When Perry Anderson wrote in 1976 that “Western Marxism” could be considered a “product of defeat,” he was referring to the catastrophes and betrayals that framed the period from 1924 to 1968. In retrospect, this seems like foreshadowing. The intervening decades have seen not simply a defeat for the workers’ movement but its total dissolution – the collapse of the institutions that once made it an undeniable social force, and the rollback of the reforms it had won from the state. In our situation it has become difficult to say what “Marxism” really is, what distinguishes it as a theory, and why it matters. But this is by no means a new question. And of all the definitions and redefinitions of Marxism, Louis Althusser’s were perhaps the most controversial. In 1982, just before François Mitterrand’s turn to austerity, Althusser began to draft a “theoretical balance sheet.” He wrote “Definitive” on the manuscript, and never published it.
Long before the Haymarket Massacre, May Day represented a time of transition. Winter had receded; in anticipation of the wealth of summer, the people opted for leisure over work. The holiday shifted from “green” to “red” when leisure was attacked, work violently imposed, and wealth expropriated. May Day 2012 was another kind of transition – to what, nobody knows.
Philadelphia has a large population of black, disaffected youth. It also has a black mayor. But when some of these young people began to spontaneously protest the obscene level of urban segregation and systematic poverty of the city with “flash mobs,” it was Mayor Michael Nutter who launched the counter-attack, imposing the disciplinary measure of an earlier curfew in wealthy white areas. Curfews, as George Ciccariello-Maher points out, “have historically served as a racist weapon for the containment of Black bodies” – but Nutter himself made the point by accompanying this measure with an ideological assault on black Philadelphians in general.
A general strike has been declared by the Oakland General Assembly. The original version of this song was the number one hit during the 1946 Oakland General Strike.
It could very well be that the durability and radicalization of this movement will rely on its potential as a mediating element between the the various segments of the class, their particular interests, and their traditional forms of struggle. Achieving this means going beyond a spontaneous reflection of changes in our working lives. It has to start by understanding the system underlying them.
Spanning an entire generation, a linguistic divide, and a geographical shift, the epistolary encounter between Anton Pannekoek and Cornelius Castoriadis in many ways marks the internal transformation of the ultra-left. But the ultra-left, far from a historical relic, is making headlines again.
Everyone on the left has pointed out that the riots in London are rooted in capital’s assault on the working class, couched in the ideological language of austerity – and that this was the kindling sparked by the racist police brutality that culminated in the murder of Mark Duggan. But our task – like Marx’s task, when he defended the violent upheaval of the Silesian weavers – isn’t to give a moral evaluation of the riots, like schoolmasters diligently stacking the pros against the cons, but, rather, to grasp their specific character.