Ships in the Proletarian Night: Contemporary Marxist Thought in France and Britain

25 March 2021 - 27 March 2021

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Convenors 

Sakshi Aravind (Cambridge)
Joe Davidson (University of Cambridge)
Louis Klee (University of Cambridge)
Solange Manche (University of Cambridge)

 
Co-Convenor

Marion Leclair, Convenor of the seminar in Paris (University of Artois)

 
Speakers

Julia Nicholls (King’s College London)
Kristin Ross (New York University)

 
Summary

In the 1840s, Marx moved west: exiled from Germany, forced into France, joining Engels in Britain. Each step was pivotal to the constitution of what we now know as Marxism, as German philosophy, French socialism and British economics came together in a powerful and enduring synthesis. An exchange between France and Britain thus stands at the beginning of the Marxist tradition of thought. Marx’s leap across the English Channel is not the only moment when a creative encounter between radical thought in Britain and France has occurred. One thinks, for instance, of the fertile moment of the 1870s and 1880s, when the event of the Paris Commune helped to spark a revival of British socialism; its significance captured by William Morris, the poet of Marxism, in his claim that the Commune laid ‘the foundation-stone of the new world that is to be’. We can also think here about the decade that followed the May 1968 events in Paris. The political eruption in France, and with it the revival of radical thinking, inaugurated a new moment of exchange. In particular, the Marxism of Louis Althusser, Pierre Macherey and Nicos Poulantzas piqued critical, indeed at times caustic, interventions from Stuart Hall, Terry Eagleton and E. P. Thompson, as well as playing a crucial role in retooling the British tradition of Cultural Studies. 

These three moments of encounter provoke a question: What is the significance of the Anglo-French connection for contemporary Marxism? There are clearly viable currents of Marxist thought in both countries. The student-led “lectures de Marx” seminar at the École Normale Supérieure, founded in 2009, is one sign of the continuing critical engagement with Marxism by a current generation of students. In Britain, there are similar tentative signs of a revival in Marxism, with forums such as the World Transformed festival and Salvage magazine, as well as the continuing strength of publishers such as Verso and Pluto, offering a stage for the rejuvenation of socialist thinking. Yet, these two tendencies seem strangely disconnected; like two ships in the night, the exchanges between French and British Marxism are fleeting, lacking the dynamism and drive of the post-Commune and post-1968 moments. Where are the reciprocal exchanges between the two traditions today? How can the productive polemics of the past be replicated in the contemporary moment? 

The concern here is not purely abstract; there are concrete reasons why a new encounter between French and British Marxism is of particular importance today. To borrow an Althusserian term, which was popularised by Stuart Hall, both countries face a conjuncture that shares certain key similarities. To take some obvious examples: the attempt to revive socialism through a left populist strategy, represented by Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise; the increased potency of contentious street and protest actions, whether in the form of national strikes against Macron’s pension reforms or Extinction Rebellion’s attempts to bring London to a standstill; an austerity politics, undergirded by forty years of neoliberalism, that takes aim at the last vestiges of the welfare state; and, finally, the legacies of colonialism, with postcolonial questions of nation, race and identity inflecting both the two polities. 

Ships in the Proletarian Night, then, has three aims. First, to explore the history of Anglo-French Marxist encounters, enriching our understanding of the history of exchanges between the two traditions. Second, to consider the contemporary state of Marxist thought in France and Britain, dwelling on the recent revivals of socialist thinking and action in each context. Third, to explore the latent possibilities for new encounters in the future, considering how each tradition might enrich the other, casting new light on the pressing questions of the contemporary conjuncture. 

 
About the Cambridge Reading Marx Seminar

Founded by Solange Manche, Louis Klee, and Joe Davidson in July 2019, the Cambridge Reading Marx Seminar is a multidisciplinary research forum based in King’s College and cooperates with the «Lectures de Marx» seminar at the École Normale Supérieure (Ulm) in Paris. The group runs a reading group style discussion circle and hosts invited speakers, creating a space for discussion of Marx’s work.
 

Organised by:

The Reading Marx Seminar at Cambridge
Séminaire «Lectures de Marx»  ENS (Ulm)
 

Supported by:

CRASSH 20th Anniversary Logo  Society for the Study of French History Logo

 

 

 


If you have any specific accessibility needs for this event please get in touch. We will do our best to accommodate any requests.

