Archive for the 'Marxism' Category



Negri & Hardt on Lenin and “Empire”

Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt‘s concept of “Empire” is “in contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers…Empire manages hybrid identities, flesible hierarchies, and plurarl exchanges through modulating networks of communication” (xii-xiii).  While I’m not convinced, one of its most important turns in their argument happens here:

Lenin recognized finally that, although imperialism and the monopoly phase were indeed expressions of the global expansion of capital, the imperialist practices and the colonial administrations through which they were often pursed had come to be obstacles to the further development of capital.  He emphasized the fact, noted by many critics of imperialism, that competition, essential for the functioning and expansion of capital, declines necessarily in the imperialist phase in proportion to the growth of monopolies.  Imperialism, with its trade exclusive and protective tariffs, its national and colonial territories, is continually posing and reinforcing fixed boundaries, blocking or channeling economic, social, and cultural flows…Luxemburg argues in economic terms, imperialism rests heavily on these fixed boundaries and the distinction between inside and outside.  Imperialism actually creates a straightjacket for capital–or, more precisely, at a certain point the boundaries created by imperialist practices obstruct capitalist development and the full realization of its world market.  Capital must eventually overcome imperialism and destroy the barriers between inside and outside.

It would be an exaggeration to say that, on the basis of these intuitions, Lenin’s analysis of imperialism and its crisis leads directly to the theory of Empire.  It is true, nonetheless, that his revolutionary standpoint revealed the fundamental node of capitalist development…either world communist revolution or Empire and there is a profound analogy between the two choices (Negri and Hardt, 233-234).

I would still argue that we live in a time of imperialism and that, while it could be true that we are in Empire (or that we are headed toward Empire), the increasing militarization of the world by the U.S. and its continued use of “hard” and “soft” power to further extract more variable capital is a counterpoint to this.  However, it could be noted that this over stretch of U.S. power is due to it trying to stem the “tide of Empire.”  I’m assuming Multitude has an answer to these questions.

Source

Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri.  2000.  Empire.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Review of “Latin America and Global Capitalism”

Serra Pelada gold mine, Brazil (Photo by Sebastiao Salgado).

Jeffery R. Webber, of University of Regina, reviews the book Latin America and Global Capitalism: A Critical Globalization Perspective by William I. Robinson in the October edition of the Monthly Review:

In chapter two, one of the most powerful and persuasive, Robinson charts the crisis of developmental capitalism, or import-substitution industrialization, in the 1960s and 1970s, and then shifts to neoliberalism, or export-led development, in the 1980s and 1990s across Latin America. Drawing on the historical materialist categories of proletarianization and primitive accumulation, he examines the contours of the new economic model through a focused exploration of nontraditional exports and services. He offers a penetrating look at the cut flowers industry in Ecuador and Colombia, the explosive growth of the fruits and wines sector in Chile, soy production in Argentina and the rest of the Southern Cone, and winter fruits and vegetable production in Central America. He demonstrates how there has been an “accelerated replacement of noncapitalist by capitalist forms of agricultural development” and a “concomitant displacement of the peasantry and its conversion into a rural proletariat. This has occurred along with an increase in rural to urban and transnational migration”; promotion of “flexible…work in the new agro-export platforms”; a move to “predominance of female workers in these platforms”; and “the articulation of local agricultural systems…to global agricultural and industrial food production and distribution chains.”

The main weakness in this otherwise compelling portrait of the political economy of the Latin American countryside today is the one-sided structural power allotted to capital. Opportunities for increases in agricultural workers’ bargaining power under certain conditions, such as those examined by Ben Selwyn in his important study of export grape production in North East Brazil, are elided.

