Heirs of Marx

The 1996 book The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy au­thored by the duo (as one) of Katherine Gibson and Julie Graham (J.K. Gibson-​Graham) spelt out the ways in which cer­tain types of thinking have warped our thoughts on cap­it­alism, and hidden its in­trinsic ‘non­cap­it­alist’ com­pon­ents (its ‘other’). [1] The book sought to il­lus­trate this state of af­fairs in order that we may be able to re-​envision cap­it­alism and allow for al­ternate ways of thinking its ‘su­per­ses­sion.’ [2] Here eman­cip­a­tion was being at­tempted through an all new meth­od­o­logy. In en­acting such an all new meth­od­o­logy it was ap­parent that Gibson-​Graham had as­tutely trans­posed the form of crit­ical gender theory onto the con­tent of Marx’s clas­sical ac­count of cap­it­alist polit­ical eco­nomy, whether this was to be seen through the re-​engagement with com­modity fet­ishism, the C-​M-​C cir­cuit, or the ali­en­a­tion of la­bour (as a non-​exhaustive list). All of these things, and more, were re­vis­ited in order that cap­it­alism may be thought anew. [3] In an elo­quent state­ment from Gibson-​Graham they il­lus­trate their meth­od­o­logy as one which en­gages with the chal­lenges faced by crit­ical gender theory: ‘…we con­front a sim­ilar problem to that en­countered by fem­in­ists at­tempting to re­con­cep­tu­alize binary gender. It is dif­fi­cult if not im­possible to posit binary dif­fer­ence that is not po­ten­tially sub­sum­able to hier­archies of presence/​absence, sufficiency/​insufficiency, male/​female, positivity/​negation.’ [4] Thus Gibson-Graham’s ac­count of cap­it­alism (which high­lights capitalism’s own, yet sub­sumed, ‘other’) re­calls to us a cer­tain crit­ical meth­od­o­logy which seeks at once to con­front bin­aries but in doing so crit­ic­ally un­der­mines any telos which would re­in­state a hier­arch­ical ac­count of such bin­aries. This was the im­minent chal­lenge which presented it­self be­fore Gibson-​Graham in their con­front­a­tion of Marx’s powerful eman­cip­atory hu­man­it­arian dialectic.

From their own de­scrip­tion of how the pro­ject may be un­der­stood, Gibson-​Graham makes par­al­lels to ‘…the writ­ings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (1985, for ex­ample)…’ in order to por­tray cap­it­alism as some­thing other than fixed, rigid, wholly con­suming and ever present. [5] It is there­fore pos­sible to avoid seeing cap­it­alism as an all-​devouring ‘blob’ which would serve as the ‘to­tality of the eco­nomic.’ [6] As a result cap­it­alism may be seen in a more nu­anced fashion, ‘anti-​essentialist’ one could say, and so it is there­fore far re­moved from a ‘unitary or ho­mo­gen­eous’ form. [7]

This, J.K. Gibson-​Graham claim, ‘…mul­ti­plies (in­fin­itely) the pos­sib­il­ities of al­terity’ and in­deed one can ima­gine why this is: the more ‘others’ which are offered up in the name of eman­cip­a­tion, the better. [8] It is this ini­tial line of en­gage­ment which is mul­ti­plied throughout the book and which reaches a seem­ingly pivotal point in chapter 10, where cap­it­alism (which had thus far been ‘re­l­at­ively im­mune to rad­ical re­con­cep­tu­al­iz­a­tion’) [9] then gets ‘de­con­structed’ for a final time, once again using Marx’s ac­count as the basis for en­gage­ment. At this point the work of the late French philo­sopher Jacques Derrida enters the fray and his book on Marx, Specters of Marx, is taken to task. [10]

