Thoughts on Antonio Gramsci by Michele Filippini

Antonio Gramsci died on the 27th April 1937, 80 years ago today. In this blog, Michele Filippini, author of Using Gramsci: A New Approach dissects the evolving function of Gramsci’s work, exploring the move from a historically conscious reading that shaped politics in practice, to the interdisciplinary appeal of the new theoretical impulse.

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Those who do not produce things (in the wide sense) cannot produce words.

Antonio Gramsci, 1912

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In 1987, Eric J. Hobsbawm wrote an article for the Italian journal Rinascita, informing readers that Antonio Gramsci was among ‘The 250 most cited authors in the Arts and Humanities Citation Index 1976–1983’. This ranking of famous names from the sixteenth century onwards, only included another four Italians: Giorgio Vasari, Giuseppe Verdi, Benedetto Croce and Umberto Eco. The publication date of the index is significant: Gramsci died on 27 April 1937, and as this citing indicates his fame was very much of a posthumous nature, beginning at the end of the Second World War with the publication of the thematic volumes of his prison writings.

So, what happened during the thirty-year period to transform a leading political figure, the Secretary of the Italian Communist Party, imprisoned by the Fascist regime, into a leading intellectual figure for the international left, but also a classic in political theory?

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Why we need Marxist-Humanism now by Robert Spencer

Today, anti-humanism is a dominant, even definitive, feature of contemporary theory, whereas humanism is dismissed as ‘bourgeois’ and ‘old-fashioned’, even a precept of Right-Libertarianism. For Humanism demands a reappraisal of humanist humanism2thought, establishing the historical context that resulted in humanism’s eclipse, critiquing anti-humanism, and conceptualising humanism in light of post-structuralism, queer theory, feminism and postcolonialism.

Whilst narrativising his humanist awakening,  editor and contributor, Robert Spencer, encapsulates the aims of For Humanism. He defends humanism against its outright rejection by certain strands of anti-foundationalist thought (namely postcolonialism and queer theory), and, in rebuking anti-humanism’s chief proponents, Foucault and Heidegger, proposes a humanist methodology of resistance, whilst demonstrating that Marxism has a place in humanist thought.

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When I first went to university to study English Literature I was interested to discover that words didn’t always mean what I thought they meant. It was a useful lesson, not least because among the many benefits of a literary education is the realisation that language, the main means by which humans encounter, experience and shape their world, is changeable as well as contestable. There are struggles taking place all the time over the meanings and uses of words. There were words that I liked that I learned to be suspicious of. In conversations with Marxists, I learned that it was not a good thing to be an ‘idealist’, the word did not mean what it appeared to mean to the eighteen-year old me. As I discovered that struggles over social, economic and political power played an equally prominent part in human history as the battle of ideas did, I realised that an idealist, was somebody who exaggerated the latter and downplayed the former. I was happy to accept that claim and I still am. However, I had much greater difficulty when one of my seminar tutors responded to a comment I made in class about David Copperfield with the disapproving remark that “that, Rob, was a very humanist thing to say”.

Puzzled by her disapproval, my interest in humanism began. This ongoing struggle over humanism’s meanings resulted in For Humanism, the book that my friend David Alderson and I have put together. To be a humanist or, still worse, a liberal humanist was evidently a bad thing; the belief in the distinctive value of the human individual was irretrievably bourgeois, akin to the Right’s belief in the inviolable private self. Now I had little truck with this objection. Anybody who has spent time in the company of Trotskyists will have seen the force of Oscar Wilde’s famous remark that the problem of socialism is that it takes up too many evenings, and for me the point of socialism was not to sacrifice the self to the collective but to fashion a society in which everybody had the time and the resources required to do their own thing. Collective struggle was required in the short term, granted, but only in order to make collective struggle unnecessary in the long term.

