Beyond Capital

Polemics, Critique and Analysis

Posts Tagged ‘Marxism

“If you can’t change the world, change yourself.”

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“While Butler, needy wretch, was yet alive,
No generous patron would a dinner give;
See him, when starved to death, and turned to dust,
Presented with a monumental bust.
The poet’s fate is here in emblem shown,
He asked for bread, and he received a stone.”

Ultimate!!! Marxism is really going big and funny – academic and publishing monopolies, and now this!!! We danced every time a mainstream publication or newspaper or liberals called Marx’s this or that theory relevant. In fact, this has been the job of Marxist academia and publishing businesses, of convincing the mainstream of the prescriptive, descriptive and analytical relevance of Dr Marx. In the name of rigour, the great sanitised figure of Marx the theoretician is built, who cannot be charged of Leninism (well, Leninology too is there to do similar with Lenin) and of the “crimes” of the Georgian and other Orientals. The Melancholic figure of Prof Marx, instead of Bacchanalian inclinations of Herr Marx. Marx’s father tried hard to achieve this by forcing him to transfer from Bonn to Berlin, the “workhouse”, but he eventually failed and died. But now it is different, it does not matter if his spirit rebels, the high priests of academic and publishing Marxisms can easily exorcise “the spectre of Marx”.

If this was not sufficient, there are already some new moles in the market who are prepared to take on capitalists with AltMarxist cryptocurrency, Marxcoin, our own money. Of course, “money cannot overthrow capitalism”, but with money we can win capitalism. Who cares about Marx’s attacks on “artful tinkering with money”? These have been sufficiently academicised, or reduced to policy and economic issues. The spirited science of Marxist polemics is gone. Who cares about Marx’s form and content dialectic?

Time to rewrite the Eleventh Thesis: “If you can’t change the world, change yourself.” Or perhaps in the context of 100 years of the October Revolution (and what we have been doing after 1989), we can further innovate, “We have been interpreting ourselves in various ways, the point is to change ourselves.”


Written by Pratyush Chandra

December 12, 2017 at 1:51 am

Posted in Marx, Marxism

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Notes on Materialism in Earliest Marx

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1. Marx’s “Reflections of a Young Man on the Choice of a Profession” that he wrote for school-leaving Examinations in August 1835 (when he was 17 years old) is quite revealing. We find some definite traces of his social materialism in this otherwise idealist text.

2. Nature and deity in these Reflections are forces of necessity. They determine the sphere of activity for animals, which animals cannot transcend. But for humans they provide “a general aim” towards which they must seek their own roads and means.

3. But this open-endedness of human activity is a source of both fulfilment and frustration. It is here experience, knowledge and conscious learning become crucial.

4. However, the “deity” or force of necessity does not leave human totally helpless – it “speaks softly but with certainty.” She must know how to recognise it, without self-deceiving.

5. This recognition of necessity can easily be lost in immediate and momentary inspirations, imaginations, emotions, phantoms acting on our impetuous instincts – thus the voice of the deity is drowned and we suffer.

6. In the choice of profession one needs to hear the true calling (the voice of the deity, the necessity). Once you give yourself to the demon of ambition, you lose sight of the “deity” and start relying on “chance and illusion”. You still remain an object of necessity, but obviously not as a master navigating through the narrow escapes provided by necessity to your destination. Instead you walk without a guide and without any knowledge of the pathways, hitting the walls of necessity. And the result is failure and “self-contempt”. Now not just our physical and intellectual constitution, but also already established social relations act as the given structure of necessity. It is here that even the Earliest Marx stands united with the core of early and late Marx’s materialism:

“our relations in society have to some extent already begun to be established before we are in a position to determine them.”

