Archive for the 'Theory' Category

Gramsci on Lukács and the dialectic in human vs natural history

Note: One must study the position of Professor Lukács towards the philosophy of praxis. It would appear that Lukács maintains that one can speak of the dialectic only for the history of men and not for nature. He might be right and he might be wrong. If his assertion presupposes a dualism between nature and man he is wrong because he is falling into a conception of nature proper to religion and to Graeco-Christian philosophy and also to idealism which does not in reality succeed in unifying and relating man and nature to each other except verbally. But if human history should be conceived also as the history of nature (also by means of the history of science) how can the dialectic be separated from nature? Perhaps Lukács, in reaction to the baroque theories of the Popular Manual, has fallen into the opposite error, into a form of idealism.”
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Antonio Gramsci, ‘The Concept of ‘Science’ section of “Problems of Marxism,” in Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International Publishers, 1971), page 448.
The Popular Manual Gramsci is referring to is Nikolai Bukharin’s Historical Materialism.

Foucault on the Frankfurt School (1978)

Duccio Trombadori: With the events of ’68, another theoretical current regained strength and was confirmed as a point of reference of notable importance in youth culture. I’m speaking of the Frankfurt School: Adorno, Horkheimer, and much more than them, Marcuse, found themselves with their works at the center of student ideological debates. The struggle against repression, the anti-authoritarianism, the escape from “civilization,” the radical denial of the “system”: all these were themes that with more or less intellectual confusion were debated as watchwords by masses of youths. I’d like to know how your thought is related to that theoretical current, also because you don’t seem to have dealt with it directly.

Michel Foucault: It would be necessary to understand better why, despite the work of many of its exponents in Paris after their expulsion from German universities by the Nazis, the Frankfurt School passed by unnoticed for a long time in France. It began to be discussed with a certain intensity and frequency only in relation to the thought of Marcuse and his Freudian-Marxism. In any case, I knew little about the Frankfurt School. I had read certain texts of Horkheimer’ s dedicated to an entire ensemble of discussions whose meaning I understood with difficulty, and in which I felt a certain laxness, above all concerning the historical materials analyzed. Then I recall having read a book on penal problems and the mechanisms of punishment that had been written in the U.S.A. by Kircheimer.

At that point I realized how the Frankfurt people had tried ahead of time to assert things that I too had been working for years to sustain. This even explains a certain irritation shown by some of them who saw that in France there were experiences that were- I won’t say identical but in some ways very similar. In effect, correctness and theoretical fecundity would have asked for a much more thorough acquaintance with and study of the Frankfurt School. As far as I’m concerned, I think that the Frankfurt School set problems that are still being worked on. Among others, the effects of power that are connected to a rationality that has been historically and geographically defined in the West, starting from the sixteenth century on. The West could never have attained the economic and cultural effects that are unique to it without the exercise of that specific form of rationality. Now, how are we to separate this rationality from the mechanisms, procedures, techniques, and effects of power that determine it, which we no longer accept and which we point to as the form of oppression typical of capitalist societies, and perhaps of socialist societies too? Couldn’t it be concluded that the promise of Aufklärung (Enlightenment), of attaining freedom through the exercise of reason, has been, on the contrary, overturned within the domain of Reason itself, that it is taking more and more space away from freedom? It’s a fundamental problem that we all debate, that is common to so many, whether Communists or not. And this problem, as we know, was singled out by Horkheimer before the others; and it was the Frankfurt School that measured its relationship with Marx on the basis of this hypothesis. Wasn’t it Horkheimer who sustained that in Marx there was the idea of a society as being like an immense factory?

Duccio Trombadori: You assign great importance to this current of thought. To what do you attribute the anticipations and the results attained by the Frankfurt School that you’ve briefly summarized?

Michel Foucault: I think that the Frankfurt School had a greater likelihood of knowing and analyzing early on with exact information what was happening in the U.S.S.R. And this was within the framework of an intense and dramatic political struggle, while Nazism was digging the grave of the Weimar Republic; this was set against the background in Germany, where Marxism and theoretical reflection on Marx had a robust tradition of more than fifty years.

