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Kasama

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July 06, 2006

Comments

Jacques Cammatte

There's a great irony about bartelby the vanguard throwing about the word liberalism. He would do well to study what it actually is and how he and his ilk mirror it far more then the ultraleftists. It is his type who want to preserve those bankrupt notions, of justice, equality, democracy, enlightenment rationality, modernity, ect not people like me. The quid pro quos on those liberal origins are for you guys not me. See my writing on organization, science as capital as well as community and communism and much more.

Lastly you are one to talk about putting text over practice. As I have shown in 'On Organization' it is you who put the party over everyday practice and immediacy and in doing so reastablish capitalist social relations. The tragic results have been hilighted above Kronstadt, Ukrain, I don't have to explain. The spontanious workers councils actually did happen in these instances, unfortunately some intervened. Indeed workers councils are hardly alien in places like Argentina, heck in Venezuala, the workers have to give 51% control to the state. I suppose Chavez can say,"well I know you want 100% but hey at least I'm not Lenin!" Unrealistic indeed(snicker)

What was shown to be unrealistic is what came crashing down in November of 1989.

Bartelby

For someone who is about "everyday practice" and "immediacy" you do a lot more talking about the past then you do about the present.
For someone who doesen't privilege text over practice you do a lot more talking about the political writing that you seem to be enamoured with than about political work you've even tangentially been involved with.

C.R.A.C.K. exists and is organizing right now, today, they recently looped throught the Northwest and
were in Nebraska just this week.

My involvement in orgainzing against them has been more tangential than I'd prefer but would have been more tangential still without organization(s).

xyz

Hey Jacques aka Wolverine: You've been trolling here for more than a minute and you still don't even know who you are arguing with.

But I'm curious: What workers council are YOU a member of? I'd like to check it out. Hell, tell me about ANY workers council ANYWHERE on earth that meet your gracious standards? Obviously you don't care about the conditions of people's lives... but I'm really curious how this endless council you seem so giggly over works.

Non Serviam

Don't mind Wolverine; he'll blather about until the day the cows come home about the Bolshies breaking up Kronstadt, but can't be bothered with respecting an present-day strike.

jacques cammatte

Wolverine? Who's that?

Anyway I think it's important to talk about the past Bart. Heaven knows you have some who still try to distort what libertarians of that era did. Beyond that there are those who believe the same thing should happen again with the chance of avoiding the big red beuracracy this time around. Anyone who knows that nature of modern instrumentality knows there is no good way of doing this. The opressed don't take power, they become the new players.

I was primary interested in this thread due to the talk of anti-communism, anyone who knows the history of that discourse knows it means different things to different people.

bartleby

Wolverine, his post on Indymedia contains the only reference to your name in the 12 billion+ pages indexed by google. I am assuming either you are him or that you and he are both identities by some as yet unknown third person. It wouldn't be the first time an anarchist has assumed a different identity. I know of an instance where a prominent white anarchist here in the states, was able to subscribe to what was intended to be a people of color only listserv. As far as I am concerened you are guilty until proven innocent. If you can prove to me that you are not engaging in a game of hide and seek, then I might be interested in having a discussion with you. If not, i've learned to prioritize.

That's weird, cause all I got was a bunch of french theory on "domestication"...

commentary

bartleby:
We're grappling (sometimes) with some key ideas. Does it really matter precisely WHO the writer is on the thread? Isn't it the content of what they write that deserves reply or not?

commentary

bartelby

yes it matters if someone making a statement is mmisrepresenting themselves. Just like it matters that Heidegger was a member of the Nazi party and used his privilege as a member of the party to replace the Jewish head of the philosophy dept. where he taught.
While people build academic careers and identities upon arguing that it does not, it in fact matters, a lot. If you're saying what a person does is not as important as what a person says then you are privileging text over action.
It's an interesting question; how does one argue with a liar who represents his or herself thhrough an unknown number of assumed identitie. Maybe when I retire to the old library assistants home I will grapple with that one.

commentary

i think you are confusing some things.

clearly when evaluating heidegger as a person and a political player, what he did under nazi occupation is highly relevent.

