Volume 31  Issue 1  January 2019

Rethinking Marxism: Valences of Hope in Otherworldly Times

Vincent Lyon-Callo, Yahya M. Madra, Maliha Safri, Chizu Sato & Boone W. Shear

In the way we have organized this journal, there has been a sustained commitment to experimentation, allowing each editorship to reconfigure the journal in new ways. In its very first days, prior to our moving to the first formal publisher, Guilford, a production team did all the work gratis (except actually printing the journal, which was done by a printing co-op). In the journal’s first decades, Jack Amariglio (from 1988–97) and then later David Ruccio (from 1998–2009, including a brief first year as coeditor with Stephen Cullenberg) took on chief-editor roles, each performing monumental amounts of unpaid labor. They negotiated our move to Routledge/Taylor & Francis as publisher, nurtured the editorial board of Rethinking Marxism to incorporate more members, and developed and oversaw paid staff positions of managing editor, copy editor, and proofreader. When S. Charusheela took over as chief editor in 2010, she constructed a more team-like approach and incorporated three associate editors (with Joe Childers, Maliha Safri, and Yahya M. Madra). When Marcus E. Green and Serap A. Kayatekin stepped in most recently (2014–18), they did so as coeditors, with Maliha Safri and Stephen Healy as associate editors.

We continue this tradition with another experimental arrangement. Vincent Lyon-Callo and Yahya M. Madra start as coeditors, with Maliha Safri, Chizu Sato, and Boone Shear as associate editors. Our aim, however, is not to construct a strict hierarchy but rather to create a mutually constitutive assemblage from which we might learn from each other and cultivate a shared leadership and investment in the journal’s production. Our model intends to provide opportunities for each participant to take on various jobs on a rotational basis so that all of us will have the chance to develop our abilities in the full array of editorial tasks required to produce the journal. The team also includes managing editor Ceren Özselçuk and production editor Jared Randall, who are teaching us how to cook the ingredients while continuing on with their own work of improving the contributions by authors and artists, formatting each issue, interfacing with the publisher, and proverbially dotting i’s and crossing t’s. As we are taking on the editorial responsibility and surveying the field of academic publishing, we are realizing how important yet how rare it is to have in-house copyediting and proofreading.

Intellectually, each of us contributes different aspects to the character of the team. At Western Michigan University, Vin Lyon-Callo has a research agenda in anthropology, neoliberal governmentality, and homelessness. His monograph Inequality, Poverty, and Neoliberal Governance: Activist Ethnography in the Homeless Sheltering Industry (Lyon-Callo 2004) was a subject of exchange in volume 24, number 2. Based at Drew University, Yahya M. Madra works at the intersection between Marxian political economy and Lacanian psychoanalysis with his longtime collaborator, Ceren Özselçuk, and has written extensively (together with Fikret Adaman) on the history of neoliberal thought in the discipline of economics. Vin and Yahya previously collaborated closely in organizing the last three Rethinking Marxism international conferences (2006, 2009, and 2013). Also teaching at Drew University, Maliha Safri researches and works with community-based organizations in immigrant labor and with ethical economies of different kinds. Maliha has also contributed to the production of the journal over the years in various capacities, including a symposium titled “Worker Cooperatives: A Class Analysis” in volume 23, number 3. Moving forward, Maliha will also coedit (with Anup Dhar and Philip Kozel) the Remarx section of the journal. A research faculty member at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Chizu Sato’s research interests lie in transnational feminist studies, international development studies, and political ecology. Over the years, Chizu has edited numerous book symposia for the journal. Her most recent essay, “Toward Transnational Feminist Literacy Practices,” appeared as a part of a symposium in memory of Julie Graham in volume 26, number 1. And finally, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the birthplace of the journal and the home of RM’s famed international conferences, Boone W. Shear researches social and economic restructuring at the institutional and community levels and works with activist networks and groups organizing around ethical economies of different kinds. Most recently, Boone edited an extensive symposium on “Crafting Communism” in volume 27, number 3. Boone and Vin continue a research collaboration that combines community-based ethnography, engaged pedagogy, and ontological politics.