When I recognize all these merits of the Frankfurt School, I do so with the bad conscience of one who should have known them and studied them much earlier than was the case. Perhaps if l had read those works earlier on, I would have saved useful time, surely: I wouldn’t have needed to write some things and I would have avoided certain errors. At any rate, if I had encountered the Frankfurt School while young, I would have been seduced to the point of doing nothing else in life but the job of commenting on them. Instead, their influence on me remains retrospective, a contribution reached when I was no longer at the age of intellectual “discoveries.” And I don’t even know whether to be glad or to feel sorry about it.

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From Michel Foucault, Remarks On Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori, trans.  R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito (New York: Semiotext(e), 1991). Originally published in Italian in 1981, the interviews were conducted in 1978. From Section 4, “Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse: Who Is a ‘Negator of History’?,” pages 115–20.

Murray Bookchin: Anarchism vs Syndicalism (1992)

[Graham] Purchase [in "Social Ecology, Anarchism and Trades Unionism"] not only ignores these momentous developments and the analyses that I and others have advanced; he grossly misinterprets and demagogically redefines any criticism of syndicalism, indeed, trade-unionism, as an expression of hostility toward anarchism as such. Assuming that Purchase knows very much about the history of anarchism and syndicalism, this line of argument is manipulative and an outright distortion; but to be generous, I will say that it reveals a degree of ignorance and intolerance that deserves vigorous reproval. In fact, in the late nineteenth century, when syndicalism emerged as an issue among anarchists, it was furiously debated. The outstanding luminaries of the anarchist movement at the the turn of the century — such as Errico Malatesta, Elisee Reclus, Emma Goldman, Sebastian Faure, and others — initially opposed syndicalism for a variety of reasons, many of which show a great deal of prescience on their part. And in time, when they came to accept it, many of them did so in a highly prudent manner. Malatesta, in his fundamental criticism of syndicalism, argued that the generation of a revolutionary spirit ‘cannot be the normal, natural definition of the Trade Union’s function’. Although he eventually accepted anarchosyndicalism with apparent reluctance, he continued to call for a far more expansive form of anarchist organization and practice than many syndicalists were prepared to accept.

In practice, anarchist groups often came into outright conflict with anarchosyndicalist organizations — not to speak of syndicalist organizations, many of which eschewed anarchism. Early in the century, the Spanish anarchocommunists, influenced primarily by Juan Baron and Francisco Cardinal, the editors of Tierra y Libertad, furiously denounced the anarchosyndicalists who were later to form the CNT as ‘deserters’ and ‘reformists’. Similar conflicts developed in Italy, France, and the United States, and perhaps not without reason. The record of the anarchosyndicalist movement has been one of the most abysmal in the history of anarchism generally. In the Mexican Revolution, for example, the anarchosyndicalist leaders of the Casa del Obrero Mundial shamefully placed their proletarian ‘Red Battalions’ at the service of Carranza, one of the revolution’s most bloodthirsty thugs, to fight the truly revolutionary militia of Zapata — all to gain a few paltry reforms, which Carranza withdrew once the Zapatista challenge had been broken with their collaboration. The great Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon justly denounced their behaviour as a betrayal.

Nor can much be said in defence of the leaders of the CNT in Spain. They swallowed their libertarian principles by becoming ‘ministers’ in the Madrid government late in 1936, not without the support of many of their followers, I should add, and in May 1937 they used their prestige to disarm the Barcelona proletariat when it tried to resist the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Catalan capital. In the United States, lest present-day anarchosyndicalists get carried away by legendary movements like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), they should be advised that this syndicalist movement, like others elsewhere, was by no means committed to anarchism. ‘Big Bill’ Haywood, its most renowned leader, was never an anarchist. Still other IWW leaders, many of whom tilted toward an anarchist outlook, not only became Communists in the 1920s but became ardent Stalinists in the 1930s and later. It is worth noting that serious Spanish anarchists, even those who joined the CNT, regarded the influence of the CNT’s trade-unionist mentality on the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation) as deleterious and ultimately disastrous. Toward the end of the civil war, it was questionable whether the FAI controlled the CNT or, more likely, whether the CNT, with its strong trade-union mentality, had essentially diluted the FAI’s anarchist principles. As Malatesta had so perceptively declared, even as he cautiously accepted the amalgamation of anarchist with syndicalist principles under the pressure of a growing syndicalist movement in Europe, ‘trade unions are, by their nature, reformist and never revolutionary’ (emphasis added). For an oaf like Graham Purchase to bombastically equate syndicalism with anarchism — an act of arrogance that is as fatuous as it is ignorant — and then to go on and essentially equate trade unionism with syndicalism deserves only disdain.

