The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Fashion in Ruins

Fashion in Ruins
History after the Cold War
Susan Buck-Morss
On Pariser Platz at the Gate’s east side, vendors sell
souvenirs of the fallen Wall and mementos of the fallen
regime. To the north, above the tree-line, the German flag
flies over the ruins of the Reichstag that was burned in 1933
and bombed during the War.

Nothing obstructs the view through Brandenburg Gate. It is
a postmodern tourist site, marked by an absence. People
come simply for the sake of walking freely through this city
space, once blocked by the Wall. They step over the
symbolic line of difference between ‘East’ and ‘West’,
trying to experience, physically, its non-being. Throughtraffic has been diverted. Only tour buses and taxis are
permitted to pass through the Gate’s freestanding porticos
(the central arch of which was once reserved for royalty).

There is nothing to hinder pedestrian movement along the
asphalt strip that changes seamlessly from East to West from ‘Unter den Linden’ to ’17th June’, street names that
straddle centuries. (Lime trees were first planted here leading
to the royal palace in the 1600s; 17th June commemorates
the Workers’ Uprising against the Soviet-dominated East
German regime in 1953.)


The vendors are East Europeans and Asians, the sad,
new breed of sidewalk capitalists who have spread out army
caps, military medals, party pins, and icons of Lenin and
Russian saints.

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

Feeling incredibly light, feeling nothing but air, people
marvel at the everydayness of strolling through a terrain, the
transgression of which a short time ago meant risking death.

The military border was lifted suddenly – almost by accident
– on the evening of November 9, 1989; on November 22 the
Wall at Brandenberg Gate was open. Smiling, stunned,
almost believing, the tourists came to reenact the ritual of
jouissance, when civilians first crossed the forbidden
boundary, and television cameras carried the images
worldwide. (Those television images are the historical
event. What is left behind to visit resembles a movie set.)
What makes the tourist experience so uncanny is precisely
how quiet, how comfortably canny it all is. Of course it is
exhilarating. But there is also something deeply disturbing
in the fact that a socially constructed reality as powerful and
as dangerous as that of divided Berlin can, seemingly
overnight, cease to exist.

The Berlin Wall, a monumental construction of concrete
slabs, four metres high and one metre thick, was not only the
life-threatening boundary between two hostile world
regimes. It was positioned within the symbolic order as the
cornerstone of the Cold-War discourse. 1 That discourse, no
less than the Wall, now lies in ruins. Only in its absence do
we (for whom it has shaped the world since childhood)
begin to discover how pervasive it was. The Cold War
defined the terms of countless social practices – what was
made, what was valued, what was taught, what was imagined.

Its scope was global, providing perhaps the most universally
shared cognitive map that the human species has known. It
influenced migration flows, lines of trade, directions of
research, airline routings, communications networks,
systems of weapons. Everywhere and directly, it determined
political culture – not only the language of power, but of
political opposition as well. The world constructed by the
Cold War rested on a distorted logic of ‘defence’ that
produced, through conscious calculation, the real potential
for annihilation of life on the planet. We submitted to the
system’s internal logic because there seemed no way out.

And now this monstrous accumulation of power, with
unimaginable destructi ve force at its disposal, disintegrates,
dismantling itself from within and seemingly without agency.

This is what makes the present moment so disturbing. The
Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

great phallic, symbolic order was weaker than we thought
– and if it was, then so were we.

I do not wish to deny the heroic opposition to the ColdWar system that has taken place on both sides during the
past half-century. Surely it has been a grave injustice to
condemn Eastern intellectuals now on the grounds that they
benefitted economically then from their dissent. But the fact
is that opposition became routine, indeed functional within
the system. Without belittling the courage of these dissidents,
or of anti-war and anti-nuclear movements in the West, or
of those inspiring citizen organisations in the East, local in
nature and democratic in form, that were active civic ally in
the last years of the regime, it cannot be said that the
dismantling of the Cold War was the accomplishment of
social movements. Even less do the Reagan and Bush
administrations deserve the credit they have so
presumptuously claimed. Few in Russia would argue that
Gorbachev’s role was decisive. If daily life in the East gave
signals of impending collapse, its tremors were sensed more
accurately by average citizens than by intellectual elites.

