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Theory as History (Historical Materialism Book)
Theory as History (Historical Materialism Book)
by Jarius Banaji
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.01

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Materialism for the Twenty-First Century, 10 April 2012
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Jairus Banaji has been a prolific and brilliant writer on economic historical topics for almost 40 years now, so a publication of some of his core articles and essays seemed long overdue. "Theory as History", first published in Historical Materialism's excellent book series, fills this gap admirably. Focusing on Banaji's specialisms, agricultural history - especially of late antiquity and the early middle ages - as well as historiography, the essays span the entire period of his work at Oxford, SOAS, and as a Platform Left activist in India. The core subject of this book is the Marxist concept of the mode of production, and the difficult and important question of how to delineate different historical modes of production and what empirical evidence can be marshalled to form criteria to settle such a question.

As with all science, Marxist categories are useful if and only if they actually aid the understanding and reduce the confusion from a multiplicity of real forms to a number of basic organizing categories. If however they are imposed on the matter in an attempt to make empirical evidence fit preconceived categories, chances of error increase considerably. This is what Banaji accuses a long tradition of Marxist history-writing of doing, to a greater or lesser degree. And here one has to agree. Not to say that everything produced hitherto is to be thrown out, obviously; but what has been systematically lacking is the kind of in-depth empirical analysis of economic phenomena and forms of production and exchange which is then *followed*, not preceded, by analysing the logic operating in these phenomena and the formulation of a mode of production concept that can usefully categorize that logic as distinguished from other socio-economic logics. It is the use of Marx's notion of the capitalist mode of production that has always dominated thinking on modes of production, and has overshadowed the long prehistory of pre-capitalist modes. Because of the power of Marx's analysis of capitalism in its pure form, Marxist economic historians have tended to want to find a model of the pure form of other modes of production in the past, and wanted to determine this on the basis of 'purely economic' phenomena, just like Marx did with capitalism. The result has been, as Banaji rightly points out in the opening essay, an often rigid and unhelpful formalism as well as an unjustified neglect of major concepts important historically. These latter concepts often play a central role in the thought of historians of other subdisciplines or traditions: phenomena such as conquest, demographic change, mixed forms of labour, religion, and so on. Sadly, in most of the book Banaji does not go into these categories much further, preferring to focus on the question of modes of production, but his work points here to a wider problem in Marxist historiography.

To briefly summarize the brunt of "Theory as History", Banaji's essays make the argument that Marxists hitherto have tended to conflate three different economic categories or levels of analysis: the mode of production, the form of exploitation, and the relations of production (which seem roughly synonymous with the 'organisation of labour'). In particular the former two are important, because it has led many historians wrongly to dismiss or try to ignore evidence for the enormous historical differentiation of forms of exploitation of labour, in the Marxist quest to maintain a set of easily understandable and useful sequences of modes of production. With a lucid and compelling, if somewhat overwhelming, use of historical evidence throughout many different historical places and times, Jairus Banaji demonstrates that a mode of production does not necessarily correspond with a particular form of exploitation, and that therefore the presence of such a form does not of itself tell you what the mode of production is. Examples here are slavery in the Caribbean and the southern United States, which despite their non-capitalist form of exploitation, were nonetheless capitalist production; the persistence of slavery and various forms of bonded, non-serf labor in the early Middle Ages, which thereby does not demonstrate that a 'slave mode of production' persisted, nor that feudalism existed in ancient Rome; the essentially capitalist form of many forms of rural debt peonage and indebted labor, where the 'debt' in reality functions as a wage equivalent and the surplus appears as 'interest', but is really profit - a case with not fully capitalist forms of exploitation formally subsumed under capitalist production, and so forth. Many such cases are discussed, and however much sometimes in an excess of historical detail and minutiae, the point is well taken.

Another major point, immediately connected with the former, is Banaji's efforts to establish the prevalence of various forms of wage-labour throughout history, as well as the prevalence of what he considers to be capitalist forms of exploitation in pre-capitalist modes of production. The former is increasingly recognized in the Marxist historical literature, somewhat belatedly perhaps in comparison with many non-Marxist economic historians (a point the author also notes); the latter is considerably more controversial. He very rightly points to the very developed forms of mercantile capital existing in the late medieval 'Islamic world', in Sung China, and in the trading states like Venice and Genoa. He also makes some suggestive arguments about the significance of mercantile capital for organizing production, not just in the kind of putting-out systems and setting up manufactories, but also in formally subsuming very disparate producers in India and Africa to their logic. Here some more decisive empirical evidence might be needed.

