Editors' Introduction

Volume 29  Issue 3  July 2017

We open this issue of Rethinking Marxism with a contribution focused on the concepts of alienation and ideology, both sources of contention and debate for more than a century, from which different traditions of Marxism have sprung.

In “Alienation Theory and Ideology in Dialogue,” Nara Roberta Silva analyzes the connections as well as the distinction between these two concepts. While clearing out what she deems “confusion,” the author also attempts to demonstrate through a detailed analysis of the concept of labor that, contrary to what Althusser and others argued, there is no rupture in the work of Marx. For Silva, alienation and ideology are part of the same theoretical system built on Marx's particular understanding of labor. Alienation is both an objective and subjective condition and thus is related to consciousness, as is ideology; both are usually unconscious states of mind and affect all collective practices that shape society. While in certain conditions alienation and ideology are congruent and feed one another, in other conditions they diverge, and an emancipatory ideology can reveal what alienation veils and hinders. Silva concludes that the analysis offered in this essay can also be the basis of an understanding of a revolutionary Marxist humanism in which “human being” is understood not as an autonomous abstraction but as a historical creation.

One ironic and hard fact veiled by the ideology of the “world's most advanced country” is the dismal state of childcare that this country provides for its children. The next contribution to this volume provides a theoretical understanding of childcare under capitalism, with particular reference to the United States.

“Political Economy and Childcare: A Levels-of-Analysis Approach,” by Rob Albritton and Dennis Badeen, conceptualizes the relation between capitalism and childcare, extending the work of Kozo Uno and Thomas Sekine. Albritton and Badeen argue that we can understand childcare under contemporary capitalism in a more complex and revealing way by using what they call “a levels-of-analysis approach,” going further than the debates between critical realism and feminism and between Marxism and feminism thus far. They name three levels in this approach: The first is that of pure capitalism, based on the assumption of full commodification of all inputs, including that of labor power. Midrange theory refers to the specific phases of capitalism, the purpose of which is to mediate between pure capitalism and the analysis of concrete history. Historical analysis reveals the actual development of capitalism in a particular space and time. The authors then produce an analysis of childcare based on the criteria of commodification, profit maximization, and expanded reproduction and crisis, all of which are not the only but are among the most important criteria in Marx's analysis of capitalism. Among other things, they show in their analysis the damaging impact of capitalism on childcare in the United States, and while they argue that capitalism cannot be taken as the sole cause of the shameful state of childcare in the world's most advanced country, it is for them the most important cause.

Niccolò Machiavelli is one of the most controversial figures in the history of Western political philosophy, often presented as a thinker contrary to the ideals of liberalism. The next essay challenges this view.

In the Remarx piece entitled “Who Are the True Machiavellians? Althusser and Merleau-Ponty Reading The Prince,” Larry Alan Busk and Elizabeth Portella take on the liberal critique of Machiavelli. Starting with the general recognition that Machiavelli represents a dissonance in the history of Western political philosophy, the authors draw from the works of Althusser and Merleau-Ponty, arguing that the liberal disavowal of Machiavelli is itself a Machiavellian move. They found their argument on the distinction between the notions of form as “hegemonic work” and “content” as discourse. For the authors, while the liberal tradition is not Machiavellian in content, it is in form. They refer to the historical example of the Prussian ruler Frederick II who, despite having written a political tract entitled Anti-Machiavel, ended up being an arch-Machiavellian in his consolidation of power. The authors conclude that The Prince impels us to look at the question of humanism by allowing conception of the bourgeois state as the “crystallization of liberal theory's hegemonic work.” Machiavelli was aware, they claim, that coercion is a constitutive part of any state, and hence he talks the language of conflict and struggle between classes. The ideology of liberalism veils class struggle, and to the extent it disavows Machiavelli, who bases his work on conflict, it thus engages in a Machiavellian maneuver.

It is exactly such Machiavellian maneuvers that states systematically use in their manipulation of remembrance—significantly, where it concerns national histories. The artwork in this issue deals with remembrance, violence, and its context.

