Editors' Introduction

Volume 31  Issue 2  April 2019

From its inception, Rethinking Marxism has been committed to fashioning a space for debating and discussing the many forms that Marxism takes. Concerned with the potential divisiveness that too often accompanies the quest for a dominance of a particular orthodoxy, RM editors and editorial board members have attempted to broaden our understandings by considering heterogeneous approaches and especially by advancing nonessentialist scholarship. This approach continues in this issue as we draw together a set of essays and reviews that demonstrate the breadth of ways in which Marxist scholarship influences a range of communities.

The issue begins with the second part of Jack Amariglio and Lucas Wilson’s interview with Robin D. G. Kelley, “Solidarity Is Not a Market Exchange,” and continues the discussion that began in RM 30 (4). In part 2 of the interview, Kelley demonstrates how scholarship, like solidarity, is neither a solitary nor a uniform path. The interview traces Kelley’s production as a social subject by outlining the influences, experiences, and challenges that contributed to his intellectual development. How does a young person growing up in Harlem navigate the myriad contradictions he encounters through life to become the scholar that is Robin D. G. Kelley? This interview makes clear that such a struggle is not the result simply of solitary effort, nor is it driven only by material considerations. Rather, Kelley details his engagement with a range of events, activists, and scholars.

For example, Kelley discusses in some depth the influence of Cedric Robinson on his development as a historian, intellectual, and revolutionary. Kelley points out that Robinson’s work helped him to understand that the questions historians tended to ask about the Left and black people were too limiting and failed to recognize a black radical tradition that often goes unrecognized precisely because of the effort to see through the lens of Western scholarship. Becoming aware of this contradiction helped Kelley to think in new ways about scholarship and acting in the world. This helped him to move beyond just recognizing the many Marxisms that exist in different settings and to realize how we must reject all universalist notions of political and social order if we hope to understand the world.

Of course, the interview is not just a story of encountering Cedric Robinson. Rather, Kelley elucidates how the scholar and person he has become would not have been possible without such encounters as attending rallies with his mom in his youth, engaging with academic mentors like George Rawick, spending a summer devouring Marx and Hegel along with other Marxist scholarship that was never presented in a classroom, and intellectually engaging with ideas found in the works of C. L. R. James, Grace Lee Boggs, Richard Wright, Nell Painter, George Lipsitz, Walter Rodney, Barbara Smith, Cornel West, Manning Marable, and many others. It is a story of a dialectical, critical engagement with life in the United States and with critical scholarship and social movements. As such, this interview is far from being only about Kelley’s life and work. In the end, the interview serves as a historical project outlining the development in late twentieth-century America of a radical black intellectual scholar produced through a dialectical engagement with the contradictions presented to him that led to new questions, trajectories, methods, and possibilities.

The issue takes a slight shift with Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen and Dominique Routhier’s “Critical Theory as Radical Crisis Theory: Kurz, Krisis, and Exit! on Value Theory, the Crisis, and the Breakdown of Capitalism.” This essay focuses on Robert Kurz and the value-critique perspective of Wertkritik with which his work is associated. The authors argue that a crisis of capitalism has unfolded across the globe since 2007. They argue that the hegemony of neoliberalism is finally being challenged by riots and protests. But, they ask, what do we make of the resistance? Does this represent a crisis of capitalism and, if so, what is the crisis about? They argue that an analysis of the transformations that have unfolded is vitally necessary. Bolt Rasmussen and Routhier further argue that Wertkritik as put forth by Kurz is fundamentally different from other perspectives on value theory, based on their sense that Kurz insists on a proper theory of crisis.

Interventions offered by Badiou, Žižek, Hardt and Negri, and other scholars are classified by Bolt Rasmussen and Routhier as post-Marxist, characterized as lacking by being too cultural, philosophical, or optimistic. Conversely, they argue that Kurz offers the necessary historically grounded analysis of the present crisis of capital. After tracing a decades-long development of what produced the current value critique, exemplified by the work of Kurz, they suggest that the analytical tools that have emerged can help us to understand the contemporary crisis. However, they do suggest that Kurz’s abandonment of class struggle in his analysis is problematic. That leads to a discussion of the analysis offered by Théorie Communiste on class-based struggle. What emerges is an analysis calling for merging the work of Kurz with that of Théorie Communiste to understand the present conditions.

The method that Bolt Rasmussen and Routhier utilize—of broadening our potential understanding through a comparison of scholars’ interpretations of a perhaps underappreciated perspective—is also employed in Malcolm K. Read’s “The Psychoanalytic Paradox and Capitalist Exploitation: Slavoj Žižek and Juan Carlos Rodríguez.” Here, Read compares Slavoj Žižek’s and Juan Carlos Rodríguez’s approaches to psychoanalysis and Marxism, especially regarding questions of the unconscious, social structure, praxis, and the possibilities of social transformation. This is accomplished through exploring their engagement with Spanish literature and detective fiction to think about the problems of social transformation by applying their theories to different texts, some of which existed prior to capitalist society. In the process, Read uses the similarities and distinctions between the approaches of Žižek and Rodríguez to put forth his own thoughts on the question of reconciling insights from Lacanian psychoanalysis and Althusserian Marxism and the significance of history. Sharing a commitment to a focus on the unconscious as well as an appreciation for Althusser, Read neatly outlines the points of conjuncture and departure in the analyses put forth by Žižek and Rodríguez. Focusing on the thirteenth-century poet Gonzalo Berceo, the sixteenth-century poet Garcilaso de la Vega, and private detectives in more contemporary literature, Read historicizes their approaches while suggesting the importance of differences in being and knowing during different historical periods.

The issue concludes with two book reviews that continue the theme of many Marxisms. In his discussion of the collection Creativity and Humour in Occupy Movements, edited by Altug Yalcintas, Marc Herzog continues a critical engagement with scholarship on social movements. As Herzog points out, the beauty of this collection is its move to explore the role that emotions and humor play in politics through a focus on the protests in Gezi during 2013. As Kelley points out earlier in the issue, to understand social movements we must explore them in their full human dimensions.

The problem of complicating our analysis of social movements is raised in the second book review as well. In discussing The Origins of Collective Decision Making by Andy Blunden, Mitchell Abidor highlights how Blunden’s new work documents the use of consensus and collective decision making that became so popular within Occupy-style and other recent social movements that originated and developed out of the civil rights and CIO work that began at the Highlander School in Tennessee during the 1930s. Blunden’s work documents that—displacing centuries of majority decision making— the practice of horizontal, collective decision making was initialized, developed, and transformed through experiences of working within various social movements such as the early Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Women Strike for Peace. Abidor suggests, however, that there is no inherently superior type of decision making for social movements and that the goal should be to build a movement that lasts and produces accomplishments.

Perhaps that is the message from the collection of works in this issue, as well. Maybe there is no one right Marxism for all occasions but rather a heterogeneity of Marxist approaches that might apply to different circumstances and settings to produce the outcomes we might like to see.

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