More importantly, however, this also shows some of the lacunae of Banaji's work in this book. In distinguishing capitalist forms of exploitation, especially those by mercantile capital, from the dominance of a capitalist mode of production, he makes 'capitalist' as a description of a society mean some very different things. Given the only possible use and justification of the categories of modes of production can be to clarify the organizing logic fundamental to reproducing a given society, it seems unwise to allow such confusion to appear. Therefore, contrary to Banaji (and to Marx in some places), I would not suggest using 'capitalist' in an undifferentiated sense for the activities of such figures as Roman estate managers or Venetian long-distance traders. I have also long considered the possibility of conceptualizing a separate mode of production to describe the societies dominated by mercantile capital only, roughly from 1300s (in northern Italy etc) to 1800 or so; perhaps a 'mercantilist mode of production' or somesuch. Whatever the case may be, here appears a weakness in the book: while there is much talk of how not to determine modes of production, Banaji says nothing about what he does think is the sequence of modes of production, or what criteria can be used. There is no concern about the organizing logic of reproduction of an entire society as the deciding criterion for what form of exploitation 'predominates', as Marx says - in fact, reproduction is a term not used at all for this analysis in the book. This seems somewhat strange, and opens the author up to accusations of a certain empiricist superficiality. Also, with the focus on agriculture, a theorization of urban manufacturing, the role of urbanization as in the Brenner thesis, and so forth is absent; but of course one can't expect everything in one work.

There are some other problems with the book as well. One is that the final essay, his 'synthesis' on modes of production, is really illuminating for his whole procedure throughout the book's articles - it would have been much easier on the reader's understanding to put this in the front. A similar annoyance is the decision to not publish the different contributions chronologically, so that articles from the 1990s and 2000s are put before articles from the 1970s, at times. This makes some difference as in the earlier articles, Banaji seems more inclined to maintain his clear distinction between the variety of forms of exploitation and the more orthodox Marxist use of modes of production, whereas in later ones, the latter almost disappears from view, the focus being more and more on the specifics of organisation of labour and the forms of exploitation only. Such developments, however, are obscured by the sequence of essays, without this serving a clear thematic purpose. That said, this book is a brilliant contribution to Marxist historiography as well as a great collection of often astonishingly erudite contributions to (Marxist) economic history, and is well worth reading by anyone interested in historiography, agricultural history, or Marxism, or any combination of these. His plea for a more 'thick' Marxist history-writing is one that can only be applauded, and will hopefully lead to a greater convergence between Marxist approaches and those of other historians.


The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire
The Blood Never Dried: A People's History of the British Empire
by John Newsinger
Edition: Paperback

23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent critical history of the British Empire, 5 April 2012
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The "People's History" series has a well-deserved reputation, even if it is not a coordinated undertaking by any particular publisher. This book does not diminish that reputation. "The Blood Never Dried" is a people's history of the British Empire, and as such is an overdue critical, systematic examination of the litany of crimes, murders, and exploitations of all parts of the world undertaken under the banner of the Union Jack. At the risk of repeating other reviewers, the book examines in order: (1) Jamaica and slavery, (2) the Irish famine, (3) the Opium Wars and Taiping Rebellion (though not the Boxers), (4) the Sepoy Rebellion, (5) the colonization of Egypt, (6) WWI, (7) the settling and revolt of interwar Palestine, (8) Indian independence, (9) the Suez Crisis, (10) the Mau-Mau Rebellion, (11) the suppression of the revolt in Malaya, and (12) Britains relationship with American imperialism. In all of these cases, the author John Newsinger portrays without bloodlust but with great gravity and seriousness the enormities and crimes committed by and through imperialism, from widespread famines to systematic torture, murder, and repression. As Newsinger makes clear by this comparative process, there is no imperialism, whether 19th or 21st century, that can do without these elements: it was ever thus.

In each case too the author makes clear how the peoples of the colonized and imperialized countries rebelled against and resisted imperialism. He emphasizes quite rightly two very important things: first, that the narrative of Britain (or other Western countries for that matter) 'granting' independence out of the goodness of their enlightened hearts is so much mythology and dressing-up of what were in each and every case the powerful agency of local people throwing off the imperial yoke, much to the dismay and against the military efforts of the British state. Secondly, he points out how from the very start the Labour Party was as happily a participant in the imperialist venture as its Liberal and Tory opponents, and how from the very start Labour Party leaders preferred safeguarding by force the interests of British capital abroad over the global interests of oppressed people. Even such holy cows as Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison, never mind Tony Blair, were as enthusiastic participants in repressing and exploiting people abroad as ever was a Churchill or a Lloyd George. Finally, Newsinger gives some due attention to the conflict within British ruling class opinion over the right post-imperial strategy: the conflict between those with mainly European interests, and those with mainly global interests. The former support a strategy of European integration and counterbalancing American power with European power (effectively in alliance with France), the latter support Britain's vassalage to the United States, dressed up as a "special relationship". As the author points out, only one government since WWII has attempted the former route (Edward Heath); the Atlanticists are generally firmly in the saddle.

