Archive for the 'Marxism' Category



Gabriel & Daniel Cohn-Bendit: Louis Aragon vs the Parisian students of ’68

As the students stood talking they were joined by scores of passers-by, among them Louis Aragon, that venerable bard and prophet of the Communist Party, the man who had sung paeans of praise to OGPU and Stalinism, and who had come to take his place among those who “remind me so movingly of my own youth.” A group of students recognized him and greeted him with cries of “Long live OGPU! Long live Stalin, the father of all the people!”

The Aragon episode, in itself banal and without political importance, nevertheless shows how politically aware the young demonstrators had become. They would have no truck with members of a party whose official organ, L’Humanité, had launched what could only be called a smear campaign against French youth. The revolutionary movement did not deny the importance, and even the necessity, of a dialogue with the rank and file of the Communist Party, but it did try to unmask the opportunist strategy and counterrevolutionary attitude of its leaders, including Louis Aragon, the poet laureate of the personality cult. He could not make himself heard simply because those participating in the “teach-out” knew that he had nothing in common with them. His bold assertion that he was in the Party “precisely because he was on the side of youth” merely turned him into a laughing stock. By refusing to act honestly for once in his life, and to denounce the machinations of his Party, he threw away his chance to join the student movement, and incidentally saved his leaders a great deal of embarrassment.

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from Gabriel Cohn-Bendit & Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: A Left-Wing Alternative (London: Penguin, 1968/1969), pp 61-62.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: The OGPU were the secret police under Stalin.

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.

Bruce Dancis – “Safety Pins and Class Struggle: Punk Rock and the Left” (1978)

One of the few articles on punk that appeared in a leftist journal in the 1970s, this insightful and prescient piece by radical cultural critic Bruce Dancis holds up well today. He dissects the tensions between punk’s political potential and its nihilistic streak, and is particularly good about its ambiguous relationship to fascism, violence, and sexism. Also fascinating today is his documentation of the organized British left’s response to punk, beyond just the obligatory mention of Rock Against Racism. About punk he says:

“At its best, punk rock represents not only an energetic aesthetic attack on the dominant trends within popular music, but also a working-class protest against youthful unemployment, poverty, government censorship, authoritarianism, racism, fascism, the record industry, the star system, and the traditional performer/audience relationship. At its worst, punk is a manifestation of cultural despair and decadence, featuring nihilism, sexism, a glorification of violence and fascist imagery, sado-masochism, and musical incompetence.”

Dancis wrote for many years about music and politics, and his articles from In These Times from 1977 to 1981 are available here. This essay is reprinted with his permission.

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Bruce Dancis, “Safety Pins and Class Struggle: Punk Rock and the Left,” Socialist Review #39 (vol. 8, no. 3), May-June, 1978, pp 58-83.

Lou Reed meets the Italian autonomists

“Relations with manager [Dennis] Katz were crumbling fast, a process that climaxed in Milan on February 13, 1975. Reed was in Italy to launch the first leg of a world tour but took the stage to find the arena on the edge of pitched battle. The Masters of Creative Situations, a Communist action group, chose the gig as the venue for a confrontation with the police, which necessarily spilled over onto the stage.”

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from Dave Thompson, Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell: The Dangerous Glitter of David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Lou Reed (NY: Backbeat Books, 2009), page 241.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: Googling this group doesn’t turn anything up; I am assuming they are autonomists by their name, which might also be rendered incorrectly. If you know anything about them, please post it in the comments.

Update December 2013: History is Made at Night has a good post about this.

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.

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.

Buck-Morss on Adorno and the Spanish Civil War (1977)

“Although Sidney Webb lent his name in support of the Frankfurt Institute when it was forced to emigrate, Adorno seems to have had no contact with him or others in the Fabian Society. He never joined the pacifist movements then so strong in English universities, and one searches his writings in vain for even a mention of the Spanish Civil War.”

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from Susan Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: Free Press, 1977), page 139.

Adorno on reactionary arguments against Western culture (1951)

“Not the least among the tasks now confronting thought is that of placing all the reactionary arguments against Western culture in the service of progressive enlightenment.”

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Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (New York: Verso, 1951/2005), section 122 (“Monograms”), page 192.

Also of interest in this line of thought is Adorno’s essay “Spengler After the Decline,” which is available in Prisms, an anthology of Adorno’s essays.

Murray Bookchin: anarchism is “simply not a social theory” (2002)

“By the same token, anarchism – which, I believe, represents in its authentic form a highly individualistic outlook that fosters a radically unfettered lifestyle, often as a substitute for mass action – is far better suited to articulate a Proudhonian single-family peasant and craft world than a modern urban and industrial environment. I myself once used this political label, but further thought has obliged me to conclude that, its often-refreshing aphorisms and insights notwithstanding, it is simply not a social theory. Its foremost theorists celebrate its seeming openness to eclecticism and the liberatory effects of “paradox” or even “contradiction,” to use Proudhonian hyperbole. Accordingly, and without prejudice to the earnestness of many anarchistic practices, a case can made that many of the ideas of social and economic reconstruction that in the past have been advanced in the name of “anarchy” were often drawn from Marxism (including my own concept of “post-scarcity,” which understandably infuriated many anarchists who read my essays on the subject). Regrettably, the use of socialistic terms has often prevented anarchists from telling us or even understanding clearly what they are: individualists whose concepts of autonomy originate in a strong commitment to personal liberty rather than to social freedom, or socialists committed to a structured, institutionalized, and responsible form of social organization. Anarchism’s idea of self-regulation (auto-nomos) led to a radical celebration of Nietzsche’s all-absorbing will. Indeed the history of this “ideology” is peppered with idiosyncratic acts of defiance that verge on the eccentric, which not surprisingly have attracted many young people and aesthetes.

In fact anarchism represents the most extreme formulation of liberalism’s ideology of unfettered autonomy, culminating in a celebration of heroic acts of defiance of the state. Anarchism’s mythos of self-regulation (auto nomos) – the radical assertion of the individual over or even against society and the personalistic absence of responsibility for the collective welfare – leads to a radical affirmation of the all-powerful will so central to Nietzsche’s ideological peregrinations. Some self-professed anarchists have even denounced mass social action as futile and alien to their private concerns and made a fetish of what the Spanish anarchists called grupismo, a small-group mode of action that is highly personal rather than social.”

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from “The Communalist Project” which is available online here, where it indicates that the essay was first published in Communalism: International Journal for a Rational Society, 2 (November 2002).

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RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE:

Obviously this piece belongs to Bookchin’s post-anarchist Communalist period. Here, as with the works of many politically-engaged intellectuals, one should be sure to untangle the author’s perceptive historical and philosophical insights from their polemics.

Errico Malatesta: nineteenth-century anarchism impregnated with marxism

“Almost all the anarchist literature of the nineteenth century was impregnated with Marxism.”

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cited in Daniel Guerin’s “Marxism and Anarchism,” in David Goodway (ed), For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice (London & NY: Routledge, 1989), p 117.