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Historical Materialism 19.

2 (2011) 331

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 ones 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 latters 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, Wodzimierz 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 todays 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, Madel 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 rle for class-struggle? Our general method of approach to these questions, drawing on our own interpretation of Marxs 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. Marxs 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 rle, 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.

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The way of phrasing these propositions, let alone their meaning and validity, is controversial. 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, for example) as well as in explaining the crisis, despite working-class acquiescence and other favourable conditions for capitalism. And financialisation is crucial in understanding both the cause and course of the crisis itself. This is not, however, to put aside agencies other than finance in the processes of restructuring. 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). And the state has played an active rle in promoting financialisation at the expense of, and as the form taken by, the accumulation and restructuring of capital, not only through liberalising financial markets and regulation but also through privatisation, commercialisation, and so on. Such slavish devotion to the cause of finance is indicative of the shifting nature of contemporary politics or, at least, its increasing flexibility in dealing with the dysfunctions of financialisation. Underpinning this is the emergence and/or strengthening of national- and international-financial lites. This works not only through the pressure of the markets, rating agencies and so on, 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 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. To the contrary, to sustain financialisation, the state has pressed, if unevenly, for imposition of the classical aspects of neoliberalism, associated with authoritarianism, privatisation, fiscal discipline and, in the context of developing countries, the Washington Consensus. Equally, though, each of these aspects is expendable in response to shifting requirements, not least in the current crisis. Indeed, neoliberalism might best be seen as falling roughly into two phases the first as the shock-therapy associated with Reagan and Thatcher, Latin America, and the Soviet bloc, and the second with the social market, Third-Wayism and the post-Washington-consensus. This second phase has been rationalised and promoted as a reaction against the first phase in light of the latters horrendous dysfunctions beyond finance, but essentially is concerned to keep financialisation going. As Stiglitz, pioneer of the post-

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Washington consensus, so clearly puts it:5 The left now understands markets, and the role they can and should play in the economy . . . the new left is trying to make markets work. What this means is: how do we keep globalisation, financialisation and capital-accumulation going? And, again, unduly generalising, the more centre- rather than right-leaning political parties are better able to deliver the imperatives of finance, as this is then the sole objective, as opposed to authoritarianism. Irrespective of ideological form, the coalitiongovernment in the UK, PASOK in Greece, and so on make Thatcher seem like a snatcher of sweets from the pram. We will return to Stiglitz later, but observe for the moment what, at least for him, the new left, as he calls it, has become. To the contrary, the crisis is indicative of the strongest possible case for socialism and not just because a bigger-than-ever crisis has hit. The simplest and single most telling aspect of the crisis is that as observed by Naud 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, but that money to bail out the worlds bottom billion can never be mobilised. Contrast, for instance, the $50 billion agreed on for developing countries at the summit with the estimated $8.4 trillion for bailing-out banks. As Oxfam recently remarked, the latter amount is sufficient to end extreme poverty worldwide for 50 years.

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, whether for the environment or stability of food- and energy-prices, whilst there is, uniquely for this crisis, a total absence of blame on the part of working people who must, nonetheless, bear the costs. The implication of the need for alternatives is irrefutable. Yet the very factors that have sustained neoliberalism for so long in terms of financialisation, the growing hegemony of finance, and the decline of progressive opposition also serve as major obstacles to the emergence of, and struggle for, alternatives. This is, then, a crisis within, not of, neoliberalism, which has already emerged, at least so far, strengthened from the crisis in terms of the politics and policies of governance. Neoliberalism remains everywhere, but its contradictory and shifting combination of ideology, policy in practice and scholarship across time, place and issue needs to be carefully
5. Stiglitz 2008, p. 2. For critique of the continuing shenanigans of the World Bank, see Bayliss, Fine and van Waeyenberge (eds.) 2011, forthcoming. 6. Naud 2009.

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unpicked. And it is to scholarship to which we now turn, and economics in particular, for which we must carefully distinguish neoliberal economics from the economics of neoliberalism. So what was the rle of the economicsprofession in the current crisis and what are the likely effects of the crisis in the way economists see the world?

3. . . . to the crisis of economic theory . . . Generally, in science, when some rare event occurs which has a major impact, a black swan, in Talebs terminology,7 which was not predicted by the current state-of-the-art scientific tools, or some new evidence is discovered which cannot be explained by these tools, representing an anomaly, in Kuhnian terminology, then the scientific field may be shaken and new proposals, tools, theories, etc. are put forward to explain the hitherto inexplicable event or new evidence. One could name countless examples from the history of science. Just a couple will suffice. Take the example of oceanography. On New Years Day in 1995, the Draupner oil-rig radar-sensor in the North Sea recorded, for the first time in history, a giant wave 26 metres in height which, until then, according to all scientific knowledge based on the linear models in use, was thought practically impossible. According to the bell-shaped curves derived from this model, an unusual event, a so-to-speak freak-wave of, say, 30 metres in height, could only occur once every 10,000 years. 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.8 Similarly, when, back in the 1960s, neuroscientists discovered that if some parts of the brain failed, then sometimes other parts can take over their functions, the scientific community was shaken and a new theory, neuroplasticity, was developed to cope with these new findings.9 Now, the recent economic crisis does represent a huge anomaly with respect to all existing mainstream-theories. A huge wave has hit the world-economy, 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.10 The Gaussian bell-shaped curves used by economists and based
7. Taleb 2007, pp. xviixviii. 8. Cf. Broad 2006; The Economist 2009; <>. 9. Doidge 2007. 10. For Buiter 2009, This is the hypothesis that asset prices aggregate and fully reflect all relevant fundamental information, and thus provide the proper signals for resource allocation.

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on these assumptions preclude the possibility of such an event taking place. Not only was the crisis not predicted (nor could it have been by these models), but, after the event, no explanation remains possible within mainstreamneoclassical economics other than as what might be termed the inefficientmarket hypothesis. So, will there be a similar freak-wave effect in economic science? On top of the (epistemological) differences involved between these (natural) sciences and economics, there is another big difference. All the events mentioned above, which caused the upheaval in the respective sciences, refer to newly-available evidence. What is remarkable, in the case of our scientific field, is that the occurrence of big crises and deep recessions (unlike the freakwaves of the deep ocean) are not a newly-observed phenomenon. As is wellknown, similar crises have hit the world-economy in the 1870s, the 1930s and the 1970s. As for more-restricted financial crises, recent economic history is full of such cases.11 Indeed, unlike the physical sciences, economics is dominated by such rare and extreme events.12 What is astonishing is that the sector most prone to such phenomena, viz. the financial sector, has until recently, and to some extent even now, been considered by mainstreamfinancial economists as the Mecca of rationality and market-efficiency. In the past similar, significant events have proved to be the midwives of important developments in economic science, like the birth of Keyness General Theory following the Great Depression of the 1930s. Will something similar happen this time around? Richard Posner of the University of Chicago and, until recently, a staunch supporter of the neoliberal Chicago school, but now turned Keynesian, thinks so. According to him, what is happening in economics following the crisis is reminiscent of what happened to cosmology after Edwin Hubble discovered that the universe was expanding, and was much larger than scientists believed. The profession fell into turmoil, with some physicists sticking to existing theories, while others came up with the big bang theory.13 As Krugman has said, just before the crisis erupted economists were congratulating themselves over the success of their field.14 After all, this was the era of great moderation the substantial decline in economic
11. No less than 139 banking and currency-crises have been identified between 1973 and 1997, that is, during the earlier phase of financialisation, as compared with only 38 financial crises during the so-called golden age of regulated capitalism between 1945 and 1971 (cf. Eichengreen and Bordo 2002). See also Wolf 2009, p. 31. The difference between these crises and the most recent one is that they did not become global. 12. Taleb 2007. 13. Cassidy 2010a, p. 28. 14. Krugman 2009, p. 52.


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volatility that the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Ben Bernanke, has partly attributed to improved performance of macroeconomic policies.15 This was also the era of the emerging consensus in macroeconomics. A consensus based on the most-horrendously unrealistic assumptions of the representative agent holding rational expectations and the market-efficiency hypothesis. As Greenspan himself has admitted, all of this collapsed in September 2008. Before coming to current theoretical developments, let us first take a look at what happened back in the thirties. Although the interwar-period was an era of pluralism in economics, with different schools of thought using vastly different types of organon and with different conceptual frameworks flourishing, for the whole period until the 1929 Wall Street crash, the view that was dominant within neoclassical economics was that markets are efficient, and, if left alone, they would tend to get back to full-employment equilibrium. The result of these beliefs was that, after the 1929 crash, the market was left on its own to cope with the consequences of the crisis. 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. This whole intellectual edifice collapsed after the 1929 crash. Or so it seemed at the time. The theoretical gap was filled by John Maynard Keyness General Theory. 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. Keyness aim was to save capitalism from its own excesses, putting as his central goal the achievement of full employment. Another reason why Keyness work had the potential for a revolutionary-scientific paradigm-shift la Kuhn was that, despite its weaknesses, the changes it could potentially bring about were changes from without, in the sense that it broke with neoclassical economics in important and radical ways. Firstly, he got rid of the individualistic, utilitarian overtones of neoclassical economics as well as the representative individual. Secondly, he denounced the self-equilibrating tendency of the economy through the concepts of deficient demand and unemployment equilibrium. Third, he placed emphasis on the rle of systemic uncertainty. These are certainly radical innovations. But did they revolutionise economics? Although Keyness work did have a significant effect policy-wise, at least for the period 194570, its revolutionary effects on economic science in the longer run are more questionable, and certainly limited. As far as economic policy is concerned, Keyness new ideas did gain considerable currency after World-War Two. The Beveridge Report of 1942 in Great Britain and the
15. Bernanke 2004.

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

16. 17. 18. 19.

Hoover 2003, p. 412. Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004, p. 17. Mirowski 2002; Boland 2006; Rizvi 2001, p. 217. Patterson 2010.


B. Fine, D. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 331 management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice collapsed in the summer of last year.20

This process of formalisation has created a whole generation of so-called idiot savants, scientists with excellent technical skills but without true knowledge of the functioning of the economy. As Taleb puts it, these scholars resemble Lockes definition of a madman: someone reasoning correctly from erroneous premises .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, based upon questionnaires given to Ph.D.-candidates to answer, and interviews with them. One of the conclusions of the research is stunning. Of those questioned, only 3.4 per cent thought that knowledge about the real economy was very important for success in the doctorateprogramme, while 57 per cent thought that excellence in mathematics to be very important. In other words, the students thought that knowledge of techniques and not of the real economy was the basic prerequisite for success in their doctorate-programme.22 The sickness of modern economics has been the subject of increasing attack by a series of leading mainstream-economists from before the crisis. Even Milton Friedman deplored the way in which, economics has become increasingly an arcane branch of mathematics rather than dealing with economic problems.23 Similarly Buiter, writing after the crisis, talks about the unfortunate uselessness of most state of the art academic monetary economics,24 and, for Paul Krugman, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive looking mathematics, for truth. . . . The central cause of the professions failure was the desire for an all-encompassing, intellectually elegant approach that also gave economists a chance to show off their mathematical prowess.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. 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. In his abstract we read:
20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. Greenspan 2008. Taleb 2007, p. 283. Klamer and Colander 1990. Friedman 1999, p. 137. Buiter 2009. Krugman 2009, pp. 534.

B. Fine, D. Milonakis / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 331 This paper extends interplanetary trade theory to an interstellar setting. 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. A solution is derived from economic theory, and two useless but true theorems are proved.26


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, mostly taking a mathematical form, which may be valid mathematically, although the analytical robustness of some of these models is also questionable, but useless in any other sense and empty of any practical relevance. This is the problem of formalism in economics, the triumph of form over substance.27 The seeds of the appearance and further development of this tendency within economic science go back to the marginalist revolution. 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. This was done partly by borrowing tools and concepts such as equilibrium and optimisation from the physical sciences, particularly, to begin with, from static mechanics, and then subsequently from thermodynamics. The pure science of economics, says Walras, one of the protagonists of the marginalist revolution, is a science that resembles the physico-mathematical sciences in every respect.28 And, what is more, the scholar has the right to pursue science for its own sake, equating geometry with economics in this respect.29 Such formalism did not become dominant within the profession until after the Second World-War. It was given a new impetus by the works of Hickss Value and Capital, and Samuelsons Foundations of Economic Analysis, culminating in the mathematical proof for the existence of equilibrium by Arrow and Debreu in 1954.30 Since then, the Samuelsonian tool of constrained optimisation borrowed from thermodynamics became the symbol of the new
26. Krugman 1978. 27. Blaug 1999; Blaug 2003. 28. Walras 1954, pp. 712. 29. As Mirowski (quoted in Rizvi 2001, p. 215) puts it, In appropriating the formalisms of mid-nineteenth-century energy physics and adapting them to the language of utility and prices, the progenitors and their epigones adopted a certain world view, one that had to stress the extreme near identity of physics and economics. 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. 30. Hicks 1939; Samuelson 1947; Arrow and Debreu 1954.


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formalist era, accompanied by Americanisation and standardisation of the discipline, a truly Fordist intellectualism in which you can have any economics as long as it is neoclassical. 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--vis the other social sciences, as exemplified by the process of Gary-Becker-style Chicago economicsimperialism, or, in other words, the process of colonisation of other social sciences using the so-called economic method to analyse all social phenomena.31 This process of formalisation and homogenisation of economics reached a climax approaching near-total dominance in the 1970s. 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, and the developments inside the profession.32 Following the formalist revolution of the 1950s, only those aspects of Keyness thought which could be modelled were incorporated into what came to be known as the neoclassical synthesis. The subsumption of Keyness thought to the formalist revolution, starting with Hickss IS/LM-formulation33 just one year after the publication of Keyness General Theory, meant that all novel and radical aspects of his thought were either left out altogether or else reformulated in mathematical or diagrammatical form, beyond recognition. This gave rise to what has variously been called bastard Keynesianism by Joan Robinson, or hydraulic Keynesianism.34 As Skidelsky puts it, Keynes imposed himself on the profession by a series of profound insights into human behaviour which fitted the turbulence of his times. But these were never could never be properly integrated into the core of the discipline, which expelled them as soon as it conveniently could.35 Substantively, then, Keynes could be thought of as the first major victim of the formalist revolution. So much so, that the one Keynesian school which adhered most closely to Keyness own core-principles and concepts is nowadays classified as heterodox and suffers the same fate from mainstream-economists as any other heterodox school. This process of subsumption, which culminated in the microfoundations of macroeconomics project, coupled with the monetarist and, later on, new classical counter-revolution in macroeconomics, propelled by the stagflation-crisis of the 1970s, led within macroeconomics to the elimination of Keyness economics and its transformation into the new Keynesianism of
31. 32. 33. 34. 35. Fine and Milonakis 2009. Backhouse 2000, p. 151; Lee 2009. Hicks 1967. Coddington 1983. Skidelsky 2009, p. 55.

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

36. 37. 38. 39.

Rizvi 2003, p. 384. Quoted in Kurz 2010, p. 13. Quoted in Rizvi 2003, p. 385. Rivzi 2003, p. 390.


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its commitment to mathematical reasoning, that reasoning always takes second place if its results are unpalatable. Other causes of mainstream-arrogance and intransigence are the institutional monopoly enjoyed by the lite of the profession over the positions in top universities and academic journals, attracting the lions share of funding, occupying central public positions and being awarded 90 per cent of Nobel prizes in economics. In this respect, this years award of the Nobel prize is a scandal. As Varoufakis puts it,
Imagine a world ravaged by a plague, and suppose that the years Nobel Prize for Medicine is awarded to researchers whose whole career is based on the assumption that plagues are impossible. The world would have been outraged. That is precisely how we should feel about yesterdays announcement of the recipients of the 2010 Nobel Prize. . . . Interestingly, these three fine mathematical economists have one thing in common, other than their work on labor markets: in their voluminous theoretical output on unemployment and the like, there is not a smidgeon of a hint, of a mention, of an economic crisis which may boost unemployment in every sector and for all types of workers. Not one!40

To this should be added the direct vested interests of many academics, especially in the financial sector, a feature that was exacerbated during the financialisation-era. 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 . . . Larry Summers?

All of this Charles Ferguson highlights as the convergence of academic economics, Wall Street and political power, not least through his stunning film on the financial crisis and economists.42 Neoliberalism, financialisation
40. Varoufakis 2010. One of the laureates, Christopher Pissarides of the London School of Economics, just a few days before the award was announced, 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 400,000 by the year 2015; see Azariadis, Ioannides and Pissarides 2010. 41. Mirowski 2010, p. 39. 42. Ferguson 2010, p. 3. A recent study has shown that, out of nineteen economists examined who have played prominent and influential roles in recent public policy debates, . . . 13 . . . had private financial affiliations indicative of some possible conflict of interest, but only 5 had clearly

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and the growing power and influence of the financial sector that these have brought about all played an important rle 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 Lukcs 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 dont know what causes recessions. Now Im not a macroeconomist so I dont feel bad about that. (Laughs) Weve 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. Lukcs 1990, quoted in Choonara 2010. 44. Cassidy 2010b.


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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 Keyness 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 rle of confidence in the economy has anything to do with Keyness 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, Fllmer, 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. viiiix.

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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. 1011, 17; Rizvi 2003, pp. 3901. Colander 2000, pp. 1378; Solow 1997; Niehans 1990.


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itself in line with it. Indicative of this is that, in their book, The Changing Face of Economics, Colander et al. have interviewed eleven cutting-edge economists, as they call them, coming mostly from the ranks of the inside-the-mainstream heterodoxy-group.56 Nine of them do highly technical model-building work. Generally, this is true for both pure-theory models and applied-policy models. 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. Indeed, modern economics is defined by little else. This also applies to new fields of research such as evolutionary game-theory and experimental economics which, in other respects, may deviate from neoclassical economics, but not from the use of highly technical model-building.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, but the method of deductive-mathematical modelling itself. In addition to their universalistic nature and lack of historical specificity, the method of mathematical-deductive reasoning, as Lawson has shown, presupposes, first, a closed system in which event-regularities or correlations, that connect events standing in causal sequence, in order to deduce that this event happened because of, or followed from, that event58 occur, and, second, the isolatedindividual agent.59 Because of the erroneous character of both of these presuppositions as far as social and economic phenomena are concerned, mathematical modelling is inappropriate as a leading, let alone an exclusive tool for the analysis of such phenomena. 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.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, being considered unacceptable as scholarly economics. As Colander et al. themselves admit, the lite of the profession is open-minded to new ideas, but closed-minded to alternative methods and approaches. If its not modeled, its
56. Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004. 57. Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004; Rizvi 2003, pp. 3901. Even experimental economics, which is more inductive in nature, is nearly always testing a mathematical model (Ibid.). 58. Lawson 2009, p. 763. 59. Lawson 2003, Chapter 2; Lawson 2009. 60. The exceptions here are evolutionary economics and agent-based complexity-economics.

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not economics.61 This, however, is not true scientific pluralism, a genuinely pluralistic environment, in Daviss words,62 but rather what might be called conditional or pseudo- pluralism and, as such, is no pluralism at all. Be that as it may, this transition has brought with it a move away from the holy trinity of neoclassical economics rationality, efficiency and equilibrium to a more eclectic holy trinity purposeful behaviour, enlightened self-interest and multiple equilibria.63 According to new findings coming from experimental and behavioural economics, the famous homo economicus of the economists imagination is pass. It has been shown experimentally and theoretically that individual behaviour is subject to cognitive and emotional constraints, and new, pro-social elements with regard to human behaviour, such as fairness, reciprocity, altruism, etc., have forcefully entered the picture, making individuals more humane and less like the robotic entities implied by homo economicus.64 Probably the most important common denominator of these new findings is that there is no such thing as a representative individual, and that individuals are moulded by their social environment in decisive ways. One important instance is a cross-cultural study, 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. According to the results of the experiment, peoples behaviour reflected their cultural milieu.65 Even more astonishing are the results from some recent experiments in brain-science, more specifically in neuroplastic research, according to which the social milieu influences not just peoples perceptions (i.e the human mind), but the brain itself.66 All of these findings point in one direction: the social must take precedence over the individual, and the macrolevel over the micro-level. As Heilbroner and Milberg put it, the recognition of the inextricably social roots of all social behaviour leads to the view that macrofoundations must precede microbehaviour, not the other way around.67 Instead, 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, as with the new field of neuroeconomics, delved

61. 62. 63. 64. 65. 66. 67.

Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004, p. 11. Davis 2006, p. 9. Colander, Holt and Rosser, Jr. 2004, p. 1. Frey and Benz 2004, pp. 6875. Henrich, Boyd, Bowles, Camerer, Fehr, Gintis and McElreath 2001. Doidge 2007, pp. 287311. Heilbroner and Milberg 1995, p. 8.


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into the brain itself to discover the key to human behaviour beyond the pursuit of self-interest. Why is this, and what is different from the 1930s when something did happen in the form of the impact of Keyness work on economic policy and, to a lesser extent, on economic theory? The differences lie mostly in the prevailing socio-economic conditions, and the situation within the profession. In the 1930s, when the West was plunged into the vagaries of the Great Depression, the Soviet Union was a rapidly expanding economy. 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.68 Following the collapse of the Central- and Eastern-European economies and the triumph of neoliberalism in the West, coupled with the crisis of social movements, no such imperative exists any more. And, within the profession, the interwar-period was characterised by a true scientific pluralism of methods and approaches. Although neoclassicism was already ascendant, it had not yet dominated the profession, with American institutionalism being the dominant school in the United States. Economics was a much more discursive and much less technique-based discipline.69 In sum, as far as the possible effects of the crisis on economic science are concerned, the emerging picture is one in which the response to crisis ranges from business as usual, to pleas for better models by changing some underlying assumption or moving to more-dynamic ones, to delving deeper into the human psyche. All in all, as Steve Keen puts it, although the irresistible force of the Global Financial Crisis is indeed immense, so too is the inertia of the immovable object of economic belief . The twin pillars of this immovable object are, firstly, the focus on the individual, whether rational or otherwise, and the model-building approach. The only hope for a truly alternative theory lies with political economy that breaks away from both of these pillars. So what does the future hold for political economy?70

4. . . . to political economy As we have seen already, one reaction within economics from those at least willing to recognise the need for something more by way of explanation, is only to draw upon existing models of market-imperfections newly applied. And the leading representative in this respect is Joseph Stiglitz, by virtue of
68. Skidelsky 2009, p. 103. 69. Hodgson 2009, p. 1211. 70. Keen 2009, p. 3.

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both academic and non-academic rles 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, as opposed to scholarship and ideology, hardens on Washington-consensus practice as if his trademark post-Washington consensus never existed).71 We leave aside, though, Stiglitzs frequent misrepresentation of the history of economic thought, which infuriates both those more radical and conservative alike, for everyone from Adam Smith through Keynes and Hayek are forcibly fitted into his market-, as informational, imperfections framework. Yet, in his presidential address to the Eastern Economic Association, he advises that
There will be political battles ahead. Special interests will try to block many of the reforms. The future of our nation will depend in no small measure on the outcome of those battles.72

This is a vivid invitation to analyse special interests, power and conflict. Indeed, Stiglitz claims to understand the unbridled enthusiasm of special interests, which found the arguments for deregulation profit enhancing. Yet, he immediately continues, I am not so clear what motivated so many economists.73 What is, however, clear is what he would have motivate their understanding, namely attention to irrationality and intellectual inconsistency, highly correlated movements in house prices, fat-tailed distributions, new asymmetries of information, perverse incentives, banks too big to fail,74 inducing the conclusion that our financial system failed in its core missions allocating capital and managing risk,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 . . . the new left is trying to make markets work. This is not the stuff of political economy, other than as a point of departure. 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, but not vice-versa. But power within the discipline is totally the other way around. In short, vested interests and ideology are not matters of asymmetric information and market-imperfections, whether in the economy or within economics.

71. 72. 73. 74. 75.

See Bayliss, Fine and van Waeyenberge (eds.) 2011, forthcoming. Stiglitz 2009, p. 281. Stiglitz 2009, p. 293. All citations within Stiglitz 2009, p. 294. Stiglitz 2009, p. 296.


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It is, with apologies to Jane Austen, or indeed, her ghost-writer,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. But not for us, and we respond to such pride and prejudice with three conclusions. Firstly, whatever their prominence, the influence of the mainstream-dissidents on policy has been negligible. Stiglitz, the most energetic, has been totally ineffective in practice with, as remarked, his own closure between theory and reality drawn towards observing the power of (financial) vested interests and ideologies as decisive. We agree, but this begs the question of why his work ends at this point rather than beginning there, as opposed to imperfectly informed and coordinated individuals. Second, when the time does come for more progressive closure, itself contingent upon the balance and strength of forces, movements and organisations, such dissident economists are liable to prove a constraining influence. Third, this suggests that the main task for political economy today is to keep alternative traditions to the mainstream alive, for their own sake, 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, it is apposite to inquire whether heterodox economics and political economy might prosper within the other social sciences, as opposed to within economics itself. And we would emphasise that economics and economics-imperialism have not gone uncontested across the social sciences. And two features have marked the social sciences, other than economics, across the last two decades. One is the retreat from the extremes of postmodernism the preoccupation with the subjective, the inventive, the self-constructing and de-constructed individual, the focus on the meaning and interpretation of the world as opposed to, or even in denial of, its material properties. In the first decades of neoliberalism, postmodernism had a remarkable parallel existence with mainstream-economics. They were totally incompatible with one another. We have the optimising individual with given preferences over given goods, of mainstream-economics; but the subjective, inventive, preoccupation with meaning for postmodernism. We welcome this retreat from the extremes of postmodernism, not because of its more-than-welcome critical examination of concepts, but because of the need to attach such endeavours to the material realities of contemporary capitalism.77

76. See BBC News 2010. 77. For this, and what follows in the context of a critique of social capital, see Fine 2010.

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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. Making imperfect markets work, and reforming institutions are its intellectual marker, especially within economics, the better to make globalisation work. In contrast, across the other social sciences, 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. Its literature, even the word itself, did not exist before 1990. And it was a neoliberal idea: that the state was withering away, and that this is a good thing. Subsequently, the academic literature has taken a different view. It has devoted attention to specifying contemporary capitalism as a world-system; it has acknowledged the continuing importance of the state; and it has not denied globalisation, but argued that it is complex, with a diversity of outcomes across place, time and aspect. So the rise of globalisation as a concept has demonstrated the reaction against neoliberalism within the social sciences by rejecting the original notion, at least, of the reality and desirability of the withering away of the state. After all, neoliberalism has always been about the interventions of the state to promote the interests of private capital, especially in its internationalisation (with financialisation to the fore in the current period). So there are reasons to be cheerful around the prospects for political economy across the social sciences, although the exact content by topic and discipline is variegated. 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, until the balance of forces are more conducive to alternative forces, the best that can be hoped for, as far as the economics-profession is concerned, is a move away from the monolithic approach to economic science characteristic of mainstreameconomics, which fetishises model-building, towards a pluralism of methods and approaches, and away from atomistic approaches towards more-systemic, aggregative, dynamic, historically-specific and socially-embedded types of analysis of capitalism. Institutionally, heterodox economists and political economists can explore ways of organising themselves in pursuit of this prime objective. In Europe, we already have enough Heterodox Political Economy Associations, including the European Association of Evolutionary Political Economy (EAEPE), the Association for Heterodox Economics (AHE), the International Initiative for Promoting Political Economy (IIPPE), the Post-Keynesian group and the


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EuroMemorandum group. At the same time, the Heterodox Economics Newsletter has more than 5,000 subscribers, while Real-World Economics Review, a heterodox journal, has about 11,500 subscribers compared with the 17,000 members of the American Economic Association. Perhaps it is time to think big and think global. Recently there has been a proposal by Edward Fullbrook, editor of Real-World Economics Review, to form a World-Association of Heterodox Economics along the lines of the American Economic Association, with the parallel launching of three international journals and one or more new prototype introductory-level books. In terms of numbers, we could match the mainstream. Other than that, however, we only have the power of ideas against their massive resources, their institutional monopoly over positions in lite-institutions within academia, and their excessive political power and involvement in influential policy-making bodies and institutions. Thus, for such proposals to have any hope of success, 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.78 It will come as no surprise that our own view is that the problems of methodology, realism, and so on that ought to plague the mainstream, as well as incorporating the historical specificity of capitalism, can only be adequately addressed through Marxs value-theory as a starting-point. But this is itself enriched through dialogue with other schools of thought and approaches, with empirical evidence, and even by taking the mainstream as a point of departure. For it is false to see the relationship between political economy and (mainstream-) economics as one-dimensional with, for illustrative purposes, general equilibrium at one base extreme and Marxism at the heavenly other extreme. As it were, get value-theory, the transformation-problem, or the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall correct and all else will fall into place. We do not think so, important though these are in and of themselves and in framing more complex and concrete analysis. Nor is it even adequate to see the relationship between political economy and economics as multidimensional, with monotonic improvement as we move along the separate elements in a putatively progressive direction to incorporate the real, the social, the historical, etc. For the relationship across these dimensions is fractured, fluid and evolving both intellectually and in relation to the real world, activism, ideology and policy-debates. This renders simple dichotomies between political economy and the mainstream impossible to pin down, with blurred boundaries between the two even if a huge
78. More on these organisations may be found by consulting Google.

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amorphous mass of orthodoxy definitely lies on the wrong side of the borders. But, by the same token, there is plenty of heterodoxy, at least in principle, that straddles the border and is located on the side other than orthodoxy, so extensive is the potential even for marginal but destructive deviations from it. This suggests the need for a unity of purpose in criticising the mainstream and in posing alternatives. For, if there is one thing as counterproductive as a mainstream-economist, it is a political economist who knows he or she is right and everybody else is wrong. So let those committed to political economy learn from one another through friendly fire rather than perishing by it. For yesterdays philosophers are todays economists. As Marx observed of them, paraphrasing for modern times:79
Hitherto economists have had the solution of all riddles lying in their mathematical models, and the stupid, 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. Now economics has become mundane, and the most striking proof of this is that economics itself has been drawn into the torment of the crisis, not only externally but also internally. But, if constructing the future and settling everything for all times are not our affair, it is all the more clear what we have to accomplish at present: I am referring to ruthless criticism of all that exists, 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.

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79. For the original letter from Marx to Ruge, see Marx 1975.


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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. OBrien, 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: 48095, available at: < dreamsR.pdf>. Broad, William 2006, Rogue Giants at Sea, The New York Times, 11 July, available at: <http://>. Brus, Wodzimierz 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, Ccile Madel and Vololona Rabeharisoa 2002, The Economy of Qualities, Economy and Society, 31, 2: 194217. 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, 199214, available at: <http://>. Colander, David 2000, The Death of Neoclassical Economics, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 22, 2: 12743, available at: < ancoec/0237.pdf>. 2001, The Death of Neoclassical Economics, in The Lost Art of Economics, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Colander, David, Hans Fllmer, 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: 120. 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: Its 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: 47884. 2010, Theories of Social Capital: Researchers Behaving Badly, London: Pluto. 2011, Neo-Liberalism in Retrospect? Its 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: 738, 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: 120521. 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: 27, 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: 122. Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003, Beyond Capital: Marxs 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: 75977. Lukcs, 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-Franzsische Jahrbcher: 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: 2841, available at: < publications_article_2010_Summer_mirowski.php>. Naud, Wim 2009, After the G-20 Summit: What Prospects for Global Development?, available at: <>. Niehans, Jrg 1990, A History of Economic Thought: Classic Contributions, 17201980, 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: 35777. 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?, Ddalus, 126, 1: 3958. 2010, Building a Science of Economics for the Real World, available at: <http:// Solow_Testimony.pdf>.

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Stiglitz, Joseph E. 2008, Turn Left for Sustainable Growth, Economists Voice, 5, 4: 13, available at: < Stiglitz_turnleft.pdf>. 2009, The Current Economic Crisis and Lessons for Economic Theory, Eastern Economic Journal, 35, 3: 28196. Taleb, Nassim Nicholas 2007, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, London: Allen Lane. The Economist 2009, Monsters of the Deep, 17 September, available at: <http://www.economist. com/node/14446734>. Varoufakis, Yannis 2010, Adding Insult to Injury: On the 2010 Bank of Sweden Economics Prize in Memory of Alfred Nobel, Monthly Review, 12 October, available at: <http://mrzine.>. Walras, Lon 1954 [1874], Elements of Pure Economics, translated by William Jaff, London: Allen and Unwin. Wolf, Martin 2009, Fixing Global Finance: How to Curb Financial Crises in the 21st Century, New Haven: Yale University Press.

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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. Titled Luibov Popova Untitled Textile Design on William Morris wallpaper for HM 2010, the print is issued in a run of 100. Mabbs 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, Willow Boughs, Trellis, Brier Rabbit, Medway and Daisy. As a consequence of the different wallpapers employed and the registration process, each work will be unique. The prints measure 52.5 x 70 cm, and each one is signed and numbered by the artist. The artwork is available for purchase at the price of 75 (unframed, postage not included) and can be ordered from news/mabb-print-buy. The print has already been bought by museums in the UK and America including the Victoria and Albert Museum. We hope you will see this as an opportunity to acquire a fascinating artwork. Mabb regularly reworks the artistic imagery of Marxism to produce startling new configurations. In this print he combines William Morriss hand-made
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573897


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

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Beyond Simple Fidelity to the Event: The Limits of Alain Badious Ontology
Panagiotis Sotiris
Department of Sociology, University of the Aegean, Mytilene

Abstract* This article attempts a Marxist critique of Alain Badious positions. The importance of Badious ontology as an affirmation of the possibility of radical-historical novelty is stressed, but also its limits. These limits have to do with Badious abandonment of a dialectical-relational conception of social reality, his refusal of any causal connection between social reality, political decision and event, and the absence of a theory of ideology and hegemony in his work. Consequently, Badious notion of a subtractive politics cannot be considered an answer to the open questions of communist strategy, despite his endorsement of the communist hypothesis. Keywords Badiou, Marxism, dialectics, social theory, political subjectivity, communist politics

1. Introduction Despite his long theoretical and political trajectory, from Sartre, to Althusser, to militant Maoism and finally to his own highly idiosyncratic version of ontology,1 it is only relatively recently that Alain Badious work has drawn widespread attention and made him one of the most influential radical thinkers of our time. Badious main preoccupations, the question of the event, the need for militancy and the question of the political subject, respond to certain aspects of the current historical conjuncture. 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. 1. For a general overview of Badious theoretical and ideological trajectory, see Hallward 2003. In an autobiographical text, Badiou refers to Sartre, Lacan and Althusser as his philosophical masters (Badiou 2004b).
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573789


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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 Badious 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 Althussers reformulation of an aleatory materialism of the contingent encounter2 or to Foucaults 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 Badious 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 Badious 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 Badious 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 Badious positions from a Marxist perspective, influenced by Althussers reformulation of materialist dialectics, hoping to make clear that the limits and shortcomings of Badious endeavour lie at precisely the points at which he distances himself from such a perspective.

2. The absent space of relations We start with Badious 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 Badious 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 Badious criticism of postmodern doxa, see also iek 1999, pp. 1312. 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. 14). 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 Badious 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 Badious 1975 pamphlet, Thorie 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 Lacans 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 Badious 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 Marxs 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:

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original conception of the primacy of relations in a novel form of social ontology, an ontology of relations,16 that transcends traditional-philosophical distinctions:
At bottom, ensemble, social and relations all say the same thing. 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; the other that individuals are the primary reality, from which universals are abstracted. For amazingly, 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, labour, love, reproduction, domination, conflict etc.), and the fact that it is these relations which define what they have in common, the genus. They define this because they constitute it at each moment in multiple forms. They thus provide the only effective content of the notion of essence applied to the human being (i.e. to human beings).17

Pierre Macherey has insisted that social relations . . . constitute a multiplicity non-totalisable a priori, because they form an ensemble, a totality of fact and not of right, which is kept only by their encounter, an encounter that is not fatally harmonious or convergent, but can take and more often takes violent and conflictual forms.18 And, again, Pierre Macherey has summarised this conception in his reading of Spinoza by arguing that only relations exist in the proper sense.19 That is why it is necessary to go back to Marxs insistence on treating social relations as dialectical contradictions. This is exemplified in the relational conception of capital and labour, in the sense that it is the capital-relation, as structural-social antagonism, that calls social classes into existence, which has been a cornerstone of both the Marxist theory of value and the Marxist theory of classes. This is a conception of social relations as forms of a complex interplay of antagonism and mutual determination. In it, not only is it the relation of the elements that produces social reality as such, but also each element is actually formed within the contours of the relation. As Balibar has insisted, in Marxs conception, contradiction is
1) To abstract from the historical process and to define the religious sentiment regarded by itself, and to presuppose an abstract isolated human individual; 2) The essence therefore can by him only be regarded as species, as an inner dumb generality which unites many individuals only in a natural way. (Marx 2002.) 16. Balibar 1995, p. 30. 17. Balibar 1995, pp. 301. 18. Macherey 2008, pp. 1512. 19. Nexistent proprement parler que des relations (Macherey 1979, p. 218).


P. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 3559 [n]ot a moral impossibility or a contradiction in terms, but what might be called a real contradiction, equally distinct from both a purely formal contradiction (abstract terms which exclude each other by definition), and a mere real opposition (of external forces acting in opposite directions, where one can calculate the outcome or the point of equilibrium).20

However, during the past few years, Badiou has made an effort to answer some of these criticisms and to offer a more complex version of his ontology. Logics of Worlds sets out to provide what Badiou calls a greater logic.21 He attempts to answer the questions left open in Being and Event, 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.
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, or of appearing, or of worlds.22

Badiou is trying to present a much more complex theoretical perspective, 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. 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, what can appear and what cannot in a certain world.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, which assures the cohesion of the being-there of a part of the world.24 The generic form of appearing of a determinate multiple is an object.25 This appearing in the world also has a retroactive effect on the multiple-being that supports it,26 leading to the dialectic of being and appearing. Badiou was well aware that his conception of an ontology of pure being made it practically impossible to think historical change. 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. Balibar 1995, p. 102. 21. Badiou 2009a. 22. Badiou 2009a, p. 8. 23. Badiou 2009a, p. 118. 24. Badiou 2009a, p. 572. 25. Object is the name of the generic form of the appearing for a determinate multiple. (Badiou 2009a, p. 589.) 26. Appearing in a world as an object retroactively affects the multiple-being which supports this object. (Badiou 2009a, p. 575.)

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appear within this world.27 This problematic indeed adds to Badious schema a degree of complexity absent from the original formulation of his ontology. 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, 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. Moreover, he refuses to offer a theorisation of the relation between an appearing and the pure multiplicity of being, leading again to a notion of radical contingency. As Peter Hallward has noted,
Between the being of a pure multiplicity and an appearing as docile or insurgent lies an abyss without mediation. 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, so far, prefers to consign to contingency.28

It is true that in this revised ontological schema, Badiou includes the notion of the relation. However, we are still far from a relational conception. This specific relational constitution is at the level of appearing of a particular world, not of ontology. That is why we will give the name logic to the laws of the relational network which determine the worldly appearing of multiple-being.29 Badiou defines a relation between two objects as a function between two sets, a function that creates neither existence nor difference.30 That is why he insists on presenting relations as ontologically subordinate to the elements that relate to each other.
A relation, within appearing, is necessarily subordinated to the transcendental intensity of the apparents that it binds together. Being-there and not relation makes the being of appearing. . . . [A] relation creates neither existence nor difference.31

Furthermore, despite his many references to dialectics, he insists in Logics of Worlds on refusing the notion of dialectical negation. On the contrary, he insists on treating negation as logical (belonging to the level of appearing), not

27. 28. 29. 30. 31.

Badiou 2009a, p. 122. Hallward 2008, p. 118. Badiou 2009a, p. 156. Badiou 2009a, p. 576. Badiou 2009a, p. 310.


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ontological, as derivative and not primary, replacing it with the notion of the reverse.
Its remarkable that what will serve to sustain negation in the order of appearing is the first consequence of the transcendental operations, and by no means an initial given. Negation, in the extended and positive form of the existence of the reverse of a being, is a result. We can say that as soon as we are dealing with the being of the being of being-there, that is with the being of appearing as bound to the logic of a world, it follows that the reverse of a being exists, in the sense that there exists a degree of appearance contrary to its own.32

The result is that anyone looking for a more dialectical conception remains unsatisfied, especially since Badiou insists that relations cannot fundamentally affect the elements that enter into a relation with each other. Contrary to the insistence of Althusser or Poulantzas33 that classes do not exist outside of the class-struggle, an antagonistic relation between social classes is not, according to Badiou, the basic condition of their existence, nor does the balance of forces affect their form of social being. 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), there is no clear sense that it can qualify, shape or otherwise affect the objects related. A relation of struggle between two interests or classes, for instance, 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.34

This leads us to another important contradiction in Badious endeavour, namely his refusal of any causal relation between social reality and political decision and event. Peter Hallward has described this tendency as Badious insistence on the difference between what people are and what people can do.35 He also stresses Badious rejection of historical causality:
Badiou rejects any constituent relation between truths and historical or social development, along with any detailed notion of interaction between levels of
32. Badiou 2009a, p. 136. [T]he reverse is indeed a logical category (and therefore relative to the worldliness of beings); it is not an ontological category (linked to the intrinsic multiple composition of beings, or, if you will, to the mathematical world). (Badiou 2009a, p. 152.) 33. Althusser 1973, pp. 2930. Poulantzas 2008, p. 328. 34. Hallward 2008, p. 115. 35. Hallward 2004, p. 12. According to Jason Barker, [f ]or Badiou (knowledge of ) capitalism is unable to determine events, and so has no direct grasp on political processes. (Barker 2006, p. xx.)

P. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 3559 socio-historical causation geographic, demographic, economic, technological, etc. He refuses any constituent mediation between subjects and the individuals they transform, between evental sites and the situations to which they belong, between the occurring of events and the sites that they occupy.36


On the contrary, what we have is the insistence on the radically contingent character of political choices. This is also made evident by Badious refusal to treat socio-economic analysis as an essential prerequisite of political intervention.37 It is what Alberto Toscano has described as Badious hostility to a communism based on any variety of socio-economic immanence.38 And, although Logics of Worlds elaborates more on the question of the emergence of events out of a given situation, historical causality and the articulation of transformative-political practice on existing social relations (as forms of historical causality) remain an open question. Despite the admission of a greater degree of complexity, especially through notions such as the appearing, the world and the body, this ontological schema remains, despite the usual mathematical rigour, in the end descriptive. Given the elements of a situation, we can see different ways of arranging, and different possibilities of articulations including the non-appearance of a given possibility. What determines these possibilities and impossibilities and the relation between being and appearing remains within the limits of radical contingency. In a way, the very strength of Badious overall argument, his conception of an endless possibility of new events, is also its weakness in the sense of the refusal in advance of any form of relational determination and/or historical causality, even in the sense of the absent cause of structural causality.39

3. Antagonism and the subject The refutation of the primacy of relations and of dialectical contradictions also marks Badious treatment of social antagonism and the subject. The theoretical challenge for Marxism has not just been to present a theory of the antagonism of political subjects, 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.
36. Hallward 2004, p. 13. 37. On Badious disregard for socio-economic analysis, see Toscano 2004b; Hallward 2003, pp. 27984. 38. Toscano 2004a, p. 144. 39. For the notion of structural causality, see Althusser and Balibar 1990.


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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.40 However, the main question facing any attempt to think a materialist dialectic has been not only to theorise division and antagonism, but how to think social cohesion, the One, as always traversed by contradictions and conflicts that not only entail the possibility of rupture, but also provide its only possibility of unstable unity. Badiou has always been preoccupied with the notion of the subject, as a result of both his engagement with communist forms of militancy and his interest in the work of Lacan.41 Badious emphasis has always been that the crucial moment is that of the emergence of forms of political subjectivity. Along with the emphasis on truth, fidelity to the event, and correct naming, it attests to Badious post-Leninism.42 Badious conception of antagonism is also based upon this conception of the subject. In its first formulation in Theory of the Subject, it takes the form of an antagonism between the political subject par excellence, namely the proletariat, and the current configuration of an historical situation. Indeed, the very notion of a political subject, which, in Badiou, is always the result of a material process related to an event and not something subjective, is structured around the notion of the proletariat as the transformation of the working class into a specific political subjectivity. With this, Badiou is indeed renewing the thinking of the collective-political subject and its constitution. It is also in line with the conception of the proletariat in the early writings of Marx, as that which exceeds and confronts the total configuration of capitalist social and political constitution. In the Introduction to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Right, Marx referred to the proletariat in the following way:
[T]he formation of a class with radical chains, a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates, 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; . . . which does not stand in any one-sided antithesis to the consequences but in allround antithesis to the premises of the German state; a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating itself from all other spheres of

40. Badiou 2005a, pp. 89101. 41. In this sense, his pivotal work on the notion of the subject is indeed Theory of the Subject (Badiou 1982; Badiou 2009d). 42. As early as 1977, Badiou insisted on referring to Maoism as post-Leninism. That which we name Maoism is less a final result than a task, a historical guideline. It is a question of thinking and practicing post-Leninism (Badiou 2009d, p. 182).

P. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 3559 society and thereby emancipating all other spheres of society[.] . . . This dissolution of society as a particular estate is the proletariat.43


However, I think that the evolution of Marxs 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, 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. Productive relations determine, in a non-linear way, the constant re-emergence of collective subjects in conflicting social positions. These subjects are the result of those relations, which they do not pre-exist, and are therefore mutually conditioned by social antagonism. The constant re-emergence of collective subjects is also determined by political antagonisms and the emergence of conflicting-ideological elements. Following Althusser, we can say that this can lead both to the over-determination of social contradictions and to specific forms of displacement. It can also explain why the relation of force is always complex and uneven. For example, after World-War Two, the general balance of forces was in favour of popular movements, but, at the same time, was over-determined by the aspects of bourgeois hegemony within the communist movement, 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, display its strength and change the given relations of force, 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. It is through the intervention in a relation that its terms are changed, 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. On the contrary, Badiou, 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, avoiding any reference to pre-constituted social and political forces, in the end tends to underestimate this primacy of the relation and to suggest that, in social and political antagonism, it is not the relation that is primary, but the intrinsic force of each warring party.44 We can say that Badiou remains within the contours of a logic of antagonism, whereas,

43. Marx 1975, p. 186. 44. Hallward 2008, p. 116.


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in Marx, we can find a logic of the contradiction.45 As Balibar has suggested, the condition for the development of a conflict is the
interiorisation of the relation itself, in such a way that the antagonistic terms become the functions or bearers of this relation, the result being that we must see class-relations as relations which the oppressed cannot avoid, unless they destroy the relation of subjection itself, by this transforming themselves into individuals other than the ones the existing relation constitutes.46

The problem here partly originates in the way in which Badiou treats the notion of overdetermination. He refers positively to overdetermination as the space of politics,47 but he treats it as the possibility of subjective-political militancy and intervention.48 However, what is missing is exactly a conception of overdetermination as the expression of the complexity of objective-causal determination, of the historically specific and conjunctural condensation of contradictions, of the possibility of displacements and/or ruptures and, therefore, of the possibility of actually intervening politically in order to change the balance of forces. Overdetermination, at least in its initial theorisation by Althusser,49 referred to the possibility of a materialist conception of political practice based on the complex, contradictory and, consequently, open-to-change character of social reality, not simply to the possibility of subjective intervention. It is true that Badiou credits Althusser with opening the question of a subjectivity without a subject,50 but he insists that this designates a process of thought that balances over into the possible, and does so in accordance with a partisanship, a prescription, that nothing guarantees, neither in the objective order of the economy nor in the statist order of the subject, but which nonetheless is capable of tracing a real trajectory in the situation.51 Despite the efforts by Badiou to distance his position from a subjectivist conception of political subjectivity, I think that he is far from offering an adequate answer. On the contrary, 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, considered as a process without
45. Balibar 1997, p. 298. 46. Balibar 1997, p. 299. 47. Overdetermination is in truth the political place (Badiou 2006a, p. 65). 48. And it must indeed be said that overdetermination belongs to the subjective realm. (Ibid.). 49. For this, see Althusser 2005. 50. Badiou 2006a, p. 64. 51. Badiou 2006a, p. 66.

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a subject. This position, combined with Lenins conception of the political party as a knowledge-process, Gramscis conception of the party as a laboratory of new forms of political intellectuality52 and Maos 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, open up the possibility to truly rethink questions of political subjectivity and agency in non-subjectivist ways. Equally important is the absence of a theory of ideology in Badious work. This was evident even in the 1976 pamphlet on ideology,53 where Althussers theory of ideology was treated as a mystification of the insurrectionary potential of the proletarian world-view. 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,54 and, in Ethics, he returns to naming as a problem, referring to forms of political evil as false names of a situation,55 and as the inability to articulate the truth of a situation, but we are far from a theory of ideological practices as socially-necessary misrecognitions. In Logics of Worlds, he introduces a categorisation of subjective positions vis--vis the truth of a situation: fidelity, reaction, obscurantism, and offers four different possibilities: production, denial, occultation and resurrection (second fidelity). Although this description of subjective positions is fascinating as a metaphor for what is indeed at stake in political practice, it nevertheless remains formalistic compared with the possibility of a theory of the complex, uneven, and always overdetermined articulation of politics and ideology offered by both the Althusserian theory of ideology and Gramscian elaborations on the complexity of hegemony. This absence of a theory of ideology and hegemony and their contradictions can explain, as Alberto Toscano has demonstrated, the problem Badiou has with theorising the possibility of reactionary-political subjects.56 I think that a simple opposition between correct and false naming
52. See, for example, the following quotation from the Prison Notebooks: One should stress the importance and significance which, in the modern world, political parties have in the elaboration and diffusion of conceptions of the world, 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. . . . 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. 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, understood as a real historical process, takes place. (Gramsci 1971, p. 335, translation modified.) Hoare and Smith use intelligentsias instead of intellectualities, but I think that the latter is much closer to the point. See also the French edition of the Cahiers de prison (Gramsci 1978, p. 187). 53. Badiou and Balms 1976. 54. Badiou 2005d, p. 204. 55. Badiou 2001. 56. Toscano 2006.


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of a situation cannot account for the complexity of ideological contradictions. It cannot account for the possibility either of ideological domination or of the emergence of antagonistic ideological practices, political discourses, and knowledge-effects as a result of these struggles that prevent total ideological closure. 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. Also missing is the very complexity of political practice that the notion of hegemony suggests. Despite Badious emphasis on truth being at the same time singular and eternal, and his new emphasis on the phenomenology of the appearing, we are still far from the complex articulation of knowledge, political experimentation and social transformation within emancipatory politics that the notion of hegemony entails.57 Consequently, Badious 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.58 This marks an important contradiction in the thinking of Badiou. Badiou tries to think the possibility of political subjectivity in an immanent, non-dualist mode, linking it to the contours of a situation and the operations of fidelity and intervention.59 Thus, he avoids both the shortcomings of any identification of theoretical antihumanism (the death of man) with a death-of-the-subject position, and the limits of Lacans thinking of the subject as an empty structural position.60 However, there are aspects in his theory of subjectivisation which seem like a more traditional dichotomy between subject and situation (or structure and agency), with subjective decisions being at the origin of new political sequences. This is exemplified in the way that Badiou stresses the importance of the subjects intervention and decision in the emergence of a new situation.61 On the one hand, it would be unjust to accuse Badiou of decisionism,62 since he insists that [a] subject is not a result any more than it is an origin and that
57. For a reading of Gramsci that stresses the theoretical complexity of the notion of hegemony, see Thomas 2009. 58. Thinking is sufficient to change the world: such is the ultimate distillation of Badious idealism. (Brassier 2006, p. 74.) 59. [T]he subject, as local situated configuration, is neither the intervention nor the operator of fidelity, but the advent of their Two, that is, the incorporation of the event into the situation in the mode of a generic procedure. (Badiou 2005d, p. 393.) 60. On Lacans conception of the subject, see Lacan 1973; iek (ed.) 1998. 61. A subject measures the newness of the situation to-come (Badiou 2005d, p. 406). [I]t is possible to give the following definition of a subject: that which decides an undecidable from the standpoint of an indiscernible. (Badiou 2005d, p. 407.) 62. For an insistence on Badious decisionism, see iek 1999, pp. 15861. For a criticism of ieks position, see Power 2006.

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it is the local status of a procedure,63 thus treating the subject as the effect of material processes64 and avoiding the voluntarism of traditional decisionism. On the other hand, the sharp dichotomy between the situation and the event, the absence of any direct causal relation between the situation and the irruption of the event, and the notion of subjective fidelity, can, indeed, at the end, notwithstanding Badious own precautions, over-emphasise the transformative effects of subjective decisions. In this sense, we are still faced with radical aporiae concerning the theory of the subject, rather than definite answers. Badiou tends to reject a programmatic conception of politics, which would be based upon knowledge of the terrain of struggle, suggesting, instead, a conception of the political intervention as a wager, where any knowledge is possible only retroactively.
Intervention as a wager politicises a prepolitical situation by means of the interpretation it proposes where the event is constructed . . . Therefore it is the opposite of a savant and programmatic intervention. It does not pronounce what must be done, but what would have been thought. This future-anterior is constitutive, because it is in the intervention that this thought is confirmed both in the intervening hypothesis and the direct agents of the situation.65

This is can be considered a reformulation of a materialist theory of the political gesture, as the intervention that inaugurates a new political sequence and marks the difference between the political and the pre-political. As an emphasis on the possibility of radical politics in a time of crisis for revolutionary politics, it is valuable. However, it seems like a pre-Marxist theory of politics, at least if we consider politics inspired by Marxism as articulating the knowledge of social relations and contradictions, the break with any form of ideological misrecognition, the assessment of conjunctural dynamics, and the emergence of political forms that intervene both at the level of political power-relations, but also at the level of social relations of force. 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, to always take into consideration how the social and political forces entering the struggle are transformed because of this participation in the struggle, to engage in practices of self-criticism and correction. This, indeed, requires thinking in the futureanterior, as Badiou suggests, and a need to never forget the open, contingent, and even aleatory character of political practices. But it does not mean that it
63. Badiou 2005d, p. 392. 64. As Bosteels stresses: The subject, finally, is a material process of making or doing, which requires a putting to work of an event. (Bosteels 2002, p. 205.) 65. Badiou 1985, p. 107.


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is impossible to combine participation in the struggle and knowledge of the field of struggle, but also of the ways contradictory and antagonistic social relations condition social forces.

4. Historical process and historical exception Badiou always refers to exceptional historical events, and not to the long- or medium-term historical processes or political projects that were at the basis of these events. He insists on the originality of October 1917 as a political sequence that created the possibility of a new situation, but not on the complex and uneven articulation of political struggles, class-antagonisms and imperialist conflicts that shaped Russian society, gave birth to Bolshevism as a political current and created the very possibility of October 1917 as an event. Lenins solitude in his thinking of the possibility of the October-event, his solitude in the precise naming of the situation, does not mean that Red October was simply an exception: it was an historical possibility, 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). The same can account for Badious insistence more on the Cultural Revolution, and less on the whole complex process of the Chinese Revolution.66 Even his reference to May 1968 takes the form of fidelity, rather than as a confrontation with the lack of a revolutionary strategy which marked the 1970s. The necessarily exceptional character of the event can be read in two ways. One is to treat it as the possibility of new events, new social forms, new political configurations, arising out of existing elements. This is indeed the basis of revolutionary politics. However, it can also be read as a reference to the radical contingency of historical change, in the sense of the complete impossibility of thinking historical tendencies in advance. Although there have been criticisms of the suggestion that Badiou treats the event as a miracle,67 the problem of the articulation of the possibility of the event upon an actual situation, the basis of any attempt at theorising the intelligibility of social reality, remains open. Even the new emphasis on change in Logics of Worlds does not lead to a re-appreciation of historical dialectics, but to a reaffirmation
66. Badiou 2010, pp. 15667. 67. This was the reading suggested by iek in The Ticklish Subject (iek 1999). See also Bensad 2004. For a criticism of this position, see Bosteels 2002. See also Hewletts comment that Badious explanatory framework is in fact rather a static one which is not able to explain transformation at all. (Hewlett 2004, p. 346.)

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of the insistence on the event as exception and radical break, as the rise of the new.68 This can also be seen in the emphasis Badiou places on the void, as that which is subtracted from presentation and thus makes possible the intervention that will bring forward the unpresented.69 As a reference to social realitys character as always open to transformation and change, it is a necessary ontological assertion. But the question of an immanent potentiality for change (social change as objective possibility), the main question facing political philosophy from the Enlightenment onwards, remains open, since Badious 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. It is true that the more complex social ontology offered in Logics of Worlds includes reference to the inexistent, as what is and at the same time is not in a certain world,70 marking the possibility both of exclusion but also of emergence, but we are still far from an answer. 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. I refer here to Badious notion of the communist invariants introduced in his 1976 pamphlet on ideology.71 According to Badiou, communism (in the sense of egalitarian and anti-statist aspirations) is not a singular-political project, but a universal characteristic of all forms of popular struggle, a position to which he is still faithful.72

5. The limits of subtractive politics This can also be seen to account for another lacuna in Badious thinking of political strategy. It is well known that Badious politics, both in his writings and in his engagement in LOrganisation Politique, has been a form of

68. On this point, see the way Slavoj iek opposes the notion of repetition in Deleuze (Zizek 2007). 69. On Badious treatment of the notion of the void, see Badiou 2005d, pp. 529. See also the comments in Gillespie 2001. 70. [G]iven an object in a world, there exists a single element of this object which inexists in that world. It is this element that we call the proper inexistent of the object. It testifies, in the sphere of appearance, for the contingency of being-there. (Badiou 2009a, p. 324.) 71. Badiou and Balms 1976. 72. From Spartacus to Mao . . ., from the Greek democratic insurrections to the worldwide decade 19661976, it is and has been, in this sense, a question of communism. (Badiou 2003b, p. 131.) See also the references to eternal truths in the Introduction to Logics of Worlds.


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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.74 I believe that this is precisely the result of his emphasis on revolutionary change as an exceptional event, not predicted or prepared in advance, facilitated only by having roots in those social strata that can be the vanguard of change, that is, the most dispossessed, oppressed and exploited segments of the popular classes, that can indeed represent the excess in the current social and political configuration. This thinking of the political event rules out the possibility of actually intervening in the balance of forces, changing the elements of the situation based on knowledge of the dynamics of the situation, and making possible the emergence of radical change as a material stake. On the contrary, Badious 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. The canonical statement by Lenin, according to which society is divided into classes and that classes are represented by political parties is out of date. In its essence this statement is homogenous to the parliamentary conception.75

This is a dismissal corollary to his refusal to think causal relations between different instances of social totality. But this can be also read as a retrospective dismissal of one of the most important theoretical reversals that Marxs intervention brought forward: the proposition that politics is not an autonomous activity, but is conditioned by social relations of force.76 The radical contingency inherent in transformative politics is not the result of the absence of causality, but of the contradictory and open character of social determination. Forms of mass-political militancy and organisation (parties, trade-unions, social movements etc.) have not been simple reflections of capitalist-parliamentary logic, but also forms of collective intervention that bring forward the materiality of social antagonism.77 This raises important questions: How can we persuade ordinary people to engage themselves, wholeheartedly, 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. On the notion of post-Maoism, see Bosteels 2005. 74. Organisation Politique 2001; Hallward 2002. 75. Badiou 1985, pp. 867. 76. On the relation between economics and politics, see Balibar 1997, pp. 2639. 77. One should not forget that labour-parties, like the German SPD were the first massparties in the strict sense.

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sequences without thinking in terms of creating the organisational and political forms of radical change, even if this means also intervening in the difficult terrain of the political scene, 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, Badious conception of a politics at a distance from the state would seem to be simultaneously a political maximalism and minimalism, oscillating between fidelity to the possibility of change-as-radical-rupture, and insistence on the impossibility of thinking the revolutionary subject as counterhegemonic alliance directed against the state. It is as if Badiou, at the same time, tries to think politics and the limits of politics or the limits to politics.78 Part of the problem comes from the place Badiou accords to state in his ontology. He treats the state, not as material apparatus or structure, particular to different modes of production, but as a general meta-structure that guarantees the oneness of a particular historical situation.79 Badiou rejects the classical-Marxist position, first formulated by Engels, 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.80 Instead, 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,81 and he explicitly refers to the permanence of the state in post revolutionary societies. Badiou seems to suggest that any effort to think the politics of social change must choose between two alternatives: either we become staterevolutionaries, entangled in the dialectics of terror and equality,82 or we limit ourselves to a politics of local struggles, at a distance from the state, refusing to create forms of counter-hegemonic representations and collective-political projects aimed at taking power, and of patiently waiting to discern the possibility of the event:
Rather than a warrior beneath the walls of the State, a political activist is a patient watchman of the void instructed by the event[.] . . . There the activist constructs the means to sound, if only for an instant, the site of the unpresentable, and the means to be thenceforth faithful to the proper name that, afterwards, he or she

78. Kouvlakis 2000. 79. The State is simply the necessary metastructure of every historico-social situation, which is to say the law that guarantees that there is Oneness (Badiou 2005d, p. 105). On this, see also Hallward 2003, pp. 95100. 80. Badiou 2005d, p. 110. 81. Ibid. 82. Badiou 2006c, pp. 2937.


P. Sotiris / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 3559 will have been able to give to or hear, one cannot decide this non-place of place, the void.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. 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, although he is vague as to what might constitute the new popular discipline he is suggesting.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. The open challenge facing us is not to denounce the party-form, but to rethink it and experiment with forms of collective organisation and political representation and intellectuality that would avoid statist connotations. In the same sense, the difficult question is not simply to dismiss any thinking about taking power, 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. And these are not only theoretical questions, but also urgent political exigencies. The open questions facing the attempts at genuinely leftwing governance initiating processes of social transformation in Latin America (Venezuela and Bolivia), the difficulties of the revolutionary process in Nepal, the creation of revolutionary bases on the part of the Maoists in India, and, of course, the continuing importance of the Zapatista experiment, all of these attest to the actual urgency of questions of organisation, representation and power.85 Compared with the impasse of a great part of the contemporary Left, exemplified in the oscillation between the pragmatism of participation in centre-left governments and simple anticapitalist verbalism, a politics at a distance from the state, helping movements of resistance against capitalist restructuring and neoliberal policies, has been more than necessary. But, at the same time, it is still a politics within the contours of the crisis of left- or communist strategy, not an exit from it. And this can also be seen in Badious own political practice. On the one hand, we have Badiou as a political commentator, always ready to offer critical answers to current questions, refusing to treat immigrants through the lenses of a multicultural perspective, insisting on a politics of labour, criticising Israels policies, resisting all forms of current racism, opposing US-imperialism,
83. Badiou 2005d, p. 111. 84. Badiou 2008a. 85. For a recent discussion of theoretical and political problems facing current discussions of communist strategy and its relation to the state, see Bosteels 2010.

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and defending the legacy of the unfinished revolutions of the twentieth century.86 On the other hand, he does not offer any other prescriptions other than a general call to collective action. 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, and, at the same time, against the state (in the sense described by Poulantzas in State, Power and Socialism)?87 Badiou is far from offering answers to these questions. There is no doubt that Badious position is explicitly anticapitalist. But it is not enough to actually initiate a recommencement of emancipatory politics, precisely because his minimal Marxism88 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, but fails to actually define it as an historical potentiality. Badiou has recently insisted in defending what he terms the Idea of Communism.89 The notion of the Idea, as defined in his Second Manifesto for Philosophy, refers to the incorporation of an individual in a truth-process and represents the position of subjective fidelity.90 It is the possibility of an individual understanding that her participation in a singular political process can also be an historical decision. It is also an insistence on the historical possibility of new truths. At the same time, he insists that the actual balance of forces is negative.91 That is why the question facing us today is not the victory of the communist Idea, but to give a vigorous subjective existence to the communist hypothesis,92 through a combination of thought-construction and experimenting with singular, local struggles.93 We can say that the problem
86. On Badious political interventions, see Badiou 2003a, Badiou 2004a, Badiou 2005b, Badiou 2006b, Badiou 2007. 87. Poulantzas 1980. 88. On the notion of Badious minimal Marxism, see Toscano 2008. 89. See Badiou 2010, Chapter 4. 90. Badiou 2009b. 91. Revolutionaries are divided and only weakly organized, broad sectors of working-class youth have fallen prey to nihilistic despair, the vast majority of intellectuals are servile. (Badiou 2010, p. 259.) 92. Badiou 2010, p. 260. 93. By combining intellectual constructs, which are always global and universal, with experiments of fragments of truths, which are local and singular, yet universally transmittable, we can give new life to the communist hypothesis, or rather to the Idea of communism, in individual consciousnesses. (Badiou 2010, p. 260.) [I]t is not the victory of the hypothesis which is at stake today, but the conditions of its existence. This is our task, during the reactionary interlude that now prevails: through the combination of thought processes always global, or universal, in character and political experience, always local or singular, yet transmissible, to


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is that although Badiou defends the communist hypothesis as an ideal of emancipation and equality that can still be traced in current mass-movements, whilst at the same time comprising a necessary form of subjective engagement, he avoids defending what one might call the revolutionary hypothesis, 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. As a result, Badious 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, but many crucial questions remain unanswered. What is missing is exactly a process of thinking through the complex articulation of economics, politics and ideology that marks the originality of the Marxist conception of political practice, a conception that at the same time undermines the autonomy of the political, viewing the state as a result of social antagonisms, and treats contradictions and antagonisms at the economic level as political stakes, 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. What is also missing is a thinking through of the revolutionary party, not as apparatus or command-centre, but as a collective process of transforming struggles and demands into political projects and strategies, of overcoming divisions and forging alliances, of articulating aspirations and counter-hegemonic collective representations as ideological and theoretical demarcations, of producing concrete knowledge of the terrain of this struggle. It is this interplay of the political and the social that marks communist politics as revolutionre Praxis, as the crucial step from the (im)possibility of the event to the actuality of the communist-political project.

6. Conclusion There is no doubt that Alain Badious 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. However, there are limits and shortcomings in this effort. These limits, in my opinion, have to do Badious distancing of himself from Marxs highly original conception of social relations as dialectical contradictions, his insistence that overdetermination, and, consequently, politics belongs to
renew the existence of the communist hypothesis, in our conscience and on the ground. (Badiou 2008b, p. 42.)

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the subjective realm, his refusal of any form of historical causality and his conception of a subtractive politics at a distance from the state. Badious vigorous attempt to present his schema in a more complex and dialectical way in Logics of Worlds and his endorsement of the communist hypothesis do not transcend these limits, which represent fundamental aspects of his problematic.

Althusser, Louis 2005 [1965], For Marx, translated by Ben Brewster, London: Verso. 2006, Philosophy of the Encounter: Later Writings, 19781987, translated by G.M. Goshgarian, London: Verso. Althusser, Louis and tienne Balibar 1990 [1968], Reading Capital, translated by Ben Brewster, London: Verso. Ashton, Paul, Adam John Bartlett and Justin Clemens (eds.) 2006, The Praxis of Alain Badiou, Melbourne: Badiou, Alain 1975, Thorie de la contradiction, Paris: Franois Maspero. 1982, Thorie du sujet, Paris: ditions du Seuil. 1985, Peut-on penser la politique?, Paris: ditions du Seuil. 1989, Manifeste pour la philosophie, Paris: ditions du Seuil. 2001 [1993], Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, translated by Peter Hallward, London: Verso. 2003a, Circonstances, tome 1: Kosovo, 11 septembre, Chirac/Le Pen, Paris: ditions Lo Scheer. 2003b, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy, edited and translated by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens, London: Continuum. 2004a, Circonstances, tome 2: Irak, foulard, Allemagne/France, Paris: ditions Lo Scheer. 2004b, Laveu du philosophe, available at: <>. 2005a, Le Sicle, Paris: ditions du Seuil. 2005b, Circonstances, tome 3: Portes du mot juif , Paris: ditions Lo Scheer. 2005c, The Adventure of French Philosophy, available at: < badenglish.htm>. 2005d [1988], Being and Event, translated by Oliver Feltham, London: Continuum. 2006a [1998], Metapolitics, translated by Jason Barker, London: Verso. 2006b, Polemics, translated by Steve Corcoran, London: Verso. 2006c, Ltre et lvnement: Tome 2, Logiques des mondes, Paris: ditions du Seuil. 2006d, Theoretical Writings, Revised Edition, edited and translated by Ray Brassier and Alberto Toscano, London: Continuum. 2008a, We Need a Popular Discipline: Contemporary Politics and the Crisis of the Negative, Critical Inquiry, 34: 64559. 2008b, The Communist Hypothesis, New Left Review, II, 42: 2942, available at: <http://>. 2009a [2006], Logics of Worlds: Being and Event II, translated by Alberto Toscano, London: Continuum. 2009b, Second manifeste pour la philosophie, Paris: Librairie Arthme Fayard. 2009c, Lhypothse communiste, Paris: ditions Lignes. 2009d [1982], Theory of the Subject, translated by Bruno Bosteels, London: Continuum.


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2010 [2009], The Communist Hypothesis, translated by David Macey and Steve Corcoran, London: Verso. Badiou, Alain and Franois Balms 1976, De lidologie, Paris: Franois Maspero. Badiou, Alain and Slavoj iek (eds.) 2010, Lide du communisme. Confrence de Londres, 2009, Paris: ditions Lignes. Balibar, tienne 1995 [1993], The Philosophy of Marx, translated by Chris Turner, London: Verso. 1997, La Crainte des masses. Politique et philosophie avant et aprs Marx, Paris: Galile. Barker, Jason 2006, Translators Introduction, in Badiou 2006a. Bensad, Daniel 2004 [2001], Alain Badiou and the Miracle of the Event, translated by Ray Brassier, in Hallward (ed.) 2004. Bosteels, Bruno 2002, Alain Badious Theory of the Subject: The Recommencement of Dialectical Materialism? (Part II), Pli, 13: 172208. 2005, Post-Maoism: Badiou and Politics, Positions, 13, 3: 575634. 2010, Lhypothse gauchiste: le communisme lge de la terreur, in Badiou and iek (eds.) 2010. Brassier, Ray 2006, Presentation as Anti-Phenomenon in Alain Badious Being and Event, Continental Philosophy Review, 39, 1: 5977. Foucault, Michel 1984, Histore de la sexualit, tome 3: Le souci de soi, Paris: ditions Gallimard. Gillespie, Sam 2001, Placing the Void: Badiou on Spinoza, Angelaki, 6, 3: 6377. Gramsci, Antonio, 1971, Selections from Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith, London: Lawrence and Wishart. 1978, Cahiers de prison. Tome III, Paris: ditions Gallimard. Hallward, Peter 2002, Badious Politics: Equality and Justice, Culture Machine, 4, available at: <>. 2003, Badiou: A Subject to Truth, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2004, Introduction: Consequences of Abstraction, in Hallward (ed.) 2004. 2005, Depending on Inconsistency: Badious Answer to the Guiding Question of All Contemporary Philosophy , Polygraph, 17: 1125. 2008, Order and Event: On Badious Logics of Worlds, New Left Review, II, 53: 97122. (ed.) 2004, Think Again: Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy, London: Continuum. Hewlett, Nick 2004, Engagement and Transcendence: the Militant Philosophy of Alain Badiou, Modern & Contemporary France, 12, 3: 33552. Kouvlakis, Stathis 2000, La politique dans ses limites ou les paradoxes dAlain Badiou, available at: <>. Lacan, Jacques 1973, Le Sminaire de Jacques Lacan, Livre XI: Les quatre concepts fondamenteux de la psychanalyse, Paris: ditions du Seuil. Macherey, Pierre 1979, Hegel ou Spinoza, Paris: Franois Maspero. 2008, Marx 1845. Les thses sur Feuerbach, Paris: ditions Amsterdam. Marx, Karl 1975 [1843], Contribution to the Critique of Hegels Philosophy of Law. Introduction, in Marx and Engels 1975. 2002 [1845], Theses on Feuerbach, translated by Cyril Smith, available at: <http://www.>. Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels 1975, Collected Works, Volume 3, Moscow: Progress Publishers. Organisation Politique 2001, Quest-ce que lOrganisation Politique?, available at: <http://>. Poulantzas, Nicos 1980 [1978], State, Power, Socialism, translated by Patrick Camiller, London: Verso. 2008, The Poulantzas Reader, edited by James Martin, London: Verso.

