Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Why Farage Bottled Newark

Patrick Mercer resigning from Parliament because he's ashamed of his wrongdoing? Now there's a welcome change. Perhaps a few more MPs should take note. In the normal course of things Mercer's career might have had a footnote on the news, but as it passes into the night it was immediately overshadowed by one question. Will Nigel Farage stand in the resulting by-election?

Well, now we know the answer. While dithering has become a thing on the right of late, what with Dave paralysed in the face of winter flooding, getting pulled from pillar to post by competing pressures and now dragging his feet over TV debates next year; and Boris Johnson playing will-he-won't-he with a possible return to Westminster; Farage could not afford this luxury. He made his decision quickly. And he bottled it.

Forget the ever-so-principled reasons Farage has outlined for ruling himself out - that UKIP have a laser-like focus on the European elections where they will "cause and earthquake", and how he himself has no personal ties to the East Midlands let alone the constituency - this decision has been made not out of UKIP's best interests, but what suits brand Nigel.

Newark is a safe Tory seat. It hasn't always been - the constituency had a Blairite interlude between 1997 and 2001. But it's likely to stay blue after 2015. 16,000-strong majorities have a stubborn tendency not to collapse. Even in a by-election with a massive hype machine behind them and greater name recognition than the Tory and Labour candidates, UKIP and Farage were by no means certain to romp home. The Tory PPC Robert Jenrick comes from the Jo Johnson/Edward Timpson 'nice chap' wing of the Conservatives, and actively campaigned when he ran in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2010. Some might think Farage would have had him for breakfast, but one should not underestimate the appeal of the quietly determined normal man. 

With Farage leading from the front UKIP had a very srtong chance but bookies must now be slashing the odds. And imagine what would have happened to Farage's standing had he lost. The wheels would have come off the bandwagon, the political establishment could portray him as defanged and it would have constituted a massive blow to UKIP morale and momentum. Farage would be cast as the usurper that didn't usurp. Then there is a practical consideration. UKIP MEPs get away with murder. As a rule they turn up less than their mainstream counterparts and live a good lifestyle without the responsibilities commensurate with their salaries. Farage in Westminster would have upset some of the cosy chumminess and given UKIP the political legitimacy it desperately needs to secure its future, but Farage would have to see constituents and, to some degree, act responsibly. Being a celebrity campaigner clashes with constituency duties, as a cursory glance at George Galloway will tell you. Farage has therefore acted rationally. He is serving Farage's interests.

So the prediction I made on Twitter yesterday that UKIP will not win the by-election still stands. But there is something missing from this picture - a Labour-shaped something. In the media scrum this has attracted, Labour have been totally written off. This is despite having come second place in 2010 with 11,000 votes. It was also disappointing to see Ed Balls comments about how the seat would not remotely be on the list of priorities because of the Tory majority. Well, it should be now. Because of the character of this by-election, because of its timing Labour should make a national effort and not leave it to the local party with a few "celebrity" appearances. If Labour approach this with a no hope attitude, what does that say to actual and potential Labour voters across the country? That we're only interested in them when we can get something out of it? That we're running scared of UKIP? It will not do. There is an outside chance that UKIP's presence will turn Newark into a three way marginal in which a modest swing to Labour could see it come through the middle. But also the by-election is an opportunity for Labour for other reasons. It is a chance to test out new tactics against UKIP and getting our money's worth from the recent appointee. Labour should therefore run an insurgent, spiky campaign that takes no prisoners.

Coming so close to the European elections, the by-election is a terrible headache for Dave. He'll be very worried about the mauling his grapple with UKIP will give him. But what he needs is reminding of who is real opponents are.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Paul van Dyk - Crush

Exams and testing, I thought I was done with them a long time ago. And when I got the new job, well, chances are I'd be setting them. But no. 

