Editors' Introduction

Volume 31  Issue 4  October 2019

We start the last issue of this volume with Emmanuel Terray’s “Exploitation and Domination in Marx’s Thought,” which is a translation by Joseph Serrano of the chapter “Exploitation et domination dans la pensée de Marx” from his book entitled Combats avec Méduse, published in France in 2011 (Éditions Galilée). Terray, a former student of Louis Althusser and an economic anthropologist, understands exploitation as occurring when “the direct producers are deprived of a part of the product of their labor for the benefit of nonproducers who control the conditions of production” (emphasis added). As opposed to what he calls “traditional” Marxism, which conceives of domination and exploitation as two distinct processes, Terray—by surveying two noncapitalist modes of production (slavery and feudalism) and capitalism as discussed by Marx—explicates how different political and ideological processes condition exploitation in different modes of production. For Terray, when the surplus labor that the direct producers have supplied is used in a manner that conforms to their will, there is no exploitation. In this thinking, the problem of exploitation is transformed into a political question of whether the direct producers’ will is being accounted for in the decision that concerns the amount and the allocation of their labor. He invites us to rethink how we conceive of exploitation through examinations of “particularities, differences, and variations” of class struggles in different modes of production. This differentiated perspective helps us to recognize historical specificities of intricate relationships between exploitation and domination in both capitalist and noncapitalist modes of production in the past and today. This insight is valuable for those interested in revitalizing the old and forging new class struggles to bring about alternative—less exploitative, if not nonexploitative—noncapitalist economies.

Rethinking Marxism has long been publishing works like Terray's piece that enable us to imagine and create alternative noncapitalist economies. Essays in Development and Globalization: A Marxian Class Analysis by David F. Ruccio (Routledge, 2011), a former chief editor (1998–2009) and a member of the international advisory board of this journal, do that and much more. The book is a collection of Ruccio’s sometimes collaborative work on three major themes: socialist planning, development economics, and globalization. Each theme corresponds to debates during the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. By developing an overdeterminist, surplus-centered Marxian class analysis, which was pioneered by his mentors Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, with rich integration of a wide range of thought, such as cultural studies and postdevelopment, Ruccio insists on the importance of quarreling with determinist economic theories through examinations of concrete case studies such as Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua and apartheid South Africa.

The symposium on Ruccio’s book was originally a session organized by Faruk Eray Düzenli at the 2013 Rethinking Marxism Conference: Surplus, Solidarity, Sufficiency held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The symposium is comprised of four commentaries, three by the original commenters as well as a contribution from Jack Amariglio, with a reply by Ruccio. The symposium is coedited by Düzenli and Chizu Sato. We are very pleased to see this symposium finally in the journal to highlight and recognize the immense intellectual contributions that Ruccio has made throughout the last several decades.

In the first commentary, Düzenli, a former student of Ruccio and a member of our editorial collective, rejects the argument that Ruccio’s intervention in debates on socialist planning, development, and globalization over three decades is “a thing of the past.” Instead, he recognizes the continued usefulness of Ruccio’s analytical approach in critically engaging in contemporary debates surrounding neoliberalism, which has emerged as “the concept de jure” in international political economy after the debates shifted from globalization. Düzenli encourages us to learn, from Ruccio’s intervention, how to pose questions about the methodological and epistemological foundations that constitute debates in which essentialisms, be they of the dichotomy between state ownership and private markets or of capitalist ubiquity, by rendering other ways of thinking unrecognizable, fetter the prospects for overdeterminist Marxian class interventions.

In the second commentary, Suzanne Bergeron, another former student of Ruccio and a former member of the editorial collective, argues that Ruccio’s attention to “indeterminacy and subjectivity,” illuminated by his Marxian class analysis, is “helpful and important.” She points out how Ruccio identifies “changing the subject,” be it about “expert knowledge” or economic essentialism, as an important part of his political project to transform economic relations. In her view, Ruccio’s intervention may be characterized by “failure,” in the best sense, for those who adhere to the narrow disciplinary conventions within economics, precisely because Ruccio refuses the very conventions they adhere to, but, on the other hand, by success for those who want to pursue overdeterminist class projects for the very same reason.

