Monday, October 26, 2015

The ruling class does not know much about Marxism and it wouldn't matter if they did

A Facebook friend pointed to Condoleeza Rice's writings on Soviet military strategy to make the perennially important point that our class enemy studies our thought and history closely. I would add that they do it with better funds than we. It is our duty to take the enemy as seriously as the enemy takes us. - Donny Diggins
As a matter of simple fact - and as I've written about repeatedly - this is demonstrably incorrect. The overwhelming majority of capitalists, including those who belong to the ruling class, are thoroughly unfamiliar with Marxist theory and Marxist practice. Our oligarchs, public officials and intelligentsia almost always derive the whole of their knowledge of Marxism from folk wisdom and cartoonishly ideological commentary. Their opposition is characterized not by cynical insight but by massive semierudition and plain ignorance.

Like it does with literally every other field of knowledge, Capitalism commodifies knowledge of Marxism by consolidating it into an increasingly specialized point of expertise. In practice, it is the province of a vanishingly small school of scholars like Rice - Soviet historians, Kremlinologists, and heterodox economists. For the most part, they simply exist as cogs in the machine of the academic-industrial complex, consuming and producing scholarship in order to enhance the credibility and prestige of Capitalism's central institution of accreditation (the university). Ideologically, they need only exist in order to maintain the pretense that hegemonic opposition to Marxism is informed. Operationally they have nothing to do with the day-to-day performance of Capitalism's definitive and most extensive task, the exploitation of labor. Just as it did before Marx was even born, the system can hum along quite effectively without knowledge of Marxism.

Ironically, this concern that "our class enemy studies our thought and history" emerges quite directly from the very ideology of liberalism - with its cult of individualism and rationality -  that Diggins aspires to oppose. Instead of understanding our oppression in a historical analysis of the material economy, it traces our plight to the intellectual savvy of personalities like Rice. She's a particularly good example of why this sort of analysis fails, because as a matter of fact Rice's personal influence in the Bush Administration was remarkably limited. In part because she is a woman of color, in part because she was outside of the Cheney-Rumsfeld clique that dictated much of Bush's foreign policy, and in part because her disposition was at odds with various political and economic incentives that drove the Administration, Rice's known misgivings about invading Iraq, for example, were stridently ignored. Her rotation from National Security Advisor to Secretary of State reveals her quite clearly as what she was: an interchangeable bureacrat, preceded and replaced by other bureaucrats with no claim whatsoever to expertise in Marxism or Soviet history, since none was needed.

Because Diggins' analyis is contingent on claims about Rice's expertise, it is vulnerable to what is, in the grand scheme of things, an utterly trivial incident of history. Ultimately, what we should "take seriously" about our enemy is their control of the means of production. Whether at the moment they happen to maintain that control through intellectual expertise, brute strength or dumb luck is entirely circumstantial, and as a matter of class consciousness it's entirely beside the point.