But in the larger discussion of heidegger's philosophical ideas -- you have to deal with them as philosophy. You can't say "He put forward these ideas, and collaborated with the Nazis, therefore these ideas are tainted and can be relegated to pro-nazi ideas without further investigation and refutation.'

Ideas have to be deals with -- apart from the "identity" of the speaker. They have their own realm.

There is, of course, a validity to summing up the emerging practics that flows from such ideas, and that enters into the discussion of them.

But really, you have to discern wether ideas are true (i.e. whether and how much) they correspond to reality -- and in that process, the identity of the speaker is really not centerstage (or often not even relevant).

Otherwise we slide into the world of relativism, where ideas are just jousting naratives to be evaluated by the conflicting degrees of authenticity and sincerity of their authors (and the warring hierarchies of identity politics). Relativism will not lead us to real truth about objective reality -- but to "politically convenient non-truths" and a denial of objective reality.

The first demand when hearing a statement should be "is this true?" not "Who is the speaker and does he/she have the authenticity of identity to speak on this?"

commentary

This remark is worth digging into:

" If you're saying what a person does is not as important as what a person says then you are privileging text over action."

First, i assume that the writer (bartely) believes that it is always wrong to "privilege text over action."

But in fact that depends. It depends what sphere we are in, and what is principle.

One example from the past: the noted Marxist philopher Althusser (after years of writing on marx, lenin, mao, dialectics, Capital, and arange of philosophica inquiries into the relationship of materialism and structuralism) killed his wife with an ax.

Now, her death waas horrific, and he spent the rest of his life in a mental institution (since clearly his bipolar episodes had gotten beyond safe control.)

The "action" here was major, and you can't really discuss his life without discussing his (and her) tragic end.

But in evaluating Althusser, in deslving into what matters (socially, to us, to the world, to the future) i would say that clearly his "text" should be greatly privileged over his major horrible 'act."

He remains Althusser the important marxist writer and thinker, not mainly, principally "Althusser, the shocking wife murder."

Or take Engels -- who had a fascinating life of political activism (starting with his militant involvement in 1848 battles, intersperced with long boring business affairs), who (like all human beings) had an intimate life (with a non-marriage relationship with a working class woman), and so on.

But when we turn to engels we do (and should) "privilege text over action" -- Engels is a founder of Modern communism. His participation (from the Communist Manifesto to the final edits on Das Kapital, and his own works on Duhring and dialectics of nature) are the essense of his life, work and contribution.

I won't go as far to say that "his text is his principal action" (and there is a long controversy over, for example, the Althusserian concept of "theoretical practice" that Iwon't go into).

But it owuld be wrong (even bizarre) to assert that "the act always takes precedence over the text" -- so that the rich, complex, worldhistoric lifes work of great theoretical creative minds gets shunted aside, as we pour over the various "deeds" (practical acts) that surrounded, accompanied, intersperced with, their REAL work and contribution.

I don't want to put words in your mouth, or ascribe to you views you don't have. But you can see the questions that your comment elicited.

bartleby

I am sure the whole axe thing was very important to say Althusser's wife, for instance. In that moment when she saw the axe and knew what it was for, I think given the opportunity, she would have traded Althusser's entire body of work and whatever influence it had in exchange to not have the axe used upon her. I suspect in the time that followed Allthuser himself would have felt the same way.
What knowledge or insights he gained through his unfortunate actions in the context of his life and work are something I am interested in. Regret is inescapable and can be the best teacher. To create a ficitonal identity to make your mistakes for you shelters you from true regret for the actions you make under that assumed identity. Coming to grips wwiith the fact that you murdered your wife and contextualizing in terms of your own body off writing I would imagine is very difficult. Had Althusser written under an assumed identity his whole life, any (hypothetical) writing he might have done have done after his wife's murder could avoid the questions raised by it. Humanity and would be denied that insight. It is cowardice and laziness, regardless of how academically it is presented.

commentary

theoretical work is not predicated on, or fundamentally conditioned by PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

i appreciate your reply, which clarifies those issues.

Perhaps his wife would have traded his work for her life. But (following this impossible and metaphysical question through), this is neither certain nor relevent.

It is not certain because not everyone is so narrow, self-absorbed and individualistic that they would trade anything for their personal life.

