The Returns of
We must consider one problem that surpasses in its importance
all questions of detail. This is the question of alienation.
1. As a preview, I will encapsulate
the moral of my story: Those who assume that "alienation"
is an outmoded concept after the deconstruction of humanism have
overlooked four related factors:
everyone knows that "alienation" was already banished
from the party line of marxist-leninist discourse a long time
ago. It was used only by unorthodox marxists like Lukács
or Lefebvre or Marcuse; and at the same time it was misappropriated
this banishment accompanied the reaffirmation of what Engels
had already called "authority" over the industrial
factory system, in which workers would have to tolerate a great
deal of non-participation in management or productive decisions
in exchange for more efficient output and less exploitation.
Why? Due to technocratic necessities: the complexity of the modern
factory system, the complexity of hierarchical bureaucracies.
This reasoning became part and parcel of the Leninist practice
of the dictatorship of the proletariat, the representation of
the people by the Party above it which grew out of the vanguard.
by refusing to deal with the concept of alienation in Marx, the
post-marxists are complicit with the theoretical continuance
of these two factors above. Thus they are unable to critique
effectively the growth of alienation today into new postmodernist
last, the early-Marx texts on alienation do not posit an essentialist
view of human nature. The "humanism" there is of the
sort that is still viable today, after the poststructuralists'
critiques. Ironically, the early Marx now seems more clear and
more relevant after poststructuralism. I would like to revive
our disgust with alienation. In order to do so, we need the concept.
Fortunately, as I will try to show, the Marxist version of it
is still useful.
2. I will have some harsh things
to say about the giants of the Marxist tradition: Engels and
Lenin. To me, they will still be giants even after my criticism.
Yet such criticisms ought to be made in the ongoing project of
trying to salvage a critical marxism from the historical ruin
it is in--its present marginalization in intellectual circles;
the visceral repulsion which most people have against any mention
of it among those who survived so-called communist regimes. No
one who has been paying attention to the abusive regimes which
parade under the name of marxism can seriously attempt to reiterate
a marxist orthodoxy without any critique of its theoretical impasses,
its contradictions, its silences. It has never been enough just
to say, "Well, there were Stalinist excesses... Or Maoist
errors... Or the Cold War was responsible..." Or even that
"these state capitalist regimes were never really marxist."
The task for us now is to work through those theoretical impasses
3. The definition of alienation
that I continually gesture toward is found dispersed through
Marx's early Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.
I tend to assume that my reader is already somewhat familiar
with that usage. I will say more specific things about the import
of certain German terms in those texts (Wesen, Gattungswesen,
Entäuserung, Entfremdung) toward the end of this essay
in two sections: "From Hegelian Dialectics" and "Toward
a New Marxist Disalienation." Meanwhile, alienation in Marx
has different aspects which nevertheless comprise a single complex.
Alienation is a separation between human activity and its own
products; it is also a situation where our products come back
to us as something separate; it is a separation from active participation
in the social production of values, from awareness, from oneself,
from nature, from use-values, from the process of labor, from
that work we do in order to produce ourselves; and it is a separation
from each other. In Marx's analysis of capitalism, these aspects
are all interdependent and due to the economic mode of production,
particularly where the proletariat is separated from the means
of production and can survive only by externalizing and selling
one's labor power into the ownership and management of the capitalist,
who then separates out the "surplus" value of one's
labor as profit, and sells back the result as a separate commodity,
now coded as an exchange value that mystifies its origin. Nevertheless,
I will suggest what everyone already knows--that this multifaceted
and interdependent sense of alienation persisted among the working
classes even after the chief communist revolutions in this century.
I will recap some indications why this was so when I refer to
Lenin and the Soviets. Alienation is not to be reduced only to
economic exploitation if we cleave to Marx's early manuscripts.
Alienation can conceivably be the result of other separations
between our labor and its product--i.e., the lack of any participation
in decisions about the labor process or about production in general
or about how our communities are run. Today everyone continues
to live under various regimes of generalized separation. Some
of us know this, some of us feel this, and the rest do not--
because they have been alienated from the means of knowledge.
Informatization as (Dis)Alienation
4. In order to rethink how the
current promise of global participation in the new media
reawakens the old dream to overcome alienation, we need to reopen
its theory. Debates around the ongoing "informatization"
of society pivot on this old principle of alienation: on the
one side, disalienation: new digital media and communication
networks bear the bright dawn of new human contact. Dialogue
becomes a global village; populist networks and open input allow
a new "homestead" beyond the isolating effects of old
monological media--a "virtual community" sprouts out
of the ashes of modern alienated society. Infinite education
is available to each according to his/her desires. Radical democracy
is inexorably one step away.2
In this view, it is as though the historical development of technology
has finally negated its own earlier negation of humanity, a dialectical
turn of disalienation that is now redrawing the human face on
the new screens of digital interface. The old analysis of alienated
labor under industrial capitalism is here transcended by a labor
of free participation under postindustrial new media. The production
of information is apparently open to all, a work that develops
human capacities rather than exploits and oppresses them.
5. The other side of the debate
has it that such promises are another cruel illusion which obscures
the continuity of exploitation and reification. In this view,
alienation is actually increasing in pace with the growth of
information technologies. Informational development is the latest
commodity-form of capitalist expansion, a neo-colonization of
everyday life with new technologies of separation, mediation,
and consumption. The spectacle of information continues to perform
the alienating effects of technocratic capitalism--to monopolize,
technicize, commodify, and sell human potentials, thereby coopting
and mystifying the production of human values. Information and
its technology are still owned by a few, for which the majority
work and consume without real choice. "Participation"
is an ideological promise that in itself reveals what has been
precluded. The promise of disalienation is a hoax, since it is
fulfilled only by consuming, a re-consumption of that which has
been expropriated in the first place. And by buying into information
technologies the production of which continues to rely on alienated
labor, the ideology of information-as-disalienation again mystifies
the underlying traces of capitalist production.3 Far from being a revolutionary break from the
capitalist colonization of everyday desire, in this view the
advent of digital networks simply extends that colonization into
a virtual marketplace of virtual desires. The mystification of
value and the reification of social relations into things (or
images) simply speeds up along with the acceleration of circulation
in new communications. It was Marx who first saw that the speed
of circulation is an important factor of capitalist surplus-value,
where production and circulation "intermingle, interprenetrate
each other" (Capital Vol 3, p 57). And he noted that
"the time of circulation is reduced principally by improved
means of communication. In this respect the last fifty years
have brought about a revolution, which can be compared only with
the industrial revolution of the last half of the eighteenth
century" (Capital Vol 3, 86). If the nineteenth century
was revolutionary in communications, then our own informational
development has redoubled this development. Thus the falsification
and mystification of value that Marx struggled to expose
should be accelerating.4
6. In sum, we can readily see
in this polar opposition around the problem of alienation an
update of the old political debate around the relative benefits
and injuries due to capitalism. We can also catch echoes of old
debates around the problem of technology as essentially alienating
on the one hand, and on the other, as essentially liberating
progressive potentials. In this essay, the pivotal principle
of alienation is subjected to a reinterpretation. The term itself
has fallen out of vogue, since it tends to imply the falsification
of a given essence, the oppression of a universal human nature.
All such terms have been profoundly rejected by poststructuralism.
In his critical overview of postmodern aesthetics, Fredric Jameson
regretfully notes that "concepts such as anxiety and alienation
are no longer appropriate in the world of the postmodern"
(14). Yet it is not enough to stop talking about alienation for
it to go away. Thus, I will attempt to move through a rereading
of "alienation" toward a delimitation of its use in
the analysis of the mode of information, a use that does not
depend upon the assumption of a prior essentialism. In order
to do so, I will argue that the concept should be divided into
two: divestment and disaffection. Somewhat like the semiotic
division of the sign, this division avoids a necessary or natural
connection between divestment and disaffection. But it will be
enough to observe their frequent correlation.
7. Since existentialism took
over the theme of alienation and made it a matter of angst for
the human individual, the older dialectical concept of
alienation has faded into oblivion. Now that existentialism is
gauche, that severe banishment of any work that emphasized individual
freedom and consciousness-for-itself, the notion of alienation
too has been eclipsed. Largely responsible for the appropriation
and rearticulation of "alienation" in an existentialist
milieu, Being and Nothingness almost singlehandedly transformed
the notion from its dialectical meaning. In his history of the
idea, Sartre recaps and then reworks the dialectical version
of alienation from Hegel onward and then proceeds to give it
a quasi-Heideggerian treatment. Alienation is now opposed to
The postwar enthronement of Sartre led the concept of alienation
to reside firmly within the concept of "existence."
Anyone who has read a couple of modern novels is quite familiar
with this existential version of alienation. From Camus to Salinger,
alienated characters have been portrayed in existential contexts
divorced from their position in the relations of production.
What has been lost, though, is the earlier dialectical version
of alienation. The decline and fall of existentialism, then,
became the decline and fall of "alienation" too. One
could then hear the dismissive phrase, "the politics of
authenticity" bandied about as the institutional Left closed
ranks against the cry of alienation.
8. Yet this loss of any theoretical
reflection on alienation cannot be attributed simply to its appropriation
by existentialism. Its most decisive defeat already took place
within marxist discourse itself. In the course of establishing
a post-revolutionary government, socialism somehow reversed its
stance on alienation. It did this by asserting the regrettable
but manageable necessity of alienation under the conditions of
mass production and also of the Party's necessary authority while
the country was in dire straits in its transition to higher communism.
Hierarchically organized authority officially replaced the disalienating
praxis of workers' participation and self-management. Where did
Marxism Made Authoritarian
Every common interest was immediately severed from the society,
countered by a higher, general interest, snatched from the activities
of society's members themselves and made an object of government
activity--from a bridge, a schoolhouse, and the communal property
of a village community, to the railroads, the national wealth,
and the national University....
18th Brumaire Of Louis Napoleon
9. Engels, and later Lenin,
defended the principle of authority.6 The dictatorship of the Party over the proletariat
found its apology in this principle, thoroughly grounded in the
practice of bureaucracy and modern factory production. Authority,
hierarchy, and the need for submission and domination is inevitable
given the current mode of production, they argued. And no foreseeable
change in social relations could ever overcome this blunt necessity:
"At least with regard to the hours of work one may write
upon the portals of these factories: Lasciate ogni autonomia,
voi che entrate!"7
Abandon all autonomy, ye who enter here. This is the sign Engels
imagines arching over the gateway into the modern factory, echoing
the sign over the portal of Dante's Inferno. The worker must
fit into an organized system of production, into a technique.
