Category Archives: Marx

Marx, Democracy and Freedom

Members of Unity and Struggle are often asked what sets us apart from socialists and statist Marxists on the one hand, and Anarchists on the other.  We have wrestled with many labels, debating whether to call ourselves “anti-state communists,” “libertarian Marxists,” simply, “communists,” or something else entirely.  Ultimately, we have left this to individual members to decide.  As a group, we draw heavily from Marxism, considering its philosophical and theoretical tradition to be our foundation.  We seek to synthesize this with some of the strongest aspects of other traditions, including Anarchism and post-modernism.  However, at times it is helpful to clearly and precisely articulate what it is about a Marxist foundation that is so compelling for us.

We are reposting this accessible but sharp interview with Peter Hudis on KPFA’s Against the Grain.  Hudis recently released Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism via Haymarket Books.  Hudis relies on Marx’s early and philosophical works to flesh out the democratic and liberatory crux of Marx’s method.  This is similar to work we have done in our series, “The Communist Theory of Marx.”  While not every individual in Unity and Struggle will agree with 100% of what Hudis says, we locate ourselves within a tradition that he carves out in this interview.  While, at times, these concepts are not easy to describe, and often cannot be boiled down to a few talking points, Unity and Struggle strives to make them accessible and compelling.  As movements internationally begin to pick up, we will increasingly face questions surrounding the role of the state, the statist Parties, and what a transformation of social relations, or communization process, can look like.  We are hoping to see more conversations about Marx’s conceptions of freedom and democracy, and in varied media.  We encourage you to send comments, links, hashtags and other ways people are discussing Marxism, freedom and democracy.  Enjoy the Hudis interview.

KPFA: Marx on Life after Capitalism w/Peter Hudis

Capitalism and the Value Form

The following post is the third installment in an ongoing series on some of the key ideas in Marx’s thought. Part one can be found here. The second part is linked here. The last two parts will follow as they are completed: “What is Capital?” and, lastly, “Communism”.

Capitalist Society and the Value Form

Marx begins Capital by raising the question of wealth: “The wealth of societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an ‘immense collection of commodities’; the individual commodity appears as its elementary form” (125). In putting forward the contradiction between increased productivity of labor and the division of labor, Marx was able to show that as wealth grows so does exploitation and misery. It is only with capitalism that this contradiction reaches its limit. In no other form of society has the concentration and accumulation of productive powers been so great and exploitation so immense. In capitalism, as Marx writes elsewhere, “the wretchedness of the worker is in inverse proportion to the power and magnitude of his production” (“Estranged Labor”).

So far we have been discussing Marx’s ideas for all societies in general. But Marx’s aim was to understand what was particular about capitalist society, a form of production that was, from a world perspective, only embryonic in his own day. For Marx capitalist society is characterized by the value form, a form of existence and social relations unique in human history. What follows is an attempt to summarize and synthesize this concept.

The Dual Character of Labor

For Marx, central to understanding the organization of capitalist society is the dual character of the commodity. He argues in Capital that one side of the commodity is defined by how it is used, or “use-value.” He defines use by how the commodity “satisfies human needs of whatever kind” (125). We have seen how the idea of “human needs” plays an important role in Marx’s thought. Throughout history human beings have produced uses to satisfy and express their needs, giving rise to particular forms of society.

When looked at as a use the commodity is indistinguishable from the process of fulfilling needs as a general characteristic of all human societies. As such, commodities “constitute the material content of wealth, whatever its social form may be” (Capital, 126). However, the production of uses takes, or, more precisely, cannot be separated from a specific form in each society or historical epoch. In capitalist society, Marx argues, the production of uses has a dual character that consists of its use and its exchange value. As he writes in Capital: “In the form of society to be considered here [uses] are also the material bearers of exchange value” (126).

