Jodi Dean – Four Theses on the Comrade

Link to a video of a lecture by Jodi Dean:

“Four Theses on the Comrade”

(Note: Dean begins speaking at about 12:00 minutes in; fast forward to that point)

Her distinction between “survivors” and “systems” here, and suggestions for moving past that dichotomy, are very useful.  See also Crowds and Party Review and “The Limits of the Web in an Age of Communicative Capitalism”

Joe Lauria – Clinging to Collusion

Link to an article by Joe Lauria:

“Clinging to Collusion: Why Evidence Will Probably Never Be Produced in the Indictments of ‘Russian Agents’”

 

Rather curious how much press this unsubstantiated “Russian meddling” trope gets, whereas the old story of tampering with voting machines by Republican party operatives received little: “The Ghost of Rigged Elections Past: New Revelations on the Death of Michael Connell”See also “Reflections on Media Gone Russia-Wild” and “The Utility of the RussiaGate Conspiracy” and “Why Is Russiagate Rumbling Into the 2018 Midterms?” and “The Road to Disaster?” and “The New York Times as Judge and Jury”

Jim Naureckas – NYT Sees ‘Dystopia’ in Chinese Surveillance—Which Looks a Lot Like US Surveillance

Link to an article by Jim Naureckas:

“NYT Sees ‘Dystopia’ in Chinese Surveillance—Which Looks a Lot Like US Surveillance”

 

Bonus links: “Welcome to the Quiet Skies” and “Surveillance and Scandal: Time-Tested Weapons for U.S. Global Power” and “Amazon Told Police It Has Partnered With 200 Law Enforcement Agencies”

Matthew Stewart – The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy

Link to an article by Matthew Stewart:

“The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy”

 

It is worth noting that the discussion of “tax expenditures” in this article is confused, as explained by economists in the MMT school of thought.

 

Bonus Links: Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs, The Theory of the Leisure Class, Democracy and Education, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, The Trouble With Diversity, The Social Structures of the Economy, “Extreme Cities,” …And the Poor Get Prison, “The Myth of Populism,” “Social Service or Social Change?,” “The Revolt of the Salaried Bourgeoisie”

Nancy Fraser – Feminism and Marxism

Link to a video of comments by Nancy Fraser:

“Feminism and Marxism”

 

Bonus links: The Trouble With Diversity and “The Feminism of the 1 Percent Has Associated Our Cause With Elitism” (“Today, we are told that we really have only two options — either right-wing authoritarian populisms, which are racist and xenophobic, or else go back to our liberal protectors and progressive neoliberalism. But this is a false choice — we need to refuse both options.”) and “The Politics of Identity”

Critiques of Gender and Racial Identity Theories

There is a “historicist” school of thought that runs through Michel Foucault and Judith Butler (e.g., Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity) that has been subject to criticism both from the perspective of psychoanalysis as well as political science and sociology.  The Foucault/Butler approach tends to misuse psychoanalysis, on a theoretical level, and also, on a political level, aligns closely with the conservative politically correct (PC) dogma of neoliberalism.

 

Joan Copjec, “Sex and the Euthanasia of Reason,” Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (1994):

“Third complex of questions: Is sexual difference equatable with other categories of difference?  Is one’s sexual identity constructed in the same way, does it operate on the same level, as one’s racial or class identity; or is sexual difference a different kind of difference from these others?”

 

Adolph Reed, Jr., “From Jenner to Dolezal: One Trans Good, the Other Not So Much,” Common Dreams (June 15, 2015)

“By far the most intellectually and politically interesting thing about the recent ‘exposé’ of Spokane, WA, NAACP activist Rachel Dolezal’s racial status is the conundrum it has posed for racial identitarians who are also committed to defense of transgender identity. *** Their contention is that one kind of claim to an identity at odds with culturally constructed understandings of the identity appropriate to one’s biology is okay but that the other is not – that it’s OK to feel like a woman when you don’t have the body of a woman and to act like (and even get yourself the body of) a woman but that it’s wrong to feel like a black person when you’re actually white and that acting like you’re black and doing your best to get yourself the body of a black person is just lying.

***

There is a guild-protective agenda underlying racial identitarians’ outrage  . . . .  *** they understand black racial classification as a form of capital. *** When all is said and done, the racial outrage is about protection of the boundaries of racial authenticity as the exclusive property of the guild of Racial Spokespersonship.

***

That is to say, as is ever clearer and ever more important to note, race politics is not an alternative to class politics; it is a class politics, the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism. It is the expression and active agency of a political order and moral economy in which capitalist market forces are treated as unassailable nature. An integral element of that moral economy is displacement of the critique of the invidious outcomes produced by capitalist class power onto equally naturalized categories of ascriptive identity that sort us into groups supposedly defined by what we essentially are rather than what we do. As I have argued, following Walter [Benn] Michaels and others, within that moral economy a society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women, and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion in, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.”