Workers are Taylorized, and there is no other way for mass production
to proceed than by this authority. In 1918, Lenin would praise
the application of F. W. Taylor's system of training workers
movements for maximum efficiency and strict repetition, the well-known
Engels had used the modern factory system of mass production
as a direct analogy to argue against the "anarchist"
call for workers' councils, for some local autonomy, for participation,
Both Engels and Lenin reacted with this insistence on the necessity
of central authority--in the essay as well as in policy. Marxism
thus slowly devolves from an early principle of anti-alienation
in relations of production all the way to its opposite. This
can be seen in Engels' later use of the same terms from the notorious
Manifesto of 1848, where the work under machine labor
was portrayed as monotonous and increasingly alienating:
Masses of laborers, crowded into the factory, are organized
like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed
under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants.
Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois
state; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by
the overlooker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer
himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be
its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful, and the more
embittering it is.
How Engels came to convert this condemnation into a commendation
is troubling. But in the end, he returned to the class from which
he originated. Though Engels is certainly not wholly pro-alienation,
since he admits that domination and submission in the workplace
must be meliorated as much as possible, still it becomes impossible
in his eyes, from the imagination of party dictatorship and from
the position of technocratic production, to dream of autonomy
or any ultimate disalienation, since the "automatic machinery
of a big factory is much more despotic than the small capitalists
who employ workers ever has been" (483). Unlike the cry
against its depotism in the Manifesto, for the later Engels
in 1874, this is simply a fact that must be accepted, and he
uses it to denounce the calls for local autonomy and the end
of authoritarianism. This moment in marxist theory, the turn
from economics to technics, from proletarian control to technocracy,
is henceforth the end of any critique of alienation. Submission
to technique under hierarchical authority effectively prevents
active participation in the social production of values. You
do what you're told to do.10
10. Lenin, while announcing
"all power to the soviets," the local workers' councils,
remained primarily committed to an increasingly disciplined party
which wielded central power. He would soon expropriate the soviets
under the Soviet. It is no secret that this party, after the
revolution, not only seized state power, but increased the reach
and functions of the state. Lenin had written just before the
revolution that while the State "is a power standing above
society and 'alienating itself more and more from it,' it is
clear that the liberation of the oppressed class is impossible
not only without a violent revolution, but also without the destruction
of the apparatus of state power which was created by the ruling
class and which is the embodiment of this 'alienation.'"11 The historic irony
is that what would become known later as Leninism--the theoretical
dictatorship of the proletariat--was a practical dictatorship
over the proletariat, a powerful State which was the embodiment
of this alienation. Lenin himself had reservations about this
development after a stroke forced him into retirement about a
year before his death. In the December 1922 "Letter to Congress,"
and in what is otherwise known as Lenin's "Testament"
and similar missives from this period, he expressed some dismay
that the new Soviet state had already become a power standing
above society, alienating itself more and more from it; that
it was becoming abusive, high-handed, overly gigantic, unable
to inculcate socialist values. It is said that he privately recommended
that Stalin not take over the leadership, recognizing the danger
in Stalin's manner and the crudity of his theory. But the Party
largely ignored this advice, and today we know the unfortunate
11. The philosophy of alienation
was not deconstructed after the events of May 1968 as some believe;
rather it was abolished by its own post-revolutionary betrayal
as the technocrats consolidated power, culminating in the lethal
apparatus of Stalinism. But Engels' early apology for authoritarianism,
which openly contradicts its own pre-revolutionary goals while
submitting itself to the logic of technocracy, is in embryo the
later development, the moment when liberation began to resemble
another form of slavery. Praxis stumbled from the forces of production
to the production of force. Soon enough it was Lenin who could
not maintain--without rationalizing--a theory of alienation as
the separation of the people from the production of historical
humanity, since it was his role to insist upon the Bosheviks'
authority over thought and practice. After the 1917 revolution,
whenever Lenin frequently dismissed, e.g., the Mensheviks as
just bourgeois opportunists or whenever he announced the "elimination"
of the "revisionists from the left" or whenever he
clamped down upon workers' councils, he was engaged in a political
struggle for the authority of the Party over the people, and
for the centralization of the means of production over the local
participation of workers. On the other hand, there were ideological
battles against the more centrist socialists, especially in Germany,
who preferred gradual reform and parliamentary participation.
Where they also raised objections about the practice of authority,
Lenin argued that,
under capitalism, democracy is restricted, cramped, curtailed,
mutilated by all the conditions of wage slavery, and the poverty
and misery of the people. This and this alone is the reason why
the functionaries of our political organizations and trade unions
are corrupted--or rather tend to be corrupted--by the conditions
of capitalism and betray a tendency to become bureaucrats, i.e.,
privileged persons divorced from the people and standing above
That is the essence of bureaucracy; and until the capitalists
have been expropriated and the bourgeoisie overthrown, even proletarian
functionaries will inevitably be "bureaucratized" to
a certain extent.
According to Kautsky, since elected functionaries will remain
under socialism, so will officials, so will the bureaucracy!
This is exactly where he is wrong. Marx, referring to the example
of the Commune, showed that under socialism functionaries will
cease to be "bureaucrats," to be "officials,"
they will cease to be so in proportion as--in addition to the
principle of election of officials--the principle of recall at
any time is also introduced, as salaries are reduced to the level
of the wages of the average workman, and as parliamentary institutions
are replaced by "working bodies, executive and legislative
at the same time."12
This is where Lenin clearly predicted his own post-revolutionary
error. This description is of the ideal workers' councils. However
its essential ingredient--viz., "the principle of recall
at any time"--was not applied to the Soviet Party. Hence
it simply devolved into a party of bureaucrats and officials
wielding the old apparatus of state violence over the people
through the secret police, the military, finally the gulag. Lenin
exclaims that Kautsky is wrong; there will be no bureaucracy
left after the revolution. But there was too often an enormous
gap between his texts and his actions. Guy Debord critiques the
irony of this moment too:
Lenin, as a Marxist thinker, was no more than a consistent
and faithful Kautskyist who applied the revolutionary
ideology of "orthodox Marxism" to Russian conditions,
conditions unfavorable to the reformist practice carried on elsewhere
by the Second International. In the Russian context, the external
management of the proletariat, acting by means of a disciplined
clandestine party subordinated to intellectuals transformed into
"professional revolutionaries," becomes a profession
which refuses to deal with the ruling professions of capitalist
society (the Czarist political regime being in any case unable
to offer such opportunities which are based on an advanced stage
of bourgeois power). It therefore became the profession of
the absolute management of society.13
12. Despite Lenin's consistently
optimistic promises about the communist revolution, many of those
promises soon went sour in his post-revolutionary administration.
Where he wrote glowingly that under "socialism all will
govern in turn and will soon become accustomed to no one governing,"
in fact this development was prevented by the Party. Within one
decade, nobody would govern in turn, and nobody would become
accustomed to the dictatorship of the top bureaucrat. At the
later stage of Stalin, this devolution turned inward on itself:
Stalinism is the application of bureaucratic force on its own
13. It is all too easy for an
armchair theorist to say, long after the fact, that the revolution
eventually failed. This is not my purpose here, simply to reiterate
the obvious. But today, the better part of a century after the
Russian revolution, we have the privilege of hindsight about
Stalinist genocide, the Lysenko scandal, the Gulag Archipelago,
the dissolution of the USSR. Thus it is obvious to anyone that
the higher stage of communist society was never attained in Lenin's
country. Quite the opposite. Yet this should not prevent us from
also recognizing Lenin's gigantic contribution to both Russian
and world history. If Hegel's world historical heroes exist,
then Lenin is surely one. He helped to lead Russia's desperate
and nearly starving masses out of their centuries of feudalism
and into a strong industrial nation. Lenin did so with the utmost
ideals of human progress. But again, this goes without saying.
My intention, rather, is to examine why the revolution began
to fail almost immediately-- at the level of theory.
14. Its failure was its "practical"
forgetting of the deeper philosophy about alienation. Part of
that forgetting was in the cocksure defense of authority. The
Party installed the principle of authority over every aspect
of life, thereby reinstating the function of a power external
to and above the people, that is, the State. It did so with such
thoroughness and eventually with such terror, that rather than
the much vaunted withering away, it formed instead the rapid
growth and rigidity of a totalitarian state.
15. Lately, it has often been
suggested that this totalitarian practice was an expression of
marxist totalism in theory; as though the complete imposition
of power through terror was the natural outgrowth of a complete
attempt to critique the origin, cause, and manifestation of class
conflict and historical transformation. Whatever the merits of
such current theory, which I cannot address here, allow me to
point out that it fails to address the mechanisms of alienation--both
those of totalitarianism and those of capitalist neo-liberalism.
Hence it fails to move us any further in our surpassing of the
conditions which it criticizes.
16. It is crucial that today
we remember the results produced by this turn from disalienation
toward pro-alienation, from participation to authority: Totalitarianism.
It is not a philosophy of alienation that leads to totalism.
