Tempo de leitura estimado: 12 minutos

A Conversation Between Marco Schneider and Douglas Kellner

1. M.S. It is well known that, in its beginnings, in the 60’s, Cultural Studieshad an intense dialog with Marxism. Nowadays this dialog seems emptied. Inyour opinion, what is the reason for that?

DK: With the collapse of the Soviet Union and Soviet empire in the late1980s, Marxism was discredited. At the same time, apostmodern/poststructuralist turn in theory opened the door to newdiscourses, many of which were hostile to Marxism and which were broughtinto cultural studies.

With the global crisis of capitalism, Marxism is once again a relevant andrespectable discourse and it’s focus on class and class difference iscertainty relevant for cultural studies, as well as social theory thatstudies class inequalities and social injustice.

2. M.S. Since the 60’s, the researches about and the struggles against racism,sexism, homophobia and so on, emphasizing its cultural expressions andmediations, were a central part in Cultural Studies agenda, together withclass struggle as a practical and theoretical issue. Nevertheless, the lastone, during the last decades, ceased to be as much present in this agendaas the other ones. Do you see any relation between this fact and the deepsocial changes around the globe, that began in early 90’s, such as the endof Soviet Union and the growing hegemony of neoliberalism throughout theworld, in the midst of which everything can be discussed, except capitalismas a dated problem, and a problem that could be solved?

DK: As I noted above, the global hegemony of neoliberalism and crisis ofcapitalism brings back Marxism as a critical theory which again can andshould be seriously discussed. Many forms of contemporary cultural studies, such as the one I represent, stresses the intersectionality of race, gender, class, sexuality and other key forms of representation and identity and the interconnectedness of struggle around these arenas. Hence, rather than focalizing race, gender, or class, the emphasis is on how they are co-constructed and interconnected and how forms of oppression intersect between these dimensions requiring multi-dimensional struggle.

3. M.S. In your opinion, in face of recent (and linked) events, such as theactual crisis of capitalism in US and Europe, the growing of left winggovernments in South America, the increasing mass revolts in the middleeast, north of Africa, south of Europe and even inside the US, the victoryof neoliberal “solutions” in Euro zone etc., all these things could suggestthat cultural studies should reinforce its dialog with marxism, consideringthat it can, maybe better than any other theoretical frame, articulatecultural issues with political and economic ones?

DK: I exactly agree with you. Marxism is a dialectical theory that makesconnections, articulates culture and politics with economy and is thusextremely relevant and useful to explain contemporary developments inculture, politics, society and economy and how they are interconnected, or to put things as I do in the last question, how intersectionality takes place.

4. M.S. How do you think the new digital environment is changing (or could do itin a better way) the traditional relations between culture, citizenship andcapitalism in the peripheries of the world and of each country?
DK  A new digitial environment is expanding the public sphere and producingnew fields for political intervention. I’ve written extensively on thistheme and append a couple of articles rather than try to summarize.Both of these articles are accessible on my website and can be accessed at:”Habermas, the Public Sphere, and Democracy: A Critical Intervention,” in Perspectives on Habermas, edited by Lewis Hahn (Open Court Press, 2000). At http://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/habermaspublicspheredemocracy.pdfand “Internet Subcultures and Political Activism” (with Richard Kahn) at http://pages.gseis.ucla.edu/faculty/kellner/essays/internetsubculturesoppositionalpolitics.pdf

M.S. We stopped when I asked you “how do you think that the new digitalenvironment is changing the traditional relations between culture,citizenship and capitalism in the peripheries of the world and of eachcountry”, and you did send to me two papers – “Habermas, the public sphereand democracy” and *“*Internet Subcultures and Political Activism*” *–,saying that you’ve developed some ideas about this subject there.

I appreciated both and from its reading I would like to propose a fewquestions for us to reflect about.
Before that, however, please tell me if it would be correct if I summarizeboth of your papers – in so far as they could be taken as your answer to myquestion quoted above, and apart the reflection on Habermas work from theformer (I think it’s not the case here to deepen your enlighteningcriticism on Habermas’ oeuvre) – saying that, in your opinion, the newdigital environment contribute to shift the features of the public sphere,even to create new public spheres, opening alternative forms of strugglesamidst it. And that radical theorists and activists must not neglect it. Isthat ok for you?