Conference assistance: conferences@crassh.cam.ac.uk

25 March 2021 

11.00 - 12.00 (BST)

Panel 1: Revolutionary Desires, Defying Borders 

  • Robert Jackson:  'Translatability, Gramsci, and Anglo-French Marxism'
  • Jackqueline Frost: 'Anti-Imperialism and Proletarian (Homo)Sexuality: Daniel Guérin and Andrew Salkey'
  • Giulia Champion: 'Another Ship Across the Atlantic: Decolonising and Greening Marx in Postcolonial Francophone Thought'
14.00 - 15.30 (BST)

Panel 2: Prefiguring Populism 

  • David Klemperer: ’Je Suis épouvanté’: Léon Blum as Marxist Critic of Left Populism'
  • Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz: 'Marxism in the Crises of Eric Hobsbawm (1956-1977)'
  • Efthimios Karayiannides: 'Africa as vanishing mediator in the exchange between British and French Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s?' 
16.00 - 17.30 (BST)

Panel 3: Literature and Revolution

  • Emma Gomis: 'Her Material Life: Marxism in the Work of Marguerite Duras'
  • Owen Holland: 'Gerard Manley Hopkins's 'red letter' and The Wreck of the Deutschland'
  • Micol Bez: 'Translating political languages: leftist anti-racism between French and English Notes on the recent French reception of CLR James'
18.00 (BST)

Keynote: Marx, 'Marxists', and Marxism in Paris and London, 1871-1889: Julia Nicholls, Lecturer in French & European Studies, King’s College London

26 March 2021 

11.00 - 12.30 (BST)

Panel 4:  Capital Today: Super-Exploitation, Profit, and Finance 

  • Niamh Mulcahy: 'The Aleatory Moment of Finance and the Structural Production of Contemporary Inequality'
  • Ariane Hanemaayer: 'Is the Bioeconomy a Unique Mode of Production?'
  • Andy Higginbottom: 'The Novelty and Significance of Salama and Tran's Interpretation of Marx's 'Transformation Problem'
14.00 - 15.30 (BST)

Panel 5: Reinterpreting the French Radical Tradition 

  • Nicolas Lema Habash: 'New Perspectives on Contemporary Marxist Spinozism in France: Alexandre Matheron'
  • Jacob Collins: 'Ex-centring or De-centring the Subject? Making Sense of the Sève-Althusser Correspondence'
  • Lang Wang: 'The Evolution of Anarcho-Feminist Discourse From 1870s to the Belle Époque'
16.00 - 17.30 (BST)


Panel 6: Currents in British Marxism

  • Miri Davidson: 'Societies of Reproduction: Analogies between anthropology and feminism in Marxist thought between London and Paris'
  • Brendan Harvey: 'Christopher Caudwell’s Critique of Materialism'
  • Vicente Montenegro Bralic: 'Althusser, penseur de la différence. Stuart Hall et l’introduction d’Althusser dans les Cultural Studies'
18.00 (BST)

Keynote: Territorial Struggles and the Commune-Form: Kristin Ross, Professor of Comparative Literature, New York University 

Micol Bez: 
'Translating political languages: leftist anti-racism between French and English Notes on the recent French reception of CLR James'


After the recent developments following “le manifeste des 100”, and the 1 critical response of antiracist and decolonial academics to the accusations of “islamo-gauchisme” and to the feared restrictions on academic freedom,2 the question of the translation and reception of the thought of Marxist anti-colonial and anti-racist thinkers has become a burning one. How to read C.L.R. James in France now? Who reads him? With what questions in mind?3 And how do these questions articulate to parallel worries in the UK, given the different development of the debate in the two cultural environments?

The theoretical question that I would like to ask is that of the translatability of political languages, or, more precisely, the translatability of the epistemic spaces that underlie these languages. In the Prison Notebooks, Gramsci says that the translatability of scientific and philosophical languages is but a particular case of a broader fact, namely, on the level of national cultures, of the fact that the different national traditions will have to be decoded as different forms of response to fundamentally identical — for comparable forms of civilisation and to the extent that they are comparable — historical problems (Q 11,47, 1468).4 So, how to think, in light of this consideration, about the reception and translation of contemporary anti-racist and anti-colonial leftist thought between France and the UK (and, in a way, through the US)? What problems is each act of translation addressing, and are they commensurable?
 


Giulia Champion: 
'Another Ship Across the Atlantic: Decolonising and Greening Marx in Postcolonial Francophone Thought'


Karl Marx’s monstrous depictions of Capital pre-date the publication of his seminal Critique of Political Economy. For instance, in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) he considers the “bourgeois order, which at the beginning of the century set the state to stand guard over the newly arisen smallholding and manured it with laurels, has become a vampire that sucks out its blood and brains and throws them into the alchemist’s cauldron of capital”.1

About fifteen years later, he points to its “boundless greed” and its aim to “absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour. Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks”.2 He also refers to its “werewolf’s hunger for surplus labour”.3 These monstrous imagery culminate in one allowing an engagement with the environment: “capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt”.4 The powerful image he conjures up, paralleling blood and dirt, challenges the cartesian ‘human’ vs ‘extra-human’ binary. While studies on greening Marx have abounded, few have pointed to the necessary decolonial lens that this greening must imply, this paper proposes to see such entanglements in the postcolonial Francophone works of Édouard Glissant and Malcom Ferdinand. In particular, this paper will focus on monstrous imagery of capital in Marx and Glissant and on the decolonisation and greening of Marxist thought in Malcom Ferdinand’s Une Écologie Décoloniale: Penser l’écologie Depuis Le Monde Caribéen (2019).



Jacob Collins:  
'Ex-centring or De-centring the Subject? Making Sense of the Sève-Althusser Correspondence'


In March, 2020, the French Communist philosopher Lucien Sève died of COVID-19-related complications. In a career that spanned eight decades, Sève developed an original view of Marx’s work, claiming that its primary focus was the ‘social individual’ – the sense in which the individual person and the social collective were mutually constituted. Because Marx was a thinker of ‘biography’ according to Sève – concerned with how individuals became alienated in a system of generalized commodity production – Marxism was founded both as a critique of political economy and as an anthropology. This interpretation, developed in his magnum opus, Marxisme et la théorie de la personnalité (1969), placed Sève squarely at odds with his more famous comrade in the French Communist Party, philosopher Louis Althusser, who argued that Marx broke with all conception of anthropology in the mid 1840s. Using the recently published Sève-Althusser correspondence as a frame, this paper will trace how, from 1960 on, these two thinkers developed their ideas in a spirit of comradely rivalry. Coming from a similar impulse to modernize French Marxism, they came to disagree over basic issues – of dialectics, structure, agency, and the relevance of psychoanalysis to Marxism. In the process, they generated two distinct models for understanding the role of the individual in society, with Sève arguing that the subject is ‘ex centered’ in a capitalist system, and Althusser arguing that it is ‘de-centered’. How these positions produced two different political visions for the party, up through the Twenty- Second Congress, will also be explored in this paper.
 


Miri Davidson:  
'Societies of Reproduction: Analogies between anthropology and feminism in Marxist thought between London and Paris'


'Social reproduction' has become some of the most popular terms in Marxist feminism. But its early use in French Marxist anthropology, especially in the work of Claude Meillassoux – who may even have been the first to use the term to signify the reproduction of labour power – is not well understood. This paper examines the origins of this concept of social reproduction in the nexus of the French anthropology of Meillassoux and the London-based feminism of Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa between 1967 and 1972. It suggests that a certain measure of the indeterminacy of the concept of social reproduction may be traced to its emergence out of the analogy drawn between two problems – the problem of the persistence of subsistence economies in the Third World and the problem of the persistence of gendered labour under capitalism. Through this nexus, anthropological ideas of a non-alienated 'primitive community', whose telos is the reproduction of life and which is necessary for capital to survive, live on in certain currents of materialist feminism today. I conclude by reflecting on what these analogies tell us about the different historical imaginaries of non-alienation between Britain and France.



Jackqueline Frost: 
'Anti-Imperialism and Proletarian (Homo)Sexuality: Daniel Guérin and Andrew Salkey'


In the spirit of thinking “with and beyond Aimé Césaire and C.L.R. James,” I propose a re-examination of the work of two Marxist anticolonial thinkers who offer substantial insight into questions of proletarian sexuality and queerness in the second half of the twentieth century. French communist intellectual, Daniel Guérin and Jamaican novelist and political militant, Andrew Salkey held a brief correspondence after both attended the Havana Cultural Congress of 1968, largely premised on their mutual friendship with C.L.R. James. While both intellectuals are known for their Black Power engagements in France, Britain and the Caribbean, both also offer reflections on the relation between non-normative sexuality and proletarian life. Guérin’s anticolonialism has been rarely considered in tandem with his work, both autobiographical and scholarly, on links between socialism and working-class homosexual mores. Salkey’s novel, Escape to an Autumn Pavement, is widely considered foundational for studies of Caribbean sexual identity, though its implications for anti-imperialist discourses of proletarian masculinity have not been thoroughly pursued. I will argue that the examples of Guérin and Salkey, whose militant peregrinations are linked, allow us to historicize problems of sexual freedom in relation to movements for self-determination. To this end, I will reconstruct the two thinker’s uses of proletarian and racialized sexuality, well as their conceptual distinctions between racism and homophobia. By uncovering the subterranean threads of an anticolonialist proletarian homosexuality within the Marxist tradition, I hope to bring into relief the contiguous space between queer conceptions of desire and the transformative desires proper to political change.