Marx defines exchange-value as “the quantitative relation, the proportion, in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind” (Capital, 126). This type of exchange is necessary because of the division of labor in capitalist society, which is composed of separate workers producing privately and selling their labor power to produce single uses. He writes:

The totality of heterogeneous use-values or physical commodities reflects a totality of similarly heterogeneous forms of useful labour, which differ in order, genus, species and variety; in short, a social division of labour. This division of labour is a necessary condition for commodity production….Only the products of mutually independent acts of labour, performed in isolation, can confront each other as commodities. (Capital, 132)

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Communism is the Ascension of Humanity as the Subject of History: A Critique of Althusser and the Affirmation of Marx

(By Gussel Sprouts)

“Communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution.” (Marx)

If we are to affirm the ideology of Marx, and the Marxist understanding of not only communism, but its relationship to humanity, we can only begin so by understanding his thoughts on ideology and of his break with Feuerbach, and what this means for the relationships of subjects/objects. Louis Althusser, the philosopher who said “structures don’t take to the streets” as he turned his nose up at the students protesting in May ’68, disingenuously knew or cared little for the ideas of Marx and the ways they were distinct from the other thinkers of his time. At other times, he was willfully and honestly ignorant, but it is important to understand that Althusser’s thought is largely contradictory in a logistical sense (he was inconsistent in his breaks/agreements with Marx) but also in a sense that he produced thought which was fundamentally anti-Marxist.

Our critique of Althusser must go even further here than that of his misunderstanding of Marx, but what he builds on with such a conclusion, parallels can be seen in ideological apparatuses already in historical existence and the present moment, to which we can conclude that the ideological and cultural apparatus, the real movement to abolish the present state of things is not one of ideas, nor ideological “structures”. Capital has already reached an unprecedented level of totality, a certain subsumption of the Real by an irreconcilable “big Other” (1). Althusser would have all of this for what he calls “socialism”. We have seen this already in the history of existing socialisms, while originally hiding the ill-informed and possibly disingenuous veil of being “the first Left-wing critique of Stalinism”.

The first few sections are to provide contexts of Althusser (and therefore his thought) with that of Marx, revolutionaries of his time, and his politics in the Communist Party of France. After such, we will venture into Althusser’s ideas themselves. We will find that we do not require a deep understanding of Structuralism (or the sociological and Freudian undertones in his thought) to see that Althusser’s thought is irreconcilable with that of Marx.

Continue reading Communism is the Ascension of Humanity as the Subject of History: A Critique of Althusser and the Affirmation of Marx

La Teoría Comunista De Marx

Como siempre, si encuentras un error gramatical o en la traducción te agradeceríamos tu ayuda en corregirlo para mejorar nuestro trabajo. Puedes conseguir el artículo original en Ingles aquí.

Traducido por L Boogie y Parce

Las siguientes entradas representan una parte de un proyecto mayor sobre la teoría comunista y organización revolucionaria que se inició el verano pasado. Es un proyecto en curso que no sólo fue diseñado para proporcionar un esquema de referencia para nuestra propia agrupación. En términos más amplios, está destinado a ser una contribución a las discusiones en curso y debates sobre la teoría y práctica comunista, que, en nuestro momento histórico, no puede y no será el producto de cualquier grupo individual.

La totalidad del proyecto está dividida en tres partes principales 1) Una síntesis parcial de Marx 2) Una crítica de la historia de la organización revolucionaria 3) Pensamientos provisionales sobre la necesidad de organización hoy en día. Estamos actualmente en el proceso de escribir el borrador de la segunda parte, pero queríamos empezar a publicar la primera parte ahora, que será serializado durante los próximos meses.

El borrador sobre Marx no pretende ser un folleto introductorio popular. En cambio, está destinado para un público con un conocimiento básico de Marx. En nuestra propia práctica lo usamos como un complemento a los grupos de estudio y discusión en curso sobre Marx, así como la teoría revolucionaria en general.

Es importante decir algo acerca del concepto de comunismo que destaca esta serie. Nosotros entendemos comunismo en el sentido que Marx escribió en La Ideología Alemana:

Para nosotros, el comunismo no es un estado que debe implantarse, un ideal al que ha de sujetarse la realidad. Nosotros llamamos comunismo al movimiento real que anula y supera al estado de cosas actual. Las condiciones de este movimiento se desprenden de la premisa actualmente existente.

Este pasaje contiene todo un mundo de pensamiento y experiencia histórica que debe ser desenredado y recompuesto de nuevo. Sin embargo, lo que es importante acerca de la obra de Marx, incluyendo, crucialmente, El Capital, es que lo coloca la viviente actividad humana en el centro del concepto de comunismo. Comunismo es la lucha necesaria y permanente de la humanidad para lograr libertad – para liberarse de su propia existencia enajenada.

