Editors' Introduction

Volume 31  Issue 1  January 2019

The first issue under the new editorial team takes the baton from outgoing coeditors Serap Kayatekin and Marcus Green in more than one sense of the term. It is a formidable challenge to live up to their exemplary performance. Their collaboration has enriched the journal in many ways. To begin with, they were the first coeditors of the journal—a structure we will continue to experiment with. Serap, with her background in political economy and her training at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, continued to cultivate those connections with the intellectual community (the Association of Economic and Social Analysis) that has given birth to and sustained the journal for the last three decades. Marcus, a political theorist trained at York University, was the first chief editor of the journal who did not come from the UMass Amherst lineage, and this has been instrumental in opening the journal to a wider Marxist scholarship. Under Serap and Marcus’s editorship, the journal became more interdisciplinary, more international, and more visible. Again under their editorship, the journal became a platform for a number of influential special issues (“Marxism and Spirituality” and “Marxist Perspectives on Palestine/Israel”) and symposia (“Postcapitalist Encounters,” “Post-Autonomia,” “Crafting Communism,” “Landscapes of Socialism,” “Louis Althusser: Between Past and Future,” “Stephen Resnick [1938–2013],” and most recently, “Gramsci in the Twenty-First Century”). And perhaps most importantly, under their editorship, the Art section continued to flourish, presenting the work of world-renowned artists such as Jesal Kapadia and Brian McCarthy, Nandita Raman, Thomas Hirschhorn, Chto Delat, Nikita Kadan, and Joanne Barker. And needless to mention, almost all of the material in this issue and a significant number of essays throughout the rest of this volume were either received or invited during their five-year tenure at the helm of the journal.

We begin the issue with a brief note by the new editorial team in which we introduce ourselves, acknowledge the theoretical lineages and problematics that the journal has and will continue to explore, and highlight some of the themes that we expect to explore in the coming volumes. This note provides both an account of the trajectories of capitalism through the last three decades (neoliberal and neocon counterrevolutions; the insurrection of the multitude, or the global crowd in the aftermath of the 2008 crash; and the return of the counterrevolution in the form of reactionary populisms) and an exploration of the political imaginaries of social movements that work against the grain of the processes of capitalist appropriation and dispossession.

One project that continues from the last volume is the symposium on the “unclear boundaries” of Gramsci’s thought and legacy, demonstrating its transdisciplinary nature as well as its continuing relevance for our contemporary conjuncture. In this second installment of the symposium, edited by Marcus Green, we have three essays, two of which are from members of the Association for Economic and Social Analysis (AESA).

From a fellow member of the editorial collective, Joel Wainwright’s contribution stages a timely encounter between Antonio Gramsci and Rosa Luxemburg. The entry point of their encounter is the threshold between capital and noncapital, a theme that appears in the writings of both turn-of-the-century thinkers as they try to understand the uneven development of capitalism. In Gramsci’s writings, the concrete problem being explored was the “Southern Question” and the challenge it presented for the “peasant-proletarian unity.” For Wainwright, the Southern Question was indeed a question of racialization in which, to use Gramsci’s words, the “propagandists of the bourgeoisie” produced and disseminated a racist ideology along the North/South divide. In Luxemburg’s case, the concrete problem was that of imperialism as a driving force for the accumulation of capital at a world scale. Here, noncapitalist forms figure as a necessary yet intolerable other of capital. Through a close reading of both Gramsci’s and Luxemburg’s writings, Wainwright craftily stitches together a series of contact points between these two Marxist thinkers (in their critiques of political economy, in their prioritization not only of the organization of the proletariat but also the education and transformation of the masses, and in their persecution by the fascists, in their internationalism) as well as zones of divergence (pertaining to Luxemburg’s supposed “economism” and “spontaneism”). Wainwright forcefully argues that Luxemburg’s political economy of the relationship between capital and noncapital provides an indispensable counterpoint to Gramsci’s “theory of hegemony and the reconception of the political.”

In his essay, Wainwright unearths a beautiful passage by Gramsci, written a year after the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht: “Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht are greater than the greatest saints of Christ … [Their] cause is concrete, human and restricted … the moral forces that sustain their will are far greater, by virtue of the fact that this will has a definite goal.” These sentences suddenly gain a different meaning when read in the broader intellectual context provided by Francesca Antonini in her in-depth discussion of Gramsci’s last miscellaneous notebooks 14, 15, and 17. Antonini argues that “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will,” a saying attributed to Gramsci, is in fact a formula that reflects the core of Gramsci’s project and that it can be used as a key to reading both his writings on the rise of authoritarianism in 1930s Europe and also the role of “discipline” in and through the leadership of the party. Particularly interesting in Antonini’s detailed textual analysis is the transformation of the capitalist-bourgeois world from a democratic-bureaucratic initiative that “contributes positively to the politico-statal organization” into “a system in which the state adopts ‘unconventional’ strategies in order to maintain control over civil society.”