 

Commenting on the “arrival of the identity entrepreneurs” at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, August H. Nimtz, “Race Hustling at George Floyd Square: A Valuable Teaching Moment” MR Online (Aug. 13, 2021):

“That the only person who objected to our presence [displaying a political banner at George Floyd Square] was an aspiring entrepreneur is, I argue, telling. When I first noticed [a local potted plant store businessman] viewing the banner the expression on his faced looked like, ‘oh, that’s clever.’ But in hindsight it was a look of envy. We were, in his eyes, with our dot org contact information on the banner, interlopers into his market. The George Floyd Square businessman wanted to limit competition.  ***  [I]dentity is often used to promote particular interests for personal material gain.  ***  The particularism of identity politics, most consequentially, aids and abets the divide and rule strategy of capitalist ruling elites—a historical truth if ever there was one.”

 

Bernadette Grubner and Isabel Ortiz Interview Alenka Zupančič, “On Sex Without Identity: Feminist Politics and Sexual Difference” LARB (Oct. 7, 2019):

“sexuality is not, as is sometimes said, at the bottom of every other problem, but something that, in and of itself, constitutes a problem. A problem for every subject to grapple with, that every subject is divided by. It is a negative core of any identity, not its positive foundation.

“This is why there are no direct, immediate sexual identities. Even when one identifies with one’s anatomy, this is already an identification, there is nothing immediate about it. Sex involves much more than anatomy, even when it coincides with our anatomy. The popular opposition between genders as biological or else socially constructed is a false opposition: there is no ‘biological gender’ in the sense of identity, because identity is by definition never immediate, ‘biological’ in this sense. Biology, anatomy is obviously a factor; it is far from insignificant. But a sexed subject does not simply emerge out of this or that anatomy, but out of its symbolization, including its rejection. *** One always becomes what one is, and this is to be taken quite literally.

***

“To sum up, psychoanalytic theory conceives of sexuality as something which fundamentally disorients the human being, not as something which provides him or her with a solid identity. If the notion that sexuality is at the basis of identity has any meaning, it can only have it in this sense: it is at the basis of any identity because it uproots the subject from the immediacy of her being. And this uprooting, this non-immediacy, is the condition of any symbolic identity. In fact, we can use psychoanalysis in order to interrogate identity itself, both conceptually and as a meeting ground for social struggle.

***

“Society is not composed of man and women; it is split, and this split is repressed. This is not the same as to say that women are repressed. Women were, are, oppressed, but this is not the same as repression, in the psychoanalytical sense of Verdrängung, of the split inherent in the structuring and curving of social space. Without making this split of negativity part of the picture, significant shifts in the structure cannot really occur. This is what feminism is about; it is not primarily about neutralizing social differences, but about bringing them to light, and attempting to affect the very structuring of the social space. To do something to/with this divide, and not simply to try to climb to the right side of it.

***

“the Marxian point is that social space is divided in an antagonistic way: it is not simply composed of classes as positive entities, struggling between themselves, but involves a fundamental negativity or divide that structures the very space in which classes appear as different classes. For Marx, the proletariat is not simply one of the classes: as a class that has no class, it embodies the very point of social antagonism; it is the symptom of this social order. Not only does it have some kind of empirical consistency, but it is also located at the very point that reveals the structural inconsistency of an inequality that can be empirically apprehended.

***

“To put it more simply, the question on the table for every emancipatory struggle is: Do we think that we live in more or less the only possible world, that there are just some pockets of injustice and discrimination still left, and all we have to do is take care of them? Or do we think that these pockets are symptoms of some deeper problem, an asymmetry or antagonism that will not go away even if we manage to do something else?”

 

“Too Much of Not Enough: An Interview with Alenka Zupančič” LARB (March 9, 2018):

“Valorization of affectivity and feelings appears at the precise point when some problem — injustice, say — would demand a more radical systemic revision as to its causes and perpetuation. This would also involve naming — not only some people but also social and economic inequalities that we long stopped naming and questioning.

“Social valorization of affects basically means that we pay the plaintiff with her own money: oh, but your feelings are so precious, you are so precious! The more you feel, the more precious you are. This is a typical neoliberal maneuver, which transforms even our traumatic experiences into possible social capital. If we can capitalize on our affects, we will limit out protests to declarations of these affects — say, declarations of suffering — rather than becoming active agents of social change. I’m of course not saying that suffering shouldn’t be expressed and talked about, but that this should not ‘freeze’ the subject into the figure of the victim. The revolt should be precisely about refusing to be a victim, rejecting the position of the victim on all possible levels.

 

Alexandra Kollontai, “The Social Basis of the Woman Question” (1909):

“The feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society. They fight for prerogatives for themselves, without challenging the existing prerogatives and privileges.”

