Loose ends

Following are some loose threads that didn’t make it into my (poorly executed) post on democracy. These are things that, it seems to me, would need to be folded into critiques/explorations of democracy. They are, for now, notes, very fragmentary and in bullet form. To be developed, hopefully:

*For Marx, equality and freedom in liberal democracy (“bourgeois democracy”) are wholly negative; that is, equality is the utter lack of difference just as freedom is the complete absence of external physical compulsion. This applies to both the form of the concepts, i.e., the simple exchange relation, and the content, i.e., the social roles that constitute the specific historical conditions of exchange act. Marx doesn’t seem particularly intent on trying to give these concepts a positive content, in trying to appropriate them for communist purposes. I wonder: can they be rehabilitated? wouldn’t a communist society want to have something like equality and freedom with a positive content?

*In arguing against the utopian-socialist idea that we can return to some pure exchange relation in which individuals relate to one merely as buyers and sellers, without specific social relations, Marx writes doing so “is the same as if it were asserted that there is no difference…between natural bodies, because all of them, when looked at from e.g. the point of view of their weight, have weight, and are therefore equal; or are equal because all of them occupy three dimensions.”

The invoking of the body is more than mere metaphor. Or should be read as such. Same with notion of difference appropriately inserted here. Any critique of democracy would have to take into account the ways bodies are gendered in democracy and capitalism. I’m thinking specifically of the dynamic between the international division of labor and the international drawing of borders as they relate to “women’s work”; the challenge that feminism and women’s differentiated bodies pose to democratic unity; the way that feminism undermines, gives lie to, foundational social pacts, which Pateman says are “fraternal”–between brothers (and is the multitude merely a variation on the fraternal social pact or something else?); etc. And I’m thinking of such writers as as Grosz, Brown, Federici, and others.

*Of course it’s important not to reify these categories (duh!), as the separation of the economic and the political that appears in most discourse leaves us impotent to think about/change either one. The upshot is that economic fights and political fights are both, in the end, fights. Conversely, it might be helpful to recognize when an “economic” fight gets displaced onto the political, and vice versa. I’m not sure how far such distinctions can be taken, and how fruitful they would be, but I’m thinking of Balibar’s notion of a “higher unity,” or “the place of last instance,” as the site from which control or direction seems to emanate.

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3 thoughts on “Loose ends

  1. Thanks for putting that LS idea out there. If I can get something together, I will do that. I certainly will develop those points, perhaps on their own, not connected to the other piece, first. I’ll let you know what develops.

  2. Interesting stuff here, and in the post (Poorly executed? I disagree). I’ve meant for a long time to read some of Marx’s stuff on the Paris Commune and Chartism and so on, I wonder if there’d be resources in there for the questions you pose.

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