The book is very lucidly written and makes for good, if not pleasant, reading. If one must criticize, there are but two elements that might have been emphasized more: first, the history of resistance against the British Empire within Britain itself, which is now virtually absent; and secondly, some more economic analysis of the benefits of Empire and its role in enabling current and past British power and prosperity. After all, Newsinger does point out in the chapter on Malaya that this seemingly minor struggle involved the British monopoly on exploiting Malaysian rubber, which was at the time worth more than all British domestic industrial production combined. More of such, and its implications for Britain, would have been nice. As it stands though, this is an excellent companion to British imperial history for any critical reader, and one of several useful counterparts to the recently revived Empire apologia.
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Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism & the Marxist Critique: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique
Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism & the Marxist Critique: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique
by David McNally
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.94

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marxism Against Market Socialism, 26 Mar 2012
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David McNally's polemic "Against the Market" is a Marxist attack on the notion of 'market socialism', that is, the idea that socialism as understood by Marxists is compatible with a society reproduced through market relations. Somewhat oddly perhaps for a work of this kind, the largest part of it is a history of political economy, explaining the different understandings of the market and its social function developed by such luminaries as Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and Proudhon, but also the attempts of the very early socialists (Owen, Hodgskin, William Thompson etc) to formulate an economic counter-understanding. While the critical review of the classical economists has been done many times, and is done no worse here than anywhere else, especially fascinating is the detailed consideration of the early socialists of the 1820s-1840s. Their creation of different kinds of labour voucher markets, collective and co-operative enterprises, and many more such phenomena on the basis of their own inchoate critique of political economy provides an intriguing backdrop to Marx and Engels' own work in that field. It however also demonstrates, as McNally intends, the flaws in such undertakings: one cannot as it were market one's way to socialism within a capitalist society, and no amount of talk about labour vouchers, work-time currencies and so forth can alleviate that. At the same time, those attempts are often as McNally tells them genuinely inspiring, and their failures therefore provide important lessons for anti-capitalist organizing and transition. This chapter in particular is really worth a book of its own.

The core chapter of the book however is Ch. 6, "Beyond the Market", which contains the author's actual critique of market socialist thought in contemporary times. David McNally points here not just to Marx's critique of the early market socialists and their labor vouchers, but also to those contemporary people who argue that socialism would necessarily still have the law of value in operation (Stalin, Nove), that the so-called 'calculation problem' as developed by Von Mises and Von Hayek is applicable and therefore market socialism the only option (Blackburn), the Yugoslavian form of market socialism, and so on. McNally provides an excellent systematic critique of such notions. He notes how the pervasiveness of externalities destroys the idea that 'free market' prices are socially useful informational constructs, Marx's argument that the generalization of commodity production under circumstances of competition itself is the root of capitalist exploitation and alienation rather than mere property relations or unequal exchange, and the immediate contradiction between the social value of competition and the social value of 'the full development of each as a prerequisite for the full development of all'.

He even, quite rightly, gives some concrete ideas about the form a non-capitalist form of distribution might take: pointing for example to the capitalist development of automated inventory systems (like Amazon uses) and just-in-time delivery which are superior at distributional efficiency without inherently requiring capitalism, and the essential difference between internal or 'planning prices' and the prices of production created by the capitalist market process. McNally does seem to waffle a little bit on whether there would in a socialist society not be a market for unique or luxury goods; of itself this would seem to do little harm, but here a discussion of Marx's theory of money and its implications for such 'socialist markets' (as opposed to market socialism) would have been welcome.

On the whole, David McNally is right to criticize market socialism as an unconscionable retreat by socialists from the full implications of Marx's critique of political economy, and to see it as the result of a certain intellectual despair created by the fall of the USSR and of communism in China. Because the intellectual now lacks the confidence to oppose the ideology of markets while still being 'sophisticated', and because the Western labor unions and labor organizations have long retreated into a complacent and labor aristocratic reformism, the room for a thorough Marxist critique of capitalist logic beyond the bounds of mere distributional questions has narrowed. This book is therefore a very welcome contribution.


Karl Marx, Anthropologist
Karl Marx, Anthropologist
by Thomas C. Patterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £21.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Marx for Anthropologists, 26 Mar 2012
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"Karl Marx, Anthropologist" in a sense does what it says on the tin: it provides an overview of the intellectual concerns and endeavours of Karl Marx insofar as these are of interest to anthropologists. Due to the nature of Marx's work, the enormous range of his intellectual activities, and the holistic and dialectical approach he employed, this necessarily means the notion of anthropology has to be taken rather broadly. As the author, Thomas C. Patterson (Chair of Anthropology at UC Riverside), describes it, Marx was fundamentally interested in the Kantian question: "what is human nature?". This is what he shares with anthropologists, and seen from this angle, a very large range of Marx's work is of anthropological interest. Most of the book is a fluid, easy going exposition of Marx's concepts and thoughts about historical change, alienation, exploitation, material culture, and many such things besides, all subject matter that will be very familiar to anyone who has read some of the secondary literature on Marx. There is nothing new there per se. What is somewhat unique is that because of the emphasis on making Marx relevant to anthropologists of whatever kind, there is - more than usually provided in such overviews - a lot of attention for the communal mode of production, the pre-capitalist varieties and kinds of social stratification, the interrelationship historically of different modes of production existing in a given society and having different forms of articulation, and so forth. Patterson even spends considerable time on the history of early man and pre-human primates, in dealing with the question of human nature as the context for any possible historical society formed by homo sapiens. Economic theory, as one would expect, therefore gets relatively short shrift, although the author is careful to underline the relevance of Marx for economic anthropologists even of the contemporary period.