All new academic staff at our place have to participate in the Post Graduate Certificate in Higher Education programme. HE is a market and the emboldened student/consumer demands fully trained teaching staff. I can see the logic, as it happens. Anyway, no proper blogging tonight as I'm near the end of my teaching portfolio. 7,200 words done so far, 10 out of 12 competencies covered. Therefore the pearls I leave you this evening are of the musical kind. And yes, the video is creepy.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Epolitics and Libertarianism

Politics is changing, suggests Douglas Carswell. The "internet thingy" means the barriers to political entry, or, at least, political comment are lower than they've ever been. Westminster, hidebound and wrapped in its own importance is threatened with extinction unless it moves with the times.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is hardly fresh stuff. It would have been stale in 2004. Perhaps even as early as 1994 this looked like old jobs. Must have been a quiet in the Telegraph office when it got commissioned. Yes, blogging and social media have brought the costs of a public platform down to the price of a broadband subscription and the amount of time one can sink into it. Millions of voices now have the opportunity to mouth off to their heart's content. Amazingly, even my ravings have a modest following. Yet has epolitics, for want of a better word, forced a big change in the way we do politics? Not really. Quickly surveying the landscape now vs four years ago, most politicians have a social media presence, all parties are plugged in and (theoretically) clued up about the new technologies and many millions more Britons check out their Twitter everyday - a good chunk of whom will have clicked on a politics-related hashtag from time to time.

The dam hasn't burst though. Parties continue to obsessively media manage and the internet has not driven vast numbers of new people into political activity. The reflection on social media of UKIP's rise is more an echo of the mainstream media presence Farage has carved out than the other way round. Millions remain alienated from normal politics. No one is loading and reloading YouTube clips of exciting speeches and policy announcements. Politics is still largely a spectator sport, and the ability to send 140 character-long rants out into the ether, at best, creates a simulation of participation.

Does Douglas have a point though? True, the plates beneath organised politics are in a state of upheaval, which UKIP reflects. However, it appears Douglas is paying little attention to this and is indulging in a spot of technological determinism. That somehow the weaving together of disparate statuses, tweets, tumblrs, reddits, blogs and re-blogs will affect big political change in and of themselves. It won't. A politically disengaged but social media-savvy electorate will be a disengaged, social media-savvy electorate. If politics is to matter, it has to make itself more conducive to participation, to speak plainly and honestly, and keep its promises. And for that it requires the rude intrusion of masses of 'new people'. Looks a bit chicken-and-the-egg, doesn't it?

Perhaps this post could be such a small contribution to honesty in politics. Douglas is as libertarian as you get in the Tory party. He believes in individual sovereignty and free market fundamentalism. His political vision is of a devolved politics in which politicians, as such, no longer exist. It's self-government by referenda, of policy decided by politics. To Douglas his government isn't really a government at all, it's a Twitter fall of petitions and survey monkeys. That's not necessarily a bad thing in itself, but that is one side of the vision. Hand in hand with very, very democratic governance stands the utter despotism of the marketplace. In this utopia, the majority of living, breathing individuals have to work in businesses and enterprises where there is no democracy, where the despotism of the employer goes unchecked, where the only accountability possible is whether people buy her or his goods and/or services. Individuals have to enter this relationship of unequals on pain of severe impoverishment and want, and yet because it involves consenting to it all is fine. In reality Douglas's world is a recipe for hell, of a society ground beneath the iron heel of oligarchy. That economic power is self-interested and, ultimately, opposed to people living free, autonomous lives, to the actual realisation of individual sovereignty does not compute.

No amount of tweeting, YouTube thumbs down, or strongly-worded blogs would undermine the power Douglas would grant his oligarchy. But good old-fashioned movements of real people might.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

UKIP, Politics, and Populism

What a week for UKIP. By any standard political measure, the blowback from their British Jobs for British Workers campaign, the Faragey-bargy over expenses and employment of his German wife as secretary, and candidates who can't help but say stupid, racist things would have been severely bruising. Yet as we survey the damage wrought by a hurricane of hypocrisy, bigotry and lies we find UKIP with nary a scratch. Today's YouGov poll for the Sunday Times finds them leading the pack for the European elections on 31% (Labour are second with 28%, the Tories on a pitiful 19%), and a 15% score for the general election, which is their standard going rate these days. So UKIP must be coated in teflon, right? How does Farage stand athwart the UKIP wicket and bat away every googly with seemingly little effort?