 

Christopher William Wolter, “Against the Neoliberal Blackmail: Identity Fetishism and the Privatization of Affect”:

“If we pay close attention to contemporary debates within the frame of cultural identity politics we see that the quest for recognition almost universally means recognition from the very hegemonically powerful positions they rightly argue oppress them. In many cases, a short circuit occurs in which the recognition of the marginalized by the hegemonically powerful not only becomes more important than addressing the injustice as such, but indeed replaces structurally tackling that injustice as such. Victims of severe systematic violence and injustice are bribed into persuading the powerful to recognize their existence, to demand the hegemonic discourse speak of them in a particular way, or else, more often in sexual political struggles, to maintain a reverential attitude toward their experiences of injustice. What’s wrong with this? Nothing; unless this politics replaces a politics of actually changing the structural conditions which led to these injustices as such. Recognition of identity and individual experience is offered as a fetishistic disavowal in a maneuver to permanently forestall the possibility of a political act.

***

“Political Correctness is far from being too radical – it is rather precisely the mechanism today to avoid the radical change which is necessary.

***

“PCs function is predicated on the necessity that there be always an ‘other’, not here the marginalized individual whose rights are to be protected, but the ‘uneducated’ offender. The offender must be civilized, brought into the discourse and assigned their hierarchal place within it or else be ostracized. In this way the discourse thrives and propagates. The only way to ‘beat’ it, is to join it. It tolerates no outside except for the structurally necessary place of the not-yet educated, the under-educated, or that of the un-educatable offender.

***

“the primary result of identity politics today . . . is in order to maintain a privatization of political affect, which ultimately amounts to a neutralization of politics as such.”

 

Slavoj Žižek, Incontinence of the Void (pp. 157-158):

This is yet another case of what Robert Pfaller called ‘interpassivity’: I delegate the passive experience of a hurt sensitivity onto a naive other, thereby enacting the other’s infantilization. That is why we should ask ourselves if political correctness is really something that belongs to the Left—is it not a strategy of defense against radical Leftist demands, a way to neutralize antagonisms instead of openly confronting them? Many of the oppressed feel clearly how the PC strategy often just adds insult to injury: while oppression remains, they—the oppressed—now even have to be grateful for the way liberals try to protect them.”

 

Bhaskar Sunkara Interviews Walter Benn Michaels, “Let Them Eat Diversity” Jacobin (Jan. 1, 2011):

The differentiation between left and right neoliberalism doesn’t really undermine the way it which it is deeply unified in its commitment to competitive markets and to the state’s role in maintaining competitive markets. For me the distinction is that ‘left neoliberals’ are people who don’t understand themselves as neoliberals. They think that their commitments to anti-racism, to anti-sexism, to anti-homophobia constitute a critique of neoliberalism. But if you look at the history of the idea of neoliberalism you can see fairly quickly that neoliberalism arises as a kind of commitment precisely to those things.

“One of the first major works of neoliberal economics by an American is [Gary] Becker’s [The] Economics of Discrimination, which is designed precisely to show that in competitive economies you can’t afford to discriminate. [Michel] Foucault sort of marks the beginning of neoliberalism in Europe with the horror at what the Nazi state did and the recognition that you can legitimize the state in a much more satisfactory manner by making it the guardian of competitive markets rather than the guardian of the German volk. And today’s orthodoxy is the idea that social justice consists above all in defense of property and the attack of discrimination. This is at the heart of neoliberalism and right-wing neoliberals understand this and left-wing neoliberals don’t.”

 

Joseph Kishore, “Perspectives for the Coming Revolution in America: Race, Class and the Fight for Socialism” (Dec. 2, 2019):

“An important document marking the repudiation by middle class groups of Marxism and an orientation to the working class is the statement of the so-called Combahee River Collective, a black lesbian feminist organization formed in 1974 led by Barbara Smith, Demita Frazier and Beverly Smith. The statement, published in April 1977, a year before the Bakke decision, claimed to be an extension of Marxist theory, but was in fact a direct repudiation of all its fundamental conceptions.

“To this day, the Combahee statement, which contains the first use of the term ‘identity politics,’ is regularly cited by organizations of the pseudo-left as a major turning point.”

 

Mike Macnair, “Intersectionalism, the Highest Stage of Western Stalinism?,” Critique, 46:4, 541-558 (2018)

“Intersectionalism can be called the‘highest stage’ of western Stalinism because it carries the popular-frontist project to the point of erasing the significance of the ruling class as a class; it also becomes a justification not merely for party self-censor-ship, but for generalised censorship regimes in the names of ‘no platforming’, ‘safe spaces’, and so on; and it logically implies the actual liquidation of any independent workers’ or communist party into liberalism (as happened in Britain and Italy in the 1990s); so that by fully adopting intersectionalism, Stalinism disappears as such into a (more repressive) form of liberalism.

***

The problem with this approach is that it tends to preclude the possibility of solidarity. “

 

Craig Murray, “The Great Clutching at Pearls”:

“The splitting of the political left by identity politics has been the go-to weapon of the state for several decades now. ***  A specific use of this tool has been the weaponisation of fake sexual allegations against any individual likely to be a threat to the state.  *** Those in power know that the portion of the left who identify as feminist, which is almost all of us, are highly susceptible to support alleged victims due to the extreme difficulties of real victims in obtaining justice. This makes sexual allegations, no matter how fake, very effective in removing the support base of anti-establishment figures.”

