Rethinking Marxism



In 2013, 5 years into the greatest economic and social depression since the Great Depression, and 4 years after the last international conference convened, we want to invite participants to explore and interrogate three keywords: SURPLUS, SOLIDARITY and SUFFICIENCY. We find these keywords to be particularly useful in critically engaging with our historical conjuncture from different perspectives. Needless to say, fellow participants who would like to bring in other concerns, other concepts, other debates and engagements into the mix should definitely feel free to do so. Our international conferences have always functioned as pluralistic and open platforms that represent the vast richness of the Marxian tradition. When we propose these keywords, we only intend them as possible provocations for scrutiny and invitations for engagement.

The keyword SURPLUS, as in surplus labor (whether it takes the capitalist value-form or the various non-capitalist forms in our contemporary economies) and surplus laborers (especially with skyrocketing unemployment), enables us to approach the causes, consequences and solutions to the current economic crisis by deploying Marxian vocabularies and frameworks. The keyword SOLIDARITY, on the other hand, makes possible reflections on how to do things differently—together, collectively, communally, whether it is the organization of a democratically run workplace, a journal, a conference, a neighborhood association, a political party, a social movement, an international solidarity effort, or a revolutionary insurgence. And finally, the keyword SUFFICIENCY opens to investigation the bipolar convulsions of growth (fetishism) and austerity, various logics of invidious (over-)consumption, and the ecological and social destruction unleashed by the acephalous and endless movement of the circuits of capital.

Rather than uncritically endorsing these keywords, we would like them to be both utilized and rethought in investigating the current economic and ecological crises and articulating new revolutionary imaginaries and vocabularies that will enable the work of enacting communism here and now.

In fact, it is possible to submit each of the three keywords to the scrutiny of the other two. While SUFFICIENCY indeed invokes well-known green slogans such as “small is beautiful” or “think globally, act locally,” and sometimes conjures ascetic forms of existence in the face of ecological decline, it is possible to approach it from the perspective of SURPLUS and SOLIDARITY and ask the following questions: In what ways is sufficiency different from necessity (of reproduction) that informs the category of necessary labor? How would solidaristic and collective forms of appropriation of surplus differ from capitalistic and exploitative forms in the manner that questions of sufficiency and necessity are framed, defined, and mobilized? But then again, it is also possible to ask, how the category of sufficiency complicates, or worse perversely supplements, the core axiom of the solipsistic ideologies of choice, “more is better”?

Similarly, it is possible to submit SOLIDARITY not only to SURPLUS-based class analysis but also to bathe it with the ecological connotations of the keyword SUFFICIENCY: How should we think about the political economy of different forms of solidaristic institutions such as worker cooperatives, political organizations, social movements, and support networks? How do such institutions maintain solidarity, even if they reproduce organizationally the distinction between necessary labor and surplus labor? Or, what does it mean to cultivate solidarity not only with other humans but also other living beings as well as the earth with its atmosphere, seas, rivers, and mountains?

And finally, it is possible to submit SURPLUS to the critique of SUFFICIENCY and SOLIDARITY. Marxian social theorists, political activists, aesthetic strategists, or better yet, organic intellectuals who produce meticulous analyses of the intricate and complex ways in which surplus is produced across the globe, appropriated by multinational corporations and sovereign states, and distributed through the global financial markets, could also perhaps inflect their lucid anatomies of exploitation and (capitalist) reproduction with a critical ethico-political perspective that takes seriously the contradictions and aporias of SOLIDARITY and SUFFICIENCY. For instance, against the imposition of austerity without any re-distribution of surplus, Marxists could issue a call for a strategic solidarity among all working peoples (from blue-collar to white-collar, from proletariat to precariat, across different races, genders, and sexual preferences) for the re-appropriation of already appropriated surplus accumulated in the hands of the few, without failing to recognize the myriad of possible contradictions and antagonisms among this multitude; against the blackmail of Grow-Or-Die, Marxists could propose a different form of organizing our relationship to the division of the collectively produced social value into its necessary and surplus components, to the imperatives of social reproduction, and to the regimes of consumption and replenishment of commons.

  RM 2013