Hay un gran número de pensadores y tendencias políticas que han tomado el manto y han influido el desarrollo de nuestro propio pensamiento. Sin embargo, no reclamamos ninguna adherencia específica a ellos. Mientras que pueden haber hecho contribuciones importantes, no somos obligados por sus limitaciones que surgieron de sus experiencias históricas particulares. En cambio, necesitamos una  nueva síntesis que surge de las realidades sociales de hoy.

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La historia de organización comunista no puede ser separada de la historia del marxismo como una crítica de su propia historia. Dado que la crisis de la izquierda revolucionaria es, en parte, una crisis de la teoría revolucionaria nos debemos, hasta un cierto punto, empezar de nuevo volviendo a Marx. La historia de la teoría revolucionaria en sí está marcada por tales retornos en que los revolucionarios intentaron de entender su sociedad estudiando las ideas y luchas del pasado. Esto ha sido una parte fundamental y necesaria de la teoría y la práctica comunista históricamente.

Dado que hoy nos enfrentamos de nuevo a un impasse definido por una falta del conocimiento categórico y análisis nos debemos luchar de nuevo para encontrar un terreno sobre el cual pararnos. Sólo con claridad podemos llegar a una fundación más sólida para el trabajo revolucionario.

El entendimiento de la organización revolucionaria debe tener sus raíces en un enfoque categórico y es por esta razón que intentamos a sintetizar unas de las premisas fundamentales del pensamiento de Marx. El objetivo en este caso es un poco limitado. En el momento no tenemos el espacio ni el tiempo para repasar la suma del pensamiento de Marx. Esto incluye su crítica de la totalidad de la sociedad capitalista, incluyendo los volúmenes críticos dos y tres de El Capital. En cambio, esperamos concentrar en el esquema básico de su punto de vista sobre la humanidad y sus relaciones en la sociedad capitalista.

Lo que sigue es una presentación un poco abstracto. Está destinado a funcionar como una fundación para el desarrollo posterior de la teoría, investigación, estrategia y tácticas. El logro del conocimiento categórico y metodología es absolutamente necesario para evitar los perspectivos empíricos, pragmáticos y economicistas que ronda la izquierda Estadounidense – síntomas de su propio decaimiento. Lo que sigue está destinado proporcionar la base para la investigación concreta de lo actual real, y moviendo sociedad. Sin categorías y metodología claras, estrategia y tácticas se vuelven cada vez más desligadas de nada concreto, y por lo tanto reificadas en su abstracción.
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Debating Base and Superstructure

In the recent debate over the legacy of Marxist-Feminism, Eve and Tyler presented a critique of Nat Winn’s use of the infamous ‘base and superstructure’ meme. Despite its wide usage, this particular set of categories has lead to deterministic theorizing, often gutting the subjectivity of the working class and oppressed from communist praxis. Underlying this political consequence has been the method of isolating the objects of investigation — in this case the forms of activity of the class. As Eve and Tyler explained, the ‘base and superstructure’ meme establishes a duality between subject and object, rather than theoretically explaining their dialectical unity. Simply put, the working class, no longer the creators of the social world — in this case capital — become helplessly determined by it, and communists thus abandon the concept of “coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or self-changing” as central to any revolutionary process.

In an effort to deepen and expand this conversation, we offer Raymond Williams’ essay, “Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory” (pdf). In this essay (later expanded into a whole book) Williams takes up the common ways in which the categories of base and superstructure are used, and challenges his readers to, instead of considering isolated objects — in this case objects of art since Williams was a cultural critic — investigate the objective parameters and social relations of the activity behind the production of those objects. Part of this challenge requires us to consider the interrelation of all social practices (their “totality”) as opposed to considering one set, whether deemed “political” or “economic”, a part from another, and even more, to do so would require us to understand each of these particular sets as different forms of an active (or “moving”) social process.

This contribution to the discussion shares important features with Marx’s explanation of the fetish, which he begins in chapter one of the first volume of Capital. There, Marx demonstrates that modes of thought which treat objects in isolation of their historical development are a product of the organization of capitalist society. In this way, capitalist society understands itself to be timeless — a natural condition of the human race. One of the important contributions of Marx, then, is that he provided a critical theory that pierced through capital’s veneer of being natural, allowing us to understand the ways in which our activities and those of the rest of the working class can be equally critical, destroying capital in practice as well as in theory. As a new generation of communists, we must continue to wrestle with the difficult tasks of theory and method in order to play our part in creating a better world.