The third commentary, by Jack Amariglio, long-time comrade and friend of Ruccio and founding chief editor of the journal, is titled “Capitalism Has a Conjunctural History but No Necessary Trajectory,” a quote from Ruccio’s book that well captures a persistent feature of Ruccio’s intervention, called “conjunctural analysis.” In the Althusserian sense, conjunctural analysis, through the use of surplus-centered Marxian class analysis, refuses to presume any workings or laws of capitalism in advance but instead recognizes how these are “overdetermined in the moment, yet happening within some decisive temporal vortex.” Amariglio shows how Ruccio performed conjunctural analyses by referring to concrete examples from each of Ruccio’s three main themes. As applied to the transitional state (i.e., Sandinista-ruled Nicaragua), to Wolpe’s apartheid South Africa, or to globalization discourses, Amariglio argues that Ruccio’s conjunctural analyses illuminate “the heterogeneity of space and the hybridity of identities” within the supposed state and global capitalist hegemonies. He says that Ruccio’s theoretical and practical analyses tend to “stick” with us: they make it difficult if not impossible to conceive of state and global capitalism as possessing fixed identities in presumed spaces. Like Düzenli, after finding Ruccio’s approach useful for rethinking contemporary challenges (such as far-right nationalism), Amariglio invites not only Ruccio but all of us to practice overdeterminist Marxian conjunctural analysis in order “to ruthlessly criticize everything in existence (including Marxism itself),” thereby developing new ways of seeing social reality in our respective locations.

The final commentary, by Adam David Morton, is structured around the double meaning of the title of his commentary, “Reading for Class.” One meaning is the book’s indispensability for his undergraduate and postgraduate teaching. Giving the example of a chapter of the book, “When Failure Becomes Success: Class and the Debate over Stabilization and Adjustment,” which is mentioned also in all the other commentaries, Morton finds it a “first-class” reading for class, examining the class effects of the structural adjustment policies implemented in Latin America. Another meaning, on which he spends more time, is the book’s indispensability for bringing surplus-centered class analysis to debates on planning, development, and globalization, where class analysis is largely absent. One such example is the class effects of socialist planning in Nicaragua. Morton points out how Ruccio’s “reading for class” finds contradictory class processes: on one hand, the class effects of socialist planning produced communist fundamental class processes, but on the other, they simultaneously provided the conditions of existence for capitalism through the expanded role of the state, which to some extent constrained the socialist project of class transformation. In Morton’s view, coupling Ruccio’s “reading for class” and Gramsci’s “passive revolution” to address the political rule of capital may be productive to break through the deadlock of the revolution and restoration nexus in order to “build twenty-first-century socialism.”

The symposium ends with Ruccio’s response to the four commentaries, which opens with the statement, “Mainstream economics cannot be salvaged.” Briefly surveying shifts in mainstream economics thought throughout the course of its history, Ruccio identifies three points he would highlight if he were to write additional chapters in the book responding to the “empirical turn” in the new development economics that has emerged from the aftermath of the Second Great Depression: they are naive empiricism, the absence of class, and essentialist notions of the subjectivity of both economists and economic agents. These points inform Ruccio’s political intervention focused on the contingency of theory, reading for class, subjectivity, and conjunctural analysis, all of which are highlighted in the four commentaries. Ruccio admits that the starting point of any of his projects in the rethinking of Marxism is to address the problem of existing theories in the narrowly structured discipline of economics. In his project he centers class, understood as “the various circumstances whereby surplus labor is performed, appropriated, and distributed,” because class is a “discursive” priority for those who wish to challenge theories and policies that keep class questions at bay. By providing concrete examples of “reading for class” and by deconstructing essentialist representations of the subjectivity of both economic experts and agents through conjunctural analysis, Ruccio hopes the book serves as a guide for intervening in debates in other times and places. The commentaries in this issue tell us that his intervention has been successful. We look forward to his forthcoming work in the rethinking of Marxism to be found in venues such as his blog and the diverse book projects on which he is currently working.