The editorial team shares a connection to a particular kind of Marxist school coming out of the University of Massachusetts Amherst; each team member is also a longstanding member of the Association for Economic and Social Analysis (AESA), as well as a member of the editorial board of RM. We do bring our different interests but work well as a team across those differences. We come together out of diverse disciplines, from different states and countries, and we return to that very first call laid out in the very first issue of RM: “To serve as a place where all people interested in Marxian thought can debate, extend, and elaborate similarities and differences, the preconditions and consequences, of the many developing strands of contemporary Marxism” (“In This Inaugural Issue,” vol.1, no. 1, 8).

The central impetus behind this project formed around the work of Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff (1987, 20022006, 2012) and that of their many collaborators working across a number of social-theory disciplines (“a journal of economics, culture & society”). Resnick and Wolff’s work is a Marxian critique of political economy that foregrounds class and overdetermination; it is a political economy of surplus value and an epistemological critique of essentialisms in social theory. Resnick and Wolff’s collaborators are too numerous to be listed here, but a prehistory of Rethinking Marxism can be found on the RM website under the heading “AESA Discussion Papers (1983–1991).”1 Or interested readers may consult Knowledge, Class, and Economics: Marxism without Guarantees, the festschrift edited by Theodore Burczak, Robert Garnett, and Richard McIntyre (2018), in order to gain a sense of the immense impact that Resnick and Wolff’s collaboration had on what the editors of this essential volume call the “Amherst School.”

But we must mention here two additional seminal texts, at least to recall the two pathways opened up by Resnick and Wolff’s initial intervention. First is the feminist critique of political economy, as articulated in J. K. Gibson-Graham’s (2006 [1996]) The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It), representing the economy as a heterogeneous field. Then there is David F. Ruccio and Jack Amariglio’s (2016 [2003]) Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics, which surveys the entire discipline as an episteme split from within. These two volumes extended the influence of the Amherst School to the fields of economic geography and economic methodology, respectively, creating an expanded field of investigation that spans multiple disciplines yet is structured around a central theoretical problematic that foregrounds both knowledge production and economic processes as overdetermined by their constitutive outsides.

Questions of ideology, reproduction, value theory, and poststructuralism in Marxism became the stuff of exciting issues and symposia—too many to mention, but interested readers may benefit from revisiting the “Marxism Now: Traditions and Difference” double issue from 1990 (vol. 3, no. 3–4). Distinctly antiessentialist Marxian ways of engaging with these questions are now systematically explored in the comprehensive Routledge Handbook of Marxian Economics edited by David M. Brennan, David Kristjanson-Gural, Catherine P. Mulder, and Erik K. Olsen (2017). We have also published in the pages of our journal a number of Keywords (e.g., “Marxism,” “Crisis,” “Strike,” “Culture”) that the reader may find useful to revisit.

To approach value through the lens of overdetermination, to us, has meant reasserting the analytical power of value theory in contemporary politics (see Bruce Roberts in vol. 1, no. 1 and John Roche in vol. 1, no. 4). It has also meant returning to praxis, in the sense that praxis has allowed many within the journal to situate Marxism pragmatically in political struggles through an analysis of class relations and subjectivities as open-ended, multiple, and mutable (see, for instance, Ken Byrne and Stephen Healy’s seminal essay on “Cooperative Subjects” in vol. 18, no. 2; see also the two-part symposium edited by Esra Erdem on J. K. Gibson-Graham’s work, “Postcapitalist Encounters,” in vol. 25, no. 4 and vol. 26, no. 1).

The writings of Althusser—not only his own and his collaborators’ key works, such as For Marx (1977) and Reading Capital (2016), or his work on reproduction and ideological interpellation but also his so-called “late” writings on aleatory materialism—have been and will continue to be discussed in these pages. Perhaps it is worth remembering the special issue edited by Antonio Callari and David Ruccio, “Rereading Althusser” (vol. 10, no. 3), along with the most recent translation by G. M. Goshgarian of Louis Althusser’s preface to Gérard Duménil’s (1978) yet to be translated Le concept de loi économique dans “Le Capital. And looking forward, already in this volume, a special issue on Althusser (edited by Banu Bargu and Robyn Marasco) is in the works.