The answer lies in the position UKIP occupies in our broken political system. You see supporters of mainstream politics - Tories especially - look down their noses at UKIP because it doesn't have any MPs. This allows them to pretend to themselves that the party fast bleeding their right flank doesn't actually matter. Ex-MP and Twitter celeb Louise Mensch in today's Sun (£) sums it up. While UKIP remains a racist joke party of the dud, the mad and the smugly then no mainstream outfit will want to do a deal with them (oops facts). She'd like to see Farage step aside and UKIP undergo professionalisation so it becomes a eurosceptic Tory home-from-home her party could cut a coalition deal with.

From the angry pen of Nick Cohen comes this withering take down, and it's very difficult to disagree with his argument. Farage is a phoney and yes, the media are culpable for not just creating him but fanning the flames of hard right anti-immigrant politics. Where I would quibble with Nick is his overview of the political economy of the media. Yes, he's right that 24 hour news creates a space for politics-related news which, in turn, heaps 'blanding' dynamics on party leaderships beholden to politics as brand management. Politicians who are a touch larger than life can help brighten up an otherwise dull segment and give the hacks something to report about. What Nick misses is the fascination broadcast journalists have with fringe politics. As urbane, educated and privileged professionals one of the reasons why, say, BBC journos cannot get enough of UKIP - and before 2010, the BNP - is because they cannot understand why anyone would vote for them. Their reluctance to challenge the stupidity of the far right is an incoherence brought on by being in the presence of an alien other. They cannot believe how anyone can sincerely hold ridiculous ideas. And so the constant free passes, of spiteful and hypocritical nonsense getting aired unchallenged in ways 'normal' politicians must envy.

Will holding Farage to account, as Nick urges, make much of a difference? It depends on the grounds you do so. The Mensch tactic from the right is an attempt to appeal to non-existant moderate 'kippers to think through how their populism is holding them back. The Cohen gambit is continue scrutinising and let their unhinged nastiness speak for themselves. As it happens, I don't disagree. Attacking UKIP for its racism and misogyny is right because it's right. It isn't, however, politically sufficient in and of itself. Neither Louise or Nick go far enough.

UKIP is a fundamentally different party from the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats. Even, to a degree, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. It is a protest party, a creature called to life by repeated lightning strikes of unchallenged xenophobia in the media. And what that megavoltage has reanimated are the decomposing bits of rotten Toryism. It has functioned as a challenger party to the Westminster consensus, as a party whose significance lies not in the Parliamentary representation it could possibly secure but the bloody nose it can give politics as a whole. Its core constituency of middle aged to elderly white men, which the party are trying to expand to working class non-Labour voters, are not interested in power as such but of asserting themselves against a world they don't like. They grew to maturity in a relatively benign environment and now lash out against its disappearance by pointing shaky, anxious fingers at immigrants, at the EU, at same sex marriage, at women. UKIP is a rightwing backlash at and denial of the realities of 21st century Britain and as such what is toxic for parties who aspire to govern is not for a party of protest. In fact, part of UKIP's attraction is that it will say what others won't say. By no means all UKIP voters will agree with council candidate William Henwood's attack on Lenny Henry, but at least they say what they believe. The gaffes, the racism, the poison, voters who are punting for UKIP have already factored this in.