-Mazin

Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory

by Raymond Williams

Any modern approach to a Marxist theory of culture must begin by considering the proposition of a determining base and a determined superstructure. From a strictly theoretical point of view this is not, in fact, where we might choose to begin.[1] It would be in many ways preferable if we could begin from a proposition which originally was equally central, equally authentic: namely the proposition that social being determines consciousness. It is not that the two propositions necessarily deny each other or are in contradiction. But the proposition of base and superstructure, with its figurative element, with its suggestion of a definite and fixed spatial relationship, constitutes, at least in certain hands, a very specialized and at times unacceptable version of the other proposition. Yet in the transition from Marx to Marxism, and in the development of mainstream Marxism itself, the proposition of the determining base and the determined superstructure has been commonly held to be the key to Marxist cultural analysis.

Now it is important, as we try to analyse this proposition, to be aware that the term of relationship which is involved, that is to say ‘determines’, is of great linguistic and real complexity. The language of determination and even more of determinism was inherited from idealist and especially theological accounts of the world and man. It is significant that it is in one of his familiar inversions, his contradictions of received propositions, that Marx uses the word ‘determines’. He is opposing an ideology that had been insistent on the power of certain forces outside man, or, in its secular version, on an abstract determining consciousness. Marx’s own proposition explicitly denies this, and puts the origin of determination in men’s own activities. Nevertheless, the particular history and continuity of the term serves to remind us that there are, within ordinary use—–and this is true of most of the major European languages—–quite different possible meanings and implications of the word ‘determine’. There is, on the one hand, from its theological inheritance, the notion of an external cause which totally predicts or prefigures, indeed totally controls a subsequent activity. But there is also, from the experience of social practice, a notion of determination as setting limits, exerting pressures.

Now there is clearly a difference between a process of setting limits and exerting pressures, whether by some external force or by the internal laws of a particular development, and that other process in which a subsequent content is essentially prefigured, predicted and controlled by a pre-existing external force. Yet it is fair to say, looking at many applications of Marxist cultural analysis, that it is the second sense, the notion of prefiguration, prediction or control, which has often explicitly or implicitly been used.

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For Herself, and Therefore, for the Class: Toward a Methodological Feminism

by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman

Recently, Nat Winn, a member of Fire Next Time and Kasama weighed in on a discussion of Marxist-Feminism begun on the FNT blog originally by Ba Jin and ZoRa B’Al Sk’a and with a response by Eve Mitchell of Unity and Struggle.  We welcome the energetic engagement by all parties including those commenting on the Kasama blog on what remains one of the most critical questions of our time: the content and forms of women’s liberation.

The scope of Eve’s response did not go beyond clarifying the relationship between Federici and James, and discussing broadly the Marxist-Feminist methodology, including the Wages for Housework campaign.  Nat has challenged the practical implications of Wages for Housework which is supposedly linked to the political failings of Marxist-Feminism.

What may at first sight appear in Nat’s response as merely strategic difference (for instance, whether or not there should be an emphasis on intervention in struggles around reproductive freedom versus that over domestic and reproductive work), belying it is the crucial question of method that must be unpacked.

In Nat’s comments, we observe an unnecessary antagonism being drawn between two completely valid arenas of struggle; the content and form of reproductive labor on the one side and reproductive freedom on the other (there is no coincidence in the double use of “reproduction” here which we’ll expound further down).  The origin of this antagonism is located between a splitting of the subject and object.  This is done through a dualistic reading of  “economics” and “politics,” or, to use the terms Marx employed in the “Preface” to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, “base” and “superstructure.”  But there is an immanent unity between subject and object as well as between base and superstructure and what Marxism represents is precisely the unification of these categories.  The tragedy of orthodox Marxism is that it represents a reification of them; that is, regarding an abstract duality of the subject and object as a real thing that plays out in the real world in terms of forms of organizing and concrete political orientations.

We’d like to say a little bit about the importance of Marx’s conception of labor and unity of subject-object.  Only then will the political divergences with Nat come into relief.

Marx’s conception of labor and the unity of the subject-object.