And second, what she would want or think about his life's work, is basically irrelevant to an objective and all-sided and scientific discussion of his work, philosophy and insights.

To reduce everything to the subjective desires and views of isolated individuals is a class outlook that speaks for itself. And to subsitute such subjectivism for (to raise such subjectivism towering ABOVE) discussion of truth and objective reality -- is an outlook that we should learn to recognize and oppose -- because adopting it would prevent us from being emancipators of humanity.

And your assumption that any writings he did (after the murder) would get their relevance mainly form their relationship to that event, is just another in your series of assumptions.

Marx (for example) was deeply anguished by the death of several of his children. But do you think that his writings (after these deaths) get their relevence and power from the insights they give us into those deaths?! Do you honestly believe that theoretical work and the search for objective truth is nothing, and that every writing is just the pallid reflection of personal travails? And that the insights of someone's work is merely and mainly insights into episodes of their personal life?

No.

Your assumptions here give a rich insight into your personal thinking and world outlook. But as a way of measuring the work of others, it is profoundly narcisistic, and is rooted (fundamentally) in a subjective idealist denial of the existance of objective reality, and of the importance of a scientific fight to understand that objective reality.

bartleby

wow

commentary

think about it....

You write "I think given the opportunity, she would have traded Althusser's entire body of work and whatever influence it had in exchange to not have the axe used upon her. I suspect in the time that followed Allthuser himself would have felt the same way."

There is a whole world of assumptions here -- that for each individual nothing could possibly be more important than lengthening their life (and that certainly their life is more important than a whole life's work exploring marxism and reality).

When people make arguments like that, i think "wow." Often they don't know how self-revelatory they are.

And let's just ask: what class outlook is concentrated there?

bartelby

Well, my personal experience is one of living in a country where there are 2 million people in prison. Prisons are a major pillar holding up white supremacy in this country. It's usually easy to get folks to understand about people who break laws and go to prison for economic reasons. The sticking point in making the argument about prisons is that folks think there are people who should be in prison regardless. It usually goes like "What about the rapists and murderers and child molesters." Sure their actions are heinous but lets take a look at the kinds of acts these are. Overwhelmingly, all these are acts of violence and domination of men against women and children. Both the transgressors and the victims are majority working class. These men are accountable to the state for what they have done. They need to be accountable to their communities in such a way that they can return to them.
If I remember correctly Althusser killed himself soon after murdering his wife. I can't fault anyone for their inability to predict the future and forsee the rise of prisons that took place especially in the last 20 years in the U.S. and to a lesser but growing degree the rest of the world. Even so the class and gender character of murderers and their victims is unchanged. The act of killing someone changes the person doing the killing, we need to understand the nature of that change. Someone aculturated to writing political theory might have made an unprecedented contribution to our understanding of patriarchy. That would have been an expression of accountability to his community, the kind of accountability people escape by separating what they do and what they say, or by assuming a made up identity for the sake of debate.

commentary

Bartelby.... don't take this as a diss. But I find your responses fascinating, and so very different from my own outlook.

I'm tempted to "leave it alone." But then just wonder what your response to comments would be... so let me have a go. OK?

*****

you write: "Well, my personal experience is one of living in a country where there are 2 million people in prison."

Methodologically, it blows my mind that you start like this.

We are discussing an important Marxist philosophy who (sinking into mental illness) accidentally strangles his wife (the ax story is apocryphal.)

What does it mean, what method is in command, when your reply starts by situating where "your head" is coming from. Do we understand things by doing the "dialectics of the real world" or "the dialectics of your personal subjective head space"?

B. writes: "Prisons are a major pillar holding up white supremacy in this country."

Uh, well, that's true. But we are talking about an event in France (Althusser was a lifelong french writer.) Not in "this country."

Also, you don't understand or explain or analyze a particular event, by first situating it (univestigated) in a set of conclusions drawn from the general.

I.e.: you wanna make verdicts on Althusser based (not on his situation and case but) on general points you think are important about crime and prisons in this country?

Then you go on to say: "These men are accountable to the state for what they have done. They need to be accountable to their communities in such a way that they can return to them."