The authentic locus of anarchists in the past was the commune or municipality, not the factory, which was generally conceived as only part of a broader communal structure, not its decisive component. Syndicalism, to the extent that it narrowed this broader outlook by singling out the proletariat and its industrial environment as its locus, also crucially narrowed the more sweeping social and moral landscape that traditional anarchism had created. In large part, this ideological retreat reflected the rise of the factory system in the closing years of the last century in France and Spain, but it also echoed the ascendancy of a particularly vulgar form of economistic Marxism (Marx, to his credit, did not place much stock in trade unionism), to which many naive anarchists and nonpolitical trade unionists succumbed. After the Revolution by Abad de Santillan, one of the movers and shakers of Spanish anarchosyndicalism, reflects this shift toward a pragmatic economism in such a way that makes his views almost indistinguishable from those of the Spanish socialists — and, of course, that brought him into collusion with the Catalan government, literally one of the grave-diggers of Spanish anarchism. Syndicalism — be it anarchosyndicalism or its less libertarian variants — has probably done more to denature the ethical content of anarchism than any other single factor in the history of the movement, apart from anarchism’s largely marginal and ineffectual individualist tendencies. Indeed, until anarchism shakes off this syndicalist heritage and expands its communalistic and communistic heritage, it will be little more than a rhetorical and mindless echo of vulgar Marxism and the ghost of an era that has long passed into history.

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from “Deep Ecology, Anarcho-Syndicalism and the Future of Anarchist Thought,” 1992. Full text of both Bookchin’s piece and the Purchase article he is replying to, is available here in the Freedom Press book Deep Ecology & Anarchism: A Polemic.

Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous – Adventures in Subversion: Flyers and Posters, 1981-85

This classic booklet of post-Situ flyers was made by John Zerzan and Dan Todd, probably in 1985. The version this is made from lists the publisher as Oh! Press in San Francisco.

6 MB version

14 MB version

 Note: if you are using Firefox, you may have trouble viewing these documents; try a different browser.

Eldridge Cleaver (Black Panther Party): “Jews were able to do precisely the same thing that Afro-Americans must now do” (1968)

“The parallel between the situation of the Jews at the time of the coming of Theodore Herzl and the present situation of black people in America is fascinating. The Jews had no homeland and were dispersed around the world, cooped up in the ghettos of Europe. Functionally, a return to Israel seemed as impractical as obtaining a homeland for Afro-American now seems. Renowned Jewish leaders were seriously considering transporting Jews to Argentina, en masse, and developing a homeland there. Others seriously considered obtaining from England the territory of Uganda in East Africa for the same purpose.

The gravitational center of the Jewish population at that time was in Eastern Europe. With the outbreak of the massive pogroms in that area near the end of the nineteenth century, the Jewish people were prepared psychologically to take desperate and unprecedented action. They saw themselves faced with an immediate disastrous situation. Genocide was staring them in the face and this common threat galvanized them into common action.

Psychologically, black people in America have precisely the same outlook as Jews had then, and they are therefore prepared to take common action for the solution to a common problem. Oppressed because of the color of their skin, black people are reacting on that basis. A nationalist consciousness has at last awakened among the black masses of Afro-America.

The facts of history show that the Jews were able to do precisely the same thing that Afro-Americans must now do. When Theodore Herzl founded the Jewish National Congress, he virtually founded a government in exile. They would build their organization, their government, and then later on they would get some land and set the government and the people down on the land, like placing one’s hat on top of one’s head. The Jews did it. It worked. So now African-Americans must do the same thing.

In fact, when he moved to found the organization of Afro-American Unity, this is precisely what Malcolm X was doing, founding a government in exile for a people in exile. Stokely Carmichael and Rap Brown are now speaking in the name of that sovereignty, in the name of a nation.”

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Eldridge Cleaver in Post-Prison Writings and Speeches, edited by Robert Scheer (NY: Ramparts/Vintage, 1969), pages 67­–69. Essay is dated April/May 1968.

