ (p. 132), that he identified so closely with the Southern landowning class as to act as ‘its contemporary and historian’ (p. 5). But the method, which generally steers clear of the intentional fallacy, does not permit such biographical certainties. Godden asks whether Faulkner’s interest in Lucas’s story turns on his own commitment to ‘an archaic regime of accumulation’, one that might ‘resist modernity’ and so prevent the trauma of ‘the black separated, the black in motion, the black urbanized’ (p. 75). He answers that we cannot know what Faulkner’s authorial intentions were because he adopted a free, indirect narration which allows for no interpretive ‘finality’ (p. 75). There is thus a disparity between the fully-fledged, historicised body of Rider, and the oddly anonymous, place-less figure of the author, ‘Faulkner’. We need to know in more biographical detail the extent of Faulkner’s identification with capital in order to fully appreciate his psychic investments in labour. Another paradox of Godden’s argument is that it posits a sharply defined generative structure – the Agricultural Adjustment Program – which ‘yields disconcerting levels of textual undecibability’ (p. 75). This is unproblematic when it comes to purely textual ambiguity: Faulkner’s text both mourns the separation of black from white and disavows that any separation has taken place, until the permanent arms-economy makes the breach final. But, because of the biographical lacuna identified above, textual ambiguities cannot be traced to ambivalences in Faulkner’s own mind. The lacuna becomes particularly problematic when the utopian potentialities of the text are concerned. The value Godden wants to attach to a ‘residual social structure’ of ‘subsistence’ and ‘use-value’, to ‘nonmonetary modes of exchange’ is necessarily uncertain (p. 55). The same can be said for the extent to which labour (ploughing) as the exercise of independent consciousness is potentially liberating, or populist revolt (barn-burning) potentially emancipatory. These are latent themes recoverable from Faulkner’s text, but it is not clear whether Faulkner’s premodern, archaic class-location made him, at some level, an anticapitalist; or whether he finally threw his lot in with modernisation and agribusiness and produced a set of elegiacs which falsified and obscured the restructuring of the South. ‘Split subjects and divided objects’ provide plentiful hermeneutic resources for opening up the text, but they tend to divorce Godden from the kind of directly articulated politics for which, on the lower frequencies, his argument seems to yearn (p. 74). The concept that links economic structure and literary text in Godden’s analysis is the psyche, a space of repressed desires whose origins ultimately lie in economic interest, and whose topography is recoverable from the encrypted traces it leaves in the signifying substance of words. But the link back to economic structure from the text can only be made, it seems to me, if the psyche is posited alongside the biographical record, a record which has itself to be interpreted, but which is nonetheless crucial in suggesting how economic power and interest take psychological form. My sense is that, without this additional form of mediation, the analysis risks becoming over-immersed in the purely psychic life of power, rather than being directed equally at power understood economically and politically. The complexities of régimes of accumulation as generative structures (Agricultural Adjustment Program; permanent arms-economy) tend to be displaced by what they generate (the text).

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Having read An Economy of Complex Words one wants to know more about how central the AAP was to the Southern neo-plantation economy, and more about Faulkner’s own recognition of its effects in his correspondence, essays, and journals. Such evidence might substantiate Faulkner’s ‘concer[n]’ with the New Deal’s ‘reformation of labor and its ruination as it was forced out of the forms into which “dependency” and an archaic regime of accumulation . . . had cast it’ (p. 40). It would be fascinating to know, not just how the Southern owning-class resolved its contradictory need to keep blacks on the land, and to turn them into mobile wage-earners, but how Faulkner himself sensed and responded to that dilemma. One also wants to know how the ‘forcing-out’ affected white sharecroppers, and whether their plight had any affinity with that of black-migrant labour – whether, that is, the less-successful Snopeses sensed, or resisted, the possibility of common experience or common cause with their black counterparts, and whether that recognition or disavowal took narrative form in the work of other Southern writers. These caveats aside, it seems to me that Godden’s concept of generative structure is of vital interest to anyone wishing to develop a genuinely-historical materialism within the field of literary studies. Among the effects by which a landmark-study might be known are that it provides the basis for a new methodology, while provoking a fresh set of researchquestions. Measured by these criteria, An Economy of Complex Words is such a work. Reviewed by Andrew Lawson Leeds Metropolitan University, United Kingdom

Aglietta, Michel 2000 [1976], A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The U.S. Experience, translated by David Fernbach, London: Verso. De Man, Paul 1979, Allegories of Reading: Figural Landscape in Rousseau, Rilke, and Proust, New Haven: Yale University Press. Genovese, Eugene D. 1974, Roll, Jordan Roll: The World the Slaves Made, New York: Pantheon Books. Godden, Richard 1997, Fictions of Labor: William Faulkner and the South’s Long Revolution, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. —— 2007, William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Jameson, Fredric 1981, The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act, London: Methuen. Ricœur, Paul 1978, ‘The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling’, Critical Inquiry, 5, 1: 143–59. Riffaterre, Michael 1980 [1978], Semiotics of Poetry, London: Methuen. Wiener, Jonathan M. 1979, ‘Class Structure and Economic Development in the American South, 1865–1955’, American Historical Review, 84, 4: 970–92. Wright, Gavin 1986, Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War, New York: Basic Books.

This book can be read as a clarification and elaboration of the theoretical presupposition at the centrepiece of their previous productions. On account of the sheer number of readings that form the base of their argument. the basic subject-matter is not economics as such. their own theory of capital-as-power takes centre-stage in the second half of the book. In doing so. power. Against Marxists. while discarding the possibility of analysing capitalism dialectically as a totality consisting of contradictory. and 1. It is around this simple proposition that political economists Nitzan and Bichler build their most ambitious book to date. their criticisms are more engaged. Nitzan and Bichler have published their extensive and well-documented complaints on their website <http://bnarchives. Conceptualising capital in terms of ownership rather than production. In 2005.144 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. and symbolic rather than material. Nitzan and Bichler engage in criticisms of an impressive range of theories. but mutually>. and how well? This question with regards to Marxism. 2009. are unobservable and immeasurable. but capital – capital understood as a question of organised and quantified power. presenting us with a theory in which capital is financial rather than productive. Marxist and liberal alike. 2011 DOI: 10. but a symbolic quantification of power. but how. Abstract Nitzan and Bichler’s Capital as Power suggests that conventional theories of capitalism. Certainly they have. London: Routledge. © Koninklijke Brill NV. Afflicted Powers (Retort Collective 2005). In short. they argue that capital is not an ‘economic’ entity. Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler. While Nitzan and Bichler’s complaint seems technically valid – Retort does rely on unreferenced passages from their book – the essayistic style of Afflicted Powers could warrant a plea for largesse. detailed and informed than most exchanges between neoclassical and Marxist economists themselves. capital.1 In a dazzling outburst of ambition and dissatisfaction with existing theories of capital. Leiden. and hence ‘non-existent’ and ‘fictitious’. While intertwined with the arguments of the first half. are unable to answer the question: what is capital? They argue that the basic units of Marxist economics. they have read their enemies. the first part of Capital as Power attempts to clear the ground for a new theory through the rejection of neoclassical as well as Marxist economics. In order to demonstrate the obsolescence of neoclassical and Marxist approaches to capital. moments. Keywords Nitzan and Bichler. and thus misses the mark. abstract labour and value. Nitzan and Bichler alleged that their Global Political Economy of Israel had been plagiarised by the Retort Collective in their successful analysis/manifesto on ‘military neoliberalism’. this absence in their readings of Marx is strictly correlative to the limits of their own theorybuilding. Furthermore.1163/156920611X573879 . it reproduces the one-sidedness it criticises. Capital as Power simply inverts the vulgar economism it finds in Marxist theories. dialectics Capital is power. This review contends that what Nitzan and Bichler present as a critique of Marxism as such pivots on an incomprehension of dialectical thinking. especially the excellent The Global Political Economy of Israel of 2002.2 (2011) 144–159 Capital as Power: A Study of Order and Creorder.yorku. the four-hundred page long Capital as Power. Marx.

Capital as power Before we depart on the discussion and analysis of Nitzan and Bichler’s problematic relationship to Marx. for Nitzan and Bicher becomes capital-as-such. restricted. The concept of capital is thus on the side of ownership. 18). it is useful to sketch out the basic tenets of their theory of capital. to decide over the use of things. At the very root. which is nothing but the power to deprive. but that it disables those who do not’ (ibid. denoting ‘a paradoxical fusion between being and becoming’ of the capitalist system. but an institution of exclusion. this review will try to practise the form of in-depth methodological analysis it finds lacking in Nitzan and Bichler’s reading of Marx. will structure the review at hand. the capitalist creorder (ibid. Specifically.). The former follows no preset pattern. in an attempt to offer a critique of the structuring ideas of the book. capitalist ‘creorder’. I will argue that Nitzan and Bichler’s inability or unwillingness to engage with Marx’s dialectical method marks the limits of their own approach. and which the Hegelian Marx had more convincingly overcome – or sublated – a hundred and fifty years ago. They illuminate this point by referring to the origins of the word ‘private’ in the Latin privatus. to deprive (p. ‘The most important feature of private ownership is not that it enables those who own. This focus. it is a mostly latent and invisible potentiality. which is merely under the control of capital qua ownership. but. 228). Through this analysis. . however. and proceed to what can be theorised. namely ‘the dynamic order of those who rule’. on the other. Nitzan and Bichler oppose two general ‘entities’: on the one hand humane society. leaving their instructive discussions of neoclassical economics to one side.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. for Marx. but not sufficient). In this way. the assessment of Capital as Power will take a detour through the analysis of its method and epistemology. as a way to throw light upon Nitzan and Bichler’s theory of capital itself. As will be argued. Thus. rather. which occasionally erupts ‘often without warning. which their own theory does not respect. and thus cannot be theorised. Nitzan and Bichler fail to exhibit an understanding of the dialectic at play in Marx’s Capital. Nitzan and Bichler more-or-less leave considerations of what we could call classstruggle at that remark. while the sine qua non of capital – the extraction of surplus-value through exploitation – becomes external to the concept of capital itself. which. is not to be understood as the Marxologist’s defence of the ‘true’ Marx. or rather to decide not to use a thing.2 (2011) 144–159 145 in particular the Marxian dialectic. Capital as defined qua private property is thus not a mode of production. and to the verb privare. I will thus argue that the poverty of their critiques of questionable Marxisms is an index of the limits of their own theory-building. the authors follow the American economist and social critic Thorstein Veblen in defining capital as a power to incapacitate. rather than what dynamically relates ownership and non-ownership. In doing so. is a presupposition of capital (necessary. but directly to private property itself. private property.). 21). to challenge and sometimes threaten the institutions of capitalist power’ (p. This means that capital must be defined as a form of organised power separate from production. Thus. and. imposing itself on society (p. on its wants and merits. the defining characteristic of capital is not related to production and the extraction of surplus-value. In effect. their critiques of non-dialectical Marxist theories of value and capital remain stuck in a positivist or empiricist framework.

What. 260). 263). Capital is a symbolic architecture of social power. rather than of the production. Nitzan and Bichler argue. ‘All capital is finance. they suggest that the analysis must start with finance. personal loans and realestate ownership all become vendible income-streams (p. bank-accounts. as such. shares. and understand it as the business-investor does. mortgages. since it is purely symbolic and forwardlooking. 7). Capitalisation is the algorithm that generates and organises the price of capital. the algorithm of the commodification of power (p. questions of wagelabour. which have only one interest: the accumulation of pecuniary wealth (p. the analysis of capital as a material-productive apparatus thus becomes redundant (p. capitalisation is the algorithm which gives claims to future earnings a price in the present. price is not a productive or utilitarian quantity. ‘neither a material object nor a social relationship embedded in material entities’ (p.and bond-markets. and whose value is calculated in a backward-looking accounting of inputs. 270). it is useful to look at their idea of capitalisation as capitalism’s specific difference from other modes of private-property power. but in terms of expected future earnings (ibid. In short: as property-ownership relations are the privileged nexus of the theory of capital. More precisely. capitalisation is the procedure through which capitalist power is commodified on the stock. as ‘a pecuniary capitalization of earning capacity’ expressed not in equipment or physical wealth. i. empirical capitalist actors.). capitalisation is severed from this circulation. Unlike commodities that are circulated. With this logic. is found on this plane is simply a number of concrete. Rather. it is used as a lever to suggest that capital must be understood from the viewpoint of the business-investor. seemingly close to Marxism. for whom capital ‘has long been stripped of any physical characteristics’ (p. of wealth.. exploitation and class-struggle are disregarded. As the unit of capital. however. the unit with which capitalism is ordered (p. but a ‘power magnitude’. 156). Nitzan and Bichler suggest that we leave behind production-centred theories of capital. and. In fact. stocks. 262). risk- . which produces a price from expected earnings. the source of the dynamic of the capitalist creorder is sought on the plane of the distribution. and only finance’ (p. 311). In other words. Accordingly.2 (2011) 144–159 Since capital is understood in terms of property. Before we can introduce their reasons for not pursuing a theory of capitalist production. of capital understood as a ‘creorder’. This statement. Capitalisation as the commodification of power The concept of capitalisation is absolutely central to Nitzan and Bichler’s understanding of contemporary capital. it is the ‘universal symbol of capital’ (p. bonds. is not simply taken to mean that production is ruled by the profit-motive.e. 231). capitalisation is a general principle or algorithm that is used to determine the price of all pecuniary assets understood as claims on earnings. Hence Nitzan and Bichler understand modern industry to be subordinated to the ends of business-enterprises. For Nitzan and Bichler. ‘a mode of power’ rather than a mode of production (p. stressing the importance of the development of the discounting-principle by neoclassical economists Irving Fisher and Frank Fetter. Capital is ‘in itself ’ simply ‘a symbolic representation of power’. 220). Thus.146 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. 307). makes it possible to price an asset on the basis of its projected turnover rather than its present value. and the question of the dynamic of capital thus becomes one of the logic of those in possession of capital.

capitalisation can be understood as ‘the universal creed of capitalism’ operating according to the nominal reality of power in ‘the capitalist nomos’ (p. Within this nomos. how power to deprive can be enhanced. Neither basing the superstructure nor superstructuring the base The reason for the absence of any theory of exploitation in Capital as Power is related to its rejection of that foremost theory of exploitation. 211). human beings. Nitzan and Bichler’s rejection is based on the alleged inability of Marx to deal with what they see as the essential . 182. nor to the abstract labour embodied in any asset. capitalisation is simply the ‘most adhered-to convention’ (p.2 (2011) 144–159 147 perception. Thus. 270. Capital as a whole is thus.) In sum.) As the reality of capitalists. Hence. socially speaking. the dynamic of capital is the becoming-vendible of power. And what matters in that reality is not production and consumption. This capitalization is not ‘connected’ to reality. 21). a system of norms (the ‘capitalist nomos’ and ‘capitalist mode of power’). the real thing is the nominal capitalization of future earnings. class-struggle cannot be treated as integrally related to the theoretical account of capitalisation. made up by individual capitalists following the logic of capitalisation. even if it is invoked occasionally. but power. namely Marx’s. These groups are caught in the architecture of their own internal struggle: ‘Its individual members are forced to accept the very logic they impose on the rest of humanity’ (p. ‘The “science of finance” is first and foremost a collective ethos. ultimately. and questions of structural dominance become disregarded as external to the theory of capital proper. Nitzan and Bichler suggest these can be measured statistically in terms of differential capitalisation (static comparison of rates of capitalisation) and differential accumulation (‘dynamic’ comparison of changes in rates of capitalisation) of groups of owners of capital (p. who then joins the nomos and (re)produces it by doing so. Its real achievement is not objective discovery but ethical articulation’ (p. a dynamic embodied as a ‘creed’ in the actors found on the static plane of the distribution of wealth. it neither relates to the productivity of a fixed asset. Thus the order is akin to a system of belief in which the financial reality is taken as an ‘exogenous given’ by the investor. 184). the primary focus becomes that of the struggle over distribution of pecuniary wealth between dominant capital-groups. The underlying driving force of large-scale capitalist organizations is not fundamentally different from that which propelled the rulers of earlier power regimes: they all seek to control nature and. since struggle against capital from without is black-boxed as beyond theorisation. Capital as a whole is thus the creed and norms of those who own capitalisable assets.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. hype and the expected rate of return. The only struggle that is theorised directly is the intra-class struggle of dominant capitals. 313). (p. it is the reality. capitalisation is strictly a forwardlooking question of how property can be capitalised. (p. but to the power of a corporation’s owners: For the capitalist. In this framework. 8). while inter-class struggle becomes a question of direct dominance (as deprivation and exclusion). And.