Combating UKIP isn't a matter of adopting their policies, such as they exist, or seeing who can spend longer in the sewer. Lord Ashcroft found that former Tory UKIP supporters would return to the fold if their old party if they keep their promises and can show they have implemented policies that benefit them. In other words, it's about re-winning trust and rebuilding a sense of confidence in politics. Looking at what the Tories have to offer in 2015 - more low pay, more precarity, more debt-fuelled economic "growth" - it's not looking like Dave and Co will be taking Ashcroft's advice. Which leaves an opening to Labour. If inequality is the number one political issue - including among UKIP voters - then Labour has plenty to say and offer. It is Labour who should take on board Ashcroft's recommendations because, ultimately, unless politics tackles the deep economic insecurities that bedevil many, many millions of people, UKIP will carry on flourishing.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Labour and David Axelrod

LabourList's Mark Ferguson concludes his piece on last week's appointment of Obama spinner David Axelrod to Labour's election team as a "big deal". But is it, really? I hope it is. After all Axelrod doesn't come cheap - an unstated six figure fee has done the rounds. Will his impact on the party carry more weight than say five or six extra full time Labour organisers working marginal constituencies?

I can't help but feel sceptical about these big beast hires from overseas, regardless of who they work for. The Tories have imported Lynton Crosby from Australia to run vicious right-wing attacks - and yet they only appear to recover lost polling ground when they shut up and don't say anything objectionable. They have also paid silly money for the Obama grassroots specialist Jim Messina. As I noted last summer, this is dumb when the Tory grassroots are suffering severe dieback. So what does Axelrod bring to my party the collective wisdom of this country's labour movement could not provide?

Axelrod is certainly an experienced political strategist. He's won more than he's lost, and once specialised in making black Democrat candidates more, how shall we say, "white-friendly". He also has experience with pushing cost of living issues as political hot buttons. He was able to help the Ontario Liberal Party to win in 2002 doing just that, and is credited with prioritising similar themes in Obama's two campaigns. The other feather in his nest is overseeing the Obama '08 internet operation. He established a rudimentary social media platform bringing together personal blogs, forums and, crucially, the opportunity for activists to interact. This proved especially successful for fundraising. Millions were drawn from micro donations of a dollar here, five dollars there. With a cash-strapped Labour party that has made cost-of-living and combating inequality the centrepiece of its "offer", you can see where there might be some fit. Yet the point remains, is there no one else who has a similar level of expertise? The answer to that is yes, there is. Labour doesn't need Axelrod, he will not bring something "game-changing" to the table. And neither will Crosby and Messina for the Tories. If this is the case, then why have the respective leaderships splurged on very expensive consultants?

The first is a perceived lack of capacity on the part of party organisations. With memberships in long-term decline and experienced activists increasingly thin on the ground, political consultants market themselves as innovators in the kinds of work parties used to do as a matter of routine. Piggy backed onto this is a default distrust by party elites of their members. In Labour's case since Blair and the Tories since Dave, the members are regarded as too left and too right to be broadly representative of those respective constituencies. Member-led policy formation opportunities have long been circumscribed, and so members' input into political strategy is not valued. MPs, wonks, and consultants from overseas have a better feel for what's going on in the "real" population, so the thinking goes.

The second is a cultural thing. I've never seen the appeal myself, but high ups in all the Westminster parties have the serious hots for American politics. The USA's two outright parties of capital - one destructively bingeing on its lunatic fringe, and the other being marginally more rightwing than our own Liberal Democrats - do, sadly, command the political imaginations of too many inside the Westminster bubble and not a few activists outside it. Perhaps it says a great deal about how clapped out our mainstream politics are. Anyway, the fact is they do. Labour and Conservative figures strive for special relationships with senior Democrats and Republicans. For some it's ideological. For others it's technological, as if the technique and strategies the two parties deploy are at the very cutting edge of modern campaigning. Which they are. Whether it's ideas or technics, there is a certain glamour attached to hanging round with people who, in turn, hung around with some really powerful people. It's a bit like getting Lady Gaga on The X Factor.