Iker Itoiz Ciáurriz: 
'Marxism in the Crises of Eric Hobsbawm (1956-1977)'


In 1977, Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm published his famous lecture 'The Forward March of Labour Halted', which sparked great controversy in the British left during the eighties. Hobsbawm's main thesis not only denied a straightforward line of development towards, and thus the inevitability of, working-class victory, but by suggesting it had stopped, called for a rethinking of strategy and method. These ideas took form from the different exchanges Hobsbawm had during the fifties and sixties in France and Italy. Influenced by the Grundisse and the impact of the global 1968, Hobsbawm started to move beyond the idea of the working-class as the main subject of the global revolution. Moreover, the influence of the PCI (Italian Communist Party) and Gramsci's thought in his works - like in The Age of Capital (1975) – was tested and shared in a series of conferences on Labour history in Paris between 1975 and 1977 alongside other historians such as Michelle Perrot, Madeleine Rebérioux, E.P. Thompson, Charles Tilly, Jack Godoy, to name a few. My aim is to shed light in the Marxism of Eric Hobsbawm since 1956. I seek to integrate Hobsbawm's Marxism into the general history of Western Marxism and, more specifically, to examine how the conclusions he reached in 1977 opened up space for his most important contributions to the political debate in the UK:  the debate over the modernisation of the Labour Party strategy in the eighties, the precursor of what would later become New Labour. 

 

 

Emma Gomis: 
'Her Material Life: Marxism in the Work of Marguerite Duras'


Marguerite Duras was a feminist revolutionary, writer, filmmaker and thinker. She is the writer that Hélène Cixous summoned in her seminal 1971 essay “The Laugh of the Medusa” when she wrote: “She must write herself, because this is the invention of a new insurgent writing, which, when the moment of her liberation has come, will allow her to carry out the indispensable ruptures and transformations in her history.” With a Marxist political desire, Duras poured herself into her work. Her rhetoric at once displaces and disrupts dominant relations of power allowing space for a potentially powerful reimagining. Her work creates gaps or lacunae that invite us to reach beyond the conventional– gaps which can be read as an expression of a utopian, euphoric, idealist Marxism. Duras formed part of the French Resistance, joined the Communist party, was then expelled from the party but continued to declare herself a communist. In the past few years, her writing and films have been translated and disseminated to reach a wider anglophone audience, placing her, in the English-speaking world, as a prominent intellectual figure and a potential precursor to the genre of autofiction. Focusing on her film “Agatha and the Limitless Reading” and her book “The Seawall” this paper looks at how Duras’s Marxism inflected her texts. It is an examination of the boundaries she breaks in her work– between private and public life, between the symbolic and imaginary, between the time of narrative and event recounted– as a result of her political and revolutionary thinking.

 

Nicolas Lema Habash:  
'New Perspectives on Contemporary Marxist Spinozism in France: Alexandre Matheron'


The recent death of Marxist-Spinozist philosopher Alexandre Matheron (1926-2020) has opened up the possibility to study his work from a new perspective. Matheron was one of the most influential commentators of Spinoza in France. Although he began studying Spinoza as part of a group of philosophers led by Louis Althusser, he then proceeded to carefully develop his unique interpretation of Spinoza’s philosophy seeking to understand him as a precursor of Marx. Insofar as his two main books, Individu et communauté chez Spinoza (1969) and Spinoza et le salut des ignorants (1971), have not yet been translated, his work remains isolated from the Anglophone world and extremely understudied in its own philosophical right, as compared to other celebrated French Marxist Spinozist scholars such as Etienne Balibar, Pierre Macherey or Althusser himself. In this presentation I develop some key elements of Matheron’s Marxist-inspired interpretation of Spinoza, aiming at understanding his work, not only as scholarly commentary, but actually as a philosophical re-appropriation of Spinoza and as an intervention in the history of French Marxism. I argue that Matheron’s concept of the “community of the sages” (communauté des sages), coined in his 1969 book, allows him to bridge the intellectualist tendencies in Spinoza’s Ethics with the democratic and materialist impetus present in his political writings. Unlike other Marxist readers of Spinoza (such as Desanti or Balibar), Matheron does not sideline the intellectualist aspects of Spinoza’s philosophy, but seeks to integrate them into a democratic theory of communism and the development of human reason.