DK: Yes.

M.S. Well, after having read the papers, I remembered Perry Anderson, who once wrote that the sphinx of western marxism is not a misery of theory, but amisery of strategy (probably thinking about Edward P. Thompson’s criticismon Althusser…). Let’s talk about that “sphinx”? In a lighter way, I guessyou said something similar about Habermas’ general position, didn’t you?Well, and I hope this question won’t bother you, don’t you think that thesame criticism could be directed to these two papers of yours (and, as faras I know, to the whole of contemporary intellectual production on thefield of radical social theory, despite the efforts of Hardt and Negritowards this direction)? Yes, the later, actually, lists indeed a large setof concrete anti-hegemonic actions in the field of internet etc., but in amore descriptive rather than theoretical way. The former, for its turn,which deepens the theoretical reflection, doesn’t properly discussstrategy, except when it criticizes Habermas’ lack of concretepropositions, isn’t it?  Actually, in the conclusion of your “Habermas…”,when you mention the necessity of this or that action to be performed(“the need for public intervention in debates over the future of media culture andcommunications in the information highways and entertainment […] thecreation of new public spheres and the need for democratic strategies topromote the project of democratization and to provide access to more peopleto get involved in more political issues and struggles”), that was when Iremembered Perry Andersons’ sphinx for the first time:  I do agree with youabout what should be done, but my main question is how it can be done,considering  the unequal relation of forces, the silent majority, thecomplex moment of class struggle, in each country and around the wholeworld. It’s not a rhetoric question – me neither, of course, I don’t havethe answer. But don´t you think that media radical thinkers and activistsneed to face seriously this “sphinx” mentioned by Perry Anderson, beingaware that maybe their central challenge today is to develop newtheoretical reflections on strategy and organization? Do you know somerelevant contemporary intellectual production of this kind?In “Internet, Subcultures and Political Activism”, besides a good set ofexamples, you developed a more empirically based reflection about howcyber-activism is changing the public sphere, and, as in the former paper,you also finishes it with a good appeal: “Those interested in the politicsand culture of the future should therefore be clear on the important roleof the new public spheres and intervene accordingly, while criticalcultural theorists have the responsibility of educating students around thecultural and subcultural literacies that ultimately amount to the skillsthat will enable them to participate in the ongoing struggle inherent incultural politics.” Once again, I agree with you. Yet, let’s push ourreflection on strategy further: you suggest that there is a kind ofcrossroad for all the activists that discuss or fight against neo-liberalglobalization, in face of which some assume a global strategy and othersprefer to act locally; you also identify the later way with post-modernpositions and defends the need of overcoming this dichotomy. All right, butI see a second crossroad, when you specifically mention that to “thecapitalist international of transnational corporate-led globalization, aFifth International […] of computer-mediated activism is emerging, […]qualitatively different from the party-based socialist and communistInternationals”.

Well, despite the fact that this cyber-horizontalitysounds very promising, and its appearance of novelty (of course,computer-mediated activism is, indeed, a novelty), isn’t this anarchist way of thought and decentralized organization even older then “party-based socialist and communist Internationals”? So, shouldn’t we wander if it is not preciselythis anarchist way of refusing “party-based socialist and communistInternationals” as an organizational alternative, not necessarilyanti-democratic and that could perhaps be renewed as an effectiveanti-hegemonic force in the new internet era, what reveals more clearly the(relative) weakness of all anti-capitalist movements quoted in your essay?Or is the old anarchist decentralized way of making politics –  togetherwith its criticism, first against Marx “authoritarian centralism”, duringthe First International, then against Lenin bolshevist party model, and soon – proving itself to be more useful for nowadays political struggles thanits Marxian inspired rivals within the left? Or, perhaps, decentralizedextreme left cyber-groups, of anarchist or post-modern inspiration, aregrowing in cyberspace and elsewhere, instead of Marxian ones, preciselybecause, as Brizola (an old Brazilian left wing politician) said about anopponent leftist party, “it is the left that the right love best”?

