[Marxism] a thought on a quote in Lenin's Tomb
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Fri Dec 6 22:16:09 MST 2013
On 12/06/2013 05:04 PM, Gary MacLennan wrote:
> "...The state is nothing else but the
> *mobile*effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities.” [my
> This is from Foucault’s 1979 lectures on bio-politics. There Foucault
> outlined the creation of a new subject by what we now think of as the
> forces of neo-liberalism. Dufour has brought these lectures to public
> attention and Richard has also put them on the Marxist agenda. And we owe
> him a debt of gratitude for that.
> I will try to leave to one side my hostility to Foucault and the terrible
> damage his views have done to a generation of students. He was the conduit
> out of radicalism for thousands via the faux radicalism of postmodernism.
An interesting quote, thanks for sharing it here Gary.
What follows turned out to be longer than anticipated and very
schematic, but it's been on a subject I've been thinking about lately.
I'm no fan of postmodernist, or post-structuralist theory (and this is
after suffering through quiet a bit of Deleuze, etc.), but I do find
points of inspiration in Foucault, and this paragraph is one of them.
When I was teaching as an adjunct at Queens College, I remember Tito
Gerassi, who passed last year, saying that of all the high-profile
leftist thinkers he saw in person in 1968 Paris, it was only Foucault
(and many times Sartre) who actively and consistently remained with
students, to protect them, or at least delay, the onset of police
beatings. Once evening had set it, and the media cameras disappeared,
students (or whoever else was occupying or sitting-in, or whatever)
would ask Foucault, Sartre, and other famous names to join them. Tito
would say that Foucault, as a rule, would be the first one in, last one
out - usually in the early mornings. Soon after he left, riot police
would move in and beat the shit out of the people, but they would be out
of sight when he was there, fearing negative publicity.
All this is to say that Foucault was not a poseur (not that you implied
that), but genuinely on the left, his political instincts were in our
camp. Now, how he was read, taught and interpreted in American and
other academia in the decades after he died, is another point. Seems to
me that Marxists should be able to drawn from his work on matters that
are insightful, while ignoring and critiquing passages that are not
politically relevant or correct.
One word sticks out as important for class struggle analysis in the
quote above: "effect". In his lectures, Foucault reversed von
Clausewitz's maxim on war, by saying that "Politics is the continuation
of war through other means."
I think he meant it literally.
At the same time, he use of effect seems well chosen.
Most contemporary military theory focuses almost exclusively on
obtaining desired effects on the enemy, denial of space, physical
destruction, psychological effects, etc.
The same is true in class struggle. Stop-and-frisk policing exclusively
aims to achieve certain effects in the communities where it is
exercised. Each individual stop is insignificant, since police planners
understand that the vast majority of such stops will not lead to
arrests. The goal is the overarching "effect" on the people who are
being stopped, and those watching. It's a play from the
counterinsurgency playbook, applied to working class parts of US cities.
It shows the seamless spectrum from political to military struggle,
which the power bloc has the ability (currently) to deploy as it sees fit.
As such, the concept of effects (which I believe should be theorized
more seriously by Marxists - myself included), can be related to other
fundamental concepts in our political thinking, such as hegemony and
Analyzing class conflict by focusing on the effects that various
policies, actions, laws, strikes, etc. have on everyday life makes a lot
of sense, since it shifts the focus on how the routine of daily life is
impacted, rather than more abstract formulations, such as ideology.
This doesn't imply that ideology has reached end use, but simply that it
should be complemented.
I don't think Foucault was completely original in noticing this shift in
the operation of State and capitalist class power. Althusser's approach
to ideology as the actuality of daily life seems to be talking about
It could be argued that any successful, viable anti-capitalist
revolutionary movement in the 20th century understood politics as war,
expressed through the practices of obtaining desired effects upon the
class enemy. Substitute the word "effects" for "operational", and you
have a political (class) struggle equivalent to military theory's
division of armed conflict into three levels: tactical, operational and
I've started to wonder, why is that one can find hundreds of recent
Marxist and anarchist writings focusing on questions of tactics and
strategy, but practically nothing on operations.
Military (but also corporate - same thing expressed in two different
domains of class struggle) thinking specifically defines "Operational"
to be the level of campaigns, of successive points along a struggle
towards a desired strategic goal.
The power bloc in the US has always understood this: one random example
includes Powel's Memo from the late seventies, which essentially aimed
to achieve a strategic change in the makeup and priorities of the power
bloc - which we now call neoliberalism - by achieving specific effects
in the fabric of life across the US.
Another example of operational politics is the so-called education
reform. It really started with a Business Roundtable paper thirty years
ago. But its current makeup, shaped by the Gates Foundation, is nothing
but the latest campaign in a chain of related campaigns. Point is, by
2013, they are having desirable effects for the power bloc, in the daily
life of students, teachers and parents: strategic weakening of unions
via charter schools; attempts to set teachers against parents again via
charter schools; curriculum changes emphasizing simple task completion,
rather than open-ended (critical) thinking, etc.
Again looking at military theory, which states that strategic success
cannot occur without success on the operational level. Flipping to the
class conflict side: this is, arguably, the weakest point in anarchist
thought: they struggle almost exclusively on the tactical level, which
they hope will precipitate strategic effects. It can't work, even
though street battles can occasionally be won, and occupations of space
maintained for some time.
At the same time, again arguably, revolutionary Marxist failures in
class struggle can be attributed to the atrophying of what was between
1905 and 1968 (choosing a rather random starting year), a well
understood insight, that you have to build for campaigns, often over
long time durations (years), before capitalist hegemony can be
successfully weakened. Yes, this is what the Transitional Program was,
but it wasn't the only document that understood this.
This is all very quick and vague on details, but all I wanted to say was
that, while I agree with many of the common critiques of Foucault from
Marxist comrades, some of his ideas might be more radical than we might
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