Ariane Hanemaayer: 
'Is the Bioeconomy a Unique Mode of Production?'


Recent concepts in social studies of science such as biocapital, bioeconomy, biovalue, and bioproduction, raise questions about their relationship to Marx’s theoretical problematic. Some claim to draw directly from Marx’s theory of value (e.g., Cooper and Waldby 2014, Cooper 2002, Rajan 2006), while others have explored the implications of using these concepts (e.g., Birch and Tyfield 2013). The new concepts are often justified on the basis of a change in the composition of capital since the time of Marx’s writings. Beyond these literatures there has yet to be a definitive statement about whether the bioeconomy is, in fact, a unique mode of production or whether it can be explained using the theoretical framework provided by Marx in the 19th Century. Cooper and Waldby (2014) have argued that the bioeconomy is a new conceptualization, collapsing the labour of production with the reproduction of life necessary for labour. This conceptual intervention turns on the temporal discipline of labour, as biotechnological processes have allowed new forms of labour to emerge in the latter half of the 20th Century, in the form of stem cell donations, surrogacy, and even enrolment in phase one randomized controlled trails at early stages of drug development. These interventions have rendered the body and its materials as exchangeable and abstractable, unfolding in an embodied biological time. This paper contributes to the intersecting themes of contemporary Marxist projects and new theoretical approaches. I argue that these biological forms of exchange can be understood on Marx’s terrain. Using an adapted method of symptomatic reading, developed by Althusser and Balibar (1968), I re-sight the bio- concepts of value, capital, economy, and production on Marx’s problematic by pairing them with the ontologies of productive forces and relations of capitalist production. I conclude by demonstrating that the social and legal relations of the superstructure account for the oversight of claims to novelty in understanding the exchange of biological labour and materials.



Brendan Harvey:  
'
Christopher Caudwell’s Critique of Materialism'

In his 1966 Culture & Society, Raymond Williams describes Christopher Caudwell as the best-known Marxist critic of the day but also, “not even specific enough to be wrong.”[1] Today – less well known and probably appearing even more unspecific – Caudwell’s presence is largely limited to intellectual-historical accounts of British Marxism, relegated to the status of a minor figure within the dwindling realm of Marxist aesthetics, or – at best – described as “an extraordinary shooting star crossing England’s empirical night…a premonitory sign of a more sophisticated Marxism…[a] fire: a consciousness too bright and self-consuming.”[2] In other words, a light of brilliant but indeterminate illuminations, now long gone. Building on EP Thompson’s insights regarding Caldwell as a thinker of the “repeated generation of idealism and mechanical materialism not as true antagonists but as pseudo-antitheses,”[3] his career as a critic will be set aside in favor of a consideration of his epistemology.

Caudwell’s thought can be seen to retrospectively navigate, on the one hand, the invasion of the Marxist tradition by positivism in the 1930s – resulting in the ‘Caldwell Controversy’ in the pages of Modern Quarterly in 1950-51 – but, on the other, aspects of (in Thompson’s view) the idealist theoretical practice of ‘Western Marxism’ – typified in Althusser’s critique of empiricism. Specific focus will be paid to Caudwell’s articulation of the concept of ‘the economy’ and how its, “refus[al] to allow us to place [it] in a conceptual basis, and consciousness and affective culture in a conceptual superstructure”[4] anticipates increasingly fashionable concerns regarding the category of “real abstraction.”[5] Contra Thompson, Caudwell will be read less as a retrospective critic of ‘Western Marxism’ but as an anticipation of its supposed endpoint in the figure of Theodor Adorno and, in particular, the latter’s own critique of idealism and ‘Marxist’ materialism in favor of a materialism worthy of its name—one concerned with the “dissolution of things understood as dogmatic,”[6] even if that dogma is materialist.



Andy Higginbottom:  
'The Novelty and Significance of Salama and Tran's Interpretation of Marx's 'Transformation Problem'


In this paper I explore ‘the significance of the Anglo-French connection for contemporary Marxism’ in the area of Marx’s Capital Volume 3 generally known as ‘the transformation problem’. This field has in recent years witnessed a controversy between the ‘new interpretation’ school initiated separately by Duménil and Foley on the one hand, and the ‘temporal single system’ school exemplified in the works of Kliman and various co-authors on the other. The English literature debate has however overlooked the further extension of the ‘new interpretation’ by Pierre Salama and Tran Hai Hac, mostly only in French. 