Third, and inseparably bound up with glamour are the morale boosts these consultants bring. Both the Tories and Labour leaderships revel in the Obama magic American consultants sprinkle, and within the recursive world turning about the Westminster/media axis it shows they mean business. They're tooled up. They've brought out the big guns. As politicians generally go weak-kneed for technocrats and managerial solutions, consultant CVs of the Axelrod/Messina type allow them to indulge this predisposition in the most uncertain game of all. It can make our leaderships feel more confident now that expertise is on their side. And they can sell a message to the activists too, that they're in it to win it. For instance, a few Labour hearts would have been gladdened by Axelrod's video message to members. Conversely, securing one alchemical maester's services can depress the other team. For instance, some - naturally unnamed - Labour figures apparently panicked when the Tories announced Messina's hire last year. Likewise, especially those Conservatives beholden to the aura of American politics, some on the government benches would have found themselves in a gloom.

Axelrod's appointment is part arms race, part morale boost, part psychological warfare. It will be difficult to quantify his impact win or lose in 2015 but I suspect the money would have been better spent on those faceless organisers. I hope I turn out to be wrong.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Local Council By-Elections April 2014

Number of candidates
Total vote
+/- Seats

Plaid Cymru**



* There were no by-elections in Scotland.
** There were two by-elections in Wales.
*** There were no independent clashes in April.
**** 'Other' this month consisted of Lincolnshire Independents (269 votes).

Overall, 9,622 votes were cast over nine individual local (tier one and tier two) authority contests. All percentages are rounded to the nearest single decimal place. For comparison see March's results here.

Whereas last month appeared boring, April really was. Only nine contests and two seats changing hands (Tories dropping one to the LibDems but gaining another from an Independent) it can mean but one thing: local authority elections are imminent. On 22nd May council elections will be held on the same day as the Europeans, and as per traditions all the parties prefer to roll up their by-elections into polling day in the hope that they will get more votes, and a holding by-elections at the same time allow them to benefit from campaigning economies of scale. Therefore I imagine the by-election front will be very quiet up until the big day.

Of April's results I'm sure some Tories are smiling. A few Labour people might be tempted to shed a tear. Yet look beyond the appearance and discern the essence beneath. Yes, Labour's results are very poor compared with previous months. And for the first time the Tories have commanded a substantial lead. There is, however, no need to neck the deadly nightshade. Firstly the depressed Labour vote and low averages indicate that most contests took place in areas where Labour are disadvantaged. The Tories despite their apparent "triumph" have a low average by their standards - if they're not doing well in areas where they can expect to, then trouble's-a-brewing.

There isn't a great deal you can say about the other parties either, except this is the closest the LibDems have run UKIP in a while, and the first instance in a long time their average has surpassed Farage's band of angry old men. Again, this is not a sea change, the LibDems piled the votes high in a couple of their contests. As difficult as it is to believe, there are still some places where people vote for the yellow party in their hundreds.

No TUSC - no surprises there as they've been pulling out the stops to stand as many council candidates as possible. Expect an upcoming post looking at that. And, again, no BNP. In their much-reduced circumstances they might be shepherding resources for the European elections, but standing paper candidates in a by-election costs nothing and there's been hide nor hair of them since December. What a pity.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Three Varieties of Post-Marxism

1. There's what you might call 'political' Post-Marxism. Anyone who's been around the academic lefty bloc and/or were privy to the strategic 'New Times' debates of the 1980s will have an idea what this is about. Basically, in a nut shell, the class politics Marxism depended on had clearly collapsed by the end of that decade. Rather than increasing numbers of workers, capitalism had bequeathed an expanding middle class, a tendency to smaller workplaces, a consumer culture that eroded traditional senses of solidarity, and a new politics organised around identity and oppression - not class interest. In short, Marx's approach to politics was clapped out and no longer relevant.

Perhaps the most (in)famous example of political Post-Marxism was Laclau and Mouffe's Hegemony and Socialist Strategy. While they argued class politics was outdated, they went further and suggested it was never really a runner in the first place. Starting with a mechanistic interpretation of Marx's notorious base/superstructure metaphor in the 1859 Preface, they argue that capitalism - for Marxism - calls into being the working class and clusters them in ever greater concentrations. With every crisis of capitalism the numbers thrown into wage labour grow exponentially, but so does the workers' capacity to organise themselves into labour movements, cooperatives, and parties. The official Marxism of the 2nd International (1889-1914), according to Laclau and Mouffe, believed revolution and socialism was inevitable - the capitalist cogs would grind out socialist product eventually. As we know, the outbreak of war shattered that perspective.

