Wilhelm Reich’s synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalysis

Back in June, in a post fea­tur­ing cri­tiques Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács wrote on Freu­di­an psy­cho­ana­lys­is, I an­nounced that I’d shortly be post­ing a num­ber of works by the Marxi­an psy­cho­ana­lyst Wil­helm Reich. A couple days earli­er, of course, I’d pos­ted an ex­cel­lent piece by Ber­tell Oll­man on Reich from his 1979 es­say col­lec­tion So­cial and Sexu­al Re­volu­tion. Need­less to say, this post is long over­due.

Some brief re­marks are there­fore ap­pro­pri­ate, in passing, to frame Reich’s rel­ev­ance to the present mo­ment.

First of all, Reich is rel­ev­ant to con­tem­por­ary dis­cus­sions of fas­cism. His work on The Mass Psy­cho­logy of Fas­cism re­mains one of the most in­nov­at­ive and pro­found Marx­ist ef­forts to un­der­stand ideo­logy as a ma­ter­i­al force that has ap­peared to date.

Moreover, this forms a pivotal point of de­par­ture for a host of sub­sequent at­tempts to the­or­ize re­volu­tion­ary sub­jectiv­ity — both in terms of con­scious­ness and of de­sire. To­mor­row or the next day I hope to jot down some of my own thoughts on the mat­ter, us­ing Reich for ref­er­ence.

Last but not least, Reich’s thoughts on sexu­al eman­cip­a­tion are con­sid­er­ably ahead of their time. Con­sider, for ex­ample, this ex­cerpt from one of his journ­al entries dated 1939, while in Oslo:

The past few nights I wandered the streets of Oslo alone. At night a cer­tain type of per­son awakes and plies her trade, one who these days must view each bit of love with great fear but who will someday hold sway over life. Today prac­tic­ally a crim­in­al, to­mor­row the proud bear­er of life’s finest fruits. Whores, os­tra­cized in our day, will in fu­ture times be beau­ti­ful wo­men simply giv­ing of their love. They will no longer be whores. Someday sen­su­al pleas­ure will make old maids look so ri­dicu­lous that the power of so­cial mor­al­ity will slip out of their hands. I love love!

While some of his views on ho­mo­sexu­al­ity might seem an­ti­quated or back­wards today — he saw it as a de­vi­ant be­ha­vi­or, linked to lat­ent au­thor­it­ari­an tend­en­cies — the fact re­mains that Reich favored de­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion and pro­tested adam­antly against its re­crim­in­al­iz­a­tion in the So­viet Uni­on un­der Stal­in.

In­cid­ent­ally, this is why I find it so ab­surd that left­ists look to ex­cuse Castro’s ho­mo­phobic policies pri­or to 1980. Eduard Bern­stein was pro­mot­ing gay rights dur­ing the 1890s, and Au­gust Bebel ad­voc­ated the re­peal of laws against sod­omy as early as 1898.

Re­gard­less, here are the prom­ised PD­Fs, along with some rare im­ages and a trans­lated art­icle by the Itali­an Trot­sky­ist Aless­andro D’Aloia. I have taken the liberty of de­let­ing some need­less asides about the Big Bang, a pe­cu­li­ar hangup the In­ter­na­tion­al Marx­ist Tend­ency re­tains with re­spect to the­or­et­ic­al phys­ics des­pite none of its mem­bers be­ing qual­i­fied enough to judge the mat­ter.

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Early Marxist criticisms of Freudian psychoanalysis: Karl Korsch and Georg Lukács

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Much has been written over the years about the similarity between and compatibility of Marxian sociology and Freudian psychology. Here is not the place to evaluate those claims. Suffice it to say, for now, that both social critique and psychoanalysis have seen better days. Both doctrines have lost whatever pretense they once had to scientific status and today are relegated mostly to the humanities. One is more likely to hear Marx and Freud mentioned in the halls of the academy than shouted in the streets or whispered in clinical settings.

Tomorrow or the next day I plan to post PDFs of the complete works of Wilhelm Reich in English, German, and possibly Spanish. I will perhaps devote a few lines to the question of Marxism and Freudism, to the way each approaches and interprets irrationality. Whether as social ideology or psychopathology, this is their shared concern and primary motivation. Each aims to render that which is unconscious conscious, to master the forces of nature (external or internal) in a more rationally ordered life. “Just as Marxism was sociologically the expression of humanity becoming conscious of the exploitation of a majority by a minority,” asserted Reich, “so psychoanalysis is the expression of humanity becoming conscious of the social repression of sex.”