It was instead the recuperation of alienation itself under the
technocrats' authority that supported totalitarianism. The critique
of alienation had to be buried so that an alienating mode of
production could continue. Again, labor wound up separated from
any genuine participation; the commodity produced again took
precedence over labor as an alien power. The original meaning
of "soviet" was a local workers' council. The term
and its power was co-opted by the bureaucratic class. Hence we
should ask ourselves now whether or not the continuation of this
suppression of the concept "alienation" is at all aware
of its complicity with totalitarianism; whether the postmodernist
attempt to think without recourse to disalienation functions
as an agreement with the judgment passed on alienation by the
Erasure of Early Marx
17. So it was that when Marx's
youthful manuscripts on alienation were finally published, they
were carefully rejected by the communist parties, who had long
since learned to be more mature, hardened by the lesson in authority
offered by Lenin, et al. Were they also hardened by their
various commitments as party bureaucrats, forcibly representing
the working class rather than giving in to its own immature demands
for participation? A leading Marxist scholar and party member,
Henri Lefebrve, translated Marx's rediscovered Economic and
Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 in the 1930s and commended
those early manuscripts to the French Communist Party. As Greil
Marcus tells the story, Lefebvre "was turned aside. The
Soviet administrators of the canon deemed these early studies
of alienation vaporous juvenilia, suppressed them, and Lefebvre
went along, making his reputation in 1939 with Le Matérialisme
dialectique. That was science" (145-146).14 Althusser's work, in favor since the mid-60s,
belongs here too. By positing an "epistemological break"
between the so-called "early" and "later"
Marx, Althusser effectively banished the problem of alienation
to a prescientific netherworld, which as a member of the French
Communist Party was necessary. (The party had become one of the
principle representatives of alienation, no doubt because they
insisted on representing the proletariat by another class--the
bureaucrat.) The break this Althusserian reading posited, though,
covered over a considerable amount of continuity. In the third
volume of Capital, one that Althusser confessed that he
had never read, Marx continued to use the "early" language:
The relations of capital conceals indeed the inner connection
[of the facts] in the complete indifference, exteriorization
and alienation in which it places the worker in relation
to the conditions of the realization of his own labor.15
In a booklength interpretation of the topic, Fritz Pappenheim
emphasized the continuity of alienation which "was Marx's
deepest concern and which became the central theme even of those
of his writings which on the surface seem to deal exclusively
with problems of economic history or economic theory" (83).
This overarching concern throughout Marx's work has also been
noted by Fredric Jameson, who views alienation as a cognate for
"separation," "reification" and "commodification"
Marx's fundamental figure for social development and dynamics
(a figure that runs through the Grundrisse, connecting
the 1844 manuscripts in an unbroken line to Capital itself);
that is the fundamental notion of separation (as when
Marx describes the production of the proletariat in terms of
their separation from the means of production--i.e., enclosure,
the exclusion of the peasants from their land).16
Jameson passes from this figure of alienation throughout Marx
to propose that it has become even more relevant today, not less,
"for the diagnosis of postmodernism" (399). Nevertheless,
Jameson's claim about the increasing relevance of the term has
not been matched by other developments in theory so far.
18. And so it was also in 1965
that an article typical of the genre, "To Finish with Alienation,"
published in the journal Esprit was chosen for a fierce
rejoinder by the Situationists.17 The article's author, J.M. Domenach, was a
figure in the Christian left in France, a theological position
that the Situationist rejoinder underscored by linking him to
the "embarrassing vulgarity" of being a kind of priest,
as opposed to believing his view that the term alienation was
vulgarized. His essay is denounced as serving a "precise
confusionism" much in the manner that revolutionaries have
always denounced the ideology of clerics. And in that clerical
tradition as a "valet of power's cultural spectacle,"
Domenach mistakenly tried to bury a contested term on the basis
of the confusions to which the contest had led--"in order
to 'return' to some simplified rationalism which never had the
efficacity the nostalgic liberals now attribute to it" (184).
What such moves forget is that the confusion over terms becomes
greater as a result of a significant contest, a struggle over
the meaning of words, and a struggle that grows increasingly
prey to confusions as the importance of those words increases.
I want to quote the Situationist's conclusion, as it is a brilliant
moment in this contest, a conclusion that condenses a number
of these themes into a keen and unanswerable formula:
The truth of a concept is revealed not by an authoritarian
purge, but by the coherence of its use in theory and in practical
life. It is not important that a priest at the pulpit renounces
the use of a concept that he would never have known how
to use. Let us speak vulgarly since we're dealing with priests:
alienation is the point of departure for everything--providing
one departs from it (184).
From the point of view of modern history, it was the situationists
who knew how to "depart" from alienation. Their attention
to everyday life and their search for a new "Northwest Passage"
into a revolutionary situation under contemporary conditions
came together in a series of created crises, culminating in their
major contribution to the near revolution that shut down France
through most of May '68.18
And they realized that conceptual coherence was not due to an
idealist rationality, but to its dialectical developments to
and from praxis. Alienation was conceptually crucial because
they had managed to create ephemeral situations (not representations)
of disalienation. And to deny the concept of alienation would
be to accept the general banalization of mass culture which repressed
19. Hence the most damning charge
against Domenach is reminiscent of my miniature (and admittedly
unfair) portrait of Engels above: "Domenach does not even
want to 'finish with' the concept of alienation.... [he] wants
people to stop talking about alienation so that they will become
resigned to it" (183). This is precisely
where the supposed sophistication of a theoretical rejection
of alienation overlaps with and supports the more blunt suppression
of the notion by the bureaucratic Party and the technocratic
factory system. They ultimately wear the same style of resignation.
Engels apologizes for its necessity and denounces the autonomists;
Lenin constructs the dictatorship bureau and refuses the disalienation
of proletarian participation in self-governing; and western socialists
under the thumb of the Comintern follow suit by dropping the
theory of alienation. Along with this general resignation, they
all attempt to substitute the simpler notion of "exploitation"
in place of the more troubling notion of alienation. To be exploited
seems more obvious, and it is theoretically only possible under
capitalism, not under socialism. This allowed the left to continually
denounce the exploitation of workers on the basis of capitalism's
expropriation of surplus-value, but to simultaneously avoid any
question of the alienation of workers under totalitarian
systems. In Engels' apology for authority, we can hear the sort
of rhetorical question that would ask of the worker: "What
do you mind of a little alienation so long as you are not economically
exploited? For now we represent your interests for you!"
But by the time later intellectuals got done with it, alienation
could not even be admitted at all. It was a myth, a wisp of romantic
imagining that had evaporated under modernization. We must acknowledge
here that it was evaporated by the apologists of totalitarianism
in which the masses are not present, but represented. That is,
economically, culturally, politically represented by the class
in the bureaucracy. Though of course the masses now had more
access to the means of consumption since exploitation was lessened,
the means of production were still not available to them. Yet
being in the unenviable position where your life is produced
for you, not by you, is as good a definition of alienation as
20. And so it was too that Regis
Debray recently attacked Guy Debord, the late head of the Situationist
International, author of The Society of the Spectacle,
a chief instigator of the near revolution in France in May 1968,
and marxist theorist of the pervasive alienation under postmodern
conditions. Debray attacked Debord as one of the reigning Others
who must be slain (in addition to semiotics) before Debray enthrones
his own "mediology." Debray's dismissal of Debord begins
and ends with this rejection of a so-called politics of authenticity
for which "alienation" is an embarrassingly outmoded
The Situationist Praxis of Disalienation
21. In their scintillating and
vigorous defense of the Situationist Debord against Regis Debray's
assault, T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith succeed in turning
the critique inside out.20
It is an interesting chapter in the history of "alienation".
They acknowledge that while Debray has after all touched on several
weaknesses, his assault is well worth a rejoinder because it
exemplifies a much broader misreading of Debord; more important,
it repeats the recuperated Left's rejection of revolutionary
thought, which it replaces with empty reformisms and in Debray's
case, another positivist sociology which interprets the past.21 Clark and Nicholson-Smith
highlight what is still at stake for us:
We shall never begin to understand Debord's hostility to the
concept "representation," for instance, unless we realize
that for him the word always carried a Leninist aftertaste. The
spectacle is repugnant because it threatens to generalize, as
it were, the Party's claim to be the representative of the working
Their defense remembers that it was just this, "continual
pressure put on the question of representational forms in politics
and everyday life, and the refusal to foreclose on the issue
of representation versus agency" that made the Situationist
praxis the "deadly weapon it was for a while" (29).
Against the establishment (Left and Right) practice of representationalism
as well as against an existentialist or Beat-mystic-adventurist
"free subjectivism," the Situationist avant-garde pressed
this dialectical opposition by negation and experimentation rather
than falling back into one or other of the prevailing terms.
They once defined the creation of situations as a "search
for a dialectical organization of partial and transitory realities"
that were ephemeral rather than a movement of "rationalist
progress (which according to Descartes, 'makes us masters and
possessors of nature')." The situation is not utopian so
much as it is an experimental intervention in the process of
subjectification; or as the Situationists wrote in the same editorial,
it is "the practice of arranging the environment that conditions
us. Whoever constructs situations, to apply a statement by Marx,
'by bringing his movements to bear on external nature and transforming
it...transforms his own nature at the same time.'"22 This is the precise meaning of production
in Marxism, the necessary work of producing ourselves as social
beings. It implies neither the mastery of nature, nor a return
to a prior nature that has been lost. Alienation is to be separated
from the means of producing yourself. For Marx, human nature
is paradoxical, because it is our difference from any nature.
Culture and history begin where nature leaves off. Rather than
a submission to nature or a repression of nature, the production
of human values is the transformation of ourselves in the transformation
of nature. This does not imply, however, that social production
is entirely open to free will; we only interact within a set
of historical conditions. Marx summed up this dialectical complexity
on the opening page of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
in an oft-cited passage that will be worth quoting in this connection.
Human beings, he reminds us,
make their own history, but they do not make it just as they
please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves,
but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted
from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs
like a nightmare on the brain of the living.
The task for theory is to hold in mind this necessary tension
between free production and unfree history. The task for praxis
is to encounter tradition with critical activity. The Situationists
had the sovereign audacity to lower production to the level of
everyday life by making a variety of experiments with the circumstances
history had transmitted to them--a move that inevitably discovered
that a disalienation of production could be fleetingly constructed
by negating the dominant forms of alienation. Sadie Plant also
argues that the Situationist praxis of disalienation was aligned
with "contingency" and a "distrust of all foundations,
essences, and absolutes" (62). Hence, theory should not
imagine that this was an unveiling of an a priori nature.
Created situations were experimental and transitory. They were
thought of as "passageways" rather than as destinations.
Disalienation, then, was not a recovery from alienation so much
as a negation of historically specific forms of alienated
22. In terms of the debate around
the (dis)alienating effects of informatization, the leading Situationist,
Guy Debord, referred to it--directly albeit cryptically--in his
1988 Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. I am not
the only one to notice the continued usefulness of Debord's critique
of the "spectacle" for the present spectacularization
of new media technologies.23
Meanwhile, the Situationist movement is justifiably criticized
for putting a great deal of revolutionary weight on free subjectivity.