Although the author calls the book polemical, it is really quite mellow and for the largest part a familiar refrain to those who have read Marx's works or are well-acquainted with some of the enormous literature on Marxist approaches in social science. While the emphasis on the flexibility of Marxist concepts and Marx's understanding of and engagement with the enormous variability of historical societies is welcome, there is a risk in making Marxist theories and views seem too generally applicable and too indeterminate. After all, a theory which is purely historical holism and produces no clear determinism of a causal nature is not a theory, but merely an exercise in terminology. Aside from this, it is not wholly clear who the audience is intended to be - anyone familiar with Marxism to a medium degree will not find sufficiently new insights in this book, while it also provides no clear pointers for any research programme, in anthropology or otherwise. Most likely it is intended as an introduction to 'who Marx was' for anthropologists who had avoided him altogether hitherto, perhaps out of fear for a certain reductionism or dogmatism on the part of Marxist thought - for such people, this book well rewards the reading. And for a general audience interested in Marx's relevance to social science research at a general level, the work is a well-written primer for understanding the flexibility and historicizing power of Marx's thought.


Mao: A Reinterpretation
Mao: A Reinterpretation
by Lee Feigon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.63

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting reinterpretation of Mao's politics, 9 Mar 2012
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Lee Feigon's work on Mao is largely a political biography, partially an intellectual one - the two can obviously not easily be separated. With the subtitle "a reinterpretation", it explicitly sets itself against the dominant contemporary views on Mao both in China and the West, which are almost unrelentingly negative, generally in very ignorant, inaccurate, and childishly opportunistic ways (such as the works of Jung Chang). As such, this book forms part of a literature not just more nuanced and serious about Mao, which is a considerable one. It also forms part of a smaller literature which has sometimes been called 'revisionist' (although really orthodox Communists would call this 'anti-revisionist', oddly), and which is for varying reasons sympathetic to Mao to a greater or lesser degree. The ways in which the different authors support or defend Mao rather varies however, including the things they praise him for; and Lee's work is somewhat unusual in this regard.

Lee's book makes the main points in defense of Mao that he should make, and that always should be made. These are the enormous development of China and Chinese living standards in the period of his 'helmsmanship', with growth rate and industrialization outpacing, at times, even the world-historical records of the USSR; further, the enormous increase in life expectancy and decrease in mortality in China during his rule, despite a brief dip during the Great Leap Forward; the unprecedented expansion of education, especially in the rural areas, in particular during the Cultural Revolution, which has actually declined now compared to its peak levels then; and the rebuilding of China's independence against the imperialist powers. Of course, one should not in this day and age write hagiographical and silly treatises, and Lee rightly criticizes attempts to do so. But what differentiates this book from other works defending Mao's legacy is not so much the recital of these enormous achievements, which literally allowed hundreds of millions to live and develop who otherwise would not have, but his angle on Mao and Chinese politics more generally. For Lee, Mao is a figure who originally took most of his inspiration and ideas from the Soviet Union, specifically Stalin, and who sought at first to rule in the style of an orthodox Marxist-Leninist Party (albeit in a way actually achieving collective rule to a considerable degree). However, the Great Leap Forward showed the failure of Stalinist policies and the dominance of the party bureaucracy, which Mao hated (according to Lee), and led him to unleash the Cultural Revolution, which Lee sees as a great democratizing movement. For Lee then, there are essentially a bad Stalinist period and a good post-Stalinist, decentralizing period, and more generally the positive achievements of Mao are for Lee always the result of a decentralizing impulse.

While something can certainly be said for this, and the willingness to take politics from below seriously was always one of Maoism's strengths against other Leninist styles of politics, this creates a somewhat muddled case. The book is often too brief and too superficial to properly empirically support the arguments that it was precisely decentralization which worked. For example, during the Great Leap Forward the greatest dislocations were the result of the contradictions between centralization and decentralization to some degree, as provinces competed with each other in delivering the greatest results to the centre. Similarly, the decentralized production systems, as in the infamous case of the backyard steel mills, was largely a failure. Lee does not sufficiently go into this to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of the achievements of Soviet-style central planning versus decentralized initiative within the framework of the very real overall achievements of Chinese society during this period. Similarly, he is somewhat too inclined to let the Chairman off the hook in terms of political and individual motives, perhaps due to the undue credibility given to unreliable sources like Li Zhisui, while at the same time perhaps underrating the party bureaucracy and party system. It is well possible Lee's pro-decentralization thesis is right. It is undoubtedly true that Mao's destruction of 4/5ths of the old party bureaucracy de-Stalinized, within a socialist framework, the party structure to a degree nowhere else achieved, and it imbued the masses with a sense of direct democratic power like never before. But this needs to be proven more systematically than Lee does here, and his presumption against the Party apparatus and in favor of localism is sympathetic, but in need of empirical support. This does not, however, diminish the importance of Mao as an impressive socialist reformer and inspiration, and the significance of a willingness to defend his legacy against fashionable demonization.