The question is how Nitzan and Bichler set up their rejection of Marxism and what readings of Marx they thereby preclude. from Isaak Rubin via HansGeorg Backhaus to Moishe Postone and Christopher J. and only as finance. 7.) If Nitzan and Bichler are here coquetting with Hegel. In fact. Rather. Readers of Historical Materialism will know that this opposition – productive or pecuniary – is problematic. that is finance. is inherently both. In their 2. we find distilled both Nitzan and Bichler’s reading and their rejection of Marx. it serves not to clarify their position. a nominal sphere ruling the material. for Marx. they assert. 231). As Marx wrote in proto-Wittgensteinian mode: ‘Frequently the only possible answer is a critique of the question and the only solution is to negate the question. more importantly – since money is the form of appearance of value – the real rule of value over living labour.’ (Marx 1973. p. Marx got things wrong because he was caught up in analyses of the concrete labour-process of workers and technology. capital is not simply the abstract rule of money. that is. quantity ruling quality (p. This claim betrays Nitzan and Bichler’s unfamiliarity with the tradition of readings of Capital that stress the centrality of the concept of the value-form. they write that Marx classified finance as ‘fictitious’ capital – in contrast to the ‘actual’ capital embedded in the means of production. This classification puts the world on its head. Arthur. but the assertion that capital is not double-sided is a clear marker of Nitzan and Bichler’s incomprehension of dialectical thought. Being unable to think capital dialectically. Echoing Marx’s claim to put Hegel on his feet. According to the authors. the ‘form of capitalism’ (p. 127. on the accumulation of universal ownership-titles. the economism of the Second International. For Marx. in the real world the quantum of capital exists as finance. Nitzan and Bichler’s criticisms of economism and empiricist materialism (wrongly presented as critiques of all Marxism tout court) hardly produce much more than the mirror-image of what they criticise. as we will see. but. neglecting the analysis of its ‘form’. capital. Nitzan and Bichler’s claim to be instituting a new paradigm in the study of capital is based on this idea that capital is pecuniary rather than productive. it covers up the absence of what we could call ‘the dialectic’ (or rather. is caught in a ‘materialistic trap’ (p. as well as in their own theory of capital. This is the core of the capitalist regime. Nitzan and Bichler’s critique of Marxism can here help us understand the method and epistemology of Capital as Power. 85).2 (2011) 144–159 form of capital. 85). and never managed to integrate the dependence of the labour-process on capitalist control. Marx. Following Veblen and the idea of money as the universal symbol of capital-as-power.3 Briefly put. Nitzan and Bichler asserts that ‘capital simply is not a double-sided entity’. (p. but ‘only a pecuniary magnitude’. of a dialectical way of thinking. . to avoid its reification as system or method) in their reading of Marx. say. Nitzan and Bichler read Marx’s Capital as a productionist-materialist doctrine of political economy which leaves the power-dynamics of capitalism largely ignored. Nitzan and Bichler’s claim is that Marx was preoccupied with the ‘content’ of capitalism.148 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19.) 3. The conclusion that capital is the abstract rule of the universal equivalent (money) over the heterogeneous qualities of living labour and use-values mimics a dialectically informed Marxist critique of. viz.2 In a passage from the book’s introduction.

into which ‘industry provides no insight’ (ibid. dispersed and democratic state-of-nature. Adorno 1997. In line with this. something which actually existed in the past’. labour and capital as dialectically co-constitutive. 6. 219). 5. 221).Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. the principal goal of industry. What we could charitably see as a beautiful vision of what could be. 85). In its exclusive focus on distribution. we find this lack of a politics of production expressed as the apolitics of the good life characteristic of humanism – as if industry can be understood in abstraction from the always contested social relations which structure it. Nitzan and Bichler relate business and industry ‘causally’. They see the relation between production and distribution as a relation of determination between independent. as the conflict between democracy and power and between industry and business.). democracy and industry pure-and-simple – Nitzan and Bichler situate in a mythical description of neolithic society as an idyllic. its raison d’être according to Veblen is the efficient production of quality goods and services for the betterment of human life’ (p. without making the distinctions between the different manicheanisms clear.5 By not thinking the social process as a totality. ‘causality runs not from production to distribution. Veblen. They read his assertion in the 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Adorno 1997.6 The price of refusing to theorise production and distribution. capital becomes pure superstructure. their discourse conjures up the idea that production under capitalism is merely an effect of capitalist business. and. that a ‘distinct mode of production thus determines [bestimmt] a specific mode of consumption. and the base the sphere of true humanity: ‘When considered in isolation from contemporary business institutions. as a universal potentiality – humanity. As Adono says: ‘The positivist permits himself to conceive of human potentiality only by transforming it into a given. Business-history takes the place of labour-history. exchange and the specific relations of these different phases to one another’ as a form of reductionist materialism. in grasping the social process as a totality lead to an immediate distinction between productive and non-productive functions.2 (2011) 144–159 149 inversion of economism’s non-dialectical reading of the base-superstructure metaphor. p. a collective endeavour sabotaged and controlled by business (Veblen) or by power-civilisation (Mumford). as noted by Adorno in his perceptive critique of Veblen. for Marx. . Not only does the failure of their master. pp. but also to a humanist problematic. Their inability to think totality is also clear in the criticisms of Marx’s ‘materialist bias’. distribution (of the means of production) is a moment within production. 94–98). 88.4 In the idea of industry as the production of goods for the betterment of human life. See the section ‘Distribution and Production’ in the 1857 Introduction (Marx 1973. since capitalist industry is carried out for the sake of business. saying that. but from distribution to production’ (p. cooperation and solidarity. Nitzan and Bichler enlist the philosophical weight of Thorstein Veblen and Lewis Mumford to characterise the conflict between dominant capital and humanity as an instantiation of a ‘primal’ conflict between creativity and power. distribution. creativity. is the abstract romanticisation of the former 4. Industry is the great pool of human creativity. a fortiori. autonomous spheres (p. Nitzan and Bichler also speak of this. while.

Nitzan and Bichler continue with many insights from Marxism. Sweezy 1942. both of which. In this vision. critiques and sardonic remarks. ‘the labour-theory of value’). is a humanist one between the two. let alone give answers to them. into so many phrasings of the same questions (‘the transformation-problem’. that the subject of the judgement is not part of the object itself. The field of Marxism as a whole cannot be judged from within Marxism. as this presupposes its being an object external to the subject of the judgement. give away their moral value. Fine and Harris. They interpret the – indeed central – concept of socially- 7. the constitutive omissions of this construction and the theoretical effects it produces. within this overall refutation. and Foley.7 In two dense chapters. Constructing and rejecting Marxism To understand how Nitzan and Bichler can arrive at the dualisms sketched out above. or. Foley 2000.2 (2011) 144–159 (industry/production/labour) and the disembedding of the latter from the former (business/ distribution/capital). Nitzan and Bichler cleverly set up a test for Marx that he cannot help but fail.150 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. completing the violent condensation of Marxism. 8. more than readers unfamiliar with Marxism would be lead to expect by the vehemence of their criticisms. Much less should we want to defend Marxism ‘in general’. Fine and Harris 1979. Playing the part of true outsiders and paradigm-founders. . Steedman 1977. something a Marxist can only do by glossing over too many disagreements between Marxists or by posing as the true inheritor or supreme interpreter of Marx. their abandonment of class-struggle as a theoretical concept and the absence of a developed theory of capitalist production in Capital as Power can be understood in relation to their criticisms of Marxism. all too obviously. In particular. then. Addressing all the criticisms that Nitzan and Bichler raise against the many strands of Marxism. then Nitzan and Bichler’s political doctrine simply states. If this is correct. is neither possible nor of interest here. creating a densely mined field. in all banality: one must stand on the side of good social relations against the bad. it is useful to look more closely at their rejection of Marxism. they are able to condense a number of questions asked in different contexts from different political projects and research-agendas. in turn come to circle around the ultimate question: Is a Marxist economics possible at all? Meanwhile. ‘the problem of the definition of productive labour’. It is between two sets of abstract signifiers (industry/creativity/democracy vs. In their attempt to found a new paradigm in the study of capital and to demonstrate the obsolescence of the Marxist approach. These questions. Steedman. class-struggle proper cannot be theorised: it is absent from both industry and business. Nitzan and Bichler unleash an impressive cascade of problematisations. and the even greater number of answers these give rise to. business/power/ control). Nitzan and Bichler rehearse a plethora of well-known debates within Marxism and between Marxism and the neo-Ricardian school focusing on Sweezy.8 Rather. we should inquire into Nitzan and Bichler’s construction of this field. in other words. The struggle. In their all-out attack on Marxism.

‘Marx’s science’ (p. Nitzan and Bichler understand Marx’s socially-necessary labour-time as the undifferentiated universal quantum that founds all value-rations. that Marx sets out the general principles of his theory in the first two sections of Chapter 1 of Capital. as do Nitzan and Bichler.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. And this was the answer that Aristotle. 88). amounts to a ‘make-orbreak-predicament’ for Marx. they cannot at the same time be expressed in prices. This. 122). It is by ascribing to Marx this method of linear argument from empiricist premises that Nitzan and Bichler can set up the problem of this transformation from value to prices as the decisive. Marxism cannot understand wages. As value and surplus-value do not exist. if Marx bases his theory on these conversions and they cannot be performed. we might say. Having conjured up a beautiful and complete structure rising from the single elementary particle of abstract labour-time. the ultimate code of prices (as mediated through the labour-theory of value). The question is. the father of the question. as that which underlies and founds the whole system. what is their ‘third term’. Marx’s theory has no basic unit and thus is no theory at all (p. it is. For. lies in converting a given individual labour-time to socially-necessary labour-time and a given amount of concrete labour to abstract labour. abstract labour is the answer to a question which seems rather odd from the viewpoint of the linear and empiricist logic that Nitzan and Bichler impose on him. as well as crisis-tendencies and the historical development of capitalism. Nitzan and Bichler reject the concept of exploitation as analytically distinct from oppression (p. Without the concept of socially-necessary labour-time. and a positive concept that can be understood in isolation from monetary relations. their catalogue of criticisms of theories gathered under the signifier ‘Marxism’ circles around the critique of the concept of socially-necessary abstract labour-time. For Nitzan and Bichler. uniting their different criticisms theoretically. problem of Marx. the explanandum with the explanans. income-distribution and class-power. 97). the concept ‘abstract labour’ is materialist in a way most Marxists would consider vulgar. Since socially-necessary labour-time and value are supposed to be the ground for Marx’s theory of prices.2 (2011) 144–159 151 necessary abstract labour-time as the ‘elementary particle’ of Marx’s system. Or. Indeed. they argue. and ultimately insuperable. The basic move of Nitzan and Bichler is to postulate that Marx tries (and fails) to derive the theoretical concept of abstract labour from empirically existing concrete labour. The problem with socially-necessary abstract labour-time. one would find that the shared property of the commodities exchanged has already been presented – they are all use-values. Abstract labour in Marx For Marx. what do commodities have in common when they are exchanged. Nitzan and Bichler assert. they hold. provided. This is the heart of Nitzan and Bichler’s ornate and extensive critique of Marxism. 281). an answer . Nitzan and Bichler sarcastically quip ‘[t]he key difficulty is that this particle – like God or the Ether – is forever beyond our reach’ (p. Furthermore. as this would mean confusing that which is to be explained with its explanation. 89). their tertium comparationis? The oddity of the question is obvious: why should the exchange of use-values which are essentially different imply that the items exchanged have something in common? If one simply presumes. and to quantify either without recourse to money (p. from the point of view of exchange – there is a demand for all.

rather than of ‘simple commodity-production’. nor the whole (as if it were a self-sustaining machine. Marx 1976. not because it is the foundation on which capitalism rests. but a reconstruction. p. concrete labour and use-value are both abstract concepts that jumble together activities and things that are fundamentally heterogeneous. What makes Marx’s method fundamentally different from any empiricist approach is that the question of what commodities have in common in order to exchange does not so much point towards a shared substance existing in them prior to their exchange.9 Indeed. and from the body to the cell.10 Marx starts his critique with the commodity. in a movement of thought which declares primary neither a unit (as if it were a building block). In a certain sense. p. This answer in turn only makes sense if. these fields of difference find an objective unitary expression beyond the subjective mental synthesis of the philosopher-economist. the aim of producing use-values becomes subordinated to that of producing exchange-value. by the compulsion of market-competition to produce at or below the socially necessary labour-time. The answer is not that it turns concrete labour into abstract labour. i. Taking the first sentence in Chapter 1 of Capital into account. but specifically ‘[t]he wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails’. . as Nitzan and Bichler would have it (along with some of the authors in their selective Marxist bibliography). Whereas it might pragmatically make sense to fashion a common name such as use-value or utility to speak of all objects that people find useful. but rather places ‘primacy’ in the contradictions running through the different layers of the totality. but because it is the ‘elementary cell’ of capitalism. 151. but that it gives concrete labour an abstract social form. 90. in the dialectical reconstruction of how concrete labour ‘becomes’ abstract. This means that. but at what the commensuration of commodities in exchange posits. In general. this point of unification is in the name.e. commodity-production. this formless mess of different activities and things is only grounded retroactively with the concepts of value and exchange-value.2 (2011) 144–159 which Marx found unsatisfactory. With the commodity-form. 125. does to the labour itself. Aristotle 2000. one reads Chapter 1 of Capital as the initial breakdown of the systematic relations of generalised exchange. In short. a complete system). it is merely linguistic. Marx 1976. capitalist production and thus money and wage-labour are all presupposed.152 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. concrete labour and use-value become dominated. through which one can enter into the study of the system as a whole and study what really matters: the logic that unites and propels the system forward. but not eradicated. some isolatable ‘basic unit’. naming difference from without. but bracketed. It is precisely not a theoretical construction from some element which is understandable in isolation. p. its exchange in the market. 10. it is clear that Marx is not examining questions of production and wealth in general. That is the question of what the becoming-commodity of the product of labour. however. as Christopher Arthur has convincingly argued. And this we might call the dialectic: it is the thinking from the cell to the body. as production of products becomes production for the market. which means that every element can only be understood in relation to the whole of which it is a part. 9.

