Discussions of the recent communist conference have me thinking about the relationship between theory and practice, again. Conveniently, I was reading Poulantzas today on the role of theories of the state in revolutionary action:
They can never be anything other than applied theoretical-strategic notions, serving, to be sure, as guide to action, but at the very most in the manner of road signs. A “model” of the State of transition to socialism cannot be drawn up: not as a universal model capable of being concretized in given cases, nor even as an infallible, theoretically guaranteed recipe for one or several countries…. One cannot ask any theory, however scientific it may be, to give more than it possesses—not even Marxism, which remains a genuine theory of action. There is always a structural difference between theory and practice, between theory and the real (State, Power, Socialism, 22).
Today is Ada Lovelace Day, on which people are blogging about “unsung heroines,” the women who have all too frequently been erased from histories and representations of technology. There’s something paradoxical about this erasure, as women have been integral to the history of technology at least since the industrial revolution. As Marx points out, it was women whose conditions of work were first changed by the introduction of machinery into factories. Infinite thought mentions Shulamith Firestone as a women who thought about hwo this relationship to technology could liberate women; in this context, one could also mention Lucy Parsons. Like many anarchists, Parsons was a rationalist who thought that freedom was natural and, because the natural world was rationally knowable, science could be used to bring into reality that natural freedom:
Anarchism is the usher of science-the master of ceremonies to all forms of truth. It would remove all barriers between the human being and natural development. From the natural resources of the earth, all artificial restrictions, that the body might be nurtures, and from universal truth, all bars of prejudice and superstition, that the mind may develop symmetrically (“The Principles of Anarchism”).
Which is not to say that Parsons was only interested in science as a theoretical enterprise. Rather, she emphasized how technology changed the conditions of labor and resistance; including in some unconventional ways:
Each of you hungry tramps who read these lines, avail yourselves of those little methods of warfare which Science has placed in the hands of the poor man, and you will become a power in this or any other land.
Learn the use of explosives! (“To Tramps”).
Vote Zombie Roosevelt! 1930s solutions to 21st century economic crises!
(I made this picture in response to Rachel’s comment on an earlier post, but I’ve just noticed the picture won’t show up unless I make it its own post, so here it is)
So, I understand New Labour putting forward reactionary proposals; they’ve always been functionaries of a particular form of neoliberalism. What I don’t understand is their basic lack of any political sense. The intriguing thing is that every stupid thing the government does is presented as if it were a canny political move. Owen pointed out New Labour’s increasing delusion that it’s still 1997, which is particularly clear in Peter Mandleson’s bizarre claim that Labour will lose the election if they don’t privatize the Post Office. How could anyone possibly think that? And today I see that Ed Balls has introduced some ludicrous educational centralization measure justified with some faux-populist nonsense about preventing Shakespeare from being removed from the curiculum.
The New Labour project was always based on appealing to some imagined Dail Mail reader. But this fantasy now seems somehow too obvious, too desparate. What has happened to New Labour’s fantasy, to cause this collapse?
Some Marxists have seen the current financial crisis as a vindication of catastrophism, as proof that capitalism will be brought down by its own crisis tendencies. But as faithful to the line points out:
Years were spent refining an analysis of capitalism that, in the broad, stressed the improbability of debt-fuelled boom continuing forever; noted the underlying weaknesses of, not just British capital, but capitalism globally; and highlighted the continuing instability of the system, precisely so that at just this moment they could be poised to offer solutions. Yet the arrival of a genuine and epoch-making economic crisis – of the properly old-fashioned kind (bank runs, fraud and larceny on a grand scale, insolvencies, mass unemployment… you know the score) – has found them largely blinking in the headlights.
The financial crisis, indeed, is the final refutation of catastrophism, making clear the fantasy that sustained it. Read more↴