To be fair to the folk in SWSS, a few of them, it seemed, were quite happy to describe themselves as humanist, thus I was introduced to a bone of contention on the Left that has interested me ever since. I wanted to know how to be a Marxist and a humanist. The anti-humanist Marxists thought that humanism was bourgeois. Humanists preferred privacy to the collective, the individual to the working class, beauty to struggle, and so on. Anti-humanist Marxists distrusted humanism because it extolled the whole rights-based ideology of capitalism and therefore had a whiff of revisionism and political compromise about it. The Marxists I hung about with saw themselves as revolutionaries not as conciliators or coalitionists; one of them confessed to me that he had suspicions about a comrade who, he suspected, would have moral reservations about stringing somebody up from a lamppost! Not a predicament – I reflected to myself in a pub just off Norwich’s Dereham Road – any of us were likely to face any time soon.

Lenin notoriously told Maxim Gorky that he daren’t listen to Beethoven’s Appassionata too often because it ‘makes you want to say stupid nice things and stroke the heads of people who could create such beauty… And now you mustn’t stroke anyone’s head – you might get your hand bitten off. You have to hit them on the head, without mercy.’ I haven’t hit anybody on the head since I was about ten years old, and I’ve always had a suspicion about insurrectionary rhetoric of this kind. For me, the socialist revolution should not, in societies like ours at least, be an insurrection, but the concerted entrenchment and expansion of forms of democratic empowerment that will confront and supplant the overweening regime of capital and authoritarian state power. Let’s call that a ‘long revolution’, to borrow Raymond Williams’s term, provided that as much emphasis is placed on ‘revolution’ as on ‘long’, as Williams once added.

David Alderson and I, in For Humanism, wanted to remind readers of the value and strength of a specifically Marxist humanism that sees its’ social, political and economic goals as extensions and not blanket rejections of the liberal or bourgeois tradition of democracy, rights and freedoms. In other words, Marxism is a humanism. Granted, talk about democracy, rights and freedoms is usually employed as an ideological smokescreen to conceal the oppressions and exploitations of rapaciously capitalist dispensations such as ours. Most of us are free every five years or so to put a cross on a ballot paper, but the rest of the time our representatives take their orders from big business. Every human being on the planet has an inalienable right to things like a decent pension and free healthcare, but the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is hardly worth the paper it’s written on. When these rights confront the right of capital to travel, suborn and exploit, force decides. But, as Adorno says somewhere, it’s not ideology that’s at fault here, but rather ideology’s pretension to correspond to reality. The ideals of freedom, democracy and rights are not wrong. What is wrong is the naïve liberal faith that they can be realized under present conditions.

We wanted to think about the reasons why anti-humanism had become such a dominant, even definitive, feature of cultural theory. What has made those who teach literary criticism and cultural theory grimace or recoil when they thought somebody was doing or saying something humanist? The answer is that they have relied on humanism’s enemies to tell them what the term means. The humanist tradition, with all its richness and complexity, its secularity, its commitment to democratic socialism, feminism and anti-imperialist struggle, its restlessly critical sensibility, its militant repudiation of every political and philosophical effort to define or control human beings, was simply written off on the basis of hatchet jobs done by dubious figures like Martin Heidegger and self-serving half-truths peddled by Michel Foucault.

In his lamentable ‘Letter on Humanism’ of 1947 Heidegger dismissed the human as just the latest impertinent effort to harass or constrain ‘Being’, the mystical invocation of ‘Being’ leading Heidegger’s work variously to Zennish otherworldliness, reactionary anti-modernism or the blood-and-soil mysticism of German fascism. Foucault, who was politically a very changeable figure, dismissed humanism as an antiquated and reactionary faith in the inviolable human subject. Humanism’s most influential post-war exponent, Jean-Paul Sartre, was described by Foucault as ‘a man of the nineteenth century trying to think through the problems of the twentieth century’. Foucault was similarly dismissive (and wrong) about Herbert Marcuse’. Undeterred by the fact that none of Sartre’s work makes any such claim about human subjectivity being static or exceptional or normative (indeed, it painstakingly makes the opposite claim), Foucault and his epigones presented all humanism as a sterile faith in the normative nature of subjectivity.

