Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Returning to Marx To Go Beyond Orthodoxy.

In the epilogue to More Years For the Locust, long serving political activist Jim Higgins would compare the proliferation of theoreticians recycling variations of Marxist-Leninism to wandering Bishops without a congregation during the Great Schism. Orthodox Marxism was pushed to collapse when the excesses of Stalinism became obvious as tanks rolled into Hungary in 1956. Actually existing state socialism as Bakunin described appeared as 'nothing but a barracks." With the final blow dealt during the cycle of struggles in the late sixtiesi and early seventies, orthodox Marxism as a schema for social analysis became increasingly redundant and out of tune to social movements focussed around identity politics, the environment, and a rejection of the work place.

As post-modernism became hegemonic, and the working class moved off the centre stage of theory, several of those who had moved from Marxist orthodoxies were engaged in a parallel project of revitalising Marxism, in a current called autonomism.

If the revolt of Paris 1968 lasted for a week and was enough to spark intellectual fervour, the events of the Italian Red Autumn would play out over a decade generating strenuous Marxist revisionism among intellectuals active in the extra parliamentary left like Mario Trontiii and Antonio Negri. At the centre of the new social movements their project was very much focused on understanding the shifting dynamics of social organisation, the role of technology, and those new social actors which had traditionally been viewed as being outside the working class, defined traditionally as 'lumpen' and 'petit-bourgeoisie'. Many of their conclusions echo the less pessimistic elements of post-modernist thought.iii By '77 the Italian social movements of the seventies were scuppered by a state sponsored 'strategy of tension' against the left echoing the FBI's COINTELPRO operation against the Black Panthers. The space for the primary development of autonomist theory and most importantly practice was closed.

Returning to Marx To Go Beyond Orthodoxy.

Simply put, autonomist analysis is a return to the Marx of the Grundisseiv, and explorations of alienation. Fundamentally it focuses on those aspects of working class self activity that create alternatives within capitalism, cutting across it and refusing it's discipline. A focus similar to Marx in the Civil War in France and his analysis of political structures created by the working class during the Paris Commune.

A subterranean enough theory in the halls of academia, clever editors who seized on Empire as the new bible of the anti-globalisation movement have recently made autonomism popular to a wider left inteligentsia. Its influence however pervades the anti-globalisation movement with its seeming conformity of purpose in diversity. The language of autonomist thought is self-evident in the movements lexicon, it's refusal to accept power and desire to create alternativesv. Autonomism has been codified by Harry Cleaver into a tradition of anti-authoritarian Marxists who broke with orthodoxism to focus and explain the self-organisation of working class social movements and phenomena, rather than engaging in the portrayal of an 'overly one sided dynamic of capitalist exploitationvi' with a class of professional revolutionaries injecting revolutionary consciousness into a herd as part of some teleological project.

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