the question is how generalised exchange.11 When Marx asks the question of what commodities have in common. constitute the unity of commodities and labours practically. Rather. 12. express both the contradiction and its resolution dialectically rather than mechanically as we have done here. are the previous moments validated.12 Instead of reading Marx’s exposition as a linear sequence describing how an amount of concrete labour becomes. in the Marx of Nitzan and Bichler. the logic of the commodity works both ways. 13. for which both money and capitalist production are conditions. Arthur 2002. 15. Within the value-relation and the value expression included in it. but as if Hegel had never lived. and Arthur 2002 for a recent statement to this effect. cannot be equated with any particular kind of labour-expenditure. Marx 1978.e. p.14 the rather tokenistic invocations of the word ‘dialectics’ throughout the book do nothing to make up for this absence. The ease with which Capital as Power glosses over the centrality of dialectical thought in Marxism is exemplified in the remark that ‘Marxists. they read Capital not with or against Hegel. as anticipation of a value expressed by a price. it is the determination that any particular kind of labour-expenditure can fall under in so far as the labour is waged (i.15 Lacking in the staging of the make-or-break predicament Capital as Power sets up against Marx are two fundamental dialectical principles.) . Whilst the pertinence of a dialectical reading of Capital is indisputable. the sale/ non-sale. or is calculated as. 140. And yet. Commodityproduction and exchange describe this circle of constant anticipation and retroaction. is inimical to linear 11.2 (2011) 144–159 153 The question of socially-necessary abstract labour cannot be divorced from the question of money: capitalism is essentially a monetary system. sensibly real.’ (Nitzan and Bichler 2009.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. For instance. and certainly with far greater finesse. be it a good or a service. the task of dialectics. sold as the commodity labour-power) and its product. See Rubin 2008. Arthur 2002. such ideas are absent. 14. abstract labour is ruling concrete labour rather than simply being its product. viz. we should avoid reading him as asking for a concrete shared material substance or origin. but their political conclusion is essentially the same. but the abstract social form of concrete labour under capitalist conditions of production. 12. 29. of course. Backhaus 1980. The concrete labour expended on a product. On the contrary. p. p. of course. and as determination of value in the sale. 100. thus.13 Abstract labour. Firstly. In the actual price. may be of no value if the product cannot be sold as a commodity: only from the point of view of the endpoint of the circle. an amount of abstract labour. is traded as a commodity. the abstractly general counts not as a property of the concrete. we can read their claim that capital is not a double-sided entity as an index of the absence of dialectical thought. the value of the commodity is being determined as a function of the fluctuations within the world of commodities. Abstract labour is not something that can be observed or measured directly. By and large. p. the reconstruction of an integrated totality. but on the contrary the sensibly-concrete counts as the mere form of appearance or definite form of realisation of the abstractly general..

but also in relation to the concepts that follow upon it (i. however. These rather empiricist-positivist criticisms could. and the myth-busting ethos they take on in their attacks on Marxism and neoclassical economics. it is tempting to point out a gap between their critique of Marx and their own methodology. contrary to Nitzan and Bichler’s claims. is what gives sense to the capitalist chain. and an extremely dynamic one at that. and at others discussed as if they were only theory. Abstract labour must thus not only be read in relation to those concepts that precede it (such as concrete labour). of course. M–C–M'. If Nitzan and Bichler utilise empiricist or positivist reasoning in their attempted refutations. the poverty of their Marx can be read as a symptom of the poverty of their theory. This confusion between these two moments is what sustains them.e. Nitzan and Bichler’s critique of Marx is based on the claim that abstract labour must be fictional since it cannot be observed directly or induced from observables in a linear fashion. On the one hand. As we will see. Nitzan and Bichler reject Marxism with the help of principles that their own theory does not honour. as . on the other it is dubiously ‘immanent’. social critique of Marxism and neoliberalism – of their social conditions of possibility and existence – are by-and-large absent: even when Capital as Power very occasionally raises the question of the relation between theory. Marx. easily be applied to their concept of power.2 (2011) 144–159 arguments. whilst Nitzan and Bichler ascribe to Marx an empiricist or positivist dualism between concepts and their objects. is a pragmatist interest in examples as tools of the understanding. I will argue. Furthermore. for Marx. In fact. the absence of the dialectic in Nitzan and Bichler’s account of Marx has the effect that socially-necessary labour-time is unthinkable as real or practical abstraction. which. their critique of Marxism is strictly external (but based on unclear criteria). practice and production. As we will see. and that Marx himself (with Hegel) would not accept. Illusion. between theory and reality. truth and the obscure position of the critics As we have seen. the specificity of power in capitalism is its abstract and impersonal character. value and money). This. What characterises their references to the history of physics. Thus. bringing with it the difficulties of disguising metaphor as analogy and analogy as argument. Hence their somewhat metaphorical descriptions of societies as megamachines and conceptualisation of society-as-a-whole as a ‘holograph’ giving us ‘the whole picture’ seems to be in tension with their empyreal gaze into the inner workings of capitalism as a mode of power. ultimately. Mumford’s mythical neolithic society. does have a concept of power. and within the totality of the exposition itself (importantly relating it to surplus-value. Secondly. between thinking and being. Meanwhile. and as an effect of commodityfetishism. the two formations are at times dismissed as if they were merely phrases to be dispensed with. means that it becomes difficult to understand how. instead of raising the question of the social importance and the possible mystifications of neoliberalism and Marxism as problems requiring an analysis in their own right. Marx does no such thing. each concept within the exposition makes sense only in relation to other concepts. their own approach exhibits a pragmatist eclecticism that is more akin to their forebear Thorstein Veblen than to any positivist research-programme. and hence to abstract labour). and Leibniz’s concept of space.154 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19.

Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. my italics. but does not explain how. they do so. Because of their elimination of a dialectical reading of Capital. one that is precluded by the very nature of capitalism’ (p. of being and thought. not by offering a theory of commodity-fetishism. the authors fall short of Marx’s insights into the mystifications of capital as products of capitalism itself and how these relate to relations of dominance in capitalism. it also gives form to subjectivity. It is a necessary appearance that has an effect of its own. they reject what they describe as his idea of a ‘contradictory interdependence’ of state and business. 166. p.16 In simply refuting these distinctions as false. ‘a theoretical impossibility. but a product of social relations themselves. Capital as Power merely points out that powerrelations become mystified and naturalised under capitalism. This is the point of the account of commodity-fetishism. when the social relations between producers do not appear directly as social relations. 26). we look in vain for reflections on the position from which Nitzan and Bichler speak their truths. It is useful here to remind ourselves of Gramsci’s good Hegelian point that the distinction between political society and civil society is methodological rather than organic. Fetishism as power For Marx. Nitzan and Bichler replace the possibility of thinking the unity in contradiction of objectivity and subjectivity. ‘but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things’. instead of the complex immanent relation between contradiction and mediation. See Notebook 4. a limited mode of thought prevalent in the Marxian tradition – but mostly subordinated in Marx’s writings. 2). the duality between economics and politics is not only a passive effect of the capitalist mode of production. 164. it is not without a tinge of instrumentalism. Thus. as an argument that Marx’s theory is flawed. 277–8). they ‘appear as what they are’. we get the external relation of immediacy and truth as opposed to plain lies. is missed. In a brief and otherwise sympathetic reading of Giovanni Arrighi. but by 16. 17.17 Fetishism is not simply illusion or an ideological ‘instrument’ of the powerful. §38 (Gramsci 1996. Marx 1976. Marx 1976. the subjective side of the objectivity of the value-form. illusions and falsities. rather. on the grounds that in this model the two remain ‘fundamentally distinct’ (pp. pp. 177–87). an effect of commodityexchange itself. Nitzan and Bichler must claim an immediate identity between capital and power in ‘capitalist society as a whole’. When Nitzan and Bichler write that ‘Marx’s insistence that power pervades the system does not reject but rather necessitates the liberal duality of politics and economics’ (p. in which the relations between producers ‘take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour’ and appear as merely ‘economic’ relations. 18. with the fantasy of a theory that plainly states the facts.2 (2011) 144–159 155 in the statement that ‘neoclassical political economy is largely an ideology in the service of the powerful ’ (p. . and that the duality between economics and politics is a pseudo-fact. Marx writes. the central Marxian insight that the distinction between the political and the economic is not merely an illusion. Meanwhile. p. 30). but.18 When Nitzan and Bichler distinguish capitalism from previous ‘mega-machines’. For example. and the ontological/ epistemological status of these truths.

explanation of dynamics are on the level of the whole as well as its parts. Raw violence and reward might be necessary for the reproduction of capital (as well as feudalism). since mediations never fully resolve a contradiction. their efforts to theorise capital as a general synchronic mode of power does not convincingly integrate the naming of wholes that serve as ultimate macro-‘explanations’ (‘the capitalist nomos’. so many unstable attempts to mediate and neutralise class-antagonism.2 (2011) 144–159 claiming that ‘[c]ontrary to earlier mega-machines that depended mainly on punishment.19 Because the Marxian dialectic understands the capitaltotality as built up around and propelled ahead by contradictions. For example. The logic of the relation between the two sides is not made clear. which pivot around statistical analysis of property. time and things become quantifiable. Nitzan and Bichler’s theory of capital. but to theorise the social logics by which labour. 271). With this theorisation. violence and terror. Chapters 9 and 10. Whether in the static model of differential capitalisation or the derived dynamic mode of differential accumulation. but only Marx’s concept of commodity-fetishism allows us to think power-relations under capitalism in their specificity as systematically de-politicising and atomising. but only raise it to a higher level. However. Naming and describing ‘the whole’/displacements of explanation The advantage of the Marxian dialectic is that it gives us a way to think the capitalist totality. Instead of thinking capital as a complex process of a whole consisting of heterogeneous parts. is largely split between naming (posing as abstract explanation) and description. time is reduced to the difference between equivalent moments. David McNally have pointed out with regards to the present crisis. but as inherently split and driven forward by this split itself. ‘the capitalist mode of power’) and descriptions. . not as a stable architecture. it is never simply an external name imposed on the unnameable. we can understand all levels as unstable and ultimately failed attempts at symbolic closure. But. In other words. the analysis of capital is descriptive. becomes the level of explanation. is based on the comparison of different homogeneous points in time. these wholes function as 19. while descriptions of the whole can never be divorced from explanations of the dynamics of the whole. oppression. Harvey 2006. as David Harvey and.156 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. To the extent that power is symbolised. but reproduced on a greater scale. The dynamic becomes a mathematical function of the static. Hence. McNally 2009. fundamentally. To understand capital.or ‘power’-distribution. we get a statistical understanding of dynamism which. all partial descriptions have a greater context. On the contrary. without which each act of quantification would be derived of its sense. but a product of the inherent contradictions of social relations. on the other hand. with the result that these are not solved. capital relies also – and often far more so – on reward’ (p. Meanwhile Nitzan and Bichler’s thinking of the régime of quantification as a whole. and specifically of ‘dominant capital’. it is not sufficient to be able to compute its magnitudes (found as static data). finance-capital is not a simple distortion of sound productive relations. recently. from the point of view of social theory. it springs from these relations themselves as a way to overcome the inherent crisis-tendencies of capitalist production and circulation.

whilst the origin of the subjectivity of these agents is loosely referred to as the capitalist nomos. capitalisation appears to be the subjective logic of capitalists from whose interactions the system springs. But. whilst in the idea of the capitalist nomos. Underlying all these is a certain nominalism. . the nomos. capitalist agency is very loosely described as an effect of social objectivity. This means that Nitzan and Bichler’s theory proper of the logic of the development of capitalism – that of capitalisation – becomes agentcentred. the oscillation appears as an inconsistency: is one or the other primary? It seems that Nitzan and Bichler would reject this opposition and say that they co-constitute each other. In the theory of capitalisation. we must ask how the process can be explained. Since both the statistical dynamic and the abstract names are descriptive and denotative rather than explanatory. bridging on the level of epistemology the methodological gap between the two: the basic structuring presupposition is that the 20. here centring on the scientist himself. the theorisation proper of capitalisation as the dynamic axiomatic of capital is not integrally conceptualised as the logic of a system sui generis. Instead. bound up to a concept of power as an attribute and property of agents and their possessions. and the parts are nothing but those that act according to the norms of the whole. or the motives of the actors compared in the statistical models? What we can find here is a tension between individual subjectivity and social objectivity.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. between statistics and the names of social wholes. As frames they simply work as tautologies: that totality within which individual capitalist action makes sense is that of the ‘capitalist nomos’.20 The centrality of the concept of capitalisation can be read as symptomatic of an unanswered question of explanation: does this lie with the whole. whilst class-struggle in both its objective and subjective dimensions is disregarded. from the point of view of empirical analysis as frames. one class within the system becomes the privileged agent. a somewhat more idealistic concept than the Marxian ‘mode of production’. we might say that a similar displacement to the agent takes place. What this seems to miss from a Marxian viewpoint is the thinking of capital as a totality rather than as name. It seems that the introduction of abstract wholes such as mega-machines and capital cannot carry this burden. or between the empiricist critique of Marx and pragmatic theory-building of Capital as Power. We can discover this unity by going back to the gap between description and naming. Since the relations between these theoretical constructions are not made explicit. Hence. This argumental movement is the exact opposite of Marx’s method of dialectical reconstruction of a whole from the abstract to the concrete. since their relation is simply postulated rather than demonstrated or reconstructed (something which is the very forte of dialectical thought) we are left with a circular argument or a tautology: the whole (the capitalist nomos) is nothing but its parts (capitalist enterprises). objectivity is treated descriptively and capitalist agency becomes explanatory. these work as abstract universals or analytical constructs whose criteria of application are pragmatic rather than entailed by the accompanying descriptive efforts. As names. While the concept of the capitalist nomos as a power-architecture enslaving even its masters seems to stress the primacy of social objectivity (the universality of the nomos as social order). On the level of epistemology.2 (2011) 144–159 157 names. the relation between which is nowhere made explicit. The idea of the nomos prioritises the agency and subjectivity of capitalists (capitalisation as a ‘universal creed’) over the objectivity of social relations in general – including the relation between labour and capital. and the tools to explain rather than describe the distribution of wealth.

they posit a dualism between theory and reality for which there is no unity. while clinging on to the fantasy of describing reality as something external. and without the tools of dialectical analysis. – as immanent to the world itself. between economics and politics. For this kind of thought. naming and categorising essentially external objects. Very briefly put. However. instead of positing the gaps and contradictions – between thought and being. however. and interesting also when it is not. Adorno 1997. The book is often informative and piquant in the detail. instead of acting within it and changing it thereby. if economistic Marxism is a vulgarisation proper to Fordism. surely both a cause and effect of the sweeping criticisms of Marxism. its detached nominalism and political humanism. ‘there is no whole.158 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. not even the notion of such an identity’. so 21. available as an object to be described and measured. it never reaches the level of a critique of political economy proper. . the scientists of capital cast their glance over both theory and the world (hence their ability to reject Marxism and neoliberalism for not getting capital right). explains nothing. but end up inverting them. instead of understanding the world as inherently and constitutively split – the split as the fundamental fact – the nominalist discourse entails a gap between theory and the world. Marxist as well as neoliberal. The theorist’s task becomes to understand reality at a distance. and very often fully compatible with Marxist insights. the level where Marxism moves beyond ‘critical political economy’. as this review has argued. However. One side of the duality between theory and reality. and becomes a theory – situated within the conflictual relations of bourgeois society – of the conditions of possibility of political economy. Nitzan and Bichler strive to overcome the vulgarities of economistic Marxism. Caught in a critique of a reductionist and economistic Marxism.2 (2011) 144–159 world is external to the scientist. The reason for this failure is not. ambition as such. it never comes together as a whole. 91. we could say that Capital as Power’s lopsidedness is fitting for post-Fordist financialised capitalism. etc. we get the unconscious sublation of both in the mind of the theorist-baptiser. p. the categories of political economy. the scientist. reality. However. as a disavowed presupposition re-emerges the subject. the problem lies in the very mode of thought proper both to the critique and the project itself. Instead of a claim of the rock-bottom reality of production and the mystified realms of finance. between abstract and concrete labour. Nitzan and Bichler reproduce the dualisms ascribed to their enemies. swallows up the other. and the practices and agencies of capitalism. but discovers it not. it is hardly surprising that Nitzan and Bichler’s book fails to convince overall. Ambition. named and framed. Instead of a theory of the contradictory unity of thought and being. says Adorno of Veblen. Indeed. no identity of thinking and being.21 In rejecting the supposed dualities of Marxist theories.e. rather. Conclusion Capital as Power provides valuable discussions and criticisms of political economy. i. we get the notion of the hard reality of capitalisation and a romanticised vision of ‘industry’. despite its grand ambitions. As rare as paradigm-shifts are. replacing a supposedly one-sided theory of exploitation and class-struggle with an equally biased and agent-centred account of intra-class competition.

