On Late Capitalism

“The idea of a revolutionary, ‘post-materialistic’ subject, personified by marginal actors, was popularized by Jean-Paul Sartre, who viewed outcasts and criminals, like the writer and petty criminal Jean Genet, as enlightened critics of bourgeois society. In Germany, Frankfurt School theorists like Claus Offe proposed that in ‘late capitalism’ ever more social groups—the unemployed, the mentally ill, the lawbreakers—would be pushed to the margins and could eventually pose a real threat to the social order. The problem, as one wit put it, was that ‘late capitalism’ kept arriving too late.”

—Elliot Neaman, Free Radicals: Agitators, Hippies, Urban Guerrillas, and Germany’s Youth Revolt of the 1960s and 1970s

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Looking beyond Capitalist Democracy

In “The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy,” from Telos 152 (Fall 2010), Adrian Pabst “charts the rise of capitalist democracy” in its conceptual and historical origin, and then in its empirical and contemporary manifestation, before presenting an alternative. This alternative seeks the re-emergence of an autonomous realm of “civil society” that is not subsumed by either the free market or the liberal democratic state. Pabst begins by sketching the collusion of capitalism and democracy and their subsequent fusing into modern “market-states.” Representative democracy, in the same way that free-market capitalism creates abstract, virtual value from local and material processes, “tends toward the formalization and abstraction of politics from the people it purports to represent.” The collusion, therefore, of democratic states with free-market capitalism has led to a third-way combination of “some of the worst elements of the left and the right.”

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Sacrifice and the Crypto-theologies of Management

Sacrifice, or at least the discourse of sacrifice, is a recognizable aspect of popular management discourse and management scholarship of the “post-bureaucratic” variety, especially popular in America from the 1980s to the 2000s. The absence of bureaucratic structures of command necessitates other forms of authority, and notions of sacrifice form part of the symbolic armory of the post-bureaucratic chief executive—though, of course, post-bureaucracy is itself a symbolic myth more than a practical solution. In this talk I will set out some aspects and suggest, playfully, that there are crypto-theologies at work in management discourse and scholarship; I will finish by connecting these to the sacrifice and excess inherent in neoliberal forms of organization.

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Sklar: Capitalism-Socialism Mix

This is the third in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. Whereas the first two posts showcased the historian’s engagement with philosophy, this post highlights one of his important contributions to political economy. Sklar profoundly reinterprets the idea of a “mixed economy,” on the basis of the new concepts of “capitalist investment component” (CIC) and “socialist investment component” (SIC). In so doing, he also clarifies the meanings of capitalism and socialism as political-economic systems. Like conventional “mixed economy” theorists, Sklar came to believe that there would be a long historical period during which advanced societies would combine features of capitalism and features of socialism, with the later gaining gradual ascendancy. His understanding of which features belong to which system, however, upends conventional theories of government = socialism, “private” sector = capitalism.

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Sklar: Hegel and History, Part Two

This is the second in a series of posts that introduce the thought of historian Martin J. Sklar, as a prelude to a print symposium on his life and work in a future issue of Telos. For a fuller introduction, refer to the head note to the first TELOSscope post. That post featured something unusual for a historian: an excerpt from a perceptive essay on Hegel. Hegel’s understanding of human history as developmental and cumulative, particularly with respect to the expansion of human freedom, colored Sklar’s career as a historian. Excerpts from two of his published works (second and third selections, below) reflect that influence. Not all of Sklar’s engagement with Hegel was affirmative. In the first selection, he endorses Marx’s critique of Hegel’s statism. As will be further illustrated in future posts, one of Sklar’s longstanding criticisms of many fellow leftists was their equation of socialism with state control over society. From his research on the Progressive Era in the United States, he concluded that presidents and other strategic thinkers of that period consciously incorporated elements of socialism into their ideas and programs in ways that affirmed positive government as a middle way between laissez-faire and statism. This was the meaning of his somewhat cryptic assertion in an influential (but often misunderstood) 1960 essay that corporate liberalism was “the bourgeois Yankee cousin of modern European and English social-democracy” (Studies on the Left 1:3, 41). Over time, Sklar progressively (in both senses) fleshed out this insight.

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Sklar: Hegel and History, Part One

Martin J. Sklar, who died in 2014, was a historian, left-wing activist, and original thinker. As a scholar/journalist-activist, he founded Studies on the Left, co-founded Socialist Revolution and In These Times, and was a founding member of The Historical Society. As a historian, he originated the influential concepts of “corporate liberalism” and “disaccumulation” and shaped the thinking of historians of the Progressive Era, the Jefferson–Hamilton divide, Lincoln’s revolutionary role in ending slavery, the sources and consequences of U.S. imperialism—and more.

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