Freudian analysis tends to fall back on biological explanations of irrational behavior, whereas Marxist theory places more emphasis on the historical dimension. Yet both of them ultimately fall under the heading of materialism, even if somewhat “idealistic” strains. Psychoanalysis gives too much priority to sexual factors, important though these doubtless are. Vulgar Marxism is quite often guilty of reducing everything to economic factors. Desires and drives are a major part of psychoanalysis, while needs and motivations are a major part of Marxism.

A word about these texts. Korsch’s article first appeared in the councilist periodical Living Marxism in February 1938. Its main point of reference, besides Freud’s work, is Wilhelm Reich, whose writings were virtually unknown in America at the time. Reuben Osborn’s 1937 book on Marx and Freud: A Dialectical Study is also dealt with, but Reich is the one Korsch for the most part has in mind. He is generally appreciative of both Freud, whose postulates about the unconscious Korsch calls a “genuine discovery,” as well as Reich’s efforts to understand the rise of fascism on its basis. Oddly, Korsch — who by then had long since abandoned Leninism and increasingly considered Marxism a lost cause — had recourse to Lenin’s arguments against the Economists in defending Marxist methodology.

Lukács’ review of Group Psychology by Sigmund Freud appeared even earlier, in the German communist paper Die rote Fahne [The Red Flag] in 1922. For whatever reason, Lukács never struck me as someone interested in Freud. Victor Serge had described him as “a philosopher steeped in the works of Hegel, Marx, and Freud” in Memoirs of a Revolutionary, so maybe I just forgot. Either way, Lukács makes very clear that he considers Freud “a researcher of integrity,” and even after criticizing psychoanalytic interpretations of military psychology insists: “We did not quote this example in order to expose an otherwise meritorious researcher to deserved ridicule.” Interesting stuff.
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The Marxism of Wilhelm Reich

Or, the social function
of sexual repression

Bertell Ollman
Social and Sexual
Revolution (1979)
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I

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“Just as Marxism was sociologically the expression of man’s becoming conscious of the laws of economics and the exploitation of a majority by a minority, so psychoanalysis is the expression of man becoming conscious of the social repression of sex.”1 How does sexual repression occur? What forms does it take? What are its effects on the individual? And, above all, what is its social function? Freud deserves credit for first raising these questions, but it is Wilhelm Reich who went furthest in supplying answers. In so doing, he not only developed Freud’s own insights but immeasurably enriched both the theory and practice of Marxism.

Reich’s writings fall into three main categories: 1) that of an analyst and co-worker of Freud’s, 2) that of a Marxist, and 3) that of a natural scientist. In this essay I am only concerned with Reich the Marxist, though excursions into these other fields will occasionally be necessary since the division between them is often uncertain both in time and conception. Reich’s Marxist period runs roughly from 1927, when he joined the Austrian Social Democratic Party, to 1936, when he finally despaired of affecting the strategy of working-class movements. From 1930 to 1933 he was a member of the German Communist Party.

Marx had said, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.”2 This formula has been hotly attacked and defended, but seldom explored. Marxists have generally been content to elaborate on aspects of social existence and to assume a sooner or later, somehow or other, connection of such developments with the mental life of the people involved. Reich is one of the few who took this formula as an invitation to research. How does everyday life become transformed into ideology, into types and degrees of consciousness? What works for such transformation and what against? Where do these negative influences come from, and how do they exert their effect?

Reich believed that psychoanalysis has a role to play in answering these questions. Marxists, however, have always had a particularly strong aversion to Freud’s science. On the practical level, psychoanalysis is carried on by rich doctors on richer patients. Conceptually, it starts out from the individual’s problems and tends to play down social conditions and constraints. It seems to say that early traumatic experiences, especially of a sexual nature, are responsible for unhappiness, and that individual solutions to such problems are possible. It also appears to view the individual’s conscious state as being in some sense dependent on his or her unconscious mental life, making all rational explanation — including Marxism — so much rationalization. In short, in both its analysis and attempts at cure, psychoanalysis takes capitalist society for granted. As if this weren’t enough to condemn it in the eyes of Marxists, psychoanalysis adds what seems to be a gratuitous insult in suggesting that Marxists in their great desire for radical change are neurotic. Continue reading

On the so-called “rational kernel of racism”

Chris Cutrone

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Image: Photograph of measurements taken
to determine one’s “racial hygiene” (1933)

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The following is Chris Cutrone’s attempt to explain what he actually meant by this controversial formulation. While I find his ex post facto explanation adequate, the original formulation still seems extravagant and misleading. Nowhere does he address the “anthropologically dissimilar” comment either, which is troubling.

