Archive | October 2014

The anthropologist’s nephew, head of a Jewish Stasi

Once upon a time Bernhard wrote Wittgensteins Neffe – Eine Freundschaft (W’s Nephew: A Friendship).

A little later a Jewish-British forum hosted a talk, ‘My Son, the Anthropologist’, about how the speaker had distressed his mother by choosing not to practise law, or ever be even a doctor or a capitalist. Early in his career he was recruited by a man he would greatly admire, an African, Max Gluckman. Max was the driving force behind the institutionalisation of fieldwork in British central & eastern Africa. When asked if he was a Marxist he replied, no, I’m an Engelsian.

Max’s brother, Colin, had emigrated to Asia, to Palestine, becoming Israel’s third State Attorney, the state’s chief juridical advocate, perhaps best known for the trial arising from the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre, the slaughter by the police of tens of Palestinian-Israelis, mostly children & women.

Speaking of children, by then Colin had had a son, Carmi. Uncle Max must have been delighted. But Carmi was to become neither an anthropologist nor a lawyer. He joined the local mukhabarat, visiting the Ottoman Al-Quds jail seized by the Israeli state in 1967, observing & interrogating Palestinian prisoners. In time he was working abroad, in Lebanon, a fixture at the hell known as Khiam. He was charged with devising the interrogation – torture – training programme for their Lebanese stooges. Carmi was such a good & appreciated worker that he became head of Shin Bet’s training division in 1989. The next year he headed Northern Command, with obvious more direct responsibility for Khiam. In 1995 he became the domestic spy supremo, but he wasn’t there long, being the fall guy when Rabin was murdered.

Carmi is surely proud of his work on behalf of Jewish-Israeli supremacism. Uncle Max would view it with a marked disgust.

The need to develop both a Marxian/Marxist & a para-Marxian/Marxist scientific communist politics?

~ courtesy of 2013sedoi ~

This obelisk was erected in 1914. Four years later it had a makeover, becoming, with others on 7 November, an inaugural monument of the new society, the names of 19 communists, socialists, anarchists, & atheists engraved upon it: from the top, Marx, Engels, (Wilhelm) Liebknecht, Lassalle, Bebel, Campanella, Meslier, Winstanley, Th. More, Saint-Simon, (Édouard) Vaillant, Fourier, Jaurès, Proudhon, Bakunin, Chernyshevsky, Lavrov, Mikhailovsky, & Plekhanov. The plinth was proudly labelled ‘workers of the world unite’ (in Russian), although above it was ‘RSFSR’, the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic – unintentionally prescient. (Remarkably Vaillant was there even though he supported l’union sacrée, for social peace, whilst France waged war from 1914.)

~ courtesy of ~

Is this the sort of reasoned awareness, openness, that scientific communist politics needs today? Continually invoking Lenin & Trotsky, even Luxemburg or Kautsky, doesn’t seem to get us that far these days. Forget the talk of post-Marxism, a dead end; what we need are the paras: a para-politics of scientific communism alongside Marxian & Marxist ideas & practices. This isn’t to be eclectic, an incoherent mish-mash, just a recognition that our communist politics are grossly inadequate & that hardly anyone in the richer countries listens to us, let alone supports us. A first step is recognising that we are not Marxists as such but aspire to act, think, & feel as scientific communists.

As I said, this piece of stone went up in 1914, just before the start of World War One. And its timing? Well, it was for the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty – and it bore the names of each of the perpetrators.

~ courtesy of Paul Kulikovsky ~

As Stalinism hit the buffers the Ostalgia elsewhere in Europe has been complemented by the resurrection of older ways in Russia, this re-inauguration of a new block of granite, freshly engraved, on 4 November 2013, the Day of the People’s Unity, for the quadricentenary of Russia’s favourite family.

Воссозданный обелиск в честь 300-летия Дома Романовых открыт в Москве

~ courtesy of ~

All that’s missing is Putin.

But all this makes sense: the year before the park was blessed with a new statue, of the patriarch of the local Jesus cult c. 1600, Germogen (Grecianised as Hermogenes), his own quadricentennial, of his death. It’s all new & dynamic, forward looking, in today’s Russia.