This two-part symposium on Gramsci’s work ends with a methodological essay on how to articulate a historical-materialist approach to the global hegemony of English as a language used on a daily basis by well over a billion people across the world in contexts as diverse as call centers, business negotiations, academic conferences, and social media. Peter Ives, who recently stepped down from the editorial board after serving nearly a decade, takes Gramsci’s adage “in language there is no parthenogenesis” as his entry point to argue for “the embeddedness of language within culture, history, and politics.” Gramsci’s approach, he argues, transcends both the liberal individualist view of language as a vehicle of communication and the communitarian view of language as constitutive of the subjectivity of humans in linguistic communities. In contrast, Gramsci’s notion of language in which there is no parthenogenesis posits a view wherein relations among nonstatic and nonsutured languages are structured through power. The need to provide a historical-materialist analysis of “global English” is all the more urgent given what we define in our introduction as the return of geopolitics after the demise of neoliberal globalism.

Baraneh Emadian’s essay is a meditation on a Marxian quandary that needs to be engaged with if we wish to make sense of this global conjuncture, in which nation-states are far from withering away. In a Marxian framework that posits a pulsion in global capitalism toward a “dehistoricized abstraction,” the persistence of multiple nation-states is indeed a theoretical question that presents itself as a limit. For Emadian, this limit is not only an internal or immanent one, owing to the fact that Marx was not able to write the missing volume of Capital on state in his lifetime, but rather an external or transcendent limit that results from the fact that “the states system has its own logic and cannot be deduced from capital.” Tracing the vicissitudes of this constitutive question through Neil Davidson’s attempt (in RM vol. 24, no. 1) to think the state and capital as a “mediated totality”; Nicos Poulantzas’s writings on the internationalization of capital and interimperialist struggles as the historical context in which the nation-state system becomes both the context of and the instrument for “the forms that the class struggle adopts”; and Kōjin Karatani’s development of the state as a mode of exchange based on plunder and redistribution; Emadian develops a theoretical field in which it becomes possible to conceptualize the state “from the outside” of Marxist thought—in this case, from the perspective of Carl Schmitt’s notion of sovereignty as Marxism’s external limit, not only as a theoretical curiosity but because of the pertinent strategic implications for overcoming or transforming this limit.

The book review symposium on Satyananda Gabriel’s Financial Institutions and Development in China (JEAE Books, 2013) provides a concrete and historicized context for this urgent debate on the tense yet mutually constitutive relationship between the nation-state system on the one hand and financialized global capitalism on the other. Gabriel, a long-time AESA member and also an erstwhile member of the journal’s editorial board, has been working on China’s political economy since the early 1980s, and his earlier book, Chinese Capitalism and the Modernist Vision (Routledge, 2006), provided a novel reading of the Chinese transition that began in the late 1970s as a transition from “state feudalism” to “state capitalism.” In his review, Ric McIntyre welcomes Gabriel’s treatment of both the ideological orientation (a modernist form of Marxism with an emphasis on the forces of production) of the Chinese political leadership and the particular way in which policymakers have implemented the financialization process and continue to struggle with managing its contradictions. His focus, however, is on labor-market reforms, and his central concern is the ability of Chinese workers to go beyond isolated economic protests to form a more cohesive political front. Craig Freedman joins the debate by drawing an analogy between China today and Japan in the 1980s. The Japanese model, like today’s Chinese model, depended on sustained economic growth. Once the model reached its limits in the late 1980s, Japanese policymakers, again like their Chinese counterparts in the last two decades, turned to financialization and the expansion of credit. But once the financial bubble burst, it was not possible to restart the Japanese economy, and hence the so-called lost decade of the 1990s. If the analogy holds, a similar future may be awaiting China. In a rigorous treatment of Gabriel’s book, Mathieu Dufour raises some important methodological and substantive issues. On the methodological side, Dufour argues that, despite Gabriel’s claims to provide a Marxian class-analytical reading of the Chinese financialization process, the book uncritically adopts certain neoclassical assumptions (e.g., financial constraints successfully impose optimizing behavior on firms, bond markets improve the efficiency of local governments). On a more substantive register, Dufour remains unconvinced that the “Chinese Communist Party (CPC) is still trying to transform [China] into a nonexploitative society.” In his response, Gabriel candidly engages with many of the critical insights and inquiries raised by his reviewers. In response to McIntyre, Gabriel further clarifies the extremely asymmetric structure of labor markets; in response to Freedman, he explores the similarities and differences between the trajectories of the Japanese and the Chinese models; and in response to Dufour, he addresses both the methodological as well as the substantive comments. In particular, Gabriel notes that the CPC’s modernist Marxism has mainly been informed by Deng Xiaoping’s thought. Within that frame of reference, exploitation or deregulation will figure only insofar as they contribute to “the overarching goal of modernization.”