Once again, it does not necessarily reflect the views of any other member of the organization, and certainly does not represent the organization’s views as a whole.

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I must speak to my “rational kernel of racism” comment, which is being taken out of context to try to impeach me.

I did not mean of course that somehow it is reasonable or otherwise OK to be racist.

By this statement I was applying Marx’s comment about the “rational kernel” of the Hegelian dialectic, which aimed to take it seriously and demystify it, not debunk or dismiss it.

The same is true in addressing racism as ideology — as the “necessary form of appearance” of social reality.

I was trying to address the issue of supposed “racism” in terms of the Marxist tradition of “ideology-critique,” or the immanently dialectical critique of ideological forms of appearance, or, explained more plainly, the critique from within of ideologies according to their own self-contradictions, in the interest of seeking how they might be changed. Continue reading

Three models of “resistance” — Introduction

Introduction

Image: Elena Feliciano, Resistance

A glance at the way “resistance” has been theorized over time — in both political and extra-political contexts — might help illuminate the Left’s changing sense of its own subjective agency during the last sesquicentenary. Three models may serve as an index to its shifting historical aspirations, and capture its oscillating feelings of hopefulness and helplessness at the prospect of their attainment. Before embarking upon this exposition, however, a few facts regarding its political usages should be particularly borne in mind:

First, as Stephen Duncombe pointed out a few years ago, the concept of “resistance” is in a way inherently conservative.[1] It indicates the ability of something to maintain itself — i.e., to conserve or preserve its present state of existence — against outside influences that would otherwise change it. Resistance signifies not only defiance but also intransigence. As the editors of Upping the Anti put it a couple years back, “resistance” automatically assumes a “defensive posture.”[2] It thus appears to be politically ambivalent: it depends on what is being conserved and what is being resisted.

Secondly, “resistance” as a property can belong to any number of things, whether conscious or unconscious. The world, or nature, can “resist” our conscious attempts to transform it. Likewise society, or second nature, can prove similarly recalcitrant. Either way, this “resistance” tends to be unconscious (always in the case of the first, and usually in the case of the second). With nature, the conditions that obtain at any given moment appear objective and material. With society, by contrast, the conditions that obtain at this or that historical juncture appear quasi-objective and ideological.[3] The situation can be reversed, however. Insofar as society and the world operate unconsciously to transform the general conditions of existence, groups and individuals can consciously choose to resist these processes. Continue reading

Three models of “resistance”

Untitled

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Image: Ferdinand Schmutzer,
Portrait of Sigmund Freud (1926)

2. The “resistance” of humanity to its own self-conscious transformation

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Go to Three models of “resistance” — Introduction
Go to Three models of “resistance” — 1. The “resistance” of the world to humanity’s conscious attempts to transform it

The second major historical conceptualization of “resistance” examined in this essay comes by way of psychoanalysis directly, rather than through the indirect affinity between Freud’s reality principle and Dilthey’s account of the reality of the external world.  Indeed, Freudian analysis largely hinges on the various forms of resistance the analyst encounters in trying to disembed layers of repressed experience buried in the patient’s unconscious: “[The] opposition…during psychoanalytic treatment…against our effort to transform what is unconscious into what is conscious…is what we perceive as resistance.  We…[name the] pathogenic process demonstrated by this resistance…repression.”[36]

Here the operative concept is the “resistance” — whether conscious or unconscious — of the subject (and more specifically the ego)[37] to the task of working through its own past, which has been systematically repressed.  Once again, this resistance expresses an extreme conservatism.  In part, the subject avoids revisiting its own history because it finds many of its experiences traumatic and disturbing.  But the patient is not simply afraid of its past.  It is also afraid of its future.  The subject is gripped by a primitive urge for self-preservation, and balks at the prospect that it might potentially become something other than what it already is.  Having fallen in love with the symptoms of its own unfreedom, the analysand stubbornly resists the idea of living without them.