Salama and Tran rethought the transformation problem to provide a genuinely fresh approach. They have  repositioned the framing of the solution away from commodity inputs converted into outputs, as the conversion of commodity simple values to their prices of production, to the distinct movement of inner essence (surplus labour time) to its actualised form of appearance (profit).      

My paper will outline Salama and Tran’s contribution, and then indicate its significance for the application of the concept of modified prices of production to the related contemporary analyses of labour super-exploitation and the international unequal exchange of commodities, resolving the earlier classic debate between Bettelheim and Emmanuel.



Owen Holland:  
'Gerard Manley Hopkins's 'red letter' and The Wreck of the Deutschland'


In a remarkable letter to Robert Bridges, dated 2 August 1871, Gerard Manley Hopkins begins by admitting that 'I must tell you I am always thinking of the Communist future'. For Hopkins, this was not necessarily a cause for celebration, as the Commune seemed to him to confirm 'what Carlyle has long threatened and foretold', and he appears to have been disturbed by the thought that the 'too intelligent artisan is master of the situation'. Hopkins clearly shared the widespread sense that the Commune represented a threat to the security of 'high' culture, and that the Communards aspired to level downwards, but he also offered a sincere statement of his respect for the justness of their cause. Even as Hopkins recapitulates the terms of repudiation familiar from the writings of Swinburne, Gautier and others, his reflections are also animated by an uneasy identification with the Communards, by which he finds himself both surprised and alarmed. Almost as soon as he censures the Communards for what he perceives as their desire to 'wreck and burn' the 'old civilisation', he turns candidly to acknowledge that this very civilisation itself is 'in great measure founded on wrecking' (my italics). In place of simple-minded and reactionary condemnation, Hopkins allows the Commune to provoke him into reckoning with the deep-seated injustices of the status quo, even if the terms of that reckoning are confused and shot through with considerable discomfort. In this paper, then, I'll investigate whether Hopkins's 'red letter' might open the way to a new reading of his well-known poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, and whether the Commune offered Hopkins a kind of analogical prototype of the "Lovescape crucified" that he would elaborate more fully in his poetic meditation on the death by drowning of five Franciscan nuns four years later. I'll also consider some of the ways in which the martyrological concerns of Hopkins's poem both echo and depart from Marx's celebration of the Commune in The Civil War in France, in which Marx famously proclaimed that 'Working men's Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class'.  

 

Robert Jackson:
'Translatability, Gramsci, and Anglo-French Marxism'

On what theoretical terrain can we stage a productive exchange today across traditions of Marxism arising from diverse national historical and political experiences? Gramscian thought is a vital node in the “reciprocal translation” between different forms of contemporary Marxist thought. As a common reference point for many protagonists in the capillary processes connecting francophone and anglophone Marxisms in the twentieth century (e.g. Althusser, Anderson, Poulantzas, Hall), the Gramscian lexicon has contributed to an, albeit contested, lingua franca for international Marxist discussion.

To what extent does Gramsci’s engagement with French and British political life germinate a theoretical apparatus capable of playing this mediating role? Gramsci’s attentiveness to issues of translation and translatability, understood as a cultural process (not only between natural languages), is intertwined with his method of historical analogy in which criteria of interpretation are derived from a confrontation between heterogeneous spatio-temporal examples. Thus, Gramsci’s theoretical insights emerge from his analysis of a constellation of historical figures and situations associated with Anglo-French national traditions, including Cromwell, the Enlightenment, Jacobinism, Ricardo, Empire, the Dreyfus affair, l’Action Française, and beyond.

Unsurprisingly, Gramsci’s thought has continued posthumously to mediate between these political contexts. More unexpected is the role Gramscian writings have played in expanding the horizons of Anglo-French Marxism to engage with global oppositional currents (e.g. with independent traditions from Latin America to south Asia). Thus, a Gramscian approach, as a laboratory through which to encounter post-Marxist ideas informing contemporary oppositional strategies (populist and postcolonial), offers opportunities for the renewal of socialist thought.

 


Efthimios Karayiannides:
'Africa as vanishing mediator in the exchange between British and French Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s?'