Moneybags Must Be so Lucky: On the Literary Structure of Capital
Moneybags Must Be so Lucky: On the Literary Structure of Capital
by Robert Paul Wolff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Irony and style in Marx's Capital, 1 Mar 2012
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"Moneybags Must Be So Lucky" is the arresting title of a series of lectures held by University of Massachusetts at Amherst philosopher Robert Paul Wolff. They form the content of the Romanell-Phi Beta Kappa lectures held in 1984-1985 at that institution, and deal with the question of irony and style in Marx's "Capital". Unlike the famous work by S.S. Prawer on literary references in Marx's work, Wolff is not primarily concerned with literature or allusions in the book, but rather with the purely stylistic tropes applied, in particular those of the first chapters of Volume 1. The lectures first take us through a digression on the philosophical notions of essence and appearance, from Plato to Hegel, and the notion of Socratic irony, where (in a somewhat controversial reading) he interprets Socrates as dealing with irony at a level which implicates the speaker in the subject of irony. Another trope introduced is the notion of inversion, where some abstraction of real things becomes reified to such a degree that the concrete appears to be the manifestation of the abstract, instead of the other way round. Wolff then shows how these concepts are combined in Marx's dealing with the nature of value in "Capital", in particular the opposition between the appearance of exchange, money, price and so forth, and their underlying realities in production and value. The author here makes an interesting contrast with the similar inversion manoeuvre found in Plato's famous allegory of the cave: there, the appearance is dark and irrational, and the reality is bright and rational. For Marx, however, capitalism appears to be the realm of "liberty, equality, property and Bentham", but the reality is the dark abode of production, where none may gain admission except on business.

A number of quotations from the text may serve to explain its conclusions on Marx's use of language in "Capital", which I think are well-founded and insightful. Wolff notes: "to talk about this world (...) Marx's discourse must permit him to represent the quantitative relationships that actually obtain in capitalist production and exchange.(...) Furthermore, [it] must permit critics like Marx to articulate the structure of mystification that conceals the exploitative and self-destructive character of capitalism. (...) In addition, (...) the language of political economy must serve to implicate the speaker in the very patterns of mystification that are being exposed. (...) And finally, this language cannot be entirely self-contained in the scope of its theoretical applicability. It must offer resources for an eventual transcendence of the mystifications of the capitalist market". This is well said, and Wolff has, himself using various jokes and forms of stylistic wit in the process, in this way made the most inaccessible part of Capital - the endless digressions on linens and coats and the nature of value in Ch. 1, 2, and 6 - easier to understand and more pleasant reading.


Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism
Reclaiming Identity: Realist Theory and the Predicament of Postmodernism
by Paula M L Moya
Edition: Paperback
Price: £23.45

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant philosophical analysis of the epistemology of identity politics, 28 Feb 2012
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Moya & Hames-García's "Reclaiming Identity" is a collection of immensely stimulating, imaginative, and seriously argued essays on what they call a 'postpositivist realist' conception of identity and its political significance. Exactly why it is called 'postpositivist' I am not exactly sure, given it is a theory intended to take the intermediary position between a simplistic positivist conception of identity and language as transparent and purely factual (a position nobody holds anyway) and the postmodernist critique of identity as being a linguistic imposition formed by interpellating discourses.

As against these, the collection is argued around the idea that identity is a construct out of experience, which is itself a socially caused thing mediated by language, past experience, pre-existing identity, and emotion. The construction of an identity out of these experiences is then an active act counterposed to the passive of the formation of experience (this is not everywhere explicitly stated, but is I think a fair summary), which has a 'realist' element to it. This element consists of the possibility of error or improvement in the construction of identity, because an identity 'choice' is always a reconstitution of previous experience in terms of one or more of a possible range of political concepts expressed in language, which choice is based on a kind of pattern recognition of the real social forces that affect the given subjectivity. Because the identity construct can better or worse cohere with the real (scientific) knowledge of the social forces, it therefore can be more or less correct, and is not a mere matter of pure relativism or arbitrariness.

From this vantage point, several essays in the book make some powerful rebuttals of the postmodernist critique of identity, emphasizing rightly that the construction of identity is not just a negative imposition of outside discourse. Similarly, the postmodernists are wrong to argue the dichotomy between either a foundationalist notion of identity or a total rejection of the concept as meaningful; in fact, the 'post-positivist realism' of this collection makes a very pragmatist point about the possibility of a socially and politically useful, though not foundationally grounded, formation of identity that avoids both ends of this dichotomy, and with it either 'strategic essentialism' (a Noble Lie) or the impossibility of escape from the prison-house of language. In so doing, they create a new possible programme for taking identity politics seriously again as against the disparagement of the postmodernists.

Almost all the essays stand out in their insightful discussion of the consequences of identity seen in this way, and the integrity of their approach. In particular worth noting is Caroline Hau's essay using Mao and Cabral to argue for the possibility of the intellectual, when fallibilist and nonfoundationalist, to speak for others in creating a universalizing political programme (even within a limited sphere); John Zammito's historiographical discussion outlining the aporia of Joan Scott's postmodernist approach, which takes the rejection of foundationalism for history-writing to imply the impossibility of shared epistemology except as hegemonic imposition, which denies the possibility of a productive antifoundationalist shared conception of standards of evidence; and Linda Alcoff's finishing argument refuting many existing critiques of identity from the 'subjectivist' viewpoint, as it were.