This notion of “resistance,” I submit, corresponds to the work of figures like Karl Korsch, Georg Lukács, and above all Wilhelm Reich early in their careers.  Each of these thinkers sought to digest the legacy of the international workers’ movement in the aftermath of its defeat between 1917 and 1923.  Following the spectacular series of capitulations, conciliations, schisms, and betrayals that shook the Second International in the decades leading up to World War I, all three authors came to the conclusion that the greatest obstacle to the proletariat’s emancipation was the proletariat itself — or more precisely, its inability to “work through” its own reified forms of consciousness.  For the emancipation of the working class was to be self-emancipation.  The “resistance” thus encountered was no longer that of the world maintaining itself against the actions of humanity.  In this case, the “resistance” was instead that of humanity in preserving its present condition of unfreedom against the challenge of fulfilling its destiny. Continue reading

Platypus primary Marxist reading group, Fall 2012–Winter 2013

Fall 2012 – Winter 2013

I. What is the Left? — What is Marxism?

Sundays, 2–5PM EST

Eugene Lang College Building
The New School for Social Research
65 West 11th Street, Room 258
New York, NY 10011

• required / + recommended reading

Marx and Engels readings pp. from Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978)


Week A. Aug. 4–5, 2012

Whoever dares undertake to establish a people’s institutions must feel himself capable of changing, as it were, human nature, of transforming each individual, who by himself is a complete and solitary whole, into a part of a larger whole, from which, in a sense, the individual receives his life and his being, of substituting a limited and mental existence for the physical and independent existence. He has to take from man his own powers, and give him in exchange alien powers which he cannot employ without the help of other men.
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract (1762)

• epigraphs on modern history and freedom by James Miller (on Jean-Jacques Rousseau), Louis Menand (on Edmund Wilson), Karl Marxon “becoming” (from the Grundrisse, 1857–58), and Peter Preuss (on Nietzsche)
+ Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” (1908)
+ Robert Pippin, “On Critical Theory” (2004)
• Jean-Jacques RousseauDiscourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754) PDFs of preferred translation (5 parts):[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]
• Rousseauselection from On the Social Contract (1762)


Week B. Aug. 11–12, 2012

• G.W.F. HegelIntroduction to the Philosophy of History (1831) [HTML] [PDF pp. 14-128]


Week C. Aug. 18–19, 2012

• Friedrich NietzscheOn the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1874) [translator’s introduction by Peter Preuss]


Week D. Aug. 25–26, 2012

Human, All Too Human: Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil (1999)
• Nietzscheselection from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (1873)
• NietzscheOn the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic (1887)


Week E. Sep. 1–2, 2012 Labor Day weekend

• Martin Nicolaus“The unknown Marx” (1968)
• Moishe Postone“Necessity, labor, and time” (1978)
• Postone“History and helplessness: Mass mobilization and contemporary forms of anticapitalism” (2006)
+ Postone, “Theorizing the contemporary world: Brenner, Arrighi, Harvey” (2006)


Week F. Sep. 8–9, 2012

• Juliet Mitchell“Women: The longest revolution” (1966)
• Clara Zetkin and Vladimir Lenin“An interview on the woman question” (1920)
• Theodor W. Adorno“Sexual taboos and the law today” (1963)
• John D’Emilio“Capitalism and gay identity” (1983)


Week G. Sep. 15–16, 2012

• Richard Fraser“Two lectures on the black question in America and revolutionary integrationism” (1953)
• James Robertson and Shirley Stoute“For black Trotskyism” (1963)
+ Spartacist League, “Black and red: Class struggle road to Negro freedom” (1966)
+ Bayard Rustin, “The failure of black separatism” (1970) 
• Adolph Reed“Black particularity reconsidered” (1979)
+ Reed, “Paths to Critical Theory” (1984)


Week H. Sep. 22–23, 2012

• Wilhelm Reich“Ideology as material power” (1933/46)
• Siegfried Kracauer“The mass ornament” (1927)
+ Kracauer, “Photography” (1927)