Actually this accepts the whole legal framework on "crime" far too much. Does some kid who did a burglary really need to be "accountable to their community so they can return to it"? I mean what the fuck. Are we about revolution (i.e. understanding contradictions among the people in order to create a new kind of unity) or are we about some kind of community based social work for reintregrating former prisoners?

B. writes: "If I remember correctly Althusser killed himself soon after murdering his wife."

A rare remark relating to our discussion (i.e. Althusser) and (unfortunately) it is factually mistaken. He was put in a mental hospital after Helene's death in 1980, and then quietly released a few years later (1983) and died in 1990.

B writes: "the class and gender character of murderers and their victims is unchanged. The act of killing someone changes the person doing the killing, we need to understand the nature of that change."

I have no idea what relevance any of this has. Or even what it means.

B writes: "Someone aculturated to writing political theory might have made an unprecedented contribution to our understanding of patriarchy. That would have been an expression of accountability to his community, the kind of accountability people escape by separating what they do and what they say, or by assuming a made up identity for the sake of debate."

All this talk of "community" is mere identity poltiics. What possible "community" does a Marxist philosopher have to be accountable to for accidentally strangling his wife in a state of utter mental confusion?

He says he did not remember the incident, and experienced intense anguish over the event. (The police examinations showed no evidence of violence.)

Althusser had been hospitalized for mental illness repeatedly during his life (including repeated episodes of electroshock.)

Helen was highly political, and fought in the anti-nazi communist underground during WW2.

He wrote: "What moved me more than anything were her hands, which never changed. They had been fashioned by work and bore the marks of hard labour, yet her touch had a wonderful tenderness which betrayed her heartbreak and helplessness. They were the hands of a poor, wretched old woman who had nothing and no one to turn to, yet who found it in her heart to go on giving. I was filled with such sorrow at the suffering engraved on them. I have often wept into these hands and they have often made me weep, though I never told her why. I feared it would cause her pain. - Hélène, my Hélène..."

In other words, i feel like your whole response

a) is intensely subjective (not objective) -- as if your personal motives in making an argument have any relevance on the value of the argument.
b) it is based on categorical thinking (i.e. suddenly Althusser's situation is merely a manifestation of a general category of "men killing women" -- that can be analyzed and decided without even investigating the particular details and facts.)
c) it is full of the deeply reformist thinking of identity politics, where everything is about the current functioning and relationships of so-called "communities" (presumably communities of supposedly common "identities) -- in which classes, nationalities, and above all revolution disappear from the discussion.

My point again: We would/should judge Althusser by his work, not this horrific but rather unrelated event that ended both his and Helen's life.

bartleby

My point is when you talk to folks about prison abolition, many people can be convinced that prisoners who are serving time for transgressions that are explainable through economics. By this I mean theft, drugs etc. people see that it makes very little sense to lock up people for being poor. However when you talk about certain kinds of antisocial behavior; murder, rape, pedophilia, for many folks the class concerns fly out the window. People think there should always be prisons for people who do these things.. This is major stumbling block in organizing around prison abolition. But look at those things, all of them are crimes mostly committed by men against women and children. This is true the world over. So what to do? People who do those things are accountable to the state, but they are not accountable to the people they've committed them against or their community in any real way.
Class oriented organizing in the united states today is largely going to happen in geographically defined working class communities. When only 11% of the class is in trade unions, when it is much more difficult for a number of reasons to organize in the workplace than it was in the past, it stands to reason that there has to be a better approach. Control of the reproductive sphere, the home, but also the commmunity must be fought for. The Prison industrial complex's rationale is that it performs a re-productive function, turning the criminal back into a worker and keeping the unemployed in line. The latter function needs to be reclaimed by the community, and I don't mean just by the women. In my neighborhood there is a registered sex offendor, a child molester, down the block and another around the corner. Puttting their faces on the internet is not the kind of accountability that is going to make a real difference other than encourage folks to fear and mistrust their neighbors and rely on the cops.
There was a murder on my block a few years ago, the shots woke me up, and another 2 blocks over more recently.
If we are going to get any closer to understanding why these things happen and what a society would look without them we need to be hearing from the people who do these things.
Althusser's instance sounds atypical. If I am not mistaken his diagnosis was schizophrenia which afflicts about 1% of the population.
Also folks diagnosed that way are actually less likely to engage in violence than the public at large.
Even so I'd be more interested in what he had to say in the years after the tragedy than what he had to say before.
Anything he wrote either before or after would have been influenced by the material conditions of his life.