While experts and scholars were busy predicting more of
the same,2 the Cold War system imploded. Without war,
without revolution, without cultural renaissance, it simply
came to an end.

I am going to attempt an argument that I myself find
suspicious. I am going to connect this momentous event
with a most mundane phenomenon, fashion. In a certain
sense, but one that may be of the highest political significance,
it is ‘fashion’ rather than ‘history’ that provides the
conceptual orientation adequate to the present moment. I do
not mean to trivialise the utopian impulse, the desire for
universal freedom and social justice that lies at the heart of
what we have long called history, but rather, to suggest that
the temporal notion of transiency, fading, and loss that lies
at the fundament of fashion is today a more faithful ally of
this impulse. Fashion, with its insistent focus on material
existence, may prove to be a matter of the utmost
consequence, while the Hegelian notion of history, wherein
surface events are interpreted as having a deep and rational
meaning, would appear fickle and arbitrary in comparison.

The suggestion that fashion is more to be trusted than the
traditional bourgeois notion of history may have a certain
iconoclastic appeal. But it is not likely to arouse scientific
confidence unless it can be demonstrated to have strength as
a theoretical concept. I will argue that it does – specifically,
that fashion as a form of historical time 3 provides the
necessary antidote to a misreading of contemporary events.

And I will do so by wedding this lacy and evanescent term
to a stolid, severe, and doubtlessly reluctant mate. I have in
mind structuralist Marxism.


In an essay from Lire le Capital, first published in 1965,
Etienne Balibar described with admirable clarity the
fundamental difference between Hegel’s philosophy of
history and the science of history that is implicit in Marx’ s
texts. Hegel’s conception (consider the famous master11

slave dialectic) is compatible with the class struggle theory
that was articulated by bourgeois historians well before
Marx. As Marx himself wrote: ‘No credit is due to me for
discovering the existence of classes in modern society, nor
yet the struggle between them.’4 The revolutionary
establishment by Marx of history as a science necessitated
breaking away from the continuity of historical narration based on class struggle or any other developmental principle
– and replacing it with a method that Balibar calls
periodisation, the distribution of history ‘according to the
epochs of its economic structure’.5 Balibar writes that this
‘division into period … replaces historical continuity with
a discontinuity, a succession of temporarily invariant states
of the structure.’6 These discontinuities do not announce
themselves directly. They occur beneath the surface of that
chronological sequence of political events with which
historical narratives are traditionally preoccupied. Proper
periodisation, then, involves finding the ‘right break’,7 the
one that makes the structural changes in history legible – or
perhaps better said, makes them legible as history (since the
time of the structure is something different from that of
history).8 My claim is that fashion is symptomatic of such
transformations. Structural discontinuity becomes manifest
when the specific way the economic base is articulated
within the ideological and state apparatuses is experienced
as being out of date.

Jiirgen Nagel is an East Berlin photographer whose
study in the city’s western sector was broken off in 1961
when the Wall was constructed. During the last decade of
the DDR, he was able to capture in his photographs of public
spaces the fading of the socialist regime. His series records
the monotonous sequence of self-celebratory events that
marked each political commemoration from 1979, the
Thirtieth Anniversary of the DDR, to 1989, its Fortieth and

Nagel arranges the photographs chronologically, and
precisely thereby one becomes aware that the dates are
totally irrelevant. Nothing in the visual field changes. The
photographs chronicle the predictable, yearly appearance
of icons of Marx-Engels-Lenin and exhortations of socialist
progress. Nagel’s land-and cityscapes are the ironic

1989: Honorary tribunal for the Fortieth Anniversary of the DDR, Berlin,
Vnter der Linden. Photo by Jurgen Nagel.

1980: Ruhla (Thiiringer Wald). Photo by Jurgen Nagel.

1986: ‘High achievements for the welfare of the people and for peace.

Everything for realising the resolutions of the XI Party Day of the SED!’

Photo by Jurgen Nagel.