Malatesta on Bakunin as “too marxist”

“Today I find that Bakunin in political economy and in interpretation of history, was too marxist; I find that his philosophy was conducted without possible issue in the contradiction between the mechanical concept of the universe and the faith in will over the fate of mankind.”

“Though none of us had read Marx, we were still too Marxist.'” [ie in the period of the First International]

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from “Notes for a Biography” in Errico Malatesta’s Life and Ideas, edited by Vernon Richards (London: Freedom Press, 1977), page 209.

Eric Hobsbawn on anarchism, theory and intellectuals

As an ideology, anarchism did not decline so dramatically because it had never had anything like as much success, at least among intellectuals who are the social stratum most interested in ideas. There have probably always been eminent figures in the world of culture who called themselves anarchists (except, curiously enough, in Spain), but most of them seem to have been artists in the wider — or like Pissarro and Signac, the narrower — sense of the word. In any case, anarchism never had an attraction comparable to, say marxism, for intellectuals even before the October revolution. With the exception of Kropotkin, it is not easy to think of an anarchist theorist who could be read with real interest by non-anarchists. There seemed, indeed, no real intellectual room for anarchist theory. The belief in the libertarian communism of self-governing cooperatives as the final aim of revolutionaries, it shared with marxism. The old Utopian socialists had thought more deeply and concretely about the nature of such communities than most anarchists. Even the strongest point in the anarchists’ intellectual armoury, their awareness of the dangers of dictatorship and bureaucracy implicit in marxism, was not peculiar to them. This type of critique was made with equal effect and greater intellectual sophistication both by ‘unofficial’ marxists and by opponents of all kinds of socialism.

In brief, the main appeal of anarchism was emotional and not intellectual.

Anarchism is therefore today [1969] once again a political force. Probably it has no mass basis outside the movement of students and intellectuals and even within the movement it is influential rather as a persistent current of ‘spontaneity’ and activism rather than through the relatively few people who claim to be anarchists. The question is therefore once again worth asking what is the value of the anarchist tradition today?

In terms of ideology, theory and programmes, that value remains marginal. Anarchism is a critique of the dangers of authoritarianism and bureaucracy in states, parties and movements, but this is primarily a symptom that these dangers are widely recognized. If all anarchists had disappeared from the face of the earth the discussion about these problems would go on much as it does. Anarchism also suggests a solution in terms of direct democracy and small self-governing groups, but I do not think its own proposals for the future have so far been either very valuable or very fully thought out. To mention only two considerations. First, small self-governing direct democracies are unfortunately not necessarily libertarian. They may indeed function only because they establish a consensus so powerful that those who do not share it voluntarily refrain from expressing their dissent; alternatively, because those who do not share the prevailing view leave the community, or are expelled. There is a good deal of information about the operation of such small communities, which I have not seen realistically discussed in anarchist literature. Second, both the nature of the modern social economy and of modern scientific technology raise problems of considerable complexity for those who see the future as a world of self-governing small groups. These may not be insoluble, but unfortunately they are certainly not solved by the simple call for the abolition of the state and bureaucracy, nor by the suspicion of technology and the natural sciences which so often goes with modern anarchism. It is possible to construct a theoretical model of libertarian anarchism which will be compatible with modern scientific technology, but unfortunately it will not be socialist. It will be much closer to the views of Mr Goldwater and his economic adviser Professor Milton Friedman of Chicago than to the views of Kropotkin. For (as Bernard Shaw pointed out long ago in his pamphlet on the Impossibilities of Anarchism), the extreme versions of individualist liberalism are logically as anarchist as Bakunin.

It will be clear that in my view anarchism has no significant contribution to socialist theory to make, though it is a useful critical element. If socialists want theories about the present and the future, they will still have to look elsewhere, to Marx and his followers, and probably also to the earlier Utopian socialists, such as Fourier. To be more precise: if anarchists want to make a significant contribution they will have to do much more serious thinking than most of them have recently done.

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from E. J. Hobsbawn, “Reflections on Anarchism” in Revolutionaries (New York: Meridian, 1975), pp 82-83, 87-89. The essay originally appeared 1969. Full text of this is available here.

Revolutionary Anarchist #3 (1973)

Seattle’s Revolutionary Anarchist #3 was a tight, action-packed issue that I found in the archives. This July 1973 issue was a “joint publishing project of the Seattle section of the Social Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and the Revolutionary Anarchist Print Fund, and is edited by David Brown”.