Additionally, a strong thread on the praxis of Antonio Gramsci has been running through these pages, documented in Rethinking Gramsci, a volume edited by Marcus E. Green (2013), composed solely of articles published in the pages of this journal. This interest in Gramsci has spilled over into our Art section in a contribution by Thomas Hirschhorn on his art project/happening, “Gramsci Monument” (vol. 27, no. 2). And since the first decade of the journal, this thread has included those interrogating the relation between postcolonial studies and Marxism. See, for instance, Ajit Chaudhury’s “Rethinking Marxism in India: The Heritage We Renounce” (vol. 8, no. 3) and Kalyan K. Sanyal’s “Postmarxism and the Third World: A Critical Response to the Radical Democratic Agenda” (vol. 9, no. 1), and for more recent perspectives, see Dibyesh Anand's “China and India: Postcolonial Informal Empires in the Emerging Global Order” (vol. 24, no. 1) and the book symposium on World of the Third and Global Capitalism, by Anjan Chakrabarti, Anup Dhar, and Stephen Cullenberg (vol. 28, no. 2).

Before moving onto a brief analysis of our overdetermined conjuncture, we would like to highlight our desire to keep open the pages of Rethinking Marxism as a platform ready to “debate, extend, and elaborate similarities and differences, the preconditions and consequences of the many developing strands of contemporary Marxism.”

The Return of Geopolitics

Rethinking Marxism was launched in 1988 during a historical moment when the neoliberal counterrevolution, with Thatcher in the UK and Reagan in the United States, was in violent dominance all across the world. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the liquidation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, one of the key ideologues of neoliberalism, Francis Fukuyama (1992), announced the end not only of the Cold War but also of history. The consolidation of democratic institutions and the spread of the rule of markets, the two pillars of a new international liberal order, were presented as a teleology toward which all societies moved. The rise to prominence of a rhetoric of “humanitarian interventions” in the 1990s and the “war against terrorism” in the 2000s provided new vocabularies for the age-old imperialist interventions and expeditions that the Western powers, spearheaded by the United States, continued to enact under the overarching institutional-ideological configuration called “globalization.” First, Clintonian neoliberalism pushed for financial and trade liberalization and conducted military interventions under the cover of a pseudo-universalist “humanitarianism.” Later, the neoconservative agenda of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld projected the United States as an empire that strikes back in asserting its control over the Middle Eastern basin of fossil fuel. While these rhetorics are twins of a kind, they relied on different ideological motors. In contrast to the cosmopolitan universalism of the Clintonian vision of corporate sovereignty, the neoconservative “weapondollar, petrodollar” complex preferred to produce its global sovereignty around a central imaginary of antagonism between Western Civilization and various Eastern Barbarisms (e.g., Russian Oligarchy, Arab Tribalism, Iranian Theocracy, and Asiatic Despotism).

Needless to say, globalization cannot be reduced to its capitalist variations. In the post–Cold War era, alter-globalizations began to multiply. World Social Forums of the 2000s embedded the problems of ecological justice and social justice into each other and collectively declared that “Another World Is Possible.” Right after the 2008 crisis, the global collapse of the circuits of capital opened a fleeting conjuncture in which a series of insurrections traced a fault line that traversed the globe, from Tahrir to Madrid, from Zuccotti Park to Gezi Park, from Wisconsin to Hong Kong. Arguably, this global insurrection against capitalist triumphalism and its corporate authoritarianism was the peak moment of the alter-globalization movement that had been building up its political capacities of reproduction, collaboration, and aggregation all through the previous two decades. In a manner, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s vision of the Multitude (2004) defending the Commonwealth (2009) against its appropriation by the Empire (2001) seemed to be an accurate depiction of the state of the world.