Nonetheless, I do have some lingering issues unanswered by this collection. While the book is an excellent counterargument to the postmodernist-subjectivist argument against identity, there are two types of argument it does not address. First, it does not address the significance of the level of communication; by which I mean the fact of the inability of humans to completely communicate their subjectivity to one another, precisely because our constituted experiences are necessarily contingent and manifold enough to be too different for an immediate 'translation'. This requires a shared communication for a shared political project to necessarily take place at a higher order level than immediate experience and identity formation, but at the level of the connection of these to a political conception (within which the identity 'choice' is made, as this collection rightly notes), which of necessity must be universalizing as to not be chauvinist and so as to make inclusion of multiple identities possible.

Which raises the next issue, which is what purpose identities can serve in this regard. While the book refutes many criticisms from the linguistic turn against identity, it does not much argue positively for the benefits of identity from the point of view of more 'classically' political concerns, especially given the necessary universalism ('grand narrative') of such a politics. Such a politics can be entirely compatible with epistemological anti-foundationalism, pace Rorty, but it is not clear to what extent identities as the primary vehicles for participation in such a project are a help rather than a hindrance. Presumably this is a contextual and practical question, and the authors no doubt rightly point out how identities have been a help to people subject to oppressive social forces of different kinds to forming a collective organized around the common critical experience-construction of these forces. But this risks a chicken-egg question from a historical point of view, and it is not certain whether a larger universalizing politics should not seek rather to overcome identity as a category, analogous to the significance of overcoming sexism, racism etc. as part and prerequisite of any revolution.

That said, one cannot expect one book to offer all the answers, and there is a lot more work to be done in this field between the aporias of what one might call the anti-foundationalism of despair on the one hand, and the denigration of the claims to meaning on the part of minorities by established academia and politics on the other hand. This book is a mighty stimulating and important contribution to exploring a way forward, and should be read by all interested in questions of identity, queer and feminist theory, the politics of race and gender, and so forth.


Economic Anthropology
Economic Anthropology
by Keith Hart
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An introduction to economic anthropology, 20 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Economic Anthropology (Paperback)
"Economic Anthropology" by Hann & Hart seeks to introduce the subject of anthropological analysis of modern and historical economic themes in a simple and straightforward way. Clearly aimed at readers unfamiliar with the subject entirely, it provides a cursory, if systematic historical overview of the different schools in the field and their historical relationship to each other. The authors discuss the origins of the concept of the economy, the views of Marx and Polanyi, the formalist-substantivist debate, the turns to culture and anthropology of the West and the feminist critique, and so forth. There is also room for a brief discussion of economic anthropology's relationship to development economics and to economic theory more generally, especially of the socialist kind.

It is not easy to summarize such a potentially massive topic as the overlap between anthropology and similar social science approaches and historical theories of the economy, and the authors are to be lauded for their clear and concise treatment of the topic. However, the book is marred by a number of greater and lesser flaws, which make it fail to live up to its potential. In general, "Economic Anthropology" is often too cursory an overview, and the treatment even of major authors ends up giving them short shrift in terms of their significance, which would make it difficult for a complete newcomer to judge the relevance or irrelevance of historical theories for current practice. Secondly, the work is mired in an annoyingly superficial liberal outlook: the authors go out of their way to defend the significance of 'the market' and 'money' throughout all societies, and their treatment of socialist economies is quite inept. It is in particular bizarre to see in a book of this kind a highly flawed and superficial defense of the current Chinese state-led economy as the way forward between the poles of too much market and too much state, itself a fairly obsolete dichotomy - whatever modern China is, it certainly isn't a revival of the "human economy", as the authors' rosy view suggests. The authors' obsession with the internet as a new all-changing paradigm for politics is also disappointing. Finally, the book's judgements occasionally lead it to make outright absurd claims: Janos Kornai was not a "market fundamentalist" (128); Marx did not "restrict the definition of capital to its form as money" (144), nor did he argue that "wage slavery under capitalism was fundamentally similar to feudal serfdom". One can also not refute rational choice theories by using evidence of emotions through brain scanners(!) (93).

That said the book also has some clear positive points that stand out, apart from its easy and concise overview. The authors include some good discussions of the practical shortcomings of formalist approaches in economic anthropology, and their continual emphasis on the importance of constructing a more universalizing theory, capable of joining up with the other social sciences, rather than sticking to localized fieldwork and thick cultural descriptions is highly welcome. As Hann & Hart point out, the very existence of an economic anthropology has at times come into question because of excessive particularism or formalist problematics; it is now time for it to join a better economic history than the new institutional kind and a better economics than the neoclassical kind in a new project for the historical social sciences.


The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession
The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession
by Andrew Kliman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.55

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great work of Marxist political economy, 13 Feb 2012
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Andrew Kliman and his few associates have for a long time been the Cassandras of Marxist political economy. Against the general trend of today, Kliman has systematically argued for the validity of Marx's original analysis of capitalism, including the reproduction schema, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, and the locus of capitalist crisis in production rather than distribution. All of these are fundamentals of Marxist economic theory, but have even by many Marxists been abandoned in favor of a more popular medley of Marxist and Keynesian elements, such as can be found in the works of many from Hyman Minsky to Paul Sweezy and even David Harvey. In "The Failure of Capitalist Production", however, Kliman makes good on the more theoretical promise of his earlier works on economic theory, and applies his insights to the current capitalist crisis.