1979: ‘To new successes by realising the resolutions of the IX Party Day
of the SED!’ Photo by Jurgen Nagel.


contextualisations of the signs and slogans of a political
order that appears anachronistic, embarrassingly out of
date: fulfilment of the Plan at a time when short-fall of the
goals was typical;9 fostering of peace, at a time when the
Soviets were embroiled in the Afghanistan War; celebrating
Brezhnev’s ‘constructive programme’ at a time when the
old heavy investment policies were intensifying the structural
problems of soft budget constraints.

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

careful display of coal:

Photo by Jiirgen Nagel.

Nagel writes melancholically of his own work: ‘There is
something in these photographs reminiscent of a cemetery.

Was the country always already dead? Many of these
photos, at least for me, had the effect of history as soon as
they emerged from the developer. … This vast quantity of
construction, banners, signs, placards, all those giants of my
days …. How many millions of work-hours, how many
thousands of tons of wood and metal, how many square
metres of banner material, boards, and paper, how many
tons of paint? How many brushes were worn out, and how
many human beings?’ 12
1980: ‘The Plan is our programme for struggle.’ Photo by Jiirgen Nagel.

The slogans repeat the old rhetoric, promising the new as
the always-the-same. Benjamin once speculated that under
the early Bolsheviks, social experimentation quickened the
pace of change so much as to outstrip fashion, which, at least
in certain fields, died because it could not keep up. 10 These
photographs, on the contrary, record a pace of history so
slow as to be imperceptible. Particularly poignant are the
store windows. Signs hailing party progress, put there by
shopkeepers to ward off any political attention, II provide
illogical captions for the meagre supplies of consumer
goods: baby carriages, shoes, lightbulbs, and this touchingly

Photo by Jiirgen Nagel.

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

It is the outmoded that announces the passing of an epoch

within the mode of production. Notice that I said within, and
not between. Although the lives of whole populations have
been turned upside down by the fall of the Wall, there
cannot be said to have been an economic rupture in the
strict, structuralist-Marxist sense of the term. (From a
developmental-Marxist perspective, the events make even
less sense, for if ‘capitalism’ has indeed won out against
‘socialism’ , then the whole idea of a sequential supersession
of production modes appears theoretically incoherent.) But
what if the distinction between capitalist and socialist
production relations – I am speaking now of their ‘really
existing’ forms – was not enough to hold them apart
conceptually as production modes? What if both sides, in
living off the accumulated ‘surplus’ of a wage work-force,
produced structures of social relations susceptible, not only
to economic exploitation, but to authoritarian political and
social forms as well? Then we would have to talk about
various articulations (say, soviet, liberal-capitalist, or fascist)
within a single ‘mode of production’. We might call it an
‘industrial’ mode.

To name a mode of production industrial (or agricultural)
rather than capitalist (or feudal) appears to make the
fundamental mistake of pri vileging the forces of production
over the relations of production. 13 I am not advocating that.

Rather, I am making the even more deviant proposal that the

crucial social relations are not property relations. It is
personal relations of family and kin that determine power
(and thereby property and production) relations within
agrarian societies, on a spectrum that ranges from European
feudalism to matrilineal descent. 14 Here exploitation takes
an ontological form, as one is born into those conditions that
dictate who has power over whom. Industrialisation
undermines this power of the family to control access to
property and production (arguably, its most profound social
effect).15 Within industrial societies, exploitation is
depersonalised, as power (the power to exploit) is structured
by practice rather than birth, mediated by one’s relationship
to things (production surpluses, labour power, machines
and technologies, commodities). Not relations of kin, but
relations of work and exchange determine power (and
thereby production) relations within industrial societies, on
a spectrum that may include state ownership as well as
private property forms.

The system of industrial ownership matters tremendously
in regard to employment levels and the distribution of social
services (here, really existing socialism has had the better
record), just as it is crucial in determining price structures
and market efficiencies (here, capitalism can claim
superiority). But that is all, and it is not enough. If we give
up the sacred cow of who – the state or stockholders – owns
the means of production, if we admit that the system of
property ownership is only weakly correlated with the
levels of humaneness, personal dignity, and political and
social justice that have been achieved in really existing
industrial societies, we may be able to recognise just how
fruitful Marx’s science of history is.