Laclau and Mouffe track how Marxism subsequently came to cope with this confounding of perspectives through Luxemburg, Lenin and Gramsci. Their basic argument is that Marx's "economism" guaranteed the political primacy of the working class, and forecast that it would behave in a set of theoretically prescribed ways. When it did not as per the 2nd International's schema, Lenin went back to the drawing board. His insight that in Russia the working class needed its own revolutionary party to negotiate the fractured strata of a decaying autocracy and lead an alliance of workers and peasants required no mechanical schema. Revolution was a question of politics, of winning revolutionary socialist hegemony. Hence there is a contingency - Lenin has the sense to realise socialism was not inevitable and was something that had to be prosecuted through class struggle. And its instrument, of course, was the party. The view was telescoped out and generalised to the advanced west in the wake of the October Revolution. Socialism was not inevitable, it was a matter of skilled leadership to tip politics into revolutionary crisis. Where Laclau and Mouffe were concerned, whereas Lenin's view represented an immeasurable advance on what went before it was still mired in economism. They argue that Lenin treats the workers as a simple given whose existence is underwritten by capitalism. This is an effect of what they call "suturing", of preserving the coherent narrative of Marxist thinking. In this particular case, whereas an alliance should, theoretically, be a democratic clash of ideas they argue Lenin's suture, resting on an essentialist notion of class, closes down its democratic potential and subordinates it to the (autocratic) party.

Their analysis of Gramsci runs more or less along the same lines. They suggest he developed Lenin's conception of hegemony by extending class struggle to all facets of social life, and talked up the democratic potential of the 'historic bloc' - the alliance of classes needed to knock down capitalism's door. They suggest that this approach recognises the political complexity of the revolutionary movement, that everywhere and at all times socialism has to make sense to its varied participants, speak to their interests, and explain the opportunities and challenges as they present themselves. Hegemony doesn't just happen, it is constantly and continuously negotiated. However, in their view Gramsci's adherence to Marxism hobbles its democratic potential in much the same way as Lenin's does. Rather than just letting different interests democratically interplay, Gramsci yokes them to the revolutionary party that is, yet again, underwritten by the privileged position occupied by the working class. Contingency and complexity is effectively rode roughshod over - messy reality is squeezed into an ideological schema. Laclau and Mouffe take the negotiated character of hegemony and run with it. If it has to be negotiated, a historic bloc isn't fixed by "class interests" from the outset. This emerges over time as an outcome of the movements within it. Following this true, if a bloc's identity is accomplished after the fact then what use is there of fixed class categories from Marxism? For Laclau and Mouffe, there isn't any - they're purely ideological: stitches of the suture Gramsci performed.

If hegemony is ensured by a negotiation between the different subject positions contained within it (as it is in Gramsci) this suggests identity with a historic bloc is not fixed apriori by class. It is therefore only a short leap to the position that the principle of identity is unfixity; that it is established as social processes play out.

The consequences here are two fold. In the first place there is no necessary correspondence between the working class and socialism, meaning that no position can be privileged above another. Secondly, socialism must be articulated by negotiating between the different positions emerging from and shaped by multiple struggles. This in turn must lead to a rethinking of the symbolic unity that secures an historic bloc, but without the closure provided by class. In other words, for Laclau and Mouffe, the starting point is the idea of socialism and the job of intellectuals is to rally support around it.

There are other varieties of political Post-Marxism, but fundamentally they deny the applicability of class politics and argue that Marx has to be transcended because his notion of class interest is inseparable from the struggle for wages and conditions at work. As we know, life is richer, fuller and more complex than that.