In this paper I argue that a widespread interest amongst Marxist intellectuals, on both sides of the channel, in postcolonial African economic development was a major conduit for the cross-pollination of ideas between French and British Marxism in the 1960s and 1970s. In this period, engagements on the British academic left with French economic anthropologists of Africa like Claude Meillassoux, Pierre-Philippe Rey, Emmanuel Terray and Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch were at least as numerous as theoretically abstract engagements with Althusserian concepts. The more arcane details of the clash between British empiricism and French theory in the 1970s has tended to overshadow the importance of a number of postcolonial problematics to the intellectual exchange between British and French Marxists.  While the interest in Africa waned in the 1980s when the promise of African socialism began to fade, the engagement with African capitalism left a lasting mark on post-Marxist thought. Stuart Hall’s analysis of the relationship between racism and the crises of the British capitalist state in the late 1970s, Ernesto Laclau’s early studies of populism and debates around social reproduction in radical feminist circles in the 1970s were all indebted to concepts first forged in the analysis of a number of postcolonial African economies. I will argue for the importance of this context to our understanding of the history of Marxism and consider what a serious interest in the political economy of Africa may offer the revival of Marxism in the 21st century.



David Klemperer: 
'Je Suis épouvanté’: Léon Blum as Marxist Critic of Left Populism'

In July 1933, at a special congress of France’s Socialist Party, Léon Blum delivered an outraged denunciation of an emerging revisionist tendency dubbed “neo-socialism”. This clash between Blum and the neo-socialists was a decisive moment for the French Left: it split the Socialist Party, and defined the nature of anti-fascist politics in the run-up to the Popular Front.

This paper will argue for understanding the neo-socialists as early advocates of left populism. With their focus on the irrational and affective aspects of democratic politics, the centrality of the electoral struggle for power, and the need to broaden the left’s social base, the neo-socialists prefigured the themes and arguments of contemporary populist theorists such as Chantal Mouffe.

Blum’s response to the neo-socialists should therefore be read as an early Marxist critique of left populism. In a series of theoretical articles for the party daily Le Populaire, Blum critiqued neo-socialist conceptions of class, nation and state, their approach to electoralism, and their understanding of the temporality of revolutionary politics.

I propose that re-considering this historic debate can highlight the long-standing substantive tensions between left populism and Marxism. In doing so, it can help to clarify the concepts and issues at stake in the strategic dilemmas facing the Anglo-French Left today.


 

Vicente Montenegro Bralic:  
'Althusser, penseur de la différence. Stuart Hall et l’introduction d’Althusser dans les Cultural Studies'


On connaît la place que Stuart Hall assigne à Louis Althusser dans la formation des Cultural Studies. Depuis le début des années 1970, Hall engage une lecture critique du «marxisme structuraliste» d’Althusser pour essayer de distinguer ce qui correspond proprement aux leçons épistémologiques de Marx de ce qui était la lecture «super-structuraliste» de celui-là. Mais ce que Hall va retenir comme la contribution la plus importante d’Althusser c’est avant tout sa théorie de l’idéologie. C’est dans un texte de 1985, “Signification, Representation, Ideology: Althusser and the Post-Structuralist Debates”, où Hall va confronter de plus près les thèses althussériennes sur l’idéologie, non seulement pour prendre sa distance par rapport à certains positions d’Althusser jugées «idéalistes», mais surtout pour souligner «l’immense révolution théorique» menée par lui dans le champ théorique marxiste, révolution qui sans doute provoque des retentissements profonds dans les cultural studies. Dans ce cadre, on va suivre comme fil conducteur une idée que Hall prononce au passage, mais dont on croit qu’elle résume bien la portée théorique et politique que la pensée d’Althusser peut avoir dans les cultural studies : «il m’a permit de vivre dans et avec la différence». Par une complication des schèmes d’interprétation classiques du marxisme qui pensent trop mécaniquement le rapport entre «base» et «superstructure», l’Althusser de Hall peut être lu comme un «théoricien de la différence» qui ouvre tout un programme d’enquête pour penser aux conflits de classe traversés (ou «surdéterminés») par conflits de genre, raciales ou coloniales.



Niamh Mulcahy:
'The Aleatory Moment of Finance and the Structural Production of Contemporary Inequality'

A sense of unpredictability has permeated public perceptions about social stability ever since the nuclear, ecological and economic crises of the late twentieth century, which led Ulrich Beck to famously christen the contemporary era as a “risk society”. The financial crisis of 2008 further heightened fears that household income and personal savings, on which so many lifestyles had been built, were subject to market fluctuations and the possibility of substantial loss. It has become commonplace, as a result, to emphasise contingency as an almost universal experience, which undermines traditional social and power structures. However, the disproportionate effects of increased uncertainty on economically disadvantaged populations cannot be attributed to a broader sense of precariousness alone. As I argue, Althusser’s aleatory materialism is a helpful way of framing the structural inscription of inequality in the contemporary age, because it points to the nature of the unevenly weighted encounter between households and firms or financial institutions. Labour-power is a major source of income for many households, but it represents an untradeable commodity in comparison with assets such as property, stocks, and bonds that many companies, banks and lenders use as sources of revenue. There is no way for working households to on-sell the risk associated with their income in the way that institutions disperse the financial risk of investment. A consideration of the household as a contemporary site of financial enclosure therefore helps illustrate how financial encounters render uncertain the very life chances of individuals and families.