In all variants of industrial society, each of the three
elements of the mode of production – economic, political
and ideological- has taken on similar forms: the economic
forms of accumulated surplus, mechanised labour, and
mass production; the political/legal forms of parties and
nation-state; the ideological and cultural forms of mass
society. To recognise these elements as common to the
various industrial social forms is not to endorse a theory of
convergence between ‘socialism’ and ‘capitalism’, but
rather, to describe their shared historical limit. The 1970s
witnessed the end of an epoch within the industrial mode in
both East and West – the decade marked economically by
‘stagnation’ in the former, and by ‘stagflation’ in the latter.

A certain kind of industrial production became visibly
outmoded. The rust belts that emerged in East Germany and
Poland cannot be distinguished in a material sense from
those that blotted the landscapes of Britain and the United
States; the industrial contamination of water and air had the
same chemical composition, whether it was produced under
socialism or capitalism. The difference within these two
systems has not been in the nature of the crisis,16 but rather
in the nature of the response.

Beginning in the 1970s, with such innovative strategies
as British Ford Motor Company’s ‘World Car’, capitalism
made use of the revolution in information technology in
order to respond to the crisis with the radical restructuring
of industrial production. It is terribly misleading to describe

this as a transition to ‘post-industrialism’. When Baudrillard,
for example, makes the astounding claim that ‘we’ are at the
‘end of labour, the end of production’, one simply has to
marvel at his blindness. 17 Who, indeed, is the ‘we’? Certainly
not the millions of workers – mostly women – in Thailand,
Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, and even more in socialist China
– who, acclaimed for their ‘docility’ and ‘nimble fingers’,
are trucked daily into the factories that produce Baudrillard’ s
silk shirts, cotton undershorts, and laptop computer. ‘Postindustrial society’ is a euphemism for the fact that global
communication networks have made it possible to divide
the labour (and spread the pollution) of the same industrial
production over a geographical area that crosses so many
jurisdictional boundaries that no institution – party, state, or
union – has the power of political control. This sets up the
contradictions that mark the new industrial epoch, one in
which the structural alignment of economic base, political
institutions, and cultural forms has undergone an enormous

Let me make the point visually. There was a famous case
in 1921, when workers at the Kronstadt naval base, which
four years earlier had supported the October Revolution,
rose in rebellion against the new Communist regime. The
Bolsheviks ruthlessly suppressed this and other strikes on
the grounds that a workers’ strike against a workers’ state
was a contradiction in terms, and hence could not be
recognised to exist. It was this ‘catch-22’ sort of 10gic which
first came to my mind when I saw, in summer 1993, a
placard on the wall in the metro station Stadtmitte, centre of
a newly unified Berlin, with almost identical wording:

‘Those who strike now, strike against themselves.’

Photo by Jiirgen Nagel.

So, I thought, East German workers are being told that now,
in a democracy, it is they themselves who rule. But of
course, although the catch-22 logic had the same
disempowering effect, the meaning of the message was
entirely different. It is not from the state, but from ME, the
trade association of the German metal and electric industries.

And the point is that strikers risk losing their jobs to more
willing, docile workers elsewhere in the global network:

‘Don’t saw off the branch on which we are all sitting’ , warns
this slogan in the language of national corporatism: ‘Be
reasonable about wages; don’t destroy jobs.’ The new
Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

corporatism is an ideological effort to ward off the political
repercussions of the fact that the alignment between the
global economic structure and the nation-state political
order has become radically out of joint.

In this new ‘epoch’ of the economic structure, industrial
production remains the economic base. Its scope is global,
but its stretch is thin. The new, global restructuring of
capital is deterritorialising. Rather than saturating a
geographical area, the whole point has been to use the new
communications technologies to disaggregate production,
specialise Research and Development, and pinpoint markets.

As a result, the effects of global capitalism are intense, but
their distribution within a given political unit is strikingly
uneven. Some capitalists and some workers (including
‘socialist’ workers) benefit; many of both classes do not.

Multinationals may still depend on the nation-state system
for the infrastructures necessary to sustain global production.

