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.

42 Editorial

EDITORIAL

l

1

i

1
J

j

j

This issue of RP focusses on social theory and contains
three analyses of issues which are central to different areas
of debate on the left.

Istvan Meszaros presents a new and important perspective on the prospects for a transition to social.ism. Couched
not in terms of the immediate destabil.ising factors of particular societies, but rather the global prospects for such a
transformation, Meszaros’s overview confronts the generalities which have dynamised/inhibited capitalism’s development
as a world system.

Unl.ike some commentators, who have seen capitalist
development as infinitely adaptable or self-regulatory,
Meszaros argues it has definite systemic limits and that each
attempt to adapt to fundamental epochal changes weakens
its stab.ility by blocking its ‘natural’ or original mechanisms
of self-regulation; creating a hiatus in the self-consistent
logic of ‘pure’ capitalism. A.nalysis of capital.ist development
and social.ist transition has been befuddled by the Hegelian
legacy that history unfolds according to general laws and
historically self-conscious agents. In real.ity, Meszaros argues, history is exceptional, it is the uniqueness of developments, the exception, which moulds tendencies, not abstract
laws of progress. The failure to move from abstract laws of
motion to the determinacy of real events is underl.ined by
the conception of time generated from the former. Real historical time, Meszaros suggests, is not necessarily running
out for the human race, via a nuclear apocalypse, because
our sense of urgency is not a purely subjective response to
circumstances, but rather also a mediation of the objective
historical compression of contradictions in the present epoch
which enhances the potentiallty for rapid social change.

Joe McCarney charts the movement of the Frankfurt
School over a series of positions from which immanent critique, a strategy adopted from Hegel, is appl.ied to social
reality: criticism of the fallure of bourgeois practice to
meet its own ideological standards; criticism via universally
recognised standards of justice, freedom, etc.; criticism
through the objective potentialities presented by the productive forces of capital.ism; and finally, in a neo-Kantian
turn, Habermas’s criticism via transcendental argument that
conceiving the possibillty of social practices entalls (and
immanentallses) certain suppositions about’ the nature of
communication. McCarney notes that the method of immanent critique produces difficulties over pin-pointing a subject of historical change and that the universal.ist appeals to
critical reason made by the method of immanence encapsulate this predicament. Hence rather than the evaluative
standards of critique, the cognitive standards of contradiction should be applled. It is suggested provocatively, that
consciousness, by its nature, struggles to transcend the contradictions that confront it. As the contradictions of capitallsm are themselves immanent in, and formative of, the
consciousness of historical agents, there is no need for critique’s universal standards of appeal as a guide to action.

Taking the standpoint of the subject of capitalist production, the proletariat requires no standards of valldation external to that social position.

Russell Keat’s article examines the possibillty of
methodological parallels beneath the outward antimonies in
the approaches of Reich and Foucault to contrasts of ‘the
social’ and ‘the biological’. In both cases, .it is argued, the
received idea of what constitutes the biological is undermined. In Reich there is a theory of the social construction
ยท)f the body’s muscular rigidities; in Foucault, a theory of
construction of the body’s sexuality as a site of intensities
of pleasure. Keat argues that Reich’s theory about the rela-

tionship between repressed emotion and muscular rigidification is logically detachable from the latter’s instinctual
underpinning, a theory of genital sexuality. On the other
hand, Foucault, who eschews a natural.istic basis for his
work on sexuality, is found to require a theory of instincts
in order to give a coherent account of whatis historically
resistant to the organising patterns of discourse.

Each of these articles recognises within its own terms
of reference a fundamental problem confronting the established Marxist traditions: the failure to develop an adequate
account of subjectivity. This crisis of Marxist theory has
been sharpened by the real crisis of legitimation noted by
Habermas, Poulantzas and others. The breakdown of traditional modes of legitimation is mirrored in the difficulties of
Marxism as a counter-authority, in that ‘legitimation crisis’

takes the form of a plurallty of social movements and intellectual currents whose relation to the Marxist traditions is
minimal. The failure of Marxist theory to engage with
current debates and crises is particularly hi~hli~hted by the
growing influence of post-structuralist theories with their
varied accounts of subjectivity. It is as It, Benton has
noted, the subject returns to wreak vengeance for the
years of neglect by Marxism (Ted l3enton, The Rise and
Fall of Structural Marxism, 1984, p. 176).

Marxist accounts of ideology, for example, have concentrated on the epistemological issue Odeology-as-illusion) and
neglected the interiority of the subject. PO~H-structuralism,
on the other hand, provides theories of the formation of the
subject from which it may be possible to retrieve accounts
of the interiorisation of forms of subjection (cf. Keat
below). The attitude of post-structurallsm itself towards the
relation between subjection and subjectiflcation is ambivalent, and in its less radical and more prominent tenor an
equation of the processes is asserted (Ct. Peter Dews,
‘Power and Subjectivity in Foucault’, New Left Review 144,
March/ Aprll 1984). Nevertheless, the historical and psychological processes of subjectltica tion described by poststructuralist writers can, arguably, be extricated from a
monadic post-Nietzschean metaphysics of desire or power.

The importance of an historicising project of recuperation in this area can be readlly indicated. Post-structuralist
themes include: the formation of the subject both as (a)
self-identical or self-present and (b) as an autonomous, individual moral agent, via repression of l.ibido in an age of increasing bureaucratic rational.isation; the enhancement of
(repressive/oppressive) oedipal tendencies and a self-destructive narcissism by capitallsm; the ‘sexual.isation’ of the body
under these capital.ist-bureaucratic conditions.

Wh.ilst it is true that the deconstructionist earlier wave
of post-structuralism has been accommodated in, for
example, the work of Jameson, Lentricchia, Said and
Eagleton, a Marxist (or quasi-Marxist) appropriation of the
(putatively) substantive work inscribed within meta-theories
of power or desire is strikingly absent.

In this way Keat’s retrieval of Reich is apposite, demonstrating, as it does, the possiblllty of a socio-historical
founding of ‘biological’ aspects of the subject, which requires for its coherence naturalistic conceptions of l.ibido
and repression. The production of an account of bodily subjectification from Reich’s Marxism and psychoanlaysis which
(whlle critical of) in important ways runs parallel to
Foucault’s account of the construction of sexuality, is a
welcome contribution towards the reappropriation of the
subject by radical theory.

Howard Feather

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue