On Gunder Frank's Manifesto

Mon, 09 Mar 1998 01:15:16 +0000
Mark Jones (Jones_M@netcomuk.co.uk)

Gunder Frank wrote:

> what Novak wrote is that the change in power from one upper class to
> another , ie slave owners to feudal lords to bourgeois, was NOT made
> primarily by the class struggle of the lower/oppressed clases. and that
> is manifestly true. the 'political' Marx [class struggle is motor of
> all history] and the historicla materialist Marx [people make histpory
> but not in conditions of their own chosing] are in irremediable
> contradiction with each other, as the TWO MARXIMS of Gouldner alos
> pointed out - and despiute the claim of my friend Mino Carchedi that
> Marx, Gramci and he Mino had 'resolved' this contradiciton.

One of the ideological screens which permits the moral appeasement of
capitalism depends upon absolutising it as a historically-unprecedented
social formation. But another is simply to deny its existence! This
'left-wing' anti-communism (Frank's) is just as inimical to the liberatory
project of the CM. Gunder's ideas reduce Marxism to theoretical anarchy,
but it is not. Just as theorists of capitalist exceptionalism from Kautsky
to Rostow were wrong, so is Gunder when he bends the stick too far the
opposite way. And none of them understood Marx, evidently.

The concept of production as social mode of appropriation of nature has been
abandoned, despite a deluge of words to the contrary, and a symptom of
that is the fate of the 'class struggle', which begins to drift and spin
with no theoretical anchor. For Gunder, 'class struggle' can not be more
than an abstract empiricism, just as 'production & distribution' become mere
lists of technologies and trading routes. Gunder BEGINS WITH this theoretical
dereliction; and what then can be left of Marxism, in his eye, other than
stylised categories ('class struggle', 'world system', hyphenated or not, etc).
Precisely nothing is left to orient ourselves with, other than a mercantile
conception of markets and capital formation, timeless, ahistorical
rooted in temples and sacred groves. This discourse of forum
and bazaar is what remains when production qua sociohistorical
dynamic has been obliterated.

I repeat that when Marx called class struggle the 'motor' of history he did
not mean dramaturgical acts of mass will. He meant forms of appropriation
of nature. There is no logical or historical 'irremediable' contradiction
in Marx's thought (the metaphor of 'motors' BTW is thinkable only in
a fossil-fuelled capitalism, this is evidence of the coupure of
industrial capitalism, an innovation of history. It is useless to
deny this.)

Frank's objection is literally tangential, but he has one insight
we should reflect on, namely that time's arrow pierces the historical
envelope that is capitalism from end to end. And it is no use
criticising the CM for the perverse refusal of the proletariat to
carry out the tasks appointed by history THUS FAR. That has not done
so YET, does not mean it never will, on the contrary. 1917 is an
indicator of the future: but even without that precious experience,
the ultimate fate of capitalism would be clear from Marx alone, even
from the CM.

It should not be necessary to add, that Marx did not embrace
Enlightenment euphoria about the liberatory potential of capitalism --
even in the Manifesto, a superficial reading of Marx's chiliasm,
claimed to be still more explicit in Das Kapital, whereby the
proletariat can lead humankind to the promised land only because
industrial capitalism first found the grail of perpetual motion.

Capitalism's essence is not self-expansion but expanded, systematised,
intensified plunder, not just in primary accumulation, but also in
the logic of unequal exchange with labour, and in the industrial logics
of the exploitation of nature, literally engendered in patriarchal
science and the apotheosis of nature as female. The motor needs
fuel, and its working is entropic. Thus Frank is merely agreeing with
Marx when he sees a radical CONTINUITY of history. The radical
DIScontinuity the CM foreshadows is between communism and everything
before.

The mistaken reading of Marx which sees capitalism in optimistic terms,
rests on phrases torn out of context from the Manifesto and The German
Ideology, which Marx & Engels anyway abandoned 'to the gnawing
criticism of the mice' (and the manuscript, which was in the Institute of
Marxism-Leninism in Moscow, altho I have no idea where it is now, no
doubt Chris Arthur knows, really does have teethmarks on it).