But nation states cannot depend on them for the tax base to
underwrite their programmes. Everywhere in developed
capitalism, corporate taxes represent a far lower percentage
of the tax bill than income taxes. Governments (state and
local, as well as national) are continuously tempted to lower
corporate rates still further in order to prevent the flight of
jobs beyond their borders. As US Secretary of Labor,
Robert Reich, has written, the presumption that people
within the same political boundaries are also in the same
economic boat, while an accurate description of the postwars years, is today simply ‘wrong’. 18
Now that the Cold War is over and the construction of a
common enemy no longer functions to promote national
solidarity, this loss of economic ‘oneness’ – this shift in
structural alignment between nation-state unit and global
economic base – creates a profound threat to traditional
political identities. The new nationalisms that we see all
around us need to be understood, not as a return to, or
continuation of, the old nationalism, but rather as a very
contemporary struggle to respond to the changed economic
order by means of the traditional political elements of the
industrial mode of production, namely parties and nation
states. It is not clear that either of these political institutions
can survive the transition unscathed. What is clear is that the
continued perception, by Marxists as well as others, that
social formations are synonymous with nation states, and
that social revolution is a task of national political parties,
is as old-fashioned as any banner in honour of forty years of
the DDR regime.



It might be argued that there can be no marriage between
fashion and structuralist Marxism, as the objects they
investigate exist in different spatio-temporal planes.

Structuralism examines the mode of production as a
theoretical abstraction, whereas fashion is concerned with
the concrete things of the world. In the discourse of fashion,
a ‘mode’ is temporal-historical by definition, referring to
the transiency of social values and symbolic meanings,
whereas a structuralist analysis of the ‘tendencies’ of a
Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

mode of production describes the immanent dynamics of a
system, the ‘time’ of which is not to be confused with
historically lived time. 19 A union of these theoretical
perspectives would thus appear to be barred on the grounds
of epistemological incompatibility.

But the fact is that neither level of analysis is dispensable.

Balibar recognises this when he writes: ‘The question is to
discover how … the time of the “tendency” of the mode of
production, becomes a historical time.’ 20 His way of wording
the question indicates that he is looking for a way to
translate one causality (structural) into another
(chronological). It must be said that ‘fashion’ will not help
him in this task. It is an existential concept, the temporality
of which is not that of history as causal explanation. Fashion
is a way of experiencing history, not as a causal continuum
but as discontinuity, not as sequence but as fading. If it is a
hermeneutical tool for making evident certain discontinuities
or shifts within the structure that are themselves
imperceptible, it tells us only that such a shift is happening,
not what will be the result. But the philosophical defence of
the concept of fashion is that it has its origin in precisely that
industrial mode of production to which it is analytically
applied. We are not dealing here with parallel but noncontiguous ‘objects’ of inquiry, one synchronic and one
diachronic, as structuralism commonly argues. Fashion is
the product of industry in a sense that is structural and
historical, both at once.

The first form of the industrial mode of production was
capitalist, a historical fact that cannot be separated from the
development of its structure. Under conditions of private
ownership, what mattered about the new industrialism was
its potential for the limitless accumulation of wealth. 21 This
fact set the tempo for capitalist production in all of its
aspects – factory speedup, technological innovation, market
turnover – so that the inner dynamics, the ‘time’ of the mode
of production, was itself under the sway of fashion. The
existential manifestations of this new temporality included
the incessant piling up of goods, a new erotics of change
(Benjamin calls this the ‘puzzling need for new sensations’), 22
and a relentless dismissal of the’ outmoded’ . In the nineteenth
century, fashion was seized upon by commercial interests
as a marketing strategy. But fashion was never merely that.