However Derrida’s work on Marx comes off very well from J.K. Gibson-Graham’s reading, un­like for ex­ample from the read­ings of Antonio Negri or Terry Eagleton (we will re­turn to Eagleton’s scathing words to close). [11] Derrida comes off so well from Gibson-Graham’s reading be­cause he em­ploys a meth­od­o­logy which is a com­pli­mentary par­allel to the one used by Gibson-​Graham. So it is that de­con­struc­tion and crit­ical gender theory both seek to un­veil capitalism’s ‘other’ and dis­rupt the ‘on­to­lo­gical to­tality’ which Marx prof­fers. [12] For Derrida this is achieved by il­lus­trating the fis­sures which seep into Marx’s dis­tinct cat­egories of use and ex­change value.[13] For such dis­tinct values cannot with­stand the so­li­cit­a­tion of Derrida’s meta­physics which have un­der­lined his en­tire corpus. [14] Returning then to Gibson-​Graham, their en­gage­ment with Marx con­veys cap­it­alism to have in­herent in­stances of ‘noncapitalis[m],’ which they in­sight­fully offer as the ‘home-​cooked meal,’ and ‘made beds.’ [15] The point here is of course to break away from an on­to­lo­gic­ally rigid one-​size-​fits-​all ac­count of cap­it­alism in order that the plur­al­ities which be­come mani­fest open points of en­gage­ment: ‘[t]here is no cap­it­alism but only cap­it­al­isms.’ [16] However at this junc­ture it is ab­so­lutely cru­cial that one point be made crystal clear: neither Gibson-​Graham nor Derrida seek to de­nounce Marx’s ac­count of cap­it­alism – in fact far from it. Their sep­arate (yet seem­ingly in­ter­twined) ac­counts offer nothing but praise, re­spect and above all a sense of re­spons­ib­ility to Marx’s work. As Derrida states, there is no in­her­it­ance without re­spons­ib­ility and so it is only with a sense of ad­mir­a­tion and re­spect that one can take up Marx again, in order to allow him to speak again. [17]

As we find from Derrida (from within his at­tack on Francis Fukuyama and his ‘singing the ad­vent of the ideal of lib­eral demo­cracy and of the cap­it­alist market in the eu­phoria of the end of his­tory’) [18] we are to be more than cau­tious of the fact that ‘…never be­fore, in ab­so­lute fig­ures, never have so many men, women, and chil­dren been sub­jug­ated, starved, or ex­term­in­ated on the earth.’ [19] So it is that Marx of course still speaks to us and does so with a rousing voice of dis­sent against the fact that ‘vi­ol­ence, in­equality, ex­clu­sion, famine, and thus eco­nomic op­pres­sion’ ef­fects (af­fects) more people on the planet than ever be­fore. [20] It is now on this poignant re­minder of re­spons­ib­ility that we can re­mark upon those who today, across the globe, are raising their voices in a cer­tain spirit of Marxism. Such a spirit is here the ‘motor-​scheme’ of those voicing dis­sent [21] and be­gins to show a res­on­ance with one of the ques­tions asked by Gibson-​Graham: ‘[w]here are the ele­ments that con­tam­inate the os­tens­ibly pure and ex­clus­ively cap­it­alist world eco­nomic space?’ [22]

Turning then to those who are oc­cupying spaces all across the globe in the name of a justice to come and against the in­justice of capitalism’s (cap­it­al­isms’) ruth­less hold over the ‘99%’, we find Marx re-​envisioned. Marx here does not ne­ces­sarily present the or­thodox, dia­lect­ical, eco­nom­ical (math­em­at­ical), and al­geb­raic truth presented, say, by Rastko Mo?nik in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, [23] but rather he presents a voice to be in­her­ited and in­ter­preted. He provides the ‘motor-​scheme,’ the spark for eman­cip­a­tion. The oc­cur­rence here is one which mir­rors the ac­tions seen in the work of Gibson-​Graham and Derrida. For there we find in Marx ‘other Marxs,’ ‘other Marxs’ which can be found to say this and do things dif­fer­ently. This brings us back to Terry Eagleton. Eagleton’s com­ments on Derrida’s mono­graph on Marx are less that fa­vour­able: they are scathing. In but 5 pages and without so much as a full foot­note or ref­er­ence to any­thing out­side some key pas­sages from Derrida’s text, Eagleton lays waste to Derrida’s ‘Marxism without Marxism.’ [24] Within Eagleton’s dry wit and sar­casm one can easily make out the main point of cri­ti­cism: there is no or­tho­doxy to be seen in Derrida’s work on Marx. [25]