The response of corporate sovereignty all across the world against the crumbling of neoliberal common sense and this decisively internationalist sequence of insurrections has been to turn to different forms of corporate nationalism. If anything, Donald J. Trump is a latecomer to the game. China’s neomercantilist form of state capitalism demonstrated that South Korea’s “miracle” could be replicated, with the necessary modifications, at a much larger scale. Russia, after the interregnum years of Yeltsin and under Putin’s crafty leadership, has turned into a “sovereign democracy” where the party-state and the capitalist oligarchy, inextricably integrated, provide a template for all the right-wing populist regimes in subsequent decades to come. Indeed, in the aftermath of 2008, as the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) increasingly bared naked the provincialism of the Washington Consensus, right-wing populisms articulating one or another version of economic nationalism began to spread like wildfires: Modi in India, Orban in Hungary, Erdoğan in Turkey, the Brexit debacle in the UK, the rise of anti-immigrant, right-wing nationalism in Europe, and most recently, the degeneration and defeat of left populisms in Latin America.

One interesting attribute of all these predominantly right-wing populisms (the Five Star Movement in Italy is an interesting exception that we will discuss below) is their selective appropriation of leftist criticisms of neoliberal globalism and their defense of particular redistributive policy prescriptions (e.g., protectionism, citizens’ income, universal health care) from within an anti-immigrant and racist rhetoric. Despite the global ascendance of this new “international” of nationalist populisms and the radical anti-globalization rhetoric of its various leaders, there is very little change at the level of social relations of production and reproduction. Even with a tariff war that seems to be ratcheting up, the volume of trade between the United States and China continues to increase; although central banks all around the world are more and more compelled to revert to unorthodox policies, financialization continues full steam; and despite the rhetoric of patriotism, nation-states continue to deepen the economization drive of biopolitical dispositifs in areas of education, health care, municipal services, and labor-market policies.

In other words, the oppositional attitude of these right-wing populisms has a counterfeit quality: their central orientation is reactionary. Reactionary in the sense that they want to solve the problems caused by the capitalist class structures without effecting a fundamental transformation in the relations of production. In many cases, these economic nationalisms consolidate their base among increasingly precarious sectors of the working classes through the reinvigoration of a naked white supremacy, providing what W. E. B. Du Bois (2013) describes as a “psychological wage” for white social identities, or by inserting a wedge between the questions of environmental and class justice—as if the two can be separated in any meaningful manner. In others, as in the case of the Five Star Movement in Italy, the environmental and social justice concerns are joined together in an anti-immigration platform. Charismatic leaders, using obscenely racist, jingoistic, and religious rhetorics, provoke socioeconomic anxieties in order to forge friend-enemy lines across carefully gerrymandered political maps.

Casting an inescapable pall over the global geopolitical landscape and cultural struggles is the immediacy of ecological catastrophe. In some ways, the current ecological crisis reads as an old and predictable Marxist storyline. Capital accumulation depends on a series of thefts—the appropriation of value through exploitation, the incorporation of uncompensated household labor, and other gendered forms of unrecognized social reproduction into capitalist class processes, and the fundamental (and continuing) theft of land and labor through “accumulation by dispossession.” [See David Harvey’s (2003The New Imperialism and also Lorenzo Veracini in this issue.] And the tendency of capital to undermine its own conditions of possibility—what James O’Connor (1988) names as capitalism’s second contradiction—can help to explain both ecological degradation and the acceleration of new enclosures through land-grabs, privatizations, and colonizations in ongoing efforts to transform social and ecological relations into commodities. What is new, perhaps, is that at the macro level of the biosphere the conditions of production are becoming so exhausted, fouled, and precarious—for example, species loss, unpredictable growing seasons, extreme weather events, poisoning of waters, depletion of nutrients, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, and rising temperatures—that it is increasingly difficult to maintain the fictive separation of humanity from nature, the ontological lynchpin of capitalist modernity. We are thrust into the Anthropocene (or Capitalocene, following Moore 2016).