But the point is if we can’t devise an adequate communist politics, not least in the dicey period immediately after a rupture with the capital relation, then lots more lumps of granite will be going here & there, functioning as both pathophors & symbols, not knowing what’s going on around them.

Ditch arcane Marxist political economy topics: develop a comprehensive politics

Marxists spend all this time on ‘economics’, not politics. All this energy has gone into the transformation problem, the nature of productive & unproductive labour, causes of accumulation crises, whether household labour is value-producing. Arcane topics, not surprisingly, have yielded thousands upon thousands of esoteric texts. Meanwhile Poulantzas was an interlude when politics took centre stage. It needs to be acknowledged that there is only a rudimentary Marxist or communist conception of the political dimension of today’s capitalist societies – let alone how we conceive political life in a post-capitalist society. It means very little attention has been applied to how capitalist economic difficulties can be ‘capitalised upon’ by the exploited & oppressed, both now & in the future.

Yes, even Marxists have the right to follow their curiosity, but their organisations should encourage them to focus on how to apply scientific knowledge, the knowledge we already have, to policies – strategic & tactical – that can help us do good work. Marxist labour needs to be diverted from ‘economic’ investigation to political inquiry, from use values to modes of ruling.

For example, a massive desert is the lack of a persuasive practical psychology, knowledge that can help direct propaganda & policy, tactics & strategy. Take the conception of ideology. It has been almost exclusively focused on the living of beliefs, ideas, arguments; it has been preoccupied with discourse, with the cognitive aspect of mentation. It means the two most neglected themes are the affective living of ideology, & the non-conscious living of ideology (although here Lacan has been used by some).

Patientive being: causal liabilities, affordances, susceptibilities

Causal forces of an entity are either causal powers or causal liabilities, the former are attributes of the agentive aspect of the entity, the latter of its patientive aspect.

For perhaps obvious reasons, those who believe in human emancipation from oppression & exploitation have focused on people as agents, rather than as patients, of people doing things rather than having things done to them. Consequently our knowledge is lopsided, unbalanced, resulting in our expectations of achieving progress being seriously exaggerated, misleading, unwittingly sowing illusions, which when revealed invariably cause widespread disappointment (Craib).

A chronic weakness of Bhaskar & others, after having stressed the onticity of human causal liabilities, is that for almost 40 years now they have hardly begun to identify & describe them. Human causal liabilities have been integral to the destruction of both the idea of socialism and of socialist & working class organisations. Understanding them is necessary for reviving the defensive & emancipatory means available to people.

Continuums of the qualities of abstractness to concreteness, of simplicity to complexity, of particularity to generality

These three kinds of qualities of entities are often not clearly identified.

What is more abstract is more self-causing, self-reliant, than what is more concrete, that is, it is more independent, less dependent on anything else; in other words what is abstract has fewer determinants sustaining its existence.

So, not surprisingly, what is more abstract is more simple; correspondingly, the concrete is more complex. Of course this doesn’t mean that what is abstract is easier to discover.

Particularity-generality is a matter of the one & the many, the rare & the pervasive.

It needs to be said that what is abstract is real: for example, the abstract dimension of any particular labour, the quality of constituted labour time.

Not empirical inquiry, but substantive inquiry: the empirical is acognitive, it is affective

What is experienced is done so affectively, not cognitively: if there is thinking, that is, interpretation, about what has happened to oneself it comes later, after one has lived the moment affectively.

It means that what is conventionally described as empirical inquiry is not of what is experienced (by whoever) but of the substance of certain entities. It warrants being denoted as substantive inquiry, not empirical inquiry.

In fact empirical inquiry is an examination of the affective effects of what is experienced – which isn’t what’s done by the practitioners of what they call empirical inquiry.

On Therborn’s grid

The grid is here: The Ideology of Power & the Power of Ideology, 1980, p.94.

It is an early attempt to break with four impoverishing conceptions: force/consent, domination/hegemony, legitimacy, & true/false consciousness. Regrettably Göran Therborn’s argument has been largely ignored – for over a third of a century, now.

Here I try to improve on his conception. In part I outline how pathophors are used in modes of ruling.