The Ukrainian artist Nikita Kadan in his “Excerpts from The Chronicle” presents us with a series of haunting images of terror from World War II. We see the Jewish victims of a pogrom perpetrated by Ukrainian troops serving under the Nazis in Lvov, the Polish and Ukrainian victims of the massacre in Volynia, the victims of the Nazis, and the prisoners who were tortured and executed by the NKVD (People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs). The artist's method of manipulation involves removing crucial details from the images, whereby the perpetrator or the victim—and sometimes, the perpetrator and the victim—appear as bodies in space, increasing the impact of the terror inflicted and exacerbating the horror one feels. We don't see the rope, but we do understand that these bodies are hanged. We don't see the stick or the stone, but we do realize this person is in the act of committing violence. The chosen method of manipulation, by the artist's admission, also adds to a certain ambiguity in our perception. This is Kadan's way of reminding us that memory, too, has a context and that, in abstraction, this context can be appropriated in different ways for different purposes.

Also striking is that, although these pictures are from photographs of waves of terror from the 1940s and can be considered by some as belonging to a past never to be repeated, they do have strong contemporary resonance. Ethnic and racial hatred are alive and well in diverse forms; lynch mobs in their contemporary forms exist in different regions, be they in Turkey or India. It is an ironic coincidence that, as this editors' introduction is being written, the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, is reeling from a terror attack by a white nationalist, who drove his car into a crowd, killing one person and wounding many. The crowd had gathered to protest a march, the previous day, by a white-supremacist neo-Nazi group walking through the campus of the University of Virginia.

By shaping just as much as reflecting public moods and memory, film, without a doubt, is one of the important cultural forms. The first book symposium in this issue discusses this theme in relation to a particular historical era: that of the New Deal in the United States.

In their contribution entitled “Anxiety and Amnesia in the New Deal's Social Imaginary: Reading Cassano's A New Kind of Public,” Karen A. J. Miller and Kellie D. Hay commend Graham Cassano's use of a plurality of theoretical perspectives to deliver what they call a “mosaic of analysis,” arguing at the same time that the author's impressive work can benefit from further historical contextualization. Miller and Hay recognize Cassano's ability to reveal complex constructions of race, gender, and class through his ambitious survey of New Deal cinema as he studies the transformation of the dominant narrative from that of Popular Front ideology to being patriarchal, white supremacist, and imperialist. The commentators are especially impressed by Cassano's ability to draw from a variety of thinkers—ranging from Marx to Gramsci, Fanon, Mauss, Veblen, Bourdieu, and Williams—without rendering this method as a competition between theorists. They question, however, Cassano's silence on the important question of the criteria by which he chose the particular films analyzed as well as the limits of the microlevel analysis of social transformation he sets out to study in this work. While they agree that the transformation of American values to those of radical traditionalism and the garrison state during the early period of the cold war can be explained, to a degree, by organized labor's decision to enter into a partnership with state and capital, for Miller and Hay there are other factors that can be found in the much broader social reorientation brought about by World War II. The authors end by stating that, while Cassano's analysis does not substantiate the complexity of this picture, it does provide us with a tool for how such an exploration can be done, by focusing on commercial art as a lens through which cultural change can be studied.

The second review of the book changes the focus of the commentary to the important question of interpellation. In his review, “A New Kind of Class Situation,” Richard McIntyre argues that a core aim of Cassano's work is to put Althusser's concept of interpellation to work in understanding the relationship between audiences and the films of the New Deal. So, for McIntyre, the book is about the construction of meaning when filmmakers, as commercial artists, “speak to” the working class, and the latter responds. In this pursuit, McIntyre claims, Cassano tries to understand how films “generalized the social trauma of the Great Depression” through the creation of “class experience.” McIntyre finds more strength in those chapters that deal with bodies of work rather than individual works, and he praises especially the chapter that focuses on the cinema of John Ford and in particular Cassano's analysis of Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. While Cassano reads the film as a documentation of the mass experience of dispossession, McIntyre takes issue with Cassano's interpretation of the absence of blacks in the film as an expansion of the boundaries of whiteness. While McIntyre commends the subtle readings of the different films offered by Cassano, which show how New Deal cinema interpellated directors and working-class audiences to become aware of the distinct class situation that characterized the 1930s and 1940s, what he finds limited in this work is an investigation of how audiences reacted to these films, what they “did” with them, and how these reactions in turn affected the work of the directors.

