Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

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Proletarian class determination: epistemology or ontology?

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“Class determination of knowledge means that we do not know whether determination actually takes place in reality as the proletariat depicts it, since this class only knows reality through that facet of the prism corresponding to its collocation in the social structure. In a sense, therefore, the proletariat imposes its view of reality upon this latter so that determination is first of all an epistemological concept rather than an ontological one. This, however, calls for neither idealism nor absolute relativism since, from the point of view of the proletariat, its view does come from (is determined by) concrete reality and has inherent in itself the possibility of knowing reality correctly, as shown by verification. In short, the point of view of the proletariat is that each class secretes its own knowledge (class determined relativism of knowledge) and that within this view only the proletariat has the possibility of gaining a correct knowledge of all (and not only some) aspects of reality because of this class’s position in the societal labour process (class determined supersession of knowledge’s relativism).

“We do not claim that the proletariat depicts real processes as they take place in reality (reflection). But we do claim that this class’s view has the objectively determined possibility of being correct, to find a ‘match’ with the reality it depicts. It is in this sense that determination can be referred to as an epistemological calling into existence. And, it is in this sense that our view differs from the ‘reflection’ theory and can be called non-reflective realism: knowledge is not determined simply by material transformation, but by this transformation immersed in specific social contexts, that is, by the real concrete.”
–Guglielmo Carchedi, ‘Problems in Class Analysis: Production, knowledge, and the function of capital

To be read, in my view, as a crucial theoretical explication of Lenin’s axiom of truth being partisan, and Marx’s Eleventh thesis on Feurbach. Particularly the latter, on account of it being much abused as a shibboleth by vulgar ‘Marxian’-pragmatists. Justice can be done to Marx’s privileging of changing the world over interpreting it only if one grasps this affirmation of world-change rigorously in terms of Marx and Engels’ concept of “the real movement” and Marx’s conception of “practical materialism” that he derives through his critique of Feurbach’s “contemplative materialism” in The German Ideology and Theses on Feurbach. Thus Marx’s critique of interpretation, which is basically a critique of materialism articulated in contemplative terms, is not only a rejection of the primacy of contemplation but is also, by the same token, a severe criticism of decisionist pragmatism, which is contemplation reconstituted at the practical level of abstraction. Clearly, Marx’s privileging of world-change over world-interpretation is a dialectical critique of contemplation by having the modality of contemplation brush itself against its own grain. A theoretical, and philosophical, move that does not abandon knowledge and epistemology but radically alters their conception and status. And in this regard, Althusser’s explication of “overdetermination” and “epistemological void” (in ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’) and his conception of “limit-form” (in ‘Marxism is Not a Historicism’), together with Badiou’s concepts of “metaontology” (in Being and Event) and “politics-as-its-own-thought” (in Metapolitics) are also indispensable.

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Written by Pothik Ghosh

August 19, 2015 at 4:55 pm

Posted in capitalism, Marxism, Working Class

Tagged with ,

Dipankar Gupta’s solipsism

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Dipankar Gupta’s cynical article in The Times of India (Aug 30, 2008) is itself an expression of middle-class disenchantments, which he talks about. And Buddhadeb is undoubtedly in his brigade. In his anti-communist verbosity Gupta does exactly what he criticises. For him “the poor has never revolted”; it is the leadership, which everywhere rises in her name. Ironically, even to deny that the poor has ever revolted, it is a middle class intellectual like Gupta who has the privilege to proclaim this! Obviously in his discourse “they” will remain as “they” – “Why They Don’t Revolt”. So why should we accept his privileged denial about the poor(wo)man’s revolt, if he censures us for accepting the socialists’ claim that s/he does revolt, on the ground that they are elites?

According to Gupta, since the leaders came from the middle class or elite families the revolutions couldn’t be popular. This shows his ignorance about political processes, including class processes. Obviously he cannot be faulted for this, the disciplinarian divide that characterises the bourgeois academia does not require him to see things holistically (that’s the job of a generaliser, not an expert’s) – he is after all a sociologist! How can he understand that revolts/revolutions are conjunctural – their character is not simply determined by the membership of their leadership rather by the societal stage in which they occur? How can he understand that the process of class-ification, not the fixed descriptive sociological classificatory pigeonholes, allows revolutionary intellectual organicity to individuals from diverse backgrounds? How can he understand that revolution is not only a moment but also a process which comprises many “guerrilla fights” against “the encroachments of capital” before and after the “revolutionary moment” passes away? This was Marx’s understanding of the “revolution in permanence” or Mao’s notion of a “continuous revolution” or Lenin’s “uninterrupted revolution”.

Obviously within the commonsensical notion of revolution, for which the OMs (Official Marxists, as Kosambi characterised them) are most responsible, the 1949 event in China paints into insignificance the Hunan peasants’ self-organisation and struggle (as marvellously described by Mao in his Hunan Report) or the processes that constituted “Fanshen”, “Shenfan” and the Cultural Revolution. Within this framework a revolution loses its processual character, and is reduced to a moment and even a few elite figures. But why should we expect Dipankar Gupta to go beyond common sense? After all he is a “middle class” solipsist who sees the world made in his image – his class dominating everywhere, doing everything.

In fact, we can find a deep resonance between Gupta’s analysis and India’s chief security advisor MK Narayanan’s McCarthyist indictment of intellectuals. Both experts (in their respective fields) attempt to reduce movements to agencies, however the former does it as an expression of his academic cynicism, while MK Narayanan to find scapegoats. But both converge at a dangerous moment.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

August 31, 2008 at 2:30 pm

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