 

Rob Urie, “Identity, Race and Electoral Politics” (Aug. 28, 2020):

“Intersectionality is the intersection of Cartesian categories. The IDPOL academic move is to declare them historically contingent. But historical contingency renders them indeterminate in the way they are put forward.

***

“While the academic theories that support IDPOL [identity politics] are often portrayed by right wing critics as ‘cultural Marxism,’ they are premised in the same Cartesian ontology that supports capitalism. Paradoxical in ways apparently not understood by proponents, identity is either essential, meaning Cartesian, or it is indeterminate.

***

“postmodernism served to de-politicize social theory, as if doing so had bearing on the distribution and use of power outside of the academy. Identity through this lens is a personal or group possession without identifying what ‘it,’ the basis of identity, is. Quite remarkably, the individuation that IDPOL takes from postmodernism follows quite closely the view from capitalism. In capitalist theory, materialist theories of human needs are totalitarian, while psychic wants are the path to self-realization.

***

“The subtext of all of the back-and-forth over IDPOL is that the political operatives for the establishment parties that are promoting it are cynical, lying, opportunistic, neoliberal sacks of shit who see it as a con, a scam, a dodge and an angle. PMC liberals are using it for emotional healing, as a cathartic release from the deep-suck of their lives and the existential misery of what they spend their time not doing. Analytical criticism serves a purpose by separating dubious motives from important issues.”

 

Rob Urie, “Neoliberal Centrists and the American Left” (Aug. 7, 2020):

“Assuming for the moment that racism, sexism, etc. aren’t the product of capitalist social relations, five decades of neoliberalism haven’t solved them. Why this matters conceptually is that capitalist economics don’t ‘work,’ in the sense of producing the outcomes promised, unless people are motivated by economic self-interest. Racists and sexists are therefore either motivated by economic self-interest or the base assumption of capitalism is wrong. The question then is how does rational self-interest support racism and sexism?

“To approach the question from another direction, in labor markets the ability to buy underpriced labor due to racism and sexism represents an arbitrage opportunity, a no risk way to earn excess profits. If markets work as advertised, race and gender-based pay differences should be arbitraged away. The two possible interpretations of their continued existence are (1) they represent real differences in economic value or (2) markets don’t work as advertised. The first provides a ‘natural’ basis for racism and sexism. The latter means that neoliberalism has a flaw.

“This leaves establishment Democrats and their IDPOL supporters solving racism by either dumping capitalism or concluding that racism and sexism are legitimate market outcomes based on intrinsic characteristics tied to race and gender. Ironically, or not, the latter is the Democrat’s approach. Capitalism pays people what they are worth, goes the theory, therefore racial and gender disparities are based on differences in human capital. In other words, systemic racial disparities represent the correct ordering of the world. Because people are paid what they are worth, racism has no bearing on economic outcomes.

“This becomes theoretically incoherent when ‘systemic racism’ is raised. Systemic differences in economic outcomes by race and gender aren’t possible (in capitalist theory) for the reasons given. They are either based in ‘real’ differences reflected in race and gender— the racialist explanation, or they are market failures that call all of capitalist distribution into question. As with slavery, a market ‘distortion’ of this sort affects distribution more broadly. But more fundamentally, if capitalism doesn’t ‘work’ regarding race and gender, where does the confidence come from that it works anywhere? Social divisions exist along an infinite number of axes.”

 

Eve Mitchell, “I Am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory”:

“The identity politics of the 60s and 70s conflates a particular moment, or a determinant point, in the relations of capitalism with the potential universal.

***

“For supporters of identity politics (despite claiming otherwise), womanhood, a form of appearance within society, is reduced to a natural, static ‘identity.’ Social relations such as ‘womanhood,’ or simply gender, become static objects, or ‘institutions.’  Society is therefore organized into individuals, or sociological groups with natural characteristics.  Therefore, the only possibility for struggle under identity politics is based on equal distribution or individualism . . . .  This is a bourgeois ideology in that it replicates the alienated individual invented and defended by bourgeois theorists and scientists (and materially enforced) since capitalism’s birth.

***

“Taking a cue from [Frantz] Fanon, our method must argue: I am a woman and a human. We must recognize the particular in conversation with the totality . . . .

***

“It is important to note that identity politics and intersectionality theorists are not wrong but they are incomplete. Patriarchal and racialized social relations are material, concrete and real.

***

[One] example is groups and individuals who argue that all movements should be completely subordinate to queer people of color leadership, regardless of how reactionary their politics are. Again, while intersectionality theorists have rightly identified an objective problem, these divisions and antagonisms within the class must be address[ed] materially through struggle. Simply reducing this struggle to mere quantity, equality of distribution, or ‘representation,’ reinforces identity as a static, naturalized category.”