The articles are:

Dan Raphael, “Taking the Left to Task”

Dan Raphael, “Another Letter to the Left”

Black Rose Anarcho-Feminists, “Blood of the Flower: An Anarchist-Feminist Statement”

“Who We Are: An Anarcho-Feminist Manifesto” (from Siren)

“Free Martin Sostre”

Shawn Crowley, “Red and Black Books: An Alternative to That Warehouse Feeling”

Andy Crusciel, “Report On Toronto Anarchist Conference”

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click on the image below to see the PDF of the entire issue

Alvin Gouldner – Marxism, independent intellectuals, and the academy (1973)

The most profound indication of this development is to be found in the societal re-mapping sought by Maoism which is laying the groundwork for the elimination of the academic intelligentsia. As Robert Guillain remarks in Le Monde, ‘It is no over-simplification of the massive series of reforms [of the ‘Cultural Revolution’]…to say that their key objective—defined by Chairman Mao himself—is the elimination of the ‘academic intellectual.’ As the intensity of the Red Guard movement subsided, it became increasingly evident that the elimination of the academic intelligentsia was one of the most important items on the agenda of the Cultural Revolution. This effort is resonated in the West by the anti-intellectualism of the bureaucratized lumpen intelligentsia and in the self-hatred of certain gauchiste intellectuals.

Marxism, however, was in the beginning the creation of a library-haunting, bookstore-browsing, museum-loving—and hence leisure-possessing—academic intelligentsia of the very sort that Maoism now seeks to excise. It does not matter, of course, that Engels himself had no university training; and it does not matter that Marx never achieved the professorship that, when young, he had coveted; for both were mandarins at heart. They had both assimilated and embodied the culture of the Western university. Marx was the product and possessor of a high European culture who knew his Goethe by heart; who read Aeschylus in the original; who had a boundless respect for Shakespeare, whom he had his daughters memorize; who took pleasure in reading two or three novels at one time, ranking Balzac and Cervantes before other novelists; who, when disturbed, might take refuge in algebra; and who actually wrote an infinitesimal calculus. In a letter to his daughter Laura in 1868 he describes himself as a ‘…machine condemned to devour books…’. When Marx died, on 14 March 1883, he was where one might expect him—at his desk.

Whatever its ultimate destiny and destination, Marxism was originally a creation of the West. Born of European culture, Marxism is simply unthinkable without the complex of institutions that centre on the university, which trains and provides livings for secular intelligentsia. Marx and Engels, and all the epigones of every nationality that follow after them, are unthinkable without the countless books, journals, newspapers, libraries, bookstores, publishing houses, and even Party schools, whose cadres and culture constitute a dense infrastructure at who centre there is the Western university. No university, no intelligentsia, no Marxism.

The gulf between Maoism and Soviet Marxism derives largely from the fact that Soviet Marxism understands and respects this, while Maoism understands but rejects it. Soviet Marxism and Stalinism sought to control the university and to guarantee the loyalty of intellectuals and scientists to Party precepts and leadership; it never sought to stop the university and to eliminate the self-reproduction of the academic intelligentsia, as Maoism has.

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from Alvin W. Gouldner, For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today (NY: Basic Books, 1973), pp 450-52.

Oswald Spengler on anarchists (1918)

“Truly our future lies on one hand in Prussian conservatism after it has been cleansed of all feudal-agrarian narrowness and on the other in the working people after they have freed themselves from the anarchist-radical masses.”

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cited in Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimer and the Third Reich (Cambridge, UK, et. al.: Cambridge University Press, 1984), page 49. He cites Walter Struve, “Oswald Spengler: Caesar and Croesus,” in Elites Against Democracy (Princeton, NJ, 1973), pages 236-37, whose source in turn is apparently a “Letter of December 27, 1918 to Hans Klores” in Briefe 1913–1936, ed. Anton M. Koktanek and Manfred Schroter (Munich 1963), page 115.

This is of particular interest as Spengler has been cited favorably by John Zerzan, Green Anarchy, and Dwight Macdonald, and the neo-Spenglerian historian Arnold Toynbee was a strong influence on Fredy Perlman.



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