translated by Ben Fowkes. New Delhi: Aakar Books. New York: Columbia University Press. ‘On the Dialectics of the Value-Form’.com References Adorno. Cambridge. edited and translated by Joseph A. Prisms. Hence. edited and translated by Roger Crisp. Christopher J.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. 4: 130–50. The New Dialectic and Marx’s ‘Capital’. Retort Collective 2005. —— 1978 [1867]. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft). Hans-Georg 1980.yorku. and only with Capital can capitalism be understood. New York: Modern Reader Paperbacks. Historical Materialism. Prison Notebooks.: MIT Press. Capital and Class. Arthur. ‘Positive Profits With Negative Surplus Value’. translated by Martin Nicolaus. Duncan 2000. Aristotle 2000. The Global Political Economy of Israel. Thesis Eleven. Harvey. translated by Mike Roth and Wal Suchting. ‘The Scientist and the Church’. Ian 1975. New York: Columbia University Press. Volume 2. Gramsci. 01/050731NB_The_Scientist_and_the_Church. Jonathan and Shimshon Bichler 2002. Reviewed by Bue Rübner Hansen Queen Mary University London buerhansen@gmail. David 2006. Volume 1’. Historical Materialism Book>.2 (2011) 144–159 159 fitting to the rôle of the concerned social scientist. 85. David 2009. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Nicomachean Ethics. living under the dominance of capitalism.marxists. The Economic Journal. Marx After Sraffa. unintentionally confirmed by the shortcomings of Capital as Power: Perhaps only with the dialectic can Capital. 337: 114–23. London: Pluto Press. —— 2009. translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber. Essays on Marx’s Theory of Value. Review of Radical Political Economics. Limits to Capital. Marx. McNally. Rubin. Steedman. 32. Capital: Volume 1. in the background of this marginal squabble with the errant knights of Veblen lies a significant insight. Afflicted Powers. London: New Left Books. Rereading ‘Capital’. Capital as Power: a Study of Order and Creorder. ‘From Financial Crisis to World-Slump: Accumulation. Ben and Laurence Harris 1979. Leiden: Brill. . —— 2005. 2: 35–83. Financialisation. 1: 99–120. Harmondsworth: Penguin. MA.marxists. 1942. Isaak Illich 2008 [1928]. London: Verso. ‘Recent Developments in the Labor Theory of Value’. The Theory of Capitalist Development: Principles of Marxian Political Economy. Buttigieg. Foley. available at: <http://bnarchives. Karl 1976 [1867]. Paul M. available at: <http://www. Harmondsworth: Penguin. and the Global Slowdown’. available at: <http://www. —— 1977.pdf>. London: Routledge. Backhaus. Fine. Antonio 1996. we need the dialectic more than ever. Theodor W. 17. ‘The Value-Form – Appendix to the 1st German Edition of Capital. 1997 [1967]. Sweezy. London: Verso. —— 1973 [1953]. 1: 1–39.>. 2002.

without immediately exposing him to. Leiden. 2005. In so doing. This ‘caricature’. his followers and his adversaries. for instance. is of some importance. which he eventually evaluated in a rather bitter and harsh way in light of the events of 1848. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. however. of a political one. I do not intend to settle this debate. however. tends to focus on the continuity in Bauer’s writings throughout the 1840s. however. a different account of the origins of the older Bauer’s conservatism. The first chapter deals with Bauer’s prize-winning essay on Kant’s aesthetics which. be a bit disappointed by the choices Moggach has made. rather. but differs from the latter by giving. already contained the foundations that would animate his work throughout the 1830s and 1840s: aesthetics. since it opens a debate on Bauer’s position among the post-Hegelians. while Massimiliano Tomba situates the older Bauer’s conservatism well before the revolutions of 1848. It starts with an introduction entitled ‘The Friend of Freedom’. Douglas Moggach deliberately avoids this issue. Max Stirner. but will try to enrich it by referring to the criticism of two of Bauer’s contemporaries: Karl Marx. since it was not of a philosophical nature but. Max Stirner. In so doing. ethics and republicanism. Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer: Kategorien des Politischen im nachhegelschen Denken. according to Moggach. freedom and history. while drastically altering our perception of post-Hegelianism in general. in particular. the alleged ‘caricature’ Marx made of him. among other things. but I am fully convinced that his study has more to offer than they might suspect. Keywords Bruno Bauer. That is why this article broadens the perspective by discussing Massimiliano Tomba’s Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer. crisis. Some readers – and Marxists in particular – might. The critique of the ‘Old Order’ thus seamlessly flows into Bauer’s own emancipatory project. Abstract In this review. while sketching out the subsequent chapters which are both of a biographical and thematic nature. Massimiliano Tomba. 2003. and. Douglas Moggach. the historical and back again. The differences in approach between Moggach and Tomba bear testimony to an ongoing debate over the extent to which a creative rendering of Hegelian philosophy was intertwined with distinct political positions. obscures some of the © Koninklijke Brill NV.1163/156920610X550695 . Moggach’s book is organised primarily around Bauer’s major themes and texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2011 DOI: 10. in fact. Moggach’s analysis. since his main focus is on establishing a connection between Bauer’s philosophy and politics. and deal with a variety of subjects ranging from the philosophical to the political. Tomba reaches conclusions similar to Moggach’s. Douglas Moggach. which immediately focuses on Bauer’s main concerns.2 (2011) 160–174 The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. criticism. and distinct ethical programmes in the Vormärz. they both easily establish themselves as long-awaited standard-works on Bruno Bauer. both readings of Bruno Bauer are analysed in light of a broader post-Hegelian context. Hegelianism.160 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Marx’s criticism is particularly interesting. Karl Marx Introduction Both works are the product of years of sustained research. Tomba illuminates Marx’s criticism of his contemporaries.

inner-emancipation preceded outer-emancipation. pp. thus triggering pantheistic readings of his work (Feuerbach and Strauss) that were intimately linked to a criticism of the existing sociopolitical order. Still.3 Post-Hegelianism tried to present a new account of modernity and freedom. however. hardly paid any attention to Bruno Bauer. both intensely philosophical and political. Moggach has played a crucial rôle in reassessing the post-Hegelian agenda. was derived from the ‘absolute sovereignty of God’. It was published in the outstanding series Forschungen zum Junghegelianismus. of the sort that Bauer criticised elsewhere. The Vormärz. 1. crucial to an understanding of Bauer’s ambiguous relation to the dialectics of revolution. There is also a forthcoming volume edited by Moggach for the Studies in Historical Philosophy series published by Northwestern University Press. The post-Hegelian agenda reconsidered Before addressing Bauer.4 Hegel had indeed replaced the personal God of Christianity with an immanent God (‘spirit’). by elaborating on the philosophical and political dimensions of its thought. Freedom. including a criticism of absolutism. Brazill 1970 and Hook 1962. and comes to the fore in Tomba’s analysis of the axis of ‘crisis’ and ‘criticism’ in Bauer’s thought.2 (2011) 160–174 161 incompatible strains in Bauer’s thought. has far-too-often been considered an intermediary between Hegel and Marx. indeed. linked to the Christian notion of a ‘sovereign individual’ that. Breckman 1999. The notion of ‘emancipation’ is. neglecting the objective conditions which could contribute to the emancipation of others. and by emphasising its creative response to the emergence of modern society as a whole. By focusing on Marx’s criticism of his contemporaries. therefore. The Hegelian school. one gets the impression that they remained trapped in Hegelian categories. for example. without. Bauer claimed that only self-emancipation was possible. amongst other things.2 The polemics among the postHegelians in the Vormärz were. 4. Warren Breckman. Moggach 2006. and to which they responded in many different ways. The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer is also available in German: Moggach 2009. pp. . edited by Konrad Feilchenfeldt and Lars Lambrecht. witnessed an explosion of philosophical creativity that was firmly tied to the emergence of modern society. Warren Breckman has argued that this criticism was. tied to the question of the nature of sovereignty. however.1 An overtly philosophical approach denied the way in which philosophical issues were intertwined with a rapidly changing sociopolitical environment in which the post-Hegelians were immediately implicated.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Recent research tried to challenge this image of the Hegelian school. In recent years. it is necessary to present a brief overview of the post-Hegelian agenda. See. 1–23. thus. and therefore to a series of distinctly political issues. 2. and that they were ultimately unable to respond to the questions raised by modernity. however. devoid of creativity. he edited a series of monographs on post-Hegelianism after writing a study on one of its main proponents: Bruno Bauer. religious dogmatism and rigid individualism. which meant that the subjective concept of freedom was pursued at the expense of the rational idea of freedom. 5–11. and thus the period preceding the revolutions of 1848. in its turn. 3. becomes an abstract ‘ought’.

Tomba 2005. His deliberate avoidance of an overtly Hegelian interpretation of Bauer and the so-called ‘Young Hegelians’ should be considered the main reason as to why he presents us with a different interpretation of Bauer’s philosophy throughout the 1840s. since it allows us to understand the debates in the Vormärz without immediately seeking refuge in categories that reduce the postHegelians to mere epigones of Hegel. Moggach convincingly insists on Bauer’s creative use of Hegel’s account of subjective spirit.9 Tomba.7 This is not a semantic discussion. the end of philosophy itself as it was embodied by Hegel. but also Spinoza and Kant. and it is of great importance to compare the differences in approach between him and Moggach in detail.8 The quest for ‘emancipation’ actually tried to fill in the void that was left by the destruction of corporative privileges. It is therefore to Douglas Moggach’s merit to have established this link in The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. Bruno Bauer himself. which had turned into an atomistic society that was characterised by. but. as opposed to the interpretations that insist on Bauer’s abandonment of the post-Hegelian agenda after 1843. first and foremost the end of the estate-order. Whereas the older literature on Bauer considered him a radical subjectivist and aligned him more closely to Enlightenment-rationalism than to Hegel. What was so particularly ‘Hegelian’ about the ‘post-Hegelians’. pp. he emphasises the continuity throughout the Vormärz of Bauer’s thought. for it fails to grasp the differences between such authors as Cieszkowski. Post-Hegelianism was spawned by this crisis and tried to reflect upon it. The absolute state seemed to have restored itself rather easily in the 1830s. thus emphasising their own creative use of a variety of sources including Hegel and Fichte. Tomba rightly denounces the dichotomy of right-left or young-old Hegelianism. inspired by Koselleck. and. This is not a strictly historical question. and. In so doing. This happened not despite. rather. pp. among other things. but actually deals with the manifold-ways in which the post-Hegelians responded to what they clearly conceived as the end of an era. p. This would eventually lead to a quest for a new organising principle which could forge the atomistic mass into a new whole. 6. and. the assertion of individual property-rights. eventually. 8. He focuses on how Bauer 5.6 Moggach has recently tackled this issue by referring to the young Hegelians as the ‘New Hegelians’. Massimiliano Tomba addressed this issue in Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer. is still under debate. 2–3. Moggach 2006. thanks to the further dissolution of the estate-order that was slowly but gradually replaced by an anonymous mass.2 (2011) 160–174 while convincingly arguing that eventually the post-Hegelians’ struggle against the political theology of Restoration-Germany was a struggle over the complicity between concepts of the self and of sovereignty. Tomba 2005. pp. 1–23.162 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. 7. 24–7. however. and consecutively produced a series of theories of history which projected it into the future. Tomba 2005. therefore. drops the term ‘Hegelianism’ altogether. 298. 23–4.5 Bauer’s Hegelianism set itself apart from the readings by other post-Hegelians in that its own revolutionary stands were attributed explicitly to Hegel. 9. pp. . Breckman 1999. Bauer’s politics were thus firmly intertwined with his philosophical views. concentrates on a crisis which was of both a socio-political and philosophical nature. Gans or Rosenkranz. eventually.

By aiming his attention at the unity of thought and being in Bauer’s writings of the 1830s and 1840s. therefore. the universal was the rational concept and the particular its embodiment. while the objects had to show themselves as a purposive order. The subject first had to appear as potentially universal. not by the axis Krise-Kritik. he moved towards a conception of history that left no room for a new synthesis. on the other hand. establishing the former as a major thinker in his own right. the product of intellectual labour turning finite consciousness into the existence-form of the rational idea of freedom-as-universality. while. Tomba 2005.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Slowly but gradually. held together.10 Moggach. brought forward by Tomba. Moggach nearly renders Bauer immune to Marx’s virulent criticism. a merely abstract universality eventually to be rendered concrete. The unity of the individual with the universal was. He hence offers us a very coherent overview of Bauer’s meandering thought. p. therefore. and opposed it to the pantheistic Hegel-readings of Strauss and Feuerbach. Bauer never intended to fill in the void between the individual and the state. Particular consciousness would eventually become universal self-consciousness. The reconception of substance thus assimilated universality as the subject’s own universality. while understating certain evidence. considered ‘the universal’ to be the immanent history of self-consciousness. the ways in which Die Kritik eventually became the crisis itself. Infinite self-consciousness was thus tied up in a dialectical development. The next step was to transform substance into the concrete acts of conscious spirit. but by his theory of infinite self-consciousness and the Hegelian unity of thought and being. merely a historical possibility and a constant quest. 40–6). at the same time. immediately focuses on Bauer’s republican interpretation of Hegel. 30. that its political implications might have shifted over the course of this period. on the other hand. while the particular elevated itself and became the expression of a higher principle. in a sense. Bauer. his reading of Bauer appeals more to a Marxist audience than Moggach’s. responding to the subject’s striving for rational freedom. . while it demanded that individuals acquire the discipline of freedom-as-universality and repudiate their attachments to merely alienated or given forms of life (pp. and the extent to which (or if ) it sought to reconcile the individual and the state anew. He turned his back on an emancipatory project and eventually on philosophy in general. Such an approach will unavoidably emphasise the extent to which Bauer clung to his philosophy of self-consciousness throughout the 1840s. 10. According to Tomba. Feuerbach) to grant substantiality a certain independence with respect to consciousness. Bauer’s universal self-consciousness as ‘the conquest of egoism’ Bruno Bauer derived his notion of infinite self-consciousness from Hegel’s philosophy of subjective spirit. The universal acquired objectivity by incorporating the particular as an aspect of itself.2 (2011) 160–174 163 conceived and acted upon this crisis. Accessing universality was. Substantiality was. and this ‘Spinozist moment’ was seized upon by a number of postHegelians (Strauss. Hegel had stressed the concept of substance as the pure universal that absorbed the particularity of the self. Picking up on Tomba’s argument that crisis and criticism were closely intertwined in Bauer’s thought.