Week 1. Sep. 29–30, 2012

• epigraphs on modern history and freedom by Louis Menand (on Marx and Engels) and Karl Marxon “becoming” (from the Grundrisse, 1857–58)
• Chris Cutrone“Capital in history” (2008)
• Cutrone“The Marxist hypothesis” (2010)


Week 2. Oct. 6–7, 2012

• Immanuel Kant“Idea for a universal history from a cosmopolitan point of view” and “What is Enlightenment?”(1784)
• Benjamin Constant“The liberty of the ancients compared with that of the moderns” (1819)
+ Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the origin of inequality (1754)
+ Rousseau, selection from On the social contract (1762)


Week 3. Oct. 13–14, 2012

• Max Horkheimerselections from Dämmerung (1926–31)
• Adorno“Imaginative Excesses” (1944–47)


Week 4. Oct. 20–21, 2012

• Leszek Kolakowski“The concept of the Left” (1968)
• MarxTo make the world philosophical (from Marx’s dissertation, 1839–41), pp. 9–11
• MarxFor the ruthless criticism of everything existing (letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843), pp. 12–15


Week 5. Oct. 27–28, 2012

• Marxselections from Economic and philosophic manuscripts (1844), pp. 70–101
• Marx and Friedrich Engelsselections from the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), pp. 469-500
• MarxAddress to the Central Committee of the Communist League (1850), pp. 501–511


Week 6. Nov. 3–4, 2012

• Engels, The tactics of social democracy (Engels’s 1895 introduction to Marx, The Class Struggles in France), pp. 556–573
• Marxselections from The Class Struggles in France 1848–50 (1850), pp. 586–593
• Marxselections from The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), pp. 594–617


Week 7. Nov. 10–11, 2012

+ Karl Korsch, “The Marxism of the First International” (1924)
• MarxInaugural address to the First International (1864), pp. 512–519
• Marxselections from The Civil War in France (1871, including Engels’s 1891 Introduction), pp. 618–652
+ Korsch, Introduction to Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (1922)
• MarxCritique of the Gotha Programme, pp. 525–541
• MarxProgramme of the Parti Ouvrier (1880)


Week 8. Nov. 17–18, 2012

• Marxselections from the Grundrisse (1857–61), pp. 222–226, 236–244, 247–250, 282–294
• MarxCapital Vol. I, Ch. 1 Sec. 4 “The fetishism of commodities” (1867), pp. 319–329


Week 9. Nov. 24–25, 2012 Thanksgiving break


Winter break readings

+ Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1977)
+ Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19 (1968)
+ Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (1940), Part II. Ch. (1–4,) 5–10, 12–16; Part III. Ch. 1–6
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)
+ James Joll, The Second International 1889–1914 (1966)


Week 10. Dec. 1–2, 2012 / Jan. 5–6, 2013

• Georg Lukács“The phenomenon of reification” (Part I of “Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat,”History and Class Consciousness, 1923)


Week 11. Dec. 8–9, 2012 / Jan. 12–13, 2013

• LukácsOriginal Preface (1922), “What is Orthodox Marxism?” (1919), “Class Consciousness” (1920),History and Class Consciousness (1923)
+ Marx, Preface to the First German Edition and Afterword to the Second German Edition (1873) of Capital(1867), pp. 294–298, 299–302


Week 12. Dec. 15–16, 2012 / Jan. 19–20, 2013

• Korsch“Marxism and philosophy” (1923)
+ Marx, To make the world philosophical (from Marx’s dissertation, 1839–41), pp. 9–11
+ Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existing (letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843), pp. 12–15
+ Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” (1845), pp. 143–145

A critique of Asad Haider’s and Salar Mohandesi’s article for Jacobin, “Is there a future for socialism?”

Toussaint Louverture

The following is a brief critique of Asad Haider’s and Salar Mohandesi’s co-written article for Jacobin, “Is there a future for socialism?” The authors present a forceful argument, but in the final analysis I must take issue with many of their conclusions — not least of which is the relationship of “socialism” to “communism.”  Though it may seem superfluous, or even slightly disingenuous, to praise the authors I am about to criticize, I will preface my remarks by saying that I greatly enjoy many of the things they’ve published for their own publication, Viewpoint Magazine.  Especially excellent is Ben Lear’s review of Berardi’s After the Future, which appeared recently on their blog.  I thought the exchange on Lenin they hosted a few months back was also clarifying.  Salar’s historical analysis, “On the Black Bloc,” is also excellent.