It was the temporal effect, both structurally and historically,
of the convergence between capitalist social relations and
industrial production forms. Indigenous to the new mode of
production, it became emblematic of its temporality,
imbricated within the discourse of history to the point that
to be ‘advanced’ (as a country, a culture, a military force)
meant, simply and clearly, having the latest things.23
Fashion as a tempo of history overtakes nature. Objects
are discarded before they decay. Material things fall away
from the present with a speed faster than their natural
decline. When history slows down (when industrial
production stagnates) then the natural decay – of machinery,
apartment buildings, even people 24 – becomes visible. In
industrial capitalism, time cannot stand still. The dynamics
of the system involved, as Marx knew, the constant
revolutionising of the means of production. Both

technologies and products must stay up to date, or the
competitive edge will be lost – which is to say that they are
caught up in the spell of fashion. Such an imperative for
change runs counter to the inherently conservative ‘tendency
of the structure’ to reproduce itself, that replicating,
stabilizing tendency which is characteristic of the ‘time’ of
social institutions. Because of its conflicting temporality,
the capitalist economic base tends periodically to move out
of line with these institutions, generating the structural
dislocations that mark the end of an epoch and necessitate
a realignment of the various levels. The last great structural
dislocation was at the turn of the century. It entailed the
transformation from laissez-faire, ‘family’ capitalism to
corporate capitalism, and it involved a qualitative change in
production technology that has been called ‘the first industrial
divide’. The outmoded became emblematic of thisfin-desiecie experience, describing the fading, not just of clothing
and aesthetic style, but of an era of history itself.

Crucial to the fate of the Soviet socialism was the fact
that it was founded after this first di vide, so that its formation
coincided with the new ‘epoch’ of capitalist industrialism,
many aspects of which (assembly-line production,
Taylorism, Fordism, expanding firm, managerial class) it
adapted as its own. But because the tempo of fashion was
not intrinsic to socialism as it was to capitalism,
industrialisation in the Soviet Union necessitated using
political force to impose the requisite tempo of change. The
rhetoric of Soviet economic policy – from Lenin to Stalin to
Gorbachev – has been continuously articulated as a war on
time. Lacking the intrinsic dynamics of fashion, the Soviet
system was consumed by a forced effort to ‘catch up’ and
‘surpass’ the West. Capitalist structural dynamics thus set
the pace for the historical dynamics of the socialist regimes.

When in the latter political force was relaxed, the industrial
economy stagnated. 25 Natural decay began to overtake
history, and the ruins of the closing epoch of industrialism
became glaringly apparent as the mortification of the world
of things.

became evident during the conference of Radical Philosophy in
Fall 1993 at which versions of both papers were presented. I am
indebted to Peter and to Gregory Elliott for their stimulating,
critical comments that provoked the revision of this paper.


Karl Marx, cited in Louis Althusser and Etienne Balibar, Reading
Capital, trans. Ben Brewster, London: NLB, 1970, p. 202.


Reading Capital, p. 204.


Ibid., p. 205.

The non-identity of structural time and historical time is
considered below.

Even socialist officials were admitting that the central
administration of all of production (which now included twelve
million separately identifiable parts) had become totally
unfeasible. Alec Nove cites Soviet sources that conceded that a
fully integrated plan for the Ukraine would take the labour of the
world population ten million years (see Nigel Swain, Hungary:

the Rise and Fall of Feasible Socialism, London, Verso, 1992,

WaIter Benjamin, Das Passagen- Werk: Gesammelte Schriften,
Vo!. V, Rolf Tiedemann (ed.), Frankfurt-am-Main, Suhrkamp
Verlag, 1982, p. 120.

‘I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority
of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their
windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions.

That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise
headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all
into the window simply because it has been done that way for
years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has
to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble’ (Vaclav Havel,
‘The Power of the Powerless’ (1978), Living in Truth, Jan
Vladislav (ed.), Boston, Faber & Faber, 1986, p. 41).

Parole Zukunft: Eine fotografische Spurensicherung von Jiirgen
Nagel, forward Jiirgen Rennart, Berlin, Basisdruck, 1992, pp. 910.

This is considered a ‘mistake’ because it shifts the focus away
from the dimension of class, and it is class analysis that enables
a political critique of the specific oppression inherent in the
capitalist labour process, in terms of worker exploitation. But if
history in the twentieth century has taught us anything, it is that
oppression is not merely an economic category, nor is exploitation
limited to the capitalist working class. At the same time, even the
most psychologically motivated oppressions – racist, sexist,
ethnic – are objective articulations, produced and reproduced as
elements of the structure (which is why a science of the modes
of production remains politically indispensable).