Marx’s early philosophical texts directly fleshed out his conception of self-, or life-activity, which later in works like Capital, he discussed simply as “labor.”  In “Estranged Labour,” Marx writes,

“For in the first place labour, life-activity, productive life itself, appears to man merely as a means to satisfying a need — the need to maintain the physical existence.  Yet the productive life is the life of the species.  It is life-engendering life.  The whole character of a species — its species character — is contained in the character of its life activity; and free conscious activity is man’s species character.  Life itself appears only as a means to life.” (76)

Self-activity, or labor, is universal; meaning it exists in all modes of production.  Further, it is defines our humanity. It is the ever-expanding process of satisfying our needs, introducing new needs, and developing new ways of fulfilling our needs.  Labor encompasses everything from our jobs under capitalism to tilling the land under feudalism to creating art and poetry to having sex and raising children.

But labor is not just what we do; it is our ability to choose, reflect upon, and change our labor process.  Labor is our process of changing the external world and our internal selves.  Later in “Estranged Labor,” Marx writes,

“It is just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being.  This production is his active species life.  Through and because of this production, nature appears as his work and his reality.  The object of labour is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created.  In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.” (77)

Here Marx’s conception of the subject-object becomes clear.  The external physical world is acted upon by humans, (labor is subjective), but the physical world is also an objectification of human labor, or self-activity (labor is objective).

Marx restated this concept in a polemic against the German “materialist” Ludwig Feuerbach.  In the “Theses on Feuerbach,” Marx argues that sensuousness  is not something merely subjective, perceptive, and one-sided, as Feuerbach postulated.  It is also objective and used toward the transformation of the external world.  Human beings are both thinking subjects of the world but also objects of their own creation through labor.  This is what Marx calls the metabolic relationship between man and nature.

Continue reading For Herself, and Therefore, for the Class: Toward a Methodological Feminism

History and the Social Forms of Existence

This is the second part in an ongoing series on some of the key ideas in Marx’s thought. The first part can be found here.

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The preceding section discussed Marx’s understanding of human beings in the abstract. However, a true picture only emerges when one grasps humanity in the concrete; that is, in its actual living existence. So, for instance, in the beginning of the previous section the relationship between essence and existence was described as a matter of “standpoint.” This terminology is important because it suggests how Marx conceived of humanity as a dialectical unity between its essence and its mode of existence. One can only view human beings from different, distinct sides that, nonetheless, constitute a whole. As was emphasized above, essence only comes into being through existence and its content only exists objectively as form.

To develop this methodological point further it is necessary to consider the important role of abstraction in Marx’s thought. In order to understand the concrete phenomena of society, it is necessary to abstract from their particularity. Since a specific phenomena cannot be comprehended in itself, but only in its relation to other phenomena, it is necessary to discover new concepts that explain their unity. One thereby moves toward a conception of the totality of all relations in society. Without the relations between phenomena, the concrete becomes merely empirical. Once again, in Marx’s approach there are no “things,” but only relations and moments of totality. However, it is also necessary to grasp the concrete or else the relations from which phenomena emerge would become abstract. As a result, social reality and its concrete historical movement could not be comprehended at all. Marx’s methodology regarding abstraction and the concrete will be returned to later and developed further.

With these considerations in mind it becomes clear that Marx’s philosophical break in the “Theses” and ‘Estranged Labor” does not really begin to take methodological shape until he grounds his categories in history. For Marx history is the movement of the successive modes of existence humanity has created. History is the result of and the process of the objectivity of sensuous activity he speaks of in those early writings. In this light it is possible to understand more clearly Marx’s turn to the critique of political economy. Of course, this move was necessary to critique bourgeois ideology. But this critique proceeded in immanent fashion by grasping the movement of human activity in its concrete forms of existence. Marx’s aim was to show how in class society, humanity’s essence and existence come into contradiction with each other.
Mode of Production and the Mode of Life

When Marx turns to history he does not look at human beings in isolation, but rather in society. It is not possible to think of humanity as separate individuals. Human beings only come into being and gain awareness in mutual association with each other. In The German Ideology, Marx writes that if “consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other” people, then “consciousness of the necessity of associating with the individuals around [them] is the beginning of the consciousness that [they are] living in society at all.” Consequently, Marx’s concept of self-activity must be understood as being a social process, one that involves human beings reproducing themselves only in relation to each other.

