SUBJECTIVITY, HEGEL'S ABSOLUTE, SELF-EXPANDING CAPITAL

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Sun Jul 23 22:04:28 MDT 1995


I'm still not clear what we are discussing in considering Hegel
and capital together.  Is it Hegel exegesis?  Is it the
understanding of capital?  Is it the logic of capital?  Is it the
Marxian use of Hegel?  Let me just respond to a few points:

1. Certainly Paul Cockshott is correct to note:

>A system implies complexity and functional dependencies between
>its components, something which is harder to recognise if you
>treat capital as a subject - with the implications of
>unity/coherence that this implies.

This criticism is often applied to Hegel's view of society as a
system or "expressive totality".  But is this what we are
discussing?  Somehow I think we are trying to relate Hegel's
ontology to the logic of capital, though I don't yet know why.
Capital as Subject, so what does this mean anyway?

2.  I am rather unhappy with Leo Casey's genealogy of Trotskyist
morals, not that his cynicism bothers me.  There were a number of
criticisms of the USSR that came out of the 1930s.  I don't think
all were Trotskyist.  There was Bruno Rizzi, but I don't remember
what his politics were.  There were a few others.  Trotsky's
theory was most noteworthy.  I don't recall where the notion of
state capitalism first surfaced, but indeed the Johnson-Forest
Tendency developed one of the state cap theories.  Tony Cliff's
theory was an entirely separate development, as far as I know.
Also, though it is indeed the case that the Russian Question has
been the occasion of Trotskyist fission, C.L.R. James denied he
was splitting from the SWP over the Russian Question, and had an
interpretation of the problems in the party at odds with many
other versions.  (See the split document circa 1940, "The Roots of
the Party Crisis".)

Maurice Isserman would not be my authority of choice on these
matters, however.  I have doubts about the importance of the links
he treats between the Old Left and the New.  His celebration of
the CPUSA during World War II is rather questionable, and his
recent politics of scolding the left for not supporting Clinton
are highly dubious.  He also worked with Dorothy Healey on her
autobiography about life in the CPUSA.  Isserman's choice of
topics and his approach do not inspire much confidence for my
money.

THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN LEFT is a horrible reference work
overall, a real embarrassment showcasing the sloppy and arbitrary
working methods of Paul Buhle.

Why should the most interesting aspect of the history of American
Trotskyism be the shift to the right of many of its leading
intellectuals?  Not that I mind cynicism over Trotskyist politics,
but given the recent death of Ernest Mandel, certainly an
admirable man and thinker in many respects regardless of the
ultimate sterility of Trotskyist politics now, I think it is in
poor taste to discredit the very existence of Trotskyism because
so many of its blowhard intellectuals became right-wingers.

3.  Paul Cockshott has further interesting remarks:

>This Hegelian treatment of capital in the abstract can lead to
>very superficial and misleading analyses at the level of the
>social formation....

Interestingly, this reminds me of the debate between C.L.R. James
(alias J.R. Johnson) and Joseph Carter (a pseudonym for I forget
who) in the 1940s.  Carter made just this accusation against
James's treatment of _Capital_ as an  argument for state
capitalism.  I wish someone out there with greater competence in
these matters than me would anaylze this whole debate.

4.  By merging the state cap and subjectivity threads (my fault)
we may be getting off the topic of subjectivity altogether, and
may forget to deliberate Zavarzadeh's article urged by Rakesh
Bhandari.  I imagine subjectivity under state cap Stalinism is to
put it mildly not at all identical with such under our capitalism,
esp. in the area of privatization and hysterical speculation,
which accentuates the irrationalism of the system rather than
bureaucratic rationalization.  (See discussion of rationalism in
C.L.R. James et al, STATE CAPITALISM AND WORLD REVOLUTION.)

But what are we trying to say about subjectivity?  What about the
subjectivity of the worker?  Is it inside the logic of the system,
opposed to it, inside and outside battling in one breast, etc.?
Does the logic of capital include the resistance to it, or is that
somewhere outside?  Why are we discussing this?

On Rakesh's point about the logic of "co-optation": I don't quite
understand his point about where the resistance comes from and
becomes (or already is?) part of the system.  However, C.L.R.
James's logic of historical development (see NOTES ON DIALECTICS)
deals with the successive incorporation of each historic level of
resistance into the next level of organization of the capitalist
system itself, using examples from the French to the Russian
revolutions.

5.  Still, we are far from subjectivity, intersubjectivity, etc.,
when it comes down to the experiential level.  Do we want to talk
about these matters in terms of the personality structure that
capital creates or encourages, the inability to see the sytem as a
whole, interpersonal relations, contradictory systems of belief
(the persistence of religion in advanced industrial societies),
what?

How about why the American working class doesn't want to call
itself working class?  The ideology of family values?  Ethnic
identity?  How about the refusal to see systemic problems and the
fetishistic focus on fragments?  The entire logic of social and
economic development in the USA is now built around building more
prisons and thereby exterminating the "surplus" (esp. black)
population.  How can people swallow this barbarism without seeing
its logic?  (As you have seen, I too get freaked over this fear of
crime, so it's not exactly an abstract question.)

But we could go even deeper than these systemic questions.  What
do people want?  How do they experience their world?  Why are the
human values that concern them most completely at variance with
the savagery of the popular culture they consume?  Why do people
consume stereotypes that contradict their own felt individuality?

What the Hegel is going on here?


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