Interesting enough however, they also noted this potential criticism
and attempted to address it. Even at the most extreme articulation
of subjective freedom there, in Vaneigem's sometimes jejune work
from 1965, The Revolution of Everyday Life, we find a
certain canny disavowal of any reading which would emphasize
a pure unfettered subjectivity. The notion of subjectivity there
is primarily a dialectical negation of imposed "roles"
which alienate since those who perform such roles do not have
access to the production of roles (99-114). And the invention
of a "radical subjectivity" was not some individual
withdrawal into inner free-play ("You can't make it on your
own"), but was discussed only in relation to a collective
front in which consciousness-raising was the recognition of oneself
in others who were also attempting to find something beyond their
identification with roles. For even though roles have more and
more become interchangeable, this process is itself the latest
effect of power. Radical subjectivity could be lived only in
direct engagement with the world, only as a working through of
the objective conditions one is handed (90-92). So-called spontaneity
was not the unveiling of a true self prior to its alienation.
But it was a dialectical means to creatively negate the
expropriation of one's own identity through a process of experimentation.
In Sadie Plant's view, radical subjectivity "is actually
made possible by the development of capitalist forces of production
and the contestation of the relations in which they arise. It
is a free consciousness which emerges in the course of its daily
resistance to the spectacular relations in which it arises and
will decide its own nature in the process of their final contestation"
(74). This is dialectics, not romanticism.
A Poststructuralist Reinterpretation of Alienation
23. It may be argued that I
have framed this debate with coarse generalizations or that I
have mistakenly confused two very distinct views of alienation
here. Engels does not after all deny alienation. Indeed he affirms
its existence precisely by arguing that authority must be exercised
over the worker. It is merely unfortunate, a by-product of modern
production. To argue that it ought to be reduced as much as possible
under these conditions, as he did, is not the same as arguing
that alienation is an indefensible category for theory. The latter
position, the current rejection of alienation, is more radical
than I have so far allowed. While it may be true in some unproven
manner that the theoretical disavowal of alienation has an uncanny
similarity in its effects as that practical abandonment of it
by proto-stalinists, still we must admit that there are important
differences yet to be acknowledged.
24. The reason "alienation"
remains untenable is that it always depends upon the ground of
a "true" self, of a primal unalienated nature beneath
the artifices of power. Disalienation persists in this romantic
daydream of some presence beyond representation. Yet today we
know that this daydream cannot amount to much, since poststructuralism
has shown the impossibility of presence and the omnipresence
of discourse. Subjectivity cannot be unfettered and free, since
it was always already predicated upon the structure of language
and the conditions of discourses. The "natural" subject
will always be indistinguishable from the cultural. Thus the
whole theory of alienation becomes an embarrassing anachronism,
a regression to the romantic juvenilia of a vaguely conceived
Nineteenth Century Humanism.
25. In 1966, Foucault's fundamental
"archeology of the human sciences," The Order of
Things, created a stir by announcing the imminent disappearance
of an epistemology grounded in the figure of "Man."
The humanism of the human sciences was merely a recent epistemological
formation, belonging to the nineteenth century. But Foucault
saw the contemporary emergence of a new epistemological formation
that would displace Man with Language, anthropology with textuality.
(Today we have come to call this poststructuralism, but in 1966,
Foucault's examples were largely the avatars of structuralism--Lévi-Strauss,
Barthes, Lacan.) In the entire history of Western culture, the
one he recounts, Language and Man have been exterior to each
other. Only one or the other could occupy a central place at
the foundation of thought. Foucault explicitly included Marx
in that nineteenth century episteme, implying that marxism too
was vanishing along with its anthropological ground. "Marxism
exists in nineteenth century thought like a fish in water"
(262). Indeed, in Foucault's rather polemical instigations, Marx's
thought was wholly enveloped by the episteme of "production"
which replaced the older eighteenth century focus on "exchange,"
as reflected in the shift from the analysis of wealth to political
economy (252). Marx is in the same boat as Ricardo, and his critique
of political economy is still grounded in the figures of production
found throughout the shift away from the figures of exchange
in the previous episteme. According to Foucault, this epistemic
shift in the economic discourses cannot be explained by recourse
to the base in capitalism--though he never explains why this
26. What concerns me more directly
is the radical historicizing of humanism in The Order
of Things. Humanism was the central version of that nineteenth-century
episteme with its "analytic of finitude." And thus
marxist-humanism, which like the fish in water also cannot survive
outside of it, would become the next historical victim of the
fundamental break whose impending arrival Foucault adumbrated.
This conclusion was taken to be a slap at Sartre, who reigned
over intellectual life in France at the time, and who insisted
that Marxism was still the unsurpassable horizon of all thought.
In retrospect, it turned out to be more than some personal skirmish.24
27. We have traversed a received
interpretation of poststructuralism and its rejection of the
assumptions undergirding humanism. Unfortunately, it would take
more than my little essay to complicate this poststructural consensus
that circulates as a kind of sophisticated folklore, but I should
suggest here that other readings are plausible. Moreover, I assume
that the principle texts of poststructuralism are not so easily
summed up in this general interpretation to which I have gestured
so far. Derrida, e.g., succeeds in showing that presence cannot
enter into representation, not that it doesn't exist. Readers
who force deconstruction to that conclusion merely repeat, in
form, the logical-positivist interpretation of Wittgenstein.
They too overlooked the deeper sense of his conclusion: "About
which we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent." This
does not mean that everything that exists can be said, as the
logical-positivists concluded. (Thus Foucault's "archeology
of a silence" did not try to articulate the voice of Madness,
though it did not therefor assume that it did not exist.) Likewise,
the deconstruction of representations does not allow us to conclude
that presence does not exist. It only strictly allows us to conclude
that it does not exist in representation, that it is always deferred
in the structure of differences, that re-presentation in itself
is founded on the absence of what it re-presents, and thus has
no ultimate foundation. It also permits us to state the contemporary
moral of textuality: Representation should not pretend to seek
its ground or center or guarantee in an a priori essence,
truth, presence, nature. But it was Kant who had already argued
that noumena are always already phenomena for consciousness,
due to the categories of perception. The limit of reason was
thus the limit of phenomenology. Derrida furthers this limit
beyond the Kantian percept-concept pair toward the act of thinking
itself, an act which relies on re-presentation. (Thus even the
Kantian categories of cognition can no longer be taken as a priori,
since they are constituted in language.) As for the omnipresence
and omnipotence of discourse, one would still have to explain
why Foucault himself went on from that epistemic analysis discussed
above to later use the term "non-discursive" in his
definition of a dispositif , and why he proposed to reintroduce
an "aesthetics of existence" and a practice of ethical
self-fashioning in his final works. This is most certainly not
a return to humanism with its assumption of a true self, a real
depth of authenticity beneath the layers of falsifying alienation--but
it is an interesting reworking of the problematic of alienation.
The last Foucauldian turn in The Care of the Self has
yet to be read in relation to the experiments of the situationists.
Where Foucault began to wonder "why everyone's life should
not become a work of art"--and this as a way out of the
normalizing sciences--this is very much what the situationists
attempted to do in their sublation of the "artwork"
as museum object, along with the "artist" as singular
genius. Beyond this avant-garde overcoming of the next stage
in the historical development of the arts, "life itself
will be a style."25
What Foucault called a "stylization" of existence shares
with this situationist praxis a radical departure from the notion
of a "lifestyle" that one consumes rather than produces.
It was Debord who said that art "is a matter of producing
ourselves, and not things that enslave us."26 In retrospect, the critique of normalization
mirrored the critique of alienation in this regard: both moved
toward a creative work on oneself. For Foucault, this was to
update and transform an ancient practice; for Debord, this was
to recreate the "psychogeography" of one's environment
in order to experiment with the passage of time and the serious
play of the production of everyday life, leading inexorably into
28. In sum, the current rejection
of a philosophy of alienation on the grounds that it is incompatible
with the success of poststructuralism does not quite stand up
to sustained scrutiny. What has been overlooked is the return
of the repressed in the form of revolutionary actions taken on
the part of disalienation, actions which find no explanation
in the theory which denies that alienation exists.27 And while it would be wise to deconstruct any
logocentric appeal to a ground beyond representation, to the
presence of something prior to the effects of culture, we must
also be wary about lapsing into quietism as a result.
29. One way to avoid quietism
is to think, along with Foucault, about the contestation of power,
games of dominance and submission. In this view, alienation is
the result of domination, not the falsification of a prior authenticity.
Disalienation would not somehow be more "true to nature,"
but it would be a change in the balance of power relations. Against
the powers of "normalization" we should not counter
with something more true or real--that is, more normal. For that
would simply be to repeat the dominant strategy. Instead, we
should attempt to open up a space for the unthought and for differences.
Contrary to the commonly found complaint that Foucault's version
of power prevents any thought of resistance, a kind of rumor
that one hears from those who have never wanted to resist power
themselves, Foucault never ceased to speak about specific forms
His entire project is offered as a "tool kit" for oppositional
movements which are already underway when he writes a history
of their present.29
30. Foucault's works are specific
genealogies of what Max Weber called the encroaching "rationalization"
of all modern institutions--with its attendant separation of
spheres into specialized activities. Weber's influence on Frankfurt
School Critical Theory has to do with a broader application of
"alienation" to social developments of administration
and bureaucracies. C. Wright Mills contrasts this broader application
by Weber with the Marxist focus on political economy:
Marx's emphasis upon the wage worker as being "separated"
from the means of production becomes, in Weber's perspective,
merely one special case of a universal trend. The modern soldier
is equally "separated" from the means of violence;
the scientist from the means of enquiry, and the civil servant
from the means of administration.... The series as a whole exemplifies
the comprehensive underlying trend of bureaucratization. Socialist
class struggles are merely a vehicle implementing this trend
31. Whether alienation results
from a universal administrative rationalization or from an economic
expropriation of the means of production is not a question I
would want to answer. I do want to raise the probability here
that alienation can be caused by both. Moreover, today the two
realms are difficult to distinguish since they have become interdependent.
Capital accumulation--whether by the State or by private ownership--proceeds
through increasing efficiency and new productions of technocratic
rationality, while the technocratic development is dependent
upon the fickle investment of capital. The postindustrial stage
of an informational economy is only achieved through this interdependent
process. Its attendant alienations, therefore, are likewise dual.
It is for this very reason that Lyotard uses the phrase "capitalist
technoscience" in his poststructuralist analysis of the
32. Another way to avoid theoretical
quietism in the face of oppression is to read the marxist texts
on alienation in terms of its structuration in and through discourse
and socioeconomic position rather than as a kind of primal romanticism.