We are not dealing with the materialization of a single individual, but a collective realization. Only in mutual association do human beings therefore “distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organisation.” The means of subsistence are the objects produced by people in association that consist of the tools and knowledge that subsequently absorbs and gives shape to the labor that follows. The means of subsistence is the basis for society because it is the foundation for the reproduction of the people who comprise that society. As Marx notes, “By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life” (The German Ideology). The result of this mutual materialization is the creation of the means of labor.
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Notas Del Capítulo Uno De El Capital

Lo siguiente es la primera parte de algunas notas del capítulo uno de El Capital. Esta es mi primera vez traduciendo un artículo tan complejo como éste. Así que si lees algo que no está traducido bien o hay un error gramático le agradecería su ayuda en corregirlo. Puedes conseguir el artículo original en Ingles aquí.

Originalmente escrito por HiFi y traducido por Parcer.

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El Carácter Doble de la Mercancía es el Carácter Doble Del Trabajo 

Marx empieza capítulo uno de El Capital describiendo el carácter doble de la mercancía. Un lado de la mercancía se define por la forma en que se utiliza. Marx llama a esto el “valor de uso.” Él define uso por cómo la mercancía “satisface necesidades humanas, de cualquier clase que ellas sean” (3). La idea de “necesidades humanas” representa una función importante en el pensamiento de Marx y toma una multitud de significados interrelacionados. En La Ideología Alemana él argumenta “El primer hecho histórico es, por consiguiente, la producción de los medios indispensables para la satisfacción de estas necesidades, es decir la producción de la vida material misma, y no cabe duda de que es éste un hecho histórico, una condición fundamental de toda historia” (28). A lo largo de la historia los seres humanos han producido cosas, o “usos,” para atender sus necesidades básicas y ampliadas, que causa formas particulares de la sociedad, determinados tipos de relaciones sociales y subjetividades.

Cuando se observa sólo como un uso, la mercancía es indistinguible del proceso de satisfacer necesidades como una característica general de todas las sociedades humanas. Así, como diversos tipos de usos para cumplir con nuestras numerosas necesidades, la mercancía “forma el contenido material de la riqueza, cualquiera que sea la forma social de ésta.” Sin embargo, Marx deduce en El Capital que una mercancía asume características que son específicas de la sociedad capitalista, que sólo se aclarará cuando se mira al otro lado de la mercancía: el cambio. “En el tipo de sociedad que nos proponemos estudiar [en Capitalismo], los valores de uso son, además, el soporte material del valor de cambio” (4).

La producción de usos para satisfacer necesidades en la sociedad capitalista asume una forma específica de cambio. Aunque históricamente han habido otros tipos de cambio, estos reflejaban no capitalista formas de sociedad. Una de las tareas de Marx es mostrar cómo la forma de cambio en el capitalismo, y por lo tanto las relaciones sociales o forma de esa sociedad no tiene precedentes históricamente y es algo nuevo.

Así, la tendencia de la producción de usos para satisfacer las necesidades para asumir una forma específica de cambio es el otro lado de la mercancía. ¿En qué forma se realiza este cambio en el capitalismo? “A primera vista, el valor de cambio aparece como la relación cuantitativa, la proporción en que se cambian valores de uso de una clase por valores de uso de otra” (4). Como explica Marx:
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The Communist Theory of Marx

The link for the Spanish translation of this post can be found here.

The following posts represent one part of a larger project on communist theory and revolutionary organization that was begun this past summer [2012]. It is an ongoing working project that was not only intended to provide a frame of reference for our own grouping. More broadly, it is meant to be a contribution to ongoing discussions and debate on communist theory and practice, which, in our historical moment, cannot and will not be the product of any single grouping.

The overall project is divided into three main parts 1) Partial synthesis of Marx 2) Critique of the history of revolutionary organization 3) Provisional thoughts on the need for organization today. We are currently in the process of writing a draft of part two, but we wanted to begin to post part one now, which will be serialized over number of months.

The draft on Marx is not intended as a popular introductory pamphlet. Instead, it is meant for an audience with some basic familiarity with Marx. In our own practice we use it as a supplement to study groups and ongoing discussions on Marx, as well as wider revolutionary theory.

It is important to say something about the concept of communism that underlines this series. We understand communism in the sense that Marx wrote in “The German Ideology”:

Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence.