 

Renata Selacl, “Introduction,” Sexuation (SIC 3) (2000):

“[I]s [the] choice between social constructivism [i.e., that male and female sexual identities are socially constructed and/or even performatively enacted] and New Age obscurantism [i.e., underlying, deeply anchored archetypical identities such as ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’] really all embracing?  ***  For Lacan, sexual difference is not a firm set of ‘static’ symbolic oppositions and inclusions or exclusions (heterosexual normativity that relegates homosexuality and other ‘perversions’ to some secondary role), but the name of a deadlock, of a trauma, of an open question, of something that resists every attempt at its symbolization.  Every translation of sexual difference into a set of symbolic opposition(s) is doomed to fail, and it is this very ‘impossibility’  that opens up the terrain of the hegemonic struggle for what ‘sexual difference’ will mean.  The reassertion of sexual difference in Lacanian psychoanalysis is thus not a return to biology but a way to stress that what we call ‘sexual difference’ is first and above all the name for a certain fundamental deadlock inherent in the symbolic order.”

 

Alenka Zupančič, “Biopolitics, Sexuality and the Unconscious,” Paragraph Vol. 39, No. 1 (2016):

“Although many things that Foucault attributes to the Freudian views on sexuality are simply wrong, the main front of the irreconcilable dispute is not simply sexuality, but the (never mentioned) concept of the unconscious. For [Sigmund] Freud the two are of course inseparably related . . . .

***

“The theory of the superego is not a psychologization of the social power structure, but a reminder that the social power structure can already be fully operative at the level of the ‘individual psyche’. ‘Civilization, therefore, obtains mastery over the individual (. . . ) by setting up an agency within him to watch over [his dangerous desires], like a garrison in a conquered city.’

***

“if the present (configuration) is contingent, it is not because it is ‘open to the future’, but because it is open to its own inconsistency (or not). ‘Unconscious’ is what names and conceptualizes this inconsistency in the present (as it is famously ‘timeless’ according to Freud).”

 

Cinzia Arruzza, “Remarks on Gender” Viewpoint Magazine (Sept. 2, 2014):

“For a brief period, from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, the question of the structural relationship between patriarchy and capitalism was the subject of a heated debate among theorists and partisans of a materialist current of thought as well as Marxist-feminists. The fundamental questions which were posed revolved around two axes: 1) is patriarchy an autonomous system in relation to capitalism? 2) is it correct to use the term ‘patriarchy’ to designate gender oppression and inequality?

“Although it produced very interesting work, this debate gradually became more and more unfashionable. This occurred in tandem with the retreat of critiques of capitalism, while other currents of feminist thought asserted themselves. These new modes of thought often did not go beyond the liberal horizon of the times – they sometimes essentialized relations between men and women and de-historicized gender, or they avoided questions of capitalism and class – but at the same time, they developed useful concepts for the deconstruction of gender (such as queer theory in the 1990s).

***

“In order to be both clear and concise on this point, I will try to summarize the most interesting theses on these matters that have been suggested until now. In the following remarks, I will analyze and question these different theses separately. To uphold a degree of intellectual honesty and to avoid any misunderstandings, I stress that my reconstruction of different points of view is not impartial. My own view is found in the third thesis below.

“First Thesis: ‘Dual or Triple Systems Theory.’ We can put the original version of this thesis in the following terms: Gender and sexual relations constitute an autonomous system which combines with capitalism and reshapes class relations, while being at the same time modified by capitalism in a process of reciprocal interaction. The most up-to-date version of this theory includes racial relations, also considered as a system of autonomous social relations interconnected with gender and class relations.

“Within materialist feminist circles, these reflections are usually associated with the notion that gender and racial relations are systems of oppression as much as relations of exploitation. In general, these theses have an understanding of class relations as defined solely in economic terms. It is only via the interaction with patriarchy and the system of racial domination that they acquire an extra-economic character as well. A variation of this thesis is to see gender relations as a system of ideological and cultural relations derived from older modes of production and social formations, independent of capitalism. These older relations then interact with capitalist social relations, giving the latter their gendered dimension.

“Second Thesis: ‘Indifferent Capitalism.’ Gender oppression and inequality are the remnants of previous social formations and modes of production, when patriarchy directly organized production and determined a strict sexual division of labor. Capitalism is itself indifferent to gender relations and can overcome them to such a degree that patriarchy as a system has been dissolved in the advanced capitalist countries, while family relations have been restructured in quite radical ways. In sum, capitalism has an essentially opportunistic relation with gender inequality: it utilizes what it finds to be beneficial in existing gender relations, and destroys what becomes an obstacle. This view is articulated in various versions. Some claim that within capitalism women have benefited from a degree of emancipation unknown in other kinds of society, and this would demonstrate that capitalism as such is not a structural obstacle to women’s liberation. Others maintain that we should carefully distinguish between the logical and historical levels: logically, capitalism does not specifically need gender inequality, and could get rid of it; historically, things are not so simple.