‘mass-society’ had emerged out of the French Revolution and was characterised by forms of ‘particularism’ that blocked any form of criticism of the existing order. since it had cast aside the fixity and rigidity of particularism. and eventually it dissolved both substance and the ‘transcendent absolute’. which meant that particular interests were legitimised out of an abstract universality (pp.2 (2011) 160–174 which was the ultimate synthesis of the universal and the particular. According to Bauer. 76–7). transcendent universality onto countless particular interests. Against the political expressions of mass-society. Thus. true singularity or individuality was autonomous. The republic. 158). 1843). with freedom as its ultimate aim. The absolute surpassed religious consciousness and – in turn – was dissolved in the criticism of individual consciousness. since it differs from the one recently given by David Leopold who considered it 11. Religious consciousness was marked by both the particular and the universal. He stated that. therefore. Moggach’s and Tomba’s interpretation of Bauer’s critique of Judaism needs to be addressed separately. False universals such as the absolutist state and the fetishist-objects of religion all transcended this power of individuality. the religious arrogation of universality abandoned the community to ‘egoism’ (p. in accord with the rational concept of freedom. the egoism that Bauer ascribed to Judaism (and Christianity) was also present in his criticism of both liberalism and socialism. It is from within this framework that one should examine Bauer’s opposition to Jewish emancipation in Prussia (Die Judenfrage. Religious consciousness indeed denied the claims of the self to rise to universality by its own efforts. According to Bauer. 124). Bauer explicitly linked religious egoism to economic egoism. however. 13). the Jewish minority in Prussia could claim neither political nor social freedom. synonymous with ‘the conquest of egoism’ (p. 33). Autonomy is. would be founded on the victory of ‘self-consciousness’ over ‘egoism’ (p. transcendent universals and reigning institutions that claimed autonomy over self-consciousness (p. but never definitively.11 Beyond philosophy: Bruno Bauer and the post-Hegelians As an immanent-subjective universality. It strove to bring about a new reality more closely. and was. Subjects could thus only attain genuine universality by freeing themselves from particular interests. like socialism. By denying the universal character of self-consciousness and by projecting it as an abstract. doomed. based on their particular identity. in Bauer’s opinion. . Bauer always used singularity in reference to the concept of freedom-as-universality that eradicated the particular. 497–8. Infinite self-consciousness. as they were both opposed to the true universality of self-consciousness. pp.164 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. meant both freedom and humanity. infinite self-consciousness was ultimately linked to a criticism of liberalism and socialism. Liberalism translated freedom into particularistic interests and acquisition which was. Universal consciousness was thus literally ‘victorious over egoism’. Bauer 1986. on the other hand. remotely removed from ‘universal freedom’. yet all their attempts to assert freedom on the basis of particular interests were irrational and. therefore. a notion crucial for understanding Bauer’s ethical idealism: autonomy as a duty. Bauer assessed his own republicanism.

Bauer’s Die Judenfrage.18 According to Feuerbach. 127). p. Judaism had reduced nature to an object of self-interest. but primarily the rejection of the Christian state of RestorationPrussia as a whole (pp. In 1843. pp. and this thesis was almost literally translated into a criticism of religion by Feuerbach. 18. therefore. He convincingly argues how Bauer’s critique of religion was connected to his critique of the modern economy. analysed emancipation from a framework that combined both theological and political traits. 14. Leopold 2007. pp. as a tool to elaborate on alienation in history. This text remained unpublished. Marx 1970b. Feuerbach 1973. 86–7). defined personality and ultimately served as an obstacle to political engagement (pp. quite different from his stances in the Vormärz. p.14 This is related to another novelty in Moggach’s interpretation.19 Feuerbach 12. 54. This was not a product of religion. Tomba goes well beyond this issue.2 (2011) 160–174 165 as ‘anti-Semitic’. therefore. Hegel had linked civil society to ‘atomism’ (individualism). 112–13. which eventually legitimised particular interests and egoism. entered the discussion by criticising both political liberalism and Bauer. Lambrecht 1989b. Bauer and Marx who interpreted it as ‘egoism’. 534. 92. p. social. and political life. 145–9). taking ‘egoism’ as its basic principle. 17. 13. on the other hand.13 Moggach analyses the younger Bauer’s criticism of Judaism within Bauer’s wider critique of Christianity and religion in general. 61–3.17 Feuerbach drastically radicalised Hegel’s remark that Judaism did not consider nature as the embodiment of the divine.12 The older Bauer’s anti-Semitism was. Bauer’s critique of Judaism should thus be considered as implicated in his more radicalised critique of Christianity and religion in general. Bauer and Marx allows us to further elaborate on this issue. 15. p. The crisis of the estate-order had paved the way for ‘atomism’ and ‘egoism’. p. 161. pp. which according to Bauer indeed share common defining attributes (pp. but the most famous statements in this regard can be found in Hegel 1986c. Leopold 1999. Bauer radicalised his earlier critique of Christianity. Exclusiveness was a logic-structure common to religion and the state. Marx 1970a. implied the eradication of the possible conditions of exclusion. however. in turn. 208–11. but a development that ran parallel to it. Karl Marx. pp.16 The notion of ‘egoism’ as it was developed throughout the works of Feuerbach. Emancipation. Tomba 2005. 16. . Both forms of alienation shared an abstract ‘beyond’. while still linking Christianity and the sovereign individual to egoism. claiming that its religious form distorts and hinders the concrete realisation of freedom in personal. Hegel 1986b. 605. which. 51. The real solution to the problem of Jewish emancipation was.15 He had already used a ‘transformative method’ (man-as-subject and thought-aspredicate) in his dissertation on Epicurus and Democritus. not only the renunciation of religion. which translated themselves into narrow economic interests. and should be analysed alongside Bauer’s neo-conservatism and anti-socialism. with its specific religious and political dimensions. 19. 276–311. It was from this alienated root that both God and the state derived. Hegel 1986a. and linked it to a criticism of so-called ‘abstract individual consciousness’. for Bauer.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. by relating Die Judenfrage to the much broader impact of Bauer’s notion of ‘exclusiveness [Ausschlieslichkeit]’.

Bauer and the young Marx was the overcoming of ‘atomism’ or ‘egoism’ as it was spawned by the crisis. Stirner 1995.25 The criticism of ‘egoism’ was both a political and social criticism. Marx 1970a. 24. which was not so much a serious anti-ethical or philosophical stand. pp. the sole master-on-high. Social liberalism got rid of the difference between rich and poor.2 (2011) 160–174 criticised both Judaism and Christianity because they spoke of ‘a creation out of nothing’. Stirner no longer criticised ‘egoism’ but embraced it fully. Tomba’s interpretation is highly illuminating in this regard. In the chapter on his contemporaries (‘Die Freien’). These debates will prove to be crucial in understanding the vicious attacks of one of Bauer’s and Marx’s most infamous contemporaries. for it implied that Stirner embraced the crisis and criticised and ridiculed the emancipatory project (and its implicit morality) of his contemporaries while seeking refuge in his own individuality. the development of ‘freedom’ throughout history meant that ‘spirit’ or thought became free. . Marx 1970a. since.23 This is the consequence of a thesis upon which Feuerbach had elaborated before. 27. In Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. 136–9. 178–80. pp. but. 600–3. but Stirner went on to expand Bauer’s criticism of nivellement until it encompassed Bauer’s ‘humane liberalism’ as well. 219. Stirner 1995.27 Political liberalism liberated the egoist from ‘the master’. The ‘dissolution [Auflösung]’ of the estate-order had left the individual powerless before the state. Stirner claimed that it had brought about a much more absolute monarchy than the ancien régime. The end of the estate-order had led to the annulment of the individual. but confined within the boundaries of the modern state. egoism was not the product of religion.26 This is in accordance with Bauer’s proper assessment of the French Revolution. but put all property in the hand of a ‘ghost’: society.166 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. and thus held the greatest possible power of subjugation over the concrete individual. Bauer 1986.24 Christianity had spiritualised egoism and thus replaced ‘earthly bliss’ with ‘heavenly bliss’.20 Bauer concluded in a similar way that Judaism was even further removed from ‘freedom’ than Christianity. 22. argued in Zur Judenfrage (1843) that it was the alleged ‘political emancipation’ of Bauer that reduced men to members of civil society and therefore to ‘egoistic men’. 25. Feuerbach 1973. 52–3. ‘humane liberalism’ (Bruno Bauer). but rather a political one. 48–9.22 Marx’s criticism of the theological treatment of the ‘Jewish question’ meant that ‘egoism’ as an ‘element of society’ had to be overcome before Judaism itself would disappear. but religion gave legitimacy to ‘Jewish egoism’. pp. Feuerbach. According to Stirner. and he linked this to the ‘absolute personality to whom nature was nothing’. eventually. also a moral criticism. according to Feuerbach. p. pp. 23. Stirner 2000. since it ‘felt at home in egoism’. p. pp. What his liberal contemporaries were striving for had realised itself beyond their wildest expectations. Humane liberalism (Bruno Bauer) likewise got rid of the personal God. pp. pp. What was clearly at stake in Hegel. 210–14. 111–13. Max Stirner. 26. implicitly. however. Stirner distinguished ‘political liberalism’ (liberalism) from ‘social liberalism’ (socialism and communism) and. 215–16. but replaced it with a new 20. Feuerbach 1973. Feuerbach 1973.21 Marx. 599. In his assessment of the French Revolution. pp. pp. Tomba 2009. but replaced him by a ‘ghost’: the state. 21. 113–14. Stirner 2000.

This dialectic had led to an equality. according to him. Stirner 1995. which. Engels. escaped the dialectic of nivellement. without. No philosophical system can be built out of it. however. pp. 31. but immediately focused on their political dimensions and thus made a strategic divide between Bauer and Stirner on the one hand. Marx never intended to write a philosophical criticism of his contemporaries. Bauer had claimed that only the state ‘held the separate. by destroying the last remnants of the ‘old world’. Criticism had to elevate itself to an understanding of the crisis. Tomba refers to Bauer’s Selbstkritik der Kritik. pp. p. while Marx stated that ‘the members of civil society were no atoms’. In reference to the revolt of the Silesian weavers 28.31 Bauer and Stirner maintained that the estate-order had only transformed itself in the opposition between the people and the government. all development of the concept ceases. or the I. Stirner 2000. since it was extra-conceptual and hence lay beyond philosophy or ‘criticism’: There is no development of the concept of the Unique. and meant the absolute annulment of the individual. 150. he refused to relate atomism to just any form of society. What makes Tomba’s reading so interesting is that it offers a new insight into two authors whom Friedrich Engels considered to be ‘the only important philosophical opponents of Socialism – or rather Communism’. Stirner’s Einzige (‘unique’). pp. Tomba 2009. he eventually reformulated his previous criticism of ‘atomism’. 113–20. which they judged irreversible. 741–52. Stirner 1986d. The development of so-called ‘freedom’ as the cornerstone of Hegel’s entire system found its highest culmination-point in Bauer. pp. Lambrecht 1989a. Marx aimed at convincing the radical intellectuals of the Vormärz to side with the proletariat. while distancing itself from reality (‘pure criticism’).28 Bruno Bauer thus came at the end of Stirner’s parodic historical account. 128–9. Tomba rightly observes that Marx’s aim was to criticise those contemporaries who tried to distance themselves from a revolutionary subject and even social reality as a whole. selfish atoms together’. In their very own way. Tomba 2005. The person who views it as a principle thinks that he can treat it philosophically or theoretically and necessarily wastes his breath arguing against it. which was both liberating and oppressing. where the state eventually became the sole master-on-high.30 Bauer’s transvaluation of the Revolution thus meant Bauer’s return to pure theory. but claimed that it was in fact related to a specific form of society. ignoring his own criticism of Feuerbach and Hess. . 175–83. 158–9. In so doing. with it. both Stirner and Bauer tried to fasten the crisis. Feuerbach and Hess on the other. meant Bauer’s farewell to the dynamics of revolution.29 This remark brings us to the core of Tomba’s analysis. pp. while seeking refuge in their own individuality as a means to escape the levelling (nivellement) effects of the crisis. In his strictly political engagement with Bauer.32 It is exactly their distancing from the workers’ movement which Marx criticised in both Die heilige Familie and Die Deutsche Ideologie.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. and Marx. of course.2 (2011) 160–174 167 faith: mankind or freedom. or Thinking. as it can out of Being. 32. Tomba thus describes Bauer and Stirner as proponents of a radical and revolutionary aristocratism. Rather. 29. 30.

claims that Bauer’s criticisms of mass-society did not imply that he had abandoned the revolutionary cause altogether. 120–5. for instance. 161). the merely political one. Bauer did not consider Hegel an atheist. on the other hand. according to Moggach. 161). This leads us straight to Bauer’s distinction between a social and a political revolution. develops the notion of ‘the people’ and opposes it to the idea of the masses. but this should not. but revised his philosophy altogether. Bauer attacked both liberalism and socialism. pp. 162). In doing so. but directed it against the ‘inconsequence’. would ‘only liberate the atoms of mass society’ (p. were. Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? judged Bauer’s previous ‘identification of his criticism with the struggle of the masses as illusory’ (p. while drawing on Hegelian elements that enabled such a revision. Stirner 33. indeed. Moggach convincingly argues that Bauer’s creative rendering of Hegelianism should not imply that Bauer attempted to be consistent with Hegel’s own explicit intentions. This was of. but to a social divide which isolated the workers from ‘the true community of mankind’. By using a humanist language. This should be considered the main reason why Marx mainly took aim at the articles in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and tried to demonstrate how Bauer confused political emancipation with genuine human emancipation. as expressed in his writings in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and the Norddeutsche Blätter. To understand Stirner’s assessment of Bauer’s self-criticism in 1844. and. however. according to Moggach. course. often understated in the literature on the subject. therefore. 166). still proposed ‘new ways’ and ‘new goals’ to ‘transcend the liberal horizon’ (p. and merely interprets them as a bridge between Hegel and Stirner’s alleged radicalisation of Bauer’s philosophy of self-consciousness. that none of the past and present Bauer-scholars ever bothered to study these texts from one of Bauer’s closest acquaintances among the post-Hegelians. The literature on Stirner itself hardly ever mentions these texts. A study of these texts also illuminates Bauer’s own ‘Hegelianism’. . it is necessary to return to both his reviews of Bauer’s Posaune des jungsten Gerichts and Hegel’s Lehre von der Religion und Kunst.2 (2011) 160–174 in 1844. Bauer. ‘vacillation’ and ‘unclarity’ in demands of the progressive party (p. which was not only related to the relation between the individual and the state. he actually bridged the gap between industrial workers and the prospect of a political and social revolution. where Hegel is radicalised using Hegelian elements. Whereas the social revolution would eventually constitute the republican people. be regarded as a retreat from active political engagement. Republicanism. indeed. It is regrettable. while still maintaining his aggressive position against the Restoration-order. but not surprising. which meant that he advocated a much broader revolution than a merely social or political one. On the contrary.33 Moggach. There is. however. Tomba 2009. a judgment of the ‘social bearing’ of his commitment to ‘political revolution’ (p. a very subtle sense of irony to Bauer’s approach. according to him.168 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. one of Marx’s prime targets in Die Deutsche Ideologie. but it cannot and should not be confused with Stirner’s use of irony in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. the Selbstkritik der Kritik. related to Bauer’s focus on a criticism of socialist and communist theories after 1844 (p. Marx considered isolation and atomism as the products of a very specific social reality. Moggach maintains that Bauer still defended his republican commitment. 162). 161). Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? (1844) and. An intriguing take on this debate between Moggach and Tomba stems from Stirner’s criticism of Bruno Bauer and his subsequent reply. Moggach thus offers a very balanced analysis.