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Power, Nina 2006, Towards an Anthropology of Infinitude: Badiou and the Political Subject, in Ashton, Bartlett and Clemens (eds.) 2006. Thomas, Peter D. 2009, The Gramscian Moment: Philosophy, Hegemony and Marxism, Leiden: Brill. Toscano, Alberto 2004a, Communism as Separation, in Hallward (ed.) 2004. 2004b, From the State to the World? Badiou and Anti-Capitalism, Communication and Cognition, 37, 34: 199224. 2006, The Bourgeois and the Islamist, or, The Other Subjects of Politics, in Ashton, Bartlett and Clemens (eds.) 2006. 2008, Marxism Expatriated: Alain Badious Turn, in Critical Companion to Contemporary Marxism, edited by Jacques Bidet and Stathis Kouvelakis, Historical Materialism Book Series, Leiden: Brill. iek, Slavoj 1999, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London: Verso. 2007, On Alain Badiou and Logiques des mondes, available at: < zizbadman.htm>. (ed.) 1998, Cogito and the Unconcious, Durham, NC.: Duke University Press.

Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 6091

What Is Living and What Is Dead in the Marxist Theory of History

Vivek Chibber
New York University

Abstract During the 1980s and 1990s, the debate on the Marxist theory of history centred largely around the work of Robert Brenners property-relations-centred construal of it, and G.A. Cohens attempt to revive the classical, determinist argument. This article examines two influential arguments by Erik Wright and his colleagues, and by Alan Carling, which acknowledge important weaknesses in Cohens work, but which also try to construct a more plausible version of his theory. I show that the attempts to rescue Cohen are largely unsuccessful. And, to the extent that they render the argument plausible, they do so at the cost of turning it, willy-nilly, into a kind of class-struggle theory. I conclude that this spells the demise of the classical version of historical materialism, but also observe that this does not leave us with a voluntaristic understanding of history, as some of its defenders fear. Keywords Class, class-struggle, exploitation, mode of production, optimality-thesis, production-relations, productive forces, social forms

Introduction Over the past decade or so, the debate over the Marxist theory of history has seemed to have run out of steam. This is not altogether surprising, given the enormous energy that poured into the issue for around a quarter of a century no debate can last forever. On the other hand, lulls such as this can be taken as an opportunity to take stock, as it were.1 This is especially true of the debate on historical materialism, as this is an area where the protagonists have striven to maintain clarity, and scrupulously followed the thread of one
1. I would like to thank Charles Post, Erik Wright and Robert Brenner for their extensive comments on earlier versions of this paper, and also the Historical Materialism board. Special thanks to Sebastian Budgen for persuading me to dust off the paper for publication. For a good recent summing up of the debate since the 1990s, see Callinicos 2004.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573798

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


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

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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. In so doing, they draw upon two distinct components of the theory itself. The Marxist theory of history in fact consists of two analytically distinct sub-theories: one is a theory of social forms, and the other a theory of transitions from one form to another. The former is primarily concerned with individuating different types of social systems or modes of production; the latter takes as its object the mechanisms by which history traverses across modes of production. 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, analyses their internal dynamics, and, finally, notes their sequence. Once this prepatory labour is completed, the theory of historical transitions steps in to provide an explanation for the overall sequence of modes of production that have been identified. It is primarily devoted to explicating the mechanisms which kick into play once a mode of production descends into its final crisis, and which thus govern the consolidation of the new mode. The theory of social forms Marxists insist that history can be divided into discrete periods, or epochs, and that each epoch has its own distinctive economic dynamics or laws of motion. The mechanisms that generate these different dynamics, and which serve to mark off each epoch from the other, are the set of property-relations relations of production prevalent at the time. Property-relations also form the basis for class-relations. The micro-dynamics of production-relations At the micro-level, production-relations set what Brenner has called the rules of reproduction for individual agents. This they do by virtue of the fact that property-relations, by definition, 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. As Erik Wright pithily remarks, what you have determines what you have to do to make a living.8 This is a quite powerful structural claim, namely that it is possible to predict, albeit at a somewhat general level, the reproductive choices made by agents, on the basis of the assets at their disposal. A rural producer with secure rights over his
8. Wright 2005.


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land is likely to undertake a quite distinct economic strategy from that of a producer who has been deprived of these rights, and so on. Property-relations do not automatically generate class-relations. They do so only when they assign power over assets unequally, so that one group of agents can enforce claims on the productive activities of another.9 When the former group can actually live on the claims it makes on the labour of the latter, Marxists regard it as a relation of exploitation, and hence, a class-relation. The fact that productive assets are distributed unequally means that one class can exploit another; the precise enumeration of those rights will determine how the one class exploits the other. So, for example, the fact that rural landlords under feudalism enjoy superior, but not absolute, rights over land means that they can claim some of their tenants labour as rent; but, because their claims are not absolute, and peasants also have partial rights to the land through custom, lords must wield the threat of physical force to realise their claims. This contrasts with the rights of rural landlords under capitalism, who enjoy exclusive rights over land; in this case, physical threats become redundant as an enforcer of claims to rent, since eviction of peasants becomes a much more realistic option. Rent is thus common to both feudalism and capitalism, but it is extracted through very different mechanisms in the two systems. A particular kind of class-structure thus generates a corresponding rgime of exploitation. When access to productive assets is distributed unequally, it not only locks agents into an interdependent and exploitative relation, but, in doing so, it ensures that the relation is fundamentally conflictual. The enforcement of property-rights always brings with it some kind of political domination whether at the point of production, or at an institutional level, where propertyrights are secured. This domination the forcible usurpation of a part of the social product in turn generates resistance from the producing classes. This, in turn, requires that ruling classes secure their political domination over the producers as a precondition for the latters exploitation hence locking the groups into an ongoing conflict. Although Marxists have been slow to recognise this, 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. Without the commitment to autonomy as a basic human drive, it is impossible to justify

9. The element of coercion is, I think, necessary for any relation to be regarded a class-relation. Purely voluntary transfers donations, gifts, etc. would not be considered exploitative. They would count as class-relations only if it was discovered that their voluntary nature was an ideological cover, and that they were systematic in their occurrence.

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


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

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


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productive forcess future development, but simply those which are adequate to the ongoing development of the productive forces even if it is at a less-thanmaximal rate. Now, the potential-successor production-relations at particular historical junctures will expand from one set to several sets. Note how this affects the burden carried by each component of historical materialism. Suppose that we are concerned with explaining the transition from social form A to form B, just as in the previous paragraph. In the more demanding version of transition-theory, also as outlined in the previous paragraph, Bs 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. But, if we drop this assumption, then the potential successors to A now broadens to include not only B, but also C and D, 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. Now, class-struggle begins to loom large as an explanation of which set of production-relations takes its place after the demise of A. 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. It could be set B, but, depending on which classes are the best-organised and manage to win over other classes, it could also turn out to be set C or D. The functional requirements of the productive forces now only explain the range of potential production-relations that can succeed A; the one that actually succeeds A from within that range is to be explained by class-struggle. The explanatory work of the class-struggle and hence, the theory of social forms has dramatically expanded. As we continue to weaken the constraints that transition-theory places on the process of transition, the explanatory burden on the theory of social forms increases commensurately. As we ratchet downward the demands that the productive forces place on successor production-relations, the explanation for which production-relations in fact replace the ones in decline will rely more on details of the class-struggle, and less on the law-like relation between the productive forces and the production-relations. The range of possible futures at any nodal point, which marks the switch from one social form to another, increases dramatically; crucially, this means that historical materialisms power as a theory of the overall historical record also weakens. It can explain why human history did turn out the way it did, post hoc; but it cannot make a strong argument that it had to take the course that it in fact did. Had classmovements and organisational dynamics been different, the sequence of social formations might also have been different, and so, on that basis, the overall trajectory of history.

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These are the implications for historical materialism if the arguments in support of a strong transition-theory cannot find secure warrant. The critical point, then, 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, as history moves forward. In what follows, we will examine what arguments have in fact been advanced by Cohen, Carling, and Wright, Levine and Sober to shore up the canonical version of historical materialism, which claims that the productive forces do wield just such a power. Cohen and Carling try to shore up the most ambitious version of the argument, in which the productive forces constraints on the production-relations are at their narrowest. Wright, Levine and Sober, recognising the difficulty of these arguments, respond by weakening the claims, and by presenting an historical materialism with a less ambitious theory of transitions. I shall show that Wright, Levine and Sober are right in their pessimism regarding Cohens gambit neither he, nor Carling, can make a convincing case for the plausibility of canonical historical materialism. But the remedy sought by Wright, Levine and Sober comes at a cost. Their less ambitious version of historical materialism is certainly more plausible, but it is one in which the explanatory weight shifts markedly away from transitiontheory, towards the theory of social forms. So, even though they advertise their argument as a defensible version of canonical historical materialism, it is in fact a version which cannot but rest its weight on the theory of social forms, and not on transition-theory. In doing so, it is more plausibly an alternative to canonical historical materialism, rather than its incarnation. What we are left with, for all practical purposes, is a class-struggle version of history.

Cohens canonical historical materialism G.A. Cohens rigorous presentation of a canonical historical materialism has generated a veritable avalanche of responses. Most of these have questioned the defensibility of the theory as he develops it, and quite convincingly so. I shall therefore describe his argument in summary-form, and quickly lay out its weaknesses, since I do not say anything here that is especially novel. This section is more in the way of a ground-clearing exercise, intended to lay the foundation for the meat of the essay, i.e. an examination of the attempts by Carling and Wright, Levine and Sober to salvage the theory. It is to Cohens credit that he has enunciated, more clearly than anyone before him, just what is entailed in canonical historical materialism. The


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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.13 The capacity to develop in this manner suggests a certain power that not only stands independent of social structures and circumstances, but indeed stands over them. As Cohen argues, 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. In fact, it appears that social structures connected to production tend, on the whole, to be propitious for the further development of the productive forces. From this, Cohen suggests, we can hazard a further, stronger claim, viz.: (ii) The primacy-thesis: The nature of the production-relations in a society is explained by the level of its productive forces. In Cohens construal, 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. Now, before proceeding to a discussion of the fortunes of this theory, we should note that the primacy-thesis as enunciated by Cohen needs amplification. As it stands, Cohens 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. But there may, at any time, be a variety of production-relations which
13. 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 latter construal can be taken to suggest that the productive forces develop independently of the production-relations within which they are embedded. This is impossible to maintain, since, as noted above, the structure of incentives for producers is set by the production-relations within which they find themselves. The reproductive strategies that they choose are thus responses to the production-relations, and it is these strategies that develop the productive forces. In choosing the former claim, Cohen is arguing, not that the productive forces develop autonomously of the production-relations, but, rather, that the productionrelations which endure do so because of their beneficial effect on the productive forces. The productive forces thus develop because of the production-relations, but, if production-relations were adopted which did not develop the productive forces, they would be discarded in favour of more congenial ones. 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. See Cohen 1988, Chapter 5.

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are capable of this function. It cannot be sufficient for canonical historical materialism that the productive forces select, without further specification, any one of these rival production-relations. As pointed out by Wright, Levine and Sober, it would be irrational for social actors, on Cohens assumptions, to choose production-relations that are anything less than the optimal for the further development of the productive forces. Furthermore, it is insisted by Cohen that the productive forces explain the actual production-relations in a mode of production. And, if the selectional mechanism is not an optimising one, then all it could explain is that the production-relations selected do not fetter the productive forces; in other words, all that the productive forces could confidently be said to select are any production-relations which do not further fetter the productive forces. The theory could not explain why this set of production-relations was in fact selected, which is in fact what it must do.14 Hence, 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. So, 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. Now, it follows that for this argument to have bite, 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; it must also be shown that they were selected because they were optimal, and not as a happy coincidence. This demands that the votaries of canonical historical materialism adduce a mechanism capable of this sort of discrimination. It requires the presence of some factor that serves to sift through the existing set of possible production-relations, and selects the one best suited for further developing the productive powers of society. In the absence of some such mechanism, historical materialism would not have a theory of history. It would merely have a manner of classifying the course history has taken. It could only point out that history has developed in this fashion, and not that it had to develop thus. Understandably, the debate on canonical historical materialism since the publication of Cohens book has largely focused on the plausibility of this assumption. The selection of a thing on the basis of its functionality can rest on two broad types of mechanisms: an intentional one, and what might be called a
14. See Cohen 1978, pp. 1701. The significance of this point was first appreciated by Wright and Levine 1980, and is amplified in Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, pp. 312.


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Darwinian one. The former relies on the possibility of a conscious selection made on the basis of the effects of the thing in question; the latter, on the efficacy of a feedback-loop connecting the effects of the thing and the chances for its reproduction, so that only those with the appropriate effect-generating attributes survive over time. Intentional mechanisms can, in turn, be divided into two kinds: a conspiratorial one, in which actors select institutions through some kind of collective deliberation, and a non-conspiratorial one, in which decisions are made individually, and aggregate into a social pattern. 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. But, while this may have a grain of plausibility as a forecast for conflict within capitalism, it seems wildly outlandish as a general model for modal transitions. Non-conspiratorial mechanisms, unlike their counterparts, usually take the form of some kind of structural explanation, and are hence more plausible. Actors are taken to have a set of preferences, and social institutions are selected by them to the extent that they mesh with the preference-ordering. In this case, the preference would be for institutions which optimally increase labourproductivity. Cohen offers an historical materialism that relies on a non-conspiratorial intentional mechanism.15 In other words, he suggests that new productionrelations are selected by social agents on the basis of their productivityenhancing capacity, and that the choices are made individually.16 What is
15. This might appear as an odd assertion in light of the fact that Cohen has advertised historical materialism as an instance of functional explanation, and these are often contrasted with intentional explanations. Now, it is indisputable that Cohen does offer an intentional version of his argument, once he is forced to unpack it. What is at stake, then, is whether this means that he has abandoned his earlier commitment to the functional character of historical materialism. I do not think anything of substance rides on the verdict to this question. If we define functional explanations in such a fashion that they cannot advert to an intentional mechanism in their defence, then, of course, we must conclude that Cohen, in relying on just such a strategy, abandons the earlier commitment. This is Alan Carlings verdict in Carling 1993, p. 38. But if, instead, we allow that functional explanations may survive a causal rendering, then his commitment to the former stands. Our verdict derives entirely from our definition of functional explanations. But whatever we conclude on the matter, it carries no consequence for the defensibility of the explanation itself. 16. Cohen 1988, pp. 8992. In point of fact, Cohen does not say that actors actually choose those production-relations which are optimal for the productive forces. What they in fact choose is those production-relations which minimise their work-effort and thus maximise leisure, ceteris paribus. It may be ventured, therefore, that what he offers is a version of a Darwinian mechanism, in that, strictly speaking, the effect on the productive forces is, to the actors, secondary to the effect on their work-leisure tradeoff. The effect on the productive forces just rides in the latter and could vary independently of it. This is strictly correct, but, in the case of Cohens argument, pedantic. It is certainly possible to imagine new production-relations which would decrease

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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; rather, as critics have pointed out, what makes it difficult to accept is the assumption that they will be able to do so in the manner specified. First, it is hardly warranted to presume that a menu of options is ever presented to social agents in the fashion required by Cohens theory, allowing them, not only to simply choose from among its items, but also to reject one choice in favour of another. In other words, agents have to be aware, not only of the possibility of alternative production-relations, but also of their availability, and there is no reason to assume that this will be the case. Moreover, once a set is adopted, it will tend to generate interests in its defence, on grounds other than productivitymaximising ones like its effects on class-power. It follows that agents will then organise in the defence of the less-productive production-relations, and it is doubtful that the necessary power could consistently be mustered to abandon one set just chosen in favour of another, suddenly more attractive candidate, given the likely opposition.17 Cohens version of canonical historical materialism thus appears to flounder, unable to bear the weight of the optimality-thesis. There are, on the face of it, two means to salvage historical materialism in its canonical form. First, 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; second, we could dilute the claims of the theory, so as to render it more plausible, but also preserve its putative core. Alan Carlings work represents an effort at the former sort of enterprise, while Wright, Levine and Sober present a theory which purports to accomplish the second, by defending a weaker interpretation of the thesis about directionality. It is to these efforts that we now turn.

Carlings synthesis Alan Carling has presented his version of historical materialism as not only preserving the claim about the primacy of the productive forces, but also as a synthesis of Brenner and Cohen. If successful, this effort can surely lay claim
work-time without developing the productive forces, simply from, say, increasing the monitoring costs of the new ruling class, and hence making it easier for the labouring class to slack. But Cohen clearly assumes that the minimisation is occurring through increasing labour-productivity. In other words, this is taken as part of the preferences of the actors. Hence, in his theory, counterexamples of the kind just offered are assumed away. To choose on the basis of effects on worktime is just to choose on the basis of effects on productive forces. This may be wrong, of course, but we are interested, for the moment, only in the details of his theory, not in its correctness. 17. See Carling 1993, pp. 3940.


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

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


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production-relations and the newer production-relations end up displacing their rivals. But, if we pause for a moment, 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. It is easy to believe that an economic unit in which capitalism dominates will win out in its competition with other units, because the difference in productivity between capitalism and precapitalist modes of production is simply unprecedented. With a difference this large, of course, capitalist production-relations will tend to spread into other zones. But will this logic work when the competition is at an earlier stage of history, 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, more congenial production-relations across the terrain of stagnating productive forces, but it appears that the two most likely candidates are, first, their simple imposition through military conflict; and second, through some kind of demonstration-effect. As to the first, its success depends on the fulfilment of two conditions: first, the society with efficiency-inducing production-relations must be expected to win out over its less-productive rivals, and second, the conquerors must be expected to successfully force or induce their vanquished subjects to adopt the new production-relations. Perhaps, when the conflict is between capitalist and feudal economies, we can expect that, as the conflict continues, the dynamic efficiency of capitalism will generate resources so much greater than those of the feudal one that military success will follow. But, when the conflict is between forms of non-capitalist class-societies, this does not seem warranted. As Carling himself admits, there is really no reason to expect that, in military conflicts, societies with productivity-enhancing production-relations will consistently defeat those with arthritic ones. Apart from the vagaries of war, the outcomes of which frequently depend on tactics, ideology, political organisation, etc., there is in fact no reason to expect that the greater efficiency of the new production-relations will raise the chances of success. What is more important in such circumstances is not the efficiency of raising new resources, but, rather, the quantum actually raised. As Carling notes, 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.20 But if this is true, then the case for such competition acting as a transmission-mechanism for new production-relations is, to say the least, considerably weakened. What war selects for most directly, is, not surprisingly,
20. Carling 1993, p. 51.

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military capacity. Since such capacity is the composite outcome of a host of factors, only one of which is productive efficiency, it cannot be expected to select consistently in favour of the latter. But, even if societies at greater technical levels are able to secure military victory, it is an entirely different matter to expect that, in the postbellum-scenario, they will also be able to impose their new production-relations on the losers. 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. It presumes a state-capacity, and a class-capacity, that beggars belief. The problem of class-capacity and interests also undermines the case for a second route to the imposition of new, optimal production-relations through a kind of demonstration-effect of better ones. It is possible to believe that rulers will note, and even be impressed by, more-productive economies elsewhere. It is not so easy to believe, however, that they will be so impressed as to initiate a transformation of their own production-systems. In the first place, since the rival economic systems rest on different production-relations, 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. The likelihood of their doing so will, we can expect, be quite low. Moreover, even if they are so inclined, it is a stretch to assume that they will, a) have the capacity to transform the existing production-relations, 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. Carling appears aware, painfully so, that the theory of competitive selection that he offers is in danger of being buried under a mountain of caveats. Perhaps, he submits, all that can be said is that history exhibits a bias imparted by competitive primacy; a bias weaker than a tendency but considerably stronger than nothing at all.21 Perhaps, but this would seem a far cry from the canonical historical materialism that Cohen has excavated, and which Carling so admirably tries to defend. If there is a law-like relation between the productive forces and the production-relations which govern historical development, it has become awfully weak at best imbuing it, as Carling notes, with a bias, rather than a powerful drive. 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. Instead, there would appear to be several sets of production-relations compatible with a given level of the productive forces. It cannot be prejudged as to which ones
21. Ibid.


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will win out, even through a competitive struggle between economic systems unless we are taking as our example the transition to capitalism. But the point is that the direction in which this transition was resolved does not seem to be generalisable to other instances. And, until it can be, we cannot claim to have found a mechanism that can save Cohens optimality-thesis.22

Wright, Levine and Sobers reconstructed historical materialism If the productive forces are not successful at selecting the production-relations optimal for a continuing development of the productive forces, then must the Marxian commitment to a theory of historical development also be discarded? In a series of articles subsequently collected into a book, Erik Wright, Andrew Levine and Elliott Sober valiantly argue that it need not. Historical materialism in its stronger form, as embodied in the optimality-thesis, may not be defensible; a more nuanced and concessive historical materialism, however, can retain the core of what canonical historical materialism tries to defend, while offloading its more embarrassing baggage. Wright, Levine and Sober take the core-motivation behind Cohens project to be a defence of the directionality of history, generated endogenously through the dynamic between the productive forces and the production-relations. If properly reconstructed, they argue, 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, and the direction of this development can still be regarded as being toward greater-and-greater productive power. Abandoning the optimality-thesis At the heart of Wright, Levine and Sobers reconstruction of historical materialism is the abandonment of the optimality-thesis. They agree, indeed they were among the first to argue, 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.23 But, if the productive
22. Carlings views have evolved since his early work. For his more recent position, see Carling 2006; Carling 2009. 23. See Wright and Levine 1980. This article was in fact the first to highlight the centrality of the optimality-thesis for Cohens theory. Cohen himself did not call attention to it in his book, although he was apparently aware of its importance. In fact, this early article was clearly more critical of Cohen than the later incarnations. The change seems to have come around the time of Wrights engagement with Giddenss work, and his defence of Marxism against the latters critique. This was the first time Wright unveiled his sticky-downward version of directionality, which has since, well, stuck. See Wright 1983.

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

24. Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, p. 90. 25. Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, p. 91.


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In the new incarnation of historical materialism, the impulse for a continuous development of the productive forces is appreciably weaker than in Cohens canonical historical materialism. It may now be possible for there to be long expanses of history in which there is not steady technological progress. Even in transitions to new modes of production, 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. Despite this considerable latitude, the authors argue that the theory still retains its commitment to a directionality in history, since the following conditions obtain:
(i) The probability of remaining stationary is greater than that of regressing. (ii) There exists some alternative set of production-relations more conducive to developing the productive forces. (iii) The probability of moving to this new set of production-relations is greater than regressing.26

If these conditions obtain, then the direction of history will be from lessproductive to more-productive productive forces. And, so long as this obtains, there also exists a determinate limit to the variety of new modes of production possible at any given level of the productive forces; if such a limit obtains, then the abandonment of the primacy-thesis does not imply that anything goes. Wright, Levine and Sober are tantalisingly brief in their discussion of the new theory, as well as in their comparison of the new product to the older one. To appreciate the burden of the new and weaker historical materialism, it is thus of some interest to tease out its implications. From weak historical materialism to minimalist historical materialism To begin, we may note that there is now an ambiguity as to the precise claim being advanced with regard to the productive forces. Once we abandon the optimality-thesis, there emerge two possible curves of historys developmental trajectory. 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. Minimalist historical materialism: the production-relations that obtain at any given time do so because, minimally, they maintain the existing level of development of the productive forces, even if they do not systematically develop them further.

26. Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, p. 79.

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


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

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development tends to be sticky downwards. But, if this is the case, then the theory must admit to the possibility of long periods of historical stagnation periods of steady-state reproduction of the productive forces.28 This need not occur only within a mode of production. There is every reason to expect that, in transitions to new modes of production, non-developmental productionrelations will happily combine with the productive forces, so long as they do not force a regression upon the latter.29 The implications of a minimalist historical materialism Now, there are two conclusions that may follow from a slide into minimalist historical materialism. First, it may be admitted that the more powerful claims about the constraints imposed by the theory of transitions cannot be sustained, and that the menu of options at a given juncture in history is quite large. In other words, the demise of canonical historical materialism could simply be embraced. This certainly makes the theory more plausible, but it has implications that cascade into other regions of historical materialism. 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. In Cohens theory, part of the appeal of his claims came from the clearly identifiable rle that the productive forces play in historical development. While there are other, growth-impeding factors in society which interact with the effects of the productive forces, the latter can be confidently assumed to be causally superior, as it were they will have the capacity to dominate and overcome the effects of the other mechanisms, so that the net effect will be toward development. Cohens theory is, in this respect, a direct avatar of the monist tradition of historical materialism encoded by the First International. 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, 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. While the productive forces (barely) retain their capacity toward an upward ascent, the realisation of this capacity is now contingent upon its interaction with other mechanisms in society, and the net outcome need not necessarily be in favour of growth.30 But if this is
28. Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, p. 80. 29. Wright, Levine and Sober seem to recognise this possibility. See Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, pp. 379. 30. See the discussion of the Asiatic mode of production in Wright, Levine and Sober 1993, p. 52, n. 11.


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true, 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. This duo now does exercise a constraint, but it is so wide as to make its explanatory pay-off rather more meagre. The explanatory work in any concrete analysis of historical transitions will be done, not by the causal influence of the functional needs of the productive forces, but by the course of events as driven by class-struggle. 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, growth-enhancing productionrelations, this cannot remain an indefinite state of affairs. Sooner or later, a class with the appropriate interests will also develop the requisite capacity. Even more, we may presume that with each iteration of the cycle, this probability increases, especially if the level of the productive forces is marginally greater in each cycle.31 Hence, while the productive forces may not themselves generate new, more-appropriate production-relations, they do serve to put these latter on the agenda. In this case, the productive forces would still be relevant explanatory factors in the event that new production-relations are adopted, precisely because it was their prior development that created the possibility for the rise of the new production-relations. This is an argument that would parallel another argument Wright, Levine and Sober endorse for the rise of the welfare-state. Marxists have traditionally argued that the welfare-state is the product of class-struggle, in particular, the growing organisational power of the working class. Their mainstream-critics have rejected this argument, pointing out that other, non-class factors have played a crucial rle, a fact unjustifiably ignored by Marxists. Wright, Levine and Sober point out that there are two dimensions to the rise of the welfarestate, which need to be distinguished the fact of its rise, and the variations in its form, timing, etc. The fact that the welfare-state arose only within capitalism, and, more specifically, the fact that it arose when it did within the broad history of capitalism, is explained by the logic of class and class-struggle. But the actual timing of welfare-legislation, and the varieties of such states, may not be directly explained through class-struggle, as Marxists traditionally tried to argue. It was the development of large working-class movements in industrial countries which put this kind of state on the agenda; once it was on the slate, the precise timing of its adoption, and well as the precise institutional design it embodied, can be explained by other factors, to which

31. Erik Wright suggested this to me in comments to a paper I wrote some years ago.

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


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

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


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new production-relations increase in number, the explanatory contribution of the productive forces decreases. But this just amounts to saying that, as the demands on canonical historical materialism are softened, as they are by Wright, Levine and Sober, the theory cannot but place greater weight on the explanatory rle of class-struggle in explaining the actual course of historical development. In other words, as the theory is weakened, it veers toward becoming a theory of history based on class-struggle. The cost of making the theory more plausible is that it starts to look more and more like a class-struggle theory of history. Note that this does not mean that the productive forces now are rendered irrelevant to the theory. It is that the nature of their rle now shifts. In the strongest version of the theory, as developed by Cohen through the optimalitythesis, the productive forces select for the particular production-relations that replace the ones that have fallen into crisis. But as the theory is weakened, it cannot be assumed that the productive forces enjoy this kind of power. They must settle, as it were, for one among a list of production-relations, all of which have in common the needed property which, in minimal historical materialism, amounts to the property of preventing a regression to lower levels of productivity. What the productive forces are doing now is not selecting for a particular set of production-relations, but, rather, selecting against those which would induce a regression in the level of the productive forces. The selectional rle of the productive forces switched from selecting for a particular set of production-relations to selecting against a class of production-relations. The productive forces now set the (rather wide) limit on the range of potential production-relations that will replace the existing, decrepit ones, while the selection from within the permissible range of production-relations will be decided by class-struggle.

Conclusion Historical materialism has always been marked by a kind of division of labour between its two components, the theory of social forms, and the theory of transitions. The debate within the Marxian tradition has been about the specific domain of each in relation to the other. In the canonical version of historical materialism, 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. As human societies moved from one mode of production to another, the economic structure which served as the foundation for production and distribution was able to endure only so

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long as it remained optimal for ongoing technological progress. In this theory, 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, and the class-struggle that was related to them. The explanatory function of the theory of social forms was basically confined to dynamics within social formations. 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. The reason for this dominance of the theory of transitions was that, during transitions from one mode to another, the outcome of the class-struggle was wired into the system by the functional requirements of the productive forces. The game was fixed so that only one set of production-relations could possibly win. 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. What I have tried to show in this article is that Carling and Wright, Levine and Sober fail in their attempts to shore up canonical historical materialism. On the other hand, as they steadily weaken the claims that can be made on behalf of the productive forces, they end up expanding the explanatory rle of the class-struggle the main component of the theory of social forms. 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. The explanatory weight of the productive forces is directly related to the force of its constraints on the selection of production-relations. Carling is unable to show that military conflict can act as an appropriate selectional mechanism. Wright, Levine and Sober, for their part, are forced to take a weak historical materialism as their starting-point, but, even here, I argued that weak historical materialism must give way to a minimalist historical materialism. With this, the constraints exercised by the productive forces must widen even further. And with each widening of constraints, the explanatory rle of the class-struggle increases. Hence, by its own logic, 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. Somewhat perversely, 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. Hence, Marxs dictum, that all history hitherto is the history of classstruggle, is the more defensible version of historical materialism. This emphatically does not mean that the productive forces have no causal rle in the theory of history. The functional requirements of the productive forces are


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still non-trivial they do induce agents to reject production-relations that would force a significant regression in technological levels. Hence, they do impose some constraints on the range of potential production-relations during transitions from one mode of production to another. The point is that this constraint is now weak enough as to seldom figure in explanations of historical transitions. The reason for this is simple: no theory of history none, in any case, of which I am aware claims that significant regressions of the productive forces are just as likely as their preservation. To the contrary, the fact that history is marked by an overarching aggregation of technical knowledge, and that a regression from higher to lower levels is rare, is central to two of the most widely-regarded non-Marxian theories of history, viz. those developed by Ernest Gellner and Michael Mann.32 Hence, when we set out to explain why production-relations set A was followed by set B, the contrast-class against which Bs emergence is considered will be set C, which would also have maintained the level of the productive forces, and not sets G and H, which would have forced a significant regression. But, precisely because these are rarely the contrast-class, the regression-inhibiting power of the productive forces will seldom figure in the explanation for why B followed A. We will rely, instead, on the vicissitudes of the class-struggle.

Aston, Trevor Henry and C.H.E. Philpin (eds.) 1985, The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brenner, Robert 1986, The Social Basis of Economic Development, in Analytical Marxism, edited by John Roemer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1989, Marx and the Bourgeois Revolution, in The First Modern Society: Essays in English History in Honour of Lawrence Stone, edited by A.L. Beier, David Cannadine and James M. Rosenheim, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Callinicos, Alex 2004, Preface, in Making History: Agency, Structure, and Change in Social Theory, Second Edition, Historical Materialism Book Series, Leiden: Brill. Carling, Alan H. 1991, Social Division, London: Verso. 1993, Analytical Marxism and Historical Materialism The Debate on Social Evolution, Science and Society, 57, 1: 31 65. 2006, Karl Marxs Theory of History and the Recovery of the Marxian Tradition, Science and Society, 70, 2: 27597. 2009, Problems of the Deep: Intention and History, Science and Society, 73, 1: 97109. Cohen, Gerald Allan 1978, Karl Marxs Theory of History: A Defense, Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1988, History, Labour and Freedom: Themes from Marx, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

32. See Gellner 1988 and Mann 1986.

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2002, Karl Marxs Theory of History: A Defense, Second Edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gellner, Ernest 1988, Plough, Sword, and Book: the Structure of Human History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hilton, Rodney (ed.) 1976, The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, London: Verso. Katz, Claudio J. 1989, From Feudalism to Capitalism: Marxian Theories of Class Struggle and Social Change, Westport: Greenwood Press. Mann, Michael 1986, The Sources of Social Power: Volume 1, A History of Power from the Beginning to AD 1760, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Martin, John E. 1983, Feudalism to Capitalism: Peasant and Landlord in English Agrarian Development, Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press. Rigby, Stephen H. 1987, Marxism and History: a Critical Introduction, Manchester: Manchester University Press. Wright, Erik Olin 1983, Giddens Critique of Marxism, New Left Review, I, 138: 1135. 2005, Foundations for a Neo-Marxist Class Analysis, in Approaches to Class Analysis, edited by Erik Olin Wright, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wright, Erik Olin and Andrew Levine 1980, Rationality and Class Struggle, New Left Review, I, 123: 4768. Wright, Erik Olin, Andrew Levine and Elliott Sober 1993, Reconstructing Marxism: Essays on Explanation and the Theory of History, London: Verso.

Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 92112

Settling Accounts with Liberalism: On the Work of Domenico Losurdo

Stefano G. Azzar
University of Urbino

Abstract Liberalism is currently the hegemonic world-view, capable of dictating its terms even to the very movements that antagonise it. But does the history of liberalism really coincide with that of modern democracy? In two of his recent works, Liberalism: A Counter-History and The Language of Empire, Domenico Losurdo demonstrates that this is not the case. At its origin, liberalism was not a universalistic defence of the individuals freedom. On the contrary, it represented a demand for wresting complete self-government of civil society from the monarch. However, given that each society is traversed by deep differences and bitter conflicts, 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. 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. However, 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, slavery, colonialism, radicalism, democracy, universalism

Introduction Domenico Losurdo can be regarded as one of the most important contemporary Italian philosophers of Marxist orientation. He is Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Urbino and an internationally acclaimed Hegel scholar, presiding over the Internationale Gesellschaft Hegel-Marx fr dialektisches Denken. His research has focused on German idealism, including right-wing philosophers such as Nietzsche and Heidegger. Of equal importance has been his engagement with the classical theorists of the workers movement, such as Marx and Lenin, Gramsci and Lukcs, in a labour of reconstruction of historical materialism that has spanned the past thirty years. The critique of liberalism is an important aspect of his current work. In many essays of the
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573815

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past decade, 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. The result is a great fresco incorporating a close comparison of the revolutionary and the conservative wings of liberalism over the centuries, which places in question the foundations of traditional historiography and reveals the difficult process of the construction of modern democracy. This critique has been developed in particular in the two books that constitute the focus of attention of this article.

Liberal hegemony and the need for a counter-history The Italian publication of Losurdos Controstoria del liberalismo spurred a lively debate. Recently continued in Il linguaggio dellImpero, at first sight Losurdos 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.2 Its real impact, however, is much wider than the list of crimes and mischief documented by Stphane Courtois et al., authors of the Black Book of Communism. Its intention is also very different. Undoubtedly, liberalism is nowadays the largely dominant world-view. 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. First, the property-owning class managed to oppose and co-opt the European aristocracy and become dominant. Then it had the upper-hand over the emerging movement of subaltern classes and their radical demands for changes in social and international relations. This international conflict lasted for a long time and became entangled with different forms of antagonism. After the defeat of the socialist faction, liberal democracy its legal codes grounded in private property and individual rights, the separation of powers and the formalisation of conflict in representative government was explicitly defended as the ultimate outcome of history, the final achievement of a multiplicity of social and political experiments over the course of human history. Similarly, the history of the process of liberation of the colonies appears
1. Petrucciani 2005. 2. Examples of the liberal critiques of Losurdos book can be found in Cofrancesco 2005 and 2006; Morelli 2005; Bassani 2006; Lattieri 2006. For more sympathetic, albeit reductive, liberal-socialist readings, see Gravagnuolo 2005 and Bedeschi 2005 (the author is an ex-Marxist scholar of Galvano Della Volpe). See also a Catholic interpretation, in Pellicciari 20056. Finally, for a more academic reading, see dOrsi 2005.