One could thereby rearticulate the theory of alienation for a
poststructuralism by rereading the supposedly "young Hegelian"
Marx of circa 1844. It is possible to see in those texts on alienation
not so much an outmoded romanticism but rather a complexity that
is rarely recognized. If not for Hegel, at least for Marx, the
terms "essence" and "alienation" are not
imagined as being somehow prior to social relations. Both are
constituted by the dialectics of social discourse, by the relations
From Hegelian Dialectics
33. In Hegel's case, this matter
is too convoluted for a full treatment here. And the Hegelian
dialectic is not one I wish to employ. Alienation for Hegel is
a recurring moment of negation in a dialectical process along
a teleological trajectory toward Absolute Spirit. Alienation
would be a necessary moment in the sublation of older modes of
consciousness. Marx, of course, rejected this brand of dialectics
as being far too "abstract."30 It is an exemplary form of idealism, which
Marx supplants with a materialist dialectic. Alienation then
becomes not a process of an abstract consciousness, but rather
a lived effect of material conditions. But we should remember
that even in its idealist moment in Hegelianism, any movement
toward disalienation was not simply to recover some lost Eden
of the true, natural, essential. Disalienation was literally
a process of negation of a negation. The only positivity
allowed was defined as a dialectical relationship which moved
forward into new realms by negating a prior negation. Thus an
image of dialectical alienation is much more difficult to conceive--considering
the comparative ease with which we imagine alienation as a wedge
separating one from a prior truth, nature, essence. How can we
depict the negation of a negation?
34. While we tend to assume
that the term "essence" naturally leads to an intolerable
essentialism (inexorably sliding down to universal definitions
of who we should be), when Marx and Hegel used the term essence,
orWesen, it cannot be translated quite so easily as that.
While I agree with the general view that the Hegelian teleology
leads to a dubious and idealist totalism, nevertheless Hegel
cautioned that in the daily language of Germany, Wesen
frequently means only a collection or aggregate: Zeitungswesen
(the press), Postwesen (the post office), Steuerwesen
(the revenue). All that these terms mean is that the things in
question are not to be taken singly, in their immediacy, but
as a complex, and then, perhaps, in addition, in their various
bearings.... This usage of the terms is not very different in
its implications from our own.31
We cannot help but notice that the implications of essence
here, which is neither immediate nor singular, but rather a "complex,"
a situated relationship that leads us away from the very "essentialism"
that is everywhere attacked today. We also should notice that
each of Hegel's examples is closer to the notion of "apparatus"
than to essentialism. Each is a functioning ensemble of disparate
laws, discursivities, buildings, customs, etc. If this is closer
to the meaning of "essence," then we need to rethink
the criticism of a certain "essentialism" which in
fact refers to this "complex" of "various bearings."
Toward a New Marxist Disalienation
35. Drawing on this complexity
of Hegelian phenomenology where being is always already composite,
when Marx refers to the "das Menschliche wessen,"
it is not necessarily the essential humanism that is damned by
poststructuralist thought. For it was Marx who also wrote that
the "human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single
individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations."32 This notion of
essence deliberately moves it from simple location in a given
nature or ultimate presence. It is positioned instead as the
result of society, not as the origin of social values. We are,
as Aristotle intoned, the political animal. Marx's criticism
of Hegel's and even Feuerbach's essentialist Gattungswesen
or "species-being" is a crucial move away from older
abstract forms of humanism toward Marx's insistence upon the
"practical activity" that characterizes socialized
humanity. Marx used the term "species-being" in his
manuscripts of 1844, but these are working notes on the way to
his critique of Feuerbach.33
This critique departed from an emphasis on abstract and universal
theory grounded in Feuerbachian or "Young-Hegelian"
notions of perception, individualism, civil society, and interpretation.
In a dialectical overcoming, Marx introduced an analysis more
attuned to praxis, everyday production, socialization, historical
infrastructure, and the need for change. By overthrowing that
essentialist and abstract humanism, Marx did not thereby lose
sight of alienation. This radically new form of humanism was
then already attuned to the current concerns of poststructuralism:
the construction by and through language, discourse, ideology,
the politics of culture, in sum, the irreducible sociality of
the human. Marx would soon reject the pure subject-as-consciousness:
"Language is as old as consciousness. It is practical consciousness
which exists also for others.... Consciousness is thus from the
very beginning a social product and will remain so...."34 "Essence"
in this case is not constitutive but is constituted by "materialism"
broadly conceived. Marx overcame the essentialist limitations
of both historical idealism (Hegel) and unhistorical materialism
(Feuerbach) by a dialectical critique of one through the other
in the period around 1844 to 1845. The resulting historical materialism
proved to be analytically potent enough that more than a century
and a half later finds us still working out of its framework.
36. Having complicated the critique
of essentialism as the ground of disalienation, the next step
is to examine the term "alienation" itself. I am still
treating such terms nominalistically, that is, as they have been
articulated in specific discourses. Translation from the German
here is fraught with misdirection, as Struik and Milligan point
out. There are two different German words that can and do get
translated as "alienation" in English: Entäusserung
and Entfremdung (58-59). Translation distinguishes between
these, sometimes, by using "alienation" for the former
and "estrangement" for the latter. But generally the
distinction is lost. Entäusserung implies "a
sale, a transference of ownership, which is simultaneously a
renunciation" and at the same time, a connotation of externalization
from oneself (58). Entfremdung, though, implies more narrowly
a notion of estrangement without the legal and commercial overtones
of Entäusserung. Marx uses both terms, but translation
into English often dissolves the two into "alienation."
Translation, then, conflates these varied senses of externalization,
separation, estrangement, and transference of ownership. In the
conclusion, I will recommend that we again use two distinct terms
in place of alienation: divestment and disaffection.
An Adequate Recomposition?
37. To my knowledge, the most
thorough study of the topic was written by Richard Schacht, who
critiqued the various discourses about alienation, up through
Hegel and Marx, its psychological inflection in post-freudians
Fromm and Horney, its existentialist uses, and its widespread
yet diverse deployment throughout sociology. Whether or not there
is some regularity in this dispersion of the discourses of alienation
will have to remain an open question for now. Schacht tries to
show that there is not, indeed, that several uses of the term
seem incompatible. He sets out with a Wittgensteinian goal to
learn whether or not the family of resemblances amid these many
uses of the term will actually reveal that there is something
essential underwriting them; that is, if the word "alienation"
functions in a language game that the philosopher can leave as
it is (5, 254-255). Moreover, Schacht eventually wants to purify
and delimit the term, to lead it into a correct denotation for
future use. His study moves from describing to prescribing. I
suppose that would be an honorable and practical task, yet it
is also destined to failure. It is by now too late to trim down
an unruly and multifarious growth of this sort. By the year of
his publication, 1970, the uses of the term "alienation,"
as Schacht's study reveals, were already as entrenched as they
were inconsistent. The day for a singular dictionary entry has
already passed. Therefore, unlike Schacht, I do not wish to correct
all prior uses of the term.35
38. On the other hand, since
most prior uses of the term underscore a discontent that still
remains today, it will not do to simply forget that the word
was ever used in the past. I want to clarify how the concept
can be defined in the context of contemporary theory. In doing
so, I have tried to remain within the purview of poststructuralist
suspicion about originary agency and universal essentialism.
The task here is to find a way of talking about the persistence
of alienation without lapsing into outmoded discourses that assumed
a given nature which was distorted by alienations of whatever
39. As I have pointed out earlier,
the ideology of information tends to promise a new version of
participation and engagement, of dialogue and connection--in
sum, a new disalienation. We can read backwards from those promises
to the lack and longings they address. When an ad slogan is effective,
it reveals in its own calculated distillation the very lack it
promises to flood with fulfillment. "Reach out and touch
someone," then, can be read back as addressing a lack of
contact, a need for a technique of contact. It explicitly depicts
a technology of disalienation between mobile and dispersed family
members who are out of touch. Many people today must feel as
though everything is remote, as though even access to communication
and dialogue are out of reach, for AT&T has produced a remarkable
series of such ads. A more recent promise plays repeatedly through
numerous channels: "It's all within your reach." This
promise, and the lack it addresses, is preceded by a collage
of happily connected groups of people--they are connected however
only through the new media and conferencing technologies that
AT&T is selling.
40. Directly opposite from this
promise we find the criticism of informatization as a new phase
of alienation. In extremis, Baudrillard equates the explosion
of information with the "implosion" of the social.
Reversing the instrumental definition of entropy in cybernetics,
he suggests that it is not the decay of information that leads
to disorganization, but rather the imperative superabundance
of information, the over-solicitation of ubiquitous information,
in all its multifarious inconsistency as noise, that leads to
the decay of social coherence. Baudrillard likewise proposes
that communication has become so overwhelmingly omnipresent that
it is a kind of "ecstasy" which should be translated
as spellbound, entranced, transported--hypnotically dissociated.
Moreover, he extrapolates from this an "implosion"
of mediated meaning that complements the "implosion of the
social in the masses."36
Baudrillard wonders if sociologists ought to reverse the cybernetic
equation of information loss (noise) with entropy. This does
not necessarily pertain at the level of society, where social
cohesion and the public sphere implodes in direct correlation
to the massive influx of information flows. Informational excess
in itself contributes to social entropy, not the other way around.
41. But how are we to define
alienation and disalienation in this informational context? First,
let me note that those opposed promises and criticisms are perhaps
markers of a symbiotic system. The promise of disalienation addresses
an existing desire for communication, yet this desire is one
that is stimulated and even constructed by the fact of a technocratic
process that has led to an informational system, with the separations
it has already introduced. "The spectacle reunites the separate,
but reunites it as separate," Debord insisted. On the other
hand, criticism of informational alienation itself depends upon
the new possibilities of disalienation arising within the technologies
of information. In this view, the effect of informational development
is wickedly paradoxical: it connects people only by first disconnecting
them, and it separates them only by informing them, informing
them by connecting them with information. It seems to herald
an era of universal and democratic participation in the production
of information, but only through a kind of totalizing technocracy
that has already precluded all prior forms of community. Everything
is permitted, but only when it expresses itself as information.