“Third Thesis: The ‘Unitary Thesis.’ According to this theory, in capitalist countries, a patriarchal system that is autonomous from capitalism no longer exists. Patriarchal relations continue to exist, but without being part of a separate system. To deny that patriarchy is an autonomous system under capitalism is not to deny that gender oppression really exists, permeating both social and interpersonal relations. In other words, this thesis does not reduce every aspect of oppression to simply a mechanistic or direct consequence of capitalism, nor does it seek to offer an explanation solely in economic terms.

“In short, unitary theory is not reductionist or economistic, and it does not underestimate the centrality of gender oppression. Proponents of the ‘unitary theory’ disagree with the idea that today patriarchy would be a system of rules and mechanisms that autonomously reproduce themselves. At the same time, they insist on the need to consider capitalism not as a set of purely economic laws, but rather as a complex and articulated social order, an order that at its core consists of relations of exploitation, domination, and alienation.

“From this point of view, the task today is to understand how the dynamic of capital accumulation continues to produce, reproduce, transform, and renew hierarchical and oppressive relations, without expressing these mechanisms in strictly economic or automatic terms.”

 

Much of the commentary quoted above can be fairly said to be critiques and rejections of what Arruza calls “Dual or Triple Systems Theory” in relation to class and gender (and race).  Though another recurring source of criticism is the refusal or misapplication of the unconscious to matters of human psycho-social life.

 

See also:

Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats: Im Anschluss an Lewis H. Morgan’s Forschungen [The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State] (1884)

What IS Sex? (2017)

Lacan and Postfeministm (2001) and review

Gender, Sexuality and Subjectivity: A Lacanian Perspective on Identity, Language and Queer Theory (2020)

Review of The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (2006)

Review of Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (2017)

Işık Barış Fidaner, “The Conflict About Sex”

“Lacan’s Concept of the Phallus”

Sex and the Failed Absolute and “The Fall That Makes Us Like God, Part I” and “Transgender Dogma Is Naive and Incompatible with Freud” and “For-show Female Empowerment & Gender Fluidity Are Simply the Latest Instruments of Corporate Capitalism” and “AOC and Her Boyfriend’s Leg” and “Sign a Contract Before Sex? Political Correctness Could Destroy Passion” and “The Moebius Strip of Sexual Contracts” and “Sex and ’68: Liberal Movement Revolutionized ‘Sexuality’ But at What Cost?” and Quote About Butler and “Woman is One of the Names-of-the-Father, or How Not to Misread Lacan’s Formulas of Sexuation” and The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Women and Causality

“Remarks on Gender”

Sexuation

After Queer Theory

“CSC Interview with Daniel Zamora” and “How Michel Foucault Got Neoliberalism So Wrong” and “Foucault’s Responsibility”

The Politics of Identity

Yanis Varoufakis – The Global Minotaur

The Global Minotaur

Yanis VaroufakisThe Global Minotaur (3rd Edition, Zed Books 2015)


Yanis Varoufakis originally wrote The Global Minotaur in 2011, and then revised and expanded it for a 2013 edition (reprinted again in 2015). It is a full-length book treatment of a topic he introduced (with co-author Joseph Halevi) in a 2003 journal article of the same name.  He later became internationally known because of his brief time a Greek minster of finance for the Syriza party in 2015, before resigning in the run-up to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ betrayal of the Greek voters’ referendum that rejected creditor blackmailing.

The Global Minotaur is a book whose primary strengths are its brevity and readability.  Varoufakis adopts metaphors from ancient Greek mythology to explain concepts about the political economy of the post-WWII period through the ~2007 financial crash. The metaphors end up being quite durable and useful.  The book presents itself as a novel analysis, but there are really few if any new insights here.  The book’s history of the Bretton Woods system (what Varoufakis calls the “Global Plan”) can also be found in any number of other economic history books.  This discussion tells of the international negotiations that took place after WWII to re-establish a gold standard for currency convertibility between nations, and the various geopolitical aspirations of the handful of nations involved in setting up the system, as well as the special favoritism shown to Germany and Japan in the system that emerged.  Varoufakis laments the rejection of John Maynard Keynes‘ proposal for an International Currency Union system based on a neutral bancor currency in favor of the U.S.-imposed Bretton Woods system.  When the chronology reaches the collapse of the Bretton Woods system during the Vietnam War era, a new international economic system emerged that Varoufakis dubs the “Global Minotaur”, in reference to a mythical beast of Crete to which ancient city-states paid tribute in exchange for a kind of regulated stability.  Similarly, the emergent “Global Minotaur” system involved the United States acting as the trusted center of the global economy.  Varoufakis describes four “charismas” of this “Global Minotaur”: (1) the U.S. dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency and the currency in which energy is denominated (sometimes called “petrodollars” by others); (2) rising global energy costs (from which the U.S. was shielded through the “petrodollar” paradigm); (3) devalued and cheapened labor; and (4) America’s geopolitical might used in the service of corporate and financial interests.  In a sense these four “charismas” are kind of the economic pillars of the so-called “neoliberal” era.  The central story is about how the Global Minotaur came and went.  It arrived when the United States unilaterally terminated the Bretton Woods international economic system when President Nixon formally took the United States off the gold standard in 1971 (informally since 1968, but Varoufakis does not mention that), turning the United States’ debt and trade deficits into weapons of sorts that kept other countries subordinate the U.S. economy (though somewhat confusingly, Varoufakis sometimes refers to the Global Minotaur coming into its own only in the early 1980s during the Thatcher/Reagan era, which is really more a matter of degree).  Varoufakis’ analytical framework discusses these events in reference to a “global surplus recycling mechanism” between surplus and deficit nations (this topic is discussed further below).