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to clash with an objective tendency to re-colonise, which is indicative of the liberal resolve to affirm liberal-global interests by forcedly exporting its democratic-political institutions under US-leadership. In this context, it is hardly surprising that liberalism enjoys a solid ideological hegemony. If socio-political conflicts are also a battle of ideas and theories, 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, world-views that served as an alternative to liberalism were at the forefront of conceptual developments and new artistic expression. Today, they either no longer exist or, where they do, have little real effect. What do the words terrorism, fundamentalism, 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, whether explicitly or, more often, surreptitiously, whilst providing the whole of society and the subaltern classes with ideas with which to perceive and understand reality, refashioning their vocabulary according to liberalisms own lexicon.3 In the last few decades, we have also been witness to a revision of the interpretative paradigms of contemporary history. So pervasive was this revision that it changed the collective imaginary and asserted a drastic transformation of politics, social relations of power and relations between nations. The world-wars, especially the second, 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,4 reinforcing a positive assessment of the chain of revolutionary events running from the French Revolution to the upheavals of the 1900s. Initially, 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. Today, in an epochal historiographical and cultural turn, the historical cycle from 1789 to 1917,5 popular democracies and subsequent movements of liberation from colonialism are being targeted and reinterpreted through the category of international civil war.6 This concept, proposed by Ernst Nolte, sharply distinguishes the Western (or Atlantic) revolutionary liberal and democratic lineage from the totalitarian one of Jacobin-Bolshevik origins.7
3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Losurdo 2007, pp. ixx. Losurdo 1996b, pp. 911. Losurdo 1996b, pp. 67. Losurdo 1996b, p. 20. Cf. Losurdo 1996b, pp. 93ff. and Chapter III. Losurdo 1996b, p. 13.

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Losurdo, in Hegelian fashion, 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.8 His Counter-History does not aim to be an epoch of this hegemony, but takes it seriously and questions liberalism with respect to its foundations in, and its self-identification with, the centrality of the individual and the history of modern freedom. After all, 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, liberalism underwent a process of involution with respect to the position it used to hold during the twentieth century. In its current neo-liberal mode, it is carrying out a massive purge of elements of democracy, and social democracy in particular, from liberal-democratic societies,9 thus discarding everything that the prolonged struggles of workers and people had introduced into liberalism. Whilst doing so, it is also recovering many of the positions that were typical of nineteenth-century liberalism. Instead of presenting a periodisation and categorisation of the different tendencies underlying such a trend, Losurdo immediately strikes at the heart of the question. Since its origins, liberalism has been threatened by an inherent contradiction. Whilst undoubtedly it has developed the concepts of the individual and freedom, it seems incapable of conceiving them within the framework of a real universalism. 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.

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.11 Following the uprisings against Spanish domination, Holland was the first country to proclaim itself a liberal order. The United Provinces relaunched colonial expansion and engaged in intense competition with Spain
8. Das Bekannte berhaupt ist darum, weil es bekannt ist, nicht erkannt (G.W.F. Hegel, Phnomenologie des Geistes, Vorrede). 9. Losurdo 1994, p. 19. 10. On the programmatic use of this methodology of historical investigation, see Losurdo 1996b, pp. 335. 11. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 16ff.; Losurdo 2011, pp. 15ff.


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over the control of the slave-trade. The same phenomenon occurred in England after the Glorious Revolution, when, in the name of the freedom of civil society and the interests of the individual, the political power of landowners was established, placing rigorous limitations on the absolute powers of the sovereign. The first move in foreign policy was to take the asiento away from Spain and acquire the monopoly over the trade in black slaves, who were destined for the mother country and the American colonies. Proto-liberal England also distinguished itself by the harshness used in its subjugation of Ireland, responding to the resistance of the local populations with systematic oppression and massacre.12 At the level of domestic policy, this new liberal England engaged in the promotion of primitive accumulation and the development of industry, showing no hesitation in persecuting dispossessed peasants and turning them into cheap labour by means of legislation that punished vagrancy with imprisonment. In the 1800s, 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, institutions of forced labour.13 Finally, in the United States these contradictions were most blatant.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, at a time when the latter had already proclaimed itself the champion of liberty and of the primacy of the individual, entrusted with the mission of exporting these values to the rest of the globe where tyranny, war and oppression abounded. Colonial powers rebelled in the name of a more accomplished liberalism, which entailed emancipation from the despotism of the mother country and the constitution of an entirely new, republican order founded on the representation of individuals who were free by nature. However, the institutions of the American republic were able to coexist with the most brutal form of slavery for over a century, and only came to abolish it as a result of a bloody war that left behind a persistent ideology of white supremacy15 and forms of hateful discrimination that are yet to be overcome.16 The human nature of the colonised people of colour was under question from the beginning of Westerncolonial expansionism. They tended to be seen as wild and dangerous beasts whose subjugation or annihilation was not worthy of a raised eyebrow. In
12. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 21, 11617; Losurdo 2011, pp. 19, 11517. On the ferocious English domination of Ireland and Scotland, see Losurdo 1996b, pp. 4851, 712. 13. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 68ff., 11720, 123ff., 180ff.; Losurdo 2011, pp. 67ff., 11720, 123ff. 14. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 9ff.; Losurdo 2011, pp. 7ff. 15. Losurdo 1996b, p. 23. 16. See Losurdo 1996b, p. 62.

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North America in particular, the celebration of the freedom of the colonist and the civilising rle 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. Losurdo suggests that these were not degenerations or empirical deviations from otherwise-noble ideals. These practices were fully self-conscious, justified and even theorised by the main exponens of liberal theory.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. The just war waged against them turned them into the victors legitimate property, as a theoretical tradition from Aristotle onwards claimed. John Locke, the main theoretician of liberalism and of the limits of sovereign power, not only had economic interests in the slave-trade, but also affirmed the absolute power of the master over the men-commodities he owns, a power that grants him absolute discretion over their sale as much as their death. Locke also participated in the drafting of the constitutional provision that sanctioned slavery in Carolina. In Locke, 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), including wage-labour, were still blurred. 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 thus of making land profitable. This claim recurs in nearly every political figure and intellectual who collaborated in the founding of the republic of the United States, and among those who supported it: from the Founding Fathers to Calhoun and beyond, the exaltation of individual and social freedom against political power, and the hatred of the political slavery that had been abolished in the Western hemisphere but was still present in monarchical Europe, coexisted with a vindication of the natural legitimacy and necessity of racial slavery. According to Losurdo, 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), with which both Locke and the Founding Fathers were largely familiar.18

17. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 228, 326, 426; Losurdo 2011, pp. 227, 304, 404. 18. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 34, 310; Losurdo 2011, pp. 323, 31415.


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By the standards of the moral sensibility that was emerging in this period, liberalism seems to take a leap backwards; unsurprisingly, a number of writers perceived this contradiction at the time and subverted the assumption of liberal theory and its phenomenology of power,19 in which the conflict between freedom and slavery merely coincided with that between state and civil society. Their hope was that a centralised political power the crown, 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, through despotic measures if necessary. This was the case during the American Civil War, when those who defended slavery in the South accused Lincoln of absolutist despotism and liberticidal Jacobinism.20

State-power and civil society: liberalism as a Herrenvolk democracy This brings us to the most brutal paradox of liberalism in Losurdos reconstruction.21 The question is not whether, in its early stages, liberalism could not free itself from a pre-modern legacy. As Losurdo claims, slavery does not persist despite the success of the three liberal revolutions; on the contrary, it reaches its highest development as a result of this success.22 Rather than signalling an unfinished stage of liberalism or its confutation, slavery was a basic tenet and condition of existence of early-liberal societies. 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.23 In Losurdos opinion, liberal civil society won out over absolutism under extremely uneven conditions characterised by unequal social relations of power, culture and property. In Anglo-Saxon societies there were masters and servants, owners and slaves, peasants and wage-labourers. 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, whereby the dominant groups that had defeated absolutism no longer tolerated any political tutelage and were free to defend existing powerrelations over other groups, sometimes using cruel forms of oppression.
19. 20. 21. 22. 23. See Losurdo 1996a, passim. See Losurdo 2005, p. 8; Losurdo 2011, p. 6. Cf. Losurdo 1996b, pp. 33, 546, 142. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 3742; Losurdo 2011, pp. 3540. Losurdo 2005, p. 37. The three liberal revolutions are the Dutch, English and American. Losurdo 2005, p. 39.

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The rise of liberalism and the spread of the commodity of slavery based on race were born out of a twin birth, because the rhetoric of liberty and of the self-government of civil society became linked to the existence of an unprecedented absolute power.24 This power was exceptionally brutal to slaves and also readily exercised upon the subaltern classes of the metropolis. The latter were dehumanised and seen as in need of tutelage; their freedom and civil, economic and social rights not to mention their political rights were hardly recognised and guaranteed, as Losurdo demonstrates in his Democrazia o bonapartismo.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.26 In the Anglo-Saxon world, the severe contradiction between this situation and liberal ideals was resolved through a double process of externalisation of the negative. The proud liberal self-consciousness of England repelled slavery from the sacred soil of its free island, as a form of contamination. Excluded amongst us, 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.27 This spatial separation of the spheres of freedom and slavery was unacceptable for the American settlers. They claimed that with their independence they had picked up the flag of freedom that a tyrannical England had thrown in the mud. In this new liberal country, civil society felt on a par with English civil society and could not tolerate being excluded from the community of the free28 and assimilated to the blacks, so these two spheres had to be redefined in racial terms: skin-colour marked the border between freedom and slavery. Whilst the industrialised North tried to externalise this crude reality again and confine it to the rural South, the South could never uproot racial slavery. On the contrary, it explicitly defended it as a positive good,29 so much so that slavery facilitated the development of a tendency towards egalitarian relations within white communities in the States. The clash of these different liberal platforms led to the American Civil War, and its outcome forced liberalism into a U-turn and repudiation of this institution, in a slow and uneven general condemnation.30
24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. Losurdo 2005, p. 42. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 21ff. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 97102; Losurdo 2011, pp. 97102. Cited in Losurdo 2005, p. 50; Losurdo 2011, p. 48. Losurdo 2005, p. 51; Losurdo 2011, p. 49. Cited in Losurdo 2005, p. 4; Losurdo 2011, p. 1. Losurdo 2005, p. 67; Losurdo 2011, p. 64.


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Given these premises, 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. They were ruled by a rigid separation of the population into closed groups, each of which was subject to different legislation and a different order of rights and duties: the conditions of whites, free blacks and slaves were so different that one could almost call it a caste-system. For Losurdo and other authors, such as Van den Berghe and Fredrickson, its most apt definition is Herrenvolk democracy: a democracy which applied exclusively to the master race.31 This democracy operates through a movement that pivots on the axis of a distinction between a superior white race and the black race. Given the increase of land available as a result of the expropriation of the Native Americans during the advance towards the Western frontier, the discrimination against blacks and their reduction to human property also facilitated the development of a tendency towards egalitarian relations, even though these were not free from contradictions and conflicts based on class and status, within the community of free whites.32 The members of an aristocracy of class or race tended to celebrate themselves as peers33 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.34 A similar argument might apply to the British Empire, where an intermediate caste of serfs was growing between the castes of free whites and black slaves, who were mainly confined to the colonies. This growing caste was made up of whites whose freedoms were incomparable to those of their masters. Given the limitations and duties to which they were subjected, they could not be defined as free. This inferior race35 was deprived of modern freedom, or negative freedom, and, as eugenic and social Darwinism was being developed, some authors came to regard it as a real livestock breeding race36 that, from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, also included wage-labour and the vast realm of the poor forced to beg. Clearly, the right to vote could not be granted to this infant multitude37 lacking in culture and political discernment. A sort
31. Losurdo 2005, pp. 107, 333; Losurdo 2011, pp. 107, 321. Cf. Van den Berghe 1994; Fredrickson 1981. 32. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 368. On the complex evolution of the American constitution and domestic social relations, see Losurdo 1996b, pp. 567 and Losurdo 1994, pp. 69ff. 33. Losurdo 2005, pp. 1078; Losurdo 2011, p. 107. Cf. Losurdo 1996b, pp. 767. 34. Losurdo 2005, pp. 1078. 35. Losurdo 1993, p. 44. Cf. Losurdo 1994, pp. 246; here the terms of liberal racialisation of the subclasses of society and the losers in life are defined. 36. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 11416, 21215; Losurdo 2011, pp. 11315, 21317. 37. Losurdo 1993, p. 42.

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of social apartheid seems to correspond to the racial apartheid,38 whilst the Irish population and the peoples of subjugated India take the place of blacks and Indians. 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. Up to a point, even the society which emerged in England from the Glorious Revolution was configured as a sort of master-race democracy,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.41 A glance at international relations shows a similar phenomenon. Throughout the centuries, the Western colonial expansionism of liberal countries resulted in a master-race democracy on a planetary scale.42 On the one side was the demand for freedom of movement of the great powers who had the right to obtain resources, markets, raw materials and even a living-space outside the borders of their so-called civilised world. On the other side were the virgin territories, the empty cradles of colonial land, whose population enjoyed no recognition. They could not determine themselves or claim any right because they lived in barbarous conditions. They could be treated according to the most hard-and-fast paedagogical dictatorship, and their enslavement or exploitation did not violate the principle of freedom. When they opposed an illegitimate resistance to the providential march of liberal civility, even their extermination became a just act. In this case, 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, 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, albeit in a subaltern position.43 In many respects, this dialectical mechanism of extension of citizenship in the capitalist metropolis and the projection of the process of racialisation to the outside44 led, in the aftermath of World-War Two, to the reabsorption of the Jews and the State of Israel, previously seen as
38. Losurdo 2005, p. 113; Losurdo 2011, p. 113. 39. Cited in Losurdo 2005, p. 123; Losurdo 2011, p. 123. 40. Losurdo 2005, p. 124; Losurdo 2011, p. 124. Cf. Losurdo 1998, pp. 19ff. 41. Losurdo 2005, p. 124. 42. Losurdo 2005, pp. 216ff.; Losurdo 2011, pp. 219ff. 43. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 2234; Losurdo 2011, pp. 2267. In Losurdo 1996b, p. 106, Rhodes is cited as saying: if you want to avoid civil war, that is, if you want to neutralise the agitation of the workers and socialist movements, you must become imperialists. 44. Losurdo 1993, p. 78.


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an extraneous and dangerous body in the midst of the Western community of free peoples. This move also intensified the discrimination against Muslim and Arab peoples who were guilty of not accepting their assigned rle in the new international semi-colonial order.45

Towards a redefinition of liberalism In view of this argument, the concept of liberalism seems in need of drastic revision. Rather than a category of the spirit, liberalism is a political movement that emerged out of a historically determined situation, and has its basis in a given social environment and its power-relations. As Losurdo explains, in this political framework, the word liberal emerged in opposition to the word servile, which described the followers of monarchical absolutism. 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, and in opposition to the condition of servility in a strict sense, as the condition of the plebs.46 This reflected a social configuration where the well-off and wealthy enjoyed a better education, were well-versed in the liberal arts and had no need to take up manual labour, and so became aware of their own difference from the masses of people and their vulgarity.47 Liberals originally designates the educated property-owning classes with their special interests. The term emerged from a proud self-designation that was at the same time a political, social and even ethnic connotation (in relation to the subalterns and especially colonised people).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, the elected class, the well-off .49 Here, Losurdo laments the inadequacy of the categories of traditional historiography, and claims that the line between liberalism and conservatism, or reaction, is blurred. Was there a clear difference between the positions of nineteenth-century liberalism and those of Friedrich Nietzsche, 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, until the Final Solution, see Losurdo 1999c, passim; on the recuperation of Judaism and the State of Israel within the framework of the sacred space of civilisation, see Losurdo 2007, Chapter IV, Antisemitismo, pp. 11452, and Chapter V, Antisionismo, pp. 15386. On the discrimination against the Arabs, see Chapter VI, Filo-islamismo, pp. 187243. 46. Losurdo 2005, pp. 23942; Losurdo 2011, pp. 2426. 47. Losurdo 2005, pp. 2401. 48. Losurdo 2005, p. 242. 49. Ibid.

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his theory, Nietzsche was deeply motivated to write a militant critique and denunciation of the revolution and of modernity50 in the form of a critique and denunciation of the processes of democratisation that they had initiated. His was a contestation of massification and homogenisation; in the name of instrumental reason51 and principles of equality inherent to humanism and modern optimism52 revolution and modernity had burnt the soil beneath the geniuss feet, and hampered exceptional individuals, superior castes, and the few fortunate examples who are worthy of the name of man and whose greater mission is the production of culture, arts, and literature. Nietzsches criticism was consonant with the parallel liberal denunciation of the radicalism spread by the French Revolution, and with the defence of the privileges of property and culture found in authors like Tocqueville and Constant.53 In the last phase of his conscious life, Nietzsche came to posit, against the rebellion of subaltern classes and modern wage-slaves, whose only reason to live was work and the burden of social reproduction, the foundation of a party of life54 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. The Dionysian appeal to the superman, 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.55 Nietzsche invited the ruling classes to leave all reservations and moral inhibitions behind, as these belonged to the Christian herd and universal rationalism, and to respond to the challenge of the subaltern classes and inferior races by waging a total war, by means of political Caesarism rather than through compromise and consensus-democracy. In this, Nietzsche and, in many respects, Heidegger after him56 was actually warning and defiantly challenging the cowardly and degenerated liberalism of his times.

50. Losurdo 2002, p. 900. Cf. Losurdo 1991, pp. 119ff. 51. See Losurdo 2002, pp. 1070ff. The critique of calculating reason or the hubris of reason would later be a Leitmotiv of Heideggers critique of modernity. See Losurdo 1991, pp. 223, 11319, 154 and passim. 52. Losurdo 2002, p. 7. 53. See Losurdo 2002, pp. 317ff. 54. Cited in Losurdo 2002, pp. 3667. 55. Losurdo 2002, pp. 412, 651, 442. 56. See Losurdo 1991, pp. 89ff. On the affinities and differences between Nietzsches and Heideggers radical anti-modernism, see Losurdo 1991, pp. 196ff. In Heidegger, the criticism


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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 emancipation57 and violent dis-emancipation. He had already effectively adopted these two categories in his research on the constitution of modern democracy. In other words, 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. This emancipation did not involve the social totality: in fact, without the exclusion of subaltern groups, popular classes, servants, slaves, and colonised people, it would not have been possible, as it finally granted free men a clear separation from the common people; prior to that, their shared subjugation to the sovereign, which flattened society, had been an obstacle to their freedom. As far as subaltern groups were concerned, one could speak of a dis-emancipation, because the freedom of action of higher interests no longer subjected to any constraints, whether political, cultural or religious, came to rest on their subjugation. This entailed the autonomization of the property of those who already enjoyed recognition, of those who aspired to form themselves into the community or caste of freemen,58 and thus formed a civil society. Civil society, far from being a neutral territory, could in turn become the hegemonic field of the bourgeoisie or the landed aristocracy and emerged from a compromise between these two classes.59 In Losurdos opinion, 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, social relations amongst the recognised, emancipated from the absolute power of the monarch, were increasingly free and egalitarian, and guided by a proud individualistic affirmation of the groups autonomy that abhorred any constraint, whether issued by equals or by the higher power of the state. The state was assigned the task of policing, but denied any right of intervention that might lead to an equalisation of social disequilibrium in the sphere of civil society. The unrecognised, on the other hand, did not gain any new liberal right, whether civil or political, and the old power came to exercise new forms of domination that were equally oppressive, resulting in reification61 or
of the revolutionary tradition is said to have found its highest expression: Losurdo 1996b, pp. 323. 57. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 34ff. 58. Losurdo 2005, p. 316; Losurdo 2011, p. 329. 59. Losurdo 2005, p. 316. 60. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 180ff.; Losurdo 2011, pp. 181ff. Cf. Losurdo 1993, pp. 246. 61. Losurdo 2005, p. 298; Losurdo 2011, p. 302.

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un-specification on natural grounds.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 space63 of equals, the well-to-do who recognised one another and developed liberal relationships amongst themselves, and a profane space that was beastly and intrinsically lacerated by conflict and negativity, where the question of freedom was not even raised. Hic sunt leones: whoever belonged to this group, whether manual labourer, serf, peasant, woman, Indian, black, coolie, Chinese, rogue-state, Arab or, today, the cheap immigrant-workforce, could no longer be said to be free, either by right, or in practice. For this reason, liberal theory did not problematise the clauses of exclusion64 that keep a vast mass of subalterns identified at the social, national or racial level outside of the realm of freedom. For the same reason, in European countries, and even in England, it was possible, for a long time, to resist and openly vindicate the census-restriction65 on suffrage. Safeguarding the divide between the sacred and uncontaminated space and the profane space was an absolute priority. Any attempt at destroying it, or even redefining it by forcing its borders and opening it to the inclusion of social and ethnic dis-emancipated social groups, 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. 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. They were seen as an illegitimate attack on the freedom of the only subjectivity that liberalism knows, that of the property-owning white man. To this purpose, 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. When confronted with the dead wood67 of the redskins and colonised people, it could easily theorise and practice total war and genocide, exercise the purchase and selling of slaves and black human tools, and lead the ruthless extirpation of the
62. Losurdo 1996b, p. 67. 63. Losurdo 2005, p. 305; Losurdo 2011, p. 309. 64. Losurdo 1998, p. 19. 65. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 12ff. 66. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 186ff.; Losurdo 2011, p. 188. On the separation between the sacred space of civility and the profane realm of barbarism, see Losurdo 1996b, pp. 1748, where this attitude is shown to be rooted in Western culture since the times of classical-Greek philosophy. 67. Losurdo 1999a, p. 13. Cf. Losurdo 1996b, pp. 205ff., pp. 251ff.


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Jewish pathogenic element.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, even by invoking Caesarism and dictatorship.69 The questioning of slavery legitimated the bloody conflict of the American Civil War. 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, as well as numerous coups dtat theorised or practised by the forces of liberalism in order to bring the revolutionary crises to a halt.70 Even a conflict between nations that belong to the sacred space, as the experience of the two world-wars demonstrated, called for the need of a total or totalitarian71 regimentation of civil society. 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 Gemeinschaft73 and the destiny74 of the motherland by inciting the organicist fusion of the social whole in a total mobilisation.75 An enlargement of the sacred space could only occur by means of a selective co-optation from above operated by the ruling classes, rather than an autonomous pressure from below carried out by excluded social groups or subjugated nationalities.76 This significant crack in the liberal movement would determine its evolutionary leap. The ruling classes gradually opened the doors of freedom when they no longer had a choice, 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. In these cases, the inclusion of subaltern classes occurred passively through the development of a
68. Losurdo 1999a, p. 15. On the different forms of discrimination against Jews in Western history, anti-Judaism, Judeophobia and anti-semitism, see Losurdo 1999b, passim, where Poliakovs thesis on eternal anti-semitism is criticised. 69. See Losurdo 2005, pp. 248ff.; Losurdo 2011, pp. 251ff. Cf. Losurdo 1993, pp. 66ff., 97116, 172ff. 70. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 35, 915, 157. 71. Losurdo criticises the wholly ideological meaning of the term totalitarianism, first used in the Truman Doctrine to assimilate Nazism and Communism against liberal democracy, and refers the genesis of total institutions to the colonial history of the West and liberal countries: see Losurdo 1996b, pp. 188ff., and, in general, Losurdo 1998, passim. 72. See Losurdo 1996b, pp. 1834. 73. Losurdo 1991, p. 41. The key-notion of all organicist and anti-modern theories is that of community, 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, pp. 1913. 74. Losurdo 1991, p. 4. 75. Losurdo 1991, p. 40. See Losurdo 1993, p. 165. 76. On the radical pressure from below, see Losurdo 2005, p. 167; Losurdo 2011, p. 168. On the evolution of liberalism, see Losurdo 2005, pp. 27781; Losurdo 2011, pp. 2805.

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new mode of political and social control, the Bonapartism that allowed leaders to charismatically lead the masses.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.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. Emancipation then turned into forms of aggressive and chauvinist nationalism, or an unbridled pathos of the West and civilisation79 that glorifies war and its rituals of proximity to death80 as an instrument of unification of the national community (and in this, many liberal thinkers were largely in agreement with the philosopher who was close to national socialism, Heidegger).81 This pathos fed on fundamentalist war-myths of origins and produced conspiracy-theories and delirious naturalistic, 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, whose belonging to the sacred space was disputed and denied time after time. In conclusion, when seen in the perspective of historical revision, liberalism seems to arise as the self-consciousness of a class of owners of slaves or servants,83 who, at the outset of capitalism, demanded self-government and the quiet enjoyment of ones property (including slaves and servants) against the monarchical despotism of central powers, and for it to be sanctioned by the rule of law.84 Contrary to the common thesis of the liberal apologists, Losurdo claims that liberalism is primarily the theoretical tradition that most rigorously circumscribed a restricted sacred realm.85 Within this realm, which is the result of a legacy that since the Old Testament was strongly rooted in the ideology of Western culture, what matters most is not the celebration of freedom or the individual as such, 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.86
77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. Losurdo 1993, p. 60. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 55ff., 196ff. Losurdo 1991, p. 68. Losurdo 1991, p. 10. See Losurdo 1991, pp. 150ff. See Losurdo 1991, pp. 93ff. Losurdo 2005, p. 305; Losurdo 2011, p. 309. Losurdo 2005, p. 305. Ibid. Ibid.


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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 Losurdos research come to intersect. Rather than a Manichean doctrine or ideological polemic, Losurdos analysis is a comprehensive attempt to conceptually understand history and politics. Despite its ruthlessness, the dissection of the real movements underlying liberalism does not lead Losurdo to misunderstand and criminalise this trend. His comparative work does not lead one to reject its merits,87 originality and progressive characteristics. Although, in some cases, it is presented as a reactionary movement, a rebellion based on class, nationalist and racist egoisms against any control and limitation from higher powers, which takes it upon itself to regulate the whole of society, liberalism cannot simply be reduced to that. The liberal tradition shows an extraordinary flexibility,88 an ability to modernise and defeat all of its adversaries. 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.89 In fact, more than any other tradition, liberalism theorised the decisive problem of the limitation of power.90 The conquest of the selfgovernment by civil society had a genuine revolutionary significance91 and must be understood as a progressive trend in itself. Freed from an arbitrary power, 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,92 thus creating an order that had not previously existed, and that was a crucial achievement for society as a whole. 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, something that twentieth-century communism was unable to do. Despite the objections of Losurdos critics, in the Counter-History and the texts of the same period, one can find a consistent recognition of the real strong points93 of liberalism, consonant with Losurdos philosophical approach to history.

87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93.

Losurdo 2005, p. 336; Losurdo 2011, p. 341. Losurdo 2005, p. 339; Losurdo 2011, p. 343. Losurdo 2005, p. 339. Ibid. Losurdo 2005, p. 304; Losurdo 2011, p. 308. Losurdo 2005, p. 339. Losurdo 2005, p. 339; Losurdo 2011, p. 343.

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First of all, Losurdo contests the idea of a linear94 evolution of liberalism from a rough and unfinished pre-history, in which clauses of exclusion are justified, to a fully accomplished modernity where generalised liberal freedom triumphs. This apologetic account is decisively refuted by historical analysis. The history from Locke to the democratic liberalism of the twentieth century (which, in any case, is only a part of liberalism at a particular historical moment) is discontinuous and fragmented into a contradictory succession of progressive and regressive movements, an inextricable web of pushes, leaps towards emancipation, and equally drastic fall-backs into dis-emancipation. Liberalism has often come to theorise and realise a widening of the sphere of rights and freedom that hitherto excluded subaltern groups and races, but was also often capable, when faced with historical contingencies and states of exception, to return to pure liberalism, not to be confused with democratic liberalism.95 During the first half of the twentieth century, 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, and by the movements for national liberation of colonised people. This attempt followed the experience of colonialism and led from imperialist total war to the total institutions of the twentieth century, when liberalism was so compromised that it became the main agent of the so-called Thirty-Years War.96 Secondly, Losurdo claims that the idea of a spontaneous development of liberalism towards democracy97 argued, amongst others, by Norberto Bobbio is wrong.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, liberalism univocally evolved through a clash with the outside, with the other, and with social and political reality. Rather than the coherent unfolding of an idea, it was a dramatic clash with the harshness of objectivity. From its historically-determinate social genesis, liberal theory seems to suffer from the inevitable inability of thinking the universal. The gap between sacred and profane is constitutive of its epistemological status and makes it impossible for liberalism to fully appreciate rights and freedoms; these are solely seen as partial, no longer as privileges, but still exclusively belonging to those who enjoy the recognition of the members of a community of freemen. In fact, Losurdo accuses liberalism of completely ignoring the figure of the modern

94. 95. 96. 97. 98.

Losurdo 1993, pp. 345. Losurdo 1994, pp. 389. Cf. Losurdo 1993, pp. 101ff., 130ff., 162ff. Losurdo 1998, p. 36. For a discussion of this category, see Losurdo 1996b, pp. 135ff. Losurdo 1993, p. 46. See Bobbio 1984.


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individual as an autonomous subject of rights.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. However, the foundation for a real appreciation of human freedom can only be the latter. One might say that liberalism contains the form of universality as an exigency with no content, because it lacks its bearer, that subject which is the human as such. Only when contaminated by the struggles of the democratic and socialist movement, in a confrontation with negativity and the actual presence of the excluded and their demands, was the liberal tradition forced to open up its doors.100 Therefore, the objective dialectics inscribed in reality led liberalism to an inner separation resolved in the form of democratic liberalism. This dialectics confronted liberalism on the one hand with the political and social radicalism of the French Revolution and socialism, on the other hand with the struggles for emancipation of colonised people. The development of liberalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is explained, in the first instance, by the struggle waged by the bipedal machines of the metropolis, on the one hand, and slaves and colonial populations or populations of colonial origin, on the other.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.102 The definition of modern democracy cannot be abstracted from the achievement of economic and social rights and the principles of peoples self-determination. These two revolutionary movements are parallel and intersect at their highest moments, succeeding, for the first time, in thinking the universal concept of humanity and practice it in its integrity. All of the principles that were compressed in the ideological form of liberalism finally assumed a truly universal scope. Contemporary democracy presupposed the overcoming of three great discriminations (of race, census and gender) still alive and in force on the eve of October 1917.103 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 recognition104 to achieve equal

99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104.

Losurdo 1993, p. 48. Losurdo 1994, p. 17. Losurdo 2005, p. 180; Losurdo 2011, p. 181. See Losurdo 1993, pp. 50ff. Losurdo 1998, p. 30. Losurdo 1991, p. 186.

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dignity as people and eventually became the most authentic actualisation of liberalism and the premise for democracy.

Conclusion Here, we can trace some conclusions for this excursus, which aimed to place the dogmatic self-consciousness of triumphant liberalism into question, and to provide a preliminary introduction to the work of Domenico Losurdo. Ideology-critique often runs a great risk: that of indulging in an attitude of abstract and indeterminate negation, incapable of seeing things dialectically, and thus of grasping the elements of truth present in the position under critique. This is not the lesson of historical materialism. From Marx onwards, historical materialism has taught us to walk the fine line between the critique of modernity and the recognition of its legitimacy, that is, of the clear progress that modernity and capitalism have signified with respect to feudalism and its underdevelopment and villeinage. Marxian studies too often forget this lesson, and the desire to subject to critique degenerates into a demonisation, criminalisation and, ultimately, a subaltern misunderstanding of the object of study, be it liberal theory or capitalist society as a whole. This signals an unresolved relation to history that inevitably results in unsophisticated and scientifically irrelevant analyses. A dialectical approach, as suggested by Gramsci, is, on the other hand, fully endorsed by Losurdo, as he never sets out to present a moralistic denunciation of liberalism as an ideological perversion and an antechamber of terror, but aims to comprehend its genesis materialistically, with its objective reasons and limits. It is therefore not a matter of destroying the philosophical foundations of liberal thought in order to go back to what preceded it. If anything, the historical premises of the troubled evolution of liberalism and its current involution need to be understood. The danger of detaching liberalism from democracy and returning to eighteenth-century positions that were brutally proprietary is clear and present. In such a scenario, modern democracy would be condemned to suffer from a seemingly interminable illness.

Bassani, Luigi Marco 2006, Review of D. Losurdos Controstoria del liberalismo, Libero, 6 January: 27. Bedeschi, Giuseppe 2005, Libert fondate sulla schiavit, La domenica de Il Sole 24 ore, 11 September: 31. Bobbio, Norberto 1984, Il futuro della democrazia, Turin: Einaudi.


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Cofrancesco, Dino 2005, Ma lOccidente non mister Hyde. Lequivoco di Losurdo, Corriere della sera, 8 November: 47. 2006, Non fare di tutto Liberal un fascio clericale. In merito allintervento della Pellicciari, Il Riformista, 26 January: 12. dOrsi, Angelo 2005, Tocqueville nobile schiavista: laltra faccia del liberalismo, La Stampa Tuttolibri, 22 October: 7. Fredrickson, George M. 1981, White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gravagnuolo, Bruno 2005, Liberalismo, ecco il suo libro nero, lUnit, 26 September: 21. Lattieri, C. 2006, Review of D. Losurdos Controstoria del liberalismo, LIndipendente, 8 January: 18. Losurdo, Domenico 1991, La comunit, la morte, lOccidente. Heidegger e lideologia della guerra, Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. 1993, Democrazia o bonapartismo. Trionfo e decadenza del suffragio universale [Democracy and Bonapartism: Triumph and Decadence of Universal Suffrage], Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. 1994, La Seconda Repubblica. Liberismo, federalismo, postfascismo [The Second Republic. Liberalism, Federalism, Post-Fascism], Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. 1996a, Fenomenologia del potere: Marx, Engels e la tradizione liberale [Phenomenology of Power: Marx, Engels and the Liberal Tradition], in Autore Attore Autorit, edited by Alberto Burgio and Domenico Losurdo, Urbino: Quattro Venti/Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici. 1996b, Il revisionismo storico. Problemi e miti [Historical Revisionism: Problems and Myths], Rome/Bari: Laterza. 1998, Il peccato originale del Novecento [The Original Sin of the Twentieth Century], Rome/Bari: Laterza. 1999a, Lebreo, il nero e lindio nella storia dellOccidente [The Jew, the Black and the Indian in the History of the West], Giano. Pace ambiente problemi globali, 33: 10356. 1999b, Antigiudaismo, giudeofobia, antisemitismo [Anti-Judaism, Judeophobia and Anti-Semitism], I viaggi di Erodoto, 13, 38/39: 13960. 1999c, La crisi del processo di emancipazione degli ebrei: per unanalisi comparata [The Crisis of the Process of the Emancipation of the Jews: a Comparative Analysis], in Nel nome della razza. Il razzismo nella storia dItalia 18701945, edited by Alberto Burgio, Bologna: Il Mulino. 2001 [1991], Heidegger and the Ideology of War: Community, Death and the West, translated by Marella and Jon Morris, New York: Humanity Books. 2002, Nietzsche, il ribelle aristocratico. Biografia intellettuale e bilancio critico [Nietzsche. The Aristocratic Rebel: Intellectual Biography and Critical Assessment], Turin: Bollati Boringhieri. 2005, Controstoria del liberalismo, Rome/Bari: Laterza. 2007, Il linguaggio dellImpero. Lessico dellideologia americana [The Language of Empire. Lexicon of American Ideology], Rome/Bari: Laterza. 2011 [2005], Liberalism: a Counter-History, translated by Gregory Elliott, London: Verso. Morelli, Raffaello 2005, Critiche alla controstoria del liberalismo, Libro aperto, 43: 2635. Pellicciari, Angela 20056, La tolleranza che viene dal cattolicesimo, Liberal, 33: 445. Petrucciani, Stefano 2005, Il libro nero del liberalismo [The Black Book of Liberalism], Critica marxista, 4: 323. Van den Berghe, Pierre L. 1994, Race and Racism: A Comparative Perspective, New York: Wiley.

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Marx, Lenin and Pashukanis on Self-Determination: Response to Robert Knox

Bill Bowring
Birkbeck College

Abstract This response to Robert Knoxs 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, but also, on the basis of my own reflections since 2008, to fill in some gaps. Indeed, to revise a number of my arguments. First, I restate my attempt at a materialist account of human rights. Next I explain why, for me, the right of peoples to self-determination is absolutely central to a materialist understanding of human rights; and also fill a serious gap in my own account in the book. This leads me not only to a reply to Robert Knox on the question of indeterminacy in international law, but also to a disagreement with him on the use or misuse of the language of self-determination. My fourth section returns to our very different evaluations of the significance and meaning of the work of Yevgeny Pashukanis, and what, for me, is Pashukaniss misunderstanding, for reasons consistent with his general theoretical trajectory, of Marx and Lenin on the Irish question. Finally, I present an outline of a re-evaluation of Marxs principled position on self-determination. Keywords Robert Knox, Bill Bowring, human rights, international law, self-determination, indeterminacy, Pashukanis, revolutions, anticolonial struggles

My book on international law and human rights appeared in 2008.2 I have been very fortunate indeed, in that several reviewers have taken it seriously.3 Robert Knox, who is himself a rising star of international legal theory, 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. Knox 2010. 2. Bowring 2008a. 3. See also Shaw 2009; Feldman 2008; Harvey 2008.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573833


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blog.4 I am therefore particularly grateful to the editors of Historical Materialism for this opportunity to respond to him. Symptomatic of the care with which Knox has read my book is his ready identification5 of my central project, which is a substantive account of human rights. This is intended by me to be a thoroughly materialist account of human rights, eliminating any reference to the transcendent or to any reliance on human nature, and located firmly in history, time and space.