Yet new info-productions are made possible. This new horizon
seems to stimulate infinite communication, but only by limiting
other cultural possibilities. I can only hope to clarify how
this paradox is manifested, but unfortunately, unlike some Moses
of postindustrial deserts, I cannot lead us out of this circle.
It will be more heuristic to treat informational developments
Divestment in the Infrastructure and Metastructure
42. The term "alienation"
is fraught with etymological contra-dictions. To use such terms
is to risk an inevitable inversion of one's intentions. Misunderstanding
in this case results from reading the opposite sense of the term
from the one the author assumed. In order to avoid this all-too-easy
confusion, I want to recompose the term into two related concepts.
These two are linked and yet they are not the "same."
Their signification slides in relation to each other. I will
translate "alienation" as divestment.38 And for the second sense of alienation as "estrangement"
I will use disaffection. The former is a structural concept,
a position in the relations of production. "Divestment"
carries the economic overtone that I wish to sound out. The capitalist
who controls the means of production (whether as baron or as
State, as dictator or as corporation) is invested in production
in every sense of the word. Conversely, the worker and consumer,
separated from the means of production, are divested.
Their interests are socioeconomically separate--accounted for
only in a limited and secondary manner by those who are themselves
directly invested in production. This is a structural term since
it pertains even when individual workers and consumers are unaware
of their divestment, especially when they confess to no particular
feeling about it. Divestment need not be conscious nor felt.
It is a placeholder in the political economy; it is a subaltern
position in the socioeconomic relations of production. In the
usual sense of power, divestment also effectively separates one
from creative participation in self-management and decision-making.
In the last instance, this separation is enforced either by the
legitimation of private property or by hierarchies of authority.
And the law always refers to the sword, as Foucault reminds us.
On a more everyday basis, the mundane reproduction of this relation
of production is maintained by conformity to custom. Nevertheless,
this place of divestment often enough leads to discontent. When
this discontent becomes felt and conscious, those who are divested
become disaffected. "Disaffection" is therefore a term
for the kind of alienation that has been personally realized,
not just economically lived. We have accepted that "the
personal is political" especially when disaffection results
from divestment; when the divested directly correlate to the
43. In sum, we need to posit
two levels of alienation: the given socioeconomic position which
is forcefully separated from the means of production (divestment),
and the secondary frustration and discontent with this restricted
position that leads to a dis-identification with the status quo
(disaffection). Again, the first is objective and the second
is subjective. And while it is not universally necessary (or
"human"), the disindentification of the disaffected
generally follows upon the structural position which dis-identifies
people from their activity in cultural and economic production.
We need not generate an intellectual theory to convince people
that this should be so. Like Foucault's method and Marx's praxis,
we simply need to join in with that voice from below that is
already trying to speak.
44. In the current phase of
the informatization of socioeconomic activity under late capitalism,
these two levels of alienation also enter a new phase. For we
can readily amplify these two levels, divested and disaffected,
with two levels of the postindustrial informational forces of
production: the base and the superstructure.
45. The first level simply continues
the process of modern technocratic mass production, which has
now shifted decisively toward informational technologies and
services. This level is increasingly given over to the production
of new media technologies and to the maintenance of a layer of
expertise. Wealth, value, power, and participation is concentrated
and centralized in the hands of a small class. Andrew Carnegie
is replaced by Bill Gates, while William Randolph Hearst turns
into Rupert Murdoch. The mill and the factory, trade in goods
and the exports of raw materials still continues. But these older
forms of capitalism are overshadowed and even converted to the
support of transnational corporate entities devoted to the commodification
of services, communications, media, and knowledges. Moreover,
those older forms of mass production are increasingly permeated
by information technologies: automated assembly lines, computer-assisted
design, medical equipment to interpret bodily signals, programs
to manage agribusiness, and so forth. The infrastructure still
operates to contain and manipulate the masses; for the masses
work to develop the output of the infrastructure. The individual
working within this infrastructural project is hardly less
divested than the worker in a nineteenth century steel mill.
Hence, the base level continues to carry the classic alienation,
the two levels of divestment and disaffection. Literary works
have already explored the "poor clerk," a figure who
works within the informatized infrastructure and who is conspicuously
disaffected. We find this figure from the beginnings of bureaucratization
(Gogol's "The Overcoat" and Melville's "Bartleby
the Scrivner"), to its institutional triumph (Kafka's K),
and in recent tales about a class that Douglas Coupland calls
46. In the second level, at
the superstructure of cultural production, we find again the
dynamic interplay of both divestment and disaffection. Here an
analysis will necessarily be less simple in order to pace the
convolutions of culture. For there has never been anything like
a simple reflection between infrastructure and superstructure.
This correspondence stems from classical marxist theory, and
its positing of a singular logic that connects the two levels
as an objective socioeconomic reading of history leads to a number
of problems. I should call this level something like a "metastructure"
instead, in order to mark its distinction from that reflective
and deterministic logic. Cultural production is multifarious;
its products oppose each other much as its producers are at odds.
The metastructure contradicts itself since it sometimes
reflects but sometimes opposes or deviates from the infrastructural
level. While the ruling ideas might be the ideas of the rulers,
this is not always the case. Sometimes the ruling ideas conflict
with the ideological supports of the infrastructure.39 And the metastructure manifests a certain diachronic
complexity--it contains the old and the new side by side. We
will recall that Raymond Williams acutely designated three diachronic
aspects as the "emergent, dominant, and residual."
Yet even the emergent alone is marked by conflict and contradiction.
Thus the metastructure is reflective of the infrastructure, but
its mirrors are of the funhouse variety. The fundamental question
to ask here, one so often forgotten, is about who has creative
participation in symbolic production, e.g., in mass media, and
who is objectively divested from production? Clever interpretations
in Cultural Studies circles about the "discourse of fandom"
and the poaching of subversive meaning by audiences should not
lead us to forget that there is still an important difference
between the producers and the consumers: divestment.
47. Beyond these somewhat preliminary
suggestions, we should see that the problem of (dis)alienation
remains immediately relevant to every pronouncement about the
postmodernist Age of Information. It is this very contradiction
at the center of the new informational discourses--as alienation
versus disalienation--that generates the dialectic of our future.
This leaves quite a lot of critical work still to be done. What
are the new guises of alienation? What other alternative traditions
of marxist theory were able to cultivate Marx's concept? How
do the diverse postcolonial revolts against imperialism and neo-colonial
capital approach the problematic of alienation? What forms of
political practice and liberation help to overcome alienating
structures today? One thinks here, for example, about how the
Zapatistas' praxis is attempting to get around and beyond the
Leninist strategy. Which authors provide us with the most revealing
accounts of divestment and disaffection? How can we expose the
traces of production amid the ideologies of postmodernist mass
media? What tactics in everyday life are successfully disalienating?
What new materialist forms of the cooperative production of values
have emerged? Or...?
go to this back issue's index
1 From his introduction
to History & Class Consciousness, trans., Rodney Livingstone,
Cambridge: MIT Press, 1971, page xxii. This was composed years
after he had published the famous essay on reification--which
treated alienation only in its aspect of objectification and
commodification. Since then, Lukács explains, he read
the 1844 manuscripts and realized that he had conflated Vergegenständlichung
(objectification or thingification)with alienation proper. A
large degree of objectification and externalization is necessary,
according to Marx. Lukács attempts to enlarge and correct
his own view of reification, because as he wrote, the "alienation
of man is a crucial problem of the age in which we live...."
2 Howard Rheingold
in The Virtual Community and his edition of The Whole
Earth Catalog is an exemplar of the "new media=disalienation"
side. It is mirrored by innumerable advertising promises too.
One should include the influential, eye-popping, techno-hip libertarian
magazine, Wired. At about the same level of Rheingold's
discourse, and diametrically opposed, is Theodore Roszak's The
Cult of Information. It is mirrored by widespread cynicism
about those same promises, and a suspicion among some intellectuals
that the informatization of society actually exacerbates alienation.
A roundtable debate between luminaries (John Perry Barlow and
Kevin Kelly as pro-virtual community versus Sven Birkerts and
Mark Slouka as con) published in the August 1995 issue of Harper's
is an exemplary argument between the two camps over the (dis)alienation
of new networks. "What Are We Doing On-Line? A Heated Debate
About a Hot Medium." Such discussions are frequent in cafes
and breakrooms. The topic of disalienation also appears in two
interviews I conducted for UnderCurrent with Mark Poster
and Richard Barbrook.
3 The sources
of this view are numerous, but to mention an overview, Frank
Webster's Theories of the Information Society is useful
on the critical schools. A special issue of The Monthly Review
on "Capitalism and the Information Age" contains interesting
updates of marxist critiques in this regard (Vol. 48, n3, July-August
1996). See especially "Virtual Capitalism: The Political
Economy of the Information Highway" by Dawson and Foster
40-58 and "World Wide Wedge: Division and Contradiction
in the Global Information Infrastructure" by Golding 70-85.
4 To read the
three volumes of Capital is to wander inside an enormous
repetition-compulsion of quantification. Marx was compelled to
go over this mystery of value incessantly in a scientistic attempt
to rescue it from capitalist appropriation. Value must rest on
some measurable foundation in that work, and Marx wears himself
out attempting to prove, i.e., through formulas of surplus-value,
that he can beat the political economy at its own language game.
Whether or not he succeeded, the problem of value itself returns
to haunt every page.
5 Toward the end
of his career, Sartre shifted his articulation of "alienation"
from its existentialist accent on inevitability back to a Marxist
emphasis on relations of production in his Critique of Dialectical
Reason. But this shift was too late and too little known
for the general reception of existentialism that I am evoking
6 Engels' apology
"On Authority" was first published in 1874. Lenin relied
on this essay and on Englels in general in his optimistic prerevolutionary
work on The State and Revolution of 1917. See pages 481-485
in the anthology edited by Lewis Feuer, Marx & Engels:
Basic Writings on Politics & Philosophy Garden City:
Anchor, 1959. Lenin did not apply the principle of authority
there to anything beyond the need for the proletariat to seize
state power--or more accurately to smash the bourgeois state
apparatus--and for the consequent centralization of production
in a collective and proletarian-controlled economy. However,
after the revolution, Lenin's actions contradicted his theory.
It is common knowledge that after the revolution, Lenin was deeply
involved in the steady increase of power of the Bolsheviks over
local working class revolts, viz., the Kronstadt tragedy, and
of the rapid growth of the Party's authority over all aspects
of life in the USSR. Lenin's numerous statements to the effect
that the Party was the real proletariat cannot hide the fact
that the new postrevolutionary state was a power above the people,
run by a class of separate bureaucrats, whose decrees were enforced
by the military, the police, and the prisons. This is what Debord
meant by the folly of "representation." The original
"soviets" were local workers' councils which sprang
up in revolutionary creativity, offering direct participation
in civic, economic, and everyday life to the people. But these
local movements were expropriated and then silenced by the new
Soviet state which centralized all decisions. Moreover, Lenin
pushed for the rapid industrialization of Russia by importing
modern technology--and though he named this the capitalist forces
of production, still he rationalized that under the Party-as-proletariat
which ideally had the best interests of the workers in mind,
those same forces of production would not bear the same "exploitation".
The notion of "alienation"--originally a much broader
concept--was quickly forgotten. Lenin openly praised the Taylorization
of factory workers. In other words, Engels' old essay on Authority
was perhaps too prophetic. Hierarchy, discipline, obedience,
and technocracy supplanted all the optimism of those prerevolutionary
theorists. The continued alienation of the common worker under
Leninism was widespread even before Stalin took this to the next
stage: the internalization of bureaucratic terror on itself.
See notes below for more details about this history.
7 This citation
from Engels' "On Authority" is from the translation
online in the Marx/Engels Internet Archive, available
It is also from the translation by Robert C. Tucker, editor,
The Marx-Engels Reader; New York: W. W. Norton and Co.,
second edition, 1978, pp 730-733.
8 Lenin wrote
in "The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government" that
Taylorism "...like all capitalist progress, is a combination
of the refined brutality of bourgeois exploitation and a number
of the greatest scientific achievements in the field of analysing
mechanical motions during work, the eliminaiton of superfluous
and awkward motions, the elaboration of correct methods of work,
the introduction of the best system of accounting and control,
etc. The Soviet Rebublic must at all costs adopt all that is
valuable in the acheivements of science and technology in this
field. The possiblility of building socialism depends exactly
upon our success in combining the Soviet power and the Soviet
organization of administration with the up-to-date acievements
of captialism." (qtd by Simon Mohun in A Dictionary of
Marxist Thought ed., Tom Bottomore, 2nd edition, Cambridge:
Blackwell, 1991, page 300). This text is also found in Lenin's
Collected Works Vol. 27, page 259. The enthusiastic imposition
of a Taylorized labor process from the central authority was
already implied by Engels.
9 This argument
became a recurring discourse; it rejects two extremes: on the
one hand, the anarchists who simply want to smash the state,
but have no plan for the creation of successful socialist society.
They have no concrete grasp of the need for the future authority
of both proletarian violence to ward off reactionaries and for
proletarian centralization of transportation, communication,
and large scale economic production. The anarchists are an "infantile
disorder" from the left. On the other hand, the argument
is against the more centrist-leaning Social-Democrats. The latter
wish to preserve the state in order to reform it. They believe
in the effectiveness of parliamentary forms of democracy. But
the Marxist-Leninist criticism insists that this is merely another
form of bourgeois opportunism, and one that is afraid of a real
revolution which would necessitate the creative destruction of
the existing state apparatus as a prelude to a new proletarian
society in which the economy was in the hands of all by being
centralized in the name of all. At the highest stage of communist
culture, this would lead, according to both Marx and Lenin, to
every form of power being held in common, dissolved in a society
where the state has withered away because it is neither separate
nor distinct from the people. The separate spheres of bourgeois
bureacrats--juridical, legal, military, educational, etc., would
be fused together in new forms of proletarian participation.
Obviously this vision was never
realized. Instead, the sprouts of such post-revolutionary councils
and communards were stamped out in the name of central control
under the Party. Moreover, the Party itself was strictly hierarchical,
culminating at the top in the figure of Lenin. The Kronstadt
tragedy is one proper name we can give to this disaster. For
more detailed histories and eye-witness accounts of the Kronstadt
massacre, where proletarian power was violently crushed by the
Bolsheviks and then falsified by Lenin, see the material collected
online at http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/2163/bolintro.html
and also at http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/russia.html.
10 It will be
of interest here that Marx continued to use scathing descriptions
of modern factory conditions in Capital: "The separation
of the intellectual powers of production from the manual labour,
and the conversion of those powers into the might of capital
over labour, is, as we have already shown, finally completed
by modern industry erected on the foundation of machinery. The
special skill of each individual insignificant factory operative
vanishes as an infinitesimal quantity before the science, the
gigantic physical forces, and the mass of labour that are embodied
in the factory mechanism and, together with that mechanism, constitute
the power of the 'master.' This 'master,' therefore, in whose
brain the machinery and his monopoly of it are inseparably united....
The technical subordination of the workman to the uniform motion
of the instruments of labour, and the peculiar composition of
the body of workpeople, consisting as it does of individuals
of both sexes and of all ages, give rise to a barrack discipline,
which is elaborated into a complete system in the factory, and
which fully develops the before mentioned labour of overlooking,
thereby dividing the workpeople into operatives and overlookers,
into private soldiers and sergeants of an industrial army...."
(Marx, Capital Vol 1. Chapter XV "Machinery And Modern
Industry" Section IV, The Factory). My point is simply that
after the revolution, the attempt to forge a communist economy
was "still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society
from whose womb it comes" (to reappropriate Marx from a
different context in the Critique of the Gotha Program).
The thesis that Russia and China became State Capitalist regimes
is reasonable when looked at from the factory floor's alienations,
where workers have no council either about the labor process
or about civic life in their communities. Those scathing descriptions
of capitalism's exploitation and alienation of the proletariat
are applicable likewise to the centralized economies undergoing
11 From Lenin's
State & Revolution chapter 1, part 1.
12 From Lenin's
The State & Revolution, chapter 6 part 3, "Kautsky's
Controversy with Pannekoek."
13 This is one
of the many observations in Guy Debord's short, dense, brilliant
chapter on the betrayal of the proletariat as historical subject,
"The Proletariat as Subject and as Representation"
in his Society of the Spectacle 1967. I would happily
advise anyone interested in my topic to read this chapter before
anything else, as I cannot do it justice here. It is available
online at http://cs.oberlin.edu/students/pjaques/etext/debgsociespec/index.html
and in a sometimes better translation at: http://www.nothingness.org/si/debord/SOTS/sotscontents.html
Debord continues this critique:
"In the numerous arguments among the Bolshevik directors,
Lenin was the most consistent defender of the concentration of
dictatorial power in the hands of the supreme representatives
of ideology. Lenin was right every time against his adversaries
in that be supported the solution implied by earlier choices
of absolute minority Power: the democracy which was kept from
peasants by means of the state would have to be kept from
workers as well, which led to keeping it from communist leaders
of unions, from the entire party, and finally from leading party
bureaucrats. At the Tenth Congress, when the Kronstadt Soviet
had been defeated by arms and buried under calumny, Lenin pronounced
against the leftist bureaucrats of the 'Workers' Opposition'
the following conclusion (the logic of which Stalin later extended
to a complete division of the world): 'Here or there with a rifle,
but not with opposition. . . We've had enough opposition.'"
14 To be fair,
I should note that Lefebvre eventually resurfaced with innovative
studies based upon his thorough grasp of the problematic of alienation,
and for awhile was viewed as the marxist theorist opposed to
Althusser in France. These works are still influential today:
Critique of Everyday Life 1947, Introduction to Modernity
1962 and The Production of Space 1974; three notable titles
among several dozen.
15 Qtd. in Struik
235. About Marx's "lifelong concern with alienation,"
Struik also points toward F. Pappenheim's The Alienation of
Modern Man 83. Another well-documented argument for this
continuous concern is in David McLellan's "Alienation in
Hegel and Marx" in the Dictionary of the History of Ideas,
Vol 1, 37-40.
16 Jameson then
claims, peculiarly, that "there has not yet...been a Marxism
based on this particular figure" of separation and
its cognates--alienation, reification, commodification. This
claim reveals that although Jameson cites Debord several times
throughout his book on the logic of postmodern culture--always
the same citation about the "image as the final commodity
form"--he is not on familiar terms with Debord's marxism,
which is the contemporary theory of separation. One could
start here with Debord's opening chapter, "Separation Perfected"
and continue from there to his film, The Critique of Separation.
Against Alienation" originally appeared in the samizdat
journal, Internationale Situationniste #10 in 1966. It
is translated and excerpted in Ken Knabb's anthology 183-184.
18 It is common
intellectual folklore to wave away this claim for the Situationists
as a kind of post-revolt myth that they somehow cultivated, but
the documentation contradicts this disbelief and is more in favor
of my assessment. All the major Situationist publications are
dated well before May '68. Also, they helped incite and took
a leading role in the near revolution, attempting to push it
first from the university to the factory, and then internationally.
See René Viénet's Enragés & Situationists
in the Occupation Movement and Greil Marcus's Lipstick
Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century and Ken Knabb's
anthology. The record of Situationist publications also shows
that they predicted the revolt and for years deliberately sought
for a way to bring it about, while all other major publications
were busy announcing the end of ideology, the end of history,
Party cooperation, the end of alienation, the inevitability of
managed reform, the stupidity of situationist claims, etc. In
fact, the Situationists knew that they had already succeeded
in bringing the avant-garde to the next historic step in the
late '50s and early '60s, and that they had only to wait.
dismissal of Debord appeared as "Remarks on the Spectacle"
in the New Left Review, 1995.
20 In the Winter
1997 issue of October, a leading journal of art history,
is on Debord and the Situationists. It contains five articles
on the S.I. as an avant-garde and also a dozen new translations
of short articles on art from the S.I. journals of the late '50s
to early '60s.
21 Without space
to do justice to their arguments here (which would have to be
reproduced in their entire length at some fifteen pages), they
contextualize Debray's attack in terms of his own itinerary through
various incarnations of the old Left organs, point out his "bare-faced
amnesia" about his own involvements, how his attack mirrors
the pattern of silence and misreading in general, and then derive
four "corollaries" for the underbelly of four of the
generally pejorative propositions about the S.I. that Debray
and the institutional Left has displayed. Most of these devastating
implications turn on the Left's failure to overcome its own complicity
with totalitarianism--Stalinist and Maoist--and the resulting
impotence of retheorizations that led nowhere.