but rather are each their own Saviour and Deliverer. Tomba 2005. He did so by. turning him into a weapon to face ‘egoism’ head-on. Bauer’s criticism of egoism was indeed 34.’ (Stirner 1986a. without.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Bauer could thus easily advocate his philosophy of selfconsciousness throughout the 1840s without drawing the revolutionary conclusions he had drawn before 1843. p. We have already argued why Moggach. In short. departing from its initial revolutionary implications. 37. Bauer. for instance. to which extent Bauer allowed his philosophy of self-consciousness to prevail over its political implications and goals.37 What makes it particularly ‘Bauerian’ is its focus on both a ‘small’ and an implicit ‘big’ war against ‘egoism’. however. ‘Hegel. tried to think the concept of atomism through to its ultimate conclusion and eventually did so. and not the other way around. but he literally went beyond him.34 In short. Bauer replaced philosophy with criticism as the dissolution of the existent. abandoning his philosophy of self-consciousness as a whole. which meant that the post-Hegelians could only develop elements and concepts that lay explicitly ‘beyond’ Hegel and philosophy. Criticism could play a historical rôle only by destroying the categories that permitted the existing order to exist in thought itself. Not only did Bauer never intend to elaborate on Hegel as an ‘Hegelian’. 63. in that Stirner supports Bauer’s radical reinterpretation of Hegel.) . remains reluctant to admit that Bauer subtly abandoned his emancipatory engagement after 1843. he also clarifies why Marx and Engels were so keen on criticising both. Stirner started publishing his first philosophical articles in 1842. 35.2 (2011) 160–174 169 actually ironised Bauer’s Hegelianism and mocked any attempt to re-instrumentalise (Hegelian) philosophy as a whole. a tool in taking on the crisis. After all.35 The readings of Moggach and Tomba somehow both focus on Bauer’s creative rendering of Hegelian philosophy. This may be inferred from his review of Bauer’s Posaune. where he enthusiastically supported Bauer’s reading of Hegel as an ‘atheist’ and ‘anti-Christ’. Tomba’s interpretation allows us to understand the political implications of Stirner’s stand in new and even unexpected ways. while focusing on Bauer’s creative rendering of Hegel. I will elaborate on this by referring to Bauer’s criticism of Stirner in Charakteristik Ludwig Feuerbach’s. 42.36 This review actually confirms both Moggach’s and Tomba’s interpretation of the Posaune. destroying the subject-object dichotomy throughout his notion of ‘egoism’ (an act of appropriating the objective and destroying it within oneself ). and has impressed this teaching upon his students that no-one has to seek salvation outside of or beyond themselves. I agree with Tomba that Bauer’s creative rendering of Hegel was. Tomba 2005. Stirner 1986a. however. p. slowly but gradually. according to Tomba. Tomba rightly questions whether it was at all possible to elaborate further on Hegel’s philosophy. p. has never made it his particular task to lead a so-called “small war” and to hack out of its fortress the egoism which in a thousandfold forms blocks the liberation of individuals. In doing so. well before 1848. one could ask if Bauer could leave his philosophy of self-consciousness intact. Tomba somehow loosens the connection between Bauer’s philosophy of self-consciousness and Hegel even further. 36. not merely a negative theory. in the first instance. It remains to be seen. and his initial stances were heavily influenced by Bauer. while. but a practice. 59–74. pp. who would and has elevated the human spirit into the all-powerful Spirit. the crisis was also a crisis of Hegelianism itself. 35.

Stirner left philosophy out of the dialectical triad (art-religion-philosophy). . Stirner’s criticism of Bauer’s ‘universal self-consciousness’ as it took shape around 1842. Stirner 1986c. had claimed that art was much more closely related to philosophy based on their shared determinacy and clarity. was a full-frontal attack against Bauer’s philosophy as a whole and was published just five months after his review of Die Posaune. p. Stirner 1986c. 108. Bauer only tried to solve a problem. Stirner attacked Bauer by claiming that art gave birth to religion by ‘satisfying the urge’ of some men ‘to split themselves up’ between ‘that which they are’ and ‘that which they should become’ (Stirner’s ironic use of Hegel’s ‘unhappy consciousness’). which tried to reconcile thought and being. but it is consistent with Stirner’s criticism of Bauer in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.2 (2011) 160–174 related to his criticism of both religion and the state. Bauer 1842. Stirner’s definition of ‘philosophy’ implied that his post-Hegelian contemporaries. as it were. contained a position Stirner was to elaborate more fully in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum.41 Stirner. which he had created first by making a divide between subject and object. 39. 110.40 Bauer. It was published in Die Rheinische Zeitung. The ‘small war’ would have been a war against egoism-as-such.38 By satisfying man’s ‘urge’. p. p. 99. p. 100. were as religious as the ‘object’ they tried to criticise: religion. ‘Philosophy’. while Der Einzige und sein Eigentum elaborated more fully upon its 38. This argument. It did not bother itself with ‘objects’. art created an object of worship for religion. 101. on the other hand.39 Man was henceforth confronted with an object. Stirner claimed that Bauer remained (in both Die Posaune and in Hegel’s Lehre) stuck between art and religion. which was ‘nothing but a stone’ to it. 197. on the other hand. p. 42. 37). art shook off its ‘alienation’ (religion had alienated art from its object) and could create a new object. whereas the ‘big war’ was a war against everything that was related to it: a criticism of religion and the state. which it tried to integrate within itself. and. Stirner 1986c. p. His review of Bauer’s Hegel’s Lehre. literally remained ‘indifferent’ to religion or ‘God’.170 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. claimed that art in fact created an object for religion. 41. p. 43. but failed to do. 44. was something completely different in Stirner’s account. and a common ethical root (p. only to recreate it anew. however. by claiming that philosophy ‘doesn’t bother itself with objects’ (religion) nor did it ‘create an object’ (art). by no means a ‘small war’ against egoism. where Bauer had published all his writings between Die Posaune and Hegel’s Lehre. in a nutshell. Stirner returns to Hegel’s three-fold ‘Kunst-Religion-Philosophie’ in order to attack Bauer’s criticism of religion and his philosophy as a whole. therefore. and.42 It was religion itself that ‘makes the object empty’ (through ‘reflection’) and when it was empty. Stirner 1986c. and could thus by no means be related to what he considered to be ‘philosophy’. art reclaimed its object by ‘showing’ that the object was in fact empty (by turning religion into a ‘ridiculous comedy’) and that ‘man’ should no longer hold to it. on the other hand. In doing so. Kunst und Religion contained. and that he endlessly created and destroyed religion.44 By reconciling thought and being. and Bauer in particular. 110. It is hard to tell what might have caused Stirner’s shift.43 In short. and thus completing the unhappy consciousness. Stirner 1986c. therefore. 40. Stirner 1986c.

incomprehensible. but only ‘made good an oversight. his criticism of ‘egoism’ and ‘particularism’ as a well-established and fully integrated part of his philosophy of selfconsciousness. but I say. has only criticized its ‘oversight’ and cleared it of its ‘inconsistencies. 123–6). of which.47 Stirner actually forced Bauer to reconsider the logical conclusions of his own theory. it. but this changed very little for Stirner because he had not yet given up on either ‘humanism’.’ and is saying too much when he speaks of ‘criticism criticizing itself ’. This helps to explain why Stirner continued to criticise ‘egoism’ in another article just before Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. see De Ridder 2008. In spite of his ‘shift’. for instance. Tomba is right to attach great importance to Stirner’s ‘remark’ on Bauer’s articles in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. or rather he. only thoughtlessness really saves me from thoughts. and hence contains no references to his parody of the Vergegenständlichungsdialektik [subject-object thinking]. according to Stirner. both Stirner 45.48 The ‘postscriptum’ thus no longer tried to ironise Bauer. 164.’ If he wanted to criticize criticism. pp. and therefore never changed any of his ‘presuppositions’: It may now. pp. to conclude with this. pp. because of Bauer’s Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? Stirner claimed that Bauer had expanded his ‘criticism’ to the state itself. For an analysis of Stirner’s criticism of Bauer. but my thoughtlessness. ‘thought’ itself and his philosophy of self-consciousness or ‘criticism’. Stirner 1995. or I the unthinkable. published in 1843. eventually came down to the fact that Bauer ‘sees the inhuman everywhere’ except ‘in his own head’. 48. p. See Stirner’s Einiges Vorläufige vom Liebesstaat.46 This might seem at odds with Marx’s claim that Bauer and Stirner were two sides of the same coin. that frees me from possession. and claimed that it is in fact opposed to ‘self-determination’. just before Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (Stirner 1986b. Stirner 2000. It is not thinking. 47. despite Bauer’s ‘self-criticism’ in the Allgemeine LiteraturZeitung.2 (2011) 160–174 171 political dimensions and its relation to the crisis. Bauer still clung to his ‘humanism’ and his critique of ‘egoism’. 134–5. Stirner claimed that. he would have to look and see if there was anything in its presupposition. 296–7. but can be elaborated further by focusing on Stirner’s remark concerning Bauer’s 1844 writings.45 Stirner’s alleged ‘philosophy of egoism’ should be read as an attempt to beat Bauer with his own weapons by touching what had become the very heart of his emancipatory project around 1843. .Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. 167. 46.’ ‘disentangled a subject. he remained trapped in his own constructions. by abandoning his ‘humanism’ and political engagement altogether. Stirner 1995. pp. Stirner 2000. be clear that in the critic’s new change of front he has not transformed himself. Tomba rightfully claims that Bauer had given up on his notion of ‘autonomy’ around 1843 and hence his emancipatory project. It is no coincidence that his ‘postscriptum’ contained the clearest expression of Stirner’s criticism of Bauer and indeed philosophy itself: So he [Bauer] wants to break up thoughts by thinking. Stirner had to return to Bauer even after finishing his book. p. 132–3. which. since it only existed ‘in his own head’.

related Stirner to Feuerbach’s Spinozistic reading of Hegel. but tried to destroy it altogether just as he had already tried to do in ‘Kunst und Religion’. It was actually part of Bauer’s criticism of Feuerbach. He understood that he had to give up on conceptualising the present and the future and started to write a series of historical studies. just as Stirner had related Bauer himself to Feuerbach.172 Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. for instance. however. His writings. pp. Tomba argues.2 (2011) 160–174 and Tomba say that he sees ‘the inhuman’ everywhere except ‘in his own head’. however. for instance. in fact. 94–106. Tomba 2005. Marx’s criticism of Bauer was indeed of a highly polemical nature and deliberately tried to obscure Bauer’s own philosophical project. Stirner indeed picked up on Bauer’s criticism of nivellement. but ‘would have to look and see if there was anything in its presupposition’ in the first place. By meticulously analysing how Bauer’s philosophy of self-consciousness was intertwined with his republican programme. Tomba relates Stirner’s extra-philosophical stand to Bauer’s very own point of view. Moggach manages to correct a couple of misunderstandings regarding. shed light on how the political implications of Bauer’s philosophy were perceived by his contemporaries of the Vormärz. Bauer defended his philosophy of selfconsciousness against Stirner’s attacks. 153–5. but. Instead. Bauer’s review confirms that Bauer still clung to his philosophy of self-consciousness. never intended to present a ‘new’ subject-object philosophy or a new ‘solution’ to it.49 Bauer’s review of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum might be highly illuminating in this regard. . Conclusion Moggach’s study focuses on Bauer’s philosophy and politics without immediately exposing him to Marx’s virulent criticism. In his review of Stirner. but suggested that Bauer himself completed this by juxtaposing living human beings to his idea of ‘man’. as expressed in his criticism of nivellement. Bauer focused on Stirner’s parody of the Vergegenständlichungsdialektik [‘egoism-ownness’]. no longer refers to its political and social dimensions. Bauer’s criticism of Jewish emancipation in Prussia or his alleged ‘subjectivism’. and. Bauer 1845. Other than merely amending the existing interpretations of Bauer’s work in 49. as well as a very clear appropriation of Stirnerian arguments which were directed against Feuerbach. pp.50 He refused to deal with Stirner’s main criticism (from the ‘postscriptum’) that ‘he tried to dissolve thought through thought itself. Bauer thus actually drew the logical conclusions of his ‘humanism’. He argues that – despite Stirner’s criticism of Bauer – their philosophical ‘radicalism’ was very similar and dealt with the crisis. by seeking refuge in his own individuality against the levelling effects of the crisis. which no longer referred to his initial philosophy of selfconsciousness. 50. thus relating Stirner to Feuerbach. while only thoughtlessness can save me from thought’. that Bauer gave up on his emancipatory project while replacing it with a ‘new history’. interestingly enough. Stirner urged Bauer to abandon his ‘humanism’. Stirner. according to Stirner. and brought to the fore for the very first time in his seminal text Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? (1844). which contained both a criticism of Stirner. Tomba offers an interesting insight to the developments in both Bauer and Stirner’s writings after 1844.

but adds fuel to Tomba’s interpretation in that it no longer focuses on Bauer’s emancipatory project. In short. Stirner returned to these writings even after completing his book. Bauer finally sees the ‘inhuman’ everywhere except in ‘his own head’. which. however. since these reviews are generally considered a prelude to Stirner’s alleged ‘radicalisation’ of Bauer’s ‘subjectivism’.be References Bauer. I have also dealt with Massimiliano Tomba’s Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer. giving up entirely on thought or humanism as such. This is particularly important when dealing with Bauer’s writings for the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. defended his own philosophy of selfconsciousness without referring to its emancipatory implications either.2 (2011) 160–174 173 the Vormärz. such as Bauer’s criticism of the modern economy. Stirner’s criticism seems to confirm that Bauer still clung to his philosophy of self-consciousness around 1844. Bruno 1842. crucial to an understanding of Marx’s criticism of both Bauer and post-Hegelianism in because it helps to elaborate on Marx’s criticism of Bauer in Die heilige Familie (1844). however. etc. Reviewed by Widukind De Ridder Free University Brussels/Vrije Universiteit Brussel wderidde@vub. Such an interpretation of Bauer is confirmed by Stirner’s criticism around 1844. This means that Stirner’s seminal work should be considered as dealing primarily with the social and political bearings of Bauer’s philosophy. His earlier reviews. but still attacks his philosophical pretensions and presuppositions. . but interprets Bauer’s contempt for the masses as the completion of his ‘humanism’ and ‘criticism’.Review-Articles / Historical Materialism 19. Bauer’s review of Stirner. among other things. Tomba’s research offers a different account of Bauer’s post-Vormärz conservatism and considers it the outcome of Bauer’s gradual abandonment of the dynamics of revolution around 1844. Moggach also introduces a number of novelties. for their debate is. Max Stirner. I have tried to enrich this debate by referring to the criticism of one of Bauer’s closest acquaintances among the post-Hegelians. according to Tomba. Both Moggach’s and Tomba’s work are essential for understanding Marx’s early writings and the gradual shaping of historical materialism as a defensive mechanism against the philosophical and political pretensions of his contemporaries. even before Bauer’s rather controversial stands regarding Jewish emancipation in Prussia. Moggach and Tomba both successfully rebuke Bauer’s alleged ‘subjectivism’. without. on the other hand. In order to understand the criticism of Bauer’s contemporaries. Moggach’s study should be read back-to-back with Tomba’s when studying the older Bauer’s conservatism. This is not surprising. reveal that Stirner had already distanced himself from Bauer’s philosophy of self-consciousness. Tomba’s interpretation is refreshing in that it focuses on the ways in which crisis and criticism were intertwined in Bauer’s work. Stirner’s criticism is particularly interesting. Neither Moggach nor Tomba pay any attention to Stirner’s reviews of Bauer prior to his seminal work Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. Leipzig: Wigand. Hegel’s Lehre von der Religion und Kunst: Von dem Standpuncte des Glaubens aus Beurtheilt. he emphasises the broader political implications of Bauer’s philosophy and allows us to shed new light on the criticism of Bauer’s contemporaries. however. In so doing. contained Bauer’s farewell to the dynamics of revolution.

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1. which must accompany material transformation. Fanon stresses the significance of the revolutionary act as also a psychological and intellectual transformation. Fanon left the Vichy-occupied island to join the Free French. Trotsky and Kautsky. or the socialist reorganisation of production. he took a position as a psychiatrist in a government hospital in French Algeria. Nietzsche.Historical Materialism 19. Fanon. It also elaborates the fierce internal struggle by which Fanon reconstructed his own sense of self. a powerful intellectual autobiography that details his discovery as to how deeply embedded racism was in Western culture. – S: fanonismo. philosophy and radical politics. In 1953. wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in 1961 (Sartre in Fanon 1961. was born in Martinique. François Tosquelles. Heidegger. which emphasises the central significance of ‘race’ in the context of colonial oppression. where he immersed himself in medicine. but. Fanon’s sympathies were strongly with the Front de Libération National (FLN). Jaspers. descendant of African slaves. – G: Fanonismus. the Communist © Koninklijke Brill NV. race is not a contingent determination that could be subsumed under the general category of class. rather – like nationality and gender – is a distinctive and autonomous form of social. – C: fanong zhuyi 法农主义 Frantz Fanon (1925–61) was a major intellectual influence on Third-World revolutionaries and New-Left radicals during the sixties. Lenin. Merleau-Ponty and. while carrying out his normal duties. A major intellectual influence during this period was existentialism: Hegel. Jean-Paul Sartre. as its conditio sine qua non. he resigned from French government service and went into exile in Tunisia as a full-time FLN-militant. Fanon’s thought is characterised by three aspects. xlvi). Fanon argues for individual freedom as an essential component of a socialist synthesis that should guarantee democratic participation in the construction of socialism. In 1952. most importantly. economic and political inequality. Blacks were 97% of a population rigidly stratified along racial lines. In 1944. he proposes a radical anti-imperialist theory. He also read extensively in classical Marxism as well as the works of Luxemburg. a refugee from Franco’s Spain. and the devastating effect it has on the black person’s self-identity. Fanon treated FLN-militants wounded and tortured by the French and engaged in other secret activities in support of the resistance. the son of a minor official in the French colonial service. 2011 poet associated with the literary movement known as négritude. he attended the lycée in Fort-de-France where he came under the influence of Aimé Césaire. he began university-studies in Lyons. He became political editor of the French-language edition of the DOI: 10. and became familiar with the conflicts surrounding the construction of socialism after the October Revolution. ‘The Third World discovers itself and speaks to itself through his voice’. His mentor.2 (2011) 175–182 brill. First. Between 1954–6. Second. the vast majority of whom worked on white-owned sugar-plantations. When the Algerian Revolution broke out the next year. Leiden. – R: teorija Frantz Fanona. – F: fanonisme. Kierkegaard. Third. Fanon finished medical training in 1951 and began a specialisation in psychiatry. he published Black Skin. White Masks. As part of the small black middle class.1163/156920611X582879 . advocated a treatment that emphasised the social environment of mental illness. In 1947. In Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism Fanonism A: fikr Fanun.

he simultaneously undertook medical duties at seven different locations in Tunis and regularly travelled to guerrilla-camps on the Moroccan and Tunisian borders to give medical training and treat the wounded. W. the use of physical violence to liberate the country was seen by Fanon as legitimate and morally justifiable. an extension of that position that Marx and Engels formulate in The German Ideology. For Fanon. During the first four decades (1830–70) of colonialism. where they argue that both ‘for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness. This self-redemption and self-purification could be accomplished by an uncompromising will toward action. Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. 9. the context of his reflections has sometimes been neglected: namely. Diagnosed with leukaemia. Once. in certain respects. seriously injured by a land-mine. were killed. In Fanon’s view. over one million Algerians. the transformation of men on a mass scale is necessary. the black man internalised the idea that the more he adopted the cultural standards and language of the white man. (cf. dependant upon the conqueror for tutelage and protection from themselves. modified). 1961. White Masks and ‘Concerning Violence’ in The Wretched of the Earth). In particular. In order to achieve an approximation of whiteness. and for the success of the cause itself. which Fanon chose to call violence. essays from which were compiled in two further volumes: A Dying Colonialism (1959) and Toward the African Revolution (posthumously. trans.000 French lost their lives during the entire war and of these. into immediately physical. Deprived of his or her very humanity and selfrespect. an estimated one-third of the Muslim population was eliminated. though he did not hesitate to warn in the penultimate chapter of The Wretched of the Earth of the dangers inherent in a reliance on mere physical violence. – It was Fanon’s discussion in The Wretched of the Earth of the role of violence in the anticolonial revolution that was by far the most controversial aspect of his political theory. 2. just weeks after the publication of The Wretched of the Earth. Asia and the Americas over the previous 500 years had created a global system of exploitation so rapacious that it forced .000 people were massacred in less than a month at Sétif alone. nearly 12 % of the population.176 W. the extent of French barbarism in Algeria. In addition to his political work. fewer than 12. ‘The Negro and Language’ and ‘The Fact of Blackness’ in Black Skin. hunger and suffering. accepting and internalising their inferiority. Fanon argues that this lost humanity can only be recovered through an absolute and uncompromising rejection of the entire con- FLN’s official organ. his self-hatred. What is often ignored is his differentiation of the concept of violence. the social mores. he must denounce his own blackness. 52–3. 40. Theory of Violence. is the moment in which the revolution actually begins. 2–55). El Moudjahid. In this context of massive French brutality. the closer he would come to being a real (‘civilised’) human being. a transformation which can only take place in a practical movement.2 (2011) 175–182 billions of people into extreme poverty. The expansion of Europe into Africa. sub-humans. Only through a radical claim of self-love could the disease of self-hatred be expunged. Fanon’s conceptualisation of human renewal is. The colonised were declared to be mere savages. By comparison. the religion. overwhelmingly non-combatants. in a revolution’ (MECW 5. The dominant culture denigrated the language. the dominated person internalised a sense of shame and disgrace – the self-hatred of the colonised. Fanon employs the concept of ‘structural’ violence to describe the existing international capitalist system. in 1945. he died in December.000 were soldiers (Humbaraci. the moment in which the ‘native’ rejects his humiliation. The concept of ‘psychic violence’ is used to comprehend the mechanisms through which racism and colonialism debase their victims to such an extent that they begin to doubt their own value as human beings. he was sent to Rome for medical care and narrowly escaped two assassinationattempts. 1964). During the years of the liberation struggle (1954–62). structural and psychic violence. his de-humanisation. the very biological-genetic composition of the conquered people.

[. of being the other. Nationalism and the culture of liberation. 3. Fanon was influenced by and engaged in the non-Communist. Fanon and Marxism.W. Caute says simply that he was not a ‘traditional’ Marxist (Caute. rebukes Fanon as a Third-World upstart who was not sufficiently appreciative of socialism’s European origins. The more or less spontaneous assertion of one’s self-worth alone cannot carry through a permanent transformation. to outright racism. 173). had not been able to do that. 5). – Biographers differ regarding their assessment of Fanon’s relation to Marxism. creates obstacles as the movement toward a collective national liberation is in danger of falling under the domination of particular elements. Aimed both against ‘progressives’ who claimed that an emphatic emphasis upon nationality corresponded to an obsolete stage of human development as well as against autocratic nationalists. . 19). 4. second. and insists that he had no understanding of Marxism (Woddis. Fanon saw the most urgent tasks of the African intellectual in the development of his nation. the rigidly hierarchical. its economic system. in order for it not to turn into a new form of domination. an orthodox Communist. Even more decisive is the fact that Fanon argues that ‘Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched every time we have to do with the colonial problem’ (Fanon 1961. Organisation. who establish themselves in the name of the nation as a postcolonial ‘state class’ and instrumentalise the revolution for their own narrow class-interests. ‘Classical’ Marxism. Fanon was deeply influenced by Marxism. in its turn. while Woddis. Gendzier. – Central to Fanon’s analysis of the colonial social formation was the phenomenologically comprehended concept of race. using nationalist slogans. its political principles. In fact. ‘Race’ and ‘class’. Geismar argues that his concept of Communism was not that of joining a party. 5. Jinadu considers Fanon to be broadly within the Marxist-Leninist tradition ( Jinadu. Consequently. but of joining a revolution (Geismar. which is attested to not only by the repeated use of Marxian categories and the explicit and implicit references to Marx and Engels. the Party’s dedication to a chauvinist conception of French civilisation led it. W. It must be accompanied by organised resistance (Chapter 2.2 (2011) 175–182 cept of – external and internal – colonialism: its cultural values. 98). the simplistic transferral to the colonies of class-categories developed in the European context and appropriate to an understanding of industrial societies that were racially relatively homogenous was a significant intellectual error because it ignored . 199). Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. ‘Spontaneity: Its Strengths and Weaknesses’). but which would only be able to represent the expressive will of the people if it were accompanied by the discovery and creation of universalising values. . Fanon pointed to the necessity of a dialectical relation of national liberation with internationalism: the national consciousness that needed to be created. for example. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture’ (Fanon 1961. 199). whose treatment of race and nationality as mere epiphenomena concealed a Eurocentric approach. – Differently from the majority of the chief figures of African nationalism he met in recently independent Ghana in 1960 as a FLN-representative. His antipathy toward the PCF had two sources: first. argues that Fanon’s writing fluctuated between 177 Marxist and psychological categories (Gendzier. One’s skin colour was an inescapable badge of subordination that determined the black person’s existence and forced him to accept his own inferiority. Nevertheless. Here. at best.] It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. must be articulated internationally. 76). ‘Leninist’ form of party-organisation was at distinct odds with Fanon’s democratic conception of a socialist party. to vacillate on the colonial question and. at worst. I will not hesitate to affirm that in the case with which we are dealing it is the national consciousness which is the most elaborate form of culture. Fanon’s concept of ‘culture’ is decisive: ‘If culture is the expression of national consciousness. Marxist Left during his student days.

In this context. The perspective of the colonial or postcolonial reality required a revision of the Eurocentric dogmas canonised by Marxism-Leninism. At the summit of this pyramid the dominant race and the dominant class were interchangeable terms. class and race had a symbiotic relationship. lead to negative political consequences). ‘When you examine at close quarters the colonial context. in the colonies. those with regular. Fanon reformulates the concept of ‘lumpenproletariat’ that had been negatively deployed by Marx and Engels – motivated in part by the intention to provoke the French Left. casual and day-labourers. colonial society was divided into two racial groups that were simultaneously expressed in five class-categories. the colonial society in transition had two alternatives: either it could make a total break with imperialism and begin the construction of socialism based on a thoroughly humanistdemocratic programme that addressed the political. In the typical African colony. The peasantry was seen as a necessary. Fanon was explicitly referring to only a small minority of all those engaged in wagelabour. despite its minuscule size. In the colonies the economic substructure is also a superstructure. spiritual. but primarily administrative centres whose task was to supervise the extraction of wealth in the form of agricultural and mineral products. or it could sink into being a neocolonial appendage of world-capitalism that would keep the people in bondage. while nationalist. The typical African colony was a vast sea of impoverished peasants surrounding relatively small islands of urbanisation. Fanon therefore did not simply ignore class as an analytical category. The minuscule colonial working class. Fanon makes it clear that. a given species. W. those who ruled were those who came from elsewhere. relatively well paid. In order to designate this majority. Third-World Marxists. you are rich because you are white. in turn. you are white because you are rich’ (Fanon 1961. the tiny full-time working class and the national middle class. argued that.). Fanon’s saw the chief contradiction of colonial societies as that of race. the large and growing lumpenproletariat. workers on white farms. full-time employment (ibid.2 (2011) 175–182 the colonised population into four classes: the peasant-majority.178 W. Social analysis. Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. but on their belonging to a particular race. 5). He was not referring to the thousands of migrant workers. and the revolution must be transformed into a social (class-) revolution. as a marginalised minority. With his use of the term ‘working class’. In The Wretched of the Earth. African cities were not areas of industrial production. The essential criterion of their right to rule was not based on their ownership of capital. with independence. but subordinate ally. He divided . – In Fanon’s model. the latter was dominant. the leading revolutionary class must be the working class under the leadership of a proletarian party. The alternative chosen would be determined by the configuration of classforces as they were formed during the colonial period but. They were relatively well off compared to the peasantry and the lumpenproletariat and more interested in preserving and increasing their existing privileges than they were in fundamental revolutionary change. the barriers to socialism are no longer racially determined. whose cowardice and arrogance on the question of Algerian independence he despised. it is evident that what parcels out the world is to begin with the fact of belonging to or not belonging to a given race. cultural as well as the economic needs of the broad masses. Fanon deployed the theory of the ‘labour aristocracy’ developed by Engels and then later Lenin. following the ‘Leninist’ model. The cause is the consequence. In Fanon’s view. what Marx called a the racial-national dimension (and could. those who declared themselves as belonging to a superior species. these latter groups of workers constituted 95% of the wage-earning class. relatively skilled. nor the masses of personal and household-servants. was not particularly revolutionary. more importantly. 6. His argument was that. Fanon clearly does not conceive of the lumpenproletariat in the European sense. as these forces were influenced and re-shaped morally and politically by the struggle for independence. but only insofar as colonialism continues.

they were the first to begin organised nationalist agitation and assumed the leadership of the emergent nationalist organisations that began demanding independence. Revolution. not as a potential revolutionary leadership. Chapter 3. not in the interest of the new nation as a whole. also learns from and becomes as one with the masses. It is important to realise that Fanon wrote his analysis of the emergent national middle class in early 1961: that is. The upward mobility of this class was also inhibited by the racism inherent in colonial society. Fanon’s lumpenproletariat was made up of peasants recently deprived of their land who had migrated to the urban areas in search of work and survival (sometimes he refers to this class simply as a fraction of the peasantry). Fanon undertakes a critique of the ‘cult of personality’: ‘The leader of the people no longer exists today. Fanon saw this class. one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people’ (Fanon 1961. modified) is an unmistakable allusion to the ‘Leninist’ concept of the proletarian dictatorship and democratic centralism. The people are no longer a herd. Leadership gains its possible ‘value and strength only from the existence of the people in struggle. Fanon’s idea of radical leadership means that as the exploited classes as a whole experience revolutionary politics they also gain the knowledge and skills to exercise self-leadership. mere business-agents of European capitalism. 7. It becomes a mass. consequently. radical and democratic movement in which the ‘grass roots’ feel power in their newly found selfconfidence. Fanon was referring to that portion of the colonised population who had benefitted from a European education and were engaged as small businessmen. His scathing reference to ‘that famous dictatorship whose supporters believe is called for by the historical process’ (Fanon 1961. but as one whose primary interest was in assuming positions of political and economic dominance that would be available upon independence. Rather. however. develops a completely different internal organisational culture. It was in the lumpenproletariat that social rebellion would find its ‘urban spearhead of the revolution . He was referring not only to dangers he saw inherent in the evolving contemporary politics of the African revolution. Their interest was in taking the place of the Europeans in the colony. and then serving as middle-men. then he . If the leader drives me on. at a time when it was only assuming power and the euphoria surrounding independence was nearly unanimous. Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. the radical intelligentsia. W.). doctors. teachers and employees within the colonial bureaucracy. . they were perfectly willing to act as subordinates of international capitalism and continue the exploitation of the people as it had existed under colonialism. In Fanon’s model. democracy. It is literally the people who freely fashion a leadership for itself. Fanon embarks on a devastating criticism of the oneparty state. however. lawyers. Consequently. not the leadership that tolerates the people’. ‘The incoherent mass of the people is seen as a blind force that must be continually held in check either by mystification or by the fear inspired by the police force’ (ibid. .W.2 (2011) 175–182 social scum made up of vagabonds and thieves. Having theorised his ideal party. they do not need to be led. – Fanon’s theory of revolution departed significantly from Lenin’s model of the vanguard-party. 81). party. Fanon was virtually alone in under- 179 standing the nature of this class and how it would function when in power. The colonial middle class demanded the nationalisation of various sectors of the postcolonial economy. Fanon’s analysis of the ‘national middle class’ or ‘national bourgeoisie’ is his most important and most prophetic contribution to an understanding of postcolonial society. The party. To accomplish this. but to gain control of the postcolonial state to advance its own interests. He emphasises the significance of the radical intelligentsia and particularly its ability to bring leadership to the spontaneously revolutionary masses. trans. Similarly. in their ability to participate in decision making and to determine the direction of the revolution they are creating – a concept clearly marked by Luxemburg’s influence. while providing the initial leadership.