As this book systematically sets out, using all available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and other such 'neutral' sources of information, the current crisis is emphatically one that can be understood in Marxist terms. More importantly however, as Kliman notes, is not whether or not we apply Marxist terminology to the event, but to comprehend the immediate and more underlying causes in whatever terminology one wants. In order to do so, it must be possible to explain the same phenomena without particular reference to a prior acceptance of Marxist theory as such, and in this book Kliman demonstrates that both of these levels of analysis can be done.

The argument is particularly detailed and systematically supported with graphs and data, and I could not retrace it here without burdening the reader with a text as long as the book itself. But the important conclusions are clear and unmistakable, and to my view entirely right. They are that first, the TSSI interpretation of Marx's value theory voids the Okishio theorem objection to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall; which sounds more technical than it needs to, since the rate of profit falling as a result of overall price reductions due to technological change is a matter of common sense. That said, Kliman then systematically and unrelentingly demonstrates that, adjusted for inflationary factors and using 'property income' as a proxy for Marxian value terms, the rate of profit has gone down since the early 1970s in the United States, and has never since recovered. This was briefly masked by the period of high inflation that marked the end of Keynesianism, as well as the frequent blips of higher apparent profit rates that precede serious crises (like the dot-com boom and the current bubble). But as a trend, the result is unmistakable.

Equally significantly, Kliman refutes the explanations of the current capitalist crisis as being the result of the regime of neoliberalism as such, if understood in terms of wage repressions, anti-union measures and so forth, as a way to restore profits but bring down wages to a level that causes a crisis of underconsumptionism. Kliman not only argues empirically that neither the wage share of income nor total compensation for non-managerial workers has declined over the neoliberal period (although he admits they have been stagnant), but more importantly makes the essential logical point that underconsumptionist arguments fundamentally mistake the nature of capitalist production, and therefore capitalist crisis. After all, underconsumptionism rests on the premise that for capitalist profitability to be sufficient, there must be enough effective demand on the part of the working class. But this assumes in the first place that, as Kliman puts it, 'what is good for the working class is good for capitalism'; whereas of course it should be familiar to all that the real relationship between wages and profits is the exact opposite! If neoliberalism successfully reduces wages, this ought to restore profitability, and thereby in fact obviate crisis. The underconsumptionist argument has then been that the crisis is purely a crisis of financialization. But in reality, the financialization and the debt bubble is in the first place an effect, not a cause, of the underlying crisis of profitability. As Marx pointed out in his reproduction schema, there is no inherent need for capitalism to have an increase in worker demand in order to obtain economic growth indefinitely; the improvements in productivity in the sector producing for other capitals can be sufficient to obtain such growth, entirely independently of working class demand. Capitalism does not work for needs, but for accumulation, and therefore underconsumptionism is wrong.

As Kliman convincingly argues, it is in fact the failure of capitalism to restore the rate of profit that underlies the current crisis, and all previous crises - with ever increasing intensity - since the 1970s. As Marx argued, for capitalism to restore the rate of profit, it must destroy a very large amount of existing value, so as to restructure itself sufficiently that the rate of profit on remaining capital investment will be high enough to get accumulation going again. In businessmen's terms, this means that capitalism must go entirely and completely through the troughs of depression, with the attendant deflation, bankruptcies, and unemployment, for the remaining capitalists to be able to buy up the deeply devalued assets at fire-sale prices and thereby obtain a rate of profit on such investment that will make investment demand sufficiently high. This is what happened during and after the Great Depression, when the crisis was almost entirely allowed to work itself out before organized working class demands forced the Roosevelt government to alleviate the severe burdens on the general population this produced. However, such crises produce such immediate challenges to capitalism as such - exactly as Marx expected they would - that all capitalist governments since have tried to find various means of avoiding their consequences. This is where the Keynesian policies and subsequently the debt-fuelled expansionism of neoliberalism comes from: they are, in Kliman's persuasive reading, attempts to have the good aspects of capitalist conjuncture without their downsides. But such a thing cannot be had, precisely because of the lawlike nature of capitalist social phenomena as Marx described them. And therefore, all such measures do in the longer run is delay the full effect of crisis, but make it worse when it actually hits. The current international response to crisis has been to add a very vast amount of extra debt-fuelled expansion on top of the pre-existing one that led to crisis: so we must expect an even worse and and more extended one in the future.