All these gestures at diplomacy aside, however, I must take issue with the following historical characterization:

The Erfurt synthesis, which made some sense [questionable] in non-revolutionary situations like the one which gave birth to it, quickly proved ineffective when a new cycle of struggle took shape in the decade before the First World War. The party, failing to register this changed situation, stuck to the old line — it misunderstood the growing militancy of the rank and file because its institutional structure had so dangerously exacerbated the distance between an increasingly bureaucratized party apparatus and the everyday lives of workers. A socialist subculture had been the foundation of class solidarity, based on grassroots practices of self-reliance, ranging from cooperative shopping associations (also known as “potato clubs”) to horseplay on the shop floor. But the SPD leadership increasingly tried to measure up to respectable bourgeois standards, with patriarchal families, ‘high culture,’ and patriotism, which immediately set them against the militancy of migrant workers in the Ruhr mines, and the wildcat strikes of female textile workers. “Women don’t want to know about politics and organization,” said one male socialist. “They appreciate a May Day festival, with singing and speeches and dancing…but they don’t appreciate political and trade union meetings.”

Dovetailing on Pham Binh’s quite correct remarks regarding the problem of legality vs. illegality, I would like to reiterate that the problem with the German Social Democrats was not that they had “lost touch” with the party’s working-class membership and constituency. Contrary to widespread belief, there is nothing inherently revolutionary about the working class. Marx’s entire argument regarding the proletariat was that it is the only potentially revolutionary class in modern society. This is because of its status as the only actually “universal” class in modern society (an inversion from of Hegel’s argument about the bureaucracy being the only “universal” class). The proletariat, at a sociological and empirical level, is “universal” insofar as it is both constitutive of and constituted by capital through the wage-relationship. It is unclear to me, however, whether it is all forms of universalism that the authors reject, or only the selective universalism of colonial rule. Universal suffrage is, of course, a form of universalism. Presumably this kind of universalism would meet with their approval.

Of course, when Marx was writing Capital, proletarian labor — defined as participating in the production and circulation of commodities, as well as through sale of its own labor as a commodity — was still mostly unique to the most advanced capitalist countries of the West. Since that time, the relationship of wage-labor has only become further generalized, resulting in nearly global proletarianization, at least at an objective level. That is to say, at the level of individuals’ objective relationship to the means of production.  Perhaps the most important lesson of the twentieth century is that the political tendencies of a given social stratum are by no means guaranteed.  Haider and Mohandesi gesture at this in their rejection of inevitabilism, but this does not itself go beyond the inevitabilism they ascribe to the Bernsteinians and Kautskyites.  For whether or not a person is objectively (i.e., sociologically) a member of the working class, it cannot be assumed that subjectively (i.e., politically) the person has attained proletarian class-consciousness. “The proletariat is revolutionary or it is nothing,” Marx wrote in 1871. His statement should be read as follows: until the proletariat is revolutionary, it remains nothing.  It just remains unrealized potential.

Moreover, the various practices of working-class self-organization (“grassroots practices of self-reliance, ranging from cooperative shopping associations…to horseplay on the shop floor”) were not at all more militant than the party’s actual line. It wasn’t as if the cooperative networks signaled a great radicalism on the workers’ behalf. In fact, one of the greatest advocates of workers’ cooperatives was the archrevisionist Eduard Bernstein, (see his Preconditions of Socialism) while one of their greatest detractors was of the cooperatives was the revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg (see her classic Reform or Revolution). The idea that the everyday practices operated to radicalize the workers in the factories perhaps have some incidental truth, but in general this kind of assertion (when made categorically) belongs only to the most boring kinds of “history from below,” a dreary form of Alltagsgeschichte. The failure of the SPD was not that it had become too elitist or “bourgeois.” What happened was a flagrant betrayal of what had before been agreed upon and passed as a guiding principle for the world war that everyone saw was on the horizon: namely, the 1907 Lenin-Luxemburg amendment, in which it was agreed that in the event of widespread international conflict, International Social Democracy would come out in firm opposition, and try to exploit the situation to foment world revolution.