Bourdieu & Gramsci

Gramsci (Red)

Antonio Gramsci

P. Kerim Friedman reviews Peter Ives‘ book Gramsci’s Politics of Language and the connections between Pierre Bourdieu (1930-2002) and Antonio Gramsci:

In Bourdieu’s early work with Jean-Claude Passeron, we find the term “the cultural arbitrary” used in a way which seems quite similar to Gramsci’s concept of normative grammar: “In any given social formation the cultural arbitrary which the power relations between the groups or classes making up that social formation put into the dominant position within the system of cultural arbitraries is the one which most fully, though always indirectly, expresses the objective interests (material and symbolic) of the dominant groups or classes.” In developing this concept, Bourdieu draws upon William Labov’s early work which showed that “members of a speech community can share allegiance to the same standard, despite differences in the (nonstandard) varieties they themselves speak.” Bourdieu’s work with Passeron serves to highlight how the educational system institutionalizes these arbitrary standards; thus naturalizing the success of the elite who are socialized into these norms before they ever set foot in school. Unlike normative grammar, however, the phrase “cultural arbitraries” reveals a lingering Saussurian structuralism. The specific content of the dominant cultural or linguistic form is less important for Bourdieu’s theory than the mere existence of an arbitrary standard which is recognized as legitimate even by those unable to perform it.

Gramsci’s historical method serves to highlight the cross-class alliances that stabilize in any given “historical bloc”-a phrase that refers to the “complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble of the superstructures” and corresponding “relations of production.” The hegemonic ideology of any given bloc does not simply reflect the interests of only the ruling elite, but also those of the other classes with whom they have entered into alliances and even the very process by which that alliance took shape. For instance, even though America’s financial elite share a generally secular libertarian ideology, the conservative movement was able to succeed by combining elite interests with those of evangelical southern white Christians. This has its roots in post-Civil War Reconstruction and in the “Southern strategy” adopted by Nixon’s Republican party in the wake of the civil rights movement. Choices regarding hegemonic cultural forms are not arbitrary nor do they simply reflect the cultural forms of the elite. They are the product of the “complex, contradictory and discordant ensemble” of a given historical bloc. While Bourdieu may tacitly acknowledge the importance of such processes, his theory of the “cultural arbitrary” retains its structuralist roots. (Friedman, 361-363)

Source

Friedman, P. Kerim.  “Ethical Hegemony.”  Rethinking Marxism 21, no. 3 (July 2009): 355-365.

The Worker, Scarcity, & Violence

The mines of Serra Pelada by Sebastião Salgado.

The mines of Serra Pelada by Sebastião Salgado.

Jean-Paul Sartre writes:

Engels was right to say that very often, when two groups engage in a series of contractual exchanges, one of them will end up expropriated, proletarianised and, often, exploited, while the other concentrates the wealth in its own hands.  This takes place in violence, but not by violence: and experiencing exchange as a duel in this way is characteristic of the man of scarcity.  Though the result is appropriated in violence by the dominant class, it is not foreseen by the individuals who compose it. (Sartre, 153-154)

Source

Sartre, Jean-Paul.  Critique of Dialectical Reason Volume I: Theory of Practical Ensembles.  Edited by Jonathan Rée Translated by Alan Sheridan-Smith.  London: New Left Books, 1976.

Philosophy as Totalization of Knowledge

Sartre drawing

In the introduction to Critique of Dialectical Reason (which in America was published separately as Search for a Method) Sartre wrote:

If philosophy is to be simultaneously a totalization of knowledge,, a method, a regulative Idea, an offensive weapon, and a community of language, if this “vision of the world” is also an instrument which ferments rotten societies, if this particular conception of a man or of a group of men becomes the culture and sometimes the nature of a whole class-then it is very clear that the periods of philosophical creation are rare…If this movement on the part of the philosophy no longer exists, one of two things is true: either the philosophy is dead or it is going through a “crisis.” In the first case there is no question of revising, but of razing a rotten building; in the second case the “philosophical crisis” is the particular expression of a social crisis, and its immobility is conditioned by the contradictions which split society.  A so-called “revision,” performed by “experts,” would be, therefore, only an idealist mystification without real significance.  It is the very movement of History, the struggle of men on all planes and on all levels of human activity, which will set free captive thought and permit it to attain its full development. (Sartre, 6-8)

Source

Sartre, Jean-Paul.  Search for a Method.  Translated by Hazel E. Barnes.  New York: Vintage Books, 1968.