It’s my view that Foucault’s critique of humanism has been most influential and most damaging. For cultural theorists inspired by Foucault’s work, which is a large proportion of those working in the sub-disciplines of postcolonial theory, queer theory, feminism, ‘the human’ is just another reprehensible norm to be queered and subverted. For postcolonialists, for example, ‘the human’ is synonymous with European colonial power and its legacies. The aim of postcolonial criticism is then to ‘resist’ that power and to show how texts ‘hybridise’ the normative identities of nation, empire, sexuality, race, subjectivity and so on. The problem with this way of proceeding is that cultural theory and cultural criticism are thus locked into a repetitive pas-de-deux, the power of the human or of race becoming a formative principle that we are called upon to resist but not finally to overthrow. ‘Wherever there is power there is resistance’, says Foucault, which sounds comforting enough until one realizes that this little maxim works the other way too: where there is resistance there is power and always will be. It has always struck me that the notion of hybridizing identity or subverting the normal isn’t analogous with the purpose of the radical project: to become the dominant in its own right, take power and seek the political, cultural and institutional change that would make it impossible for prescriptive identities and norms to be imposed. The ubiquitous Foucauldian rhetoric of resistance is too imprecise. It says nothing about strategy and goals. It connotes the fending off of an adversary not the triumph over that adversary. Anti-humanism rose to prominence in the era of the ‘class war conservatism’ of neoliberalism. It represents a parasitic dependency on a system of ‘power’ that it despairs of being overturned. Anti-humanism is a pragmatic adjustment to a period of history that saw the organized forgetting of the revolutionary horizons of the Marxist or socialist humanism that we wish to rehabilitate.

So the purpose of our book was to show that the Marxist humanist tradition shows a way out of these dead ends. Humanism names a principle, the rights and capacities of human beings, that is being suppressed by systems of power and in the name of which transformative (rather than merely local or defensive) political projects might be launched. Humanism’s detractors have misrepresented it. It does indeed identify specifically human attributes and needs: for shelter, nourishment and any number of other physical provisions and for creative self-expression. But it does not identify the human as a ‘kingdom of values’, to use Sartre’s phrase, separate from or superior to the animal world and to nature. It does not impugn but esteems diversity, the infinitely varied creative capacities of human communities and individuals. It rejects the self-defeating notion that some sort of ‘will to power’ is an inviolable element of our political life. Its political principles are anchored in the vision of a society that conforms more exactly to the kind of beings that humans unalterably are: multifarious, creative, somatic creatures that feel pain and seek pleasure, dependent mammals capable of transforming that fact of mutual dependency into the value of solidarity. For Humanism ransacks the resources of a half-forgotten tradition. But it has no sterile reverence for the past, for bourgeois or colonial or patriarchal humanisms. Nor is it satisfied with cultural theory’s pragmatic rapprochement with the neoliberal present. It seeks a radically different kind of future. The plutocrats, mobsters and little Hitlers don’t scare us. We’re not here to ‘resist’ them, to organise in the margins or absorb power’s blows. We know what we’re fighting for.

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For Humanism: Explorations in Theory and Politics is edited by David Alderson, Robert Spencer.

It includes essays by the editors, in addition to, Timothy BrennanKevin Anderson and Barbara Epstein.

Neoliberalism: An American love story by Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson

Trump’s declaration of an economy ‘for the people’ lead many to incautiously declare the end of neoliberalism. Such declarations were at variance with subsequent news of his plans for market deregulation, corporate tax cuts and his instating of the richest cabinet in U.S. history. Why do tired neoliberal economic policies, proven to be an abject failure, dominate the economic landscape?  In their new book, The Profit Doctrine, Robert Chernomas and Ian Hudson set to found out, critically examining the key proponents of neoliberalism; their flawed ideas and their flawed characters. In this exclusive essay, the authors look at America’s romance with Milton Friedman, Alan Greenspan and Robert Lucas and their theories and look to the future. 

In Donald Trump’s inauguration speech he boasted that his administration would take power from Washington and give it back to “you, the people.” As usual, President Trump’s headline is appealing but his analysis is appalling. While he is correct that economic policy in the US has turned against most of “the people,” it is not Washington that is the problem, at least not in the manner that Trump or his cabinet of business executives would have you believe.