Needless to say, this new conjuncture, with the return of the nation-state and the immediacy of ecological catastrophe, poses new challenges for Marxian theory. The former dimension of our conjuncture compels Marxists to return once more to the question of the state and perhaps acknowledge that state logic cannot simply be deduced from the logic of the circuits of capital and commodity abstraction (see Emadian in this issue). Confronting this question head on, David Harvey (2017) in his recent book Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason proposes to think in terms of multiple and distinctive regional value regimes as opposed to a singular and universal value regime that operates (without any discontinuities) across a homogeneous world market. Even though Marx’s working assumption across the three volumes of Capital is (for the most part) perfect competition, he does provide a number of very useful theoretical constructs that can allow us to think in terms of “value regimes.” In addition to variations in the value of labor power, not only across but also within countries (segmented along internal borders organized around race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality), Marx’s treatment of the mechanics of the redistribution of surplus value across different capitalist firms within an industry, across different departments, or across different national capitals in volume 3 of Capital provides a powerful tool for rethinking international political economy through the lenses of value theory. Nonetheless, while these conceptual extensions may enable Marxists to work around or to incorporate the reality of the nation-state into their analyses in a systematic manner, they do not obviate the necessity to rigorously rethink the questions of state and nationalism in relation to Marxism without trying to deduce their logic from the logic of capital. [See the special issue on “Marxism and Nationalism” in vol. 24, no. 1 for various efforts in this direction.]

In a similar vein, the impending ecological catastrophe has generated a number of rival leftist projects to address the crisis. In the United States, Democratic Socialists and the left wing of the Democratic Party gravitate toward what they call the Green New Deal as a politically realistic and pragmatic (win-win) strategy, given the vested interests of capitalist and middle classes; in Europe and elsewhere, radical ecologists argue that planned degrowth is the only viable solution given the global scale of climate change; and yet others argue that a Marxist position that prioritizes class justice must bite the bullet and embrace nuclear energy. Where do Marxists stand here? For a long while now we have been aware that it is quite possible for capitalist class relations to continue to thrive under “green” environmental regimes (see Blair Sandler’s “Grow or Die: Marxist Theories of Capitalism and the Environment” in vol. 7, no. 2). Yet not only across social formations but also within any given social formations multiple overlapping and contradicting environmental regimes can be in place—hence, the green enclaves side by side with ecological wastelands (Holleman 2018). Moreover, the sheer scale of climate change may necessitate the implementation of a global environmental regime as a concerted effort of all nations. How can Marxism contribute to humanity’s collective efforts to respond to climate change?

Insistence of Subjectivity

The return of geopolitics, the rise of nationalism, the insistence of populist reason, and the urgencies as well as the shifting ontological ground of the Anthropocene inevitably bring us to the age-old question of subjectivity (see the symposium on “Subjects of Economy” in vol. 18, no. 2). Perhaps one of the clearest formulations of the question of subjectivity is found in Gilles Deleuze’s (1988, 9–10) summary of the theoretical problematic that structures Benedict de Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise: “Why are the people so deeply irrational? Why are they proud of their own enslavement? Why do they fight ‘for’ their bondage as if it were their freedom? Why is it so difficult not only to win but to bear freedom? Why does a religion that invokes love and joy inspire war, intolerance, hatred, malevolence, and remorse?” Spinoza’s text, written in 1670, was a revolutionary text that demonstrates “philosophy’s function as a radical enterprise of demystification” (10).

However, if there is one fundamental insight of Freudian psychoanalysis that we may wish to retain, it is the surprising resilience of affective investments in the face of efforts of demystification through rational explanations. Subjectivity insists precisely because this clinical insight carries over into the social field, bathing all political-economic projects with the cultural and the libidinal (Stavrakakis 1999, McGowan 2016). All the different ideologies of capitalism we have described above operate at the level of subjectivity: the impossible promise of an inclusive multiculturalism under neoliberal capitalism, the unvarnished colonial dreams of the neoconservative rejoinder, and enraged, resentment-fueled right-wing populisms have each depended on the reshaping of cultural beliefs and practices, the production of new pleasures and distinctions, and the realignment of social identifications and antagonisms as part of the forces of production—with the proviso that the latter is understood metaphorically. They are projects that structure violence and oppression while cultivating participation in and seeking consent to capital accumulation.