As others have already pointed out, the “Global Minotaur” metaphor describes a phenomenon that Michael Hudson first described in his groundbreaking book Super Imperialism (1972) many decades before.  Varoufakis never cites Hudson, which is a bit odd.  Anyway, Hudson’s book is much more in-depth and better supported with evidence but it is also a much more difficult read.   Hudson tends to explain the “Global Minotaur” scenario as more of a tense standoff.  The United States coordinated a system in which it acted as the center of the global economy and any country wishing to challenge its economic hegemony — Hudson emphasizes factors akin to Varoufakis’ four “charismas” — must be willing to suffer either (or both) a military intervention (possibly covert) or a short-term economic collapse.  To move away from this system required a sort of partial suicide.  The U.S. wager held for decades.  Almost no foreign political leaders were willing to suffer the short term consequences to escape the U.S. dominated system in the long term.

When The Global Minotaur‘s historical account reaches the ~2007 financial crash, Varoufakis provides a summary of the official response, which amounted to unconditional bailouts of the bankrupt financial institutions coupled with punishing austerity for the most vulnerable.  His term for this period of global rule by bankrupt banks is “bankruptocracy”.  The old “Global Minotaur” system no longer worked, but seemingly every attempt was made to keep the wounded, bleeding beast limping along.  There are many, many other books available about this period, with more detail and juicier exposes of the unbelievable malfeasance of the government officials and bankers, but what Varoufakis brings to the table is a crisp, clear narrative that balances accounts of interrelated events in different nations.  He then concludes the newer editions with a brief update on the post-crash world.  The added material includes some informative graphs that emphasize how the old paradigm no longer holds.  He is sharply critical of Germany’s self-serving and rather viscous stance toward the rest of the European Union, forcing the most indebted EU states to bail out its banks.  His boldest prediction is that China’s strategy is not quite sufficient, which has been borne out since 2013, but he holds out hope that China will devise some kind of new “Global Plan” or alternative Bretton Woods system.

Varoufakis is good at getting to the point about the ambitions that drive the international economic landscape, from a truly international perspective.  He has described himself as an “erratic marxist”.  What this really means is that he blends post-keynesian economics with a marxist insistence on political questions of domination and exploitation and the interconnectedness of oppositional deadlocks.  So, for instance, he tends to explain economic crises in terms of both the marxist notion of an objective/structural lack of expected profit returns to producers and the keynesian notions of a lack of aggregate consumer demand and investor confidence.  Probably the biggest benefit of his overall approach is that he foregrounds questions of ideology, and is great at bluntly stating the ideological grounding for the actions of the global financial elites.  His cavalier attitude also breaks him free of orthodox marxists’ typical ignorance of finance and monetary policy matters (despite the existence of Marx‘s posthumous Capital Vol. III; this is a topic Hudson has discussed at length along with members of the MMT school of thought).  And yet there is also a certain sloppiness to his theoretical framework as well, as he adopts certain marxist critiques of capitalism while rejecting most marxist goals/solutions in a way that certainly seems “erratic” and haphazard — there is no categorical rejection of private property, capital accumulation, or markets expressed in these pages, just reformist improvements in the functioning of a global capitalist system.  For a fuller marxist explanation of more basic economic theory and relevant historical factors (up through the 1970s at least), Ernest Mandel‘s writings might make a useful supplement — especially his paper “The Driving Forces of Imperialism” published in Spheres of Influence in the Age of Imperialism (1972).

This is an important and valuable book, and hopefully it continues to be read by people who feel they know little or nothing about international economics.  Even as of this writing in 2018, the book is still extremely relevant.  But given this book’s importance, it is worth pointing out some of Varoufakis’ assumptions and perspectives that limit some of his analysis and, especially, his policy recommendations.

