Editors' Introduction

Volume 32  Issue 4  October 2020

This issue opens with a symposium on Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future (Verso, 2018), written by Geoff Mann and Joel Wainwright, the latter a fellow member of our Editorial Collective. The symposium, edited by Chizu Sato, consists of five commentaries and a rejoinder by the authors. While the liberal capitalist conception of the world limits our imagination for the future of global climate governance, Climate Leviathan offers—through Japanese Marxist philosopher Kojin Karatani’s speculative mode of theorizing, which the authors riff off of—four possible competing scenarios, mapped along the two intersecting axes by which future climate governance will be arrayed: the first axis is that of economic formation, either capitalist or noncapitalist responses, and the second axis is governance, either planetary or nonplanetary sovereignty. The four quadrants formed are: Climate Leviathan (capitalist planetary sovereignty), Climate Behemoth (capitalist nonplanetary sovereignty); Climate Mao (noncapitalist planetary sovereignty); and Climate X (noncapitalist nonplanetary sovereignty). Rejecting the first three scenarios as inadequate, the authors see the realization of Climate X, a postcapitalist, nonplanetary form of governance led by “a movement of many movements,” drawn from the Zapatista slogan, as the only desirable outcome.

While there are tensions and disagreements between the authors and commentators concerning key questions raised by the authors (What are we fighting for? In whose name do we speak? What are we trying to change and how?), the commentators see Climate X—or, more broadly, radical postcapitalist climate politics—as desirable. To enable such politics, commentators offer different ways to push forward the conversations initiated by Mann and Wainwright.

In the first commentary, Marcus E. Green, a former coeditor and current editor-at-large of Rethinking Marxism, agrees with Mann and Wainwright’s Gramscian approach to critiquing the dominant liberal-capitalist conception of the world in order to enable conditions necessary for Climate X to emerge. While Mann and Wainwright do this by way of consulting indigenous and anticolonial scholars, like Gramsci would suggest, Green also insists on the importance of critiquing the basic concepts of liberal capitalism—such as “private property, wage labor, exploitation, patriarchal authority, inequality, colonialism, and the ‘improvement’ of uncultivated land”—naturalized by John Locke in the second Treatise of Government (1690).

In the second commentary, John Foran furthers our imagination for the realization of Climate X with his proposal of “a new kind of party” driven by diverse social movements, such as transition towns and degrowth in the Global North and Buen Vivir and the Rights of Mother Earth in the Global South. This new kind of party is different from those parties or movements in the past: “One that would be both more global in its ecological vision and more empowering of the local in its domestic policy.”

The third commentary, by Benjamin Abraham, compares the significant leadership China has taken to address climate change in the past decade to the weak leadership taken by Western countries, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and France, and Abraham raises critical questions: “What if we don’t achieve ‘Climate X’?” and “What if Climate Mao gets the job done?” Even though Climate X is desirable, Abraham’s call reminds us to make a proper account of Climate Mao so that we do not underestimate the logistical capacities of authoritarian states in global climate governance.

Gerda Roelvink, in the fourth commentary, calls for rejecting a climate Politics (capital P) that drives us to fight against global capitalism as “an all-encompassing and all-powerful system” that “requires a global revolution, without which it is likely to fail.” To do so, she suggests two strategies: sidestepping the naturalization of sovereignty and broadening movements that are able to take part in “a movement of many movements.” Such movements—not only the Indigenous and anticolonial ones suggested by Mann and Wainwright but also others such as feminist ones—are suggested as helpful in maintaining radical differences between diverse movements.

In the last symposium commentary, Kiran Asher asks us to critically engage with feminist and anticolonial activists and thinkers. Asher offers a concrete strategy to enact the suggestions made by Roelvink, which would strengthen Climate X by providing a means to account for social differences within diverse social movements.