Arguing that kin relations are more’ determining’ in preindustrial
societies is not in itself deviant. Balibar cites Marx and Engels,
The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State: ‘The
social institutions under which men of a definite historical epoch
and of a definite country live are conditioned by both kinds of
production: by the stage of development of labor, on the one
hand, and of the family, on the other. The less the development
of labor … the more preponderatingly does the social order
appear to be dominated by ties of sex’ (Reading Capital, p. 224).

Whereas, for Balibar, the significance of this quotation is that it
complicates the way in which ‘the economy’ is ‘determinant’ in
different structures (ibid.), I am struck by the drastic reduction,
brought about by the’ development of labor’ , in the significance
of sexual relations for power relations. The full implications of
this change have not yet been realised.

Seen in this light, the illusory construct of race appears as an
anachronistic, and therefore futile, attempt to shore up the
ontological principle of access.

With the oil crisis of 1973 (this commodity is the life-blood of
industrial societies), it became palpably evident that the global
economy had achieved a new phase of integration in which,
despite the Wall, the economies of East and West had become
interdependent. The Soviets had oil, and sold it at world prices,
acquiring Western currency which they spent to buy Japanese
and other capitalist-produced technologies, an exchange that
undermined their economic autarky and made them vulnerable











An archaeology of the Cold War as discourse would have to
begin long before the phrase Cold War came into general
parlance after World War II (see Susan Buck-Morss, ‘Moscow
Lectures’, 1989). The terms of this discourse were already in
place at the Versailles Conference of 1919, when fear of the
‘spread’ of ‘Bolshevism’ first took on meaning as a threat to the
very existence of the Western order – precisely because it laid
claim to the West’s own (democratic revolutionary) tradition on
which Western legitimation was based. It could be said that the
Cold War marked a point of fracture within the larger, modernist
discourse of political legitimation. The Wall was constructed on
this semiotic faultline. Like montage, it generated meaning.


Given the time lag between writing and publication, these
predictions could be extremely embarrassing for senior academics
in the West, not to mention the expense for publishers, as not
only atlases but scholarly works of every sort were suddenly
dated and remaindered. In the East, scholarship was even more
susceptible to instant obsolescence. In Warsaw in the summer of
1989 whole sets of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin were
abandoned and could be picked up for free on the street corner.



Fashion is a temporal mode of experiencing history in Peter
Osborne’s sense (see his article in this issue, ‘The Politics of
Time’). The theoretical affinity between our points of view



Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994



to the decline of world oil prices in 1985-6. In Eastern Europe,
the post-1973 period marked a tremendous increase of debt to
the West. The figures for Hungary were typical: ‘during 1968-73
total trade and trade with the West were approximately in
balance; the cumulative CC [convertible currency] deficit
represented less than 2 per cent of total CC imports during the
period. By contrast, in each of the five years from 1974 to 1978
Hungary ran a large CC trade deficit, totalling more than $3
billion’ (P. Marer, cited in Swain, Hungary: The Rise and Fall
of Feasible Socialism, pp. 130-1).

Jean Baudrillard, L’Echange symbolique et la mort (1976), in
Mark Poster (ed.) and Jacques Morrain, trans., Jean Baudrillard:

Selected Writings, Stanford, Ca., Stanford University Press,
1988, pp. 127-8.

Robert B. Reich, The Work ofNations: Preparing Ourselves for
21 st Century Capitalism, New York, Vintage Books, 1992, p. 5.


‘The mode of constitution of the concepts of temporality [the
‘time’ of the tendencies of a structure] and history in the theory
of Capital … are produced separately and differentially: their
unity, instead of being presupposed in an always already given
conception of time in general, must be constructed out of an
initial diversity which reflects the complexity of the whole
which is analysed’ (Reading Capital, p. 296).


Ibid. p. 302.


Balibar points out that industrialisation changed the significance
of private property (which as a legal system is far older than
capitalism): ‘Whereas legal property is a right of consumption of
any kind … the economic ownership of the means of production
is not so much a legal right to them as the power to consume them
productively’ (Reading Capital, p. 231).