A materialist account of human rights A central element of my project is the identification, itself nothing new, of three generations of human rights, each with its inception in the revolutionary events of the 1780s, of the years following 1917 and, especially, of the great anticolonial struggles of the post-World-War II period. Each of these inspiring revolutionary events and the rights associated with them the civil and political rights of the French Revolution, the social and economic rights of the Russian Revolution, and the third-generation rights, crowned by the right of peoples to self-determination, and anticolonial struggles make available to succeeding generations a symbolic capital upon which each may draw. In this way, the rights in question, at first glance no more than forms of words, mere rhetoric, acquire material force when mobilised in struggle. This is what I mean by . . . their proper status as always scandalous, the product of, and constantly reanimated by, human struggle.6 I further maintain that human rights are not at all like civil and criminal law, which, in various forms, have existed (like religion) for as long as human civilisation, and which are to be found in codified or customary forms. There is a continuing debate, to which I have not yet contributed, as to whether constitutional law is also the product of defining historical moments and struggles. 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, and it is no accident that the presiding genius of constitutional theory in England was A.V. Dicey, a fervent opponent of Home Rule, and an energetic Unionist. International law also has a special status, with serious arguments, drawn from English positivism and international-relations realism, as to whether
4. Knox 2008. 5. Knox 2010, p. 194. 6. Bowring 2008a, p. 112, as cited in Knox 2010, p. 194.

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there is any such thing. It is my contention that the international law to which Martti Koskenniemi referred as the gentle civilizer of nations7 or for an imagined and reactionary version of which Carl Schmitt had such nostalgia,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. 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. This is why I refer, in my first chapter, to the right of peoples to self-determination as the revolutionary kernel of international law. It is my case that the working-out of struggles for this right dominates the international agenda to this day. My examples in the book, drawn from practical experience, of the Kurds and the Chechens, are but two of a myriad all over the planet. Much of my book incidentally, the sequence of chapters was re-ordered, 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, but also to responses to some of the most cogent opposing positions, especially those of Habermas; of the postmodernists, especially Douzinas; and of Badiou and iek, upon whose work I first drew for its powerful attacks on contemporary human-rights discourse. Knox is, however, quite right in noting my sympathy with Badious political challenge, alongside and despite his complex ontology, in respect of which I do have reservations for example, I reject Badious critique of Spinoza, a topic for further work.

International law and self-determination My disagreements with Knox begin where he explains my position on international law, and introduces my critique of Miville and Pashukanis. My account of self-determination begins with Lenins profound and detailed polemic with Rosa Luxemburg and others, in a series of extended articles written before World-War I.10 In short, Lenins principled position, put into practice by him following 1917, and the subject-matter of his final struggle with Stalin as graphically analysed by the late Moshe Lewin, is for me very
7. 8. 9. 10. Koskenniemi 2001. Schmitt 2003; Schmitt 2007. Bowring 2008b. See Lwy 1976, pp. 968, for a resounding defence of Lenins position.


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much alive. That is why my title, 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. It is not the principles concerned which could be said to have undergone a process of degradation, but the real achievements of struggle in transforming international law. Rather than lumping together the active struggle of the USSR and the Third World, as Knox suggests,11 I show, in Chapter 1 of my book, and my chapter in Susan Markss 2008 collection, how the USSR played a thoroughly contradictory, indeed schizophrenic rle after Lenins death. On the one hand, self-determination movements were ruthlessly repressed both within the USSR and its sphere of interest; on the other, 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, in 1960, 1966 and 1970. What was missing from my book and from my Susan Marks chapter was Issa Shivjis splendid critique of Soviet practice. I had most certainly read this in 1992, but had forgotten it by 2007. Shivji is one of the most radical African specialists in law and the constitution. His Concept of Human Rights in Africa12 is a fine expos of the malign influence of Western individualised human rights in Africa. In his 1991 contribution to William Twinings Aberdeen collection13 he was perfectly clear that the comprehensive theorisation of the right to self-determination was carried out by Lenin, and was put into practice in the 1918 Declaration of Rights of the Working and Exploited People14 which proclaimed the complete independence of Finland, evacuation of troops from Persia, and freedom of self-determination for Armenia. Self-determination only appeared in the UN-Charter (as a principle, not a right) at the insistence of the Soviet delegation.15 As for its application in Africa, Shivji refers to an important passage from the October 1917 Decree on Peace, drafted by Lenin.16
In accordance with the sense of justice of democrats in general, and of the working class in particular, 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. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. Knox 2010, p. 196. Shivji 1989. Shivji 1991. Lenin 1918, pp. 4235. Shivji 1991, p. 34. Lenin 1917, p. 250.

B. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 113127 state without the precisely, clearly, and voluntarily expressed consent and wish of that nation, irrespective of the time when such forcible incorporation took place, irrespective also of the degree of development or backwardness of the nation forcibly annexed to the given state, or forcibly retained within its borders, and irrespective, finally, of whether this nation is in Europe or in distant, overseas countries.


Lenin, therefore, was for self-determination everywhere, including the Russian Empire and, indeed, the whole of Europe. I have no doubt he would have supported the Basques, the Kurds, the Chechens, and the Palestinians as well as the Irish. Shivji argues, quite correctly, that Soviet practice following World-War II was consistently to apply only one aspect of Lenins proposition, that is, formation of states by formerly colonised people but otherwise resolutely to uphold, in the most conservative manner, the doctrines of territorial integrity, state-sovereignty and non-intervention. This is the rigid positivism to which I refer in my chapter for Susan Markss collection.17 For Lenin, however, self-determination was a continuing right, and could be invoked at any time by an oppressed nation even within a sovereign state. Shivji continued: the problem in Africa has been precisely that the existing states have not treated nations and minorities under them democratically, hence their fear that the recognition of this right will lead to secession.18 Shivji applied this analysis to Ethiopia/Eritrea and to Southern Sudan. He argued forcefully that state-practice in Africa had isolated and absolutised only one element in the right, the element of anticolonialism. This had robbed the right of self-determination of its fundamental defining characteristic, antiimperialism.19 He concluded:
. . . the right to self-determination is a collective right. It is a continuing right, a right that keeps its validity even after a people has chosen a certain form of government or a certain international status.20 The right-holders in the right to self-determination are dominated/exploited people and oppressed nations, nationalities, national groups and minorities identifiable specifically in each concrete situation.21

17. 18. 19. 20. 21.

See Bowring 2008b. Shivji 1991, p. 35. Shivji 1991, p. 37. See Cassese 1979, p. 150. Shivji 1991, p. 43.


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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, entitled The National Question and Self-Determination: Prospects for Alternative Formulae,23 to Shivjis work at all, but only to the much-more conservative and orthodox account by Abdullahi An-Naim in Shivjis own collection, also published in 1991.24

The absence of indeterminacy? Furthermore, Knox takes me to task for neglecting the debate on legal indeterminacy.25 To which, in part, I plead guilty. The indeterminacy-thesis holds that in any given case legal argument can serve to justify any outcome. Knox cites Koskenniemi, as arguing that the law constantly oscillates between the two mutually opposed poles of sovereignty and world order. In fact, at the page cited by Knox,26 Koskenniemi explains that there are two ways of arguing about order and obligation in international law. The first traces them down to justice, common interests, progress . . . anterior or superior to State behaviour. . . . Another argument bases order and obligation on State behaviour, will or interest[.] Which may not be quite the same thing. My own take on this thesis, which I have put to Koskenniemi himself he seemed to agree is that writing, as he does, from the twin perspectives of scholar and practitioner, indeterminacy properly applies to the process of international litigation. As he puts it, [t]he politics of international law is what competent international lawyers do. And competence is the ability to use grammar in order to generate meaning by doing things in argument27 (his emphasis). Thus, the lawyers on each side of a case, and the judge(s), have in common their membership of an epistemic community, users of the language that must be used in order to participate in the process at all. Both sides advance the most convincing and competent argument they can. And the outcome is wholly indeterminate the case can go either way. Otherwise, there would be no point in litigating. Koskenniemi also pointed out that the other ambition in From Apology to Utopia looked beyond description. It was to provide resources for the use of international laws professional vocabulary
22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. Wa Mutua 1995. Wa Mutua 1995, p. 1150. An-Naim 1991, pp. 1012. Knox 2010, p. 197. Koskenniemi 2005, p. 59. Koskenniemi 2005, p. 571.

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for critical or emancipatory causes.28 I have no problem with either of these propositions. The first describes what I do when I and my colleagues argue a case at the European Court of Human Rights. The second is what I try to do in my own book, on the basis of a thoroughly materialist and historicised account of international law and its revolutionary kernel. As Koskenniemi himself freely admits, he is not a Marxist. But he combines the experience of practice with a fine critical scepticism as to international law. 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. For me, the historical outcome will be determined by politics, not by doctrine; and for that very reason is entirely indeterminate. We do not know which side will win. Immediately following his criticism as to indeterminacy, Knox charges me with silence as to the invocation of self-determination by various imperialist powers.29 He cites the 2008 Russia-Georgia War, and states that Russia invaded Georgia under the rationale (amongst others) of defending the right to self-determination of Abkhazias ethnic Russians. This is simply not the case.30 It is now firmly established31 that Georgia started the conflict by attacking Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, which is part of Georgian territory, but broke away in 1991. Russias response was a brutal counterattack in defence of its own peacekeepers and the many Ossetians who hold Russian citizenship. Abkhazia was not the issue. However, in my view, the Abkhazian people most certainly have a right to self-determination. Its people are Circassians, against whom the Russian Empire committed genocide in the 1800s. The Circassians will be making this point forcefully at the Russians Winter Olympics at Sochi, the site of the massacres. The Abkhaz language is quite unrelated to Georgian; Abkhazia had a long history as a kingdom and a principality, and had autonomous status within the USSR. The Abkhazians committed ethnic cleansing against the Georgian population of Abkhazia; but their claim to self-determination still has merit. 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. But I maintain that its origins are to be found in Marx and Engels, as I show below; and it was developed as an integral part of revolutionary Marxism by

28. Koskenniemi 2005, p. 589. 29. Knox 2010, p. 199. 30. Bowring 2010, forthcoming. 31. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia 2009. The IIFFMCG was established by a decision of the Council of the European Union of 2 December 2008.


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V.I. Lenin, and played the crucial rle in the development of international law after WWII.

The Pashukanis debate However, as with his Law and Disorder review,32 the nub of Knoxs critique concerns Yevgeny Pashukanis. Knox rightly reproaches me for ignoring Yevgeny Pashukaniss important text Lenin and Problems of Law.33 According to Knox, in Law and Disorder, This is the main text in which Pashukanis attempts to outline a specifically Marxist approach to legal strategy. For this reason I have always found it rather odd that it is never mentioned in the contemporary debates. I admit that I had not read it; but I have now. In my book, I argued that Pashukanis missed the significance of selfdetermination.34 Indeed, I asserted that Pasukanis was incapable of recognising the significance of self-determination for international law35 that is, its significance for the imperialist and colonial systems. Knox answered me, in his Law and Disorder review, as follows: . . . Pashukanis takes self-determination seriously. By this he means that in the final part, Part V, of Lenin and Problems of Law36 Pashukanis does indeed discuss self-determination, and this I had missed so I am very grateful to Knox, and pay tribute to his scholarship. In his Law and Disorder review, Knox concurred with Pashukaniss account that, for Lenin, the demand for the right of nations to self-determination was an abstract, negative demand of formal equal rights, and that, in the context of Russian absolutism, this abstract formal equality of right was a revolutionary demand. Knox then turned to Pashukaniss argument that this right though is ultimately limited precisely because it remains within a legal, and therefore capitalist framework, therefore in a new concrete conjuncture:
This was a new stage, a new situation, a new and higher level of struggle. And new priorities corresponded to it. The bourgeois-democratic stage had passed, and with it the formal legal demand for national self-determination characteristic of this stage lost its former significance. 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. Does this mean that national self-determination lost all significance; that it could be replaced with the self-determination of the proletariat? Certainly not. This would have been
32. 33. 34. 35. 36. Knox 2008. Pashukanis 1980. Bowring 2008a, pp. 2830. Bowring 2008a, p. 29. Pashukanis 1980, pp. 15662.

B. Bowring / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 113127 to ignore the presence of backward countries which had not passed through the stage of bourgeois-democratic national revolutions. The communist proletariat of advanced countries had to support these movements; 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. It was impossible to achieve this goal without proclaiming and conducting in practice the right of national self-determination. Moreover, even for a socialist society moving towards the elimination of classes the question of national self-determination still remains a real one, since although based on economics, socialism by no means consists solely of economics.37


We should recall what Pashukanis said a few pages earlier. He reported that Lenins opponents especially Rosa Luxemburg had argued against the right to self-determination under the pretext that in essence no selfdetermination could exist under capitalism, and that under socialism it was not necessary.38 Lenins position as stated in 1916, correctly reported by Pashukanis, was that [t]he dispute is related to one of the forms of political oppression, namely, the forceful domination of one nation by the state of another nation. This is simply an attempt to avoid political questions.39 But Pashukanis went on to state that no one apart from him had noted that Luxemburgs position amounted to a complete rejection of the legal form.40 Pashukanis then cited a longer passage from Lenins 1914 major work on The Right of Nations to Self-Determination.41
By the way, it is not difficult to see why, from a Social-Democratic point of view, the right to self-determination means neither federation nor autonomy (although, speaking in the abstract, both come under the category of self-determination). The right to federation is simply meaningless, since federation implies a bilateral contract. It goes without saying that Marxists cannot include the defence of federalism in general in their programme. As far as autonomy is concerned, Marxists defend, not the right to autonomy, but autonomy itself, as a general universal principle of a democratic state with a mixed national composition, and a great variety of geographical and other conditions. Consequently, the recognition of the right of nations to autonomy is as absurd as that of the right of nations to federation.

37. 38. 39. 40. 41.

Pashukanis 1980, pp. 1623. Pashukanis 1980, pp. 1567. Lenin 1916, p. 321. Pashukanis 1980, p. 158. Lenin 1914, p. 441.


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The effect of this citation, out of context, is to render wholly obscure that which is actually quite clear.

Ignoring Marx and Lenin on Ireland? It appears to me that Pashukanis took this passage completely out of context. It is actually one of Lenins footnotes to Chapter 8 of the work in question, The Utopian Karl Marx and the Practical Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin was attacking Luxemburgs position that to call for Polish independence is utopia. She asked, ironically as she thought: why not raise the same demand for Ireland? This led Lenin straight to Marxs highly principled stand on Ireland. At first, prior to the 1860s, Marx had thought that Ireland would not be liberated by the national movement of the oppressed nation, but by the working-class movement of the oppressor nation. Lenin pointed out:
However, it so happened that the English working class fell under the influence of the liberals for a fairly long time, became an appendage to the liberals, and by adopting a liberal-labour policy left itself leaderless. The bourgeois liberation movement in Ireland grew stronger and assumed revolutionary forms. Marx reconsidered his view and corrected it.

Lenin cited the following passage. In his letter to Engels on 2 November 1867, Marx wrote:
The Fenian trial in Manchester was exactly as was to be expected. You will have seen what a scandal our people have caused in the Reform League. I sought by every means at my disposal to incite the English workers to demonstrate in favour of Fenianism. . . . I once believed the separation of Ireland from England to be impossible. I now regard it as inevitable, although Federation may follow upon separation.42

The trial in question was that of the Manchester martyrs William Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael OBrien who were members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood. 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. Marx 1867, p. 451. 43. McGee 2005, p. 36.

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That is, Marx was, in the words of the contemporary UK Terrorism Act of 2006, glorifying terrorism, and terrorism committed by bourgeois nationalists at that. He would now face a stiff sentence. Once Pashukaniss quotation is placed in context, it is plain that Pashukanis had wholly misunderstood both Lenin and Marx. And, influenced as he is by Pashukanis, Knox has also, it appears to me, misunderstood. The issue at stake between Lenin and Luxemburg was, as I point out in my book and chapter, whether the component-parts of the Russian Empire should have the right to self-determination and to break away to form new sovereign nations. Luxemburg was convinced that the Empire should be preserved, and was as opposed to Polish liberation as she was to Irish liberation. In my book, I show in detail how Lenin put his theory into practice immediately following the Bolshevik victory, supporting the independence of Finland, the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. His last struggle was with Stalin: Lenin on principle supported Georgian independence, even under a Menshevik government Stalin was totally opposed.44 Lenins creativity was key to the struggles of the national-liberation movements after World-War II.45

Karl Marx on self-determination I have to revise in another respect the position maintained in my book, as to Lenins rle as progenitor of the right of nations to self-determination. I note that Marx himself used the term self-determination on at least two occasions, in a political rather than a philosophical context. In his letter of 20 November 1865 to Hermann Jung,46 Marx referred, under the heading International Politics, to [t]he need to eliminate Muscovite influence in Europe by applying the right of self-determination of nations, and the re-establishment of Poland upon a democratic and social basis. Furthermore, in a speech on Poland delivered on 24 March 1875,47 he declared:
What are the reasons for this special interest of the workers party in the fate of Poland? First of all, of course, sympathy for a subjugated people which, with its incessant and heroic struggle against its oppressors, has proven its historic right to national autonomy and self-determination. It is not in the least a contradiction that the international workers party strives for the creation of the Polish nation.
44. 45. 46. 47. Bowring 2008a, pp. 1820. Bowring 2008a, pp. 325. Marx 1865, p. 200. Marx and Engels 1875, p. 55.


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No doubt, Pashukanis would have sought to put a different spin on that passage. The Afro-American Marxist scholar August Nimtz has addressed the myth of Marxs Eurocentrism, as he describes it.48 He shows how, from 1870 onwards, Marx and Engels ceased to expect the rebirth of a revolutionary movement in England, following the demise of the Chartists. Instead, they turned to Russia as the revolutionary vanguard. This was an overwhelmingly peasant country that had only one foot in Europe, and not the Europe that the Eurocentric charge refers to, that is, its most developed western flank.49 But as early as 1849, they urged that:
Only a world war can break old England, as only this can provide the Chartists, the party of the organized English workers, with the conditions for a successful rising against their powerful oppressors. Only when the Chartists head the English government will the social revolution pass from the sphere of utopia to that of reality. But any European war in which England is involved is a world war, waged in Canada and Italy, in the East Indies and Prussia, in Africa and on the Danube.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; expressed strong sympathy for the Sepoy Mutiny against Britain in India in 18579; and by 1861 wrote, as the US Civil War loomed, that US-expansion into Texas and what is now Arizona and New Mexico, brought with it slavery and the rule of the slaveholders.51 At the same time, they were quite clear that the booty of British imperialism had begun to corrupt and compromise the English proletariat.52 Pranav Jani, in turn, focuses on Marxs response to the 1857 revolt in British India.53 He maintains that under the impact of the Revolt, Marxs articles increasingly turned from an exclusive focus on the British bourgeoisie to theorise the self-activity and struggle of the colonised Indians.54 Jani seeks to show how Marxs historical-materialist methodology allowed him to transcend weak formulations and prejudices to achieve a more complex understanding of the relation between coloniser and colonised, in much the
48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. Nimtz 2002. Nimtz 2002, p. 66. Marx 1849, p. 213. Nimtz 2002, pp. 689. Nimtz 2002, p. 71. Jani 2002. Jani 2002, p. 82.

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same way as the Paris Commune forced him to re-assess his theory of the state.55 For Jani, 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. 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.56 Jani concludes that if Eurocentrism makes Western Europe the centre of the globe, then the Marx he presents is not Eurocentric. And Marx is the progenitor of the revolutionary sense of self-determination which I celebrate in my book. Knox cites Rajagopal with approval.57 Yet I am perplexed by Rajagopals contribution to the collection International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice.58 He at any rate acknowledges (drawing on Morsink)59 that Britain engaged in intense manoeuvring during the drafting of the UNs Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to prevent Soviet pressure from extending the effect of the right to self-determination to the colonies.60 This did not happen until 1966, following a tremendous diplomatic effort by the USSR and its allies. On the following page, however, he cites Michael Ignatieff, of all people, as authority for the utterly false proposition that the idea of selfdetermination was the result of the anticolonial revolt against empire.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. In the same collection, Vasuki Nesiah, in a flood of unbridled idealism, seeks to persuade us that self-determination has failed as a discourse. 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.62 Whatever that means . . .

Conclusion It will have been noted that Knoxs careful critique has required me to revise my own position in a number of respects. He has pointed out serious gaps in
55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. Jani 2002, p. 83. Jani 2002, pp. 901. Knox 2010, p. 204. Falk, Rajagopal and Stevens (eds.) 2008. Morsink 1999. Rajagopal 2008, p. 65. Rajagopal 2008, p. 66. Nesiah 2008, p. 214.


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my account, and has spurred me to carry out further investigation. However, to my project of revolutionary conservatism, he would be inclined to a type of principled opportunism. I am not sure I agree. Yet, in his final paragraph,63 he is kind enough to describe my book as an excellent contribution to the growing debate on Marxist approaches to international law. That gives me every reason to look forward to fruitful collaboration with one of the most talented Marxist scholars of the new generation.

An-Naim, Abdullahi Ahmed 1991, The National Question, Secession and Constitutionalism: the Mediation of Conflicting Claims to Self-Determination, in Shivji (ed.) 1991. Badiou, Alain 2003, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return of Philosophy, translated and edited by Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens, London: Continuum. Bartolovich, Crystal and Neil Lazarus (eds.) 2002, Marxism, Modernity and Postcolonial Studies, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Bowring, Bill 2008a, The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics, Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish. 2008b, Positivism versus Self-Determination: the Contradictions of Soviet International Law, in International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies, edited by Susan Marks, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2010, Georgia, Russia and the Crisis of the Council of Europe, in Conflict in the Caucasus: Implications for the International Legal Order, edited by Christopher Waters and James Green, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Cassese, Antonio 1979, Political Self-Determination Old Concepts and New Developments, in UN Law/Fundamental Rights: Two Topics in International Law, edited by Antonio Cassese, The Hague: Sijthoff. Falk, Richard, Balakrishnan Rajagopal and Jacqueline Stevens (eds.) 2008, International Law and the Third World: Reshaping Justice, Abingdon: Routledge-Cavendish. Feldman, Paul 2008, The Meaning of the Struggle for Rights, A World to Win, available at: <>. Harvey, Richard 2008, Shock and Awe Anti-Pessimism, Socialist Lawyer, September: 389, available at: < review_SL.pdf>. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Georgia 2009, available at: <>. Jani, Pranav 2002, Karl Marx, Eurocentrism, and the 1857 Revolt in British India, in Bartolovich and Lazarus (eds.) 2002. Knox, Robert 2008, Review of Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics by Bill Bowring, Law and Disorder, 2 April, available at: <>. 2010, Review of The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics by Bill Bowring, Historical Materialism, 18, 1: 193207. Koskenniemi, Martti 2001, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 18701960, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 63. Knox 2010, p. 205.

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2005, From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich 1914, The Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Prosveshcheniye 4, 5, and 6, in Collected Works, Volume 20, Moscow: Progress Publishers 1964. 1916, The Discussion on Self-Determination Summed Up, Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata, 1, in Collected Works, Volume 22, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964. 1917, Report on Peace and Decree on Peace, Izvestia No. 208, October 27, 1917, and Pravda, No. 171, November 10 (October 28) 1917, in Collected Works, Volume 26, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964. 1918, Declaration of the Rights of the Working and Exploited People, Pravda, No. 2, and Izvestia, No. 2, 4 (17) January 1918, Collected Works, Volume 26, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964. Lwy, Michael 1976, Marxists and the National Question, New Left Review, I, 96: 81100. Marx, Karl 1849, The Revolutionary Movement, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 184, in Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 8, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1977. 1865, Marx To Hermann Jung In London, 20 November, Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 42, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1987. 1867, Marx to Engels in Manchester, 2 November, Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 42, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1987. Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels 1875, For Poland, in Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 24, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1989. McGee, Owen 2005, The IRB: The Irish Republican Brotherhood from the Land League to Sinn Fin, Dublin: Four Courts Press. Morsink, Johannes 1999, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting and Intent, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Nesiah, Vasuki 2008, Resistance in the Age of Empire: Occupied Discourse Pending Investigation, in Falk, Rajagopal and Stevens (eds.) 2008. Nimtz, August 2002, The Eurocentric Marx and Engels and Other Related Myths, in Bartolovich and Lazarus (eds.) 2002. Pashukanis, Evgeny 1980 [1924], Lenin and Problems of Law, in Pashukanis: Selected Writings on Marxism and Law, edited by Piers Beirne and Robert Sharlet, New York: Academic Press. Rajagopal, Balakrishnan 2008, Counter-Hegemonic International Law: Rethinking Human Rights and Development as a Third World Strategy, in Falk, Rajagopal and Stevens (eds.) 2008. Schmitt, Carl 2003 [1974], The Nomos of the Earth: In the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum, translated by G.L. Ulmen, New York: Telos Press Publishing. 2007 [1975], Theory of the Partisan: Intermediate Commentary on the Concept of the Political, translated by G.L. Ulmen, New York: Telos Press Publishing. Shaw, Julia 2009, Review of The Degradation of the International Legal Order?: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics by Bill Bowring, Law and Society Review, 43, 3: 7224. Shivji, Issa G. 1989, The Concept of Human Rights in Africa, London: Codesria. 1991, The Right of Peoples to Self-Determination: an African Perspective, in Issues of Self-Determination, edited by William Twining, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. (ed.) 1991, State and Constitution: An African Debate on Democracy, Harare: SAPES Trust. wa Mutua, Makau 1995, Why Redraw the Map of Africa? A Moral and Legal Inquiry, Michigan Journal of International Law, 16: 111376.

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Walter Benjamins Archive: Images, Texts, Signs, Ursula Marx, Gudrun Schwarz, Michael Schwarz, Erdmut Wizisla, Translated by Esther Leslie, London: Verso, 2007 Walter Benjamin, Esther Leslie, London: Reaktion Books, 2007 Benjamin Handbuch. Leben-Werk-Wirkung, Burkhardt Lindner (ed.), Stuttgart: Verlag J.B. Metzler, 2006
Abstract We are used to classifying different thinkers according to their general orientation: progressive or conservative, revolutionary or nostalgic of the past, materialist or idealist. Walter Benjamin does not fit into these categories. He is a revolutionary critic of the ideologies of progress, a materialist theologian, and his nostalgia for the past is at the service of his Marxist dreams for the future. It is therefore not surprising that so many different and conflicting readings of his work have developed since his death, some trying to bring him back into the usual frames of thinking, others trying to recruit him for the newest philosophical fads, and many simply damning him as ridden with contradictions and therefore an intellectual failure. But there are also some happy exceptions: those who try to take into account the irreducible singularity of his intellectual and political endeavours. These three books, quite different in object and method a collection of documents from his archives, a biography, and a Benjamin Handbook belong to these exceptions. Keywords Marxism, messianism, materialism, theology, progress, utopia

Images of Benjamin We are used to classifying different thinkers according to their general orientation: progressive or conservative, revolutionary or nostalgic for the past, materialist or idealist. Walter Benjamin does not fit into these categories. He is a revolutionary critic of the ideologies of progress, a materialist theologian, and his nostalgia for the past is at the service of his Marxist dreams for the future. It is therefore not surprising that so many different and conflicting readings of his work have developed since his death, some trying to restore him within the usual frames of thinking, others trying to recruit him for the newest philosophical fads, and many simply damning him as ridden with contradictions and therefore an intellectual failure. But there are also some happy exceptions: those who try to take into account the irreducible singularity of his intellectual and political endeavours. There are many astonishing prophetic statements to be found in Benjamins works. We are going to discuss some of them. But he could also err in his predictions, for instance on
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573842


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

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or the Sybils from Siena? The lullaby-drawing on the effects of hashish Sleep, my little Sheep Sleep is very intriguing, it may perhaps be an illuminating complement to his writings under the same drug; the same does not necessarily hold for other graphic forms collected here. A complete list of all addresses in Benjamins Parisian notebook would be a significant research-item, 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, for the pleasure of Benjamin fetishists). And the same applies to much of the interesting items reproduced in this book . . . It should be said, however, that at least in one of the sections there is a direct relation between the presentation of Benjamins procedures, his ways of collecting, classifying and ordering materials, and the content: the chapter on the rag-picker and the Arcades Project. What it describes and documents is precisely the meaning of the project: the author as rag-picker wishes to collect the refuse of history, the materialist historian is the one that picks up everything that has been crushed underfoot, discarded, torn into pieces. The revolutionary meaning of the Arcades Project is intimately linked with the method Benjamin proposes: the collection and appropriation of rags. Much of the interest in Benjamin is certainly nourished by his tragic life-story, the life of a man in dark times (Hannah Arendt) who spent his last years in a precarious exile, and committed suicide in September 1940 to escape from the Gestapo. Thus the multiplication of biographies, of which Esther Leslies can be counted amongst the best. Unlike previous works, she was able to use the archive-material made available during the last few years including the volume reviewed above, which she translated into English, and used extensively in her own research. In fact, the most important new source is Benjamins correspondence, finally published in an unabridged, complete and uncensored version by Suhrkamp Verlag. Her book is not, strictly speaking, an intellectual biography: Benjamins works are mentioned, of course, but not systematically discussed, with a few exceptions. Since she had already published a remarkable book on his thought, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism (2000), the aim, this time, was rather to deal with his life and with the multiple facts of his personality: not only his political and cultural interests, but also his erotic and financial troubles, and his idiosyncratic obsessions with graphology, childrens books, etc. The book is very readable, in spite of some not-very-helpful chaptertitles except for the dates, they dont tell us much about his life: Making a Mark, 1917 24, Books after Books, 19259, Man of Letters, 19302, Noms de Plume, 19337, Writers Block, 193840 . . . The one piece of Benjamins writing that Leslie does analyse in detail is the essay on The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility, perhaps his best-known and most discussed writing. She analyses carefully the text itself, with all its ambiguities, as well as various interpretations, emphasising its surprising conclusion: the essay seems to celebrate modern technology mainly cinema but the epilogue . . . 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. In the essays coda Benjamin determined that fascists . . . too participated in technological modernity (p. 164). Unlike other biographers for example, Werner Fuld and Rainer Rochlitz Leslie is interested in and sympathetic to Benjamins political views. She points to the importance of his meeting with the young Latvian Bolshevik Asja Lacis in 1924, which gave him, according to a letter to Scholem, intensive insight into the actuality of a radical communism;


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she also refers to the astonishing insights of his Moscow diaries, 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, 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, an illegal into a violent one. However, her discussion of Benjamins amazing essay on surrealism (1929) is not quite satisfactory; she emphasises Benjamins criticism of the surrealists, while the main aspect of the article is the importance of surrealism from a communist viewpoint, the viewpoint of revolutionary pessimism. This is clearly stated in a phrase from Benjamins article which she quotes, but does not discuss: Surrealism has come ever closer to the communist answer. And that means pessimism all along the line. Absolutely. Mistrust in the fate of literature, mistrust in the fate of freedom, mistrust in the fate of humanity, but three times mistrust in all reconciliation: between classes, between nations, between individuals. And unlimited trust only in I.G. Farben and the peaceful perfection of the Luftwaffe.2 Benjamin borrowed the concept of communist pessimism obviously against the grain of official Soviet, wildly-optimistic, discourse from Pierre Navilles book La Rvolution et les intellectuels (1928), which he describes as an excellent work. Former editor of the journal La Rvolution surraliste, and militant of the French Communist Party, Naville had just joined, in those years, the Trotskyist Left Opposition, of which he would become one of the main leaders. This revolutionary pessimism enabled Benjamin to foresee intuitively, but with an astonishing acuity the catastrophes awaiting Europe, perfectly summarised in the ironic phrase on unlimited trust. Obviously, even he, the most pessimistic of all, could not predict the destructions that the Luftwaffe was to wreak on the cities and civilian population of Europe; nor that I.G. Farben would, barely a dozen years later, distinguish itself by employing forced labour from the concentration-camps by the tens of thousands. However, uniquely among Marxist thinkers and leaders of those years, Benjamin had a premonition of the monstrous disasters to which a crisis-ridden bourgeois civilisation could give birth. This essay, as well as the contemporary book, One Way Street (1928) document a decisive aspect of Benjamins thought: he is one of the few Marxists, in those years, to attempt a radical break with the ideology of inevitable and linear progress. As he would later write in the Arcades Project, his aim is to emancipate historical materialism from the bourgeois idea of progress and of all bourgeois habits of thought. Leslie discusses Benjamins increasing distance from the Soviet (Stalinist) brand of Communism during the thirties, a process which culminates after the German-Soviet pact of 1939, in his Theses On the Concept of History; written when it was midnight in the century (the title of a novel by Victor Serge), they constitute, as Leslie aptly summarises, Benjamins reckoning with Social Democracy, Stalinism and bourgeois thought, none of which were able to prevent the disaster of fascism. In her conclusion, after surveying some
2. Benjamin 1978, p. 191.

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


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other issue has provoked so many polemics in the reception of his work, with conflicting views trying to purge Benjamins philosophy of some irritating element: for some, religion, for others, materialism. One can start with his intellectual friendship with Gershom Scholem, as remarkably studied by Stphane Moss. Since their first conversations in Switzerland during the First World-War, which turned around the concepts of revelation, redemption and justice, until their exchanges during their final meeting in Paris (February 1938), this issue never ceased to occupy them. Scholem could never accept his friends turn toward communism, which he considered, in a letter from 1931, as a regrettable confusion between religion and politics. During their last conversations in Paris, Benjamin defended himself arguing according to Scholems memories that his method consisted in transferring metaphysical and theological forms of thought into the Marxist perspective, thus assuring them a powerful vitality in a modern context. Most of Benjamins writings on religion and politics are discussed in the chapter Messianism, Aesthetics and Politics, where, luckily, they are presented in chronological order. Under the title Writings on Youth, Thomas Regehly examines some works from the years 191215, beginning with the Dialogue on the Religiosity of the Present (1912) in my view, a striking example of Benjamins revolutionary-romantic critique of modern civilisation. Unfortunately, his analysis of the documents contains some obvious mistakes; according to Regehly, for Benjamin social religion socialism as religion is not an alternative, because it has lost its metaphysical seriousness. Now, what Benjamin says is quite different: modern social action, that suppressed the gods and transformed everything into an affair of civilisation, such as electric light, has lost its metaphysical seriousness; socialism as religion presents itself precisely as an alternative to this civilised and disenchanted modern social action, which has replaced the heroic-revolutionary efforts of the past by the pitiful crab-like march of evolution and progress. Regehly misses the point of this essay, which documents Benjamins precocious support for socialist ideas, interpreted within a religious and revolutionary perspective, critical of civilisation and progress. In his discussion of the following document, On the Life of Students (1914) Regehly correctly mentions Benjamins critique of the ideology of progress in the name of utopian images. But he fails to quote the next passage, were Benjamin explains, with the help of two examples, what he understands by utopische Bilder: the messianic kingdom and the Frenchrevolutionary idea. This detail is essential, because it permits us to see, already in 1914, 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. Regehly also mentions, en passant, as a proof of Benjamins rejection of socialism his critique of Marx in the fragment from 1921, Capitalism as Religion. Now, as Uwe Steiner shows in his very suggestive analysis of this difficult but fascinating text, Benjamins 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. The fragment, which presents capitalism as a merciless religion leading humanity to the house of despair, is directly inspired by Max Weber, but goes well beyond the value-neutral arguments of the sociologist, in the direction of a radical anticapitalism. At the same time (1921) Benjamin wrote another enigmatic piece, the TheologicalPolitical Fragment a title given it by Adorno. Werner Hamachers interpretation

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proposed in the Handbook seems questionable to me. In a first moment, he shows, quite accurately, that Benjamins effort to separate messianism from history, by insisting that the kingdom of God is not the telos of historical dynamics, is a polemical answer to Hermann Cohens neo-Kantian theories. But I cannot follow Hamacher when he pretends that the fragment should be called Political-Atheological, because, for Benjamin, the theological concepts are useless for political praxis: this corresponds neither to the letter nor the spirit of the fragment. If theological concepts are useless, 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, Aristotle and Kant, which is not obviously of much help in understanding this document, Hamacher attributes to Benjamin without any textual basis the idea of an eternal distancing of the messianic times. After the essay Critique of Violence (1921), whose political-theological conclusion the revolutionary general strike as an expression of a divine violence is accurately described by Axel Honneth, and the doctoral thesis refused by the University of Frankfurt on the German-baroque Trauerspiel, discussed by Bettine Menke, theology seems to disappear from Benjamins writings. It will return, several years later, in some fragments of the Arcades Project, set to paper at the end of the 1930s. In his remarkable study of this strange and massive unfinished manuscript, Irving Wohlfarth shows how Benjamin tries, against his best albeit opposed friends, Scholem and Brecht, to hold together theology and historical materialism; a comment by Adorno is the best definition of Benjamins attempt: to mobilise, in an anonymous way, the force of the theological experience for the profane. It is above all in Benjamins last writing, his testament in a certain sense, the Theses On the Concept of History (1940), that theology, and its relationship to politics, becomes again a central issue. In a brilliant exegesis of this complex piece, which was to exercise a considerable posthumous influence, Jeanne-Marie Gagnebin proposes the following hypothesis: theology is here the model of another conception of time, permitting us to simultaneously think a critical historiography and a revolutionary practice. What interests Benjamin is not religion as such, but the explosive force of the theological messianism and the remembrance of past victims against historicist conformism. Benjamin defined, 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. Thus, the theological dwarf hidden inside the puppet called historical materialism described in Theses on the Concept of History: theology must remain invisible. Jeanne-Marie Gagnebins interpretation is quite persuasive; but one has to take into account the following paradox: the ink does not disappear, its traces are visible in the blotter, as well as in the paper where the ink-pen had written something. Similarly, theology i.e. messianism is not hidden in the Theses from 1940, but is visible, from one end of the text to the other. None of Benjamins multiple heterodox and idiosyncratic ideas have provoked as much incomprehension and perplexity as this attempt to combine Marxism and theology. And yet, a few decades later, what in 1940 had been merely an intuition was to become a major historical phenomenon, supported by hundreds of thousands: Latin-American liberationtheology, condemned by the Holy Office (Cardinal Ratzinger!) of the Catholic Church for its indiscriminate use of Marxism . . . Of course, the Latin-American theology is


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Christian and not Jewish, and its specific concepts are different from those of Benjamins 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; moreover, the historical context of Latin America since the 1970s is very different from Europe in 1940. However, the association of theology and Marxism Benjamin dreamt of has turned out, in the light of historical experience, to be not merely possible and fruitful, but a powerful stimulant for social struggles. Reviewed by Michael Lwy CNRS, Paris

Benjamin, Walter 1978 [1929], Surrealism: The Last Snapshot of the European Intelligensia, in Reflections, translated by Edmund Jephcott, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Leslie, Esther 2000, Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism, London: Pluto Press. 2007, Walter Benjamin, London: Reaktion Books.