Writing after the spread of COVID-19, the rejoinder by Wainwright and Mann does more than respond to each commentary. Reflecting on what they wrote about for climate politics, they posit that, for the political sphere, COVID-19 “does not fundamentally change but only intensifies the existing political crisis, a crisis caused fundamentally by the inability of capitalism to live within the limits of formal democratic rule.” They recall Marx’s offering in Capital in order to explain why inequalities persist, making class relevance visible in conflicts that surround climate change and also COVID-19. We encourage those readers who are interested in exploring what has been published in our pages on the topic of climate change and postcapitalist politics to visit our website, where you will find a list of relevant articles under “Virtual Issues” (in the right-column menu) and then “Articles during Times of Crisis” (2020).

The book symposium is followed by a Remarx essay that has already done the rounds online through early access publication. Convinced by the idea that “Marxist theory cannot move forward without a clear understanding of Hegel,” Hisham Aqeel attempts to overcome Hegel via an interview with Hegelian philosopher Slavoj Žižek. Their conversation, over topics like politics, ecology, and communism, illuminates the Hegelian insights of history’s radical openness and of the retroactivity of teleology. These insights force us to recognize that no one can know what will happen, which may be of critical relevance to the examination of contemporary issues discussed in this issue, such as climate politics and fascism. While Climate Leviathan engages in a speculative mode of theorizing, these Hegelian insights encourage us to reject teleology and necessity and, instead, to ruthlessly critique our own history.

Next, we have four regular essays. The first, by Malcolm K. Read, is a sequel to his earlier essay published in RM volume 31, number 2 (2019). In the current essay, Read draws on the Althusserian notion of the ideological unconscious as elaborated by Juan Carlos Rodríguez to address the problematic of the subject-object dichotomy prioritized in the work of British Marxists—namely, E. P. Thompson and Perry Anderson. Exemplifying the kind of analysis offered by Rodríguez, Read carefully lays out how Rodríguez elaborated on the structure-oriented Althusserian notion of the ideological unconscious through the close reading of Spanish literary classics that depict the dominant feudal mode of production and its transition to the capitalist mode of production and contradictions internal to them. For Rodríguez, the ideological unconscious operates at the level of the social formation and, key to Rodríguez’s contribution, this is rooted in concrete historical processes. These concrete historical processes provide a strategy to overcome the rejection of Althusser, due to his (and some of his followers’) lack of critical acknowledgment of the radical historicity of culture, by empiricists in the discussion on the mode of production, as exemplified by the aforementioned British Marxists. Read’s analysis calls for coming to terms with the ideological unconscious in a manner that would enable us to see how late capitalism makes itself invisible as a system that produces and represses humans (and we would add more-than-humans) by its use of rich empirical details. A focus on the presence of this system provides conditions for moving beyond the subject-object problematic.

In a meditation on capitalism as fascism in essentia, Joseph Weiss offers a Freudo-Marxist reading of our suffocating contemporary conjuncture and its prehistorical and historical unconscious. Weiss’s provocation is to read Freud’s later engagements with social anthropology and group psychology in tandem with Marx’s notion of primitive accumulation. In Weiss’s reading, not only is the latter treated as a concept whose domain of applicability—given the repetitive despotic violence of capitalist appropriation and the ongoing destructive drive of capital accumulation—cannot be limited to the narrow confines of a story of origins, but also the former’s investigations into the prehistory of originary drives and unconscious investments are invoked not in the name of a psychological determinism wherein the present is reduced to the prehistorical but rather as a return of the repressed that “continues to haunt the ego,” as “something old and terrifying” that lurks “within the appearance of the new.”

