Historical materialism: from the
Second to the Third International
The Second International of socialist parties was the undoubted custodian
of Marxist ‘orthodoxy’ from its formation in 1889 until its de facto collapse
at the outbreak of the First World War. While the German Social Democratic
Party (SPD) was the organisational centre of the International, it would be
a mistake to reductively explain its hegemony within the International as a
simple function of its relative numerical strength; for Germany was also
home to the International’s most
Marx, Engels and historical materialism
In this chapter I outline Marx and Engels’s theory of history and its relationship to their revolutionary political practice. Many commentators would cite
two reasons for dismissing such a project: first, Marx and Engels were not a
unity, their ideas and arguments diverging markedly; and, second, neither
Marx nor Engels individually produced a coherent and singular oeuvre. While
there is obviously some truth in these claims, I have reservations about both
of them. As to the suggestion that Marx’s and Engels
as well as material, there is no
plausible way to erect fixed boundaries separating idealism, legality and
consciousness from materialism, legitimacy and institutions. Chapters 3 and 4 develop this point
in detail by stressing the dialectical movement from law to idealism to new
law, and by looking at the implications of this process of transformation
for determinate relations of production and property ownership. The
Empathy and materialism: keeping the
crusades up to date
During a course of lectures delivered in Munich in 1855, Heinrich
von Sybel (1817–95) reflected on writers on the crusades. He had
made his name a decade and a half earlier demolishing the reputation
of William of Tyre and Albert of Aachen as reliable sources for the
First Crusade and now suggested that ‘every new commentator must
find fresh subject for interest and instruction according to his own
requirements and inclinations’.1 The legacy of the Enlightenment
had established the crusades as a
This article argues that the allegorical interpretations of the Gothic sublime made by materialist critics like Franco Moretti and Judith Halberstam unavoidably reduce Gothic excess and uncanniness to a realist understanding and, thereby, ironically de-materialize Gothic monstrosity by substituting for it a realistic meaning. This essay, instead, advocates a psychoanalytic critical reception that demonstrates how the essential uncanniness of the Gothic novel makes all realistic interpretation falter. Rather than interpreting Frankensteins creature as a condensed figure for proletarian formation or Dracula as an allegory for xenophobia, for instance, this article insists that the Gothic uncanny should be understood as figuring that which can only be viewed figuratively, as figuring that which has no space within a realistic understanding.
This essay addresses the socio-cultural potential of phreno-mesmerism in the mid-nineteenth century and how its good intentions were frustrated by its uncanny discourse. Supporters of phreno-mesmerisms social agency dreamed that the physiological make-up of future generations could be determined by engineering sexual partnerships. But the more earnestly the new hybrid science was advanced as a tool of social change, the more the discourse of phreno-magnetism proved unwieldy. In effect, the discourse represents a double-bind, intertwining sex and gender, essentialism and constructionism, science and the occult, materialism and Gothic. The article focuses of Elliotson‘s enthusiasm for uniting phrenology and mesmerism in his notorious Letter On Mesmeric Phrenology and Materialism (1843).
Becoming-Fungus in Arthur Machen‘s The Hill of Dreams
This paper examines the role fungi play in Arthur Machen‘s Decadent classic The Hill of Dreams (1907), a supernatural novel written in the 1890s. Ostensibly an idiosyncratic topic, the novels concern with these organisms devolves on an inquiry into the nature of life itself, of whether it is the result of a spiritual life-force or a haphazard assemblage of matter. In this way, Machen‘s novel participates in the fin de siècle debates between vitalism and materialism. Rather than attempting to resolve this debate, the novel seizes on tensions inherent in fungal life in order to dissolve the concept of life altogether, to suggest its horrifying unreality.
As Gothic works knock the stuffing out their subject and splatter the remains over the page and screen, their obsessive focus on an economy of decomposing bodies in distress makes a compelling case for the attraction they exert on materialist criticism. A broad and heterogeneous spectrum of left social and cultural critique has always relied on Gothic referents to make descriptive sense of the teratology of life within societies dominated by the bourgeoisie. Marx‘s Capital begins, after all, by seeing the ‘monstrous ungeheure accumulation of commodities’ as the symptom of something gone terribly wrong in liberal political economy.1 What, though, if the Gothic codex is more than simply ornamental language or images added to the otherwise dry bones of philosophical, political, and economic writings and is itself a mode of critical inquiry into capitalist modernity that may also interrogate classical Marxisms precepts and underexplored aspects? If Marxism has depended on Gothic referents to make its point, can Gothic return the favor by thinking through obstacles and potentialities within familiar Marxist claims? In this light, we mean ‘material Gothic’ as something greater than simply a less provocative name for Marxist-inflected readings of Gothic works, and understand it as a project in which Gothic studies can inform and reshape cultural and historical materialism.
This book explores key critical debates in the humanities in recent times in the context of the legitimation crisis widely felt to be facing academic institutions, using Derrida's idea of leverage in the university. In particular, it concerns an account for the malaise in the university by linking critical developments, discourses and debates in the modern humanities to a problem of the institution itself. The book finds within these discourses and debates the very dimensions of the institution's predicament: economic, political, ideological, but also, inseparably, intellectual. It looks at some of the recurring themes arising in the early key texts of new historicism and cultural materialism. The book also argues that these approaches in a number of ways orient their critical strategies according to certain kinds of logics and structures of reflection. It instances disorientation and leverage in the university by exploring the problematic doubleness of economics as indeterminately both inside and outside contemporary cultural theory. The book also argues that the interdisciplinary approach of cultural analysis has a certain amount of difficulty positioning economics as either simply an outside or an inside. The orientation and leverage within the university apparently offered by the development of cultural studies and by certain forms of interdisciplinarity comes at the cost of an irresolvable disorientation between the object and the activity of criticism.
Since the Enlightenment, liberal democrat governments in Europe and North America have been compelled to secure the legitimacy of their authority by constructing rational states whose rationality is based on modern forms of law. The first serious challenge to liberal democratic practices of legal legitimacy comes in Karl Marx's early writings on Rousseau and Hegel. Marx discovers the limits of formal legal equality that does not address substantive relations of inequality in the workplace and in many other spheres of social life. This book investigates the authoritarianism and breakdown of those state socialist governments which claim to put Marx's ideas on democracy and equality into practice. It offers an immanent critique of liberalism, and discusses liberal hegemony, attacking on liberalism from supposedly post-liberal political positions. Liberalism protects all individuals by guaranteeing a universally enforceable form of negative liberty which they can exercise in accordance with their own individual will. Immanuel Kant's critical philosophy both affirms and limits human agency through the media of rationality and legality. The conditions of liberal reason lay the groundwork for the structure of individual experience inside the liberal machine. The book also shows how a materialist reformulation of idealist philosophy provides the broad outlines of a theory of critical idealism that bears directly upon the organisation of the labour process and the first condition of legitimate law concerning humanity and external nature. Mimetic forms of materialism suggest that the possibilities for non-oppressive syntheses and realities are bound up with a libertarian union of intellect.