Benjamin, Das Passegen-Werk, p. 114.


Michael Taussig comments tellingly on ‘the way the Third
World and its objects are in a global perspective generally seen
as permanently “outdated” …. This character of being
permanently out of date, however, applies not only to things
actually made in the Third World, but with greater force to the
objects imported and preserved over time – the 1930s and 1940s
cars, the 1950s telephone systems, the pre-war Singer sewing
machines, the mechanical typewriters, and a thousand and one
more such relics of modernity preserved in the time-warp of
permanent underdevelopment and poverty, not to mention the
dumping of First World waste, toxins, cigarette ads, and
technologies found to be harmful, like DDT crop-spraying’

(Mimesis andAlterity: A Particular History of the Senses, New
York: Routledge, 1993, p. 232). A historical mapping of fashion
in terms of the dispersal of commodities can provide a powerful
critique of the inequities of the global market.



The ebbs and flows of fashion cause generations to form and to
separate, so that the end of an epoch places a bar between one
generation and another. That bar is a mark of repression:

‘Fashions are a medicament that is supposed to compensate for
the fateful effects of forgetting, on a collective scale. The more
short-lived a time, the more it is oriented on fashion’ (Benjamin,
Das Passagen- Werk, p. 131). But it also provides a critical
distance from the imaginary order of the recent past, in which
desire has ceased to be invested: ‘A definitive perspective on
fashion arises only from consideration of how , to every generation,
the recently outdated appears as the most fundamental and antiaphrodisiac imaginable …. The confrontation with fashions of
past generations is then also a matter of much greater meaning
than one ordinarily presumes’ (ibid., p. 113).

new formations
Now in its seventh year, New Formations has established a
reputation nationally and internationally as one of Britain’s
most significant journals of cultural debate, history and theory.

Issues in 1994 include:


Rethinking the Second World


Since 1989 events of great significance, both velvet and violent,
have triggered unprecedented and pressing changes that constitute a challenge to the former Soviet bloc as well as to the
West, as it attempts to come to grips with the ‘new world order’.

The essays in this issue of New Formations explore how the
communist cultural past and its legacy affect the efforts of
national and cultural redefinition in the former USSR.

CONTRIBUTORS: Svetlana Boym, Katerina Clark, Nancy Condee,
Michael Holquist, Theodore Levin, Vladimir Padunov, Mikhail

Lacan and Love

23 /


1994 /


Takes as its starting point Lacan’s fundamental thesis that ‘there
is no sexual relationship’: it ultimately always fails, structured
around its own impossibility. The major inscription of this
impossibility in our western culture is the tradition of courtly
love: all subsequent phenomena, up to the figure of femme
fatale in film noir, can be explained as its variations.

Lacan and Love deals with the way this impossibility exists in
the cultural products which take sexuality and love as their
theme, from the medieval poetics of love to contemporary
horror films.

CONTRIBUTORS: Parveen Adams,joan Copjec,juliett FlowerMacCannell, Slavoj Zizek.

Why not subscribe? Make sure of your copy.

The issues for 1994 are Nos 22, 23 and 24.

Subscription rates, 1994: UK individuals £30.00, Institutions £50.00
Please send me one year’s subscription starting with issue number _ __
I enclose a cheque/PO for £,_ _ _ made payable to Lawrence & Wishart.

I authorise you to debit my Access/Visa* account for £,_ _ __
(delete as applicable)

My card number is DDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD
Expiry date _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Signature _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __
Name _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __
Address _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ __

It may be that any socialism worthy of the name cannot be

erected upon an industrial production mode (a sow’s ear will not
produce a silk purse). ‘Post-industrialism’ would then be a longtime, future project, not a present reality. It would involve a full,
technological revolution, a radical transformation of the means
of production, and thus a true rupture in the structuralist sense.

Radical Philosophy 68, Autumn 1994

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Postcode _ _ _ _ _ __
Return to:

Lawrence & WlShart, 144a Old South Lambeth Road,
London SW8 IXX


Buy the newest RP in printDownload the PDF