Lachlan Ross encourages us to rethink Marx’s concept of alienation since, he argues, we must crystalize the definition of alienation if we are to achieve the purpose for which Marx conceived of communism: to overcome alienation. Ross attempts this task by disentangling three related and mutually reinforcing concepts—alienation, estrangement, and reification—through the works of Marx and György Márkus. When alienation is discussed, what is often meant is estrangement, a “loss of essence” as in alienated labor, the worker’s loss of their object/self. According to Ross, Marx abandoned the utopian element of completely overcoming estrangement—fusing living and dead labor together—after 1845. But while Marx broke with this utopian element, he did not break with the original conceptualization of alienation based on Feuerbach: that is, with “the domination of human beings by the products of human activity” (which includes more than just capitalist domination). Also, following Herbert Marcuse, Ross finds the notion of estrangement less relevant today, particularly in a context wherein we increasingly find ourselves in the products that we purchase. Thus, even though Ross builds on the work of Márkus, he finds it productive to distinguish between alienation and estrangement. Ross also distinguishes alienation from Lukács’s central concern, reification, emphasizing that the two concepts are discrete and that the former is an effect of the latter. This (re)defining of alienation has implications for Althusserian Marxism (which, Ross claims, rarely recognizes alienation), new materialism (whose fundamental tenets are rejected here), and beyond.

Acknowledging the importance of overcoming a hyperseparation between matter and spirit, spirituality and religion (see the editors’ introduction to RM vol. 28, no. 3–4), and “attending to feelings and desires and to connection and community” (editors’ introduction to RM vol. 32, no. 1) in both Marxist theory and praxis, spirituality is an area in which we have been publishing in recent years. Jon Wittrock contributes to these conversations through an analysis of the role of religion in the processes of the emergence of postcapitalist communities. Wittrock is inspired by a kind of postcapitalist community imagined by Marx and Engels in which “the free and full development of all human beings” is considered its condition of existence and in which workers themselves democratically decide on the appropriation of the surplus. Wittrock finds it productive to see religion not as a monolithic and fixed category to be condoned or rejected but as “an ambiguous concept pointing to several possible constellations of a multitude of different conceptual and pragmatic elements” that are commonly labeled as “religious” and are held together by “family resemblances,” in a Wittgensteinian sense. Wittrock’s conceptualization of religion enables us to see which religious elements, as well as other elements, while entering into contradictory relationships with each other, form more desirable social configurations in the processes of the emergence of postcapitalist communities. This ability makes it possible for us to strategically engage in “conscious, comprehensive, and continuous transformations of religious elements in emerging constellations, as situated in different cultural and power-political contexts.”

We end this issue with a full conversation on COVID-19 and capitalism that RM coeditor Vincent Lyon-Callo had with erstwhile RM editorial board and current advisory board member—and, of course, the host of the quite popular public intervention Economic Update (democracyatwork.info)—Richard Wolff. An extended excerpt of this interview was already published on our website in August 2020 as part of the open-access RM dossier, Pandemic and the Crisis of Capitalism (rethinkingmarxism.org). The conversation focuses on the U.S. experiences of COVID-19 from an overdeterminist Marxist perspective. Wolff shares his insights by comparing the U.S. case with the cases of other “capitalist,” former “socialist,” and existing nationalist-populist countries, covering topics such as the role of the state, the health-care system, unemployment, and leftist movements, both in the past and the present. One highlight (among many) is the importance of organizing across different entry points (e.g., class, race, gender, ecology) when the dominant ideology asks individuals to take personal responsibility. To realize this, Wolff points out some tasks for RM: to show that there is a chance, by telling of empirical examples of socialism and communism, and to help people understand the importance of rejecting essentialism and choosing one’s own entry point by way of taking up overdetermination.

At the time of writing this introduction, we are wrapping up publication of a special dossier project on the pandemic. Several contributions to the dossier will likely appear in future issues of RM. Last but not least, we are very pleased to announce the winners of the 2020 Stephen A. Resnick Graduate Student Essay Prize. They are Danish Khan, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Ph.D. expected August 2020) for his essay entitled “Political Economy of Uneven State-Spatiality: Conflict, Class, and Institutions in Pakistan”; and Sayonee Majumdar, Department of Economics, University of Calcutta (Ph.D. expected 2021) for her essay entitled “A Class-Focused Theory of the Minimum Support Price and Agricultural Distress in India.” Their essays will be published in volume 33 of RM (2021).

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