We have two regular articles after Ruccio’s book symposium. In “A History of Ideological Transparency,” Sami Torssonen takes issue with “transparency” as used to describe the supply chains of consumer commodities. He argues that direct social perception, or transparency, is problematic insofar as it produces, using Ruccio’s analytics, self-determined subjects deluded into thinking they have perfect information and are making free choices. This problematic transparency, he argues, provides conditions for the expansion of commodity production and exploitation. According to Torssonen, Marx and other Marxists, such as Adorno, have used the word, but only casually, and they have not discussed it systematically. Reflecting on Marx’s discussions on the appearance of wages and commodities in capitalist relations, in which Marx found that the capitalist ideology of equality and freedom obscured exploitation, Torssonen identifies transparency—or direct perception—as ideological. Instead of advocating for ideological transparency, he proposes a Marxist conception of transparency as “moments in human relations that retain traces across space and time.” In his view, transparency is a necessary but always insufficient condition of appearance, retaining problematic traces of objects for socialization purposes (e.g., organic certificates not corresponding to product conditions consumers expect). Torssonen’s intervention is a step toward developing a Marxist theory of transparency that would strengthen Marxist critiques of, for example, the moralizing discourse of consumption.

Ian E. J. Hill, in his essay “Monsterization, Mechanization, Contradiction: Marx’s Rhetoric of Technology,” examines how Marx deployed the tropes of “monsterization” (granting technology monster-like agency) and “mechanization” (ascribing machine-like characteristics to nonmechanical things such as humans), as well as “contradictions” (uniting the positive and negative aspects of “what exists”) to craft a rhetoric of technology. Hill argues that Marx’s rhetoric of technology enables scholars to “advocate, dissent against, argue, and debate technologies” from which multiple competing philosophies of technology—such as technological determinism, technological domination, social constructivism, human/nonhuman assemblages, technological neutrality, liberation technology, and political technology—have emerged. Hill’s analysis of monsterization, mechanization, and contradictions articulates a wide-ranging rhetoric of industrial technology in the mid-nineteenth century. However, this does not mean that Marx’s rhetoric of technology is “a thing of the past.” Hill argues that it still matters, providing a foundation for understanding today’s technological problems, which go far beyond the sphere of factories and into every aspect of social life; it also enables us to examine monsterization and mechanization, which remain popular tropes in contemporary technology discourses.

Two years ago, we published Tyson E. Lewis’s “A Marxist Education of the Encounter: Althusser, Interpellation, and the Seminar” as part of the symposium entitled “Louis Althusser: Between Past and Future” (vol. 29, issue 2). In this essay Lewis explored the implications of Althusser’s concept of interpellation for theorizing a Marxist practice of education. While recognizing some potentially radical aspects of Lewis’s contribution, Dylan Cree, in his response to Lewis in this issue, finds two problems. The first is how Lewis sees the encounter of the swerve in terms of an inside and outside binary: that is, as a countermovement, governed by the logic of oppositionality. Instead, Cree suggests that the encounter is better understood as “an always already unknown integral to any apparatus,” by taking into account the notion of immanence in Althusser’s thinking. Second, given Cree’s recognition that Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) are constituted by more than education, Cree finds Lewis’s focus on education and his recognition of learning subjects as educational subjects to be limiting. He suggests that it may be better not to abstract the aleatory from materialism and interpellation, coupling it with what Althusser called “chance” and contingency and situating it within a broader ideological program.

In his response to Cree, Lewis states that his goal is to explicitly place contingency and chance in Althusser’s reductive formulation. Lewis sees a gap created by the destabilization of subject formation, a gap not forced from outside by a teacher (recognized as someone not with expert knowledge but with the ability to point to a contingent encounter) but that is “the outside of the inside of any process of subject formation.” Lewis also claims that he locates education historically within and against other apparatuses and fields of forces. Nonetheless, Lewis supports Cree’s call for recognizing the value of Althusser’s “unconscious” for an education of the encounter as pressing.

