On the necessary vision, or why we need (better) historigraphy (archive)

The question of the demand for an alteration of the world brings us back to Karl Marx’s often quoted statement from his “Theses on Feuerbach.” I would like to quote it exactly and read out loud: “philosophers have only differently interpreted the world, what it comes down to is that it be altered.” When this statement is cited and when it is looked at, it is overlooked that altering the world presupposes an alteration in the representation of the world. A representation of the world can only be altered by adequately interpreting the world.

That means: Marx’s demand for an “alteration” is founded upon on a very certain [or determinate] interpretation of the world, and because of this, this statement is shown to be without weight. It gives the impression that it speaks decisively against philosophy, though the second half of the statement presupposes, unspoken, a demand for philosophy. – Martin Heidegger On Marx

On may think this is a refutation of Marx, but I have never read Heidegger that way. His parsing is almost more “dialectical” itself than Marx’s original statement. Regardless, the strong sense of what Heidegger says here that without a necessary vision and understand of the processes of history, the demand to change the world falls into naught–for without a fix demand about what the world should be and without an understanding about what the world is, the changing of the world is not possible as one is just reacting to images and images of images.

In this Heidegger echoes his supposed arch-nemesis Adorno, whose distrust of calls for action for action sake actually led to supporting the very systems on is want to oppose. Think of the counter-culture? Was the that not a way to re-brand popular culture? Can this to be said to be a counter-tendency or a way to revitalize both the economic and political system the counter-culture opposed? Well, then again, look at Hot Topic’s existence for that. The fixed point this must be philosophical and historigraphical for those who want to draw lessons from history or create models on which to analysis the past. Heidegger acknowledged that the Marxist conception of history was probably the most advanced even though his actual politics led to almost diametrically oppose it. The reason was that Marxian analysis took teleological assumptions from idealist philosophy and tried to ground them in testable material.

This is not to say that history of “Marxism” is particularly strong on this point: a lot of the typologies produced under USSR and the CCP have been laughably bad to the point of being nearly secular dispensationalism. I have been having discussions with an internet friend on the theories of Jairus Banaji on the theories around modes of production as well as the “Political Marxist” historical work of Robert Brenner and Ellen Meiksins Wood. I have been torn between these two visions, although I think reading Mike McNair’s three part treatment of the subject of Banaji, has convinced me that fear of teleology on Banaji can be problematic. Still, it seems like all the vulgar Marxist talk of base-superstructure, ignores that “modes of production” are not discretely separated from the state or cultural structures.

For example, whether you accept Banaji’s thesis that capitalism developed off of the latent merchant trades of the Byzantine courts and the Catholic expansion or Wood’s thesis that capitalism emerged out of a culture the English kingship which never fit, exactly, the mode of feudalism that characterized the regions we now call Italy, France, and Germany, it is clear that relationships of power and ideas of politics and religion have material effects on “the modes of production” as they effect them. As McNair says, “The point I am making is that the ‘base’ is the total material division of labour in the society, not those forms which are immediately analogous to the capitalist ‘economy’.”

Furthermore, either Brenner or Wood’s theories or Banaji’s indicate that the “Asiatic despotism” of Marx was a “here be dragons” moment in which “modes of production” not understood in other cultures were not quite ignored. The development of the Qing does not fit feudal patterns nor is it explainable in the same way that one can see in the 18th century liberal revolutions. Even in Europe, explaining why Sicily maintained a feudal structure 200 years after the rest of Europe, even those under monarchies, had abandoned this particular social relationship. The “modes of production” and the periodization of the relationships within the larger abstracts that we use to describe economies are vital, but they are also vital to be subtle and nuanced enough not to collapse real difference in economic and social functioning.

In recent trends in ultra-left, communization has gone on to use theories of real subsumption to periodize capitalism and discuss why various attempts at both revolution and reform have seemingly failed, or, at least, not worked out as planned. I think these discussions of historigraphy are vital if anything of that kind is attempted. There are too many questions and distinctions not understood: what is the exact distinction between skilled and gang slavery, how did this effect early modern chattel slavery: what are the implications for robotization? What forms of political arrangements led to the feudal collapse? What are the roles of merchant and guilds in capitalist organization? Is late antiquity almost arriving at a kind of proto-capitalism that collapses from the inability to move away from a slave economy and by terrible currency manipulation, or is this a moment of more primitive relationships? Does Calvinism change the culture of work enough to effect capitalist development, or is it unrelated? These things would matter for dealing with theories of real subsumption as the kind discussed in Endnotes and Theorie Communiste, It seems vital to any real attempt to periodize capitalism to understand its early emergence, and the fact we can’t decide whether it is unique to England and then spreads or it was already developing in Byzantine empire? Why did it not develop in Sung dynasty where the material wealth was probably there? Is China’s mode a new form of capitalism or a development that is clearly in line with prior theories of state capitalism? Our models must be able to explain this if one is act. To change the world, one should be damn sure one understands it. If these questions cannot be answered within a model, to the dustbin of history with these theories of history.


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