Notes: The Sense of Decay in Art" in the Winter 1997 issue
of October 106-107. Originally in the 3rd issue of the
Internationale situationniste, December 1959. The same
issue of October reprints a Situationist criticism "of
an 'anthropology' that is no longer speculative but structural
and operational," one that attempts to extricate "once
more 'human nature'" 139. This strongly suggests that philosophies
of human nature were not acceptable for situationist praxis.
23 A provocative
though non-scholarly essay by William Brown on "The Spectacle
of Information" drawing on Guy Debord is available online
in a journal I edit, UnderCurrent at http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~ucurrent/uc5/5-brown.html.
And Sadie Plant's study of the Situationists, The Most Radical
Gesture, explores their relationship to the ensuing domains
of poststructuralism and postmodernism, but she does not mention
postindustrialism, informatization, or Debord's comments on "disinformation."
Timothy Luke does however in his Screens of Power, especially
24 An interview
with Foucault in 1968 discussed this debate. "Foucault Responds
to Sartre," in Foucault Live.
25 Lucien Goldmann
on art after the separation of the spheres is overcome, in the
same issue of October 105.
on the Cultural Revolution." October, op. cit.
27 Sadie Plant
argues this point at greater length in The Most Radical Gesture:
The Situationist International in a Postmodern Age.
28 This complaint
about Foucault is found in Baudrillard's Forget Foucault
and in innumerable echoes. Sadie Plant, e.g., picks this up:
"The paradigms of alienation, domination, and repression
on which the revolutionary project has always relied all presuppose
some lack, absence, or constraint, in which power is conceived
as a negative force which merely inhibits that which already
exists. But Foucault's conception of power as a productive and
enabling force challenged all notions of the negativity required
by dialectical thought. There can be no perspective from which
power can be opposed, since power produces all perspectives,
including that of its own resistance" 119. To Plant's credit,
she then proceeds to show that the Foucauldian conception of
power does not lead to the impossibility of resistance.
29 Of course,
unlike those critics who repeat such a gossipy (non)reading of
"Foucault = irresistible Power," one ought to be able
to show that his lifelong praxis involved multiple actions aimed
at altering the balance of powers. All three biographies of Foucault
in print provide this in abundance. I reviewed them for SubStance
of the Hegelian Dialectic..." in The Economic and Philosophic
Manuscripts of 1844 170-193.
31 Hegel qtd.
in Struik's introduction to The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
of 1844 59-60.
32 From Marx's
Thesis on Feuerbach, VI.
33 The 1844
manuscripts must be read in tandem with the concurrent texts
of The Holy Family, in particular on Proudhon, and also
of The German Ideology and the "Theses on Feuerbach."
For another instance, I bear in mind the description of alienation
in German Ideology: "The crystallization of social
activity...into an objective power above us...." One source
for relevant passages is the anthology by Easton and Guddat,
34 From The
German Ideology in Easton and Guddat 421-422.
book, Alienation, also has a number of other shortcomings
which I want to avoid. While it is a useful critique of a vast
and varied terrain, it fails to acknowledge a lesson of the new
social movements, beginning with feminism that "the personal
is political." Schacht criticizes works which try to overlap
the personal and political as though they fail to make rational
distinctions. But alienation is one of the principle connections
between these spheres. He also seems to have an obstinately insufficient
grasp of the psychoanalytic notion of pre-consciousness, and
this leads him to a confusionist reading of Karen Horney, where
he complains that alienation must be either conscious or unconscious,
but not both. This misses the point of Horney's analysis of neuroses
which are precisely both. He dismisses her work without mentioning
the key concepts of inhibition and anxiety found in her major
text, The Neurotic Personality of Our Time, a book he
does not read--unfortunately enough, since its lucid discussion
of the relations between individual psychology and cultural patterns
is one place to begin to comprehend the links between personal
and political alienation.
36 See The
Ecstasy of Communication, 1988 and also "The Implosion
of Meaning in the Media and the Implosion of the Social in the
Masses" published in Woodward, 1980. Baudrillard eventually
sees this implosion as an ironically promising development. The
resulting "silent majority" of inert masses is in his
view a new resistance to propaganda. It is impossible to stir
up fervent fascist beliefs, e.g., in an era of meaningless simulacra.
This "passive-aggressive" theory has a point, but it
is misses others: wholesale commodification and of course, alienation.
37 The dialectical
approach here is to keep in mind both the positive and negative
at once, or as Jameson phrases it, "as both catastrophe
and progress all at once" (1991 47). This is the sense in
which Marx saw the proletarianization of a working class occurring
only by first passing through the exploitation of capitalist
industry on its way to a revolutionary potential.
38 I am indebted
to Walter Kaufmann for this translation, "divestment,"
which is derived from his lengthy supplement to Schacht's study
(lii). Nevertheless, I disagree with the tenor and substance
of his essay, which pretends to go beyond Schacht in concluding
that alienation is inevitable, human, often beneficial. Kaufmann
completely neuters the critical force of this concept by framing
it as plural and pragmatic. Preferable to Kaufmann's essay is
Pappenheim's argument in The Alienation of Modern Man,
especially pp. 105-136.
39 Perhaps Daniel
Bell tries to deal with this contradiction in the metastructure
in his The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, but
he tends toward a conservative support of the rulers. My emphasis
is closely aligned with Gramsci's argument that superstructures
can have a relatively independent logic and development. See,
e.g., Notebooks II § 29, IV § 12, § 38.
Baran, Nicholas. "Privatization of Telecommunications."
Monthly Review. 48.3 (1996): 59-69.
Baudrillard, Jean. "The Implosion of Meaning in the Media
and the Implosion of the Social in the Masses." The Myths
of Information. Ed. Kathleen Woodward. Madison: Coda, 1980.
Bottomore, Tom, ed. A Dictionary of Marxist Thought.
2nd ed. Cambridge: Blackwell, 1991.
Braverman, Harry. "The Transformation of Office Work."
Capital and Labour: Studies in the Capitalist Labour Process.
Ed., Theo Nichols. Glasgow: Fontana, 1980.
Castells, Manuel. The Rise of the Network Society.
Vol 1: The Information Age: Economy, Society & Culture.
Cambridge: Blackwell, 1996.
Clark T. J. and Donald Nicholson-Smith. "Why Art Can't
Kill the Situationist International." October 79
Dawson, Michael and John Bellamy Foster. "Virtual Capitalism:
The Political Economy of the Information Highway." Monthly
Review 48.3 (1996): 40-58.
Debord, Guy. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle.
Trans. Malcolm Imrie. Verso, 1990. Pirate Press, 1991.
---. The Society of the Spectacle. 1967. Rev. ed. Detroit:
Black & Red, 1983.
---, dir. The Society of the Spectacle. Subtitles by
Keith Sanborn. Simar Films, 1973.
---. Panegyric. Trans. James Brook. New York: Verso,
Debray, Régis. Media Manifestos: On the Technological
Transmission of Cultural Forms. Trans. Eric Rauth. New York:
---. "Remarks on the Spectacle." New Left Review
214 (1995): 134-141.
---. "The Three Ages of Looking." Critical Inquiry
21.3 (1995): 529-555.
Feuer, Lewis S., ed. Marx & Engels: Basic Writings
on Politics & Philosophy. Garden City: Anchor, 1959.
Foucault, Michel. Foucault Live (Interviews, 1966-84).
Trans. John Johnston. Ed. Sylvère Lotringer. New York:
---. The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences.
1966. New York: Vintage, 1973.
---. Remarks on Marx: Conversations with Duccio Trombadori.
Trans. R. James Goldstein and James Cascaito. New York: Semiotext(e),
Gramsci, Antonio. Prison Notebooks. 2 vols. Ed. Joseph
A. Buttigieg. New York : Columbia U P, 1992.
Horney, Karen. The Neurotic Personality of Our Time.
New York: Norton, 1937.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism Or, The Cultural Logic
of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke U P, 1991.
Kaufmann, Vincent. "Angels of Purity." October
79 (1997): 49-68.
Knabb, Ken. Situationist International Anthology. Berkeley:
Bureau of Public Secrets, 1989.
Luke, Timothy. Screens of Power: Ideology, Domination,
and Resistance in Informational Society. Chicago: U of Illinois
Lyotard, Jean-François. The Postmodern Condition:
A Report on Knowledge. 1979. U of Minnesota P, 1984.
Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy.
Vol I. Ed. Frederick Engels. Trans. Samuel Moore and Edwar Aveling.
New Yrk: Modern Library, 1906.
---. Capital: a Critique of Political Economy. Vol
III. Ed. Frederick Engels. Trans. Ernest Untermann. Chicago:
---. The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts Of 1844.
Ed., Dirk J. Struik. Trans. Martin Milligan. New York: International
---. Writings Of The Young Marx On Philosophy and Society.
Eds, Loyd Easton and Kurt Guddat. New York: Anchor, 1967.
McChesney, Robert W. "The Global Struggle for Democratic
Communication." Monthly Review 48.3 (1996): 1-20.
McLellan, David. "Alienation in Hegel and Marx."
Dictionary of the History of Ideas, Vol 1. New York: Scribner's,
Mills, C. Wright and H. H. Gerth. "Introduction."
From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. 1946. New York: Oxford
U P, 1958.
Pappenheim, Fritz. The Alienation of Modern Man: An Interpretation
Based on Marx & Tönnies. New York: Monthly Review
Petrovic, Gajo. "Alienation." A Dictionary of
Marxist Thought. 2nd ed. Ed., Tom Bottomore. Cambridge: Blackwell,
Plant, Sadie. The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist
International in a Postmodern Age. London: Routledge, 1992.
Rheingold, Howard. The Virtual Community. New York:
---, ed. The Millennium Whole Earth Catalog: Access to
Tools & Ideas for the 21st Century. New York: HarperCollins,
Roszak, Theodore. The Cult of Information. 2nd ed.
Berkeley: U of California P, 1994.
Vaneigem, Raoul. The Revolution of Everyday Life. 1965.
Trans, Donald Nicholson-Smith. London: Aldgate, 1983.
Webster, Frank. Theories Of The Information Society.
New York: Routledge, 1995.
Contents copyright © 1998 by Erick Heroux.
Format copyright © 1998 by Cultural
Logic, ISSN 1097-3087, Volume 2, Number 1, Fall