The Mode of Production Debate in the Philippines

A Hacienda Luisita peasant plants rice in a freshly tilled field (Photo by Jack Stephens).

A peasant plants rice in a freshly tilled field in Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac, Philippines (Photo by Jack Stephens).

In her book on the Communist Party of the Philippines (MLMZT) author Kathleen Weekley briefly goes over a debate about whether the Philippines was really “semi-feudal” or more “capitalist” in nature:

The first substantial critique of this formulation from inside the national democratic movement came in the late 1970s from Rigoberto Tiglao, who presented a dependency theory perspective on the economy, concluding that concentration on the peasantry as the social base for the revolution was ill-conceived. The gist of his argument is that the Philippines is a “peripheral capitalist social formation” in the global capitalist order and was so even during the years of American colonialism. “It was precisely the capitalist means of production which made possible the transformation of Philippine agriculture into an export-producing sector.” Citing the extent of mechanization in key crop industries and the relationship of tenant farmers to the system of market forces, he concludes that “the ‘landlord class’ in the Philippines [is] more of an agrarian bourgeoisie” the biggest of whom ‘together with transnational corporations [control] the industrial component of the export industries…as well as the comprador enterprise.” the political aspects of peripheral capitalism have important implications for revolutionary strategy, Tiglao argued. “Limited sources of capital accumulation” he says, “result in explosive intra-elite struggles.” Martial law was imposed in order to manage these struggles, but it is not “semi-feudalism” that is the “social base of this fascism” as the CPP puts it. Rather, “the Philippine industrial bourgeoisie is the social basis of such political authority [and] rural and urban working class movements rapidly erode whatever level of stability such a centralized authority has achieved.” In other words, the CPP ought to concentrate its efforts on organizing and mobilizing working class resistance to the Marcos dictatorship, rather than organizing the “peasantry” into an army to fight a protracted war in the countryside, ignoring the real source of capitalist power.

In 1987, a Negros news magazine, Viewpoints, published an anonymous article criticizing the CPP analysis of Philippine society as “semi-colonial, semi-feudal.”…

The Viewpoints article countered that while a feudal superstructure remains on the island [of Negros], the economic base is largely capitalist. The crisis in the sugar industry, brought on by various factors including reduced demand from the U.S., plummeting world sugar prices, escalating production costs and shrinking domestic consumption, reached catastrophic proportions in the mid-1980s. That crisis, the Viewpoints author argued, has “shown that the sugar planters must bear the costs of production and are subject to the financial risks inherent in the industry. It follows, then, that the plantation workers cannot properly be regarded as “peasants.” While they labor on the land, the workers’ interests and aspirations are different from those of the peasnt.

“Given the choice between tilling his own land and working in a factory at satisfactory wages, it is highly probable that the farmworker would choose the factory job. (Weekley, 57-58)

When Jose Maria Sison, one of the founders of the CPP and its first chair, and latter a consultant for the National Democratic Front, got out of prison he delivered a series of lectures at the Center for Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines in order to answer these criticisms:

Agricultural land totaling 12 million hectares in 1980 is the principle means of production. It produces the food staples for domestic consumption, the overwhelming bulk of surplus products for export and some amount of raw materials for local processing.

There is negligible use of modern farm technology beyond peasant brawn, hand tools, plows and work animals on lands devoted to rice, corn and coconut, all of which comprise 90.4 percent ot total agricultural land. The promotion of costly imported farm inputs and equipment during the 1970s affected only a few hundred thousands of hectares. Estimates range from 500,000 to 800,000 hectares.

…No more than 4 percent of total agricultural land is worked by tractors and other farm machinery.

Every piece of modern equipment in the agricultural, Industrial and service sectors of the economy is imported. It is paid for with foreign exchange earned on raw material exports, mostly agricultural…

Even hand tools are imported to the extent of 85 percent. And of course, the remaining 15 percent are fabricated locally from imported metals. There are no well-established industries which produce from the available local raw material basic metals, basic chemicals, capital goods and the like.