Therborn is interested not in sets of ideas & beliefs as such, how they change or stay the same, but in how daily living turns individuals into subjects who are both subjugated to rulers & qualified to do things – even to sometimes overturn their rulers. He calls this process ideology, it’s work, it’s a practice just like making things, providing a service, governing a workplace or a household, playing or watching sport, or praying. It’s goes on all the time, often without us knowing.

Ideological practice always creates, as noted, a twofold subject, both subjugating people, subjecting them to an ‘author’, an authority, but also qualifying them to act, helping to orientate them in what they do. Correspondingly the person is subject to two kinds of discipline: that imposed by others, agents of an authority, & that imposed by oneself.

As noted, qualification is also twofold, as one can become qualified to qualify, to change oneself, others, & the relations between people & what’s valued in society, even the social relations. So mobilising ideological means to maintain a way of life can have a contradictory effect, unintentionally turning people into rebels, using their qualifications, their causal powers & susceptibilities, to undermine their hitherto relations of subjugation, liberating themselves from them to a greater or less extent.

Therborn focuses on three contents of ideological practices: what they tell us about what is, what is good, & what is possible – and, correspondingly, what they often tell us about what doesn’t exist, what is undesirable, & what is impossible, or at least highly unlikely to ever come about. Why the three are so significant is captured by his pithy description of the logical stages facing someone who might rebel:

“[i]n order to become committed to changing something, one must first get to know that it exists, then make up one’s mind whether it is good that it exists. And before deciding to do something about a bad state of affairs, one must first be convinced that there is some chance of actually changing it.” (p.19)

There is a discussion to be had whether these three areas are the most salient for either subjugating or liberating people but we’ll let that pass for now. For him they’re crucial, & he puts them to work as the vertical axis of his grid.

It’s important to note that his discussion here is of ideological work that has the effect of maintaining the political status quo within quite narrow limits. Later we will need to envisage two other cases: modification of the political conditions, & their transformation.

The other axis of the grid is whether the person on the receiving end of the ideological call believes whether a political alternative is possible, yes or no. It means the grid has six boxes, & he assigns a political response to each of them. With some re-description this is his grid:

what ideology communicates about

the present                 \                                    the absent

kind of content                \                    better regime achievable?

~       –       ~       –       ~      \          yes!, . . . but                             no

what is                               I prefer to accommodate        things are inevitable

what is desirable                      I’m represented                           I defer

what is possible           I’m scared, sometimes afraid      I’m resigned to my lot

Therborn terms them the six main effects of ideological domination – although it’s more accurate to conceptualise this as the six main ideological effects of ruling, the current effects of the living of the ideological conditions of ruling, of living ideological ruling, of living the ideological dimension of ruling.

So what can we make of this grid?

Time as other than duration: temporality as a quality of entities-in-relations, not an external metric

In almost all analyses time reduces, without loss of meaning, to duration. And quantifying duration is a result of applying an external metric such as seconds-minutes-hours-days-months-years.

I argue elsewhere that the temporality of entities is much, much richer, complex, than this. First, if temporality is an inner relation of entities, & entities come into being, endure, & expire, then temporality has both a generative & a generated dimension.

A classic example of temporality as an inner relation of an entity is Marx’s analysis of the turnover time of capital (Capital, v.2, chap. 7). Others are Erikson’s analysis of the life cycle, & Goody’s of the domestic group.

Reconceptualising the social, & recognising the five dimensions of human living

What is denoted as social is almost always groupal. An exception is what Marx identified as social relations, a dimension of human living more abstract than the relations between groups.

The five dimensions of human living are:                          intrapersonal                                                                                                                                                                              interpersonal (a dyad) groupal                                                                                                                                                                                         intergroupal                                                                                                                                                                               social

Most abstract is modes of ruling, not modes of domination

Mouzelis advocated modes of domination as the primary concept of political living. I argue elsewhere that dominating is merely one way of ruling: ruling is more abstract than dominating.

Other means of ruling are habit (a greatly ignored way of living), indifference (ditto), feeling represented, & being led. (An attempt at an exhaustive list will be offered later.) Recognising these different means helps us break with the unnecessarily confining force-consent/domination-hegemony conception.