Whither Capital I: The Best Tools, Research Time, 30/05/2018

Gilbert’s book Anticapitalism and Culture digs into the cultural influence of Stuart Hall and the other founders of the Cultural Studies tradition in Britain. I think I’m going to use this shorthand for the rest of this set of posts about Gilbert’s book:

When I write Cultural Studies, I refer to that particular tradition of radical theorists who are based primarily in the university system, who write critiques of cultural objects like artistic works, as well as the institutional and cultural systems whose figures produce art.

Pictured: The end of history.
The Cultural Studies scholars come in for praise for being ahead of the curve when it comes to other radical left-wingers in the university system. Most of the other marxists were, in the 1970s and 80s, generally too busy rolling with communist guerrilla groups or applying Marx’s own categories and concepts to the Reagan era.

Contrast the Cultural Studies scholars who could leave the most dogmatic marxist concepts behind to understand the character of neoliberalism. Basically, they understood how the intensification of global free trade and financial investment was transforming the industrial processes of human civilization.

The old-school marxists, meanwhile, were trying to figure out who the proletariat was. I’m being glib, but that’s basically the glib version of the mistakes of traditional marxists. They never learned the lessons of Antonio Gramsci.

One – there are many different ways to build destructive industrial economic systems. Two – an economic and political system can change in contingent ways. Your categories won’t help you when the world makes your thought obsolete.

Gramsci smacked pragmatism into the anti-capitalist movements. At least, he does when you take his lessons seriously.

The Cultural Studies concentrated on the cultural aspects of the globalized capitalism that kicked into gear in the 1980s. Maybe today, you could call it that version of capitalism financial sector oligarchy. But it leaves so much else out. Put it to the side for now.

That was one success – a better diagnosis on the largest scale. Now the question would be whether they could give us a set of tools to carve political alternatives. It wasn’t going to turn out well.

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