Does all of this mean then that 'resistance is futile'? Not so, says Kliman. Working class organization and backlash against the capitalist market results not only in real gains for the majority of people, by forcing capitalist governments to make concessions in order to stave off fundamental challenges to capitalism; but more importantly, every time they happen they call into question this very inhumane logic of capital itself, the logic of capitalism as a way of organizing our society. However, it remains also the case that this logic is immanent to all forms of capital, and cannot be overcome without organizing production differently. No amount of left-Keynesian solutions can alleviate this in the long term, nor can worker-owned cooperatives, communes, or any such structures. Kliman criticizes even the Soviet and Maoist experiences here, because of their involvement in international competition and the way this forced them to think in terms of capitalist logic; this is unfortunately too cursory to fully produce an argument to engage with. But it is certainly essential for all who want to understand capitalism and its crises to locate them in production, not distribution, and in profit, not demand; only then does it become *politically* clear that the only long-term solution is not redistribution, nor regulations, nor taxation, but a revolution against the logic of capitalism itself.
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Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine
Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine
by Joel Kovel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Psychological Critique of Zionism, 31 Jan 2012
Joel Kovel, academic, Green Party politician, and psychoanalyst, is mainly known for writing works on Marxism and environmentalist issues. However, as a Jew from New York he is inevitably biographically confronted with the question of Israel, and in "Overcoming Zionism" he has made a settling of accounts with it. Like most American Jews, his family was strongly pro-Zionist, despite never moving to Israel, and the first chapter of the book details some of his unsettling confrontations with the demands Zionism makes on the Jewish Diaspora, especially in the United States. Most of the work, however, is not really autobiographical in nature but an attempt to understand and critique Zionism as a way of thinking. As befits a psychoanalyst, Kovel's book is distinguished from many other left-wing critiques of Zionism in that it isn't as much interested in the political economic situation or the history of Israel as such as it is interested in the psychology that allows Zionism to continue to prosper, and what kind of attitudes one would need to develop to overcome it. It is therefore not an explicitly political book or a concrete programme, but more an analysis of the ways in which Zionist thought managed to hold Jewish opinion worldwide and especially in Israel in such a stranglehold, preventing the resolution of the conflict.

This approach has its strengths and its weaknesses, as does Kovel's critique in general. The main positive aspect of the work is that it is in this sense original, and in particular that it resolves to overcome Zionism by supporting not a counter-nationalism for Palestinians, as so many do, and thereby to multiply the militarist-chauvinist nationalisms in the region, but instead to call for a one-state solution. I believe Kovel is entirely right that this is the only lasting solution for the conflict, and any other option will not only practically fail, but also psychologically, as it will be strangled by Zionism and the demands of a counter-Zionist nationalism. Kovel's emphasis on the importance of universalism comes into play here: only on the basis of a progressive universalism that recognizes the need for all people to live freely and flourish regardless of race, religion, or any such decaying limitations, can the aspirations of Zionism and the Palestinian cause both come to fruition by their own Aufhebung. This really boils down to what the old-fashioned people used to call a 'proletarian internationalism' and the like.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, the author seems to associate this with the significance of a written constitution and spends a considerable time complaining about the lack of constitutionality in Israel, seemingly locating its fascistic tendency to let nation-building considerations override everything else in the failure to establish a constitution during the emergency situation at the historic birth of Israel. This is odd, not only because it is a strangely liberal reformist demand given Kovel's overall political point, but also because virtually no state's constitution has ever been founded other than in an emergency situation (US, France, Germany, Japan, etc) and the significance of this for the eventual political trajectory is not evident. Aside from this, a major flaw in the book is the author's tendency to accomodate too much the historical narratives of anti-Semitism; while he is certainly right that one should look at the history of Jews in Europe from an objective and universal point of view, and not just indulge in a tale of perpetual victimhood, Kovel goes too much in the other direction. It will not do to imply that Jews were for the most part successful money-lenders and the like, an old charade which ignores entirely the status of the vast majority of European Jews through the ages as poor artisans and craftsmen, not wealthy manipulators of money.

The book is not a political-economic analysis in the first instance, although it contains a fair amount of historical and economic sub-narratives to establish its mainly philosophical critique of Zionism. As a result, these sometime appear as somewhat truncated and superficial, and he fails to link this to a wider analysis of the nature of settler states, as could be done. Then again, one book cannot do everything. There is much good to be had in it also: at times, the analysis of the political and psychological consequences of the tribal chauvinism implied by Zionism is brilliant, and Kovel's book especially excellently makes the important argument of how Zionism necessarily and irrevokably brings forth so many of the seeming 'aberrations' of modern Israel: its fascistic and militarist tendencies, its inability to treat equally its Arab and Bedouin citizens, its expansionist nature, its wanton disregard for the lived environment, its corrupt mafioso structure domestically, its enormous inequalities, its theocratic weaknesses. There is also due attention for the history of Zionism as an idea, its marginality in the prewar Jewish communities, its links with fascistic (social fascist, i.e. social-democracy for the chosen people only) and terrorist activities, the breathtakingly cynical way it established itself as a dominant ideological force and still does so against increasing resistance. Kovel's narrative is not centered just around the oppression of the Palestinians and their exclusion, but also makes clear that even aside from all this, the Zionist project is a failure and must be a failure in this place and this age. Finally, he identifies clearly the significance of a universalist rather than a nationalist politics to overcome Zionism, including a clear exclusion of apartheid Israel along the same lines as South Africa, and the importance of the right of return of the expelled Palestinians and their descendants as a peaceful and progressive move that nonetheless ipso facto makes Zionism impossible. The road to a 'two-state solution' is a dead end; the road must now lead to a single, secular, democratic and socialist Palestine.


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