bartleby

Uh, When I said "latter" I meant "former"

Maz

bartleby wrote: "Even so I'd be more interested in what he had to say in the years after the tragedy than what he had to say before.

uh, why? Althusser's most important and groundbreaking works were written before the murder. 'contradiction and overdeterminion' has a million times more relevance to our struggle today than does his autobiography. Aspects of althusser's 'practical' life are potentially interesting for us...like how he (oddly it seems for me at least) was a member of the PCF while producing his best work - but his personal life doesn't interest me other than that.

repeater

A strongly agree with "commentary". Though I, for one, do see the text as his action.

Regarding Bartelby's desire to know how the death of Helene affected Althusser, you can read about it in Althusser's autobiography "The Future Lasts Forever".

Maz:

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss his later works, certainly not on the basis of their theoretical impact. I haven't read any of them yet (though I've read about them), but it seems like they've had some influence on people such as Badiou, Foucault and Butler. At least "aleatory materialism" and "philosophy of the encounter" sound pretty interesting, reasons on their own to read some of those later works. But I think it could also be rewarding to try and fit the puzzle together, there certainly is a difference between his works in the 1960's and the post '78 stuff.

nick

Bartleby's remark: "Anything he wrote either before or after would have been influenced by the material conditions of his life."

This restates a core assumption/gospel of identity politics: i.e. that anyone's ideas are fundamentally expressions of personal experience, and that scientific analysis of objective conditions is an illusion.

Like "commentary" I don't want to "beat up on Bart" -- but I do think Bart's posts on this thread are deeply informed (both philosophically and politically) with the subjective idealism and all kinds of casually asserted verdicts of identity politics -- which (imho) need to be excavated, understood and refuted.

And it stands out (as others have pointed out before me) that in Barts whole discussion of crime, rape, murder etc. that the system and the revolution are simply missing. Without this being said explicitly -- these things are treated as complex relations "between communities" (or between people of various "class and gender" classifications) -- as if rape is just an extreme expression of "how men are." And, as already mentioned, the way of approaching writings and thoughts is to assume that they are (in a way that is rather extreme in its mechanical linearity) merely expressions of individual conditions of life (including the various things that make up "identity" and "community" etc.)

Let's just dig into Bart's assertion:

Is Althusser's philosophy essentially an expression of the "material conditions of his life"?

No.

Of course, individual writings are marked in many ways by the process by which any specific individual developed. But it is (as I said) extremely (EXTREMELY!) linear to reduce someones writings (especially when they are actually theoretical, and analytical) to expressions of an individual life. Althusser is digging into the work of a century of communists, grappling with some long standing issues, facing (polemically) other political forces of his time.

And if it isn't clear why this is something other than an expression of his personal life (!), then we should dig into it.

Further: I agree with Maz that one aspect of Althusser's life that is revealing is that he never broke (politically) with the utterly reactionary French Communist Party.

Unlike Maz, I don't think it is mainly "odd" -- but rather, I think it is REVEALING of where Althusser was at, where he had arrived, and where he had not really (deeply) broken with serious errors of the existing communist movement of his time. (It is said he had gotten a chance to interview Mao, and decided not to go through with it because he was afraid of the implications it would have on his reelations with the PCF. Think of what it might have meant to have a philosopher like Althusser dig into key issues with Mao! If the story is true, what a loss! And what a sad comment on Althusser's limitations.)

Anyway, I don't think his membership in the PCF is the last word we need to hear/speak on the degree of althusser's break with revisionism -- but it does give us a clue that we need to dig in deeper.

And I think when we examine what Avakian's "epistemological rupture" with previous communist thinking is -- including as it does a real break with "inevitabilism" -- I think we will find that there are significant parts of Althusser's defense of materialism that Avakian is bringing into question.