This lack of or­tho­doxy in Derrida is the back­bone of Eagleton’s en­gage­ment and it cul­min­ates to decry Derrida’s famous call for a ‘New International,’ one which is ‘without status, without title, and without name, barely public…without con­tract, “out of joint,” without co­ordin­a­tion, without party, without country, without na­tional com­munity (International be­fore, across, and beyond any na­tional de­term­in­a­tion), without co-​citizenship, without common be­longing to a class.’ [26] Eagleton cri­ti­cizes Derrida for the­or­ising this ‘New International’ be­cause it sits as a ‘the ul­ti­mate post­struc­tur­alist fantasy: an op­pos­i­tion without saying any­thing as dis­taste­fully sys­temic or drably ‘or­thodox’ as an op­pos­i­tion, a dis­sent beyond all for­mulable dis­course, a promise which would be­tray it­self in the act of ful­fil­ment, a per­petual ex­cited open­ness to the Messiah who had better not let us down by doing any­thing so de­term­inate as coming.’ [27]

The 99% [28]

And yet in a mo­ment which seems (at the very least) to ask some real ques­tions of Eagleton’s cri­tique, we have seen, quite lit­er­ally overnight in some cases, the spon­tan­eous world­wide spark in over 80 coun­tries of a cer­tain spirit of Marxism. This spirit has no bor­ders, no party, no con­tract, no class, no states; merely the em­phatic as­ser­tion that we are heirs of Marx; we are the vast ma­jority of hu­manity; and we are fa­cing in­justice. [29] It serves as an ini­tial re­ac­tion and en­ac­tion, a mem­or­able con­stituent mo­ment, one which has a Nietzschean per­haps at­tached to it. We must take heed of the mo­ments when spirits are roused and in­voked en masse, and when the ghosts of the past speak again, for they are mo­ments which can be­come mo­ments far beyond them­selves (lest we forget the ini­tial mo­ments of the Arab Spring which have now led to un­fore­see­able con­sequences). [30] One could say that the 99% have opened an abyss and it is this abyss of the masses, in the name of a cer­tain spirit of Marx which we must ac­know­ledge: ‘[t]he ‘abyssal’ opens be­fore us rarely; the Bastille is not stormed every day. But that does not mean that rup­tures are not pos­sible.’ [31]

Marxism in­deed.


[1] J.K. Gibson-​Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy (Minneapolis/​London: University of Minnesota Press, 2006). I am here taking ref­er­ences from the first edi­tion of the ‘new’ University of Minnesota Press, pub­lished ten years after the Blackwell Publishers ver­sion. See chapter 1 in gen­eral.

[2] Ibid., 4.

[3] Ibid., 15 – 20.

[4] Ibid., 13.

[5] Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985). Here, as is well known, Laclau and Mouffe crit­ic­ally ex­amined ‘so­ciety,’ as J.K. Gibson-​Graham crit­ic­ally ex­amine ‘economy.’

[6] J.K. Gibson-​Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy, 12. This au­thor has al­ways en­vi­sioned (in an al­beit some­what comic fashion) to­tal­ising con­cepts to be por­trayed ad­equately by the prot­ag­onist of the 1958 B-​movie, The Blob. For those who would be lost to this ref­er­ence: http://​www​.you​tube​.com/​w​a​t​c​h​?​v​=​X​h​y​R​p​v​g​m​03g

[7] Ibid., 12 – 14.

[8] Ibid., 15.

[9] Ibid., 253.

[10] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, (New York: Routledge, 2006). This is a ref­er­ence to the Routledge ‘Classic’ ver­sion. The ori­ginal Routledge pub­lic­a­tion was in 1994.