Written by Pratyush Chandra

December 8, 2017 at 4:28 am

Posted in Marx, Marxism

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Spacetime and the Value Theory

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Cyrus Bina is correct when he notes that the radical left suffers from the dualism of capital and territory, taking them as separate logics. This dualistic framework vacates “the ground from beneath the theory of value as both a theory of class polarization and a theory of commodity valorization. Such dualism in the face of valorization of (raw) geography under capital – and unity of the two as a social relation – turned Marx on his head. Parallel with the analogy of “spacetime” in modern astrophysics, it would be methodologically incorrect to separate the valorization of land (and sub-surface) from the valorizing capital. The fabric of valorization does not allow for fencing off the land and capital. The theory of value is analogous to the fabric of spacetime where neither the time (social relations) nor the space (land, sub-surface, geography or territory) has independent existence. Theory of value is simply a universal measure for all measures, so to speak.” (Oil: A Time Machine, 2011)

If we look at radicalism as prevailing in the socalled Global South, and take it at its face value, we will find people are judged radicals by assessing how deep they are entrenched in this dualism. Anyway, the analogy of spacetime is crucial as it gives us a hint to treat territory or specificities as located in the spatiotemporal matrix of capital as social relations. Didn’t Marx himself hinted at it time and again when he stressed and showed that socio-historical phenomena or events, howsoever “remote from the class struggle [their] objects might appear,” were embedded in the dynamics of capital relations?

Written by Pratyush Chandra

September 14, 2015 at 2:40 am

Posted in Marxism

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Why a Marx-Inspired Materialist Historiography cannot Afford to be Historicist and yet it often is

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A historically determinist (or hitoricist) historiography takes root when the line shifts from construing the discursive inscription of the immanent forces of history-as-movement as their limit, to making sense of such inscription as teleology. It’s this historical determinism as Marxism — which is arguably the result of reading Marx as if he was Hegel than retroactively read Hegel as Marx (i.e. read Hegel against his grain) — that has been the stageist bane of Marxist political interventions in the so-called non-European societies such as ours. The result: Marxist political discourse in the tropics has become a discourse tailor-made for the legitimation of the ideology of liberalism that can ‘survive’ and ‘succeed’ only by instituting its own materiality, which in this late capitalist conjuncture can, paradoxically, be nothing save neoliberalism.

All politico-ideological pleas of formal equality — all leftist struggles to win various violated or un-enforced juridical rights amounts precisely to that — can today succeed only by reinforcing the exchange-principle, and its basis in value-relations as the qualitative equalisation of qualitative differences through their quantitative differentiation. This would mean the reinforcement of value-relations through reinforcement of exchange-relations in their increasing precarity. And since this increasing precarity of value-relations would, in being reinforced, still be animated by the realisation or expression of value as qualitative equalisation in and through quantitative differentiation, such reinforcement of value-relations in its increasing precarity can only amount to increasing oppressiveness. The neurotic simultaneity of oppression and resistance — which is manifest in our current society and polity as the hegemony of competitive identity politics and lobby politics (both in their secular and so-called pre/non-secular forms) — is evidence of that.

In such circumstances, if one reads the Marx of Capital, in terms of his Afterword to the Second German Edition of Volume I, one will clearly see how Marx reverse-shifts the line, as it were, from teleology to limit, in his reading of history. That, arguably, is what his materialist operation on the Hegelian dialectic — the extraction of the rational kernel (of the dialectic) from its mystical shell (of a prioiri orientation) in his famous, and by now much-abused, words — amounts to. This is precisely the moment of Marx’s complete liberation from historicism. It’s this that gives us the Late Marx, who speaks affirmatively, for instance, of the ‘pre-capitalist’ Russian mir as the germ of a possible Russian road of historical development that could bypass capitalism, which for historical determinists was/is a necessary and un-bypassable milestone.

What does this non-teleological historiographical approach of Late Marx — which comes out of his explication of the logic of historical development in its bare and abstract form in Capital — amount to? It means the incompleteness of capital at particular spatio-temporal locations, once capital has come into being anywhere or everywhere else, is already an integral part of capital. Thus, struggles even at those locations that have the discursive appearance of pre-capitalism must be against capital. Which is to say, those struggles have to seek to abolish all teleology, including their own that will be imposed on them as their respective limits by their respective determinate locations. In terms of a philosophy of history, it means one approach each and every moment of history as being internally divided or schizzed between two temporalities — that of contingency and necessity (or, difference-as-differing-away and difference-as-identity). More precisely, it means every moment of history is an internal division between the time of form in and as its contingent instantiation (event) and the time of form as the concrete mediation of its structuring or being-placed. Walter Benjamin adumbrates precisely this as the historical materialist approach to historiography in his ‘Theses on Philosophy of History’, particularly theses V, VI and VII.