First off, for all his admirable attempts to highlight the fundamentally political nature of global financial doctrines, technical rules and mechanisms, Varoufakis could have stood to explain the political foundations of his emphasis on surplus recycling mechanisms.  He tends to present this in a technocratic way, explaining how having such a mechanism produces better results than when such a mechanism is missing.  But it is precisely at this point that the political aspect is most acute.  “Better” results are always subjective and political.  Allow me to explain.  Varoufakis emphasizes that when one country (or even region within a country) has a “surplus”, such as by producing more goods than that country consumes, another will tend to have a “deficit”, and there is a need to balance out these surpluses and deficits.  There is a wealth distribution, “welfare” aspect to this, although Varoufakis mostly argues in a technocratic keynesian vein that it is in the economic self-interest of the “surplus” countries to create effective demand for their goods by addressing the deficits abroad (by “recycling” surpluses there).  He does not address the position of anyone on the far right who seeks to maintain surplus and deficit statuses to induce a crash, in order to cement permanent hierarchies and drive some people to abject destitution, death, or whatever else they “deserve”.  Nor does he adopt the purely marxist notion of the basic immorality underlying these uneven levels of development and production — it is not clear how his vaunted surplus recycling mechanism would apply to a communist/socialist economy, if at all.  Mandel’s writings, for instance, develop these issues more thoroughly, allowing for a recognition that what Varoufakis calls a “global surplus recycling mechanism” is really just an anti-imperialist stance, and such anti-imperialism is merely utopian unless it forms part of a broader anti-capitalist stance because imperialism (as a monopolistic heightening of uneven and combined development/underdevelopment and unequal exchange) is an inherent tendency of capitalism (as explained by Rudolf Hilferding et al).

Second, Varoufakis may call himself an “erratic marxist” but he unquestionable supports a global market-based system of capitalism.  Where this comes to a head is his rather uncritical insistence throughout the book that a functioning global economy requires growth.  Both marxist economists (even orthodox ones) and the so-called ecological economics school (Herman Daly et al.) have called this paradigm into question, given the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet.  Varoufakis acknowledges the problem of global climate change and planetary ecological collapse in passing, but never ties those consequences to their roots in economic theory (the same theories he advances in this book).  Reviewers who have pointed out this issue are spot on.

Third, Varoufakis goes a bit light on his exploration of the role of the U.S. military in the global paradigm he describes.  Without a doubt, he identifies quite explicitly and astutely that the U.S. military enforces its economic interests.  In fact, his explicit reference to a state of continual warfare waged by the United States since WWII is a crucial pillar of his analysis.  But, on the other hand, these references are somewhat cursory and lack supporting evidence and an explanatory background, which has raised the ire of detractors and apologists for the status quo.  Of course, informed readers will recognize that there is plenty of support for these points about U.S. militarism available elsewhere.  For instance, William Blum‘s books like Killing Hope document these U.S. imperialist adventures of the post-WWII era, as do works by Michael Parenti and many others.  Michael Hudson also frequently ties actions like the U.S.-sponsored coup in Ukraine to U.S. cold war and new cold war imperialism, including the sponsorship and promotion of “color revolutions”.  And even popular writers tend to emphasize the U.S. military role in the Pinochet coup in Chile as a classic example of imposing U.S. economic interests through military force, even if its involvement is indirect and has the sheen of plausible deniability.

Lastly, Varoufakis is a little sloppy in presenting evidence.  This book could stand to have many more endnotes for sources, and have stricter adherence to the contents of cited sources.  For instance, he misquotes President Dwight Eisenhower’s famous “military-industrial complex” term, calling it instead the “military-industrial establishment”.  Also, the occasional reference to funding budget deficits runs a bit askew of principles established by Modern Monetary Theory.  While some of the gloss is understandable as a trade-off for making the book short and accessible, sometimes, though, like with the Eisenhower (mis-)quote, it seems to reveal a cavalier approach to research.  He could have stood to include more footnotes to further sources to allow readers the opportunity to seek out further information.  Granted, Varoufakis is mostly correct, but the sloppiness and thin use of citation creates a slim opening for detractors to ignore the main substance of his arguments.

This excellent book has found a solid audience through numerous reprints, and deservedly so.  So much of the discussions of international business, finance and geopolitics that the news media presents in a confused and disconnected way comes into sharp focus when considered in light of the economic history Varoufakis’ recounts here.  The “erratic” nature of some of his theories and recommendations might be off-putting to hardliners, but at the same time Varoufakis is writing in a much different geopolitical climate than a hundred years ago when the political left had enough of a base to actually seize control of multiple countries.  So he tends to advocate for a sort of new “New Deal”.  This kind of political “realism” leads to a few reformist compromises, less than fully satisfactory near-term prospects, and a bit of self-aggrandizement, but none of this undermines the basic value of the book.  Anyone interested in this topic would do well to also read some of Michael Hudson’s books, such as Super Imperialism, Trade, Development and Foreign Debt (an impressive, if dry, discussion of how “free trade” ideology promises economic convergence between states while actually leading to polarization/inequality — Varoufakis tacitly adopts a similar perspective), and The Bubble and Beyond (discussing the post-2007 crash era from a historical perspective stretching back to ancient Mesopotamia).  Steve Keen‘s writings may also provide a resource for anyone seeking to better understand some further context for Varoufakis’ generalized economic stances.  And Ernest Mandel, as mentioned above, also has written on similar topics in a an earlier era. Hudson and Keen are best described as left-populists while Mandel was a marxist.

Varoufakis continues to write and speak internationally, maintaining his own web site and participating in the DiEM25 (“Democracy in Europe Movement 2025”) organization he co-founded.