McKenzie Wark on 25 Feb 2001 21:24:39 -0000

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Re: <nettime> In Defence of Cultural Studies aka Debord and nostalgia

Is there a 'coherent view of history' that has ever done anyone any good?
The mechanistic views of the second international was just as much a
disaster as the volunteerism of the third. One led to inaction, the other
to the gulag. Neo-liberal visions of a world made safe for markets,
nothing but markets also has a 'coherent view of history' behind it,
namely Fukuyama's rewriting of Kojeve. Complexity and difference is what
is written out of all these scripts, and leading to poor political
judgement on both 'left' and right.

While I respect Keith's wish for a non-commodified Debord, this is clearly
wishful thinking. The capture of these signified by the world of designer
theory is now pretty much complete. But it is to be agreed that there is
indeed a gift economy of alternative though that is alve and well and good
luck to it. It is just that it is hardly a complete and compelling answer
to the problem of 'the political'. Not in an age when would-be radicals
are doing the far right's job for it in attacking institutions of global
accountability and offering cover for protectionism. Ralph Nader's
economic agenda is in this domain the same as Pat Buchanan's.

Marx saw protectionism for what it was -- a policy that favoured the local
bourgeois and gave them a bulwark against more productive forces. He saw
the politics of local versus global capital with some irony (see the
reporting on the Indian fabric trade) but was hardly a cheer leader for
provincial capital and its dependents, which is what so much of
'radicalism' now amounts to. Whatever the old buggers limitations, he had
broken free from the conservative aspect of romanticism with its
aristocratic disdain for the development of productive forces. Have we
forgotten that it was Marx who argued that only the full development of
the forces of production will lead to the revolution in relations of
production? It is the anti-globalisation protestors who have abandoned
Marx on this point. Marx would have cheered the forward march of
globalisation on, while keeping a strict accounting of the violence it
does to the lives of working people. But rather than look for ways to
mitigate this violence in the same of an extension of social justice, Marx
would have stuck to his 'coherent view if history' and insisted that it
would all work out in the end, as the forces of production developed to
the point where the overthrow of existing relations of production became
either inevitable or possible, depending on how you read his somewhat
confused historicism.

There has to be a surplus before there can be justice in the distribution
of that surplus. Where much of the world is still living in a brutal
subsistance economy, there's a lot to be said for the surplus models of
economic development (which cojoins Marx with Ricardo). As to how one
achieves higher levels of productivity using constant improvements in
technique and an open trading space while mitigating the dislocations and
collateral costs to people and the environment is an agenda that few on
the left seem to want to grapple with in good faith. Talk to a
*representative* range of people from the devleoping world, rather than to
the glove puppets of the first world NGOs and this is what you find they
ask of us. Prosperity and justice. On their terms, not ours.

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