In fact, contrary to what friedman-and-bushPresident Trump suggests, economic policy since 1980 has worked against most people in the US because of its dedication to corporate profits and the wealth of the business class. An economy that actually worked for the people would create stable growth, price stability, full employment, and the efficient allocation of resources. Some might even add to this list an environmentally sustainable economy and a reasonably equitable distribution of wealth and income. However, with the exception of price stability, the US after 1980 has delivered none of these things.

According to inequality experts, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, between 1973 and 2000 the average income of the bottom 90% of US taxpayers fell by 7%. Incomes of the top 1% rose by 148%, the top .1 percent by 343%, and extremely well off in the top .01% rose by an amazing 599%. Economic Policy Institute economist Lawrence Mishel calculated that in 1965, the average pay of the CEOs at the top 350 US firms (ranked by sales) stood at about 20 times the average compensation of their workers. By 2011, CEO income was over 200 times that of their average worker.

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Pluto Press 40% off ‘Back 2 Uni’ sale starts today!

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Pluto is offering another of its legendary Mega Sales. Running for a week starting TODAY, we’re taking a huge 40% off* ALL of our titles, including free UK P&P.

It’s the season where many of us gear up for the new academic year, and what better way to prepare for a new term of studies (as well as teach-ins, occupations and demonstrations) than to go book shopping?

All you need to do to activate the sale offer is click on the image above or type the following URL into your browser:

http://bit.ly/back2uni

* Our website has a 10% discount rate on the RRP already, so it’s an additional 30% off on top of this discount.

Pluto Press 24 hour MEGA-SALE! 35% off all books! Free UK P&P! Exclamation marks!!!!

You heard it right folks, Pluto Press has embarked upon another of it’s 24 hour bookselling tours-de-force… the much whispered-of annual Mega Sale.

Starting at 11am (in other words, just a couple of short hours ago) and running until 11am on Wednesday, ALL books on the Pluto website will be subject to a further 35% off. That’s on top of the 10-20% discount we put up there normally just ‘cos we love you all.

All you have to do is type the following link into your browser and then watch those prices fall:

bit.ly/plutomegasale

Not sure what to browse for? We can help you out with a scatter-gun of 10 recent highlights :)

1.) What We Are Fighting For – Federico Campagna and Emanuele Campiglio

Now only £8.45

This great new book answers the question that the mainstream media loves to ask the protesters. The first radical, collective manifesto of the decade, it brings together some of the key theorists and activists from the new networked and creative social movements. Contributors include Owen Jones, David Graeber, John Holloway, Nina Power, Mark Fisher, Franco Berardi Bifo and Marina Sitrin.

Chapters outline the alternative vision that animates the new global movement – from ‘new economics’ and ‘new governance’ to ‘new public’ and ‘new social imagination’. The book concludes by exploring ‘new tactics of struggle’.

2.) Tweets and the Streets – Paolo Gerbaudo

Now only £9.75

Tweets and the Streets analyses the culture of the new protest movements of the 21st century. From the Arab Spring to the ‘indignados’ protests in Spain and the Occupy movement, Paolo Gerbaudo examines the relationship between the rise of social media and the emergence of new forms of protest.

An exciting and invigorating journey through the new politics of dissent, Tweets and the Streets points both to the creative possibilities and to the risks of political evanescence which new media brings to the contemporary protest experience.

3.)  Bleakonomics – Rob Larson

Now only £9.75

Bleakonomics is a short and darkly humorous guide to the three great crises plaguing today’s world: environmental degradation, social conflict in the age of austerity and financial instability.

Written for anyone who is wondering how we’ve come to this point, Rob Larson holds mainstream economic theory up against the grim reality of a planet in meltdown. He looks at scientists’ conclusions about climate change, the business world’s opinions about its own power, and reveals the fingerprints of finance on American elections.