According to NEDA figures, there were nine million peasants and farm workers, accounting for 52 percent of employment; 2.5 million industrial workers, 14 percent; and six million service sector workers, 34 percent, in 1979, which was a year of economic growth still bloated by excessive foreign borrowing.

These figures indicate, therefore, that peasants and farm workers comprise 78 percent of direct producers of goods and industrial workers 22 percent. There are four peasants for every industrial worker.

Only 74 percent of industrial workers are in manufacturing; and in turn 70 percent of workers in manufacturing are employed in small fabricating and repair shops, each employing less than ten workers and therefore hardly qualifying as truly manufacturing enterprises.

The figure for employment in the service sector is bloated by decreases of employment in the agricultural and industrial sectors during the 1970s. Agricultural employment went down from 59 percent in 1970 to 52 percent in 1979; and industrial employment from 17.6 percent in 1970 to 14 percent in 1979. The employment rate of the real producers of goods has decreased from year to year since 1979. (Sison, 81-83)

And while still in prison, earlier in 1982, Sison and de Lima (released around that time), wrote:

It is said that farm workers are now 55 percent of the farm population and are bigger in number than the peasants with definite plots to till…It is difficult to make a national survey distinguishing the farm workers who depend mainly or wholly on their wages and the poor and middle peasants who augment their income as farm workers. But assuming the figure is correct, it does not mean any significant advance into capitalism away from semifeudalism…it means that the semifeudal economy is bursting at the seams with surplus labor it cannot employ…

Land concentration mainly by landlords and semifeudal rich peasants continues. Foreign and local farm capitalists still have to deal with local owners of land. However, the new-type of landlords take the initiative of employing capitalist processes such as getting crop loans, using imported agricultural inputs, hiring farm workers, etc. (ibid., 49-50)

Sources

Anon. “The Negros Enigma.” Viewpoints 2, no. 15 (1987), reprinted in Diliman Review 36, no 4, quoted in Weekely.

Sison, Jose Ma. and Julieta de Lima. Philippine Economy and Politics. Philippines: Aklat ng Bayan, 1998.

Tiglao, Rigoberto. “Non-Progress in the Periphery.” The Diliman Review (1979), quoted in Weekley.

Weekley, Kathleen. The Communist Party of the Philippines 1968-1993: A Story of its Theory and Practice. Quezon City, Philippines: University of Philippines Press, 2001.

Ho Chi Minh on Readdressing Strategy

Ho Chi Minh

On July 15th 1954 Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) addressed the Sixth Plenum of the Viet Nam Workers’ Party Central Committee on negotiating peace with the French colonial forces.  He took up a pragmatic and strategic stand of setting up a cease fire in order to bring about an eventual socialist revolution.  Obviously negotiations didn’t work but Ho still left all avenues open in the short term (while still protecting long term goals):

Our previous motto was ‘Resistance to the end’.  At present we must put forward a new one: ‘Peace, unity, independence, democracy’.  We must take firm hold of the banner of peace to oppose the US imperialists’ policy of direct interference in, and prolongation and expansion of, the war in Indochina.  Our policy must change in consequence: formerly we confiscated the French imperialists’ properties; now, as negotiations are going on, we may, in accordance with the principle of equality and mutual benefit, allow French economic and cultural interests to be preserved in Indochina.  Negotiations entail reasonable mutual concessions.  Formerly we said we would drive out and wipe out all French aggressive forces; now, in the talks held, we have demanded, and the French have accepted, that a date be set for the withdrawal of their troops.  In the past, our aim was to wipe out the puppet administration and army with a view to national reunification; now we practice a policy of leniency and seek reunification of the country through nationwide elections. (Ho, 135)

The elections for reunification were opposed by the puppet forces in the south and the United States.

Source

Ho Chi Minh.  Ho Chi Minh: Down With Colonialism! New York: Verso, 2007.


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