'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Friday, September 9, 2016
Stuart Jeffries - Why a forgotten 1930s critique of capitalism is back in fashion
In our age, to be sure, anyone reviving
critical theory needs a sense of irony. Among capitalism’s losers are
overworked, underpaid staff in China, ostensibly liberated by the largest
socialist revolution in history, but driven to the brink of suicide to keep
those in the west playing with their iPads. The proletariat, far from burying
capitalism as Marx predicted, are keeping it on life support.
of capitalism globally depends today on the existence of a Chinese Communist
party that gives delocalised capitalist enterprises cheap labour to lower
prices and deprive workers of the rights of self-organisation,” Jacques
Rancière, the French Marxist and professor of philosophy at the University of
Paris VIII, told me. “Happily, it is possible to hope for a world less absurd
and more just than today’s.”
…This is the 1990s, a
time, Franzen seemed to suggest, of a consumerism so brazen that it was
advantageous, brand-wise, for high-end grocers to appropriate ironically the
rhetoric of capitalist critique for their stores’ names. It was also a decade
in which the nightmare of the Frankfurt School came true. There was, as
Margaret Thatcher put it, no alternative. No alternative to capitalism, to what Marcuse
called one-dimensional society, to liberal democracy.
As if to clinch that
point, in the 1990s the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama decided to
erase a question mark. In 1989, he had written a paper called “The
End of History?”, arguing that there can be no new stage beyond liberal
democracy because it is that system which guarantees the greatest possible
level of recognition of the individual. Three years later, when Fukuyama
published his book The End of History and the Last Man, the
question mark had gone. He may have smuggled a neoconservative agenda into his
post-ideological thesis, but Fukuyama’s suggestion that the great ideological
battles between east and west were over, and that western liberal democracy had
triumphed, seemed incontestable….
But the times that
Fukuyama supposed were eternal came to an end, thanks not to revulsion at the
prospect of an eternity of boredom, nor in disgust at a dignity so degraded it
could only be expressed by one’s shopping choices, but due to an old-school
“What is going on?”
asked the Maoist French philosopher Alain
Badiou in The Rebirth of History in 2012. “The
continuation, at all costs, of a weary world? A salutary crisis of that world,
racked by its victorious expansion? The end of that world? The advent of a
different world?” Badiou was writing about the unexpected consequences of the
global financial crisis since 2008, in particular movements such as Occupy and
Syriza. He might have added the failure of the US to “democratise” Afghanistan
and Iraq, and the Bolivarian
socialist renaissance in Latin America. Through such movements people
demanded what they had been denied under neoliberal capitalism – recognition,
or what Lambert called dignity….
In his 2009 book Valences
of the Dialectic, the American Marxist philosopher Fredric Jameson argued
that when the fitful apprehension of history does enter people’s lives it is
often through the feeling of belonging to a particular generation: “The
experience of generationality is … a specific collective experience of the
present: it marks the enlargement of my existential present into a collective
and historical one.” In this, Jameson was disinterring one of the Frankfurt
School’s most fruitful thoughts.
Walter Benjamin dreamed of exploding the
continuum of history; the experiences Jameson described involve that dream’s
realisation. The homogeneous, empty time Benjamin associated with the onward
march of capitalism and positivism is halted, albeit briefly, and replaced by a
more experientially rich and redemptive notion of non-linear time. That, at least,
is what Jameson took from Zuccotti Park.
In that rebirth of
history about which Badiou wrote, Marxism made a comeback. As did Frankfurt
School-style critical theory. Perhaps if Lambert had held on to his library
until, say, 2010, he might have got two salmon for it. But the hunger for books
providing a critique of capitalism continues….