Lang Wang: 
'The Evolution of Anarcho-Feminist Discourse From 1870s to the Belle Époque'


As a small fraction subsumed under anarchism, anarcho-feminism falls into oblivion in the academic discussions of present day. However, its aim to end all hierarchical power relations, pursuit of ultimate equality, and attention to the underclass are deeply relevant for contemporary feminist movements which are still divided by race, class, and nationality. Anarcho-feminism affords the possibility to overcome deep-seated division present since the beginning of feminism. This study explores the evolution of anarcho-feminist discourse which emerged in the short-lived Paris Commune and peaked in the free milieus in the Belle Époque. Relying on articles published in Le Libertaire, L’Anarchie, L’Ere Nouvelle, L’Education libertaire, and La Vie anarchiste, memoirs, and online archives, it examines the libertarian theories championed by Louise Michel (1830-1905), Marie Ferré (1844-1882), and Paule Mink (1839-1901) in the Paris Commune; and expanded by Anna Mahé (1882-1960), Morand Jeanne (1887-1969), and Sophie Zaïkowska (1880-1939) in the free milieus of 1900s. The analysis revolves around three aspects central to women’s lives: sexuality, marriage, and education. It argues that the French anarcho-feminist discourse within this time period experiences a transition from communist tendencies to individualist trends which accounts for numerous divergences between the two anarcho-feminist currents. Traditionally, French anarchist studies have focused asymmetrically on male theoreticians like Proudhon, Max Stirner, and Albert Libertad, and have woefully neglected the insights of anarchs-feminists. By examining the historical evolution of anarcho-feminist thought in France, this study recalls feminism’s place in the anarchist scholarship, gives visibility to the forgotten women, and reevaluates their contribution to the global feminist cause. 

 

 

 

Footnotes:

[1] Raymond Williams, Culture and Society, (Penguin, 1966): 268

[2] EP Thompson, “Christopher Caudwell,” Critical Inquiry (Winter, 1995): 331

[3] Thompson, “Christopher Caudwell,” 322

[4] Thompson, “Christopher Caudwell,” 348

[5] Alberto Toscano, “The Open Secret of Real Abstraction,” Rethinking Marxism 20:8 (2008). 

[6] Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton, (London: Continuum, 2007): 33


 





Call for Papers

Possible topics might include:

• Historical exchanges between the Marxist traditions in Britain and France

• The Paris Commune and its legacy, of which it will be the 150th anniversary in March

• Contemporary Marxist thinkers and projects

• Questions of translation, circulation and reception

• The rise (and possible fall) of left populism

• Resistance movements, such as Extinction Rebellion, the gilets jaunes, and industrial action

• Radical rightism: its causes and consequences

• New theoretical approaches

• Marxist takes on financialisation

• Empire, Anticolonialism and Marxism: With and Beyond C.L.R. James and Aimé Césaire

 

 

Appel à Commuications 

Les propositions pourront aborder les enjeux suivants : 

• Les échanges historiques des traditions marxistes en Grande-Bretagne et en France

• L’héritage de la Commune de Paris dont on célèbre les 150 ans en mars

• Les projets intellectuels et militants marxistes contemporains

• La traduction, la circulation et la réception des textes entre les deux pays

• L’ascension (et la chute possible) du populisme de gauche

• Les mouvements d’émancipation et les mouvements sociaux tels qu’extinction rebellion et les gilets jaunes 

• La financiarisation et ses critiques marxistes 

• L’impérialisme et l’anticolonialisme dans la penséee marxiste contemporaine, d’Aimé Césaire à C.L.R James à nos jours

 


 

Call for Artists

Online exhibition at CRASSH for the Ships in the Proletarian Night conference

For our conference, we are also looking for artists who would like to contribute to an online exhibition and welcome submissions that lend itself to this format. We are looking for work that engages with questions of relevance to our conference, such as social and political movements, colonialism, austerity, and economics.