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William Faulkner: An Economy of Complex Words, Richard Godden, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007
Abstract This review-essay explores the theoretical and methodological innovations of Richard Goddens William Faulkner, arguing that it makes a signal contribution to historical materialism in literary studies. The article focuses on Goddens concept of generative structure, and relates the term to earlier usages by Aglietta and Jameson. After summarising the close readings of Faulkners texts performed by Godden, the article suggests an expanded rle for biography in making the linkages between economy, psyche and text which form the basis of Goddens analysis. Keywords rgime of accumulation; generative structure; master-slave dialectic; free indirect style

How are we to practise historical materialism in literary studies today? In this book, Richard Godden suggests some answers by combining Marxist, psychoanalytical, and semiotic approaches to create a powerfully interdisciplinary methodology, along with a tightlyfocused argument which is brought to bear on a central problem, that of generative contradiction (p. 119). Economic relations, Godden argues, are the disguised form of social relations of domination, coercion, and contract. These social relations are a cause of what stories can and cannot be told, meaning that economic structures may be read as the generative source of fictional forms (p. 2). The economy generating Faulkners later fictional forms was the New Deal, and, more specifically, the Agricultural Adjustment Program (1933 8). Under this programme, Southern landowners were given federal money to restrict cotton-production in a bid to raise farm-prices. Landowners kept the greater portion of this capital for themselves and paid a wage to former sharecroppers to plough the crop under. The result was the creation of a new regime of accumulation, 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. 61). Goddens major influence here is Michel Agliettas A Theory of Capitalist Regulation (1976). He shares Agliettas sense of capitalism, not just as a social system regulated towards the continuous reproduction of social relations, but as a structure whose basic morphology is continually threatened by crises or ruptures.1 Such ruptures force the system to adapt by creating a new regime of accumulation, a set of social practices sufficient to ensure that surplus-value goes on increasing, under the stable constraints of the most general norms.2 Drawing on historical work by Jonathan M. Wiener and Gavin Wright, Godden describes how the South under the New Deal changed shape, 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 In the process, black labour was finally removed from its pre-modern condition of vassalage, as impoverished workers were forced into out-migration.
1. Aglietta 2000, p. 19. 2. Aglietta 2000, p. 69. 3. See Wiener 1979 and Wright 1986.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573851


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The next component of Goddens argument extends the central insight of his previous book, Fictions of Labor (1997), which developed the implicitly Hegelian critique of the master-slave dialectic in Eugene Genoveses Roll Jordan, Roll.4 Under both plantationslavery and the sharecropping system, the white master was dependent on the black body he dominated and exploited. While the slave or sharecropper found in the work of his hands the substance of his lord, the slave or sharecropper literally gave substance through that work to the white landowner (p. 44). Southern whites depended on blacks for their very being, a contradiction they both recognised and disavowed. But, in the New-Deal period and during the renewed Great Migration provoked by World-War II, the corporeal presence of black people was progressively attenuated. Whites could not quite grasp the loss of their integral blackness, or admit it to themselves as black labour relocated and Northern capital flooded in. For Godden, the necessary corollary to the generative economic structure of the NewDeal economy is its psychic structure, one of self-division and ambivalence. Faulkner lived in a world of divided things (split referents) landlords who took government hand-outs; former vassals who upped sticks and left for Memphis or Chicago (p. 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, and land-lords who wanted sharecroppers to make way for federal subsidies. But the structural transformation of the owning class by the New Deal also led to a questioning of white male authority, a loosening of ethnic restraints, and a threat to sexual categories (p. 117). Categorycollapse provided imaginative space to tackle structural contradiction. Faulkner countered incipient structural loss, Godden argues, by telling stories which imagine a range of intimate bonds between black and white men, a homoerotic vision so taboo that it can be easily denied. In Goddens analysis, structure is grasped in a third sense, as the pattern of formal elements in Faulkners texts. Just as the white self divides between the desire to retain black bodies and the desire to be rid of them, language splits, its meanings multiplying under the Southern economys contradictory pressures. Among these signal effects in Faulkners texts are extravagant metaphors and torturous puns, forms of linguistic contradiction where likeness is entertained alongside difference, setting up effects of cognitive dissonance. These effects are pursued here through forensically close readings of The Hamlet (1940), Go Down, Moses (1942), and A Fable (1954). Godden thus practices the immanent critique called for by Fredric Jameson, who urges that our discovery of a texts symbolic efficacity must be oriented by a formal description which seeks to grasp it as a determinant structure of still properly formal contradictions.5 As we shall see, Godden takes seriously Jamesons further point: that, because they are riven by contradictions, texts carry an immense charge of anxiety and libidinal investment.6 Godden is uncompromising in his insistence that generative economic structure must be read out of the text itself, rather than wheeled in as historical context, to which the text stands merely as illustration or symptom. He pursues readings which unpack the multiple meanings compressed into Faulkners language, subsemantic whisperings latent in a
4. See Godden 1997 and Genovese 1974. 5. Jameson 1981, p. 77. 6. Jameson 1981, p. 80.

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

7. See Ricur 1978; De Man 1979; Riffaterre 1980.


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pricing mechanisms nevertheless inflict a perverse stain, as when Snopes barters sex with a black field-hand for some lard from his store (p. 30). But all this turns out to be sheer ideology, a story that will ease [Ratliffs] own sense of having betrayed his class of origin, while allowing him to seve[r] his own awkward and increasingly archaic ties to the tenantry (p. 31). In order to appease his conscience, 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, bucolic fantasy (p. 36). For Godden, what can be recuperated is not Ratliff s nostalgia for the pre-market economy but Snopess unstable, insurrectionary force. He is less capitals epitome than a resentful iconoclast, grubbing his way up from, and out of, the sharecropping system (p. 41). His actions bespeak not capitalist hegemony, but resignation in the face of the insufferability of the available social options (p. 41). The central premise of Goddens argument is that a radical restructuring of labor necessarily forces to prominence archaic and perhaps resistant features of the system it displaces (p. 61). He goes on to read the disruptive effects of New-Deal restructuring in The Fire and the Hearth, a story from Go Down, Moses in which the reveries of the white landlord, Roth Edmunds, turn his black tenant, Lucas Beauchamp, into a troubling revenant. Roths father, Zack, took Lucass wife, Molly, as his own, to nurse the infant Roth, compounding the miscegenated blood-line binding black and white families. Lucas is minded to kill Zack, but the master-slave dialectic links them so intimately that he cannot achieve an act that will amount to self-slaughter. Lucas stays on as the archaic tenant of a modernizing land lord, refusing the machines and chemicals which are in the process of cementing the new rgime of accumulation in the form of agribusiness (p. 71). Roth comes to a partial recognition of his own hybrid nature as the white child of a black home, beginning to acknowledge that the physical labors of the rural working class materialise the substance and wealth of those who own the land (p. 81). But, like Ratliff, he sentimentalises that knowledge, perfecting the safely manageable image of Lucas as a peasant bound by blood and sweat to the natal soil. Faulkners free, indirect style, mixing the voices of white narrator and black character, allows him to move between racialized subject positions, performing an authorial shuffle in which the cathected black body is both cast out and retained (pp. 76, 77). This shuffle is performed most elaborately in Pantaloon in Black, another story from Go Down, Moses, by the figure of the black wage-earner Rider, who is both a labor radical (p. 96) and sexual athlete, the black phallus as white fetish. Godden argues that Faulkner mask[s] himself as black as a prelude to casting the black from himself Rider, in a Faulknerian pun, is the writer (p. 106). Faulkners excited identification with Riders tumescence indicates the extent to which he has discovered his own psychic investment in blackness, at the very moment when the black body is displaced by New-Deal restructuring and the imminent war-time mobilisation of black labour in 19401. What greater loss to an owning class, Godden asks, than the loss of that body whose labor substantiates the class body of those who own? (p. 112). 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. 112). The starkest version of this consolatory fiction is unearthed from The Bear, whose protagonist, Ike McCaslin, obsessively reads the ledgers from his familys plantation in search of evidence for his grandfathers incestuous miscegenation. Buried in the ledgers, beneath this all-too-familiar and tellable story of the perfidy of the planter-class, is an

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occulted and less-relatable tale, which Godden reconstructs in collaboration with another Faulkner scholar, Noel Polk. McCaslins father, Buck, had an incestuous homosexual relationship with his brother, Buddy; after the death of their father, the brothers domicile their slaves in the masters 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. Ikes fixation upon his grandfathers heterosexual incest is an attempt to displace and refuse more profound and disturbing interethnic intimacies, his fathers 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 Fables 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 rgime 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: Faulkners 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. Goddens 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 Goddens 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. Goddens 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 Williamss 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 Goddens 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 Faulkners interest in Lucass 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 Faulkners 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 Faulkners identification with capital in order to fully appreciate his psychic investments in labour. Another paradox of Goddens 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: Faulkners 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 Faulkners 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 Faulkners text, but it is not clear whether Faulkners 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 Goddens 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 rgimes 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 Faulkners own recognition of its effects in his correspondence, essays, and journals. Such evidence might substantiate Faulkners concer[n] with the New Deals 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 Goddens 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 Souths 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. Ricur, Paul 1978, The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling, Critical Inquiry, 5, 1: 14359. Riffaterre, Michael 1980 [1978], Semiotics of Poetry, London: Methuen. Wiener, Jonathan M. 1979, Class Structure and Economic Development in the American South, 18651955, American Historical Review, 84, 4: 97092. Wright, Gavin 1986, Old South, New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War, New York: Basic Books.


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Capital as Power: A Study of Order and Creorder, Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler, London: Routledge, 2009.
Abstract Nitzan and Bichlers Capital as Power suggests that conventional theories of capitalism, Marxist and liberal alike, are unable to answer the question: what is capital? They argue that the basic units of Marxist economics, abstract labour and value, are unobservable and immeasurable, and hence non-existent and fictitious. Against Marxists, they argue that capital is not an economic entity, but a symbolic quantification of power. This review contends that what Nitzan and Bichler present as a critique of Marxism as such pivots on an incomprehension of dialectical thinking, and thus misses the mark. Furthermore, this absence in their readings of Marx is strictly correlative to the limits of their own theorybuilding. Capital as Power simply inverts the vulgar economism it finds in Marxist theories, presenting us with a theory in which capital is financial rather than productive, and symbolic rather than material. In doing so, it reproduces the one-sidedness it criticises, while discarding the possibility of analysing capitalism dialectically as a totality consisting of contradictory, but mutually presupposing, moments. Keywords Nitzan and Bichler, capital, power, Marx, dialectics

Capital is power. It is around this simple proposition that political economists Nitzan and Bichler build their most ambitious book to date, the four-hundred page long Capital as Power. This book can be read as a clarification and elaboration of the theoretical presupposition at the centrepiece of their previous productions, especially the excellent The Global Political Economy of Israel of 2002.1 In a dazzling outburst of ambition and dissatisfaction with existing theories of capital, 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. While intertwined with the arguments of the first half, their own theory of capital-as-power takes centre-stage in the second half of the book. Conceptualising capital in terms of ownership rather than production, the basic subject-matter is not economics as such, but capital capital understood as a question of organised and quantified power. In order to demonstrate the obsolescence of neoclassical and Marxist approaches to capital, Nitzan and Bichler engage in criticisms of an impressive range of theories. On account of the sheer number of readings that form the base of their argument, their criticisms are more engaged, detailed and informed than most exchanges between neoclassical and Marxist economists themselves. In short, they have read their enemies. Certainly they have, but how, and how well? This question with regards to Marxism, and
1. In 2005, 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, Afflicted Powers (Retort Collective 2005). Nitzan and Bichler have published their extensive and well-documented complaints on their website <>. While Nitzan and Bichlers 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.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573879

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in particular the Marxian dialectic, will structure the review at hand, leaving their instructive discussions of neoclassical economics to one side. As will be argued, Nitzan and Bichler fail to exhibit an understanding of the dialectic at play in Marxs Capital. This focus, however, is not to be understood as the Marxologists defence of the true Marx, but, rather, as a way to throw light upon Nitzan and Bichlers theory of capital itself, on its wants and merits. Thus, the assessment of Capital as Power will take a detour through the analysis of its method and epistemology, in an attempt to offer a critique of the structuring ideas of the book. In doing so, this review will try to practise the form of in-depth methodological analysis it finds lacking in Nitzan and Bichlers reading of Marx. Through this analysis, I will argue that Nitzan and Bichlers inability or unwillingness to engage with Marxs dialectical method marks the limits of their own approach. Specifically, their critiques of non-dialectical Marxist theories of value and capital remain stuck in a positivist or empiricist framework, which their own theory does not respect, and which the Hegelian Marx had more convincingly overcome or sublated a hundred and fifty years ago. I will thus argue that the poverty of their critiques of questionable Marxisms is an index of the limits of their own theory-building.

Capital as power Before we depart on the discussion and analysis of Nitzan and Bichlers problematic relationship to Marx, it is useful to sketch out the basic tenets of their theory of capital. At the very root, the authors follow the American economist and social critic Thorstein Veblen in defining capital as a power to incapacitate, to decide over the use of things, or rather to decide not to use a thing. They illuminate this point by referring to the origins of the word private in the Latin privatus, restricted, and to the verb privare, to deprive (p. 228). Thus, the defining characteristic of capital is not related to production and the extraction of surplus-value, but directly to private property itself, which is nothing but the power to deprive. The most important feature of private ownership is not that it enables those who own, but that it disables those who do not (ibid.). Capital as defined qua private property is thus not a mode of production, but an institution of exclusion. This means that capital must be defined as a form of organised power separate from production, which is merely under the control of capital qua ownership. In this way, Nitzan and Bichler oppose two general entities: on the one hand humane society, and, on the other, capitalist creorder, denoting a paradoxical fusion between being and becoming of the capitalist system, imposing itself on society (p. 18). The former follows no preset pattern, and thus cannot be theorised; it is a mostly latent and invisible potentiality, which occasionally erupts often without warning, to challenge and sometimes threaten the institutions of capitalist power (p. 21). Nitzan and Bichler more-or-less leave considerations of what we could call classstruggle at that remark, and proceed to what can be theorised, namely the dynamic order of those who rule, the capitalist creorder (ibid.). In effect, private property, which, for Marx, is a presupposition of capital (necessary, but not sufficient), for Nitzan and Bicher becomes capital-as-such, while the sine qua non of capital the extraction of surplus-value through exploitation becomes external to the concept of capital itself. The concept of capital is thus on the side of ownership, rather than what dynamically relates ownership and non-ownership.


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Since capital is understood in terms of property, the source of the dynamic of the capitalist creorder is sought on the plane of the distribution, rather than of the production, of wealth. What, however, is found on this plane is simply a number of concrete, empirical capitalist actors, and the question of the dynamic of capital thus becomes one of the logic of those in possession of capital. In short: as property-ownership relations are the privileged nexus of the theory of capital, of capital understood as a creorder, questions of wagelabour, exploitation and class-struggle are disregarded. Hence Nitzan and Bichler understand modern industry to be subordinated to the ends of business-enterprises, which have only one interest: the accumulation of pecuniary wealth (p. 220). This statement, seemingly close to Marxism, is not simply taken to mean that production is ruled by the profit-motive. Rather, it is used as a lever to suggest that capital must be understood from the viewpoint of the business-investor, for whom capital has long been stripped of any physical characteristics (p. 231). Thus, Nitzan and Bichler suggest that we leave behind production-centred theories of capital, and understand it as the business-investor does, as a pecuniary capitalization of earning capacity expressed not in equipment or physical wealth, but in terms of expected future earnings (ibid.). Before we can introduce their reasons for not pursuing a theory of capitalist production, it is useful to look at their idea of capitalisation as capitalisms specific difference from other modes of private-property power.

Capitalisation as the commodification of power The concept of capitalisation is absolutely central to Nitzan and Bichlers understanding of contemporary capital. In fact, Nitzan and Bichler argue, stressing the importance of the development of the discounting-principle by neoclassical economists Irving Fisher and Frank Fetter, capitalisation is a general principle or algorithm that is used to determine the price of all pecuniary assets understood as claims on earnings. In other words, capitalisation is the algorithm which gives claims to future earnings a price in the present, i.e., makes it possible to price an asset on the basis of its projected turnover rather than its present value. With this logic, bonds, shares, stocks, mortgages, bank-accounts, personal loans and realestate ownership all become vendible income-streams (p. 156). Unlike commodities that are circulated, and whose value is calculated in a backward-looking accounting of inputs, capitalisation is severed from this circulation, since it is purely symbolic and forwardlooking. For Nitzan and Bichler, the analysis of capital as a material-productive apparatus thus becomes redundant (p. 260). Capital is in itself simply a symbolic representation of power, neither a material object nor a social relationship embedded in material entities (p. 7). Accordingly, they suggest that the analysis must start with finance. All capital is finance, and only finance (p. 262). Capital is a symbolic architecture of social power, a mode of power rather than a mode of production (p. 263). As the unit of capital, price is not a productive or utilitarian quantity, but a power magnitude, the unit with which capitalism is ordered (p. 307). Capitalisation is the algorithm that generates and organises the price of capital, and, as such, it is the universal symbol of capital (p. 270). More precisely, capitalisation is the procedure through which capitalist power is commodified on the stock- and bond-markets, the algorithm of the commodification of power (p. 311), which produces a price from expected earnings, risk-

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perception, hype and the expected rate of return. Thus, capitalisation is strictly a forwardlooking question of how property can be capitalised, how power to deprive can be enhanced. Hence, it neither relates to the productivity of a fixed asset, nor to the abstract labour embodied in any asset, but to the power of a corporations owners: For the capitalist, the real thing is the nominal capitalization of future earnings. This capitalization is not connected to reality; it is the reality. And what matters in that reality is not production and consumption, but power. (p. 182.) As the reality of capitalists, capitalisation can be understood as the universal creed of capitalism operating according to the nominal reality of power in the capitalist nomos (p. 8). Capital as a whole is thus the creed and norms of those who own capitalisable assets. The science of finance is first and foremost a collective ethos. Its real achievement is not objective discovery but ethical articulation (p. 184). Thus the order is akin to a system of belief in which the financial reality is taken as an exogenous given by the investor, who then joins the nomos and (re)produces it by doing so. Within this nomos, capitalisation is simply the most adhered-to convention (p. 211). And, since struggle against capital from without is black-boxed as beyond theorisation, the primary focus becomes that of the struggle over distribution of pecuniary wealth between dominant capital-groups. 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. 313). 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. 21). 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, ultimately, human beings. (p. 270.) In sum, the dynamic of capital is the becoming-vendible of power, a dynamic embodied as a creed in the actors found on the static plane of the distribution of wealth. Capital as a whole is thus, socially speaking, a system of norms (the capitalist nomos and capitalist mode of power), made up by individual capitalists following the logic of capitalisation. In this framework, class-struggle cannot be treated as integrally related to the theoretical account of capitalisation, even if it is invoked occasionally. The only struggle that is theorised directly is the intra-class struggle of dominant capitals, while inter-class struggle becomes a question of direct dominance (as deprivation and exclusion), and questions of structural dominance become disregarded as external to the theory of capital proper.

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, namely Marxs. Nitzan and Bichlers rejection is based on the alleged inability of Marx to deal with what they see as the essential


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form of capital, that is finance. Nitzan and Bichlers claim to be instituting a new paradigm in the study of capital is based on this idea that capital is pecuniary rather than productive. Readers of Historical Materialism will know that this opposition productive or pecuniary is problematic; capital, for Marx, is inherently both. Nitzan and Bichlers critique of Marxism can here help us understand the method and epistemology of Capital as Power. The question is how Nitzan and Bichler set up their rejection of Marxism and what readings of Marx they thereby preclude.2 In a passage from the books introduction, we find distilled both Nitzan and Bichlers reading and their rejection of Marx. Echoing Marxs claim to put Hegel on his feet, 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. In fact, in the real world the quantum of capital exists as finance, and only as finance. This is the core of the capitalist regime. (p. 7.) If Nitzan and Bichler are here coquetting with Hegel, it serves not to clarify their position. Rather, as we will see, it covers up the absence of what we could call the dialectic (or rather, of a dialectical way of thinking, to avoid its reification as system or method) in their reading of Marx, as well as in their own theory of capital. According to the authors, Marx got things wrong because he was caught up in analyses of the concrete labour-process of workers and technology, and never managed to integrate the dependence of the labour-process on capitalist control, that is, on the accumulation of universal ownership-titles, viz. the form of capitalism (p. 85). Nitzan and Bichlers claim is that Marx was preoccupied with the content of capitalism, neglecting the analysis of its form.3 Briefly put, Nitzan and Bichler read Marxs Capital as a productionist-materialist doctrine of political economy which leaves the power-dynamics of capitalism largely ignored. Marx, they assert, is caught in a materialistic trap (p. 85). Following Veblen and the idea of money as the universal symbol of capital-as-power, Nitzan and Bichler asserts that capital simply is not a double-sided entity, but only a pecuniary magnitude, a nominal sphere ruling the material, quantity ruling quality (p. 231). 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, say, the economism of the Second International, but the assertion that capital is not double-sided is a clear marker of Nitzan and Bichlers incomprehension of dialectical thought. For Marx, capital is not simply the abstract rule of money, but, more importantly since money is the form of appearance of value the real rule of value over living labour. Being unable to think capital dialectically, Nitzan and Bichlers 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. In their
2. 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. (Marx 1973, p. 127.) 3. This claim betrays Nitzan and Bichlers unfamiliarity with the tradition of readings of Capital that stress the centrality of the concept of the value-form, from Isaak Rubin via HansGeorg Backhaus to Moishe Postone and Christopher J. Arthur.

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inversion of economisms non-dialectical reading of the base-superstructure metaphor, capital becomes pure superstructure, and the base the sphere of true humanity: When considered in isolation from contemporary business institutions, the principal goal of industry, its raison dtre according to Veblen is the efficient production of quality goods and services for the betterment of human life (p. 219). Not only does the failure of their master, Veblen, in grasping the social process as a totality lead to an immediate distinction between productive and non-productive functions, as noted by Adorno in his perceptive critique of Veblen, but also to a humanist problematic.4 In the idea of industry as the production of goods for the betterment of human life, 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. In line with this, 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. Nitzan and Bichler also speak of this, without making the distinctions between the different manicheanisms clear, as the conflict between democracy and power and between industry and business. Industry is the great pool of human creativity, cooperation and solidarity, a collective endeavour sabotaged and controlled by business (Veblen) or by power-civilisation (Mumford). What we could charitably see as a beautiful vision of what could be, as a universal potentiality humanity, creativity, democracy and industry pure-and-simple Nitzan and Bichler situate in a mythical description of neolithic society as an idyllic, dispersed and democratic state-of-nature. As Adono says: The positivist permits himself to conceive of human potentiality only by transforming it into a given, something which actually existed in the past.5 By not thinking the social process as a totality, Nitzan and Bichler relate business and industry causally, saying that, since capitalist industry is carried out for the sake of business, causality runs not from production to distribution, but from distribution to production (p. 221). In its exclusive focus on distribution, into which industry provides no insight (ibid.), their discourse conjures up the idea that production under capitalism is merely an effect of capitalist business. Business-history takes the place of labour-history. Their inability to think totality is also clear in the criticisms of Marxs materialist bias. They read his assertion in the 1859 Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, that a distinct mode of production thus determines [bestimmt] a specific mode of consumption, distribution, exchange and the specific relations of these different phases to one another as a form of reductionist materialism. They see the relation between production and distribution as a relation of determination between independent, autonomous spheres (p. 85), while, for Marx, distribution (of the means of production) is a moment within production.6 The price of refusing to theorise production and distribution, and, a fortiori, labour and capital as dialectically co-constitutive, is the abstract romanticisation of the former
4. Adorno 1997. 5. Adorno 1997, p. 88. 6. See the section Distribution and Production in the 1857 Introduction (Marx 1973, pp. 9498).


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(industry/production/labour) and the disembedding of the latter from the former (business/ distribution/capital). In this vision, class-struggle proper cannot be theorised: it is absent from both industry and business. The struggle, then, is a humanist one between the two. It is between two sets of abstract signifiers (industry/creativity/democracy vs. business/power/ control), both of which, all too obviously, give away their moral value. If this is correct, then Nitzan and Bichlers political doctrine simply states, in all banality: one must stand on the side of good social relations against the bad.

Constructing and rejecting Marxism To understand how Nitzan and Bichler can arrive at the dualisms sketched out above, it is useful to look more closely at their rejection of Marxism. In particular, 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. In their all-out attack on Marxism, Nitzan and Bichler rehearse a plethora of well-known debates within Marxism and between Marxism and the neo-Ricardian school focusing on Sweezy, Steedman, Fine and Harris, and Foley.7 In two dense chapters, Nitzan and Bichler unleash an impressive cascade of problematisations, critiques and sardonic remarks, creating a densely mined field. Playing the part of true outsiders and paradigm-founders, they are able to condense a number of questions asked in different contexts from different political projects and research-agendas, and the even greater number of answers these give rise to, into so many phrasings of the same questions (the transformation-problem, the problem of the definition of productive labour, the labour-theory of value). These questions, completing the violent condensation of Marxism, in turn come to circle around the ultimate question: Is a Marxist economics possible at all? Meanwhile, within this overall refutation, Nitzan and Bichler continue with many insights from Marxism, more than readers unfamiliar with Marxism would be lead to expect by the vehemence of their criticisms. Addressing all the criticisms that Nitzan and Bichler raise against the many strands of Marxism, let alone give answers to them, is neither possible nor of interest here. Much less should we want to defend Marxism in general, 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.8 Rather, we should inquire into Nitzan and Bichlers construction of this field, the constitutive omissions of this construction and the theoretical effects it produces. In their attempt to found a new paradigm in the study of capital and to demonstrate the obsolescence of the Marxist approach, Nitzan and Bichler cleverly set up a test for Marx that he cannot help but fail. They interpret the indeed central concept of socially-

7. Sweezy 1942; Steedman 1977; Fine and Harris 1979; Foley 2000. 8. 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, or, in other words, that the subject of the judgement is not part of the object itself.

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necessary abstract labour-time as the elementary particle of Marxs system, as that which underlies and founds the whole system, Marxs science (p. 122). Nitzan and Bichler understand Marxs socially-necessary labour-time as the undifferentiated universal quantum that founds all value-rations. Furthermore, it is, they hold, the ultimate code of prices (as mediated through the labour-theory of value). Without the concept of socially-necessary labour-time, Marxism cannot understand wages, income-distribution and class-power, as well as crisis-tendencies and the historical development of capitalism. Having conjured up a beautiful and complete structure rising from the single elementary particle of abstract labour-time, Nitzan and Bichler sarcastically quip [t]he key difficulty is that this particle like God or the Ether is forever beyond our reach (p. 88). This is the heart of Nitzan and Bichlers ornate and extensive critique of Marxism. Indeed, their catalogue of criticisms of theories gathered under the signifier Marxism circles around the critique of the concept of socially-necessary abstract labour-time, uniting their different criticisms theoretically. The problem with socially-necessary abstract labour-time, Nitzan and Bichler assert, lies in converting a given individual labour-time to socially-necessary labour-time and a given amount of concrete labour to abstract labour. This, they argue, amounts to a make-orbreak-predicament for Marx. For, if Marx bases his theory on these conversions and they cannot be performed, Marxs theory has no basic unit and thus is no theory at all (p. 89). As value and surplus-value do not exist, Nitzan and Bichler reject the concept of exploitation as analytically distinct from oppression (p. 281). For Nitzan and Bichler, the concept abstract labour is materialist in a way most Marxists would consider vulgar, and a positive concept that can be understood in isolation from monetary relations. Since socially-necessary labour-time and value are supposed to be the ground for Marxs theory of prices, they cannot at the same time be expressed in prices, as this would mean confusing that which is to be explained with its explanation, the explanandum with the explanans. 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, and to quantify either without recourse to money (p. 97). 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, and ultimately insuperable, problem of Marx.

Abstract labour in Marx For Marx, 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. The question is, what do commodities have in common when they are exchanged, what is their third term, 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, as do Nitzan and Bichler, that Marx sets out the general principles of his theory in the first two sections of Chapter 1 of Capital, one would find that the shared property of the commodities exchanged has already been presented they are all use-values. Or, we might say, from the point of view of exchange there is a demand for all. And this was the answer that Aristotle, the father of the question, provided, an answer


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

9. Aristotle 2000, p. 90; Marx 1976, p. 151. 10. Marx 1976, p. 125.

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The question of socially-necessary abstract labour cannot be divorced from the question of money: capitalism is essentially a monetary system.11 When Marx asks the question of what commodities have in common, we should avoid reading him as asking for a concrete shared material substance or origin. Rather, the question is how generalised exchange, for which both money and capitalist production are conditions, constitute the unity of commodities and labours practically.12 Instead of reading Marxs exposition as a linear sequence describing how an amount of concrete labour becomes, or is calculated as, an amount of abstract labour, the logic of the commodity works both ways; as anticipation of a value expressed by a price, and as determination of value in the sale. Commodityproduction and exchange describe this circle of constant anticipation and retroaction. The concrete labour expended on a product, of course, 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, the sale/ non-sale, are the previous moments validated. In the actual price, the value of the commodity is being determined as a function of the fluctuations within the world of commodities; abstract labour is ruling concrete labour rather than simply being its product. Within the value-relation and the value expression included in it, the abstractly general counts not as a property of the concrete, sensibly real; but on the contrary the sensibly-concrete counts as the mere form of appearance or definite form of realisation of the abstractly general.13 Abstract labour, thus, cannot be equated with any particular kind of labour-expenditure. On the contrary, it is the determination that any particular kind of labour-expenditure can fall under in so far as the labour is waged (i.e., sold as the commodity labour-power) and its product, be it a good or a service, is traded as a commodity. Abstract labour is not something that can be observed or measured directly, but the abstract social form of concrete labour under capitalist conditions of production. And yet, in the Marx of Nitzan and Bichler, such ideas are absent. By and large, they read Capital not with or against Hegel, but as if Hegel had never lived. For instance, we can read their claim that capital is not a double-sided entity as an index of the absence of dialectical thought. Whilst the pertinence of a dialectical reading of Capital is indisputable,14 the rather tokenistic invocations of the word dialectics throughout the book do nothing to make up for this absence.15 Lacking in the staging of the make-or-break predicament Capital as Power sets up against Marx are two fundamental dialectical principles. Firstly, the reconstruction of an integrated totality, viz. the task of dialectics, is inimical to linear

11. Arthur 2002, p. 12. 12. Arthur 2002, p. 100. 13. Marx 1978, p. 140. 14. See Rubin 2008, Backhaus 1980, and Arthur 2002 for a recent statement to this effect. 15. The ease with which Capital as Power glosses over the centrality of dialectical thought in Marxism is exemplified in the remark that Marxists, of course, express both the contradiction and its resolution dialectically rather than mechanically as we have done here, and certainly with far greater finesse; but their political conclusion is essentially the same. (Nitzan and Bichler 2009, p. 29.)


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arguments; each concept within the exposition makes sense only in relation to other concepts. Abstract labour must thus not only be read in relation to those concepts that precede it (such as concrete labour), but also in relation to the concepts that follow upon it (i.e. value and money), and within the totality of the exposition itself (importantly relating it to surplus-value, which, ultimately, is what gives sense to the capitalist chain, MCM', and hence to abstract labour). Secondly, whilst Nitzan and Bichler ascribe to Marx an empiricist or positivist dualism between concepts and their objects, between theory and reality, between thinking and being, Marx does no such thing. As we will see, the absence of the dialectic in Nitzan and Bichlers account of Marx has the effect that socially-necessary labour-time is unthinkable as real or practical abstraction, and as an effect of commodityfetishism. This, of course, means that it becomes difficult to understand how, for Marx, the specificity of power in capitalism is its abstract and impersonal character. As we will see, Marx, contrary to Nitzan and Bichlers claims, does have a concept of power, and an extremely dynamic one at that. Furthermore, I will argue, the poverty of their Marx can be read as a symptom of the poverty of their theory.

Illusion, truth and the obscure position of the critics As we have seen, Nitzan and Bichlers 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. These rather empiricist-positivist criticisms could, however, easily be applied to their concept of power. Nitzan and Bichler reject Marxism with the help of principles that their own theory does not honour, and that Marx himself (with Hegel) would not accept. In fact, it is tempting to point out a gap between their critique of Marx and their own methodology. If Nitzan and Bichler utilise empiricist or positivist reasoning in their attempted refutations, their own approach exhibits a pragmatist eclecticism that is more akin to their forebear Thorstein Veblen than to any positivist research-programme. What characterises their references to the history of physics, Mumfords mythical neolithic society, and Leibnizs concept of space, is a pragmatist interest in examples as tools of the understanding, 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, and the myth-busting ethos they take on in their attacks on Marxism and neoclassical economics. Thus, 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, the two formations are at times dismissed as if they were merely phrases to be dispensed with, and at others discussed as if they were only theory. On the one hand, their critique of Marxism is strictly external (but based on unclear criteria), on the other it is dubiously immanent. This confusion between these two moments is what sustains them. Meanwhile, 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, practice and production, as

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in the statement that neoclassical political economy is largely an ideology in the service of the powerful (p. 2), it is not without a tinge of instrumentalism, a limited mode of thought prevalent in the Marxian tradition but mostly subordinated in Marxs writings. Because of their elimination of a dialectical reading of Capital, Nitzan and Bichler must claim an immediate identity between capital and power in capitalist society as a whole, and that the duality between economics and politics is a pseudo-fact, a theoretical impossibility, one that is precluded by the very nature of capitalism (p. 30).16 In simply refuting these distinctions as false, the authors fall short of Marxs insights into the mystifications of capital as products of capitalism itself and how these relate to relations of dominance in capitalism. For example, Capital as Power merely points out that powerrelations become mystified and naturalised under capitalism, but does not explain how. When Nitzan and Bichler write that Marxs insistence that power pervades the system does not reject but rather necessitates the liberal duality of politics and economics (p. 26), as an argument that Marxs theory is flawed, the central Marxian insight that the distinction between the political and the economic is not merely an illusion, but a product of social relations themselves, is missed. Nitzan and Bichler replace the possibility of thinking the unity in contradiction of objectivity and subjectivity, of being and thought, with the fantasy of a theory that plainly states the facts; instead of the complex immanent relation between contradiction and mediation, we get the external relation of immediacy and truth as opposed to plain lies, illusions and falsities. Meanwhile, we look in vain for reflections on the position from which Nitzan and Bichler speak their truths, and the ontological/ epistemological status of these truths.