[11] See their re­spective es­says in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, ed Michael Sprinker, (London/​New York: Verso, 2008), at 5 – 16, and 83 – 87.

[12] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, 110.

[13] Ibid., chapter 5: ‘Apparition of the Inapparent.’ See also J.K. Gibson-​Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it), 239 for Gibson-Graham’s ac­know­ledge­ment of Derrida’s in­sight into Marx’s strict on­to­lo­gical formations.

[14] For per­haps one of Derrida’s clearest ac­count of his meta­physics, see ‘Différance,’ in Margins of Philosophy, (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press, 1982). And here, the use of the word so­li­cit­a­tion is as de­scribed by Alan Bass in his trans­lators note, at 16, note 18, in Derrida’s ‘Différance.’

[15] J.K. Gibson-​Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it), 245.

[16] Ibid., 247.

[17] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, 114.

[18] Ibid., 106. See more gen­er­ally chapter 2: ‘Conjuring – Marxism,’ for Derrida’s scathing ac­count of Fukuyama’s work (and ideology).

[19] Ibid., 106.

[20] Ibid.

[21] For a con­cep­tual thinking of a ‘motor-​scheme,’ see Catherine Malabou, Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing: Dialectic, de­struc­tion, de­con­struc­tion, trans. Carolyn Shread (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 15.

[22] J.K. Gibson-​Graham, The End of Capitalism (as we knew it), 243.

[23] See Rastko Mo?nik, ‘After the Fall: Through The Fogs of the 18th Brumaire of the Eastern Springs,’ in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, 110 – 133.

[24] Terry Eagleton, ‘Marxism without Marxism,’ in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, 86.

[25] There are nu­merous in­stances where Eagleton makes this clear, but one of the most per­tinent points can be seen in ‘Marxism without Marxism,’ at 86: ‘If Derrida thinks, as he ap­pears to do, that there can be any ef­fective so­cialism without or­gan­iz­a­tion, ap­par­at­uses and reas­on­ably well-​formulated doc­trines and pro­grammes, then he is merely the victim of some aca­demi­cist fantasy which he has somehow mis­taken for an en­lightened anti-​Stalinism.’

[26] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, 106 – 107.

[27] Terry Eagleton, ‘Marxism without Marxism,’ in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, 87. The quo­ta­tions on the word or­thodox are Eagleton’s.

[29] Here, the ‘we’ is seen in op­pos­i­tion to the ‘we’ which is ne­ces­sarily ex­clusive as in­ter­preted by Emilios Christodoulidis in ‘Against Substitution: The Constitutional Thinking of Dissensus,’ in The Paradox of Constitutionalism: Constituent Power and Constitutional Form, M. Loughlin and N. Walker (eds), (Oxford/​New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 200.

[31] Emilios Christodoulidis, ‘Against Substitution: The Constitutional Thinking of Dissensus,’ in The Paradox of Constitutionalism: Constituent Power and Constitutional Form, 194. The quo­ta­tions on the word abyssal of Christodoulidis’.

  2 comments for “Heirs of Marx

  1. 29 April 2012 at 1:47 am

    problem is that Derrida him­self at­tarcts these sort of light­weight pro­testers who want to be aca­demics. A few suc­ceed thanks to some 60s hol­d­overs who spe­cific­ally pro­mote them. That is un­for­tu­nate. Academics should have polit­ical views, courage even, and be polit­ic­ally active. But polit­ical act­ivism should not grant you a damn PHD!!! PS: Derrida-​types have ruined the Left. The Left once stood for so­cial pro­gress, now the aca­demic Left stands for irrationalism.

    • Jerk Store
      22 July 2013 at 4:59 pm

      I don’t think Eagleton is saying that ‘a cer­tain spirit of Marx­ism with no bor­ders, no party, no con­tract, no class, no states’ cannot be­come mani­fest; I think he’s saying that you need some of the old or­tho­doxies like parties, po­s­i­tions, and plans for it to be­come any­thing than a flash in the pan. Maybe that didn’t seem as ob­vious a month or two after Occupy began…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*