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For fifty-five years, Robert Paul Wolff has been reflecting on the theory of modern political society and engaging actively in a number of progressive political movements. The volume opens with a brief Credo for Progressives, in which Wolff forthrightly states the moral and political commitment that has shaped his life and writings.

For fifty-five years, Robert Paul Wolff has been reflecting on the theory of modern political society and engaging actively in a number of progressive political movements, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the protest against the Viet Nam War, and the world-wide effort to end the apartheid regime in South Africa. This volume brings together a wide-ranging selection of the writings that have flowed from his pen, his typewriter, and his word processor. The first section of the volume consists of seven selections of a general theoretical nature, including the essay "On Violence" that foreshadowed Wolff's classic work, In Defense of Anarchism.

The second section of the volume contains ten pieces written about specific people or for specific occasions.

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These include Wolff's important refutation of the first version of John Rawls' theory of justice, a touching personal reminiscence of his departed friend, Herbert Marcuse, a sharp critique of the reaction of the University of Massachusetts to the arrival on campus of Minister Louis Farrakhan, and several memoranda written for a graduate seminar Wolff taught on ideological critique.

The third section contains a selection of writings of an immediate practical nature on issues with which Wolff has been deeply involved. The volume closes with a photocopy of a handwritten document in which we see Wolff working out, first hand, an issue of great importance for those who continue to hope for a socialist transformation of capitalism. Create Widget. About Robert Paul Wolff. Learn more about Robert Paul Wolff.

Also by This Author. But, it is only through the argument that there is this contentless, mediating differential which allows labor power to valorize value that is, the possibility of exchange and surplus, that we can grasp that the manipulation of Third World labor sustaining the continued resources of the U. Those thousands and thousands of pages, in fact, explain only this over and over again to the implied reader: who is, of course, the worker within capital logic.

Just know that you produce capital, and you can only know this if you forget about your concrete experience simply as what gives you the picture of the world. Think it through and you will see that you are producing capital, and no one is giving you anything like money or wages in exchange for something. You ask me what might be some of the problems?

I think part of the problem might be to turn the theory of value into an analogy for consciousness which is done by many theoretical people, or, on the other side, if you decide to identify value with price rather quickly. The final problem that can arise is to feel that only value-producing work, work that produces commodities that can be exchanged, or, which is even worse, work that produces value that can valorize itself—which is capitalism—is real work.

Spivak : Well, you see that the way in which the answer to this question has to be considered is by looking at, as I have said—there is an ideological relation between that a set of newspapers, what a set of government documents that are released for publication and what you find in the actual document of the World Bank and the I. The forgetting, the forgiving of public debt—what one has to look at are what are the conditions that ride on these particular things that are being described as being forgiven. How do you approach this narrative in your work? Spivak : If we want the proper development toward international socialism to take place, we must put every country through the regular stages of one mode of production following the other, and where we have an example of such a thing is in Western Europe.

Capitalism as a way to. Now I would certainly not disagree that there is a certain plausibility of this. If one looks not only at the Lenin-Luxenburg debates or the various kinds of writing on imperialism that have been produced by first and second generations of Marxism involved in politics. Although I would not say that there is such a possibility, I would also say that if one looked at the writings then of people a generation later—Victor Kiernan or Harry Magdoff—one begins to realize that that is only one way of dealing with Marxism and the question of imperialism.

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Then, if one goes even further and back to Marx, then one can see in order to produce a reading which is politically more useful, rather than a reading that would simply throw away an extremely powerful analysis because it can be given a certain kind of reading, one would see that in the postface to Capital I , for example, what Marx says is that Germany could not develop political economy because in Germany capitalism is not developed in the way it developed in England. So then, Marx says, it is not possible for Germany to develop political economy, the professors of political economy in Germany are creating nonsense out of the paratheoretical petit bourgeois consciousness, but there is a possibility in Germany for a critique of political economy.

Because the discipline could not develop in Germany critique cannot be located in the bosom of the theorists, it will come from the disenfranchised. The relationship between Marxism and the developing countries might usefully be drawn on this model. It is repeatedly said by Marx, that to make that identification is estrangement. In fact, whenever Marx tries, certainly in the early Marx, but it is also in the later Marx, whenever Marx tries to find an example of how to understand this estrangement outside of capital logic, he thinks about the relation between men and women.

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You can say that Marx is a heterosexist, but that you can say about many feminists too who are not necessarily prejudiced against male or female homosexuality but who occupy a heterosexist position. To say that Marx in fact said that value-producing work was the only real work, or that work that produces self-valorizing value was the only real work, and, therefore, ignored the relationship between men and women, it is almost like saying, on an analogy, psychoanalysis is no good for literary criticism.

When in fact, Freud and Lacan and certain other analysts have looked at literary texts as something that could be an explanatory model for psychoanalysis.

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I think then what one has to cope with then is the sexism of radicals as well as reactionary males, rather than something specifically wrong with Marxism or with the modes of production narrative. Now another thing that one could find in Marx, for example is a morphology which talks about self-valorizing value as a kind of thing whose form of appearance [ Erscbeinungs form ] you see in the history of the development of the modes of production of value.

