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Showing posts from June, 2012

Public Service Announcement: "Selling Out"!!!!

Although I plan to write a follow up post to my recent entry on Gramsci soon, I would like to interrupt the MLM Mayhem broadcast to bring you, the readers, a Public Service Announcement.  Not that I have any illusions about providing a public service; this is more like a public announcement about services I want to, um, provide for myself.  That is, I've been seriously considering the possibility of monetizing this blog and/or adding some sort of paypal donate-to-me link.

Yes, yes, I know that this is a possible lapse of revolutionary discipline on my part.  "He's thinking of selling out," you may say and in this you might be correct, though I doubt such a manner of selling out will be entirely lucrative.  I am thinking of doing such a dastardly act of money grubbing because, well, there are bills to be paid and I am not a lifestyle anarchist who believes that getting money to pay said bills is essentially evil.  My job situation is currently (and has been for the pa…

Hegemony and Class Revolution

Despite its overuse and/or abuse by various theoretical schools, the concept of hegemony developed by Antonio Gramsci is something that I have more and more come to believe is extremely useful for revolutionary communists.  Unfortunately, the word has become a synonym for a rather banal, and perhaps even idealist, concept of power employed by post-structuralists and post-modernists.  Theorists will speak off-handedly of "the hegemony", or how they are interested in "counter-hegemony", or how something is somehow "hegemonic", and that bad-bad-bad hegemony.  (Sometimes, and this is an especially American phenomenon, they will pronounce the word with a hard g––which is really neither here nor there but, for some reason I cannot really explain, bugs the hell out of me.)

We can trace the appropriation and misuse of Gramsci's theory of hegemony, perhaps, to Edward Said's Orientalism.  And though I love Said and feel that Orientalism is a foundational th…

The Eurocentrism of Marxist Traditionalism

Frequent readers of this blog will be aware that I am generally annoyed by "movementism" and the tendency to ignore revolutionary history in pursuit of some new revolutionary theory that is neither new nor revolutionary.  Indeed, my previous post was another (and admittedly ranty) screed about this tendency.  If I'm not careful, I might end up coming across as a crotchety old leftist who is afraid of new ideas––like that old man who perpetually shakes his cane at children.

Thus, I think it is probably important to again point out that my annoyance with the above tendency is balanced by my equal annoyance with the tendency to fetishize the past.  As I have argued before, revolutionary theory needs to be understood as the dialectical tension of continuity and rupture.  The movementism that wants to see only rupture is no less erroneous than the dogmatism that focuses only on continuity––or, more accurately, sees a continuity up to the Bolshevik Revolution and then, rejecti…

"Rebuilding the Left"?

Rebuilding the left: these three words generally fill me with a significant amount of revulsion.  Not because I don't think that the left in my social context needs to be "rebuilt" (or, more accurately, built in the first place), but because I find the discourse that this phrase has come to mean in Canada, the US, and Western Europe extremely dubious.  After all, what committed leftist wouldn't want to re/build the left?  The point is that these three words have come to mean something more than their apparent meaning.

When people speak of "rebuilding the left" in my social context, they generally mean building some big-tent "socialism" where anyone who is even a hair's breadth left of liberal will be part of some glorious new left-wing project.  A popular front without a party, so to speak, which in my mind is tantamount to building a high-rise before digging any foundations: let's just get everyone together and decide on a minimum program…

Why We are Not "Utopians"

As a follow-up to my entry on science, I want to talk about utopianism.  More specifically, I want to interrogate the charge that communism is a form of utopianism––the product of some naive "idealist" thinking, the opposite of the scientific mindset that I have claimed is essential to marxism.  Indeed, communism is accused of being utopian, imagining that "human nature" is essentially "good", and often treated as fantastic ideology.

Although it is true that some communists might be utopians, it is important to note that Marx and Engels established the revolutionary communist project by delineating themselves from utopianism.  They were not interested in idealist moralizing, in abstract notions about returning to some root human essence, or in defending the necessity of communism according to abstract philosophical arguments.  Rousseau, after all, was a utopian and Marx and Engels, though influenced at one point by Rousseau's philosophy, had already t…

What We Mean By "Science"

Due to the fact that I've often thrown the term science around on this blog in reference to the historical and dialectical materialism initiated by Marx and Engels, I have decided that it might be worthwhile to discuss what I mean.  Considering that we live in a time where this concept is prevalent, and where it is applied to a variety of disciplines, I realize that when those of us who are committed to communism speak of a revolutionary science, or a science of history, we are often misunderstood.

To be clear, when I apply the word "science" to the methodology of historical marxism, I am not attempting to conflate it with those scientific disciplines that are now, thanks to a long post-enlightenment history of experiment and technology, considered to be the sciences.  That is, I do not think that historical and dialectic materialism are completely identical to biology, chemistry, physics, or the queen of the sciences, mathematics.  These sciences, obviously, have become…

Normative Pacifism and the Necessity of Violence

Pacifism as revolutionary, the peaceful transition to socialism, is an ideology that consistently creeps into anti-capitalist circles.  Although many of us feel that this ghost should have been exorcized long ago––and indeed there are innumerable great works that have been written to do just that––appeals to non-violence as a "moral principle", to Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, or even to seizing power through a parliamentary party continue to linger.  Especially at the centres of capitalism.

Some of the students in a course I'm teaching part-time this summer, for example, truly believe that the anti-racist gains in the US during the 1960s and 1970s were all because of King's non-violent movement. Educated by a discourse that refuses to recognize that an armed movement existed parallel to, as well as eclipsed, King's the non-violent civil rights movement––and that these armed movements were actually the primary reason for any victories against racism––these s…

The Slippery Concept of "Lumpenproletariat"

Marx and Engels' categorization of the lumpenproletariat as a counter-revolutionary class is well-known by those familiar with the term.  In The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Marx refers to the lumpenproletariat as "the refuse of all classes" and points out how they were connected to reactionary, counter-revolutionary forces in France.  And then there is the famous passage by Engels, in The German Revolutions, that is clear about the class consciousness of the lumpen:
The lumpenproletariat, this scum of the decaying elements of all classes, which establishes headquarters in all the big cities, is the worst of all popular allies.  It is an absolutely venal, an absolutely brazen crew.  If the French workers, in the course of the Revolution, inscribed on the houses: Mort aux voleurs! (Death to the thieves!) and even shot down many, they did it, not out of enthusiasm for property, but because they rightly considered it necessary to hold that band at arm's length.  Ev…