DK: Actually, I think your questions cannot be answered theoretically but only practically. The article with Richard Kahn “Internet, Subcultures and Political Activism” described the use of the Internet by the anti-globalization movement, the Zapitistas, and a variety of other social movements in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The answer to your questions today, however, would be clarified by description of the use of new media and social networking in the North African Arab Uprisings and the Occupy movements, exactly the topic of my forthcoming book= Media Spectacle 2011: From the Arab Uprisings to Occupy Everywhere! That is, the actual activist practice defines the way that the Internet and new media can be used for activism, but theoretical reflections, although theorists can, as Kahn and I and Hardt and Negri attempted in different ways, can provide categories that describe and even anticipate new forms of revolutionary practice that might not fit into traditional categories such as Marxism or anarchism.M.S. Back to your “Habermas”, and still thinking about strategy (both in apractical and theoretical way): you said that  “Habermas […] often arguedhimself that the expanding functions of science and technology in theproduction process undermined the Marxian labor theory of value […]Expanding this argument, I contend that increased intensification oftechnological revolution in our era undermines Habermas’s own fundamentaldistinction between production and interaction, since production obviouslyis structured by increased information and communication networks, whilethe latter are increasingly generated and structured by technology.”

I agree with your criticism about Habermas, but as you seem to accept hisargument according to which the growing role of science and technologyamong production processes undermined Marxian labor theory of value, I haveto ask you how is it actually possible, if we take into account that Marxhad,  indeed, in his labor theory of value, considered science as aproductive force, and had also conceived intellectual labor as complex labor(remember the idea of the general intellect, in the *Grundrisse*), whosevalue could be measured taking simple labor as its unity of measurement, ina given economic universe etc. Besides, in the second book of Capital, hewrote specifically about communications, the term involving the press andthe mail, but also steamships and railways (as was usual at his time),focusing its common importance towards accelerating the circulation ofcapital. So how can the new role of science and information in contemporarycapitalism “undermine” Marxian labor theory of value? Isn’t it thecontrary, i.e., doesn’t it proves its correctness, as far as it pushescapitalism to its radical conclusion – the impossibility of the continuingprocess of expanded reproduction of capital, without the “aid”, suicidal inthe long term, of a casino way of financial speculations, with all kinds ofdestructions related to this? I think the answer is yes, mainly if weremember the tendency within the organic composition of capital towards thegrowing of its constant part (dead labor, technology) in place of thevariable one (living labor, simple or complex), and the subordination ofthe later to the former, including *intelligence and *information, not tomention the descending tendency of profit rate etc. So, as Mészáros pointsit in his “Beyond Capital”, Habermas was wrong when he saw in latecapitalism a subordination of economy to scientific determinations (or to“instrumental reason”, to remember the weberian idealistic inspiration ofthe reasoning), while what was (is) really as stake was (is) anincreasing  subordination of science and information (of “reason”) to capitalist disruptive economicdeterminations. If it is true, even agreeing with you, when you  say that your “perspectives, by contrast [with Haberma’s dicotomies betweenproduction and interactions, system and lifeworld etc.], open the entiresocial field to transformation and reconstruction, ranging from the economyand technology to media and education”, don’t you think that the centralrole of economy (and by this word I mean now the social planning andcontrol over production and consumption, what necessarily implies therelations of production, the problem of property, political forms etc.)among this process couldn’t be strategically neglected, as its yet theübergreifendes moment of the whole process?
DK: Actually, Marco I agree with you completely here in positing Marx vs. Habermas. Marx is surely right concerning the central role of economy, of  therelations of production, including the state and other political, legal, and cultural forms, and capital is still  the übergreifendes moment of the whole process. Interestingly, Egypt was a “laboratory for neo-liberalism” which created tremendous divisions between the rich and the poor (as in the U.S.) but had the more visible form of oppression in an authoritarian state that was the target of the Egypt Uprising. Interestingly, Occupy Wall Street articulates that Wall Street and finance capital in the U.S. is a major problem that has led to a division between the 1% and the 99% and is trying to figure out how to publicize and attack this division. At least they have publicized the issue and for the first time we can discuss seriously in the public sphere in the U.S. today redistribution of wealth, more progressive tax policy, regulation of Wall Street and finance capital, and even target it as the enemy of the people. Previously, the U.S. hegemonic neo-liberal and conservative discourses made this impossible. What the future of the Occupy movements will be we do not know, but they create openings for more radical political change, and right now 2011 is looking like a year of new political upheavals, as was 1968 during my student days.