Likewise, in decade or so after World War I, there was a general rightward lurch within the German proletariat. This is difficult to explain if one maintains that the working class or the “oppressed” in general are innately revolutionary. As Wilhelm Reich asked in 1933, while still a Marxist working in Austria as a volunteer psychoanalyst, providing services to working class families,

What produced the mass-psychological soil on which an imperialistic ideology could grow and could be put into practice, in strict contradiction to the peace-loving mentality of a German population uninterested in foreign politics? The “betrayal of the leaders of the Second International” is no satisfactory answer. Why, one must ask, did millions of workers, with a liberal and anti-imperialistic attitude, let themselves be betrayed? Fear of the consequences of refusal to take up arms could be the motive [18] only in a small minority. If one had witnessed the mobilization of 1914, one knew that the working population showed diverse attitudes. There was a conscious rejection on the part of a minority; a peculiar submission to fate or an indolence; and violent enthusiasm not only in the middle classes but also in masses of industrial workers.

Reich insightfully observed that the political orientation of the working class is ambivalent: “The discovery of the fact that the working individual is neither unequivocally reactionary nor unequivocally revolutionary but in a conflict between reactionary and revolutionary tendencies, must of necessity lead to a practical program which opposes the reactionary psychological forces with revolutionary forces.” As he goes on the point out, the erroneous belief that workers are somehow inherently more militant and revolutionary seemed to be materially disproven by the widespread support of the German working class for Nazism.

The authors also issue a harsh indictment of the Enlightenment and of bourgeois revolutions in general:

Those who equate political liberation with the flowering of the bourgeois individual often say that the French Revolution represented the Enlightenment’s point of culmination. What they leave out is that it was also its point of explosion. The slaves of Haiti — who watched their newly enlightened French masters continue to lop off their limbs, bury them to the neck, and burn their families alive — quickly learned that there was little difference between a master who read Rousseau and one who didn’t. The Enlightenment was just slavery under another name. So on August 21, 1791, while the noble revolutionaries in Paris tried to find the most effective way to keep the slaves tied down to the plantations of their most profitable colony, the Haitian slaves forced their own counter-Enlightenment by emancipating themselves through revolution. Inspired by their Caribbean comrades, almost exactly one year later, the same Parisian masses who seized the Bastille and held the king hostage stormed the Tuileries Palace, declared a Republic, and exploded the continuum of history, imposing an entirely new calendar to mark the birth of a new world.

Likewise, I fail to see how you can claim that Enlightenment was just “slavery under a different name,” or your implication that the thought of figures like Rousseau made no difference in the colonial world. Wasn’t Toussaint the same man whose revolutionary spirit was nurtured on the writings of Rousseau, Raynal, and Diderot? CLR James himself wrote that “Toussaint’s failure was the failure of enlightenment, not of darkness” (The Black Jacobins, pg. 288). Wasn’t Robespierre a disciple of Rousseau himself? Furthermore, it is difficult to characterize the Haitian Revolution as anything other than a bourgeois-liberal revolution. There was no attempt to overcome capital as the dominant form of social existence, as the oppressive character of capital had still not yet obviated itself in history. The Haitian Revolution was animated by ideas of liberty and equality, by republican ideals, and fought for the rights of individuals. In other terms, the Haitians fought against the slaveholders and foreign powers that surrounded them in order to establish an autonomous Rechtsstaat, which was still at that time by far the most revolutionary form of governance.  (This despite Toussaint’s occasional overtures toward royalism, a sad blemish on an otherwise consummately revolutionary, and for the most part staunchly republican, career).

This is why we’re pleased to enter into an exchange with Jacobin, whose logo recalls that we live in the world made by Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Black Jacobins. The reverberations of their confrontation with the colonialist universalism of the so-called “bourgeois revolutions” would be felt throughout the 19th century — just as, in 1848, the Jacobinism of Blanqui would be challenged by the growth of working-class neighborhood clubs.

Here I think it would be appropriate to invert the authors’ use of scare quotes in the second sentence.  It is telling that today we hear talked of the “so-called” bourgeois revolutions, as if they were neither revolutionary nor bourgeois.  This is something that I elaborate upon in a forthcoming essay on the relation of liberalism to socialism, so I’ll leave this as more of an aside for now.

In the interview that Pam Nogales and I conducted with the Italian Marxist theorist Domenico Losurdo, we touched on the question of Toussaint, Haiti, and bourgeois revolution, if anyone’s interested.