The Manifesto, of course, was merely a wall newspaper which ought not to
be treated to all this diligent iconoclasm but understood for what it was:
not a definitive statement of Marxian views on Asia or anything else,
but an intervention in struggle, an ephemeral pamphlet, now a
victim of unintended longevity.

In Volume III of Capital, when capital-in-general makes its appearance
as the 'determining-last-instance', commodity-form, exchange and use-
value, even labour-power, now are only forms of appearance. This 'base'
is nothing more than an allocation of labour-times. The 'superstructure'
is all the instances required to make this superhuman feat of class-
oppression thinkable or doable. Class struggle is embedded in the bricks
and mortar, and in the heads of the professors. So Marx was right about that.
Therefore liberation means emancipation FROM ALL THAT. From the universal
City, beginning with Jericho, inscribed in our minds as the elision of
Nature.

Marx's Capitalism is parasitic, an epidemic cancer which can be
overthrown only by the conscious effort of the oppressed. But this
too is what makes it different from the past. Proletarian class-struggle
is conscious; the struggles of antecedent classes (feudal lords, etc)
were not. This class struggle is not a 'motor' at all but a party of
Communists, *um, chest i sovyest v'nashyi epokhi* as the Bolsheviks
had it, *the spirit, honour and conscience of our epoch*.

The principal task of the Communists is to expunge productivist
utopias from our minds and reality. We do not speak of building
dams and factories, but the repair and restoration of ecological
networks and biomes, and the painstaking excavation, rediscovery,
of the _anthropos_ (perhaps the only real science will be anthropology,
undertaken to re-enchant nature and find ourselves again). But that
is not all: there is still the question of
Communism itself. Reparation (and repentance!) are only the start.

Such a world will be lived differently, its flow not a crushing
Newtonian externality, the terrifying burden of
'growth', but *experienced* time which has no telos other than
disclosing its immanent potentialities. Capitalist commodity
production cut a rift in the real, and superposed a monstrous regime
of valorisation on physiological activity and natural process.
Only thru the real subsumption of concrete labours to the abstract
dialectics of valorisation, reproduced at great cost, with
immense difficulty day-by-day, can capitalism exist, like anti-matter
in a cyclotron. Its 'development' is only the widening of this breach.
It is self-evident, axiomatic even, that such a rift in the real must be
healed, or it will simply annihilate the world.

That is already happening: 'Man' has already birthed 'Superman'. The
technicians are annihilating the _anthropos_ for the sake of a commodity.
Certainly, there is no room for despair despite this. Why, after all,
did we suppose we would be the midwives of ourselves? What vanity was that?
Midwives are not progenitors or forerunners. They stand a good chance
of being effaced in the development of what they pull into the light of day.
That is certainly the fate of our world, and its proletariat. The future
may not be ours after all, but we have a duty to ensure that those whose
it will be, are enabled to inherit.

This is the deeper sense of Marx's apparent ambivalence about the
merits/demerits of capitalism, the somewhat hasty seeming-embrace of
its 'progressive features' in early pieces like the CM. Into the void
of the capitalist labour process tumbles the whole world, rendered
non-affective, inhuman and alien in the process. But, and this is the
truth, the process must complete itself, once embarked upon. This is
incidentally the material basis for mass dissatisfaction with socialism,
seen as mere disruption of this logic, which the proletariat has now
embraced as its own (a symptom of the collapse of the division of mental
and manual labour, and another sure symptom of terminal crisis in
hypertrophied 'global' capitalism, of which 'virtualisation' and
'dematerialisation' are also symptoms). That is how the rift will be healed:
from within. Capitalism production cannot simply be abolished, it must on
the contrary be ACCOMPLISHED. Only its absorption of Nature and the human
subject, the faustian ambition diagnosed in the Grundrisse, abolishes the
commodity as sociohistorical existent.