You see how value valorizes itself. What happens, O. So you ask me what I do with the modes of production narratives?

In order to be able to talk to you, in order to be able to teach within the bosom of the superpower, in order to be, in whatever way, as a citizen of India, some kind of corrective voice towards nativist cultural history there, I have to learn myself and teach my students to negotiate with colonialism itself. I say to upwardly class mobile feminists, generally the leaders, to learn to negotiate with phallocentricism because they do it anyway. In the same way, I look at this narrative of the modes of production and I negotiate with it, rather than simply take it as normative, or say that If I were to take it as normative my hands would not be clean.

As if one could not take it as normative living as one does. Therefore, one must learn to negotiate. To what extent is this gesture in its turn the management of a crisis? Where would you situate your work on the critique of imperialism and on the heterogeneous production of the gendered subaltern subject in relation to this gesture? Spivak : Well, you see everything is crisis management in a certain sense. One could make it an extremely broad category. The management of crisis is not necessarily a bad thing. I think, also, the insistence that a subject does not always act in his own interest, most of the post-structuralists have talked about this, that the nature of the subject, thanks to psychoanalysis, is marked by a bar or by an oblique itinerary so that one cannot, in fact, identify the product of epistemological cleansing and the constituency of social justice.

In fact, the solutions become nonsensical after awhile, after you have chosen them they fall apart. The contribution of post-structuralism to feminism has been simply the critique of phallocentricism itself. But, then, the historical state of being woman, is something that post-structuralism has tried to appropriate a little, in order to articulate for itself a space, that is not phallocentric.

I would say, yet, that the use of the historical figure of the woman is one way to manage the crisis of phallocentricism, and even, indirectly of the crisis of the party line communism and socialism in France, if you like. And here the figure of the woman has been manifestly useful. In the context of de-colonization the only things you have to work with, are the great narratives of nationalism, inter-nationalism, secularism, and culturalism. They themselves, as not always unwilling objects of a certain kind of epistemic violence, negotiated with these structures of violence in order to emerge as the so-called colonial subject.

One does not, then, produce some kind of legitimizing counter-narrative of nativist continuity. And I have been helped by the varieties of her representation in the fiction of Mahasweta Devi.

Essays On Practical Politics

Harasym : My next question or rather series of questions has to do with institutional responsibility and with the production of knowledge. What does our institutional responsibility amount to?

In India, for example, with a nationalized system of education, and access to education much limited by class, the university as a place of classic mobility is both very important and not important. In the United States, where the university system is run more or less like a private enterprise arguably even in the case of the state universities you have more than 4, tertiary institutions that are extremely hierarchized from junior colleges to senior colleges to your Harvard and Yale.

In France, you have a highly centralized nationalist educational system where academic radicalism has taken place almost outside the basic university structure organized by an elitist and homogenizing structure. And so on. But, given that caution, I would say that in one way or another academics are in the business of ideological production, even academics in the pure science are involved in that process.

This possibility leads to the notion of disciplinary as well as institutional situation, and then to the subtler question of precise though often much mediated functions within the institution of a nation state. Some of us need to know this. Our institutional responsibility is of course to offer a responsible critique of the structure of production of the knowledge we teach even as we teach it.

But, in addition, we must go public as often as we can, especially when we have gained some permanence in the profession. Harasym : What political interventional force could or does deconstruction have in the political rewriting of the ethico-political, socio-historical text and its destination? Spivak : Deconstruction cannot found a political program of any kind. Deconstruction points out that in constructing any kind of an argument we must move from implied premises, that must necessarily obliterate or finesse certain possibilities that question the availability of these premises in an absolutely justifiable way.


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Deconstruction teaches us to look at these limits and questions. It is a corrective and a critical movement. It seems to me, also, that because of this, deconstruction suggests that there is no absolute justification of any position. Now, this is not the final say about the position. Deconstruction, also insistently claims that there cannot be a fully practicing deconstructor.

For, the subject is always centered as a subject. You cannot decide to be decentered and inaugurate a politically correct deconstructive politics. What deconstruction looks at is the limits of this centering, and points at the fact that these boundaries of the centering of the subject are indeterminate and that the subject being always centered is obliged to describe them as determinate. Politically, all this does is not allow for fundamentalisms and totalitarianisms of various kinds, however seemingly benevolent. But it cannot be foundational. If one wanted to found a political project on deconstruction, it would be something like wishy-washy pluralism on the one hand, or a kind of irresponsible hedonism on the other.

For, when you are succeeding in political mobilizations based on the sanctity of those masterwords, then it begins to seem as if these narratives, these characteristics, really existed. The disenfranchised are quite often extremely irritated with that gesture of the benevolent towards them which involves a transformation through definition. In national liberation movements, for example, there is a critical moment when a deconstructive vigilance would not allow a movement toward orthodox nationalism. So when you ask me to refer specifically to the last footnote, there will be this gap.

I think that a practical politics of the open-end can be understood through this analogy. On the other hand, we really think of it much more as upkeep and as maintenance rather than as an irreducibly doomed repeated effort. This kind of activity cannot be replaced by an operation.