Fetishism as power For Marx, the duality between economics and politics is not only a passive effect of the capitalist mode of production; it also gives form to subjectivity. It is a necessary appearance that has an effect of its own. This is the point of the account of commodity-fetishism, 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.17 Fetishism is not simply illusion or an ideological instrument of the powerful, but, rather, an effect of commodityexchange itself, the subjective side of the objectivity of the value-form. Thus, Marx writes, when the social relations between producers do not appear directly as social relations, but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things, they appear as what they are.18 When Nitzan and Bichler distinguish capitalism from previous mega-machines, they do so, not by offering a theory of commodity-fetishism, but by
16. In a brief and otherwise sympathetic reading of Giovanni Arrighi, they reject what they describe as his idea of a contradictory interdependence of state and business, on the grounds that in this model the two remain fundamentally distinct (pp. 2778). It is useful here to remind ourselves of Gramscis good Hegelian point that the distinction between political society and civil society is methodological rather than organic. See Notebook 4, 38 (Gramsci 1996, pp. 17787). 17. Marx 1976, p. 164. 18. Marx 1976, p. 166, my italics.


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claiming that [c]ontrary to earlier mega-machines that depended mainly on punishment, oppression, violence and terror, capital relies also and often far more so on reward (p. 271). Raw violence and reward might be necessary for the reproduction of capital (as well as feudalism), but only Marxs concept of commodity-fetishism allows us to think power-relations under capitalism in their specificity as systematically de-politicising and atomising.

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, not as a stable architecture, but as inherently split and driven forward by this split itself. To the extent that power is symbolised, it is never simply an external name imposed on the unnameable, but a product of the inherent contradictions of social relations, so many unstable attempts to mediate and neutralise class-antagonism. But, since mediations never fully resolve a contradiction, but only raise it to a higher level, we can understand all levels as unstable and ultimately failed attempts at symbolic closure. For example, as David Harvey and, recently, David McNally have pointed out with regards to the present crisis, finance-capital is not a simple distortion of sound productive relations. On the contrary, it springs from these relations themselves as a way to overcome the inherent crisis-tendencies of capitalist production and circulation, with the result that these are not solved, but reproduced on a greater scale.19 Because the Marxian dialectic understands the capitaltotality as built up around and propelled ahead by contradictions, explanation of dynamics are on the level of the whole as well as its parts. With this theorisation, all partial descriptions have a greater context, while descriptions of the whole can never be divorced from explanations of the dynamics of the whole. Nitzan and Bichlers theory of capital, on the other hand, is largely split between naming (posing as abstract explanation) and description. The logic of the relation between the two sides is not made clear. Hence, 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, the capitalist mode of power) and descriptions, which pivot around statistical analysis of property- or power-distribution, and specifically of dominant capital. Whether in the static model of differential capitalisation or the derived dynamic mode of differential accumulation, the analysis of capital is descriptive. Instead of thinking capital as a complex process of a whole consisting of heterogeneous parts, we get a statistical understanding of dynamism which, fundamentally, is based on the comparison of different homogeneous points in time. In other words, time is reduced to the difference between equivalent moments. The dynamic becomes a mathematical function of the static. To understand capital, it is not sufficient to be able to compute its magnitudes (found as static data), but to theorise the social logics by which labour, time and things become quantifiable. Meanwhile Nitzan and Bichlers thinking of the rgime of quantification as a whole, without which each act of quantification would be derived of its sense, becomes the level of explanation. However, from the point of view of social theory, these wholes function as
19. Harvey 2006, Chapters 9 and 10; McNally 2009.

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names, from the point of view of empirical analysis as frames. As names, these work as abstract universals or analytical constructs whose criteria of application are pragmatic rather than entailed by the accompanying descriptive efforts. As frames they simply work as tautologies: that totality within which individual capitalist action makes sense is that of the capitalist nomos. What this seems to miss from a Marxian viewpoint is the thinking of capital as a totality rather than as name, and the tools to explain rather than describe the distribution of wealth. Since both the statistical dynamic and the abstract names are descriptive and denotative rather than explanatory, we must ask how the process can be explained. It seems that the introduction of abstract wholes such as mega-machines and capital cannot carry this burden.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, the nomos, 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, the relation between which is nowhere made explicit. 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), the theorisation proper of capitalisation as the dynamic axiomatic of capital is not integrally conceptualised as the logic of a system sui generis. Instead, capitalisation appears to be the subjective logic of capitalists from whose interactions the system springs. In the theory of capitalisation, objectivity is treated descriptively and capitalist agency becomes explanatory, whilst in the idea of the capitalist nomos, capitalist agency is very loosely described as an effect of social objectivity. Since the relations between these theoretical constructions are not made explicit, 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. But, 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), and the parts are nothing but those that act according to the norms of the whole. This means that Nitzan and Bichlers theory proper of the logic of the development of capitalism that of capitalisation becomes agentcentred, bound up to a concept of power as an attribute and property of agents and their possessions, whilst the origin of the subjectivity of these agents is loosely referred to as the capitalist nomos, a somewhat more idealistic concept than the Marxian mode of production. 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. Hence, one class within the system becomes the privileged agent, whilst class-struggle in both its objective and subjective dimensions is disregarded. On the level of epistemology, we might say that a similar displacement to the agent takes place, here centring on the scientist himself. We can discover this unity by going back to the gap between description and naming, between statistics and the names of social wholes, or between the empiricist critique of Marx and pragmatic theory-building of Capital as Power. Underlying all these is a certain nominalism, bridging on the level of epistemology the methodological gap between the two: the basic structuring presupposition is that the
20. This argumental movement is the exact opposite of Marxs method of dialectical reconstruction of a whole from the abstract to the concrete.


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world is external to the scientist, available as an object to be described and measured, named and framed. For this kind of thought, says Adorno of Veblen, there is no whole, no identity of thinking and being, not even the notion of such an identity.21 In rejecting the supposed dualities of Marxist theories, they posit a dualism between theory and reality for which there is no unity. Very briefly put, instead of positing the gaps and contradictions between thought and being, between economics and politics, between abstract and concrete labour, etc. as immanent to the world itself, i.e. 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. However, as a disavowed presupposition re-emerges the subject; while clinging on to the fantasy of describing reality as something external, 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). One side of the duality between theory and reality, the scientist, swallows up the other, reality, but discovers it not. Instead of a theory of the contradictory unity of thought and being, we get the unconscious sublation of both in the mind of the theorist-baptiser. The theorists task becomes to understand reality at a distance, naming and categorising essentially external objects, instead of acting within it and changing it thereby.

Conclusion Capital as Power provides valuable discussions and criticisms of political economy, Marxist as well as neoliberal. However, it never reaches the level of a critique of political economy proper, the level where Marxism moves beyond critical political economy, and becomes a theory situated within the conflictual relations of bourgeois society of the conditions of possibility of political economy, the categories of political economy, and the practices and agencies of capitalism. The book is often informative and piquant in the detail, and very often fully compatible with Marxist insights, and interesting also when it is not. However, despite its grand ambitions, it never comes together as a whole. Caught in a critique of a reductionist and economistic Marxism, and without the tools of dialectical analysis, Nitzan and Bichler reproduce the dualisms ascribed to their enemies, replacing a supposedly one-sided theory of exploitation and class-struggle with an equally biased and agent-centred account of intra-class competition. Instead of a claim of the rock-bottom reality of production and the mystified realms of finance, we get the notion of the hard reality of capitalisation and a romanticised vision of industry. Nitzan and Bichler strive to overcome the vulgarities of economistic Marxism, but end up inverting them. Indeed, if economistic Marxism is a vulgarisation proper to Fordism, we could say that Capital as Powers lopsidedness is fitting for post-Fordist financialised capitalism. As rare as paradigm-shifts are, it is hardly surprising that Nitzan and Bichlers book fails to convince overall. The reason for this failure is not, however, ambition as such. Ambition, surely both a cause and effect of the sweeping criticisms of Marxism, explains nothing; rather, as this review has argued, the problem lies in the very mode of thought proper both to the critique and the project itself, its detached nominalism and political humanism, so
21. Adorno 1997, p. 91.

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fitting to the rle of the concerned social scientist. Hence, in the background of this marginal squabble with the errant knights of Veblen lies a significant insight, unintentionally confirmed by the shortcomings of Capital as Power: Perhaps only with the dialectic can Capital, and only with Capital can capitalism be understood. Thus, living under the dominance of capitalism, we need the dialectic more than ever. Reviewed by Bue Rbner Hansen Queen Mary University London

Adorno, Theodor W. 1997 [1967], Prisms, translated by Samuel and Shierry Weber, Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press. Arthur, Christopher J. 2002, The New Dialectic and Marxs Capital, Historical Materialism Book Series, Leiden: Brill. Aristotle 2000, Nicomachean Ethics, edited and translated by Roger Crisp, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Backhaus, Hans-Georg 1980, On the Dialectics of the Value-Form, Thesis Eleven, 1: 99120. Fine, Ben and Laurence Harris 1979, Rereading Capital, New York: Columbia University Press. Foley, Duncan 2000, Recent Developments in the Labor Theory of Value, Review of Radical Political Economics, 32, 1: 139. Gramsci, Antonio 1996, Prison Notebooks, Volume 2, edited and translated by Joseph A. Buttigieg, New York: Columbia University Press. Harvey, David 2006, Limits to Capital, London: Verso. Marx, Karl 1976 [1867], Capital: Volume 1, translated by Ben Fowkes, Harmondsworth: Penguin. 1978 [1867], The Value-Form Appendix to the 1st German Edition of Capital, Volume 1, translated by Mike Roth and Wal Suchting, Capital and Class, 4: 13050, available at: <>. 1973 [1953], Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), translated by Martin Nicolaus, Harmondsworth: Penguin. McNally, David 2009, From Financial Crisis to World-Slump: Accumulation, Financialisation, and the Global Slowdown, Historical Materialism, 17, 2: 3583. Nitzan, Jonathan and Shimshon Bichler 2002, The Global Political Economy of Israel, London: Pluto Press. 2005, The Scientist and the Church, available at: < 01/050731NB_The_Scientist_and_the_Church.pdf>. 2009, Capital as Power: a Study of Order and Creorder, London: Routledge. Retort Collective 2005, Afflicted Powers, London: Verso. Rubin, Isaak Illich 2008 [1928], Essays on Marxs Theory of Value, New Delhi: Aakar Books, available at: <>. Sweezy, Paul M. 1942, The Theory of Capitalist Development: Principles of Marxian Political Economy, New York: Modern Reader Paperbacks. Steedman, Ian 1975, Positive Profits With Negative Surplus Value, The Economic Journal, 85, 337: 11423. 1977, Marx After Sraffa, London: New Left Books.


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The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer, Douglas Moggach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer: Kategorien des Politischen im nachhegelschen Denken, Massimiliano Tomba, Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2005.
Abstract In this review, both readings of Bruno Bauer are analysed in light of a broader post-Hegelian context. Douglas Moggach deliberately avoids this issue, since his main focus is on establishing a connection between Bauers philosophy and politics, without immediately exposing him to, for instance, the alleged caricature Marx made of him. This caricature, however, is of some importance, since it opens a debate on Bauers position among the post-Hegelians, his followers and his adversaries. Marxs criticism is particularly interesting, since it was not of a philosophical nature but, rather, of a political one. Some readers and Marxists in particular might, in fact, be a bit disappointed by the choices Moggach has made, but I am fully convinced that his study has more to offer than they might suspect. That is why this article broadens the perspective by discussing Massimiliano Tombas Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer. Tomba reaches conclusions similar to Moggachs, but differs from the latter by giving, among other things, a different account of the origins of the older Bauers conservatism. In so doing, Tomba illuminates Marxs criticism of his contemporaries, while drastically altering our perception of post-Hegelianism in general. Keywords Bruno Bauer, Hegelianism, crisis, criticism, Max Stirner, Karl Marx

Introduction Both works are the product of years of sustained research, and deal with a variety of subjects ranging from the philosophical to the political, the historical and back again. In so doing, they both easily establish themselves as long-awaited standard-works on Bruno Bauer. Douglas Moggach, however, tends to focus on the continuity in Bauers writings throughout the 1840s, while Massimiliano Tomba situates the older Bauers conservatism well before the revolutions of 1848. I do not intend to settle this debate, but will try to enrich it by referring to the criticism of two of Bauers contemporaries: Karl Marx, and, in particular, Max Stirner. 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, and distinct ethical programmes in the Vormrz. Moggachs book is organised primarily around Bauers major themes and texts. It starts with an introduction entitled The Friend of Freedom, which immediately focuses on Bauers main concerns, freedom and history, while sketching out the subsequent chapters which are both of a biographical and thematic nature. The first chapter deals with Bauers prize-winning essay on Kants aesthetics which, according to Moggach, already contained the foundations that would animate his work throughout the 1830s and 1840s: aesthetics, ethics and republicanism. The critique of the Old Order thus seamlessly flows into Bauers own emancipatory project, which he eventually evaluated in a rather bitter and harsh way in light of the events of 1848. Moggachs analysis, however, obscures some of the
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920610X550695

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incompatible strains in Bauers thought. Bauer claimed that only self-emancipation was possible, without, however, neglecting the objective conditions which could contribute to the emancipation of others. Still, inner-emancipation preceded outer-emancipation, which meant that the subjective concept of freedom was pursued at the expense of the rational idea of freedom. Freedom, thus, becomes an abstract ought, of the sort that Bauer criticised elsewhere. The notion of emancipation is, therefore, crucial to an understanding of Bauers ambiguous relation to the dialectics of revolution, and comes to the fore in Tombas analysis of the axis of crisis and criticism in Bauers thought.

The post-Hegelian agenda reconsidered Before addressing Bauer, it is necessary to present a brief overview of the post-Hegelian agenda. The Vormrz, and thus the period preceding the revolutions of 1848, witnessed an explosion of philosophical creativity that was firmly tied to the emergence of modern society, and therefore to a series of distinctly political issues. The Hegelian school, however, has far-too-often been considered an intermediary between Hegel and Marx.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, and to which they responded in many different ways. By focusing on Marxs criticism of his contemporaries, one gets the impression that they remained trapped in Hegelian categories, devoid of creativity, and that they were ultimately unable to respond to the questions raised by modernity. Recent research tried to challenge this image of the Hegelian school, by elaborating on the philosophical and political dimensions of its thought, and by emphasising its creative response to the emergence of modern society as a whole.2 The polemics among the postHegelians in the Vormrz were, indeed, both intensely philosophical and political. Moggach has played a crucial rle in reassessing the post-Hegelian agenda. In recent years, he edited a series of monographs on post-Hegelianism after writing a study on one of its main proponents: Bruno Bauer.3 Post-Hegelianism tried to present a new account of modernity and freedom, including a criticism of absolutism, religious dogmatism and rigid individualism. Warren Breckman has argued that this criticism was, amongst other things, tied to the question of the nature of sovereignty, linked to the Christian notion of a sovereign individual that, in its turn, was derived from the absolute sovereignty of God.4 Hegel had indeed replaced the personal God of Christianity with an immanent God (spirit), thus triggering pantheistic readings of his work (Feuerbach and Strauss) that were intimately linked to a criticism of the existing sociopolitical order. Warren Breckman, however, hardly paid any attention to Bruno Bauer,
1. See, for example, Brazill 1970 and Hook 1962. 2. Moggach 2006, pp. 123. 3. The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer is also available in German: Moggach 2009. It was published in the outstanding series Forschungen zum Junghegelianismus, edited by Konrad Feilchenfeldt and Lars Lambrecht. There is also a forthcoming volume edited by Moggach for the Studies in Historical Philosophy series published by Northwestern University Press. 4. Breckman 1999, pp. 511.


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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.5 Bauers Hegelianism set itself apart from the readings by other post-Hegelians in that its own revolutionary stands were attributed explicitly to Hegel. Bauers politics were thus firmly intertwined with his philosophical views. It is therefore to Douglas Moggachs merit to have established this link in The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer. Whereas the older literature on Bauer considered him a radical subjectivist and aligned him more closely to Enlightenment-rationalism than to Hegel, Moggach convincingly insists on Bauers creative use of Hegels account of subjective spirit. In so doing, he emphasises the continuity throughout the Vormrz of Bauers thought, as opposed to the interpretations that insist on Bauers abandonment of the post-Hegelian agenda after 1843. What was so particularly Hegelian about the post-Hegelians, however, is still under debate. This is not a strictly historical question, since it allows us to understand the debates in the Vormrz without immediately seeking refuge in categories that reduce the postHegelians to mere epigones of Hegel. Massimiliano Tomba addressed this issue in Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer, and it is of great importance to compare the differences in approach between him and Moggach in detail. Tomba rightly denounces the dichotomy of right-left or young-old Hegelianism, for it fails to grasp the differences between such authors as Cieszkowski, Gans or Rosenkranz, and, eventually, Bruno Bauer himself.6 Moggach has recently tackled this issue by referring to the young Hegelians as the New Hegelians, thus emphasising their own creative use of a variety of sources including Hegel and Fichte, but also Spinoza and Kant.7 This is not a semantic discussion, but actually deals with the manifold-ways in which the post-Hegelians responded to what they clearly conceived as the end of an era, first and foremost the end of the estate-order, and, eventually, the end of philosophy itself as it was embodied by Hegel. The absolute state seemed to have restored itself rather easily in the 1830s. This happened not despite, but, rather, thanks to the further dissolution of the estate-order that was slowly but gradually replaced by an anonymous mass, which had turned into an atomistic society that was characterised by, among other things, the assertion of individual property-rights. Post-Hegelianism was spawned by this crisis and tried to reflect upon it. This would eventually lead to a quest for a new organising principle which could forge the atomistic mass into a new whole, and consecutively produced a series of theories of history which projected it into the future.8 The quest for emancipation actually tried to fill in the void that was left by the destruction of corporative privileges.9 Tomba, therefore, drops the term Hegelianism altogether, and, inspired by Koselleck, concentrates on a crisis which was of both a socio-political and philosophical nature. 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 Bauers philosophy throughout the 1840s. He focuses on how Bauer
5. 6. 7. 8. 9. Breckman 1999, p. 298. Tomba 2005, pp. 234. Moggach 2006, pp. 123. Tomba 2005, pp. 247. Tomba 2005, pp. 23.

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conceived and acted upon this crisis, the ways in which Die Kritik eventually became the crisis itself, and the extent to which (or if ) it sought to reconcile the individual and the state anew. According to Tomba, Bauer never intended to fill in the void between the individual and the state. Slowly but gradually, he moved towards a conception of history that left no room for a new synthesis. He turned his back on an emancipatory project and eventually on philosophy in general.10 Moggach, on the other hand, immediately focuses on Bauers republican interpretation of Hegel. He hence offers us a very coherent overview of Bauers meandering thought, held together, not by the axis Krise-Kritik, but by his theory of infinite self-consciousness and the Hegelian unity of thought and being. Such an approach will unavoidably emphasise the extent to which Bauer clung to his philosophy of self-consciousness throughout the 1840s, while understating certain evidence, brought forward by Tomba, that its political implications might have shifted over the course of this period. Picking up on Tombas argument that crisis and criticism were closely intertwined in Bauers thought, his reading of Bauer appeals more to a Marxist audience than Moggachs. By aiming his attention at the unity of thought and being in Bauers writings of the 1830s and 1840s, Moggach nearly renders Bauer immune to Marxs virulent criticism, while, at the same time, establishing the former as a major thinker in his own right.

Bauers universal self-consciousness as the conquest of egoism Bruno Bauer derived his notion of infinite self-consciousness from Hegels philosophy of subjective spirit, and opposed it to the pantheistic Hegel-readings of Strauss and Feuerbach. Hegel had stressed the concept of substance as the pure universal that absorbed the particularity of the self, and this Spinozist moment was seized upon by a number of postHegelians (Strauss, Feuerbach) to grant substantiality a certain independence with respect to consciousness. Bauer, on the other hand, considered the universal to be the immanent history of self-consciousness; the universal was the rational concept and the particular its embodiment. The universal acquired objectivity by incorporating the particular as an aspect of itself, while the particular elevated itself and became the expression of a higher principle. Infinite self-consciousness was thus tied up in a dialectical development, 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. 406). Accessing universality was, therefore, the product of intellectual labour turning finite consciousness into the existence-form of the rational idea of freedom-as-universality. The unity of the individual with the universal was, therefore, merely a historical possibility and a constant quest. The subject first had to appear as potentially universal, while the objects had to show themselves as a purposive order, responding to the subjects striving for rational freedom. The next step was to transform substance into the concrete acts of conscious spirit. Substantiality was, in a sense, a merely abstract universality eventually to be rendered concrete. The reconception of substance thus assimilated universality as the subjects own universality. Particular consciousness would eventually become universal self-consciousness,
10. Tomba 2005, p. 30.


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which was the ultimate synthesis of the universal and the particular, and was, in Bauers opinion, synonymous with the conquest of egoism (p. 124). Religious consciousness was marked by both the particular and the universal, which meant that particular interests were legitimised out of an abstract universality (pp. 767). By denying the universal character of self-consciousness and by projecting it as an abstract, transcendent universality onto countless particular interests, the religious arrogation of universality abandoned the community to egoism (p. 13). Religious consciousness indeed denied the claims of the self to rise to universality by its own efforts. False universals such as the absolutist state and the fetishist-objects of religion all transcended this power of individuality, yet all their attempts to assert freedom on the basis of particular interests were irrational and, therefore, doomed. Infinite self-consciousness, on the other hand, meant both freedom and humanity, and eventually it dissolved both substance and the transcendent absolute. The absolute surpassed religious consciousness and in turn was dissolved in the criticism of individual consciousness. Universal consciousness was thus literally victorious over egoism.11

Beyond philosophy: Bruno Bauer and the post-Hegelians As an immanent-subjective universality, infinite self-consciousness was ultimately linked to a criticism of liberalism and socialism. According to Bauer, 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. Against the political expressions of mass-society, Bauer assessed his own republicanism. Liberalism translated freedom into particularistic interests and acquisition which was, like socialism, remotely removed from universal freedom. The republic, however, would be founded on the victory of self-consciousness over egoism (p. 158). Bauer explicitly linked religious egoism to economic egoism, as they were both opposed to the true universality of self-consciousness. Thus, the egoism that Bauer ascribed to Judaism (and Christianity) was also present in his criticism of both liberalism and socialism. According to Bauer, true singularity or individuality was autonomous, since it had cast aside the fixity and rigidity of particularism. Bauer always used singularity in reference to the concept of freedom-as-universality that eradicated the particular. Autonomy is, therefore, a notion crucial for understanding Bauers ethical idealism: autonomy as a duty, with freedom as its ultimate aim. It strove to bring about a new reality more closely, but never definitively, in accord with the rational concept of freedom. Subjects could thus only attain genuine universality by freeing themselves from particular interests, transcendent universals and reigning institutions that claimed autonomy over self-consciousness (p. 33). It is from within this framework that one should examine Bauers opposition to Jewish emancipation in Prussia (Die Judenfrage, 1843). He stated that, based on their particular identity, the Jewish minority in Prussia could claim neither political nor social freedom. Moggachs and Tombas interpretation of Bauers critique of Judaism needs to be addressed separately, since it differs from the one recently given by David Leopold who considered it

11. Bauer 1986, pp. 4978.

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as anti-Semitic.12 The older Bauers anti-Semitism was, however, quite different from his stances in the Vormrz, and should be analysed alongside Bauers neo-conservatism and anti-socialism.13 Moggach analyses the younger Bauers criticism of Judaism within Bauers wider critique of Christianity and religion in general. In 1843, Bauer radicalised his earlier critique of Christianity, claiming that its religious form distorts and hinders the concrete realisation of freedom in personal, social, and political life. Bauers critique of Judaism should thus be considered as implicated in his more radicalised critique of Christianity and religion in general, as a tool to elaborate on alienation in history, with its specific religious and political dimensions, which according to Bauer indeed share common defining attributes (pp. 1459). Tomba goes well beyond this issue, by relating Die Judenfrage to the much broader impact of Bauers notion of exclusiveness [Ausschlieslichkeit]. Exclusiveness was a logic-structure common to religion and the state. Bauers Die Judenfrage, therefore, analysed emancipation from a framework that combined both theological and political traits. Emancipation, for Bauer, implied the eradication of the possible conditions of exclusion.14 This is related to another novelty in Moggachs interpretation. He convincingly argues how Bauers critique of religion was connected to his critique of the modern economy. The crisis of the estate-order had paved the way for atomism and egoism, which translated themselves into narrow economic interests, which, in turn, defined personality and ultimately served as an obstacle to political engagement (pp. 54, 127). This was not a product of religion, but a development that ran parallel to it. Both forms of alienation shared an abstract beyond, which eventually legitimised particular interests and egoism. It was from this alienated root that both God and the state derived. The real solution to the problem of Jewish emancipation was, therefore, not only the renunciation of religion, but primarily the rejection of the Christian state of RestorationPrussia as a whole (pp. 867). Karl Marx, on the other hand, entered the discussion by criticising both political liberalism and Bauer, while still linking Christianity and the sovereign individual to egoism.15 He had already used a transformative method (man-as-subject and thought-aspredicate) in his dissertation on Epicurus and Democritus, and linked it to a criticism of so-called abstract individual consciousness.16 The notion of egoism as it was developed throughout the works of Feuerbach, Bauer and Marx allows us to further elaborate on this issue. Hegel had linked civil society to atomism (individualism), and this thesis was almost literally translated into a criticism of religion by Feuerbach, Bauer and Marx who interpreted it as egoism.17 Feuerbach drastically radicalised Hegels remark that Judaism did not consider nature as the embodiment of the divine.18 According to Feuerbach, Judaism had reduced nature to an object of self-interest, taking egoism as its basic principle.19 Feuerbach
12. Leopold 1999, p. 161; Leopold 2007. 13. Lambrecht 1989b, p. 92. 14. Tomba 2005, pp. 11213. 15. Marx 1970a, p. 605. 16. Marx 1970b, p. 51. 17. Hegel 1986a, p. 534. 18. Hegel 1986b, pp. 276311. This text remained unpublished, but the most famous statements in this regard can be found in Hegel 1986c, pp. 613. 19. Feuerbach 1973, pp. 20811.


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criticised both Judaism and Christianity because they spoke of a creation out of nothing, and he linked this to the absolute personality to whom nature was nothing.20 Bauer concluded in a similar way that Judaism was even further removed from freedom than Christianity, since it felt at home in egoism.21 Marx, however, 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.22 Marxs 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.23 This is the consequence of a thesis upon which Feuerbach had elaborated before, since, according to Feuerbach, egoism was not the product of religion, but religion gave legitimacy to Jewish egoism.24 Christianity had spiritualised egoism and thus replaced earthly bliss with heavenly bliss.25 The criticism of egoism was both a political and social criticism, but, implicitly, also a moral criticism. What was clearly at stake in Hegel, Feuerbach, Bauer and the young Marx was the overcoming of atomism or egoism as it was spawned by the crisis. These debates will prove to be crucial in understanding the vicious attacks of one of Bauers and Marxs most infamous contemporaries, Max Stirner. In Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, Stirner no longer criticised egoism but embraced it fully, which was not so much a serious anti-ethical or philosophical stand, but rather a political one, 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. Tombas interpretation is highly illuminating in this regard. In his assessment of the French Revolution, Stirner claimed that it had brought about a much more absolute monarchy than the ancien rgime. The dissolution [Auflsung] of the estate-order had left the individual powerless before the state, the sole master-on-high. The end of the estate-order had led to the annulment of the individual. What his liberal contemporaries were striving for had realised itself beyond their wildest expectations, but confined within the boundaries of the modern state.26 This is in accordance with Bauers proper assessment of the French Revolution, but Stirner went on to expand Bauers criticism of nivellement until it encompassed Bauers humane liberalism as well. In the chapter on his contemporaries (Die Freien), Stirner distinguished political liberalism (liberalism) from social liberalism (socialism and communism) and, eventually, humane liberalism (Bruno Bauer). According to Stirner, the development of freedom throughout history meant that spirit or thought became free, and thus held the greatest possible power of subjugation over the concrete individual.27 Political liberalism liberated the egoist from the master, but replaced him by a ghost: the state. Social liberalism got rid of the difference between rich and poor, but put all property in the hand of a ghost: society. Humane liberalism (Bruno Bauer) likewise got rid of the personal God, but replaced it with a new
20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. Feuerbach 1973, pp. 21014. Bauer 1986, pp. 17880. Marx 1970a, p. 599. Marx 1970a, pp. 6003. Feuerbach 1973, pp. 21516. Feuerbach 1973, p. 219. Stirner 2000, pp. 1369; Stirner 1995, pp. 11113; Tomba 2009, pp. 11314. Stirner 2000, pp. 523, Stirner 1995, pp. 489.

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faith: mankind or freedom.28 Bruno Bauer thus came at the end of Stirners parodic historical account. The development of so-called freedom as the cornerstone of Hegels entire system found its highest culmination-point in Bauer, and meant the absolute annulment of the individual. Stirners Einzige (unique), however, escaped the dialectic of nivellement, since it was extra-conceptual and hence lay beyond philosophy or criticism: There is no development of the concept of the Unique. No philosophical system can be built out of it, as it can out of Being, or Thinking, or the I. Rather, with it, all development of the concept ceases. 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.29 This remark brings us to the core of Tombas analysis. What makes Tombas 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. Tomba refers to Bauers Selbstkritik der Kritik, which, according to him, meant Bauers farewell to the dynamics of revolution. Criticism had to elevate itself to an understanding of the crisis, while distancing itself from reality (pure criticism).30 Bauers transvaluation of the Revolution thus meant Bauers return to pure theory.31 Bauer and Stirner maintained that the estate-order had only transformed itself in the opposition between the people and the government, where the state eventually became the sole master-on-high. This dialectic had led to an equality, which was both liberating and oppressing. In their very own way, both Stirner and Bauer tried to fasten the crisis, which they judged irreversible, by destroying the last remnants of the old world, while seeking refuge in their own individuality as a means to escape the levelling (nivellement) effects of the crisis. Tomba thus describes Bauer and Stirner as proponents of a radical and revolutionary aristocratism.32 It is exactly their distancing from the workers movement which Marx criticised in both Die heilige Familie and Die Deutsche Ideologie. Tomba rightly observes that Marxs aim was to criticise those contemporaries who tried to distance themselves from a revolutionary subject and even social reality as a whole. Marx never intended to write a philosophical criticism of his contemporaries, but immediately focused on their political dimensions and thus made a strategic divide between Bauer and Stirner on the one hand, and Marx, Engels, Feuerbach and Hess on the other, without, of course, ignoring his own criticism of Feuerbach and Hess. Marx aimed at convincing the radical intellectuals of the Vormrz to side with the proletariat. In so doing, he eventually reformulated his previous criticism of atomism. Bauer had claimed that only the state held the separate, selfish atoms together, while Marx stated that the members of civil society were no atoms. In his strictly political engagement with Bauer, he refused to relate atomism to just any form of society, but claimed that it was in fact related to a specific form of society. In reference to the revolt of the Silesian weavers
28. 29. 30. 31. 32. Stirner 2000, pp. 1589, Stirner 1995, pp. 1289. Stirner 1986d, p. 150. Tomba 2005, pp. 17583. Lambrecht 1989a, pp. 74152. Tomba 2009, pp. 11320.


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in 1844, Marx considered isolation and atomism as the products of a very specific social reality, which was not only related to the relation between the individual and the state, but to a social divide which isolated the workers from the true community of mankind. By using a humanist language, he actually bridged the gap between industrial workers and the prospect of a political and social revolution.33 Moggach, on the other hand, claims that Bauers criticisms of mass-society did not imply that he had abandoned the revolutionary cause altogether. Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? (1844) and, indeed, the Selbstkritik der Kritik, as expressed in his writings in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung and the Norddeutsche Bltter, were, according to him, a judgment of the social bearing of his commitment to political revolution (p. 161). Moggach maintains that Bauer still defended his republican commitment, but directed it against the inconsequence, vacillation and unclarity in demands of the progressive party (p. 161). In doing so, Bauer attacked both liberalism and socialism, while still maintaining his aggressive position against the Restoration-order. Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? judged Bauers previous identification of his criticism with the struggle of the masses as illusory (p. 161), but this should not, according to Moggach, be regarded as a retreat from active political engagement. Republicanism, according to Moggach, still proposed new ways and new goals to transcend the liberal horizon (p. 162). This leads us straight to Bauers distinction between a social and a political revolution. Whereas the social revolution would eventually constitute the republican people, the merely political one, however, would only liberate the atoms of mass society (p. 162). Bauer, therefore, develops the notion of the people and opposes it to the idea of the masses, which meant that he advocated a much broader revolution than a merely social or political one. 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. This was of, course, related to Bauers focus on a criticism of socialist and communist theories after 1844 (p. 166). An intriguing take on this debate between Moggach and Tomba stems from Stirners criticism of Bruno Bauer and his subsequent reply. To understand Stirners assessment of Bauers self-criticism in 1844, it is necessary to return to both his reviews of Bauers Posaune des jungsten Gerichts and Hegels Lehre von der Religion und Kunst. It is regrettable, but not surprising, that none of the past and present Bauer-scholars ever bothered to study these texts from one of Bauers closest acquaintances among the post-Hegelians, and, indeed, one of Marxs prime targets in Die Deutsche Ideologie. The literature on Stirner itself hardly ever mentions these texts, and merely interprets them as a bridge between Hegel and Stirners alleged radicalisation of Bauers philosophy of self-consciousness. A study of these texts also illuminates Bauers own Hegelianism. Moggach convincingly argues that Bauers creative rendering of Hegelianism should not imply that Bauer attempted to be consistent with Hegels own explicit intentions. Bauer did not consider Hegel an atheist, for instance, but revised his philosophy altogether, while drawing on Hegelian elements that enabled such a revision. Moggach thus offers a very balanced analysis, often understated in the literature on the subject. There is, however, a very subtle sense of irony to Bauers approach, where Hegel is radicalised using Hegelian elements, but it cannot and should not be confused with Stirners use of irony in Der Einzige und sein Eigentum. On the contrary, Stirner
33. Tomba 2009, pp. 1205.

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actually ironised Bauers Hegelianism and mocked any attempt to re-instrumentalise (Hegelian) philosophy as a whole. He did so by, for instance, destroying the subject-object dichotomy throughout his notion of egoism (an act of appropriating the objective and destroying it within oneself ). Tombas interpretation allows us to understand the political implications of Stirners stand in new and even unexpected ways. In doing so, he also clarifies why Marx and Engels were so keen on criticising both. Tomba somehow loosens the connection between Bauers philosophy of self-consciousness and Hegel even further. Not only did Bauer never intend to elaborate on Hegel as an Hegelian, but he literally went beyond him. Tomba rightly questions whether it was at all possible to elaborate further on Hegels philosophy. After all, the crisis was also a crisis of Hegelianism itself, which meant that the post-Hegelians could only develop elements and concepts that lay explicitly beyond Hegel and philosophy.34 In short, Bauer replaced philosophy with criticism as the dissolution of the existent, not merely a negative theory, but a practice. Criticism could play a historical rle only by destroying the categories that permitted the existing order to exist in thought itself. Bauer, according to Tomba, tried to think the concept of atomism through to its ultimate conclusion and eventually did so, well before 1848.35 The readings of Moggach and Tomba somehow both focus on Bauers creative rendering of Hegelian philosophy. It remains to be seen, however, to which extent Bauer allowed his philosophy of self-consciousness to prevail over its political implications and goals. In short, one could ask if Bauer could leave his philosophy of self-consciousness intact, while, slowly but gradually, departing from its initial revolutionary implications. I agree with Tomba that Bauers creative rendering of Hegel was, in the first instance, a tool in taking on the crisis, and not the other way around. Bauer could thus easily advocate his philosophy of selfconsciousness throughout the 1840s without drawing the revolutionary conclusions he had drawn before 1843. We have already argued why Moggach, while focusing on Bauers creative rendering of Hegel, remains reluctant to admit that Bauer subtly abandoned his emancipatory engagement after 1843, without, however, abandoning his philosophy of self-consciousness as a whole. I will elaborate on this by referring to Bauers criticism of Stirner in Charakteristik Ludwig Feuerbachs. Stirner started publishing his first philosophical articles in 1842, and his initial stances were heavily influenced by Bauer. This may be inferred from his review of Bauers Posaune, where he enthusiastically supported Bauers reading of Hegel as an atheist and anti-Christ.36 This review actually confirms both Moggachs and Tombas interpretation of the Posaune, in that Stirner supports Bauers radical reinterpretation of Hegel, turning him into a weapon to face egoism head-on.37 What makes it particularly Bauerian is its focus on both a small and an implicit big war against egoism. Bauers criticism of egoism was indeed
34. Tomba 2005, p. 35. 35. Tomba 2005, p. 42. 36. Stirner 1986a, pp. 5974. 37. Hegel, who would and has elevated the human spirit into the all-powerful Spirit, and has impressed this teaching upon his students that no-one has to seek salvation outside of or beyond themselves, but rather are each their own Saviour and Deliverer, 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. (Stirner 1986a, p. 63.)