One should, however, have no qualms in admitting that even Late Marx’s historical vision is haunted by a tension between historicism and non-teleological history. Considering that Marx envisaged his critique of historicism (the Hegelian dialectic) — as any seriously radical and profoundly engaged critic ought to – from within such historicism, his battle against historicism is always conducted under the ineluctable shadow of the latter.

Marx’s constant endeavour in Capital is to show how capital — which is nothing but historicism in concrete action — is, in its, objectivity, a moving contradiction and thus constitutively neurotic. That is because Capital shows how commodity, which is the basic unit of capital (capital in its cell-form), is an objective demonstration of itself as the mobilisation of its own immanent critique or negativity — what with commodity being qualitative difference that is use-value in its sheer bodily form embodying or phenomenalising its own negation, which is value as the substance of qualitative equalisation. We can, in other words, say that capital for Marx is qualitative differences or use-values and their respectively singular concrete labours in their limit. But precisely in not being recognised in their limit, use-values are rendered neurotic commodities, wherein use-values in their qualitatively different (or singular) bodily forms embody, in and as the equivalent pole of an exchange-relation or value-form, the substance of qualitative equalisation (value) that is their negation as singularities.

As a result, the conception of limit – which belongs to a rigorously materialist historiography – would, in Marx, often find itself encoded in the historicist language, and, at times, even conception, of destiny and inevitability. The most infamous example on that count is the little that Marx wrote on the Latin America of his times. Be that as it may, we ought to read such ‘Eurocentric’ articulations of Marx, pace Jose Arico, as the exception to the rule of materialist historiography that is definitively posed, if not also instituted, by the approach that Marx’s Capital articulates.

In such circumstances, it would not — and should not — at all be an anathema for a Marx-inspired materialist historiography to deal with questions of culture, consciousness and mentalite as a history of phenomenology of difference. But where it would differ from both the established historigraphes of culture, consciousness and mentalite on one hand; and the equally canonised historically determinist historigraphy of the so-called Marxist historians from South Asia on the other, is in its demonstration of how such differences (as subjective experiences) are both themselves and already always their own limit, and thus subsumption into regimes of necessity. It’s in this sense that a radical Marxist historiographer could – in fact, necessarily should — draw as much from the historiographies of culture, consciousness and mentalite as from the various strains of determinist ‘Marxist’ historiography. For, only in drawing from both these kinds of historiography – by thinking difference and its subsumption together, but in their separateness — will he/she be able to complete the incomplete materialism that orients both those historiographical approaches. This rigorously comprehensive materialist historiography — which is exemplified by the historiographical practices of such rarely found historians as C.L.R. James (in Black Jacobins), Timothy Mason and Arno J. Mayer — is a synthesis of both the aforementioned historiographical approaches. And in being such a synthesis the materialist historiography in question breaks with the historiographical horizon constitutive of this duality.

Marxism in academia – don’t lament, but fight!!!

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I have never been comfortable with lamenting over the marginalisation of Marxism in academia, in which many comrades time to time indulge. In fact, there is no such marginalisation happening globally – just look at the publishing projects of Marxists throughout the globe, with books priced exorbitantly. Of course, this Marxism is not meant for activists – they can be fed with free blogs and free tweets/fb entries (even these are accessible to a tiny minority only)! A senior ‘Marxist’ in Delhi once told a students conference in the early 1990s, how much she and her colleagues have contributed in Marxism – the only job left for leaders and activists now is to put that knowledge in use. Perhaps the neoliberal rightwing assault on this academic comfort (and liberalism, which liberalised Marxism too) gives an opportunity to liberate Marxist theorisations, regrounding them in real class struggle and proletarian practice (even in academia).

David Laibman correctly historicised this state of Marxism and its implications in his 1997 book, Capitalist Macrodynamics:

The shifts in political and economic power have… been accompanied by ideological transformations as well. Marxism, having been largely removed from its earlier position of influence in the labor movement and other social spheres, has taken refuge in the academy. There, under intense intellectual pressure, a certain fragmentation has taken place, as the formerly unitary Marxist world view has conformed to the disciplinary specialisations: thus we have ‘Marxist sociology’, ‘Marxist economics’, and so on. The unifying generalizations of historical materialism have also come under continuous fire, as Marxists have retreated to more ‘defensible’ positions.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

July 27, 2015 at 3:58 am

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