2. Then we have what you might call 'sociological' Post-Marxism. There is a close correspondence between this and political Post-Marxism - if the former's the practice, then this is the theory. This is the assumption - and it is often an assumption born of ignorance - that social development has some how gone past Marxism, that the concepts and the method Marx elaborated no longer have any purchase. Forget your use values, your circuits of capital, wage labour, and so on and embrace the new.

There are almost as many strands of Post-Marxist theory as there are Trotskyist internationals. But most are relatively well known. Take Jean Baudrillard. He made his journey from a mix of Marxism, semiology and psychoanalysis to a distinctive Post-Marxism in which reality, as such, can no longer be spoken of. His key work of transition was his 1972 collection of essays, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. He argued that Marx's analytical split of a commodity into use and exchange values needed supplementing by an additional concept - sign value. He argued that commodities in societies increasingly dominated by a consumer culture, the 'use' of a good became less important than what it signified. For example, at work a number of students and staff prefer to queue up at Costa than the equally good, cheaper but unbranded Union-owned coffee bar. Why? Such questions Baudrillard hoped to answer with this concept. Hoped until, that is, he abandoned this project entirely for the one he became known for. Beginning with his critique of Marxism in The Mirror of Production, he argued that society has become so heavily mediated that our sociality is bounded by self-referential recursive systems, or simulations. Each of these attempt to create or 'simulate' a bounded universe in which the governing set of rules have the answers. Thus Marxism, neoliberalism, Scientology, postmodernism, all make claims to the truth but their appeals to reality mask the production of a simulation, which cannot have a relationship with the "real". Baudrillard's argument is a bit more nuanced than that - I toy with it a little bit in this analysis of Peaches Geldof - but this is the jumping off point.

Good old Michel Foucault is sometimes considered a Post-Marxist, though he never used the term himself. He acquires this label not because he abandons "class analysis" (his work on power operates at the level of individual subject formation), but because he eschews the old Marxist warhorse of ideology. The emphasis of the 'second phase' of his work - his Nietzschean-inspired genealogies of power/knowledge. His accounts of the convict-as-subject and the formation of sexuality in the 19th century power argued that institutions charged with the management of populations - prisons, hospitals - developed specialist knowledges that more or less constituted the subjects of that knowledge. As Foucault put it:
There are manifold relations of power which permeate, characterise, and constitute the social body and these relations of power cannot themselves be established, consolidated or implemented without the production, accumulation, circulation and functioning of a discourse. There can be no exercise of power without a certain economy of discourses of truth which operates through and on the basis of this association. We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth. (Power/Knowledge 1980, p.93)
These historically have given rise to disciplinary techniques the focus on positioning and conditioning human bodies by constituting those bodies as certain subjects. When you join the army, training breaks you down and rebuilds you as a particular kind of subject. When you're in prison, the regimen of locking up, work, recreation, etc. is about trying to create a certain kind of subject. In the workplace, established procedures for doing things, work hours, rules, all work together to inculcate a subject. In all these cases the techniques that position and manipulate human bodies are backed up by the power of surveillance, the idea that "being seen" conditions soldiers, convicts and workers to abide by the rules, follow the conventions, and act like the subjects they are supposed to be. What room here for ideology, for the ideas that sit in our head and command our activities in accordance with ruling class imperatives? There isn't any. The politics of ideology have given way to the politics of truth, wrote Michele Barrett in her savaging of the Marxist approach to ideology.

In different theoretical camps, I suppose you could say Pierre Bourdieu is a Post-Marxist of sorts. He applied Marx's understanding of how economies worked to what he describes as 'social fields', but went beyond Marx by emphasising symbolic struggles and the process of subject inculcation that came to fruition as "players" in these fields pursued non-economic forms of capital. The "heir" to the Frankfurt School, Jurgen Habermas also sits firmly in the camp. His social theory emphasises communicative action and the contradiction between colonising (technocratic, impersonal) systems vs the social "lifeworld" - both of which are 'beyond Marxism'. And a quick word about Zygmunt Bauman, whose 'liquid modernity' apparently speaks of a slippery dynamism to modernity absent in Marx's writings about the subject. Hmmm.