Consider, for instance, the widespread resistance to coming to terms with climate change. This collective disavowal of climate change demonstrates the split structure of both acknowledging and denying—a mode of keeping the unbearable truth of climate change at bay, and one that is somewhat more insidious than the mode of splitting implied by the very formal structure of Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism: “Sie wissen das nicht, aber sie tun es” (Marx and Engels 1968, 88). Or in Slavoj Žižek’s (1989, 28) formulation, in contrast to Marx’s “They do not know it, but they are doing it,” the disavowal around climate change has the quality either of a cynical denial (“They know it very well, but they are still doing it”) or of a willful ignorance (“They want to know nothing about it”). One is even tempted to argue that the question of subjectivity insists in such modalities of negation that are impervious to rational discourse. Yet that would somehow be misleading, as it is quite common that rationality itself through mechanisms of rationalization can become the modality of negation. In that regard, the widespread insistence on “green capitalism” among leftist liberals or the equally widespread belief among seculars in scientific-technological solutions to climate change, to the extent that they skirt the fundamental problem of capitalism in the name of realism, pragmatism, or exigency, functions as yet another form of disavowal. And there is one further modality that cannot be characterized as false consciousness, nor as cynical denial, but rather as a kind of libidinal and symbolic deficiency that hegemonic arrangements depend on for their coherence and durability. To reformulate once again, “They may (or may not) know it, but they cannot imagine and desire anything different.”

Since Gramsci we have been aware that hegemonic conditions are never complete or totalizing. Dominant ideologies and narratives are not evenly applied or always readily accepted by individuals and communities. Hegemony might best be understood in terms of an ongoing struggle over meanings, narratives, values, and “common sense”—in other words, an expansive understanding of the political that refuses to reduce it to the practice of politics within the delimited frame of bourgeois society but that rather casts its net wide and deep to occasion a transformation at the level of subjectivity (“forces” of production), in the very coordinates of the socio-symbolic order (relations of production). And again, at least since Lenin and Gramsci, we have been acutely aware that the political question is always one of organization (see Wainwright in this issue), whether this is the organization of the social, starting from the proletariat but in an expansive form, or through the party, or the internal organization of the party itself. On the latter question, if Gramsci’s notion of “discipline” is one important reference (see Antonini in this issue), another one is Bertolt Brecht’s notion of “learning plays” (Lehrstücke) in which actors rotate throughout the various roles (Jameson 1998). This subjectivity insists also on those questions of organization for which Marxists don’t have ready-made answers but with which they must continue to engage.

Marxism, Alternative Social Imaginaries, and Social Movements

The five of us are entering our term as editors of Rethinking Marxism in interesting times. The political-economic and cultural conditions outlined above are certainly ripe for critical analyses in the pages of the journal. Likewise, we know that the ecological state of the earth is changing in profound ways at a pace that seems to be accelerating with each new scientific report. Interconnected with those imposed conditions, of course, are the subjective and emotional experiences of being in the world today. In that light, there is much important work being done today that explores the biological and emotional impacts of systemic violence. There has of course been work within Rethinking Marxism critically exploring the impacts and tracing the intersections of these conditions, and we certainly hope to see more of such analyses in forthcoming issues of the journal. However, we also strongly desire to continue and strengthen Rethinking Marxism’s contributions toward our collective understandings of possibilities. Along with analyses of the devastating challenges outlined above, we are just as interested in scholarship that engages with the paths being imagined and enacted toward interventions, and in particular the spaces of possibility unfolding in different movements and communities throughout the world today.

One effort in this direction is clearly the work being done around class analysis of worker ownership and democratizing of the workplace (see, e.g., the symposium on worker cooperatives in vol. 23, no. 3). Worker-recovered firms and worker-owned enterprises are expanding in the North and the South. Both the theoretical work and the case-based studies in these areas help not just to break through the presumed ubiquity of capitalism and capitalist relations but also to make imaginable alternative ways of organizing and intervening. Such work is at the heart of much of our own research and political work, and we welcome further contributions in these areas.

