working-class subjectivity

Bryan A. Alexander bnalexan at umich.edu
Fri Feb 9 08:09:25 MST 1996


Thanks for your persistence, Hugh-

Bryan Alexander					Department of English
email: bnalexan at umich.edu			University of Michigan
phone: (313) 764-0418				Ann Arbor, MI  USA    48103
fax: (313) 763-3128				http://www.umich.edu/~bnalexan

On Fri, 9 Feb 1996, Hugh Rodwell wrote:

> Here are a few comments, as brief as I can make them, on one or two of the
> points  brought up so far.

Since Jerry seems capable of handling his end of this post, I'll just cut
down to mine:
>...
> Bryan wrote, among other things:
>
> > I'm more comfortable with NEgri's insistence on class
> >antagonism.  N. argues that this tension and force is present very
> >strongly in the GRUNDRISSE, and fades somewhat when CAPITAL 1 appears in
> >print. [snip]             "The objectification of categories in CAPITAL blocks
> >>revolutionary subjectivity"
> >[snip] This last bit is crucial: Marxism is about the makeup
> >and dynamic progress of the working class within and against capital.
> >Here Negri links analysis with action, subjectivity with insurgency.
>
> Well, telegraph style: 'fades somewhat' seems to be a euphemism for
> 'disappears', and I disagree entirely.

It isn't a euphemism in my book.  This is exactly how I read Negri's
take: that class antogonism as an issue or trope is not so strong in CAP
1 as in the GR.  IT therefore "fades somewhat" - of course it doesn't
disappear.  Sheesh.
	If you're talking about Negri, not me, then I retract this - and
we can hash it out.

 'blocks revolutionary subjectivity'
> is completely wrong. I would argue the development of the concept of
> capital in Capital and its presentation of the way the various categories
> work and interact in society provides the best possible guide for
> revolutionary subjectivity. It didn't seem to harm Lenin's or Trotsky's
> revolutionary subjectivity any, and they and their party actually realized
> the abolition of capitalism in what became the Soviet Union.

Can you develop this point at greater length?  I'm not willing to use
Soviet biographism to think through Marx's writings.  In what ways does
this presentation of categories provide the best possible etc.?

>
> >Hugh's raised some enormous questions.  As a way of answering them, I
> >want to return with: is it a good and/or productive question to oppose
> >the sense of evolution within capital (what Jameson, following Horkeimer,
> >calls "the natural history of capital") to the question of subjectivity?
>
> I think the perspective here must be that as long as capital survives it
> will develop (in its revolutionary form of evolution) and this will oppress
> the subjectivity of those opposed to it. Subjectivity will not develop
> spontaneously beyond economism or putschism (again Lenin's right on this).
> The party will be able to develop its own awareness of its historical
> possibilities in the same way Marx developed his critique of capital and
> his own political activities, by understanding what's going on, where it's
> heading and what processes can help and what might hinder party objectives.
> It's incredibly important to remember that there will be no perfect working
> class consciousness or working class revolutionary party under capital -
> and when capital is abolished, working class consciousness and the working
> class party will no longer be needed in the same way. The consciousness and
> the party needed are 'good enough', not 'perfect'. This is in no sense
> belittling the tasks involved, but it makes the whole thing more manageable
> and less utopian.

So, "no."  The totalizing force of capital rules out any useful focus on
working-class subjectivity outside of a discussion of capital's
progress.  If there's no outside to capital, as Santiago puts it, then
all subjectivities are within, and must be treated intestinally.
	This seems right.

>
> >Although this opposition at first seems dynamic and heuristic - iron laws
> >versus spontaneity, time vs. space - it seems more likely that both fold
> >into the famous formula of THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY, where history makes and
> >is made, and humans make and are made by their history.
> >        Yet I'm doing Hugh a disservice by pulling his shading of
> >emphasis into a dialogic.  But discussions along these lines all too
> >easily fall into this sort of opposition (an old anarchist vs Marxist
> >canard, for example), and it's best to air it to compress it back into
> >theory and praxis.
>
> You'll have to be more explicit.

You pretty much answered my question in your preceding paragraph.  What
I was writing on was this opposition of subjectivity and natural history,
or even spontaneity vs (revolutionary) evolution.  Folks on the left have
often teased this duality apart in favor of one side or the other for
decades back into the nineteenth century.  You treat this opposition as
two elements of a necessary synthesis, which makes sense.  Dialectics of
a sort.

>
> >I resist, however, the linear development of CAPITAL from the
> >notebooks.  My last reading of GRUNDRISSE suggested new directions in
> >terms of the state and some working class constitution that CAP 1 didn't
> >answer for me.  CAP 2 and 3 don't look to go much further - in other
> >worsds, the clarity and focus of CAPITAL shouldn't be seen as
> >simultaneous signs of synthesis.
>
> Tell us which directions, please. Also, don't leave Theories of Surplus
> Value out of contention. I'm thinking in particular of the way Marx chases
> Rent to ground and the knotty problems concerning 'productive' and
> 'unproductive' labour, about which more some other time.

I'll just say a couple of things, here - the baby is demanding the
customary morning bouncing and chasing -
	I'm interested in the ways in which GR's model of the
post-capital self is not just classless but stateless.  Here Marx insists
on the horizontal production of the social, possibly in terms of those
who have "gained mastery over their own social interconnectedness"
(161-2).  There's a passage about true freedom and work as composing, of
"self-realization, objectification of the subject," of the liberating
effect of historical self-knowledge - not as idiotic (literally) fanciful
egoism, but as part of the revolutionary project - but without the
benefit of state or other vertically-organized authority (611).  This
leads, in fact, to an explicit formulation of revolutionary subjectivity:
"Forces of production and social relations - two different sides of the
development of the social individual - appear to capital as mere means,
and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation.  In
fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation
sky-high." (706)  This is of course consciousness - but it leaves method
fully open as a question, not confining us to certain modes of party or
state.  Hugh's proven right a few pages later, when a discussion of the
production of self by labor and capital (748) yields immediately
statements about the necessary and progressive self-demolition of capital
(749).  Here my reading opposes your Leninism, Hugh, because I don't find
a necessary constitution of the party in the GR at all.
	Ah - baby is more demanding than the dialectics.  Later.

>
> That'll have to be all for now. More later. I've tried to keep it short -
> thanks for your time!
>
> Cheers,
>
> Hugh
>
>
>
>
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