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

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political dimensions and its relation to the crisis.45 Stirners 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; his criticism of egoism and particularism as a well-established and fully integrated part of his philosophy of selfconsciousness.46 This might seem at odds with Marxs claim that Bauer and Stirner were two sides of the same coin, but can be elaborated further by focusing on Stirners remark concerning Bauers 1844 writings. Tomba is right to attach great importance to Stirners remark on Bauers articles in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. Stirner had to return to Bauer even after finishing his book, because of Bauers Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? Stirner claimed that Bauer had expanded his criticism to the state itself, which, according to Stirner, eventually came down to the fact that Bauer sees the inhuman everywhere except in his own head. In spite of his shift, Bauer still clung to his humanism and his critique of egoism, and therefore never changed any of his presuppositions: It may now, to conclude with this, be clear that in the critics new change of front he has not transformed himself, but only made good an oversight, disentangled a subject, and is saying too much when he speaks of criticism criticizing itself ; it, or rather he, has only criticized its oversight and cleared it of its inconsistencies. If he wanted to criticize criticism, he would have to look and see if there was anything in its presupposition.47 Stirner actually forced Bauer to reconsider the logical conclusions of his own theory, by abandoning his humanism and political engagement altogether, since it only existed in his own head. It is no coincidence that his postscriptum contained the clearest expression of Stirners criticism of Bauer and indeed philosophy itself: So he [Bauer] wants to break up thoughts by thinking; but I say, only thoughtlessness really saves me from thoughts. It is not thinking, but my thoughtlessness, or I the unthinkable, incomprehensible, that frees me from possession.48 The postscriptum thus no longer tried to ironise Bauer, and hence contains no references to his parody of the Vergegenstndlichungsdialektik [subject-object thinking]. Tomba rightfully claims that Bauer had given up on his notion of autonomy around 1843 and hence his emancipatory project, but this changed very little for Stirner because he had not yet given up on either humanism, thought itself and his philosophy of self-consciousness or criticism. Stirner claimed that, despite Bauers self-criticism in the Allgemeine LiteraturZeitung, he remained trapped in his own constructions, of which, for instance, both Stirner
45. This helps to explain why Stirner continued to criticise egoism in another article just before Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, and claimed that it is in fact opposed to self-determination. See Stirners Einiges Vorlufige vom Liebesstaat, published in 1843, just before Der Einzige und sein Eigentum (Stirner 1986b, pp. 1236). 46. For an analysis of Stirners criticism of Bauer, see De Ridder 2008, pp. 2967. 47. Stirner 2000, p. 167; Stirner 1995, pp. 1345. 48. Stirner 2000, p. 164; Stirner 1995, pp. 1323.


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and Tomba say that he sees the inhuman everywhere except in his own head. Bauer thus actually drew the logical conclusions of his humanism, according to Stirner, but would have to look and see if there was anything in its presupposition in the first place. Tomba relates Stirners extra-philosophical stand to Bauers very own point of view, as expressed in his criticism of nivellement, and brought to the fore for the very first time in his seminal text Was ist jetzt der Gegenstand der Kritik? (1844). Stirner indeed picked up on Bauers criticism of nivellement, but suggested that Bauer himself completed this by juxtaposing living human beings to his idea of man. Stirner urged Bauer to abandon his humanism, by seeking refuge in his own individuality against the levelling effects of the crisis. Tomba offers an interesting insight to the developments in both Bauer and Stirners writings after 1844. He argues that despite Stirners criticism of Bauer their philosophical radicalism was very similar and dealt with the crisis. Tomba argues, for instance, that Bauer gave up on his emancipatory project while replacing it with a new history. He understood that he had to give up on conceptualising the present and the future and started to write a series of historical studies, which no longer referred to his initial philosophy of selfconsciousness.49 Bauers review of Der Einzige und sein Eigentum might be highly illuminating in this regard. It was actually part of Bauers criticism of Feuerbach, which contained both a criticism of Stirner, as well as a very clear appropriation of Stirnerian arguments which were directed against Feuerbach. In his review of Stirner, Bauer defended his philosophy of selfconsciousness against Stirners attacks, and, in fact, related Stirner to Feuerbachs Spinozistic reading of Hegel, thus relating Stirner to Feuerbach, just as Stirner had related Bauer himself to Feuerbach.50 He refused to deal with Stirners main criticism (from the postscriptum) that he tried to dissolve thought through thought itself, while only thoughtlessness can save me from thought. Instead, Bauer focused on Stirners parody of the Vergegenstndlichungsdialektik [egoism-ownness]. Stirner, however, never intended to present a new subject-object philosophy or a new solution to it, but tried to destroy it altogether just as he had already tried to do in Kunst und Religion. Bauers review confirms that Bauer still clung to his philosophy of self-consciousness, but, interestingly enough, no longer refers to its political and social dimensions.

Conclusion Moggachs study focuses on Bauers philosophy and politics without immediately exposing him to Marxs virulent criticism. Marxs criticism of Bauer was indeed of a highly polemical nature and deliberately tried to obscure Bauers own philosophical project. His writings, however, shed light on how the political implications of Bauers philosophy were perceived by his contemporaries of the Vormrz. By meticulously analysing how Bauers philosophy of self-consciousness was intertwined with his republican programme, Moggach manages to correct a couple of misunderstandings regarding, for instance, Bauers criticism of Jewish emancipation in Prussia or his alleged subjectivism. Other than merely amending the existing interpretations of Bauers work in
49. Tomba 2005, pp. 1535. 50. Bauer 1845, pp. 94106.

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

Bauer, Bruno 1842, Hegels Lehre von der Religion und Kunst: Von dem Standpuncte des Glaubens aus Beurtheilt, Leipzig: Wigand.


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1845, Charakteristik Ludwig Feuerbachs, Wigands Vierteljahrschrift, 3: 86146. 1986 [1842], Die gute Sache der Freiheit und meine eigene Angelegenheit, in Die Hegelsche Linke: Dokumente zu Philosophie und Politik im deutschen Vormrz, edited by Ingrid Pepperle, Frankfurt: Rderberg Verlag. Brazill, William 1970, The Young Hegelians, New Haven: Yale University Press. Breckman, Warren 1999, Marx, the Young Hegelians, and the Origins of Radical Social Theory: Dethroning the Self, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. De Ridder, Widukind 2008, Max Stirner, Hegel and the Young Hegelians, History of European Ideas, 34, 3: 28597. Feuerbach, Ludwig 1973 [1841], Das Wesen des Christentums, Berlin: Akademie Verlag. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 1986a [1837], Vorlesungen ber die Philosophie der Geschichte, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag. 1986b [1907], Der Geist des Christentums und sein Schicksal (17981800), in Frhe Schriften, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag. 1986c [1832], Vorlesungen ber die Philosophie der Religion, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag. Hook, Sidney 1962, From Hegel to Marx, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Lambrecht, Lars 1989a, Zum historischen Einsatz der wissenschaftlichen und politischen Studien Bruno Bauers zur Franzsischen Revolution, Deutsche Zeitschrift fr Philosophie, 37, 8: 74152. 1989b, Bruno Bauer, in Metzler Philosophen Lexikon, Metzler: Stuttgart. Laska, Bernd A. (ed.) 1986, Parerga, Kritiken, Repliken, Nrnberg: LSR-Verlag. Leopold, David 1999, The Hegelian Antisemitism of Bruno Bauer, History of European Ideas, 25, 4: 179206. 2007, The Young Karl Marx: German Philosophy, Modern Politics, and Human Flourishing, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Marx, Karl 1970a [1843], Zur Judenfrage, in Rjazanov (ed.) 1970. 1970b [1841], ber die Differenz der Demokritischen und Epikureischen Naturphilosophie, in Rjazanov (ed.) 1970. Moggach, Douglas 2003, The Philosophy and Politics of Bruno Bauer, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2006, The New Hegelians: Politics and Philosophy in the Hegelian School, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2009, Philosophie und Politik bei Bruno Bauer, translated by Brita Isabel Oeding, Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Rjazanov, D. (ed.) 1970, Karl Marx-Friedrich Engels Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe: Werke, Schriften, Briefe, Volume 1, Glsshutten im Taunus: Detlev Auvermann. Stirner, Max 1995 [1844], The Ego and its Own, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1986a [1842], ber B. Bauers Posaune des jngsten Gerichts, in Laska (ed.) 1986. 1986b [1843], Einiges Vorlufige vom Liebesstaat, in Laska (ed.) 1986. 1986c [1842], Kunst und Religion, in Laska (ed.) 1986. 1986d [1845], Rezensenten Stirners, in Laska (ed.) 1986. 2000 [1844], Der Einzige und sein Eigentum, Stuttgart: Reclam. Tomba, Massimiliano 2005, Krise und Kritik bei Bruno Bauer: Kategorien des Politischen im nachhegelschen Denken, Frankfurt: Peter Lang. 2009, Von der Geschichtsphilosophie zur Politik. Strmungen des Radikalismus im Vormrz: Bruno Bauer, Max Stirner und Karl Marx, in Freiheit, Gleichheit, Solidaritt: Beitrge zur Dialektik der Demokratie, edited by Edward Goldschmidt, Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

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Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism

A: fikr Fanun. G: Fanonismus. F: fanonisme. R: teorija Frantz Fanona. S: fanonismo. C: fanong zhuyi Frantz Fanon (192561) was a major intellectual influence on Third-World revolutionaries and New-Left radicals during the sixties. The Third World discovers itself and speaks to itself through his voice, wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in 1961 (Sartre in Fanon 1961, xlvi). Fanons thought is characterised by three aspects. First, he proposes a radical anti-imperialist theory, which emphasises the central significance of race in the context of colonial oppression; race is not a contingent determination that could be subsumed under the general category of class, but, rather like nationality and gender is a distinctive and autonomous form of social, economic and political inequality. Second, Fanon stresses the significance of the revolutionary act as also a psychological and intellectual transformation, which must accompany material transformation, or the socialist reorganisation of production, as its conditio sine qua non. Third, Fanon argues for individual freedom as an essential component of a socialist synthesis that should guarantee democratic participation in the construction of socialism. 1. Fanon, descendant of African slaves, was born in Martinique, the son of a minor official in the French colonial service. Blacks were 97% of a population rigidly stratified along racial lines, the vast majority of whom worked on white-owned sugar-plantations. As part of the small black middle class, he attended the lyce in Fort-de-France where he came under the influence of Aim Csaire, the Communist
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011

poet associated with the literary movement known as ngritude. In 1944, Fanon left the Vichy-occupied island to join the Free French. In 1947, he began university-studies in Lyons, where he immersed himself in medicine, philosophy and radical politics. A major intellectual influence during this period was existentialism: Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jaspers, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and, most importantly, Jean-Paul Sartre. He also read extensively in classical Marxism as well as the works of Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky and Kautsky, and became familiar with the conflicts surrounding the construction of socialism after the October Revolution. Fanon finished medical training in 1951 and began a specialisation in psychiatry. His mentor, Franois Tosquelles, a refugee from Francos Spain, advocated a treatment that emphasised the social environment of mental illness. In 1952, he published Black Skin, White Masks, a powerful intellectual autobiography that details his discovery as to how deeply embedded racism was in Western culture, and the devastating effect it has on the black persons self-identity. It also elaborates the fierce internal struggle by which Fanon reconstructed his own sense of self. In 1953, he took a position as a psychiatrist in a government hospital in French Algeria. When the Algerian Revolution broke out the next year, Fanons sympathies were strongly with the Front de Libration National (FLN). Between 19546, while carrying out his normal duties, Fanon treated FLN-militants wounded and tortured by the French and engaged in other secret activities in support of the resistance. In 1956, he resigned from French government service and went into exile in Tunisia as a full-time FLN-militant. He became political editor of the French-language edition of the
DOI: 10.1163/156920611X582879


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billions of people into extreme poverty, hunger and suffering. 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, accepting and internalising their inferiority. The dominant culture denigrated the language, the religion, the social mores, the very biological-genetic composition of the conquered people. The colonised were declared to be mere savages, sub-humans, dependant upon the conqueror for tutelage and protection from themselves. Deprived of his or her very humanity and selfrespect, the dominated person internalised a sense of shame and disgrace the self-hatred of the colonised. In Fanons view, the black man internalised the idea that the more he adopted the cultural standards and language of the white man, the closer he would come to being a real (civilised) human being. In order to achieve an approximation of whiteness, he must denounce his own blackness. (cf. The Negro and Language and The Fact of Blackness in Black Skin, White Masks and Concerning Violence in The Wretched of the Earth). For Fanon, the moment in which the native rejects his humiliation, his de-humanisation, his self-hatred, is the moment in which the revolution actually begins. Only through a radical claim of self-love could the disease of self-hatred be expunged. This self-redemption and self-purification could be accomplished by an uncompromising will toward action, which Fanon chose to call violence. Fanons conceptualisation of human renewal is, in certain respects, an extension of that position that Marx and Engels formulate in The German Ideology, where they argue that both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the transformation of men on a mass scale is necessary, a transformation which can only take place in a practical movement, in a revolution (MECW 5, 523; trans. modified). Fanon argues that this lost humanity can only be recovered through an absolute and uncompromising rejection of the entire con-

FLNs official organ, El Moudjahid, essays from which were compiled in two further volumes: A Dying Colonialism (1959) and Toward the African Revolution (posthumously, 1964). In addition to his political work, 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. Once, seriously injured by a land-mine, he was sent to Rome for medical care and narrowly escaped two assassinationattempts. Diagnosed with leukaemia, he died in December, 1961, just weeks after the publication of The Wretched of the Earth. 2. Theory of Violence. It was Fanons 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. What is often ignored is his differentiation of the concept of violence, into immediately physical, structural and psychic violence. In particular, the context of his reflections has sometimes been neglected: namely, the extent of French barbarism in Algeria. During the first four decades (183070) of colonialism, an estimated one-third of the Muslim population was eliminated; in 1945, 40,000 people were massacred in less than a month at Stif alone. During the years of the liberation struggle (195462), over one million Algerians, overwhelmingly non-combatants, were killed; nearly 12 % of the population. By comparison, fewer than 12,000 French lost their lives during the entire war and of these, 9,000 were soldiers (Humbaraci, 255). In this context of massive French brutality, the use of physical violence to liberate the country was seen by Fanon as legitimate and morally justifiable, 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. Fanon employs the concept of structural violence to describe the existing international capitalist system. The expansion of Europe into Africa, Asia and the Americas over the previous 500 years had created a global system of exploitation so rapacious that it forced

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cept of external and internal colonialism: its cultural values, its political principles, its economic system. The more or less spontaneous assertion of ones self-worth alone cannot carry through a permanent transformation. It must be accompanied by organised resistance (Chapter 2, Spontaneity: Its Strengths and Weaknesses). Organisation, in its turn, creates obstacles as the movement toward a collective national liberation is in danger of falling under the domination of particular elements, using nationalist slogans, who establish themselves in the name of the nation as a postcolonial state class and instrumentalise the revolution for their own narrow class-interests. 3. Nationalism and the culture of liberation. Differently from the majority of the chief figures of African nationalism he met in recently independent Ghana in 1960 as a FLN-representative, Fanon pointed to the necessity of a dialectical relation of national liberation with internationalism: the national consciousness that needed to be created, in order for it not to turn into a new form of domination, must be articulated internationally. 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, Fanon saw the most urgent tasks of the African intellectual in the development of his nation, 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. Here, Fanons concept of culture is decisive: If culture is the expression of national consciousness, 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. [. . .] It is at the heart of national consciousness that international consciousness lives and grows. And this two-fold emerging is ultimately the source of all culture (Fanon 1961, 199). 4. Fanon and Marxism. Biographers differ regarding their assessment of Fanons relation to Marxism. Gendzier, for example, argues that Fanons writing fluctuated between


Marxist and psychological categories (Gendzier, 199). Caute says simply that he was not a traditional Marxist (Caute, 76). Jinadu considers Fanon to be broadly within the Marxist-Leninist tradition ( Jinadu, 98), while Woddis, an orthodox Communist, rebukes Fanon as a Third-World upstart who was not sufficiently appreciative of socialisms European origins, and insists that he had no understanding of Marxism (Woddis, 173). Geismar argues that his concept of Communism was not that of joining a party, but of joining a revolution (Geismar, 19). In fact, Fanon was influenced by and engaged in the non-Communist, Marxist Left during his student days. His antipathy toward the PCF had two sources: first, the Partys dedication to a chauvinist conception of French civilisation led it, at best, to vacillate on the colonial question and, at worst, to outright racism; second, the rigidly hierarchical, Leninist form of party-organisation was at distinct odds with Fanons democratic conception of a socialist party. Nevertheless, Fanon was deeply influenced by Marxism, which is attested to not only by the repeated use of Marxian categories and the explicit and implicit references to Marx and Engels. 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, 5). Classical Marxism, whose treatment of race and nationality as mere epiphenomena concealed a Eurocentric approach, had not been able to do that. 5. Race and class. Central to Fanons analysis of the colonial social formation was the phenomenologically comprehended concept of race, of being the other. Ones skin colour was an inescapable badge of subordination that determined the black persons existence and forced him to accept his own inferiority. Consequently, 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


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the colonised population into four classes: the peasant-majority, the large and growing lumpenproletariat, the tiny full-time working class and the national middle class. The perspective of the colonial or postcolonial reality required a revision of the Eurocentric dogmas canonised by Marxism-Leninism. The typical African colony was a vast sea of impoverished peasants surrounding relatively small islands of urbanisation. African cities were not areas of industrial production, but primarily administrative centres whose task was to supervise the extraction of wealth in the form of agricultural and mineral products. Third-World Marxists, following the Leninist model, argued that, despite its minuscule size, the leading revolutionary class must be the working class under the leadership of a proletarian party. The peasantry was seen as a necessary, but subordinate ally. The minuscule colonial working class, while nationalist, was not particularly revolutionary. 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. In this context, Fanon deployed the theory of the labour aristocracy developed by Engels and then later Lenin. With his use of the term working class, Fanon was explicitly referring to only a small minority of all those engaged in wagelabour; those with regular, relatively skilled, relatively well paid, full-time employment (ibid.). He was not referring to the thousands of migrant workers, casual and day-labourers, workers on white farms, nor the masses of personal and household-servants. In the typical African colony, these latter groups of workers constituted 95% of the wage-earning class. In order to designate this majority, 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, whose cowardice and arrogance on the question of Algerian independence he despised. Fanon clearly does not conceive of the lumpenproletariat in the European sense; as a marginalised minority, what Marx called a

the racial-national dimension (and could, in turn, lead to negative political consequences). Fanons saw the chief contradiction of colonial societies as that of race; those who ruled were those who came from elsewhere, those who declared themselves as belonging to a superior species. The essential criterion of their right to rule was not based on their ownership of capital, but on their belonging to a particular race. When you examine at close quarters the colonial context, 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, a given species. In the colonies the economic substructure is also a superstructure. The cause is the consequence; you are rich because you are white, you are white because you are rich (Fanon 1961, 5). Fanon therefore did not simply ignore class as an analytical category. His argument was that, in the colonies, class and race had a symbiotic relationship; the latter was dominant, but only insofar as colonialism continues. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon makes it clear that, with independence, the barriers to socialism are no longer racially determined, and the revolution must be transformed into a social (class-) revolution. In Fanons view, 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, spiritual, cultural as well as the economic needs of the broad masses; or it could sink into being a neocolonial appendage of world-capitalism that would keep the people in bondage. The alternative chosen would be determined by the configuration of classforces as they were formed during the colonial period but, more importantly, as these forces were influenced and re-shaped morally and politically by the struggle for independence. 6. Social analysis. In Fanons model, colonial society was divided into two racial groups that were simultaneously expressed in five class-categories. At the summit of this pyramid the dominant race and the dominant class were interchangeable terms. He divided

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social scum made up of vagabonds and thieves. Rather, Fanons 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). It was in the lumpenproletariat that social rebellion would find its urban spearhead of the revolution . . . one of the most spontaneous and the most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people (Fanon 1961, 81). Fanons analysis of the national middle class or national bourgeoisie is his most important and most prophetic contribution to an understanding of postcolonial society. Fanon was referring to that portion of the colonised population who had benefitted from a European education and were engaged as small businessmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers and employees within the colonial bureaucracy. The upward mobility of this class was also inhibited by the racism inherent in colonial society. Consequently, they were the first to begin organised nationalist agitation and assumed the leadership of the emergent nationalist organisations that began demanding independence. Fanon saw this class, however, not as a potential revolutionary leadership, but as one whose primary interest was in assuming positions of political and economic dominance that would be available upon independence. Their interest was in taking the place of the Europeans in the colony, and then serving as middle-men, mere business-agents of European capitalism. The colonial middle class demanded the nationalisation of various sectors of the postcolonial economy, not in the interest of the new nation as a whole, but to gain control of the postcolonial state to advance its own interests. To accomplish this, they were perfectly willing to act as subordinates of international capitalism and continue the exploitation of the people as it had existed under colonialism. It is important to realise that Fanon wrote his analysis of the emergent national middle class in early 1961: that is, at a time when it was only assuming power and the euphoria surrounding independence was nearly unanimous. Fanon was virtually alone in under-


standing the nature of this class and how it would function when in power. 7. Revolution, party, democracy. Fanons theory of revolution departed significantly from Lenins model of the vanguard-party. He emphasises the significance of the radical intelligentsia and particularly its ability to bring leadership to the spontaneously revolutionary masses. In Fanons model, however, the radical intelligentsia, while providing the initial leadership, also learns from and becomes as one with the masses. Fanons 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. The party, consequently, develops a completely different internal organisational culture. It becomes a mass, radical and democratic movement in which the grass roots feel power in their newly found selfconfidence, in their ability to participate in decision making and to determine the direction of the revolution they are creating a concept clearly marked by Luxemburgs influence. Having theorised his ideal party, Fanon embarks on a devastating criticism of the oneparty state. He was referring not only to dangers he saw inherent in the evolving contemporary politics of the African revolution. His scathing reference to that famous dictatorship whose supporters believe is called for by the historical process (Fanon 1961, Chapter 3; trans. modified) is an unmistakable allusion to the Leninist concept of the proletarian dictatorship and democratic centralism. 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.). Leadership gains its possible value and strength only from the existence of the people in struggle. It is literally the people who freely fashion a leadership for itself, not the leadership that tolerates the people. Similarly, Fanon undertakes a critique of the cult of personality: The leader of the people no longer exists today. The people are no longer a herd; they do not need to be led. If the leader drives me on, then he


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work of cultural destruction (36 et sq.). Nevertheless, Fanon believed that the conflict between men and women could find its resolution in the context of the revolutionary struggle, which itself requires changes in the female-male relationship. The success of the revolution required the active participation of women, as a consequence of which the veil lost its inviolability. The liberation-struggle thus, ultimately, led to entirely new perspectives in the relations between men and women and to the breakup of the traditional monolithic family. The historical process had produced conditions wherein men and women were changed and, in turn, were forced to change conditions. The outcome of the revolution in postcolonial Algeria, however, turned out to be quite different from Fanons utopian vision (cf. Humbaracci 1966; Scheil 1969). 9. During his lifetime, Fanon was little known outside the ambit of the French leftwing intelligentsia and the Algerian Revolution. This changed dramatically with the 1963 English translation of The Wretched of the Earth. Translations of his other works into English as well as other languages followed shortly after. His fame spread in the political context of the mid-sixties, a high point of revolutionary optimism in the Third World. In the United States the civil-rights movement had become a potent political force, while, throughout Western Europe and North America, the New Left was posing a challenge both to bourgeois capitalism and state-socialism. In this situation, there developed a sort of proxy-war around and over Fanons theses. In the United States, the centre of the Fanon controversy, the assault was undertaken by an amalgam of liberals, social democrats and some orthodox Communists, with the goal of maintaining ideological and political control over the activists in the new progressive movements, who referred to Fanon, alongside other figures. Both sides concentrated their attention on a very narrow interpretation of Fanons theory of violence. Critics charged Fanon with revelling in bloodshed, advocating a Sorelian fascism

should know that at the same time I show him the way (ibid.). Fanon argues, in a way reminiscent of both Luxemburg and Kautsky, that, in a one-party state, free and democratic political life is gradually stifled so that eventually only the partybureaucracy makes decisions. The single party is content to give orders and remind the people constantly that the government expects from them only obedience and discipline (ibid.). Socialism, in order to exist, must also incorporate a free and democratic political life: the choice of a socialist regime, 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, will allow us to go forward more quickly and harmoniously, and thus make impossible that caricature of society where all political power is held in the hands of a few (ibid.). That epigones of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy quite clearly understood the implications of Fanons thinking explains the virulence of the attacks against him as well as the severe restrictions on access to his work. In the GDR, for example, Fanons writings were only published in 1986 (more than 20 years after they were published in the BRD) and, even then, in a severely truncated form. 8. The woman question. References to the womens struggle are found throughout Fanons work, but he devotes particular attention to the question in A Dying Colonialism (1958). 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. Traditionally, the Algerian woman had been completely dominated by men: father, husband, brother. The veil had been one of the most significant symbols of that domination, but colonialism itself had transformed the symbolic meaning of the veil. French colonial policy was predicated on the destruction of Algerian culture and, in part, this necessitated gaining control over Algerian women (Fanon 1958, 3567, 99120). To this end, the French discouraged wearing the veil, in order to make women allies in the

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and having an almost Satanic influence over young radicals. The best known of these critics was the philosopher, Hannah Arendt. In On Violence, a diatribe tinged with racism against the New Left and the revolts of the (in her eyes, unqualified both socially and intellectually) African-Americans, she argued that the influence of Fanon was responsible for endangering social peace. While polemicising against Fanons supposed glorification of violence (Arendt, 1420, 6596), she downplayed both the naked violence of the colonial powers as well as the role of violence in American history, above all, violence directed against humans with dark skin. Finally, she utterly failed to see the violence of a brutal, racist war the United States was then waging against the Vietnamese people. Most of Fanons defenders contented themselves with revolutionary posturing. Only a few interventions, often by African-American intellectuals, attempted to analyse Fanon within the context of his overall work. However, it was generally the antiFanon critics who published their views in widely read journals and, therefore, dominated the debate. The consequence was that Fanon was politically demonised. By the seventies, the epoch of the neoconservative roll-back, Fanon played no role in the political debate any longer. This occurred at the very point that his prophetic analysis of the state-class in postcolonial society was proving so unerring in its accuracy. A number of scholars began producing analytical biographies (Gendzier, Geismar, Caute, Perinbam) and studies of various aspects of his political and social thought (Zahar, E. Hansen, Onwuanibe, Bouvier, Lucas, McCulloch). These studies gave impetus to a return to Fanons work for insights regarding the nature of neocolonialism, of continuing racism, of corrupt dictatorships and the deterioration of the state in the Third World. 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 Fanons writing on violence, but also gave much needed attention to his thoughts on democracy, the party and the postcolonial state. Since the mid-eighties,


there has been a marked increase in Fanon studies, particularly in the United States, but also in Africa, the Caribbean, Britain and, to a lesser extent, in Latin America. (E. Hansen, Onwuanibe, Bulhan, Jinadu and Sekyi-Otu). Fanons writings have also influenced ThirdWorld womens studies. African (as well as West-Indian and African-American) writers have acknowledged his influence on their fiction (Lazarus). The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks came to be regarded by literary theorists as important examples of modern protest-literature. The collapse of state-socialism has also led to a re-evaluation of Fanons views on the revolutionary party in light of democratic theory and the failure of the Leninist proletarian dictatorship (Gordon). Fanons thoughts on the symbiotic relationship of race, ethnicity, gender and class become even more relevant the more the multiracial, multi-ethnic and multicultural nature of Euro-American societies is widely recognised.
Bibliography: H. Arendt 1969, On Violence, New York; P. Bouvier 1971, Fanon, Paris; H.A. Bulhan 1985, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, New York; D. Caute 1970, Fanon, New York; F. Fanon 1952 (1967), Black Skin, White Masks, New York; F. Fanon 1958 (1965), A Dying Colonialism, New York; F. Fanon 1961 (2004), The Wretched of the Earth, New York; F. Fanon 1964 (1967), Toward the African Revolution, New York; P. Geismar 1971, Fanon, New York; I. Gendzier 1973, Frantz Fanon: A Critical Study, New York; L.R. Gordon 1995, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man, New York; L.R. Gordon et al. 1996, Fanon: A Critical Reader, Oxford; E. Hansen 1977, Frantz Fanon: Social and Political Thought, Columbus, Ohio; W.W. Hansen 1996, Frantz Fanon, Mainz; A. Humbaraci 1966, Algeria: A Revolution that Failed, New York; L.A. Jinadu 1986, Fanon: In Search of the African Revolution, London; N. Lazarus 1990, Resistance in Postcolonial African Fiction, New Haven; P. Lucas 1971, Sociologie de Frantz Fanon, Algiers; J. McCulloch 1983, Black Soul, White Artifact: Fanons Clinical Psychology and Social Theory, Cambridge; K. Marx and F. Engels 19752005, Marx Engels Collected Works (MECW), London; R.C. Onwuanibe 1983, A Critique of Revolutionary Humanism:


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revolution, relations of force, self-organisation, slavery/slave-holding society, state-class, Third World, transitional societies, universalism, Western Marxism, woman question, working class, vanguard, violence.

Frantz Fanon, St. Louis; B.M. Perinbam 1982, Holy Violence: Fanon, An Intellectual Biography, Washington DC.; C.J. Robinson 1983, Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition, London; A. Sekyi-Otu 1997, Fanons Dialectic of Experience, Cambridge, MA.; J. Woddis 1972, New Theories of Revolution, New York; U. Wolter 1999, Algerien entschleiert. Frantz Fanon in der feministisch-postkolonialen Debatte, in iz3w, Nr. 235, 347, and Nr. 236, 3741; R. Zahar 1969, Kolonialismus und Entfremdung, Frankfurt/M.

William W. Hansen
Alliance-politics, anticolonialism, Black Marxism, cadre-party, chauvinism, chief contradiction, city/ country, class-interests, class-reductionism, colonialism, colonial mode of production, cultural revolution, cult of personality, decolonisation, democracy/dictatorship of the proletariat, democratic centralism, developing countries, ethnocentrism, Eurocentrism, grassroots-revolution, human dignity, ideal, imperialism, internationalism, Islamic socialism, labour-aristocracy, leadership, left radicalism, liberation, lumpenproletariat, Luxemburgism, Marxism-Leninism, masses, mass intellectual, middle classes, nationalism, national bourgeoisie, national identity, national liberation, neocolonialism, New Left, new man, orthodoxy, peasantry, petty bourgeoisie, populism, postcolonial socialism, race and class, racism,

Antikolonialismus, Arbeiteraristokratie, Arbeiterklasse, Avantgarde, Bauern, Befreiung, Black Marxism, Bndnispolitik, Chauvinismus, Demokratie/Diktatur des Proletariats, demokratischer Zentralismus, Dritte Welt, Entkolonialisierung, Entwicklungslnder, Ethnozentrismus, Eurozentrismus, Frauenfrage, Fhrung, Gewalt, Graswurzelrevolution, Hauptwiderspruch, Ideal, Imperialismus, Internationalismus, islamischer Sozialismus, Kaderpartei, Klasseninteressen, Klassenreduktionismus, Kleinbrger, koloniale Produktionsweise, Kolonialismus, Krfteverhltnisse, Kulturrevolution, Linksradikalismus, Lumpenproletariat, Luxemburgismus, MarxismusLeninismus, Massen, Massenintellektueller, Menschenwrde, Mittelschichten, nationale Befreiung, nationale Bourgeoisie, nationale Identitt, Nationalismus, Neokolonialismus, Neue Linke, neuer Mensch, Orthodoxie, Personenkult, Populismus, postkolonialer Sozialismus, Rasse und Klasse, Rassismus, Revolution, Selbstorganisation, Sklaverei/Sklavenhaltergesellschaft, Staatsklasse, Stadt/Land, bergangsgesellschaften, Universalismus, westlicher Marxismus.

Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 183184

Notes on Contributors
Stefano Azzar is Research Fellow at the University of Urbino. His publications include Politica, progetto, piano. Livio Sichirollo e Giancarlo De Carlo a Urbino 19631990 (Cattedrale, 2009) and Pensare la rivoluzione conservatrice. Critica della democrazia e grande politica nella Repubblica di Weimar (La Citt del Sole, 2000; enlarged edition, 2004). Bill Bowring is Professor of Law at Birkbeck College, University of London, a practising barrister, and International Secretary of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers. His most recent publications include The Degradation of the International Legal Order: The Rehabilitation of Law and the Possibility of Politics (Routledge Cavendish, 2008), The Russian Constitutional System: Complexity and Asymmetry in Asymmetric Autonomy and the Settlement of Ethnic Conflicts, edited by Marc Weller and Katherine Nobbs (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) and Terrorist Lists and Procedural Human Rights: A Collision between UN Law, EU Law and Strasbourg Law? in Rights in Context: Law and Justice in Late Modern Society, edited by Reza Banakar (Ashgate, 2010). Vivek Chibber teaches sociology at New York University. He is the author of Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), and numerous articles on economic development, Marxist theory, historical sociology, and imperialism. He is now completing a critique of postcolonial theory, to be published by Verso Books. Ben Fine is Professor of Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. His recent publications include Theories of Social Capital (Pluto Press, 2010) and, in collaboration with Dimitris Milonakis, From Political Economy to Economics (Routledge, 2008) and From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics (Routledge, 2009). Bue Rbner Hansen is a PhD student at the School of Business and Management, Queen Mary, University of London. Bill Hansen, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, was an activist in the civil rights movement in the sixties where he first read and became interested in Frantz Fanon. He was educated at the universities of Maryland, SOAS London and Boston. Currently he teaches at the American University of Nigeria, Yola where he was the founding head of the Politics Program. His research interests have to do with identities: nationalism, race, ethnicity and religion.
Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011 DOI: 10.1163/156920611X573888


Notes on Contributors / Historical Materialism 19.2 (2011) 183184

Andrew Lawson is Senior Lecturer in English in the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. His publications include Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle (University of Iowa Press, 2006), Early Literary Modernism in A Companion to the Modern American Novel, edited by John T. Matthews (Blackwell, 2009) and Mark Twain, Class, and the Gilded Age in The Cambridge History of the American Novel, edited by Leonard Cassuto, Clare Eby and Benjamin Reiss (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming). Michael Lwy is Research-Director in Sociology at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. His publications include The Theory of Revolution in the Young Marx (Haymarket, 2005), Franz Kafka, rveur insoumis (ditions Stock, 2004) and The Politics of Combined and Uneven Development: The Theory of Permanent Revolution (Haymarket, 2010). Dimitris Milonakis is Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Crete. His is co-author, with Ben Fine, of From Political Economy to Economics (Routledge, 2008) and From Economics Imperialism to Freakonomics (Routledge, 2009). Panagiotis Sotiris teaches social and political philosophy at the Department of Sociology, University of the Aegean. His publications include Communism and Philosophy: The Theoretical Adventure of Louis Althusser (in Greek), Athens, 2004. His research-interests are Marxist philosophy, modern social theory, and the theory of imperialism.