That Infamous Turn To The Right (Our "Problem" with Liberalism)

jones/bhandari djones at uclink.berkeley.edu
Tue Jul 25 21:34:45 MDT 1995


>From Leo's very thought-provoking post, I'll take this as a central claim:


>What Schmitt finds so disturbing in liberalism are precisely those principles
>-- pluralism, hetereogeneity and openness -- which define not only that
>philosophy, but in many ways, the political thrust of the new social
>movements of the 1960s. A concept such as multi-culturalism, with its
>implicit cultural pluralism and heterogeneity, is, for Schmitt, a classically
>liberal notion.


I am not convinced that the problem of the left can be traced back to a
putuative critique of liberalism. Moreover, I equate liberalism more with
possessive indidualists and formal equality (I don't remember any political
theory though).   What are the historic origins of liberalism?

Here's daring hypothesis (drawn from Sydney Coontz).  Liberalism is  the
product of capital's eventual success at overcoming its labor shortage.
Initially capital can only accumulate extensively  requiring enslaved labor
at constant technique and maximum wage laws.

 As capital begans to operate on its true basis of relative surplus value,
there is a progressive increase in the reserve army of labor which solves
the labor shortage (wage squeeze arguments are I think anachronistic,
belonging to an early stage of capitalism in which the general law of
accumulation has not yet worked itself out).

Capital can now trumphet universality, freedom, and justice as it can
accept  the abolition of both slavery and maximum wage laws and even the
emergence of trade unions, actually now necessary if the actively exploited
proletariat is to receive the value of its labor power and thus reproduce
itself in its slavery.

As revolutions in technique and value become endemic and as the IRA
disciplines the workers, capital can now pump more surplus labor (in the
production process) out of freely sold labor power than previously enslaved
labor. Accumulation is intensified.

 So the bourgeoisie also comes to embody freedom, equality, universality,
justice... and productivism.

As we have seen the principles of freedom, equality,universality--once
useful for the overthrow of slavery-- can  easily be used against
affirmative action.

I really don't get Leo's argument about the compatibility between
liberalism and multiculturalism.  It is the language of individuals,
rights, equality under the law--the classic concepts of liberalism--which
is being used against affirmative action for example.  So the problem seems
to me to be the maintainence of bourgeois values which the left thought it
could eventually bludgeon the ruling class with. While at the same time
sounding fair and oh-so respectable. Of course it is more than pathetic who
many of these so-called Marxists are bludgeoning.

And it seems to me clear that productivism can only be reactionary in the
face of a job- and environment-killing machine of run away growth.  Remeber
Bhopal?

What I am getting at is that I do not think the problem is liberalism or
democracy but our own beholdeness to the values and ideals which capital
embodied in its defining moment, in the transition from strategies of
absolute to relative surplus value, the rise in the IRA being both
consequence and cause of this development.

We don't need a language of liberalism or democracy but a class conscious
one of freedom and human needs.  And this is what I miss in Telos; I am
sorry I a missed those days of Korsch, Marramao, Winfield, Council
Communism, Bonacelli and others--especially of course Jacoby's piece on
Grossmann and Mattick!

Rakesh






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