In his response, “The Scientific Object of A New Kind of Public: Reflections on Theory and Method,” Graham Cassano starts with the question that McIntyre raises, arguing that films do have intentions but that these intentions are “conscious and unconscious significations generated by the film's producers … and by the film's imagined audience.” He outlines that his method is not about deciphering audience reaction or explaining historical changes, but is rather to observe the impressions these events leave upon an artifact. Cassano states that the idea of “the audience” is in itself problematic as, depending on their social backgrounds, audience members will very likely experience a film in different ways. The audience thus only exists as an abstraction for Cassano.

As for the question of historical contextualization raised by Miller and Hay, Cassano argues that he does not want to incorporate history as a single and causal determinant. He accepts that history leaves its imprint on the artifact, but neither that impression nor history is an unambiguous force. It is the historian who assembles the material in the archive into a narrative. For Cassano, all historical knowledge is by definition perspectival, giving voice to some while silencing others. He argues that his book incorporates the narratives of labor, feminist, and critical race historians. He ends his response by addressing the question raised by Miller and Hay, stating that he chose films on the basis of their portraying a sense of community and of class struggle between communities; on the basis of there being evidence of reaction to historical transformations and social movements; and on the basis of presenting some aspect of social inequality. As with any cultural study, he accepts that the choice of his artifact and its social context inherently involves selection, discrimination, and thus limitation. Borrowing from Georg Simmel, he ends with the argument that relativity is the mode in which representations become truth. But this does not diminish truth. For Simmel, truth is not valid despite its relativity but rather precisely because of it.

At the heart of the core American values that figure in Cassano's book is also the image of the American family farm—an image that has a very powerful hold on the American psyche. The second book symposium we feature in this issue mounts a varied challenge to this image.

In the first set of comments, “Hybrid Class Dynamics, Gender, and the Economics of the Household: A Review of Class, Gender, and the American Family Farm in the 20th Century,” Suzanne Bergeron praises Elizabeth Ramey's ability to explain an important aspect of American economic history by conceptualizing the family farm as a hybrid class form in which the farmers engage in self-exploitation and feudal exploitation of women and children, as well as in capitalist exploitation of wage labor employed during peak times of the crop cycle. Bergeron argues that in this way Ramey produces a powerful alternative to the neoclassical harmonious family and to some feminist accounts of agrarian development that neglect class, thus calling into question romanticized notions of the family farm, a potent symbol of American culture, by drawing from a rich database. Bergeron does note some points missing in the analysis, such as discussions of the extended family, of the impact of increased use of technology in the household, and of communal class processes in the household/enterprise, which she thinks would add to this already rich analysis.

Carole Biewener, too, in “Reflections on Class, Gender, and the American Family Farm in the 20th Century,” lauds Ramey for providing a complex analysis of the interactions of class and gender relations on family farms by exposing the hybrid-class character of these units. Ramey, argues Biewener, also produces a sophisticated analysis of the contradictory nature of agricultural development, whereby innovating family farms cannibalized other farms, and of the encroachment of agribusiness, whereby family farms bought increasing numbers of inputs from capitalist corporations, which intensified self-exploitation within family farms. Biewener argues that Ramey's most significant finding is that most U.S. farming since 1930—partly due to the hybrid nature of the family farm, which intensified self- and feudal exploitation in the face of significant industrialization—has remained mostly noncapitalist. This analysis, according to Biewener, helps demystify the idealized family farm as “one of the most exploitative institutions in the U.S. economy,” thus inviting those perspectives with a view to capitalist agribusiness to further reflection. Biewener, like Bergeron, ends with a call for further conceptualization of nonexploitative farming alternatives.

Complementing the first two contributions from a different angle, William Waller's “Reflections on Class, Gender, and the American Family Farm in the 20th Century from an Original Institutionalist Perspective” offers a commentary focused on themes of convergence between the overdeterminist Marxist class analysis that prevails in Ramey's book and the original institutionalist perspective (different from new institutionalism). Noting that the original institutionalist perspective's rejection of methodological individualism and its highlighting of the importance of cultural evolution in the formation of institutions render this perspective kindred to Marxism, Waller discusses the themes of land tenure, family structure, and emulation on the family farm—drawing from the work of Veblen—as well as the impact of government programs in Ramey's analysis. He concludes that the commonality of these themes, however, should be taken more in the spirit of a complementarity of the analyses offered by the respective perspectives rather than one of convergence.