). with the goal of maintaining ideological and political control over the activists in the new progressive movements. in turn.). The single party is content to give orders and remind the people constantly that the government expects from them only ‘obedience and discipline’ (ibid. Fanon believed that the conflict between men and women could find its resolution in the context of the revolutionary struggle. must also incorporate a free and democratic political life: ‘the choice of a socialist regime. Fanon was little known outside the ambit of the French leftwing intelligentsia and the Algerian Revolution. Scheil 1969). Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. in a severely truncated form. but he devotes particular attention to the question in A Dying Colonialism (1958). – The outcome of the revolution in postcolonial Algeria.2 (2011) 175–182 work of cultural destruction (36 et sq. in part. the French discouraged wearing the veil. free and democratic political life is gradually stifled so that eventually only the partybureaucracy makes decisions. in order to make women ‘allies’ in the . Translations of his other works into English as well as other languages followed shortly after. In the United States. ultimately. will allow us to go forward more quickly and harmoniously. – References to the women’s struggle are found throughout Fanon’s work. French colonial policy was predicated on the destruction of Algerian culture and.180 W. the assault was undertaken by an amalgam of liberals. 35–67. the centre of the ‘Fanon controversy’. turned out to be quite different from Fanon’s utopian vision (cf. were forced to change conditions. husband. while. His fame spread in the political context of the mid-sixties. Both sides concentrated their attention on a very narrow interpretation of Fanon’s theory of violence. a high point of revolutionary optimism in the Third World. a regime which is clearly oriented toward the will of the people as a whole and based on the principle that man is the most precious of all possessions. brother. This changed dramatically with the 1963 English translation of The Wretched of the Earth. social democrats and some orthodox Communists. Humbaracci 1966. Nevertheless. alongside other figures. In the GDR. advocating a Sorelian fascism should know that at the same time I show him the way’ (ibid. W.). The liberation-struggle thus. In the United States the civil-rights movement had become a potent political force. which itself requires changes in the female-male relationship. and thus make impossible that caricature of society where all political power is held in the hands of a few’ (ibid. 9. Socialism. this necessitated gaining control over Algerian women (Fanon 1958. throughout Western Europe and North America. led to entirely new perspectives in the relations between men and women and to the breakup of the traditional monolithic family. but colonialism itself had transformed the symbolic meaning of the veil. in a way reminiscent of both Luxemburg and Kautsky. The woman question. Fanon argues. however. In this situation. Fanon’s writings were only published in 1986 (more than 20 years after they were published in the BRD) and. who referred to Fanon. The historical process had produced conditions wherein men and women were changed and. 8. in a one-party state. as a consequence of which the veil lost its inviolability. The veil had been one of the most significant symbols of that domination. for example. To this end. the New Left was posing a challenge both to bourgeois capitalism and state-socialism. in order to exist. Traditionally. That epigones of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy quite clearly understood the implications of Fanon’s thinking explains the virulence of the attacks against him as well as the severe restrictions on access to his work. there developed a sort of proxy-war around and over Fanon’s theses. The success of the revolution required the active participation of women. His points of departure are the veil (Chapter 1) and the family (Chapter 3) and the ways in which the meaning and structure of these were changed by the revolutionary experience. the Algerian woman had been completely dominated by men: father. even then. During his lifetime.). that. Critics charged Fanon with revelling in bloodshed. 99–120).

By the seventies. Mainz. A Critique of Revolutionary Humanism: . F. Fanon’s writings have also influenced ThirdWorld women’s studies. Black Skin. (E. Fanon: In Search of the African Revolution. Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study. White Artifact: Fanon’s Clinical Psychology and Social Theory. Toward the African Revolution. of continuing racism. The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin. Caute. J. This occurred at the very point that his prophetic analysis of the state-class in postcolonial society was proving so unerring in its accuracy. Paris. Gordon 1995. Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW). African (as well as West-Indian and African-American) writers have acknowledged his influence on their fiction (Lazarus). New York. L.R. Fanon. R. Cambridge. White Masks came to be regarded by literary theorists as important examples of modern protest-literature. However.2 (2011) 175–182 and having an almost Satanic influence over young radicals. The best known of these critics was the philosopher. but also gave much needed attention to his thoughts on democracy. The consequence was that Fanon was politically demonised. Fanon. the party and the postcolonial state. the Caribbean. in Latin America. P. Black Soul. P. A. Jinadu 1986. On Violence. Lucas 1971. New York. P. Hansen. New Haven. A number of scholars began producing analytical biographies (Gendzier. Onwuanibe. In On Violence. F. Fanon played no role in the political debate any longer.A. 1996. a diatribe tinged with racism against the New Left and the revolts of the (in her eyes. Britain and. Frantz Fanon.R. Columbus. Fanon 1958 (1965). ethnicity. Hansen 1977. New York. Resistance in Postcolonial African Fiction. Geismar 1971. L. F. attempted to analyse Fanon within the context of his overall work. London. she utterly failed to see the violence of a brutal. dominated the debate. Lucas. While polemicising against Fanon’s supposed glorification of violence (Arendt. therefore. Bulhan. Fanon 1964 (1967). E. Algeria: A Revolution that Failed. of corrupt dictatorships and the deterioration of the state in the Third World. New York. Onwuanibe. Fanon. D. but also in Africa. Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. New York. Arendt 1969. Bibliography: H. Fanon and the Crisis of European Man. Bouvier. Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression. it was generally the antiFanon critics who published their views in widely read journals and. Fanon: A Critical Reader. New York. above all. violence directed against humans with dark skin. – The collapse of state-socialism has also led to a re-evaluation of Fanon’s views on the revolutionary party in light of democratic theory and the failure of the ‘Leninist’ proletarian dictatorship (Gordon). Hansen. Bouvier 1971. Ohio. Sociologie de Frantz Fanon. E. W. the epoch of the neoconservative ‘roll-back’. New York. New York.C. N. she argued that the influence of Fanon was responsible for endangering social peace. F. 14–20. Gendzier 1973. she downplayed both the ‘naked violence’ of the colonial powers as well as the role of violence in American history. Onwuanibe 1983.W. L. multi-ethnic and multicultural nature of Euro-American societies is widely recognised. Marx and F. Jinadu and Sekyi-Otu). particularly in the United States. gender and class become even more relevant the more the multiracial. Fanon’s thoughts on the symbiotic relationship of race. Humbaraci 1966. Finally. racist war the United States was then waging against the Vietnamese people. Fanon 1961 (2004). Frantz Fanon: Social and Political Thought. often by African-American intellectuals. 181 there has been a marked increase in Fanon studies. W. to a lesser extent. New York. Hansen 1996. McCulloch). The Wretched of the Earth. H. A new generation of African intellectuals who were trying to analyse the disintegration of their own societies not only developed a far deeper understanding of Fanon’s writing on violence. Engels 1975–2005. I. New York. unqualified both socially and intellectually) African-Americans. Gordon et al. Bulhan 1985. Only a few interventions. 65–96). Hannah Arendt. Fanon 1952 (1967). New York. K. Lazarus 1990.W. McCulloch 1983. Geismar. Algiers. Perinbam) and studies of various aspects of his political and social thought (Zahar. A Dying Colonialism. London. These studies gave impetus to a return to Fanon’s work for insights regarding the nature of neocolonialism. – Most of Fanon’s defenders contented themselves with revolutionary posturing. Caute 1970. Oxford.A. White Masks. Since the mid-eighties.

Sekyi-Otu 1997. islamischer Sozialismus. Hansen Alliance-politics. Frankfurt/M. Hauptwiderspruch. relations of force. violence. W. Bündnispolitik. Frantz Fanon in der feministisch-postkolonialen Debatte’. Perinbam 1982. national identity. Wolter 1999. Hansen / Historical Materialism 19. Bauern. leadership. Robinson 1983. Mittelschichten. Kleinbürger. masses. woman question. new man. left radicalism. 235. B. colonialism.. Revolution. Western Marxism. Woddis 1972. Linksradikalismus. R. New York. nationale Bourgeoisie. Lumpenproletariat. westlicher Marxismus. Louis. nationalism. Kulturrevolution. Avantgarde. An Intellectual Biography. cultural revolution. Fanon’s Dialectic of Experience. Holy Violence: Fanon. Black Marxism. Nr. Third World. 37–41. and Nr. anticolonialism. Übergangsgesellschaften. Cambridge. Luxemburgismus. nationale Identität. Demokratie/Diktatur des Proletariats. transitional societies. developing countries. Islamic socialism. Menschenwürde. democracy/dictatorship of the proletariat. C. peasantry. Sklaverei/Sklavenhaltergesellschaft. Ideal.. demokratischer Zentralismus. populism. New Theories of Revolution. New Left. nationale Befreiung. Kolonialismus. MA. labour-aristocracy. middle classes. St.2 (2011) 175–182 revolution. Zahar 1969. William W. neuer Mensch. 34–7. race and class. Universalismus. Populismus. self-organisation. Arbeiterklasse. national liberation. petty bourgeoisie. decolonisation. Befreiung. Washington DC. slavery/slave-holding society. Eurocentrism. vanguard. Rasse und Klasse. Luxemburgism.M. Klassenreduktionismus. Eurozentrismus. Antikolonialismus.182 W. Gewalt. Entkolonialisierung.J. Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. koloniale Produktionsweise. ‘Algerien entschleiert. U. ethnocentrism. grassroots-revolution. Klasseninteressen. Massen. 236. working class. Arbeiteraristokratie. Marxism-Leninism. Staatsklasse. J. Führung. Personenkult. internationalism. London. colonial mode of production. mass intellectual. Frantz Fanon. state-class. Kolonialismus und Entfremdung. Ethnozentrismus. orthodoxy. Frauenfrage. Neokolonialismus. Chauvinismus. Imperialismus. human dignity. class-reductionism. neocolonialism. Neue Linke. city/ country. Kräfteverhältnisse. Internationalismus. MarxismusLeninismus. . postkolonialer Sozialismus. Rassismus. democratic centralism. ideal. Selbstorganisation. cadre-party. Dritte Welt. class-interests. postcolonial socialism. universalism. national bourgeoisie. A. Kaderpartei. Massenintellektueller. Black Marxism. lumpenproletariat. cult of personality. liberation. in iz3w. chief contradiction. chauvinism. Graswurzelrevolution. racism. imperialism. Entwicklungsländer. Orthodoxie. Nationalismus. Stadt/Land.

piano. His most recent publications include The Degradation of the International Legal Order: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics (Routledge Bill Bowring is Professor of Law at Birkbeck College. enlarged edition. 2009) and Pensare la rivoluzione conservatrice. EU Law and Strasbourg Law?’ in Rights in Context: Law and Justice in Late Modern © Koninklijke Brill NV.chibber@nyu. edited by Marc Weller and Katherine Nobbs (University of Pennsylvania Press.bowring@bbk. and International Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. b. s. SOAS London and Vivek Chibber teaches sociology at New York University. progetto. 2008). and numerous articles on economic development. His recent publications include Theories of Social Capital (Pluto Press. Yola where he was the founding head of the Politics Program. From Political Economy to Economics (Routledge. His research interests have to do with identities: nationalism. ethnicity and religion. Leiden. Queen Critica della democrazia e «grande politica» nella Repubblica di Weimar (La Città del Sole. 2003).nl/hima Notes on Contributors Stefano Azzarà is Research Fellow at the University of Urbino. buerhansen@gmail. edited by Reza Banakar (Ashgate. He is now completing a critique of postcolonial theory. 2009). University of London. and imperialism. in collaboration with Dimitris Milonakis.1163/156920611X573888 . billhansen1@yahoo. 2004). 2011 DOI: 10. He was educated at the universities of Maryland. a practising barrister.2 (2011) 183–184 brill. He is the author of Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India. 2000. to be published by Verso Books. University of London. Ohio. Currently he teaches at the American University of Nigeria. 2008) and From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics (Routledge. 2010).com Bill Bue Rübner Hansen is a PhD student at the School of Business and Management. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2010) and. Vivek. race. Livio Sichirollo e Giancarlo De Carlo a Urbino 1963–1990 (Cattedrale. a native of Cincinnati. was an activist in the civil rights movement in the sixties where he first read and became interested in Frantz Fanon. University of London. ‘The Russian Constitutional System: Complexity and Asymmetry’ in Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts. 2010) and ‘ “Terrorist Lists” and Procedural Human Rights: A Collision between UN Law. His publications include Marxist Ben Fine is Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies. bf@soas. historical sociology.Historical Materialism 19.azzara@uniurb.

His publications include The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx (Haymarket. michael. 2009) and ‘Mark Twain. 2006).gr Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social and political philosophy at the Department of Sociology. and the theory of imperialism. 2009). forthcoming). His research-interests are Marxist philosophy.lawson@leedsmet.uoc. modern social theory.184 Notes on Contributors / Historical Materialism 19. and the Gilded Age’ in The Cambridge History of the American Novel. Athens. milonakis@econ. Matthews ( Michael Löwy is Research-Director in Sociology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Franz Kafka. edited by Leonard Cassuto. University of the Aegean. rêveur insoumis (Éditions Stock. a. Clare Eby and Benjamin Reiss (Cambridge University Press.lowy@orange. 2004. 2005). 2004) and The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution (Haymarket.aegean. 2008) and From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics (Routledge. of From Political Economy to Economics (Routledge. with Ben Dimitris Milonakis is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Crete.2 (2011) 183–184 Andrew Lawson is Senior Lecturer in English in the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. psot@soc. Class. edited by John T. 2010). His publications include Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle (University of Iowa Press. ‘Early Literary Modernism’ in A Companion to the Modern American .ac. His is co-author.soc. His publications include Communism and Philosophy: The Theoretical Adventure of Louis Althusser (in Greek).