Perhaps we should read Lorenzo Veracini’s comprehensive treatment of settler colonialism as the ur-model for a contemporary global order increasingly characterized by a logic of elimination and containment, also stemming from within the tension and alliance between the system of nation-states and the various circuits of capital. Distinguishing between accumulation proper, which requires reproduction, and accumulation without reproduction, Veracini argues that the latter entails a type of dispossession analogous to what indigenous people under settler-colonial regimes have faced in the past and continue to face today. Tracking the uneven spatial development of logics of elimination and containment, Veracini argues that accumulation without reproduction is not only limited to the reproduction of labor power but also extends to the violence of climate change, with uneven effects across the globe. In response to settler colonialism as a “structure” (rather than an “event”), Veracini invites us to care: “Care is, after all, reproductive work.” Against a structure that operates through a logic of elimination and containment that does not care whether we reproduce or not, “a determination to care for each other can be a strategic response.” Veracini’s generalization of settler colonialism, to the extent that it foregrounds the terrain of reproduction as a terrain of strategic engagement, deserves the attention of all Marxists who seek to make sense of the contradictions of our times without falling into the traps of economic reductionism.

The issue closes with Brad Stiffler’s review of A. Kiarina Kordela’s Epistemontology in Spinoza-Marx-Freud-Lacan: The (Bio)Power of Structure (Routledge, 2018). In her new monograph, Kordela continues to develop a line of investigation that she began in her earlier book, $urplus: Spinoza, Lacan, as well as in her earlier contribution to this journal, “Capital: At Least It Kills Time (Spinoza, Marx, Lacan, Temporality)” (vol. 18, no. 4)], a Spinozist (monist) reading of Marx’s value theory in conjunction with Lacan’s treatment of the retroactive logic of the signifier. Stiffler welcomes Kordela’s proposal to overcome the dualism between representation and external reality by embracing “a new form of epistemology, epistemontology,” which takes off from a principle of monism premised on Kordela’s recognition of “the parallel constitution of objectivity and subjectivity.”

With this issue, in addition to the new editorial team, we have a number of changes and additions on our editorial masthead. To begin with, with this issue we welcome S. Charusheela, Marcus Green, Susan Jahoda, and Serap Kayatekin as new members of our advisory board. Marcus and Serap will continue to contribute to the journal as editors-at-large, but in recognition of their monumental work they will join the ranks of the advisory board of the journal. S. Charusheela has served the editorial board in almost every imaginable capacity, including as the chief editor from volume 22 to 25. Similarly, Susan Jahoda served as the editor of the Art section for more than two decades, first alone and then toward the end of her tenure with Jesal Kapadia and Stephanie McGuinness. After her departure, even though first Jesal and then Serap and Marcus carried the baton to the best of their ability, it has been challenging to fill her position. Both Susan and Charu have kindly accepted our invitation.

There are some other changes afoot on the editorial board. Peter Ives and Ian Seda Irizarry are both stepping down after serving for years as members of the board. Peter’s work on the politics of language, both in Gramsci’s work and in general, has been and will continue to be an important focus of debate in the pages of the journal. Ian has been a hardworking member of the board, coediting with Maliha Safri a very timely symposium on the insurrections of 2011–12 (vol. 25, no. 2) and editing a widely debated symposium on the notion of overdetermination in Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff’s work. Both Peter and Ian, together with Eray Düzenli, have served as the Reviews editors since 2012. Replacing them to work with Eray as the Reviews coeditors is Dan Skinner, a new member of the editorial board. Dan is an associate professor of government and international studies at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. In addition to exploring and participating in direct-action social movements, analyzing the social relationships of exchange, and working in poststructuralist Marxism, Dan has translated Autonomist Marxist and anarcho-syndicalist texts for EduFactory, Global Project, and Multitudes. Eray Düzenli, on the other hand, joins with Kenan Erçel to become the new Keywords coeditors. They will be taking the baton from Maliha Safri and Ian Seda Irizarry. Kenan, as he becomes the new Keywords coeditor, is stepping down as one of the coeditors of the Globalization Under Interrogation section. And finally, Maliha Safri and Anup Dhar join with Philip Kozel as the coeditors of Remarx. We are sure that their addition to the team will add newfound energy and a widened international perspective to this current and topical section.

As we were closing the issue, we were hit by a very sad news. Joseph Buttigieg, left-wing intellectual, critical thinker, English-language editor and translator of Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, an esteemed author and advisory board member of our journal, and a beloved friend to many of us has passed away. His contributions to the making of Rethinking Marxism are too numerous to list here. His legacy will live through his monumental work on bringing Gramsci’s writings to the world stage. We intend to properly honor his memory through a symposium on his contributions the Gramscian tradition in a future issue.

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Page last revised: April 13, 2019