Life and labor are much more than paid work, however, and Marxism has much more to contribute beyond a scholarship that centers on wage labor. One development we wish to continue to explore is the universal basic income—its limitations, possibilities, and contradictions (Ferguson 2015). As the perceived precarity of paid work itself comes to be understood as a rationale for organizing politically, for the right to be exploited in capitalist labor, can we as Marxists offer analyses that help imagine alternative paths, including the possibilities within our unpaid labor. Unpaid labor, from care work to reproductive work to the work of building community and emotional connections, is also a dimension we hope to see explored as the journal provides a space for collectively imagining how we live together in a less problematic manner. In this effort, we as an editorial team continue to value the contributions and interventions of art and will continue our long tradition of embracing art as a vital aspect of the journal. Likewise, we hope to engender robust discussions and debates around the possibility of different ontological understandings of and relationships between life and work. In this light, we also very much welcome an expansion of the discussions begun in our recent special issue on “Marxism and Spirituality” (vol. 28, no. 3–4).

Perhaps the most expansive project exploring economic possibility emerging within and beyond Rethinking Marxism is led by our colleagues and friends in the Community Economies Collective (CEC). In volume 6, number 2, J. K. Gibson-Graham published “Waiting for the Revolution, or How to Smash Capitalism while Working at Home in Your Spare Time,” an essay whose playful title already indicated a change in temporality that much of the CEC revolves around; the object of transformation need not be deferred but is something that can be (and is already) being constructed in the present, “here and now.” Building on the work of Gibson-Graham, the CEC explores and intends to help enact a politicized, diverse economy as a field of cultural struggle and a site of economic becoming for individuals, communities, and social-ecological relations.

The work of the CEC joins, and indeed follows, the many efforts in the world today to prefigure and organize around the cultivation of worlds not contained by the homogenizing violence of capitalist modernity (see, e.g., Escobar 2012 [1995], 2018), spaces from which people—and others—can endeavor to create the conditions from which they will be able to flourish and be-in-common, including Zapatismo, Buen Vivir, Autonomismo, the Solidarity Economy, Degrowth, efforts toward autonomy in Rojava, struggles around the commons, and so on. Importantly, we think, many of these revolutionary projects emerge, not from class struggle in the traditional sense, but from populations who have been counted as disposable by imperialist advances, erasable by settler-colonial states, and unvalued by global capital.

The proliferation of divergent world-making projects, together with the unvarnished truth of an unfolding ecological reality, brings forward tensions between universality and particularism, prompts questions about the relationships between class and its others (see Gibson-Graham, Resnick, and Wolff 2000), and invites an urgency around our continued reflection, refinement, and rethinking of theory and practice. What does Marxism have to learn from and contribute to epistemologically diverse political projects? How can Marxist scholarship work to not only assess and problematize an objectively understood present but also to open and sustain subjectively held desires for future possibilities? Can we learn how to organize around and craft a shared world across and through difference?

On a certain level, it appears that our choices are few. As obscene levels of wealth consolidate amid the existential crisis of climate change, might we be facing an immanent choice of barbarism or communism (or, from our perspective, communisms)? Might Žižek be correct when he argues in The Courage of Hopelessness (2018) that we must put aside the illusions and fantasies that the disasters coming quickly down the tracks can be prevented if only we pretend to not know what we know so that we can maintain hope—hope for timely technological innovations, for a solution from above, for building alternative economies, for a revolt from below, somewhere/somehow? Might those hopes hold us back from the ruptures that might make possible new ways of thinking and acting in response to today’s ecological, economic, and geopolitical challenges? Or is it important to remain hopeful and help to craft or illuminate emerging possibilities in the growing darkness? How then do we build, cultivate, and support existing desires for alternatives to capitalism, or even desires for communism? As an editorial team, we hope to see the journal continue to function as a space for serious Marxist scholarly engagement with and debate on such questions as what is to be done and the possibilities for doing so.


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