3. The third kind of Post-Marxism might surprise you. You could call it Marxist Post-Marxism, Post-Post-Marxism, Marxism after Marxism, or just plain old Marxism. It is basically the observation that all the Post-Marxist "refutations" of Marxism are nothing of the sort. Where they do not lapse into outright irrationalism, one can find stray whiskers from Marx's beard in their critiques of essentialism, their unconscious dialectics and historical materialism. True, some of the material they cover Marx did not and could not have written about. But Marxism, among other things, is an open-ended research project. His entire work acts as an invitation to social analysis not because absolutely everything is in Capital, but because it's unfinished. In my opinion, as Lukacs put it, Marxism first and foremost is a question of method.

What sense should this be considered a variety of Post-Marxism then? Sadly, it's not a matter of just saying to our Post-Marxist chums that their readings of Marx are wrong and stumping up the textual proof to confound them. Even though, in large measure, they are badly mistaken and do fundamentally misunderstand Marx's contributions (whether wilfully of honestly). But there is a reason for this. Althusser's former student, Etienne Balibar puts it in The Philosophy of Marx that the fragmentary character of Marx's work, the multiple revisions his work underwent, the sketching out of concepts in the early part of his career and later abandonment or transformation into something else and tendency to use expressions at cross purposes to his method is the fountainhead of muddle and confusion. If you want to portray Marx as the sensitive, nuanced analyst and critic of capitalism - a non-essentialist and deeply historical thinker and activist who is not only deeply relevant but, in many ways, remains the most modern interpreter of our age; you'll find him. But the other Marx is there too. The one with the clunky mechanical materialism, of the impersonal forces driving capitalism to its inevitable collapse - he's still about. The Marx who wrote unpleasant things about certain nationalities and condemned whole peoples as 'non-historic', he's knocking about in the Collected Works. The Marx waxed lyrical about alienation from some kind of essential species-being, that youthful fellow is still read and passed off as the finished product. And the Marx whose remarks about ideology have led generations of radical thinkers to treat human beings as if they're the brainwashed prisoners of the ideas in their heads, sadly, he's taken as the real deal too.

Balibar argues that ultimately, Althusser's reading of Marx was about liberating all that was valuable from all that was not. Althusser didn't manage it because he over-egged the pudding in certain respects, elaborated a non-essentialist but equally creaky and "theoreticist" reinterpretation of Marx, and got completely weighed down in philosophical proofs of Marxism's scientific credentials which were, ultimately, unnecessary. But for Balibar, Althusser's argument about an epistemological break between a 'young' and 'mature' Marx was largely correct: after the 1844 Manuscripts which dealt with alienation came the unpublished German Ideology in which Marx and Engels elaborated their distinctive post-philosophical social theory for the first time. From then on, concepts like alienation were incorporated into the abstract processes that enable capitalism as a system to yield a surplus from the exploitation of labour power. Likewise ideology, which - as Barrett pointed out - was treated as incorrect, mystifying ideas that benefited the powers that be in the German Ideology assumed less importance in Marx's overall analysis. Ideology became something after the fact, as Žižek noted.

For Balibar, as Marxism is compromised not just by the contradictory complexity of its founder but also the various offshoots, including the brutal bastard children of Stalinism and state "socialist" modernisation, "Marxists" should not fix on the label and feel free to abandon it. In this sense, Balibar's understanding is Post-Marxist but not Post-Marx. His project and that of a great many thinkers and activists not affiliated to and sometimes opposing Althusser's reconstruction of Marxism rescue, run with and elaborate Marx's concepts; they use the materialist method he developed with Engels to make sense of the world. A Marxist analysis of how Marxism became something far removed from all that is dynamic and wonderfully scandalous about a tool for interpreting and changing the world needs to be done, but until then the work that stands on Marx's shoulders should get on with its business without worrying about labels and let its veracity speak for itself.