4.) A People’s History of the Second World War – Donny Gluckstein

Now only £11.37

Donny’s great history of the Second World War is a brilliant introduction to the idea of the dual war – the one waged by imperialist governments, both allied and axis, and the ‘people’s war’ to eradicate fascism and ensure a more equitable future, conducted simultaneously from below. Covering countries as far afield as Indonesia, the USA, Yugoslavia and Greece, the reader is treated to a brilliantly honest and engaging account of the Second World War. Highly recommended for anyone interested in books with ‘A People’s History of…’ in the title!

5.) The Islamophobia Industry – Nathan Lean

Now only £7.47

The Islamophobia Industry is a disturbing account of the rising tide of Islamophobia sweeping through the United States and Europe.

Nathan Lean takes us through a world of conservative bloggers, right-wing talk show hosts, evangelical religious leaders and politicians, all united in their quest to exhume the ghosts of 9/11 and convince their compatriots that Islam is the enemy. Lean uncovers their scare tactics, reveals their motives and exposes the ideologies that drive their propaganda machine.

6.) The Corporation that Changed the World – Nick Robins

Now only £10.40

The English East India Company was the mother of the modern multinational. Its trading empire encircled the globe, importing Asian luxuries such as spices, textiles and teas. But it also conquered much of India with its private army and broke open China’s markets with opium. The Company’s practices shocked its contemporaries and still reverberate today.

The Corporation That Changed the World is the first book to reveal the Company’s enduring legacy as a corporation. This new, expanded edition explores how the four forces of scale, technology, finance and regulation drove its spectacular rise and fall. For decades, the Company was simply too big to fail, and stock market bubbles, famines, drug-running and even duels between rival executives are to be found in this new account.

7.) How to Look Good in a War – Brian Rappert

Now only £10.40

How to Look Good in A War examines the methods used to depict, defend and justify the use of state violence. Many books have shown how ‘truth is the first casualty of war’ but this is the first to analyse exactly how pro-war narratives are constructed and normalised.

Examining how organised violence is justified, How to Look Good in A War draws on experiences from recent controversy to consider how ignorance about the operation of war is produced and how concerned individuals and groups can intervene to make a difference.

8.) Bert – Dave Arthur

Now only £14.30

A. L. ‘Bert’ Lloyd played a key part in the folk music revival of the 1950s and ’60s, but that is only part of his story. Dave Arthur documents how Lloyd became a member of the Communist Party, forceful antifascist, trade unionist and an important part of left-wing culture from the early 1930s to his death in 1982. Following his return from Australia as a 21-year-old, self-educated agricultural labourer, he was at the heart of the most important left-wing movements and highly respected for his knowledge in various fields.

Dave Arthur recounts the life of a creative, passionate and life-loving Marxist, and in so doing provides a social history of a turbulent twentieth century.

9.) The Making and Unmaking of a Zionist – Antony Lerman

Now only £11.70

Antony Lerman traces his five-decade personal and political journey from idealistic socialist Zionist to controversial critic of Zionism and Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.

He recalls his 1960s Zionist activism, two years spent on kibbutz and service in the IDF, followed by the gradual onset of doubts about Israel on returning to England. Assailed for his growing public criticism of Israeli policy and Zionism, he details his ostracism by the Jewish establishment. This is a powerful, human rights-based argument about how a just peace can be achieved.

10.) The Dawn of the Arab Uprisings – Bassam Haddad, Rosie Bsheer and Ziad Abu-Rish

Now only £11.37

The Dawn of the Arab Uprisings sheds light on the historical background and initial impact of the mass uprisings which have shaken the Arab world since December 2010. The book brings together the best writers from the online journal Jadaliyya, many of whom live in the countries affected, to provide unique understanding and first-hand accounts of events that have received superficial and partial coverage in Western and Arab media alike. While the book focuses on those states that have been most affected by the uprisings it also covers the impact on Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq.

The Dawn of the Arab Uprisings covers the full range of issues involved in these historic events, from political economy and the role of social media, to international politics, gender, labour and the impact on culture, making this the ideal one-stop introduction to the events for the novice and specialist alike.