This passage contains a whole world of thought and historical experience that must be unraveled and put back together again. However, what is important about Marx’s work, including, crucially, Capital, is that it places living human activity at the center of the concept of communism. Communism is the necessary and ongoing struggle of humanity to achieve freedom—to liberate itself from its own alienated existence.

There are a great number of thinkers and political trends that have taken up this mantle and have influenced our own developing thinking. However, we claim no specific adherence to them. While they may have made important contributions, we are not bound by their limitations that arose from their particular historical experiences. Instead, we need a new synthesis that arises out of the social realities of today.

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The history of communist organization cannot be separated from the history of marxism as a critique of its own history. Since the crisis of the revolutionary left is, in part, a crisis of revolutionary theory we must, to some extent, begin again by returning to Marx. The history of revolutionary theory itself is marked by such returns in which revolutionaries attempted to understand their society in the light of past ideas and struggles. This has been a critical and necessary part of communist practice historically.

Since today we again face an impasse defined by a lack of categorical knowledge and analysis we must struggle again to find ground upon which to stand. Only with clarity can we arrive at a more solid foundation for revolutionary work.

The understanding of revolutionary organization must be rooted in a categorical approach and it is for this reason that we attempt to synthesize some of the fundamental premises of Marx’s thought. The aim here is somewhat limited. We have neither the space nor the time at the moment to cover the sum of Marx’s thought. This involves his critique of capitalist society as a whole, including the critical volumes two and three of Capital. Instead, we hope to concentrate on the bare outline of his view of humanity and its relations in capitalist society.

What follows is a somewhat abstract presentation. It is meant to function as a foundation for the further development of theory, investigation, strategy and tactics. The achievement of categorical knowledge and methodology is absolutely necessary to avoid the empirical, pragmatic and economistic perspectives that haunt the American Left – symptoms of its own decay. What follows is meant to provide the basis for the concrete investigation of the actual, real, and moving society. Without clear categories and methodology, strategy and tactics become increasingly delinked from anything concrete, and thereby reified in their abstraction.
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Thoughts on Kevin Anderson’s Marx at the Margins

Marx at the Margins is an important summary of Marx’s thought concerning the relationship between the capitalist and non-capitalist world, colonialism and social development, as well as nationalism and internationalism. The book provides a general overview of Marx’s thinking about these issues, especially as Anderson draws together and gives some narrative form to an extremely wide-ranging number of Marx’s writings. However, Anderson doesn’t always step back to consider this material from a more conceptual standpoint. Therefore these notes try and synthesize Anderson’s reading in order to lay the groundwork for a more schematic understanding of the issues raised in the book.

The overall argument of Marx at the Margins is that Marx develops from a position relatively uncritical of colonialism to one that is far more complex and oppositional. Specifically, Anderson shows how Marx’s early work on the non-western world and the peasantry tended to be undialectical, reflecting a unilinear conception of history. Marx was inclined, Anderson argues, to conceive of historical development in non-western societies as inevitably mirroring that of Western Europe. Furthermore, the peasantry was to gradually wither away into the proletariat. The problem with such thinking is that it lends itself to a stagist understanding of the historical process, one that has had profound political consequences. Anderson contends that it was not until the Grundrisse that Marx began to arrive at an alternative view, one that was more dialectical and global perspective. Anderson characterizes Marx’s developing theory of history as multilinear, rather than unilinear. These ideas are outlined in chapters one, five and six in the book. Chapters 2-4 focus on Marx’s understanding of nationalism and capitalist development. Those issues are not covered here.

A “never changing natural destiny”

Anderson notes that Marx’s early writing on non-western societies was “clearly influenced by Hegel.” For instance, examining his “harsh critique” of Indian society, Anderson quotes Hegel’s racist disregard of “India as a society that ‘has remained stationary and fixed’.” Therefore, “as a society where no real change or development had occurred, India had no real history,” Anderson concludes. Hegel accepted “colonialism as the product of historical necessity”; that is, the inevitable outcome of the absence of historical dynamism. India, like most of the non-Western world, was for Hegel characterized by a fundamental inertia, a lack of antagonism which “undergirded internal despotism.” Nevertheless, citing anthropologist Lawrence Krader, Anderson holds that, all things considered, Hegel could be distinguished from his contemporaries by his “concrete and historical” approach—something Marx was to later develop in more liberating directions (14).
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