In a Remarx piece entitled “From Questioning to Answering: The Paranoid Dialectics of P. K. Dick,” Gregory C. Flemming identifies two different notions of totality in the two Blade Runner films based on the work of American sci-fi writer Philip K. Dick. For Flemming, the original film (1982) presents an “open” universe subject to question while the newer film (2017) “closes” the world by providing answers. With psychoanalytic concepts, namely Žižek’s understanding of ideology and Lacan’s take on paranoia, Flemming sees the move from asking questions to providing answers as an important aspect of ideology. With regard to politics, the original film opens up possibilities to imagine an alternative with no answers while the newer one reduces politics to empirical choice within the already existing world. The lesson learned from the original film, according to Flemming, is that “the best thing to do is fight for the right to potentially fail at making anything better,” which we understand as framed within the ethics of Lacanian psychoanalysis and a contribution to engaging in Marxist politics.

We conclude this issue with three Review essays. In his review of Grand Hotel Abyss: The Lives of the Frankfurt School, by Stuart Jeffries (Verso, 2016), Jack Black finds the book to be a good introduction to the Frankfurt School for those who are looking into paradoxes enveloped in “capitalism, consumerism, and the media,” merging biography and academic theory in a readable and at times detailed and engaging narrative. Even though Black finds the book has failed to relate the dialectical approach of its authors to their work and theory, he suggests that the book’s paradoxes can serve as an important opening to theorizing these paradoxes in light of the Frankfurt School.

In the past decade we have observed an explosion of interest and literature on Maoisms around the world. Dhruv Jain, a new RM editorial board member, points out that there is significantly less literature on this topic written in the context of the Americas. Jain here reviews four books on Maoisms in the Americas that aim to bridge this gap. Matthew D. Rothwell’s Transpacific Revolutionaries: The Chinese Revolution in Latin America (Routledge, 2013) and Carlos I. Degregori’s How Difficult It Is to Be God: Shining Path’s Politics of War in Peru, 1980–1999 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2012) both survey Maoisms in Latin America while Aaron J. Leonard and Connor A. Gallagher’s Heavy Radicals: The FBI’s Secret War on America’s Maoists (Zero Books, 2014) and Robeson Taj Frazier’s The East is Black: Cold War China in the Black Radical Imagination (Duke University Press, 2014) examine developments of Maoisms among the American white radical Left and African American radicals, respectively. Jain finds all four books to be valuable for both scholars and activists alike. He thinks that they contribute to scholars’ understanding of social and armed movements in the 1970s and 1980s across the Americas as they reveal numerous transnational networks developed during the 1960s and 1970s between the Americas and China that helped frame political imaginaries. For activists, they offer a number of warnings about police infiltration, the effects of authoritarian styles of work, sectarianism and dogmatism, and the difficulties of constructing a political imaginary that is effective without being reductive.

While Ruccio calls the present period the aftermath of the Second Great Depression, Gökhan Demir, in his review of Chantal Mouffe’s For a Left Populism (Verso, 2018), tells us that it is, for Mouffe, the “populist moment,” a conjecture that the post-2008 economic crisis exposed the contradictions of the neoliberal model, which is now producing multiple demands from both the Left and the Right, including those from antiestablishment movements experienced by Western European liberal democracies. To overcome postdemocracy and to establish a counterhegemony, Mouffe’s proposal for a leftist populist strategy involves the radicalization of democracy through immanent critique within the liberal-democratic regime and liberation of democracy from the neoliberal imagination, elaborating on her collective project of radical democracy with Laclau. One core aspect of her strategy, like Ruccio’s rethinking of Marxism's project, is shaping the subjectivity of the agents of struggles. In her case, Mouffe benefits from the ethics of psychoanalysis, recognizing the decisive role of emotions in mobilizing people. Demir concludes his review with two criticisms: one related to a determinist relation drawn between the economy and politics and another being the exclusion of the question of oppression and state violence from the hegemonic struggle.

Last, we would like to announce some changes in our editorial board. After serving multiple terms, Anjan Chakrabarti and Joseph Göner-Rebello have moved on from the board. We thank them for all of their contributions and work over the years. They will be sorely missed. While not a replacement of Anjan and Joe, we are quite pleased to also announce that Dhruv Jain will be joining the editorial board. We very much look forward to working together.

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