In her response, “Class, Gender, Politics, and the American Family Farm Today,” Ramey argues that it is important to understand if her analysis of the twentieth century still holds. An answer to this question, she argues, requires a better empirical base from which to work, and she points to, among other difficulties, the lack of information about the daily work of farmers and their families and nonfamily labor, thus pointing to the necessity of patched information on which to build analyses. Ramey also notes that women's work on farms, while more visible than it used to be, is still less visible when compared to that of men, which is an additional and defining problem when doing work on gender dynamics. She then discusses the possible interpretations of the increase in the numbers of female farm operators, such as their higher life expectancy and the growth of micro farms. She calls for nuanced studies of the alternative food movement and family farms—without either idealizing the latter or making a simplistic connection between the two—by emphasizing the class and gender dynamics of family farms and by drawing our attention to research that correlates the growth of local food production with a feminized labor force. She believes that ethical considerations of food production and consumption cannot be complete unless we also give consideration to activities that go beyond the farm, such as meal planning, cooking from scratch, processing fresh food, and the like, which, given the still unequal division of labor and power relations within the household, can increase demands on women's labor time. An ethical food movement will be deserving of that adjective to the extent that it is able to produce a complex analysis capable of facing these difficult questions.

India's economic development in the aftermath of its New Economic Policy has been a cause for celebration by international institutions of the establishment. But the book reviewed by Amit Basole paints a different picture. Basole, in his review of India's New Economic Policy: A Critical Analysis, edited by Waquar Ahmed, Amitabh Kundu, and Richard Peet, praises the collection for its political-economy approach and its analyses that also study the impact of the New Economic Policy on the lives of ordinary people—a gap that he thinks exists in the literature. He notes that themes emerging from several studies in the collection draw the picture of an urbanization that has been performed at the expense of smaller cities and towns, with emphasis on the creation of “world-class” cities rather than cities that are inclusive and livable; the governance of cities, which were deprived of public funds and had to increasingly rely on private-public partnerships, moved away from elected local municipal bodies to unelected technocratic agencies, all of which contributed to a very distorted mode of development. Basole argues that, because the contributions are very diverse, the volume does not cohere very well; however, this still constitutes a much-needed contribution to the literature, with its details on policies, institutions, and people's struggles.

Free-market economic reforms, such as the New Economic Policy in India, are always enwrapped in a discourse of empowerment, which, despite its radical undertones, in the last few decades has been appropriated by many within the political spectrum, finding its way even into the reports of international financial institutions such as the World Bank.

In his review of L’empowerment, une pratique émancipatrice, by Marie-Hélène Bacqué and Carole Biewener, Alain Lipietz praises the effort of the authors in providing a richly textured study of the different social uses and the historical evolution of the word “empowerment,” from its radical roots in the 1960s and 1970s as the dominated took power over their lives to its liberal meaning, as social democracy combined with self-management techniques, and later to its neoliberal meaning, as the ability of individuals to insert themselves into the market. In this study, Lipietz also notes the cognizance of the authors concerning the inherent difficulties and sometimes impossibilities of translating meaning, where words do not have their counterpart in the target language, which has to do with the different historical traditions from which concepts emerge. He concludes with the observation that the word émancipacion in its Latin roots means exactly the liberation of something or someone from its holder—thus, a meaning very close to empowerment.

Yet again, we are going through a historical conjuncture in which terms such as exploitation, discrimination, empowerment, class struggle, and justice, which are at the core of Left political discourse, are being appropriated by Right discourses. Just this fact alone is enough to call attention to the importance of constant rethinking and clarification; to the significance of retheorizing.

The editorial board of Rethinking Marxism is saddened by the passing of Arif Dirlik, an eminent scholar of Marxism, and, in particular, Chinese Marxism, whose innovative thinking has contributed enormously to the flourishing of the field. His article, “Globalization As the End and the Beginning of History: The Contradictory Implications of a New Paradigm,” was the inaugural piece for the section Globalization Under Interrogation of our journal. His endless energy and giving spirit will, no doubt, be felt deeply among generations of his students and fellow thinkers.

—The Editors

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