Althusser was upholding marxism-leninism against the Frankfurt School theorizing that elevated the semi-hegelian "early Marx" over the later, truly-Marxist Marx. And that was an important contribution and an important struggle in the 1960s when such "New Left" thinking was distancing itself from revolutionary Marxism, dialectical materialism etc. Althusser has an approach of "overdetermination" that attempted to make its own challenge to mechanical and linear thinking within marxism.

But without pretending to have this worked out, I think Avakians approach of "synthesis" (contrasted to Althusser's notion of "problematic") and Avakian's approach to the dynamic relations between base/superstructure (both the dependence of opposites and their relative independence) -- all pose a serious challenge to Althusser's work.

JC

Well I was going to part this entry but some recent coments are kind of interesting.

In regards to interpersonal/subjective politics, I have no problem with it. The problem with Bart here is that he is moralizing these issues. I don't have any control over what Marty H or Althusser do in their personal life, but I myself can choose to not replicate it. I also don't think rejecting identity politics means scurrying back to the false realm of objectivity. It misses the point that the post-marxists/structuralists made, that is that there is a reciprocity of the universal and particular that is contingent and embedded within power(irriducable)as such. Anyone who has read Being and Time will know that Heidegger completely demystifies the bases for a 'semblence/reality' construct. It's basically based on the Cartesian first principle of "absolute self-certainty" which is based on a complete unclarification of the question of being. It leans on the most crude, subjectively narcisistic conception of an 'I' without a 'world'.

As far as Althusser goes, what he did was make the point that you can't reduce things exclusively to the economy or a superstructure in general. His only problem was that he still maintained a primary emphasis on these things where people like Mouffe and Laclau pushed subjectivity to it conclusion. I believe the early Marx(1844 manuscripts dude)was at his best a structuralist in that sense, but he was unfortunately a structuralist. I believe in this period he wrote an essay on bonapartism which gave the state a heavy level of respect(though not at the same level of the anarchists) who took the bonapartist critique to logical conclusions. He seemed to be less rigid and academic(I here he was something of an egoist) Althusser as far as I'm concerned whether he wanted to or not helped undue the structuralist conception of the world.

Bartelby

I'll be honest, for me this discussion wasn't about Althusser. I'm aware of some of his history and his association with the French Communist Party, which is the main reason I take him less seriously. I've read some of his essays. I've heard the rumors about the revelations that preceded the tragedy of his killing his wife. All that was tangetial to what I was talking about.
His autobiography sounds interesting. However, I have a large stack of books to get to and haven't gotten to the point in the political work I do where I am asking questions to which he is relevant.

In NJ the major left organizations in urban Essex county are aligned closely with the democratic party. One in particular has a member in my buidling. Their leadership model is overtly a cult of personality so much so that the name of the leader is interchangable with the organization when in conversation with this person. She and I have spoken, in particular about C.R.A.C.K. She held that in fact there were "crack babies" and that as a schoolteacher she could identify a time when such children entered elementary school. To me this would be an example where personal experience has led someone to the wrong conlcusion. We never did though get around to the discussion of the work of Althusser. There was a point at which I thought I could have worked in a bit about Heidegger, who I am more familar with, but she was distracted with driving.

The point is that this person did not think of herself as an opposition within the left at all. If anything she is part of the left "establishment" in northern NJ. Yet she bought into ideas propogated in the media about "crack babies" and she is not alone in that.
I may have gotten a little sidetracked and I tend to cough and sputter a bit before getting to the point.

nick

bart writes: "I'll be honest, for me this discussion wasn't about Althusser."

Well, i don't think it has been "about Althusser" really for anyone else.

The issue has been "how do we analyze something?"

And it comes up in a number of ways.

One more glaring example: there are people who throw see all kinds of reactionary forces (including islamic fundamentalism) as "objectively anti-imperialist" -- making analysis on very superficial bases (essentially looking no further than "who opposes the U.S. in some way or other?"), and not really looking below the surface (the class character and objective contradictons at play) or into the future (what relationship to they, their ideology and programs play in the struggle for a communist society, and in the possible united fronts for carrying out revolution?)

Relativism, subjective idealism, stopping at perception, etc. seem to be themes in the way this thread has developed and for good reason. They have HUGE influence in how people think and act -- and are rather deadly for any hopes of real change.

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